Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Series: Cursebreakers #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Davis Brooks, Kate Handford, Matt Reeves
Length: 15 hours (507 pages)
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Beauty & the Beast retellings
Content Warnings: violence, death, cancer, chronic illness

SYNOPSIS

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

MY THOUGHTS

This book is so highly rated by so many reviewers I follow, and I usually love fairy tale retellings, but I thought it was just okay. I tend to not like portal fantasies that begin in our modern world as much as high fantasy, and I’m starting to lose interest in a lot of YA fantasy tropes that were prevalent in this book.

I struggled to get into this story. Harper is NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS. The foundation is laid for a love triangle that I just do not have time for. I will say that I never fully bought Harper’s feelings for Rhen. The uncertainty that lingered at the end annoyed me. I can’t say I was ever too surprised by any of the plot points.

It is refreshing to see such great disability rep in a YA fantasy book. The fast pace kept me interested in the story, but I’m not sure if I’m interested enough to continue the series. I think I would’ve loved this book a few years ago, but it doesn’t work for the reader I am today.

Review: Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Redemptor
Author: Jordan Ifueko
Series: Raybearer #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Length: 13 hours (336 pages)
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: August 17, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

SYNOPSIS

For the first time, an Empress Redemptor sits on Aritsar’s throne. To appease the sinister spirits of the dead, Tarisai must now anoint a council of her own, coming into her full power as a Raybearer. She must then descend into the Underworld, a sacrifice to end all future atrocities.

Tarisai is determined to survive. Or at least, that’s what she tells her increasingly distant circle of friends. Months into her shaky reign as empress, child spirits haunt her, demanding that she pay for past sins of the empire.

With the lives of her loved ones on the line, assassination attempts from unknown quarters, and a handsome new stranger she can’t quite trust . . . Tarisai fears the pressure may consume her. But in this finale to the Raybearer duology, Tarisai must learn whether to die for justice . . . or to live for it.

MY THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed the direction this book took, following Tarisai’s journey to be the best ruler she could be and do right by her people…all while processing her relationship with her mother and being haunted by creepy kids.

I wanted a bit more from certain parts of the story. The whole book builds toward Tarisai’s journey to the Underworld, but her actual time there felt rushed. This book is fairly short for fantasy, and I think there was room to flesh things out a bit more.

I thought the ending was great, and overall this is a really good duology!

Review: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Deathless Divide
Author: Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation #2
Genre: Historical Paranormal Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Bahni Turpin & Jordan Cobb
Length: 15 hours (560 pages)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: zombies + historical fiction
Content Warnings: racism, death, gore

SYNOPSIS

The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

MY THOUGHTS

Like Dread Nation, Deathless Divide did not go in the direction I expected, but boy did it take me for a wild ride!

This book adds Katherine as a second POV narrator, for plot reasons. Jane and Katherine change a lot throughout Deathless Divide (which includes a 1.5 year time jump midway) as they process the events of Dread Nation and further traumatic events at the beginning of this book.

Even though this book portrays a fictionalized American history plagued by zombies, it explores the racism and discrimination faced by Black people, Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants with accuracy and nuance. Ireland did a phenomenal job of adapting the prejudices of the time to her fictionalized version of events.

The zombie vaccine storyline hit a little too close to home, although this book was published pre-COVID. I was not a big fan of the main conflict in this story. Ireland took a misguided yet sympathetic character and turned him into a fully fledged villain, and I just didn’t like the way that arc played out. I was also a bit underwhelmed by the resolution of Jane’s complicated relationship with her mother.

This series is so cool and unique, and I highly recommend it to readers for a totally different YA adventure!

Review: The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: The Devil’s Thief
Author: Lisa Maxwell
Series: The Last Magician #2
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 692 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: time travel, Six of Crows
Content Warnings: racism/cultural appropriation, drug abuse/addiction

SYNOPSIS

Hunt the Stones.
Beware the Thief.
Avenge the Past.

Esta’s parents were murdered. Her life was stolen. And everything she knew about magic was a lie. She thought the Book of Mysteries held the key to freeing the Mageus from the Order’s grasp, but the danger within its pages was greater than she ever imagined.

Now the Book’s furious power lives inside Harte. If he can’t control it, it will rip apart the world to get its revenge, and it will use Esta to do it.

To bind the power, Esta and Harte must track down four elemental stones scattered across the continent. But the world outside the city is like nothing they expected. There are Mageus beyond the Brink not willing to live in the shadows—and the Order isn’t alone in its mission to crush them.

