Review: Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke


Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Curse of the Specter Queen
Author: Jenny Elder Moke
Series: Samantha Knox #1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: eARC; audiobook
Length: 352 pages (10 hours)
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Source: eARC from the publisher via Netgalley; audiobook from the library via Libby
Recommended for fans of: archaeological mystery adventures like Indiana Jones and The Mummy
Content Warnings: fire; death of parent; grief; murder



Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?

Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series!


I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! This 1920s-set, YA historical fantasy takes readers on an archaeological adventure, full ciphers, artifacts, secret societies, ancient mysteries, and Celtic mythology.

It got off to a great start with Sam working in an antique bookstore. After a mysterious diary is delivered to the bookstore, followed by dangerous men hunting the book, Sam flees from Chicago to Ireland with her estranged best friend, Joana, and Jo’s older brother, Bennet, in search of Bennet’s Professor and answers about the deadly curse of the Specter Queen described in the book.

Some elements of the plot were predictable, but one major twist completely took me by surprise. I really loved the characters in this book, especially clever, brave Sam. I thought her reconciliation with Jo was portrayed realistically, and her slow burn with her childhood crush and best friend’s brother was really sweet. There was an unnecessary love triangle that didn’t add much to the plot, but it wasn’t a huge focus of the book.

Even though the characters and older teens and a college student, it reads like lower YA/upper MG. This book might not blow your mind, but it’s very entertaining if you enter with the right expectations. I will be picking up the sequel when it comes out!

Review: Fly with the Arrow by Sarah K.L. Wilson


Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Fly with the Arrow
Author: Sarah K.L. Wilson
Series: Bluebeard’s Secret #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: New Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 311 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Recommended for fans of: Alice in Wonderland, fairy tale retellings
Content Warnings: violence, murder, kidnapping



No one told her the most important law of the court – the Law of Greeting.
If they had, maybe she wouldn’t have greeted Bluebeard when he arrived to claim a mortal wife. And if she hadn’t greeted him, she wouldn’t have become his sixteenth wife or been swept away to the lands of the Wittenhame.

But if none of that had happened, then she wouldn’t have been an integral part of the game that takes place every two hundred years – a game that determines the fates of nations.

For not all is as it seems, not in her homeland of Pensmoore, not in the Wittenhame, and certainly not in her new marriage.


Fly with the Arrow is a creative retelling of Bluebeard that also draws inspiration from fantasy like Alice in Wonderland. With a mysterious curse, forced marriage, and a veryyyyyy slow burning romance I expected to love this book, but while this book has a great concept, the execution did not always meet my expectations.

Izolda initially turned me off with her “not like other girls” vibes. After inadvertently volunteering to become Bluebeard’s sixteenth human bride, I understood her fascination with him, but I didn’t quite get when those feelings became romantic. Especially since the curse prevented Izolda and Bluebeard from speaking to each other, it was hard to get a sense of their romance without the kind of banter I love in fantasy romances.

Bluebeard is a very dark fairy tale, but I don’t think the gruesome nature of the source material blended well with the later whimsical elements like giant salamanders and walking houses. The Wittenbrand are very similar to Holly Black’s fae in The Cruel Prince, but I don’t think Wilson blended the darker and lighter sides of the fae quite as successfully.

One of my biggest issues is the length. At 311 pages, it’s short for a fantasy book, and some details really needed to be fleshed out. I was left with so many questions about the curse, the magic system, and the romance. I understand that this is the first book in a series, but I needed at least some of my questions answered to convince me to continue the series. I also think the writing could’ve used another round of polishing; some of the metaphors did not make sense. I am curious about what happens next, but with so many other books I want to read, I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to the sequels.

ARC Review: Misrule by Heather Walter


Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: Misrule
Author: Heather Walter
Series: Malice Duology #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 459 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: dark fairy tale retellings, Maleficent
Content Warnings: violence, war, death, grief, xenophobia


Does true love break curses or begin them? The dark sorceress of “Sleeping Beauty” reclaims her story in this sequel to Malice.

“Fans of reimagined fairy tales and LGBTQ+ themes will be delighted with the conclusion of this fantasy duology.”—Booklist (starred review)

The Dark Grace is dead.

