Review: Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke

BOOK STATS

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

SYNOPSIS

MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…

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!

MY THOUGHTS

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: All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir

BOOK STATS

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: Libro.fm Influencer Program
Content Warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, racism, alcoholism, death of a parent, drug abuse

SYNOPSIS

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.

MY THOUGHTS

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 Libro.fm and the publisher for the gifted eARC.

Review: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

BOOK STATS

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

SYNOPSIS

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…

MY THOUGHTS

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!

Review: Heartstopper Volume Two by Alice Oseman

BOOK STATS

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

SYNOPSIS

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.

MY THOUGHTS

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.

Review: Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Anatomy: A Love Story
Author: Dana Schwartz
Series: Anatomy #1
Genre: Historical Fiction/Sci-Fi
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 338 pages
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Source: Publisher
Recommended for fans of: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Content Warnings: gore, medical content, sexism, body horror

SYNOPSIS

Edinburgh, 1817. Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

A gothic tale full of mystery and romance about a willful female surgeon, a resurrection man who sells bodies for a living, and the buried secrets they must uncover together.

MY THOUGHTS

I really wanted to love the book. The cover drew me in, and the synopsis sounds right up my alley. I truly admired Hazel’s determination to pursue her education and live independently in an era when women relied so heavily on men for their wellbeing. Some readers might be turned off by the gory and macabre descriptions of surgery and grave robbing in the story, but I thought they contributed to the dark, gothic atmosphere. While the book has romance, the true love story is that between Hazel and her study of anatomy.

However, I had a lot of issues with the plot. I understand that Hazel’s mother was not the most present parent, but I found it unbelievable that a girl of Hazel’s status during the Regency era would be left so totally unchaperoned and free to do as she pleased. In general, there were a lot of very convenient plot points throughout the book that made things too neat and easy for the characters. The book also included an unnecessary and underdeveloped supernatural element.

I liked a lot of things about this book, but overall the pieces didn’t come together in a satisfying way for me. I couldn’t help but compare it to Stalking Jack the Ripper since it gives off very similar vibes, but I thought SJTR worked better. However, a sequel was just announced, and I’m hoping the new setting will allow this concept to live up to its potential.

Thank you to the publisher for the gifted copy.

Review: The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Beauty of Darkness
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #3
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Emily Rankin, Ryan Gesell, Kirby Heyborne, Kim Mai Guest, Ann Marie Lee
Length: 19 hours (684 pages)
Publisher: Henry Holt; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: 2010’s YA fantasy
Content Warnings: misogyny, sexual assault, pregnancy, death of parent, violence

SYNOPSIS

Lia has survived Venda—but so has a great evil bent on the destruction of Morrighan. And only Lia can stop it.

With war on the horizon, Lia has no choice but to assume her role as First Daughter, as soldier—as leader. While she struggles to reach Morrighan and warn them, she finds herself at cross-purposes with Rafe and suspicious of Kaden, who has hunted her down.

In this conclusion to the Remnant Chronicles trilogy, traitors must be rooted out, sacrifices must be made, and impossible odds must be overcome as the future of every kingdom hangs in the balance.

MY THOUGHTS

Wow, just wow. What a STUNNING conclusion to the trilogy. This book is nonstop action, plotting, and betrayal. Lia is a fierce and inspiring protagonist. The way everything came together blew my mind.

My only complaint is that Rafe acted like a controlling jerk for a chunk of the book. I understand that he was adjusting to new circumstances in his life, but the way he treated Lia was not okay! I was fully Team Rafe the first two books, but this made me less sure that he deserves her.

This series had a near perfect ending for all the characters. I especially liked how Pauline’s storyline resolved. I can see why this series is quintessential YA fantasy!

Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Heart of Betrayal
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Emily Rankin, Ryan Gesell, Kirby Heyborne, Kim Mai Guest, Ann Marie Lee
Length: 14 hours (473 pages)
Publisher: Henry Holt; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: July 7, 2015
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: The Winner’s Curse
Content Warnings: death, violence, physical abuse, kidnapping, pregnancy

SYNOPSIS

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape . . . and even less of being together.

Desperate to save her life, Lia’s erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komisar that she has a magical gift, and the Komisar’s interest in Lia is greater than either Kaden or Lia foresaw.

Meanwhile, the foundations of Lia’s deeply-held beliefs are crumbling beneath her. Nothing is straightforward: there’s Rafe, who lied to her, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom she always believed to be barbarians but whom she now realizes are people who have been terribly brutalized by the kingdoms of Dalbreck and Morrighan. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her very sense of self, Lia will have to make powerful choices that affect her country, her people . . . and her own destiny.

MY THOUGHTS

In the second book in the Remnant Chronicles Lia is brought to a dangerous kingdom as a rare political prisoner. This kingdom has its own unique political, social, and belief systems. Lia plays a dangerous game as she attempts to gain the love of the people without crossing the Komisar and revealing deadly secrets. I really enjoyed getting a deeper understanding of the magic, the prophecy, and the rampant conspiracies. I looooooove that Lia and Rafe found themselves in an angsty, forbidden love situation (it is the best romance trope, after all). Kaden was there. This did give me that middle book feeling in places, but THAT ENDING! Mary E. Pearson knows how to write a cliffhanger that leaves readers excited and desperate for the next book.

Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Kiss of Deception
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Emily Rankin, Ryan Gesell, Kim Mai Guest, Kirby Heyborne, Ann Marie Lee
Length: 14 hours (492 pages)
Publisher: Henry Holt; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: The Winner’s Curse
Content Warnings: violence, kidnapping, animal death, pregnancy, death, sexual assault

SYNOPSIS

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

MY THOUGHTS

Very solid YA fantasy! This is very much a product of its time featuring so many typical YA fantasy tropes of the mid-2010s, but it’s well done and would make a great introduction for readers new to the genre.

There is a love triangle, but not an annoying push/pull that dominates the whole plot. The world building is simple and straightforward. The story featured great use of misdirection leading up to a twist that totally had me fooled. It got a bit slow in the middle, but I LOVED the ending, which kept me screaming on the edge of my seat. I am very excited to learn more about the mysterious prophecy and magic system in book 2.

Be aware that the book includes some surprisingly difficult content like teen pregnancy, violent death of family members, sexual assault, kidnapping, and animal death.

Review: The Lightning Tree by Lene Fogelberg

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Lightning Tree
Author: Lene Fogelberg
Series: The Natural Intelligence Revolution #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 260 pages
Publisher: Dedaun Publishing
Release Date: March 29, 2022
Source: Publisher
Recommended for fans of: A History of Wild Places, Stranger Things, The Year of the Witching
Content Warnings: murder, gun violence, sexual assault, death of parent, ableism

SYNOPSIS

Nature finally rises against humanity.

Flora Reed discovers a lifeless body in her front yard the morning after the last day of her junior year of high school. Matters get worse when more people from her small town are found dead under mysterious circumstances and police take an interest in the boy next door, Carl. Flora is convinced that Carl is innocent, suspecting that the deaths are somehow connected to her younger sister Fauna’s tragic accident a year earlier. What she learns changes everything, and she has to race against time to prevent the killings from spreading. Flora and a small group of friends soon find themselves at the onset of an apocalyptic battle between man and nature, with no one believing their story.

The Lightning Tree is the first installment of The Natural Intelligence Revolution Trilogy.

MY THOUGHTS

Such a wild and engrossing genre-bending story! The Lightning Tree blends YA coming-of-age, magical realism, murder mystery, apocalyptic sci-fi, conspiracy theory, environmental thriller, and campy horror. If you mixed A History of Wild Places, The Year of the Witching, and Stranger Things, the result would be something like The Lightning Tree.

The story centers on sisters Flora and Fauna a year after they were struck by lightning in a tree, an accident which leaves Fauna catatonic. They develop a mysterious ability to communicate with nature, and they may be humanity’s only hope against an upcoming threat.

The atmosphere is very spooky and unsettling. At 260 pages, this is a fast-paced read that I binged in a day. While this book focuses on one small town, the ending hints that the rest of the trilogy will explore the effects of the Natural Intelligence Revolution on a larger scale.

Thank you to the publisher for the gifted review copy.

Review: Court by Tracy Wolff

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Court
Author: Tracy Wolff
Series: Crave #4
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 689 pages
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: February 1, 2022
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Legacies

SYNOPSIS

No one survived the last battle unscathed. Flint is angry at the world, Jaxon is turning into something I don’t recognize, and Hudson has put up a wall I’m not sure I’ll ever break through.

Now war is coming, and we’re not ready. We’re going to need an army to have any hope of winning. But first, there are questions about my ancestors that need answers. Answers that might just reveal who the real monster is among us.

And that’s saying something in a world filled with bloodthirsty vampires, immortal gargoyles, and an ancient battle between two gods.

There’s no guarantee that anyone will be left standing when the dust settles, but if we want to save this world, I have no choice. I’ll have to embrace every part of me…even the parts I fear the most.

MY THOUGHTS

This was not the best installment in the Crave series, but it was not the worst. It provided an exciting and satisfying resolution to the conflict with Cyrus that would have made a great series conclusion. However, like the previous book Covet, the plot was bloated with filler scenes that mostly serve to extend the length of the book and the series overall and overly complicated world building that rewrites the existing paranormal rules rather than logically developing them.

Tonally, this book was all over the place, and I don’t think it ever found the same balance of cheesy humor and high-stakes action that worked so well in the first two books. Grace’s inner monologue became repetitive and honestly annoying. A new character joined the core crew out of nowhere and was never properly developed. The gargoyles behaved inconsistently. And don’t even get me started on how much I disliked the Impossible Trials.

However, I really liked the ending of this book. The final battle epic. Grace finally reaches a point where she feels confident in herself, her abilities, and her relationship. I also really loved Izzy and wish she had played a bigger role in the story! But with the exception of a few minor things that were left open (Flint and Jaxon???), I don’t think there’s enough left to logically explore in this world to justify continuing the series.

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