Kate’s Review: “Nine Lives”

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Book: “Nine Lives” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow & Company, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: The story of nine strangers who receive a cryptic list with their names on it – and then begin to die in highly unusual circumstances.

Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke – until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor.

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next….

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC to this novel!

I’ve been reading Peter Swanson novels since 2016, in which “The Killing Kind” totally blew me away and kept me on my toes. I have come to expect him to find ways to bring in new twists and turns that are totally earned by also shocking and unexpected, sometimes even deconstructing what we have come to expect of the thriller genre as a whole. Because I have this knowledge and because I’m so familiar with his tricky little carpet yanks, one would think that when I went into his newest book “Nine Lives” that I would have figured all of this out. One would think that I would be expecting a twist and that when it came I would say ‘ah yes, I knew that was coming’. And hey, to be fair, there were a couple early on moments that I thought ‘well either that was the twist or perhaps there IS no big reveal this time just to keep me on my toes even more’.

And then this guy STILL manages to completely take me by surprise with a twist I didn’t expect AT ALL.

And it’s just one of a good few in this story! (source)

The thing that I like the most about Peter Swanson, beyond the ability he has to totally floor me, is that he always crafts mysteries that have just enough twists to be interesting without going into wholly farfetched territory. As each stranger on the list of names is slowly picked off one by one, the deaths are done in ways that are almost always matter of fact, totally believable, and in a finite and quick manner that makes the beat punch hard, but then go onto the next. We don’t linger on melodrama nor do we feel a need to explain until it’s fully time for explanations. The clues are placed here and there, and they all fit together once they start to near each other. And while it’s true that I caught a couple of them in advance, the lion’s share were truly surprising. It has definite allusions to the Agatha Christie story “And Then There Were None” without feeling like a direct lifting, and while acknowledging that there are some tweaks here and there. The mystery is strong, even if a lot of the characters kind of fall by the wayside. But I think that that is kind of to be expected in some ways, just because there are nine people on the list, and a limited amount of time that they are going to be alive given that they are all targets of a killer. But for a few of them I felt like we did get some pretty okay insight into who they were as people outside of this, even while others fell flat or into two dimensional tropes.

I have seen criticism of the motive behind what all is going on, and I can definitely get why the criticism is there. Ultimately the construction of the mystery is sound and it has very solid working parts, but the actual foundation of the motive was pretty generic and glossed over. It doesn’t really help that there had to be a huge ‘telling instead of showing’ component at the end, with a big letter that explains just about everything. That’s usually a huge splash of cold water on a book for me, and I remember thinking ‘ah jeeze’ when I realized what was happening.

But hey, I was still having a fun time as we barreled towards the end of “Nine Lives”. The motive may be eh, but the journey through a list of nine marked people is still really fun. Keep on catching me off guard, Peter Swanson! I always like being surprised!

Rating 7: A fun twist on “And Then There Were None” with a few good surprises, “Nine Lives” is another entertaining read from Peter Swanson, even if some of the details are glossed over or undercooked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Nine Lives” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2022”, and would fit in on “‘And Then There Were None’ Trope Novels”.

Serena’s Review: “Gallant”

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Book: “Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

Review: Though some of her books have been a bit of a miss for me, V.E. Schwab is firmly on my “must read” list. Even those books that I didn’t love still always had superb writing and creative fantastical ideas. And then there’s the fact that these less liked books are far and away the more rare for me. Typically, I’ve really adored her writing and own several of her books outright. But when a book hasn’t hit for me, it’s typically come from her YA fare. So, while I was super excited to see a new book coming out, I was a bit more nervous than I typically would be when I saw that this was marketed as YA. Luckily, that wasn’t an issue here! Is that because I’d argue this might not be YA?

Olivia dreams of what every orphan child dreams of: a home and a family who want her. But at age 14, she’s well aware that all she has left in this world, truly, is her mother’s cryptic journal. So no one is more surprised than she when a letter suddenly arrives at her orphanage calling Olivia home to Gallant. But when she arrives, though she does discover family, she realizes that not only did her unwelcoming cousin Mathew not send the letter, but that he seems almost desperate for her to leave as soon as possible. When she stumbles into a shadowy world mirroring Gallant itself, she begins to suspect that there is more to the old house and her family’s history than she ever could have imagined.

This book was marketed as a Gothic “The Secret Garden,” and I can definitely see that all over this book. It’s also notable that V.E. Schwab is something of an old hand at penning these type of overlaying, mirrored worlds. This same concept is at the heart of her popular “Shades of Magic” trilogy, so it was fun seeing her return to that same fantasy element. But, true to her being a very talented author, she does so in a way that it is original and stands completely separate from that trilogy.

