Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Series: These Violent Delights #1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Cindy Kay
Length: 14 hours (449 pages)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderberry Books; Tantor Audio
Release Date: November 17, 2020
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: The Last Magician, Six of Crows

SYNOPSIS

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

MY THOUGHTS

This is such a cool Romeo & Juliet retelling in 1920s Shanghai. The city had a diverse racial and political makeup that made the perfect backdrop for this tale of rival gangs and mysterious madness. I would call this light fantasy. There is a monster, but the extensive research the author clearly put into this book grounds this gritty story in what feels like reality.

The contagion storyline was especially alarming considering the current pandemic. The bugs were SO creepy and disturbing. The family drama and enemies to lovers vibes were so well executed (or should I say enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-reluctant-allies-to lovers-to-enemies…assuming I’m keeping up). That being said, this definitely needed more romance.

I sometimes struggled to keep up with who all the characters were, but I think that’s a side effect of the audiobook rather than the storytelling. The ending was wild and ends on a mind blowing cliffhanger. I am desperate for the next book and I have high hopes for more romance!

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Raybearer
Author: Jordan Ifueko
Series: Raybearer #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Length: 14 hours (368 pages)
Publisher: Amulet Books; Blackstone Publishing
Release Date: August 18, 2020
Source: Libro.fm ALC program
Recommended for fans of: world cultures and folklore

SYNOPSIS

Nothing is more important than loyalty. But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

MY THOUGHTS

Raybearer is such a unique and captivating YA fantasy debut that deserves all the praise and attention. While the physical book is stunning, I HIGHLY recommend the audiobook because it brings the writing to life. I felt like I was a kid sitting around a campfire listening to a master storyteller enchant me with African folktales and songs.

The magic system with the Ray is unlike anything else I’ve read. The political intrigue and courtly drama were compelling. The cast of complicated, diverse characters drove the story. There is so much backstory with the Lady that I cannot wait to explore further. And the hints of romance!

If this book is not on your radar, it needs to be. It is creative, well-written, and full of exciting plot twists. I cannot wait to see what happens in the next book!

Thank you to libro.fm and the publisher for the gifted ALC in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author: Melissa Bashardoust
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 319 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: July 7, 2020
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: fairy tales, folklore, mythology from different cultures

SYNOPSIS

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

MY THOUGHTS

This standalone YA fantasy is a fantastic fusion of fairy tales and folklore. It is a loose Sleeping Beauty retelling (although I also picked up a few hints of Beauty & the Beast) set against a lush backdrop of Persian culture and mythology. I’m so glad I chose this for my Carolibrary Book Club in March because it is a new all time favorite.

This is exactly the kind of story I love. This story is very character driven, so if you’re looking for action and adventure this might not be the book for you. I was fascinated by the explorations of what it means to be a monster and how Soraya, Azad, and Parvaneh were all different sides of the same coin. Just about every character was morally gray. The story has hints of romance, but it was not the main focus, which is exactly what this book needed to focus on individual character growth and development.

Some readers in my book club complained that the story could be repetitive due to Soraya’s naivety, but I found it completely plausible due to her incredibly sheltered upbringing. I was so invested in her journey of understanding and embracing who she is, and I loved the way everything came together in the end.

I also appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book. Melissa Bashardoust explains the Persian mythology that influenced this story and how her version differs from the original tales.

Review: Covet by Tracy Wolff

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: Covet
Author: Tracy Wolff
Series: Crave #3
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 680 pages
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Source: Personal Collection
Recommended for fans of: vampires
Content Warnings: panic attacks, death, violence, emotional torture, incarceration
Series Reviews: Crave, Crush

SYNOPSIS

I may have reached my breaking point. As if trying to graduate from a school for supernaturals isn’t stressful enough, my relationship status has gone from complicated to a straight-up dumpster fire.

Oh, and the Bloodletter has decided to drop a bomb of epic proportions on us all…

Then again, when has anything at Katmere Academy not been intense?

And the hits just keep coming. Jaxon’s turned colder than an Alaskan winter. The Circle is splintered over my upcoming coronation. As if things couldn’t get worse, now there’s an arrest warrant for Hudson’s and my supposed crimes—which apparently means a lifetime prison sentence with a deadly unbreakable curse.

