City of Lies by Victoria Thompson

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RATING: 4/5

SYNOPSIS: Elizabeth Miles is a grifter and very good at her job, but when a con goes south she takes refuge with a group of suffragists and is forced to decide between sticking to the job or letting people see the real her.

 

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but what I got definitely wasn’t it and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. While I wanted there to be some sort of mystery element, I did enjoy the suspense of Elizabeth’s secrets piling up. I absolutely adored how street smart she was and I loved her thought process as she made the decisions that she makes in order to put herself in a good position. I only had two complaints, I thought that the villain was too much of a melodramatic, mustache-twirling villain and I thought that the romance between her and Gideon was too much love at first sight (which is not typically a romance angle that I respond well to). While I did enjoy how dangerous Oscar Thornton was as an adversary, there were quite a few times where I felt like he was almost too over the top villainous. Part of me felt that some of his more villainous deeds could have had more shock value if his true nature was kept under wraps for just a bit longer. There were a couple of times where I was thinking “Of course he would do that too, he’s the bad guy” and while I don’t want redeemable villains, I also don’t want my villain to do every bad thing that you could possibly think of. He definitely deserved to get conned, but I wanted the reveal of just how badly he deserved it to have more oomph. Elizabeth is definitely the kind of lady that you could fall head over heels in love with, I also wanted more build up between her and Gideon. I liked that she wasn’t allowing herself to fall for him because she was trying to keep up her con and I wanted that thread to continue for however long this series will be, but I do understand that once her lies all caught up to her some things had to give. I just personally am not a big fan of instant romances and to me that’s what this felt like. This book has such a great cast of characters though and I’m so excited to watch them all develop. Anna was the most unexpected stand out to me. I love, love, loved how she goes from meek and unassuming to gaining so much confidence! I also enjoy her and Elizabeth’s friendship and I’m excited to see how that continues to grow. Mrs. Bates, Gideon’s mother, is another stand out character for me. I love how she took both Elizabeth and Anna under her wing and she was just an all-around great female role-model and I’m excited for more of her as well. I also liked the Old Man and there’s still so much mystery surrounding him that I can’t wait to dive into. Although I did guess the twist when it comes to his character, it was still a fun reveal. This book has the winning combination of a great premise, setting, characters, and writing. I can’t wait to continue with the series.

Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston

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RATING: 4/5

SYNOPSIS: Padmé Amidala has reached the end of her term as Queen of Naboo and now turns her sights to new goals and a new purpose, but when the new Queen asks her to be the Senator for Naboo in the Galactic Senate she must navigate a new political world and learn how to balance what she wants with what is best for the Republic.

 

Padmé Amidala is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters and to this day I still think she deserves a better ending than what she got. I absolutely loved how Johnston framed the story with it starting at her end of her term as Queen and ending with the events of Revenge of the Sith. It gave me chills and it also reignited my passion for her to have a better ending than what she got. Obviously Padmé has the greatest wardrobe of any character and I adored how her elaborate dresses and headpieces actually served a purpose. I thought the idea of distracting from the face with spectacle (or to create any sort of distraction really) was a brilliant idea and it made me appreciate her character even more. It was really awesome to get to explore Naboo culture more than what is shown in the films and it just made me enjoy so many little details that could be considered throw aways even more than what I already did. I also loved how we got to learn more about her handmaidens. They play such an important role in the first two Star Wars prequel films, but we never know much about them beyond the fact that they are pretty much there to die for Padmé. I loved how she had such a special connection with each person in her inner circle, but I loved that she was closest to Sabé, her look alike. I liked that the story alternated between the two girls and I loved that each of them had their own issues to overcome, but at the end of the day could be there for each other. Sabé plays such an important role in The Phantom Menace and I liked that her importance continued in this novel as well as getting more backstory on her and why she’s willing to do what she does for Padmé. It was awesome to get to see Padmé in the beginnings of her time as Senator of Naboo and I liked that being a Senator didn’t come easy for her. I liked that the role of Senator demanded that she act differently than in her role as Queen, but at the end of the day her goal of doing what’s best for the people was her common thread between the two roles that she has played. I also liked how we got to see the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance and her part that she gets to play in that development. I also loved that characters that we are introduced to in the Clone Wars television series showed up as well and we got to see the beginnings of her relationship with those characters as well. I appreciated that Anakin wasn’t a major focus in this book. Even though she is forever going to be tied to him and his story, I liked that this story was just allowed to be just about Padmé. Of course he was alluded to, but you can’t get around that with how his origins played a part in what Padmé wanted her big project to be. Overall it would have taken a lot for me to hate a book about Padmé Amidala and I really enjoyed getting to read something where she got to take center stage for once.