Feared and despised for the sinister power in her veins, Alyce wreaks her revenge on the kingdom that made her an outcast. Once a realm of decadence and beauty, Briar is now wholly Alyce’s wicked domain. And no one will escape the consequences of her wrath. Not even the one person who holds her heart.

Princess Aurora saw through Alyce’s thorny facade, earning a love that promised the dawn of a new age. But it is a love that came with a heavy price: Aurora now sleeps under a curse that even Alyce’s vast power cannot seem to break. And the dream of the world they would have built together is nothing but ash.

Alyce vows to do anything to wake the woman she loves, even if it means turning into the monster Briar believes her to be. But could Aurora love the villain Alyce has become?

Or is true love only for fairy tales?


100 years after the events of Malice, Alyce reigns the ruins of the former kingdom of Briar as Mistress of the Dark Court. She and her wicked allies conquer the Fae Courts one by one until only the High Court remains. Will ending the war bring about the new age that Alyce and Aurora once dreamed of? Or will senseless hate and killing bring about more of the same?

I loved reading about all the different creatures that made up the Dark Court. I was here for the villainy, dark side fashion, and lovers to enemies vibes. However, I was a bit disappointed in the character development. I expected more character growth from Alyce after a century as Mistress of the Dark Court, yet I found her to be a frustrating combination of stubborn and wishy washy. Her love for Aurora was borderline obsessive, blinded her to the big picture, and led to some repetitive moments.

The story kicked off at an exciting pace, slowed in the middle, but turned around for an epic and emotional ending. I didn’t love this book as much as Malice, but I overall recommend this duology for a unique villain’s perspective.

Review: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir


Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: All My Rage
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Deepti Gupta, Kamran R. Khan, Kausar Mohammed
Length: 10.5 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: PRH Audio
Release Date: March 1, 2022
Source: Influencer Program
Content Warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, racism, alcoholism, death of a parent, drug abuse


Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir comes a brilliant, unforgettable, and heart-wrenching contemporary YA novel about family and forgiveness, love and loss, in a sweeping story that crosses generations and continents.


Where do I even begin with this review? I was curious when I heard that one of my favorite fantasy authors was shifting to write a YA contemporary since that’s not my favorite genre, but why would I ever doubt Sabaa Tahir? All My Rage is a MASTERPIECE.

The story was raw and real. The writing was so poignant and evocative. I felt the full spectrum emotions while reading this book: hope, despair, longing, sorrow, fear, and of course the titular rage. I cried for and along with the characters so many times.

This book addresses so many heavy, triggering, and depressing topics. I had to take breaks from this book for my mental health. It is absolutely worth the read, but please take care and make sure you are in the right headspace for this story.

I highly recommend the audiobook if that format is accessible to you. The narrators brought so much emotion to their performances and made the characters feel like real people. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking, must-read book.

Thank you to and the publisher for the gifted eARC.

Review: Cultish by Amanda Montell


Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism
Author: Amanda Montell
Genre: Non-Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Ann Marie Gideon
Length: 8 hours (310 pages)
Publisher: Harper Wave; HarperAudio
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: cult documentaries
Content Warnings: suicide, gaslighting, emotional abuse, death, murder


The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.

What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . .

Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.

Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.


This was a fascinating exploration of the linguistics surrounding cults and “cultish” groups. While the term cult has negative connotations due to infamous groups like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, belonging is such a central ideal in American society that cultish groups thrive here, from fad fitness studios to multi-level marketing schemes.

This books examines the language cultish groups use to attract and maintain members, create a perception of insiders versus outsiders, and fill the need for community. It does not vilify all cultish groups; instead, it provides readers with the tools to critically evaluate groups they encounter and determine whether those groups are using cultish language to truly empower or manipulate members.

I certainly have belonged to groups Montell would describe as cultish, but not every such group is harmful. Bookstagram would surely meet Montell’s definition of a cultish group! It did get to the point where it seemed like ANY group could be described as a cult, but it certainly gives me a lot of new things to think about when assessing the world around me.