For one thing, I’d argue that this book is more Middle Grade than YA. The protagonist, Oliva, is definitely on the younger side of teenage-dom. And, not that all YA books require romance by any means, but the story itself is fully devoid of any love story, something that is rare in typical YA fantasy fare. The themes of the story, family, home, the understanding of choosing the way we move forward into a more adult world, are all of the sort that I think would appeal greatly to Middle Grade audiences. Some of the fantasy elements are a bit dark, but I’d think the average middle grader would be up for it.

Olivia was an excellent main character. She is a character who has grown up without the ability to communicate verbally. She can hear but must use sign language or writing to speak with those around her. It’s telling of Schwab’s abilities that she was able to write such a complex character and story while relying on minimal dialogue. Instead, she finds a variety of ways for Olivia to communicate. But while doing this, the author also explores the way that those without a voice can be easily silenced and dismissed, speaking to a power imbalance that many may not even be aware of.

I really liked Gallant and its shadow-world as well. The Gothic overtones were high, with secret passages, moldering rooms hinting of past grandeur slowly sinking into decrepitude, and haunted forms flitting in and out of rooms. The history of the house and Olivia’s family was also very interesting. I especially appreciated the use of a selection of abstract artwork that is sprinkled throughout the story to add another layer to the story unfolding on the page.

I did have to drop the rating down a bit by the time I got to the end, however. While the quality of the storytelling, world-building, and characterization were high throughout, by the time I finished the last page I was left with a sense of feeling a bit unmoored. When I think back on the book, I’m not sure I can see a real point to the story. That, and the fact that I feel like the ending didn’t so much conclude a story as re-set the board. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, honestly. But I feel like Schwab somehow missed the mark a bit here.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this book. I definitely think it’s worth checking out for fans of Gothic fantasy. It’s also a great stand-alone story and one that doesn’t include a love story at its heart. I think it probably veers closer to Middle Grade than YA, but at a certain point that distinction blends to a point where both would likely enjoy it equally.

Rating 8: Splendidly creepy while also reflecting on deeper topics such as the choice involved in home and family.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Gallant” is on these Goodreads lists: 2022 Gothic and 2022 Anticipated Fiction Fantasy Reads.

Kate’s Review: “The Last Laugh”

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Book: “The Last Laugh” by Mindy McGinnis

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley

Where You Can Get this Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: In the dark and stunning sequel to The Initial Insult, award-winning author Mindy McGinnis concludes this suspenseful YA duology as long-held family secrets finally come to light . . . changing Amontillado forevermore.

Tress Montor murdered Felicity Turnado—but she might not have to live with the guilt for long. With an infected arm held together by duct tape, the panther who clawed her open on the loose, and the whole town on the hunt for the lost homecoming queen, the odds are stacked against Tress. As her mind slides deeper into delirium, Tress is haunted by the growing sound of Felicity’s heartbeat pulsing from the “best friend” charm around her fevered neck.

Ribbit Usher has been a punchline his whole life—from his nickname to his latest turn as the unwitting star of a humiliating viral video. In the past he’s willingly played the fool, but now it’s time to fulfill his destiny. That means saving the girl, so that Felicity can take her place at his side and Ribbit can exact revenge on all who have done him wrong—which includes his cousin, Tress. Ribbit is held by a pact he made with his mother long ago, a pact that must be delivered upon in four days.

With time ticking down and an enemy she considers a friend lurking in the shadows, Tress’s grip on reality is failing. Can she keep both mind and body together long enough to finally find out what happened to her parents?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve been awaiting “The Last Laugh” by Mindy McGinnis since the moment I finished “The Initial Insult”. If you recall, that novel took Edgar Allan Poe tales and turned them into a modern small town setting involving grudge and secret holding teenagers, and did it in a way that worked fairly well. It also ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, one that had my head spinning about where it could go next. I had some theories, and while I was on the money in some ways, in other ways “The Last Laugh” surprised me.

Somehow “The Last Laugh” was even darker than “The Initial Insult”, which is saying something given that the last book ended with a teenage girl being bricked up in a coal shaft and left to die (though in Tress’s defense, she had had a change of heart, but thought that Felicity had died before she could reverse her plan and just left her there… even though Felicity wasn’t actually dead yet. BLEAK!). We are now following Tress again as she deals with her guilt for Felicity’s demise, and we now have two new perspectives to engage with since Felicity is out of the picture and the Black Panther is free. The first is Ribbit, Tress’s cousin who was humiliated via an online video where his classmates got him drunk and filmed it. The second is Rue, the gentle orangutan at Tress’s grandpa’s animal sideshow, who adores Tress. Tress’s story goes the way you think it would: she’s severely injured due to the panther mauling her arm, and is feeling immense guilt. But Ribbit’s perspective was interesting. I knew that he had a part to play given his “Hop-Frog” analog, but getting into his mind shows sides to him that we couldn’t see before that reflect darker things going on not just in his life, but also the entire Usher/Allan/Montor Family Tree. I greatly enjoyed seeing how all of this would come together in terms of its own unique story, but also through the Edgar Allan Poe works that gave it direct inspirations. And the things that McGinnis reveals this time around were deeply, deeply unsettling, and presented in ways that made this book creepy as hell. And Rue’s perspectives were a bit more of a mixed bag, in that I got why we had the Panther in the first book, as the Panther plays a key role in that book in terms of the plot. In this, Rue’s role felt a little more shoehorned in, in that there needed to be symmetry with the poetry animal perspective, but ultimately wasn’t really needed. The thing that does happen (I’m being vague purposefully) didn’t really feel like it needed to happen. But I liked her affection for Tress.

