Title: Little Thieves
Author: Margaret Owen
Page Count: 512
Series: Little Thieves, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: October 19, 2021 by Henry Holt & Company
Review: This is another ARC I am shamefully behind in reviewing, as it was already published 3 months ago. I am not going to lie, I almost cut my losses and DNF’ed this book because I was not enjoying it in the beginning. Sometimes books have slow starts, so I generally read about 25% before making a decision about whether or not I am going to finish it. I passed the 25% mark of this book and just couldn’t get into it, but I decided to persevere and continued plugging forward. I’m glad I did, because about halfway through was a turning point for me. I enjoy fantasy books with a healthy dose of romance, but the romance is generally not the draw for me. This is a rare case where the central romance is what redeemed the story in my eyes. It just felt so real and the sizzling tension that develops between the characters gave me actual butterflies. Something that sets this story apart is that the main characters are “normal” in the sense that there is nothing physically remarkable that sets them apart. They are not beautiful and there is never an illusion that their appearances are anything but plain. The attraction between them grows organically through their interactions, which made it feel all the more real. There is no instalove or mooning over each other’s physical attributes, just pure magnetic chemistry between two people who are equally matched in intellect and wit. For this reason alone, I finally made it to the end of this book and gave it a higher rating than I would have otherwise.
Rating: 3 Stars
Title: Skin of the Sea
Author: Natasha Bowen
Page Count: 336
Series: Skin of the Sea, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: November 9, 2021 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Review: I am tagging this book as an ARC, because at the time I received it from NetGalley, it had not yet been published. I started it some months ago, and then put it down in favor of other titles. Needless to say, the storyline and characters did not immediately draw me in. I did eventually pick it back up and finish it, and although I started enjoying it more toward the end, it didn’t knock my socks off. The premise behind this retelling of The Little Mermaid is undeniably beautiful. I loved how elements of the original story are interwoven with mythology and history. The story itself, however, was not particularly interesting to me. For readers who enjoy quests fraught with peril and mythical creatures, this story may have a lot of appeal. Alas, I am not that reader. I don’t generally enjoy odysseys because they tend to be more plot driven than character driven. Aside from the main character, Simidele, there is not a lot of character or relationship development. I’m glad that I finished it, but it is unlikely I will read the next book in this series. This book could easily be a standalone, though it looks like the author is working on at least one more title (possibly more).
On a side note, the cover for this book is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, it is the reason I requested an ARC of this title. However, why are her scales not rose gold??? Her scales are described multiple times throughout the novel, and it annoys me when these types of details are neglected. Rant over.
Rating: 3 Stars
Title: The Last She
Author: H.J. Nelson
Page Count: 352
Publishing Date/Publisher: December 7, 2021 by Wattpad Books
Review: This is one of those times when I feel like I am reading a different book than most other reviewers. Unlike a lot of other readers, I felt this book had an overdone plot with no depth or real backstory for any of the characters. I think there was supposed to be a love triangle, but I’m honestly not sure. Gabriel made no sense as a character, so he was an uninteresting “villain.” Ara and Kaden? The reader surmises that they have all these deep conversations in order to justify their connection, but we are not privvy to any of the details. Plot twists? I guess, but they don’t go anywhere. The cliffhanger at the end implies that this story is going to go on a whole new tangent. No questions are answered, only more questions. You can draw a lot of comparisons to other books in the genre, but this one is nothing special.
Title: The Heart Principle
Author: Helen Hoang
Page Count: 320
Series: The Kiss Quotient, Book 3
Publishing Date/Publisher: August 31, 2021 by Berkley
Review: Hoang captured my heart with The Kiss Quotient, and though I didn’t enjoy The Bride Test nearly as much, I was still eager to read The Heart Principle when I saw it offered on NetGalley. The Heart Principle is written in a different style than it’s predecessors, and the result is a deeply felt and raw portrayal of love, loss, and learning self-acceptance. The main character, Anna, struggles with hiding her social difficulties and exerts great effort to mold herself into the person her family and boyfriend expects. At the end of each interaction she is left mentally and emotionally drained, hardly able to take care of herself. She is completely blindsided when her boyfriend proposes an “open” relationship, and as she grapples with this new reality, she meets Quan, the “bad boy” with a heart of gold. Both Anna and Quan are wearing masks to hide their inner struggles, but once together, they find a safe space to be authentic within their burgeoning relationship.
This really was a beautiful story, though much sadder in tone than the other two books in the series. The author’s note at the end is worth reading and explains why she chose to make this book different.
Title: Among Thieves
Author: M.J. Kuhn
Page Count: N/A
Publishing Date/Publisher: September 7th, 2021, Saga Press
Review: M.J. Kuhn is definitely an author to watch. With this hell of a debut novel, Kuhn sets the stage for what I hope will be a series full of anti-heroes, powers, and crime. The characters are the “hate to love them” type, but you really do root for them despite the fact that they are smugglers, thieves, and cons. They also have good reasons for doing what they are doing, which really helps.