Mother Knows Best by Serena Valentino

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RATING: 5/5

SYNOPSIS: The story of Mother Gothel before the events of Tangled.

 

This series has had a lot of hits and misses for me and luckily Mother Knows Best was a hit. I really liked how all the events in Gothel’s life leading up to Tangled made her into the villain that she is. I also liked how rich her backstory was. I loved that the sundrop flower was her only connection to anything magic and I loved how her ambitions were related to being powerful instead of being beautiful the way the movie indicates. I think this book really added dimension to her as a villain although I do wish that her narcissism progressed more throughout the book because by the time the story caught up to what happens in Tangled it felt like that trait came out of nowhere. I really enjoyed seeing Gothel go from an optimistic, good person to the villain that we know and love. I also wished that there was more interaction with her sisters before everything fell apart. I loved all of their distinct personalities and how they all played off of each other as three parts of the same whole, I just wanted more out of it. I felt like the sisters weren’t allowed to develop much past their defining traits that made the opposites and Gothel had a serious advantage in the character department because we’ve already been exposed to who she is as a character from the movie. I really enjoyed how Valentino expanded on the sundrop flower because all we learn from the movie is that it has the power to heal and bring back  youth and I liked that we get an origin location for this plant and a reason why Gothel’s flower is the very last one. It made her desire to keep the flower hidden tangible and I liked that it makes the events of the movie an even more desperate reaction on her part. Just as secrets are her downfall in the movie, I liked that secrets were part of her downfall in the book. I still don’t know how I feel about the Weird Sisters though, I have been enjoying their meddling into all of these stories that I know so well, but I also keep wishing that these books were contained to just the villains story that is being focused on. I do like that the Weird Sisters have been connecting all of these villains together and I do like that they have been serving an important purpose thus far, but there have just been too many times where their presence just confuses me and I’m hoping that that confusion will dissipate when I read the next book in which they’re the focus. As always though I thought Valentino did a fantastic job with blending what we know from the films with this world that she is creating. It is both familiar and unknown and even though sometimes I don’t like the backstory she has created I am always eager to read what’s come next!

The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

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RATING: 3/5

SYNOPSIS: Thalia Cutler is an ordinary stage magician, at least that’s what she always has believed, but when she miraculously escapes unscathed from a trick gone wrong she begins to wonder if maybe there is something that she doesn’t know about her family history.

 

