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: A Sitting in St. James
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Performer: Machelle Williams
Length: 13 hr, 21 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 25, 2021 by HarperAudio
Review: I admit, when I started this book I was unenthused about it. I would never have picked it up based on it’s description or cover, but it was on a reading list for a committee I am on, so I checked it out anyway. Let me tell you, this book impressed me more than any historical fiction novel I have read in years. It achieved a perfect balance of light tone with dark subject matter that left you feeling the whole gambit of emotion…horror, anxiety, hope, anticipation, shock, and mirth. One minute I would be experiencing stomach churning disgust and the next I would be laughing out loud. This author truly has a gift for writing complex characters. Sometimes you want to root for them, and sometimes you despise them. Be prepared for depictions of abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual) and brutal violence. These are not themes to be glossed over during this era of slavery. Cruelty is so intrinsic to the culture that the character’s appear to operate by an entirely different moral compass. Relationships are twisted and shaped by atrocities committed, both large and small.
A truly illuminating read and one that will make you think deeply about the dark corners of our past. Also, do yourself a favor and listen to it in audiobook format. The reader was phenomenal.
Rating: 5 Stars
Title: From Blood and Ash
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Page Count: 454
Series: Book and Ash, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 30, 2020 by Blue Box Press
Review: My expectations for this book were extremely low having read Obsidian by the same author. I was pleasantly surprised by a plot that was engaging and unique enough to hold my attention. There are many common tropes in this book, but somehow they felt like they had a fresh spin. Despite the occasional eyeroll worthy fight scene, I enjoyed it enough to immediately put the second book in the series on hold.
Author: Kiersten White
Performer: Madeleine Maby
Length: 11 hr, 59 min
Series: Slayer, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 8, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Audio
Review: I was 100% the wrong audience for this book. This is essentially a fan fiction spinoff of the popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, and I went into the listening experience knowing this. I have not seen the Buffy movie or the television series, but I downloaded this audiobook anyways because there were a couple Goodreads reviewers in the same boat who seemed to really like it. This was not the case for me. I had literally no context for many of the things referenced in this book, and for someone who is big on world building, this was a major problem. To me, it felt largely like a rant against a character that I have no prior knowledge of (except that she is a vampire slayer..duh). A significant portion of the book is devoted to all the things Buffy has done horribly wrong in her role as the “chosen one” and the new slayer’s adamancy that she will not repeat the same mistakes. Except guess what? She kind of does. So….yeah. Didn’t love it.
Title: Firekeeper’s Daughter
Author: Angeline Boulley
Page Count: 496
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 16, 2021 by Henry, Holt and Co.
Review: A beautifully written portrayal of a bi-racial young woman navigating through the complexities of identity, family, and the social issues plaguing both of her communities. There are a lot of difficult topics broached in this novel, and Boulley deftly tackles each one as she uncovers the mystery at the heart of the story. I have to admit that I especially enjoyed the time period this book takes place in. Daunis is roughly the same age as I am and grew up in the same era. I experienced some level of nostalgia with the pop culture references and other time period identifiers. I was also delighted by the mention of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, my very own alma mater.
Some readers may feel that the pacing of this “thriller” is too slow, but I personally enjoyed the gradual unfolding. This book is packed with social commentary, so I think it was appropriate for Boulley take her time and dive deeply into the subject matter. I look forward to future works by this debut author.
Title: Hang the Moon
Author: Alexandria Bellefleur
Page Count: 384
Series: Written in the Stars
Publishing Date/Publisher: May 25, 2021/ Avon
Once again, Bellefleur has gifted us a magnificent comfort read. A follow-up/companion novel to her Written in The Stars, Hang The Moon follows Darcy’s brother and her best friend and their…dynamic. She’s packed the novel full of tropes, as is her MO (oh my god, there’s only one bed?) and the human golden retriever that is Brendon is impossible not to love.
While the relationship is between a man and a woman, it is in no way ‘straight’. As with Written in the Stars, there is a bisexual main character and while that isn’t in the forefront of every conversation or scene, it is mentioned or implied a few times. It is also great bi representation simply because not every bisexual will end up with the same sex, and vice versa. It’s important to show that, and she has in both her books.
This series is an absolute delight that I return to time and time again when I need a break from the real world or just because I feel like it. The fact that I have to wait until February for Count Your Lucky Stars to come out to finish the trilogy is causing me distress.
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: Luck of the Titanic
Author: Stacey Lee
Page Count: 368
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 4, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Review: I really enjoyed Lee’s The Downstairs Girl, so I was surprised by how little I enjoyed this book. The heroine, Val, felt like a regurgitation of Jo in a different setting. Not a whole lot actually happens in this book until the end, and her charade as the Merry Widow seems highly implausible throughout. There are a bunch of jumbled subplots that don’t add much to the story overall, and the relationship building between characters fell flat for me. I appreciate what Lee is trying to do with this novel, but the slow pacing and convoluted storyline made it hard to get through.
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.