There were a few things here and there that I wished lasted longer in some places and shorter in others, but overall it was incredibly enjoyable. They pulled me in by saying it was like Six of Crows, but I also wish they didn’t, as I had to stop myself from comparing the two all the time, which is unfair: they are two different books that just happen to both be based on heists. But I also see why they would market it that way, so fair play.
Title: These Hollow Vows
Author: Lexi Ryan
Page Count: 464
Review: It’s no secret I am a huge Sarah J. Maas fan and will read just about anything that is compared to her work. In this case, it was a very appropriate comparison. Similar characters, similar love triangle, similar setting, similar premise…but hey, I’m all for it. It was angsty, but not too much so. Even though it gives me anxiety, I like when characters have to navigate impossible choices in creative ways. Oh and also love steamy love triangles, even though those also give me anxiety….So needless to say, even though this book is not perfect, I am the perfect audience for it. I hope there is more to come.
Title: Witches Steeped in Gold
Author: Ciannon Smart
Page Count: 544
Series: Witches Steeped in Gold, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 20, 2021 by HarperTeen
Review: I have been dragging my feet when it comes to writing this review, not because I didn’t like the book, but because it has so many similarities to two other books I have recently read. This is a very strong readalike for Children of Blood and Bone and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. It has been hard for me to draw any clear distinctions between my feelings about the three, though I can say that I enjoyed them all. I can’t help but note that white hair on magic users seems to be a very popular trend in YA fantasy fiction that is inspired by African and/or Caribbean folklore. I thought this striking imagery was very distinct to the Legacy of Orisha trilogy, but it seems to have made it’s way into other series as well. One repeating trend I have also noticed (that I actually quite like) is the finely drawn line between hero(ine) and villian(ess). A line that is often crossed by both the former and the latter in such a way that these distinctions become meaningless. Life is messy, and I like when I can relate to both the protagonist and the antagonist in equal measure. It tickles me even further when these roles reverse at some point in the story. I think this series has quite a lot of potential, and it is very possible I might love the second book…we will just have to wait and see.
P.S. If I had to rate the cover of this book it would be 5/5 stars.
Title: The Prison Healer
Author: Lynette Noni
Page Count: 416
Series: The Prison Healer, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 13, 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Review: This book is being marketed to fans of Sabaa Tahir and Sarah J. Maas, so it was an obvious pick for me. And I have to say, for the first book in a series, this was a real slam dunk for me. Right from the beginning it had an engaging storyline and characters. The setting seems to be rather heavily inspired by Russian gulags, which combined with magic, creates a rather appealing combination of history and fantasy.
The only time I found this story lacking was when it came to the trials. I was hoping for something a little more realistic. It is clear that these trials are not survivable without magic, and I would have liked if she could have survived at least one using her wits alone.
The ending though made up for any minor disappointments. I thought I knew how it would end, and though I wasn’t entirely wrong, it played out very differently than I expected. It’s rare to completely catch me off guard with a plot twist, and I have to admit I was a little surprised that the author so masterfully pulled a sneaky on me with her unreliable narrator gambit. With that cliffhanger of an ending, I am really looking forward to a sequel.
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Page Count: 480
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 5, 2021 by Disney-Hyperion
Review: Greek mythology is a theme often requested when I do Reader’s Advisory, so I was thrilled when I read the synopsis for this book on NetGalley. I was even more thrilled when my request was granted, and the book turned out to be just as good as I hoped it would be. This story is not for the faint of heart. It has a very Battle Royale vibe, but with mythical characters. This being the case, the story is action-packed and never boring. The romance in the story does not take center stage, which I am perfectly alright with. It did, however, lend the perfect balance of heartwarming content to counteract the violence. The ending of this book wasn’t entirely unexpected, but there were a couple twists leading up to it kept it fresh and interesting. It wraps up pretty nicely, so I assume this is a standalone, which is great for reader’s who don’t want to commit to a series.
Author: Heather Walter
Page Count: 496
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 13, 2021 by Del Ray
Review: I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I love a good villain origin story, and this is certainly that. It explores the evolution of the tormented becoming the tormentor as the line between “good” and “evil” blurs into non-existence. The author was very clever in how she twisted various elements of Sleeping Beauty adaptations into her story, and by the end, you could fully empathize with Alyce and her descent into darkness. This is a character who really has nothing left to lose, and it is tragic to watch her become the monster that everyone says she is. It really makes you reflect on the power of love, and how it has the capability to both redeem and destroy. It’s frightening to think that one choice can determine which.
My only real criticism of this book is that although the author did a fantastic job building Alyce’s character, Aurora’s character felt a bit flat. I would have liked to see more character development for her because I think it would have added more dimension to her relationship with Alyce.