I had such high hopes from this book and was unfortunately disappointed. Personally I felt like there was too much going on, first there was the fact that Thalia discovers that she can transform into an animal like a small section of the population, second there was the fact that because she had discovered this power and hadn’t taken her test that says she’s proficient in this power, manticores are now constantly stalking her, and third a rival magician was murdered and her manager was accused so she now seeks to prove his innocence. Of the three I think the murder subplot was the most superfluous. There were so many moments that it got dropped and then brought back up that I felt like even though the characters were treating it like a big deal, the writing didn’t reflect that. To me it didn’t add any urgency to the story the way that the manticore attacks did. Thalia wasn’t really actively trying to solve the murder and the conclusion of the investigation didn’t really add anything to her development or story, there could have been a different catalyst to her getting signed off for her trading. I also felt like the book couldn’t decide what kind of book it wanted to be because there was so much back and forth between the learning of her power and the mystery and they never seemed to blend together in a satisfying way. There was a lot of focus on her learning her power and trying to figure out how to control it, but the whole process left me very confused and with a lot of questions. The problem for me was that nobody could teach her because it’s unique to everyone which is a cool detail, but it didn’t make it very entertaining to read. This book was full of passive action rather than active action and I personally enjoy more active books. All the relationships felt superficial to me as well and I wanted to dive deeper into them. I loved that Thalia and Nutall had a father/daughter-esque relationship and I wanted more of that. I also appreciated the sibling relationship between Ryker and Nell and again wanted more of that. That’s my big critique of this book; I just wanted more. There were so many cool details that I wanted the author to go into more detail and it just never happened. I also didn’t like that so many details were dropped for long periods of time and then brought back at weird times. This book excelled when it was talking about stage magic though. I loved the Ostrava magic shop and I loved the detail of the magic shows that either were attended or Thalia performed. I even loved the magic lessons that Thalia was giving to Nell. I almost wish that the Trader/murder aspects of the book were gone and it was just about lady stage magicians in the early 1900s because that was such a fun aspect to explore. Overall I enjoyed this book, I just wish there had been more.

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

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RATING: 4/5

SYNOPSIS: In 1906 San Francisco there aren’t much prospects for a girl from Chinatown, but Mercy Wong won’t be deterred. She manages to finagle her way into an all-white girls school in order to further her education, but it comes at a price. When all her lies and secrets start to come to light, the great earthquake strikes turning everyone’s attention to things that are more important.

 

I haven’t come across any historical fiction dealing with the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, so when I found this book I knew I had to read it. I adored Mercy and I loved how all her actions were deeply rooted in her love for her family and her culture. I liked that her father was very much for being as American as he could be, while her mother kept their Chinese heritage and culture alive and I wish that that could have been touched on a little more. To me the dynamic of keeping tradition alive while also embracing your new home is more interesting than going to school, but I do think interesting dynamics were at play once Mercy was attending classes. I almost wish that the book had been her trying to get into the school rather than what happened once she was in the school. Her getting into the school and then trying to keep up the act of being a Chinese heiress did build up some nice tension and kept things interesting, especially when she was asked to do things in a traditional Chinese way because those are things she’s never learned because she’s American, but once the earthquake hit and her cover was blown all of the tension was gone. Lee tried to rebuild it as Mercy tried to find out what happened to her family, but it didn’t build as well as in the first part of the book. While the tonal shift was necessary, it did make me feel like the book was two separate stories trying to be one. I did love everyone coming together despite their races to have dinner together in the aftermath of the quake and I understand that having her actually being in the school helped to make this action a little easier to achieve since she had a bond with some of the refugees. I also liked that Lee didn’t shy away from the discrimination of the time. Not every character was accepting of Mercy being in the school and while by the end everyone came to at least appreciate her that didn’t stop some background characters from being racist. I also liked that even though Mercy is of Chinese descent and discriminated against for that, when everyone is coming together for their dinner even she has moments where she is a little discriminatory because of stereotypes that plague other minorities. As I said in the beginning I do wish that Mercy had spent more time at home with her family because their dynamic was much more interesting to me than her dynamic with her schoolmates. The characters living in Chinatown felt richer to me than the wealthy white girls that populated the school. Only a handful were given actual personalities, but I didn’t really care about them because the narrative didn’t really make me care. I was more absorbed with the Wong family and all the people that Mercy kept thinking about from back home. Overall though I really enjoyed this book and was very excited to explore a moment in U.S. History that I haven’t gotten to really explore before.

 

 

Wayfinder by Kaitlyn Bellamy

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RATING: 4/5

SYNOPSIS: Fox and his crew must search for the Library of the Lost in order to help the Pirate God, Farran, reclaim his godly strength and to restore the memories of Lai’s mother, but first they must break a thief out of an inescapable prison to help lead their way.