Choices will have to be made…and I fear not everyone will survive.

The Crave series is best enjoyed in order.
Reading Order:
Book #1 Crave
Book #2 Crush
Book #3 Covet
Book #4 Court 

MY THOUGHTS

Crave continues to be my ultimate guilty pleasure series. Do I really need more teen vampire romances in my life? The answer is always YES. I love this world and these characters so much. I love seeing Grace become more confident in herself and her supernatural abilities. And Hudson is too good for this world (probably why he’s fictional).

However, I know that this series was originally conceived as trilogy before it was expanded to four books on a tight publication schedule, and it shows in Covet. This book is TOO LONG, and the pacing doesn’t always work. I flew through Crave and Crush in about two days each, but Covet took me two weeks. Multiple characters were uncharacteristically indecisive and oblivious for the sake of drawn out plot detours. Grace was especially frustrating and hypocritical in the way she viewed her mating bond and her relationships with Hudson and Jaxon. I also thought the whole prison plot line was confusing and underwhelming.

There were lots of developments I really liked: the Bloodletter, the giants, the Dragon Ball. The final battle was AMAZING and emotional, and I wish more of the book had that energy and pacing (although there is one thing at the end I think should’ve played out differently). Even though this book left more unanswered questions than I would like, I have faith the series will get back on track for an epic, emotional, and fun conclusion in Court!

Review: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Kingdom of the Wicked
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 372 pages
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Release Date: October 27, 2020
Source: Personal Collection
Recommended for fans of:
Content Warnings: murder, death of a sibling

SYNOPSIS

Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

MY THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this YA paranormal fantasy. I loved the rich & dark atmosphere, the witchy magic, the murder mystery, and allllll the descriptions of food. Kerri Maniscalco shines as a fantasy writer, and I predict that this series will be even better than Stalking Jack the Ripper.

I loved the angst and banter between Emilia and Wrath, but I really wanted more from their enemies to lovers budding romance. I needed more Wrath content in general!

I occasionally felt like things were too easy for Emilia, but honestly, girl went through A LOT in this book so she deserved some lucky breaks. There were some really great twists I did not see coming at all, and that cliffhanger ending… is it October yet? Because I think book 2 will be even better.

Kingdom of the Wicked was my February pick for my book club on Instagram, and I had so much discussing this book (and others) with my group! I’m so glad I decided to start hosting buddy reads in 2021!

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jorgeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Michael Crouch
Length: 9 hours (391 pages)
Publisher: Philomel Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Library
Content Warnings: rape/sexual assault, war, violence, death of loved ones

SYNOPSIS

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks. 

MY THOUGHTS

This was a very compelling historical fiction book about an overlooked piece of World War II history: refugees in Germany fleeing from the Soviet invasion at the end of the war and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlaff. I had previously never heard of this tragedy even though it is the deadliest single ship sinking in maritime history.

The narrative is told in short chapters that alternate between 4 POVs. While each character comes from a very different background and was affect by the war in different ways, they were all running away from something and running to something else. The characters developed a tenuous trust as they traveled together, but tensions were always high because every had dangerous secrets.

This book portrays a stark view of the horrors of war with no time for people to process trauma while trying to survive. I think Ruta Sepetys does a fantastic job of making difficult subject matter accessible to young adult readers.

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Shadows Between Us
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 326 pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 25, 2020
Source: personal collection
Recommended for fans of: The Bridge Kingdom, scheming lady assassins, dark romance
Content Warnings: violence, assassination attempts

SYNOPSIS

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

MY THOUGHTS

I am surprised by how much I absolutely loved this book. I fully expected this to be a 4 star book, but I then I fell in love with the characters and their enemies-to-lovers romance!

I loved Alessandra’s ruthlessness, confidence, and her wardrobe (please someone help me find some fanart of her outfits)! And of course I fell for Kallias, the mysterious and seclusive Shadow King who secretly craves connection (because fantasy readers have a TYPE).

Although many of the plot twists were predictable (except one that absolutely blew my mind), the action, scheming, and romantic angst more than made up for it. This book is largely about plotting murder and actual murder, but it just made me feel good!