In St. Louis, the extravagant World’s Fair hides the first stone, but an old enemy is out for revenge and a new enemy is emerging. And back in New York, Viola and Jianyu must defeat a traitor in a city on the verge of chaos.

As past and future collide, time is running out to rewrite history—even for a time-traveling thief.

MY THOUGHTS

First, I want to say that I adore The Last Magician. It is a totally underrated YA historical fantasy about time travel and a magical heist, a la Six of Crows. I love the characters, their found family dynamic, the setting in turn-of-the-century New York, and the magic system in this series, but Lisa Maxwell tried to do too much in this book.

This book pushes 700 pages, and it has no business being that long. By separating the core characters from The Last Magician across space and time AND adding multiple new POV characters to each timeline, the story became sprawling and unwieldy. I didn’t like most of the new characters as much as the originals, and some of the new POVs seemed unnecessary.

The story slowly built and built, and I really expected it to pay off with an explosive ending, but the book ended SO abruptly, leaving me confused and unsatisfied. The book was so long and we didn’t even get to see the final events play out completely! I will eventually continue this series because I love the concept and the first book earned five stars from me, but I need a little time before I’m ready to attack book 3 (which is even longer than this one!).

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Series: Dread Nation #1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Length: 12 hours (455 pages)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: zombies
Content Warnings: racism, violence

SYNOPSIS

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems. 

MY THOUGHTS

This book is so unique and creative, unlike anything else I’ve read. I love the zombie twist on Civil War, Reconstruction, and Old West history. The way this book addresses race and gender feels both authentic to the time period and incredibly relevant today.

Jane was smart and headstrong main character, and I really liked how her friendship with Katherine developed throughout the book. All of the supporting characters were vivid and well-developed.

This book took some WILD turns I could not foresee, but it was so much more clever and entertaining than I expected. The audiobook was great, and I can’t wait to see what adventures book 2 has in store!

Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover/Audiobook
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 24 hours (658 pages)
Publisher: Harper Voyager; Harper Audio
Release Date: August 8, 2019
Source: Hardcover from personal collection; audiobook from library
Content Warnings: rape, drug abuse, graphic depictions of war violence

SYNOPSIS

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

MY THOUGHTS

This book took me a full month to read because it started as a buddy read that fell apart so I kept setting it aside for other books until I finally switched to audio to finish it up. (by the way…the audiobook is fantastic)

This is an excellent sequel. It starts off a little slow, but it picks up once Rin stops feeling sorry for herself. The book is quite long, but it offers so much expanded world building, including a deeper understanding of the shaman magic, warfare, and politics in this world.

I am so impressed by the writing. The ending was very twisty and mind blowing. Like The Poppy War, this book has lots of potential triggers and is very graphic and gruesome.

Review: My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: My Contrary Mary
Authors: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
Series: Mary #1
Genre: Humor / Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Length: 12 hours (512 pages)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: June 22, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: My Lady Jane, historical parodies

SYNOPSIS

Welcome to Renaissance France, a place of poison and plots, of beauties and beasts, of mice and . . . queens?

Mary is the queen of Scotland and the jewel of the French court. Except when she’s a mouse. Yes, reader, Mary is an Eðian (shapeshifter) in a kingdom where Verities rule. It’s a secret that could cost her a head—or a tail.

Luckily, Mary has a confidant in her betrothed, Francis. But after the king meets a suspicious end, things at the gilded court take a treacherous turn. Thrust onto the throne, Mary and Francis are forced to navigate a viper’s nest of conspiracies, traps, and treason. And if Mary’s secret is revealed, heads are bound to roll.

MY THOUGHTS

It was so fun to return to the era of My Lady Jane where it all started. I love the way these authors play with history and humor while developing such lovable characters.

This fresh take on Mary Queen of Scots was delightful, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a basic understanding of European history looking for a fun, light read.

Review: Thrawn Treason by Timothy Zahn

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Thrawn: Treason
Author: Timothy Zahn
Series: Star Wars: Thrawn #3
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Length: 13 hours (334 pages)
Publisher: Del Rey; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: July 23, 2019
Source: Library

SYNOPSIS

Grand Admiral Thrawn faces the ultimate test of his loyalty to the Empire in this epic Star Wars novel from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

“If I were to serve the Empire, you would command my allegiance.”