PREVIOUS: Windswept | Inkspice

 

I am so happy that the past two books have had different POVs because this book really cemented for me the fact that I just find Fox to be a boring protagonist and that Lai and Neil are infinitely more interesting to me personally. Although I do love that a lot of Fox’s struggles are from internal forces instead of external ones, I honestly wish that Lai was the heroine because her hero’s journey has been so much fun to read. She has really come into her own as a character and if there are more books after this then I am so excited to see how she continues to grow. I also love Neil’s arc and I wish he had more POV chapters to really explore his feelings and his mindset. It is so interesting to me to have this “unBlessed” character surrounded by so much magic and wanting so badly to be a part of it and although on the outside he is a good friend and so supportive of Fox, the moments where he has to school his jealousy or placate his desires are amazing. I am extremely intrigued to see what happens next with him especially since I think the amulet he finds is going to have major consequences for himself as well as for Fox. As much as I love Lai and Neil though I was majorly disappointed with Gully and Cullen. Both essentially existed to be love interests and added absolutely nothing to the book. Lai and Fox could still have tension without Cullen and I think Neil’s journey could’ve been a lot more interesting if he had nobody to confide in because having Gully as a confidant didn’t really add anything to me. All the new characters were so much more interesting and given a lot more thought and attention than those two in my opinion. Structurally there were a lot of moments that I felt were either rushed or skipped. I wanted a reunion between the groups after they get separated in the library because all of a sudden Fox and Neil were together again and I had no idea how they found each other. I also felt like the actual journey through the library was rushed. I loved the jailbreak because there was so much action and detail and I wanted the same from the library. There was a lot of build up to that point and I felt let down by how easy it all was. I wanted more challenges and puzzles from it because it is described as being twisting and ever changing. Yes Fox can navigate anything, but I wanted it to provide some sort of challenge for him. This book was a lot shorter than the others and I think Bellamy could have afforded the time to give as much attention and dynamics to the library as she did to the prison. Overall I still love the characters and I adore the world that has been created. If there’s another book after this I eagerly await what happens next!

Inkspice by Kaitlyn Bellamy

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RATING: 4/5

SYNOPSIS: While Fox is continuing his training with the Shavid, they wind up in the city of Calibas where a strange power lays lurking and a power-hungry king seeks to use magic for his own purposes. Meanwhile in Thicca Valley, Lai starts to discover magic of her own.

PREVIOUS: Windswept

 

I liked this book a lot better than the first, but the sequel made me realize that I like Fox’s friends a lot more than him. I really enjoyed the chapters that were from Lai and Neil’s points of view a lot more than Fox’s and that’s just because I think Lai and Neil have far more interesting backstories and feel more rounded as characters than Fox. While Fox is great to tell the story from since we’re all learning together, he feels like a very passive character who only does what others tell him to do and Neil and Lai both feel more active to me. Both characters in both books took action into their own hands a lot of the time. I love, love, loved Lai’s storyline in this book. I am so excited to see where her development goes, not just because I am extremely partial to lady pirates, but I just love her as a character and I love how she has developed. Windswept had a lot of really great world building for Thicca Valley that I almost missed in this book, but I did appreciate that Inkspice was more active. I liked that the big problem actually stayed a big problem and that there were some really high stakes that stayed for the course of the novel. I also think that Fox’s magic is a really interesting and original concept. I love that he can bring maps to life and that he can create maps on the fly. It’s just really cool and not something that a lot of heroes are given. A lot of the time magic is very combative and I enjoy that his is more scholarly and strategy based. I didn’t know where it was going to go after the first book, but I really like the direction that Bellamy took it in and I’m very interested to see how it develops further. I also really loved all the new characters and the old ones got more backstory and development that I enjoyed as well. I was so happy when Bartrum Bookmonger returned and I thought his backstory was awesome. I honestly could read an entire series about his life as a spy and his long life. It was great to see a character that felt a little like a throwaway in the first book become something more. Gully was another interesting character, but I wish that I had learned more about her. She definitely had that stereotypical “noble lady that is a lot smarter and stronger than she looks that falls for a man below her station” story, but I feel like there is so much more to her that I hope gets explored. There was however a huge inconsistency in the book that really bothered me. At the end when everyone reunites in Thicca Valley, Lai meets Norda on the training field where she shows the townspeople some really cool self-defense moves, but a few pages later when everyone is meeting up to go on their big quest Norda is reintroduced as though she didn’t just meet Lai on the training field. It was very jarring and confusing for me as a reader and I felt like that was something big that an editor  or even a beta reader should’ve caught. I also wanted Lai being erased from Fox’s memory to have a bigger consequence than creating a love triangle. I wanted there to be some sort of fall out or non-romantic obstacle to overcome, so we’ll see what happens in the next book. Overall I enjoyed this sequel and am interested to see where it goes from here.