This time around I didn’t feel as if we were as deluged with Poe references, and that was to the benefit of the story. I think that this is probably because so much was set up for this book in “The Initial Insult” that the references were already well established and could flourish a bit more. This time around the biggest influences were that of “The Tell Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and, as started in the previous book, “Hop-Frog”. But like with the last book, and I think even a little more son, McGinnis subverts the influences and themes and makes them fit a modern setting. A heart buried beneath a floor is now a friendship necklace. A cruel royal court is now less about monarchy and more about Homecoming. And there are far more metaphors at work rather than literal outcomes. It flowed better this time around, and that made for the follow through to be incredibly satisfying as a conclusion to a tale that was set up in the previous volume.

And the gore. OH THE GORE. While I felt that “The Initial Insult” was more akin to the psychological thrills of Poe’s works, “The Last Laugh” falls way more into the horror side of things. And it’s not just because of the gore (but there is a good amount of it). It’s also because of the creeping feeling that something really bad is going to happen before it’s all over. It isn’t just a suspense that builds, it’s true dread.

I was very pleased with “The Last Laugh” and how it wrapped up this love letter to Edgar Allan Poe. McGinnis doesn’t mess around when it comes to dark thrillers, be they for Young Adults or people my age.

Rating 8: A satisfying and unsettling conclusion to a Poe-rich thriller, “The Last Laugh” takes on more Poe themes and will unnerve you.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Laugh” is included on the Goodreads list “Books Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe”.

Previously Reviewed:

Book Club Review: “Project Duchess”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Project Duchess” by Sabrina Jeffries

Publishing Info: Zebra, June 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Romance Trope: Grumpy/Sunshine

Book Description: A series of stepfathers and a difficult childhood have left Fletcher “Grey” Pryde, 5th Duke of Greycourt, with a guarded heart, enviable wealth, and the undeserved reputation of a rogue. Grey’s focus on expanding his dukedom allows him little time to find a wife. But when his mother is widowed yet again and he meets the charmingly unconventional woman managing his stepfather’s funeral, he’s shocked to discover how much they have in common. Still, Grey isn’t interested in love, no matter how pretty, or delightfully outspoken, the lady . . .
Beatrice Wolfe gave up on romance long ago, and the arrogant Duke of Greycourt with his rakish reputation isn’t exactly changing her mind. Then Grey agrees to assist his grief-stricken mother with her latest “project”: schooling spirited, unfashionable Beatrice for her debut. Now that Beatrice is seeing through Grey’s charms to his wounded heart, she’s having trouble keeping him at arm’s length. But once Grey starts digging into her family’s secrets, she must decide whether her loyalties lie with her family . . . or with the man whose lessons capture her heart . . .   

Serena’s Thoughts

Ostensibly, this book should have been for me. When I do read romance, I generally prefer historical romance, with all of those grand ball scenes and the obsessively weird culture of manners. I find that the overly formal way of moving through life in these books is a nice balance to the actual bodice-ripping romance of them. Sadly, this book wasn’t for me though.

There were a few problems that I had. Firstly, the romance itself doesn’t feel very well built up, with the “hero” pretty much sexualizing the heroine immediately. Obviously, some of this is expected in romance novels, so it’s not the fact that it happened that was the problem. More, it was the fact that it was right off the bat which just immediately set him up in a bad light for me. Beyond that, the book is very “tell-y” with this character in general. We’re told over and over again that he’s this “rake-ish” individual, but we never see any evidence of this “bad boy” persona.

Much of this problem comes down to the fact that the entire book takes place on the family’s country estate. That’s right! There are no grand ball room scenes or society gossip, because the entire story is removed from all of that. Instead, we have only Grey’s family and Beatrice’s brother for any and all social interactions. Not only does it feel limited, but it was very obvious that the author was almost equally devoted to setting up all of these other characters as potential leads in her future books as she was with telling the actual story on hand. It all played against me becoming at all invested in Grey and Beatrice.