My only complaint is that this book is YA. The story would’ve been perfection as an NA fantasy romance with a little more steam.

Review: The Shadow Threat (House of El #1) by Claudia Gray

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Shadow Threat
Writer: Claudia Gray
Illustrator: Eric Zawadzki
Series: House of El
Genre: Superhero/Science Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Graphic Novel
Length: 194 pages
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: January 5, 2021
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Superman

SYNOPSIS

Zahn is one of Krypton’s elites: wealthy, privileged, a future leader. Sera is one of Krypton’s soldiers: strong, dedicated, fearless. Their rule – bound society has ordained that their paths should never cross.

But groundquakes are shaking the planet’s surface. Rebellious uprisings are shaking the populace. Krypton’s top scientists — Jor-El and Lara — conduct a secret experiment that is meant to reform their planet from the cellular level up. Zahn and Sera must join forces to investigate the hidden dangers truly threatening Krypton. In the process, they form a bond that will endure past the end of the world.

MY THOUGHTS

Superman is not my favorite hero, but I was interested in this prequel to Clark Kent’s story on Earth. This series provides a background about Kryptonian society and the unrest leading up to the planet’s demise.

I really liked the two main characters, Zahn and Sera. They come from very different backgrounds, but they are both dedicated to uncovering the truth and doing whatever it takes to save their planet.

This installment ends on a major cliffhanger, and there is so much to be explored in volume 2!

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: White Hot Kiss
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Series: The Dark Elements #1
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Length: 12 hours (400 pages)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen; Tantor Audio
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: The Mortal Instruments, Crave, Vampire Academy, Supernatural

SYNOPSIS

Layla just wants to fit in at school and go on a date with Zayne, whom she’s crushed on since forever. Trouble is, Zayne treats Layla like a sister–and Layla is a half demon, half gargoyle with abilities no one else possesses. And even though Zayne is a Warden, part of the race of gargoyles tasked with keeping humanity safe, Layla’s kiss will kill anything with a soul–including him.

Then she meets Roth–a demon who claims to know her secrets. Though Layla knows she should stay away, it’s tough when that whole no-kissing thing isn’t an issue. Trusting Roth could ruin her chances with Zayne, but as Layla discovers she’s the reason for a violent demon uprising, kissing the enemy suddenly pales in comparison to the looming end of the world.

MY THOUGHTS

Demons and gargoyles and wardens, oh my! This was a fun paranormal, urban fantasy. It features an irresistible book boyfriend like I have come to expect from JLA. Since this is YA, it’s not as steamy as some of her other series, and it features a love triangle and some unnecessary high school drama. However, I was here for Layla’s struggle with her dark side and the demon romance. I’m excited to see where this goes in book 2!

ARC Review: The Knockout by Sajni Patel

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: The Knockout
Author: Sajni Patel
Genre: Contemporary/Sports
Audience: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Length: 360 pages
Publisher: Flux Books
Release Date: January 26, 2021
Source: publisher
Recommended for fans of:
Content Warnings: bullying, body image issues

SYNOPSIS

A rising star in Muay Thai figures out what (and who) is worth fighting for in this #ownvoices YA debut full of heart.

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

MY THOUGHTS

In this YA sports contemporary novel, Kareena Thakkar deals with familiar teen problems: Calculus, mean girls, a new crush, insecurities. But she also has to deal with elite-level Muay Thai training, fundraising for an upcoming competition, her father’s ailing health, her family’s financial woes, and a judgmental Indian community that doesn’t accept her as a female fighter.

Kareena struggles to belong in multiple areas of her life, always feeling like she needs to hide some part of herself to fit in. Kareena’s confidence grows throughout the book, and I loved the message about owning who you really are and tuning out the haters.

The story was a bit slow to develop for me. The romance was a bigger focus than I expected. Some of the dialogue, slang, and flirting were awkwardly phrased, which pulled me out of the story a bit. As an adult I found it frustrating to read about Kareena’s teen insecurities, but I think younger readers will find it relatable. I loved the fight scenes, but I wanted to see more of Kareena strong and in her element!

I also learned so much about Indian culture, from family dynamics, community, religion, holidays, food, and fashion. This story is very personal for the author and drew a lot of influence from her own experiences growing up.