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross

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RATING: 3.5/5

SYNOPSIS: A retelling of the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, from the perspective of the Beast.

 

I don’t know why I didn’t expect this book to be told in first person perspective, but I didn’t and it took me a long time to get over it. For the first few chapters I had a hard time deciding whether or not I was enjoying it  because for whatever reason I just did not like that it was first person perspective. Once I got over myself though I really enjoyed this retelling. It isn’t my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but there were some changes from what I remember from the original that I liked. I remember from the original that the beauty, named Isabeau in this version, had sisters that were not that kind and I really liked that in this version they were given personalities and were shown that even though they aren’t pleased with their change in prospects, they were willing to make the best of their new situation. I also liked that Isabeau’s family was given an entire story arc to go along with the retelling because in most fairy tale’s the family of the heroine just exists and there isn’t any depth to them and I liked that that was added to this tale. I just wish that that level of thought was given to Isabeau’s father. It is such a major aspect of every retelling of Beauty and the Beast that every father does what he does because he loves his daughter and every beauty does what she does because she loves her father and I felt like this story relied too much on the fact that everybody knows that they love each other a lot. Just like we were shown how much the sisters love each other, I wanted the same to be shown with the father. He mainly existed to just cause problems and was honestly just there moping for almost the entire story. I wanted more depth in his sadness and I wanted to see more of what his relationship was like with Isabeau before so that when she came back the difference was more stark and dramatic. Also this was told from the Beast’s POV and I wanted more backstory from him. I did like that it was told slowly throughout the course of the book, but it all felt very vague to me. I almost wanted the moments where he was watching Isabeau’s family through the mirror to be flashbacks to his family. With the Beast a lot of what he went through and how he was cursed was told and not shown. I also didn’t fully understand why the Beast was cursed to be a beast in this version. It is explained that he was cursed because he was so concerned about becoming his father that he shut everyone out, but that doesn’t seem very beast-like to me and I felt like this particular curse didn’t match up with the crime. Overall however, I did enjoy Isabeau and the Beast’s friendship and I liked that each had a distinct personality. I enjoyed their interactions a lot and that’s what made me keep reading.

Windswept by Kaitlin Bellamy

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RATING: 3.5/5

SYNOPSIS: A long time ago Thicca Valley and the rest of Sodesta were cursed by the gods to live life without magic and the people just accepted their fate. One day the traveling group called the Shavid come to the valley and a young boy named Fox discovers that his uncanny tracking abilities aren’t so uncanny. Now Fox must learn to wield his magic as well as navigate becoming a man.