Review: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray


Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Lost Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Series: Stars Wars Canon Novel
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Pierce Cravens
Length: 12 hours (551 pages)
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Star Wars, Defy the Stars
Content Warnings: suicidal thoughts, child abuse, violence, death, grief


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Eight years after the fall of the Old Republic, the Galactic Empire now reigns over the known galaxy. Resistance to the Empire has been all but silenced. Only a few courageous leaders such as Bail Organa of Alderaan still dare to openly oppose Emperor Palpatine.

After years of defiance, the many worlds at the edge of the Outer Rim have surrendered. With each planet’s conquest, the Empire’s might grows stronger.

The latest to fall under the Emperor’s control is the isolated mountain planet Jelucan, whose citizens hope for a more prosperous future even as the Imperial Starfleet gathers overhead…


This was the first Star Wars novel and first Claudia Gray book I ever read. It’s very sentimental to me, especially since it was one of the first books I read in 2016, the year I got seriously back into reading after college. After rereading, I can confidently recommend it as a great starting point for Star Wars fans wanting to give the books a try. I think it even has appeal for non-Star Wars-loving readers! (but that might just be wishful thinking)

Lost Stars is a classic tropey YA sci-fi/fantasy romance. Childhood friends Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree enroll together at the Imperial Academy to fulfill their dreams of becoming pilots. Thane becomes disillusioned by the Empire’s harsh tactics and flees to join the Rebellion, but Ciena’s belief system, which values loyalty above all, keeps her bound to the Empire. The resulting friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers forbidden romance is *chef’s kiss.*

The story spans the timeline of the Original Trilogy, beginning a few years before A New Hope and ending slightly after Return of the Jedi. The book follows new characters and only requires cursory background knowledge of the movies to understand. I really enjoyed experiencing new perspectives on classic moments from the films and the brief character cameos!

If you at all like Star Wars (and maybe even if you don’t), this book is worth the read!

ARC Review: The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray


Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Murder of Mr. Wickham
Author: Claudia Gray
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery / Retelling
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Vintage
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: Jane Austen
Content Warnings: murder, child death, sexual assault, homophobia


A summer house party turns into a whodunit when Mr. Wickham, one of literature’s most notorious villains, meets a sudden and suspicious end in this mystery featuring Jane Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. The unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.


I was very intrigued when I learned about this book. An Agatha Christie-style murder mystery featuring Jane Austen characters written by one of my favorite science fiction writers? I was cautiously optimistic by this colliding of worlds, and luckily, it paid off.

Claudia Gray skillfully captured the tone of Jane Austen’s writing and the essence of her characters. I love the way she imagined the main couples of Austen’s works coming together for an ill-fated house party. No one is too sad to be rid of Mr. Wickham permanently, but everyone is on edge knowing a murderer is among them. Gray’s original characters Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy delight as they sneak around for clandestine meetings…to solve the crime. I have my fingers crossed for a sequel reuniting those two. And I appreciate the sensitive neurodivergent representation in the young Mr. Darcy.

This definitely falls into the cozy mystery category. I would have liked a little more suspense with a killer on the loose; instead, the murder investigation sometimes to a backseat to other Regency-era pursuits, like a ball (NOT that I am complaining about the ball scene). That being said, I did not guess the murderer, and I had fun trying to put all the clues together even though I hoped for a few more thrills.

If you are a Jane Austen fan, I think you will really like this book! I have only read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey; so I naturally was less suspicious of the characters I was already familiar with. I think I would have enjoyed this a bit more if I had completed reading Jane Austen’s oeuvre beforehand, but it inspired me to pick up my next classic sooner rather than later!

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the gifted eARC.

Review: The Song of the Marked by S.M. Gaither


Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Song of the Marked
Author: S.M. Gaither
Series: Shadows and Crowns #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: New Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 512 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: September 17, 2020
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Recommended for fans of: Elise Kova and Danielle L. Jensen
Content Warnings: death of parent, chronic illness


An ancient evil is stirring. The old gods are growing restless. Can she stop the coming storm?

A Devastating Sickness

For decades, the Kethran Empire has been plagued by a strange illness that leaches the very life and soul from its victims.