Such was the promise Grand Admiral Thrawn made to Emperor Palpatine at their first meeting. Since then, Thrawn has been one of the Empire’s most effective instruments, pursuing its enemies to the very edges of the known galaxy. But as keen a weapon as Thrawn has become, the Emperor dreams of something far more destructive.

Now, as Thrawn’s TIE defender program is halted in favor of Director Krennic’s secret Death Star project, he realizes that the balance of power in the Empire is measured by more than just military acumen or tactical efficiency. Even the greatest intellect can hardly compete with the power to annihilate entire planets.

MY THOUGHTS

Excellent conclusion to this trilogy! Thrawn continues to fascinate me, and I love how this series gives insights into Emperial politics and mystery surrounding the Death Star project.

I enjoyed learning more about Chiss and finally meeting new characters from the Ascendancy.

This book ends with Thrawn departing for his final appearance in Rebels so it’s the end of his story for now, but I’m excited to read the other Thrawn series that are out there!

Review: Thrawn Alliances by Timothy Zahn

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Thrawn: Alliances
Author: Timothy Zahn
Series: Star Wars: Thrawn #2
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Length: 13 hours (342 pages)
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: July 24, 2018
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Star Wars Rebels, The Clone Wars, The Prequels

SYNOPSIS

“I have sensed a disturbance in the Force.”

Ominous words under any circumstances, but all the more so when uttered by Emperor Palpatine. On Batuu, at the edges of the Unknown Regions, a threat to the Empire is taking root—its existence little more than a glimmer, its consequences as yet unknowable. But it is troubling enough to the Imperial leader to warrant investigation by his most powerful agents: ruthless enforcer Lord Darth Vader and brilliant strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn. Fierce rivals for the emperor’s favor, and outspoken adversaries on Imperial affairs—including the Death Star project—the formidable pair seem unlikely partners for such a crucial mission. But the Emperor knows it’s not the first time Vader and Thrawn have joined forces. And there’s more behind his royal command than either man suspects.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, General Anakin Skywalker of the Galactic Republic, and Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo, officer of the Chiss Ascendancy, crossed paths for the first time. One on a desperate personal quest, the other with motives unknown . . . and undisclosed. But facing a gauntlet of dangers on a far-flung world, they forged an uneasy alliance—neither remotely aware of what their futures held in store.

Now, thrust together once more, they find themselves bound again for the planet where they once fought side by side. There they will be doubly challenged—by a test of their allegiance to the Empire . . . and an enemy that threatens even their combined might.

MY THOUGHTS

Thrawn and Vader together are a FASCINATING combination. They both have such distinct minds, brutal in their own ways.

This story is told through dual timelines, following Darth Vader and Grand Admiral Thrawn as they investigate a threat to the Empire, and flashing back to when Anakin Skywalker and Mitth’raw’nuruodo first crossed paths on the same planet during the Clone Wars. I enjoyed both stories (especially Padme’s involvement in the past), but they could have meshed together better. The book would spend too much time in one timeline before switching back to the other, and I would’ve liked to see stronger parallels between them.

It is interesting to see how Thrawn handles his divided loyalties as the Empire and the Chiss Ascendancy. So excited for MORE THRAWN!

Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: Thrawn
Author: Timothy Zahn
Series: Star Wars: Thrawn #1
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Marc Thompson
Length: 17 hours (427 pages)
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: April 6, 2017
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Star Wars Rebels

SYNOPSIS

One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

All these lessons will be put to the ultimate test when Thrawn rises to admiral and must pit all the knowledge, instincts, and battle forces at his command against an insurgent uprising that threatens not only innocent lives but also the Empire’s grip on the galaxy—and his own carefully laid plans for future ascendancy.

MY THOUGHTS

I was introduced to the character Thrawn in the Rebels animated series, and I found him to be such a fascinating villain with his cunning, tactical genius. I think I would enjoy ANY story that gives me insights into his mind, and this did not disappoint.

This book is a great background for Rebels fans as it establishes Thrawn and Governor Pryce’s rise in the Empire. The story was a bit long and convoluted at times, and I wish Thrawn and Pryce’s paths had first intersected earlier in the story, but I still really enjoyed it.

This is the first Star Wars book I’ve read with a villain MC, and I loved the perspective. The audiobook performance was great, and Marc Thompson did such a great job with Thrawn’s voice that I initially thought he was the actor from the series. I am very excited to make my way through more Thrawn books, both in new canon and Legends novels.