 

This book is extremely well written, but it wasn’t completely my cup of tea. There were a lot of moments that felt like they were going to build up to something big and exciting, then just fizzled out which was really disappointing for me. The constant build up then slow down of events also made this book a very slow read for me. I wanted an adventure story based on the information and action I was receiving throughout the narrative and that wasn’t what I was getting. It very much read like a first novel because there was so much backstory and set up being told and I wanted to just dive into the meat. Writing this review I realized that I wanted more external conflict. There was some internal conflict as Fox tried to figure out where he needed to go with his life, but there wasn’t enough of it to truly pull me in. Not that Fox’s life was easy, I just wanted there to be something more other than living life on the daily since Fox does make new discoveries that change his world view. That being said the world building is amazing. Most of this book is just the day to day life in Thicca Valley and every so often Fox does things with his powers. I really liked the traditions created for this world and what the normal was, but I wanted Fox’s abnormal to disrupt the world more because it was made to sound like him having magic was a big deal, but the consequences of his magic disrupting his world weren’t really there. There were a couple of moments where it showed, but again I felt like they were brushed away rather than explored deeper. The characters were all fun and unique though. I liked just about everyone and I enjoyed watching them live their lives and interact with each other. I did wish that there was more interaction between Fox and his mother though. He interacts a lot with his father, as most books do when they focus on the father/son trade business and there was quite a few times when his mother felt like an afterthought or was just there to punish him when he ran off. She didn’t have any personality other than caring for her men. Lai on the other hand I adored and I especially liked that even though she’s Fox’s best friend, she would still call him out when he did something stupid. I’m very intrigued to see what happens with her because there is also an important revelation about herself that comes to light as Fox learns about his magic. I also that magic is called a Blessing in this world. I thought it was a fun way to look at it and it gave it a sort of reverence about it that I hope gets explored more in the next book. Overall I didn’t love this book, but I also didn’t dislike it enough to not be just a little curious about what happens next.

Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody

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RATING: 4/5

SYNOPSIS: Enne is a proper lady attending the most exclusive of finishing schools to perfect her dancing hopefully make her debut into society, but when her mother fails to return from a routine trip to the City of Sin, Enne decides to put all that on hold to go find her. With only the name Levi Glaisyer and a city guidebook to start with, Enne sets out into the corruption of the city and discovers that there is a lot about her mother and herself that she didn’t know.

 

I definitely picked up this book because the title sounded really cool and the summary on the back intrigued me and I was not disappointed. I absolutely adored the world building in this book and I’m so glad there’s another one for me to look forward to. I enjoyed that a lot of people in this world have a supernatural talent of some sort and it was really interesting to learn about people’s individual talents and how the hierarchy of it all worked. I really liked that some were magic based and others were just that that person was just exceptionally good at a more skilled based talent. I’m also a sucker for fantasy that’s set in an early 1900s-esque setting and I enjoyed how the world felt old fashioned and modern all at once. I also enjoyed that the more Enne learned about the city and her mother’s role in it, the more complicated and tangled the web became. It felt like every piece of new information had a catch and I liked that the consequences kept building. Enne and Levi also had a fun dynamic and I enjoyed the development of their relationship over the course of their adventure. I liked how they started off as a begrudging team, but as they got to know each other more, their respect for each other grew. It really helped showcase this world by seeing it through Enne’s “innocent” eyes and Levi’s hardened gaze. I also liked how Enne was constantly in conflict with doing what she was always raised to do and doing what she needed to do to survive in the city. Not everything in this world was black and white and I liked how the shades of grey in situations came into play a lot. The fact that every character is more than what they seem on the surface is what really held me in because I loved learning how each of the characters ended up in the situation that they were in and how their pasts shaped their presents. The only thing I really had a problem with was the ending. It felt a little rushed to me especially since the whole book was building up to the Shadow Game that is referenced quite frequently once Enne and Levi meet and I wanted the pay off to be bigger. There is another book though so I’m hoping that the sequel is going to build on this more and that there will be some interesting consequences to Enne and Levi’s actions. I also wished that there was more development for some of the more minor characters as well because the members of Levi’s gang were fascinating to me, but they only served a purpose whenever they were helping with finding information. I am however excited to see more of Jac and Lola because they were really great foils to Enne and Levi. Overall I’m excited to see where the next book takes the story and I can’t wait to explore the world more!