The Girl Who Survived

Casia is one of the Fade-Marked—one of the few people who caught this sickness and lived. Why she lived is a mystery even to her and the outcast crew of mercenaries she calls her family. It also makes her an intriguing target for the young, enigmatic king-emperor, who claims he wants to work alongside her to find a cure.

Unfortunately, working alongside him also means working with the handsome but infuriating captain of one of the most prestigious branches of the Kethran Army.

A Soldier With No Past

This infuriating Captain Elander also has secrets: A past that Cas can’t seem to uncover, a powerful but strange brand of magic, and a deep distrust of the very monarch that he’s sworn to serve. She feels oddly drawn to him in spite of these things…

But can she really trust him?

The Fate of an Empire

As the bodies pile up and strange monsters begin to wreak havoc throughout the realms, Cas and Elander will have to work together to protect their world whether they trust one another or not. Because one thing is clear: Something ancient and evil is stirring in the shadows of Kethra.

And the empire will not survive its full unleashing.

But how can they save a world where nothing and no one is what they seem to be— including Cas herself?

Return to the unique universe of myth and magic first introduced in the bestselling Serpents and Kings trilogy with this first book in a brand new series—or visit that world for the first time! You do not need to have read any of the Serpents and Kings books to read this one. All you need to enjoy this new series is a love of fierce heroines, epic world building, enemies-to-lovers romance, and breathtaking adventure.


This is a strong start to a new fantasy romance series! The plot is fast-paced and action packed, full of mystery, scheming, and dangerous secrets. The characters are complicated and lovable. Casia is my favorite kind of strong female protagonist who is passionate, loyal, and willing to bend the rules to protect her found family. As a rare survivor of a mysterious wasting sickness, Cas’s very existence makes her a target.

And you know I am here for the enemies to lovers SLOW BURN. Cas and Elander’s romance is wonderfully angsty with a touch of forbidden.

I found the magic system with gods-blessed powers and crystals a bit confusing and overwhelming at first, but I got the hang of it by the end. Speaking of the end…DID. THAT. REALLY. JUST. HAPPEN?! I need so many answers, and I can see myself falling head over heels for the rest of this series.

Review: How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K. Eason


Rating: ☆☆
Title: How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge
Author: K. Eason
Series: The Thorne Chronicles #2
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC/Audiobook
Narrator: Nicole Poole
Length: 13 hours (408 pages)
Publisher: Daw Books; Tantor Audio
Release Date: October 27, 2020
Source: eARC from publisher via Netgalley; audiobook from library


Rory Thorne must use the fairy blessings gifted to her to change the multiverse in the second book in this space opera duology.

After avoiding an arranged marriage, thwarting a coup, and inadvertently kick-starting a revolution, Rory Thorne is no longer a princess, but a space pirate.

Her new life is interrupted when Rory and her crew–former royal bodyguards, Thorsdottir and Zhang, and co-conspirator Jaed–encounter an abandoned ship registered under a false name, seemingly fallen victim to attack. As they investigate, they find evidence of vicious technology and arithmancy, alien and far beyond known capabilities.

The only answer to all the destruction is the mysterious, and unexpected, cargo: a rose plant. One that reveals themself to be sentient–and designed as a massive biological weapon. Rose seeks to escape their intended fate, and Rory and her friends must act fast when the attackers return with their superior weaponry.

As the situation gains the attention of an increasing number of alien races, Rory finds herself acting as negotiator and diplomat, in order to save Rose and her friends–and avert an unprecedented war.


This sequel did not have the charm, wit, humor, or creativity of the original. While How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse blended myriad fairy tales and sci-fi tropes to create something fresh and fun, this space saga involving alien politics and a mysterious super weapon felt uninspired. I still don’t understand arithmancy, the tech-based magic system. The characters felt bland, and the drawn out story just did not hold my attention.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free eARC.

Review: Heartstopper Volume Two by Alice Oseman


Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Author: Alice Oseman
Series: Heartstopper #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel (paperback)
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date: July 11, 2019
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Simon vs., The Extraordinaries
Content Warnings: homophobia, bullying


Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.


How is this so cute and wholesome and wonderful?? This depicts a really sweet and supportive romance and coming out story that is a great example for teens of the importance of finding friends who accept you for who you are and standing up to the jerks. This volume left me bursting with feels.

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