I also didn’t love the mystery that was included in this story. Again, this probably should have been a hit for me as, when I do read mysteries, they’re often historical mysteries of just this sort. But here, by cramming the mystery in alongside the romance, the author missed the mark on both. The romance was lukewarm. And the mystery was unappealing. Not only did we always know that the main suspect would be innocent, but the story ends on a cliffhanger in a misguided attempt to get readers to pick up the next book. In my case, that just worked against it. I felt even more put off by the story in not having this resolved. This plot line took up a ton of page time and arguably reduced changes to increase my interest in the romance of the story, the thing most readers who pick up this kind of book will be looking for. Fans of historical romance can likely find better options out there.

Kate’s Thoughts

Okay, we have officially moved into romance territory that I rarely dare to tread. I can count the number of ‘bodice ripper’ romance on one hand, including this one… And I think that the number is 2. MAYBE 3 if we want to be a little loosey goosey with our time periods. And while thus far our book club romances have been mostly contemporary (with one fantasy), I knew a Regency romance would probably have to happen. So I went into “Project Duchess” trying to have an open mind. But by the time I was finished, I realized that this subgenre of romance really… REALLY isn’t for me.

I have a lot of the same thoughts as Serena, from the clunky way that the characters are used, to the telling vs showing, to the isolated setting (though I admit that I had NO idea that this was a thing until it came up in book club; it wasn’t until Serena pointed out that keeping it on a country estate with no dances, urban gossip, or new characters was incredibly limiting. Once she pointed it out I was like ‘oh hey, yeah!!!’). I also thought that giving Beatrice a darker backstory involving her lecherous uncle wasn’t handled super well, as it was there to make her tragic but wasn’t examined in a way that felt healthy. One good fuck probably isn’t going to wash away trauma. I know it’s a romance novel and a little unrealistic storytelling isn’t a crime (in any book really), but it just didn’t sit right with me.

AND I am going to echo my frustration with the mystery. I, being a gal who loves a good murder plot, wanted to know what HAD happened to all of Lydia’s husbands! Once it clicked that we weren’t going to get any answers in this book, as the story was setting up a whole series involving all the boring characters (excluding Gwyn. I liked Gwyn), I was pretty frustrated.

“Project Duchess” was a miss for me. I would say that maybe it’s just because it’s not my genre, but seeing Serena’s review above, it makes me think it’s maybe a miss all around.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, which was a shock considering that, on paper, it should have been right up my alley.

Kate’s Rating 4: I wasn’t expecting too much but was still disappointed.

Book Club Questions

  1. How well do this hero and heroine fit the “grump/sunshine” romance trope?
  2. What did you think about the mystery at the heart of the novel? What predictions do you have going forward?
  3. Beatrice’s history with her uncle is quite dark. How well do you think the book tackled this topic?
  4. What did you think of Beatrice and Greycourt as a couple and the various iterations of their romance that we saw throughout this book?
  5. This is clearly the first book in a set-up series. Will you continue reading? What character are you most interested in reading about next?

Reader’s Advisory

“Project Duchess” is on these Goodreads lists: Romance Heroes and Heroines Over 35! and 2019 Historical Romance.

Find “Project Duchess” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Beach Read” by Emily Henry

Serena’s Review: “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Crown of Gilded Bones” by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publishing Info: Blue Box Press, April 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: bought the ebook

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: She’s been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

And now she will become Queen.

Previously Reviewed: “From Blood and Ash” and “A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire”

Review: After I realized the fourth book in this series was coming out in March, I decided to see if I could get through the series up to that point by the time it was released. And here I am getting my review for the third book out about three days before the release of the fourth! By the skin of my teeth, I’ve managed it. Not because I haven’t enjoyed these books quite a lot, but because man, they’re looooong.

Poppy’s brief moment of believing she had the freedom to shape her own future came quickly to an end when she arrived at Atlantia and found a Queenship awaiting her. As she tries to wrap her mind around taking on the leadership of a nation she only just realized still existed, her very being is also still in question, with more and more twists and turns popping up in her confusing heritage. But the world is a large place, and Poppy’s own struggles with identity and choice pale in comparison to the grander forces moving pieces on the world stage. Including the Queen of Blood and Ash, a woman whose motives and methods suddenly begin to unravel an entire misunderstood history.

These books are so wackadoo, and I’m here for it. No insult meant, but it’s like reading a crazy elaborate fanfiction where the author set out to write a short little enemies-to-lovers romance and then got so caught up that when she looked up she had created a world with so many layers upon layers that she needed a detailed history and hierarchy to keep track of it all. Add to that the tendency of some fanfiction writers to end up with behemoth 100k word beasts on their hands; similarly, Armentrout’s extended page length per book and increasingly long plan for the total number of books in the series.

Overall, I did enjoy this book more than the second one. There was a similar tendency for the story to drag at points, notably around the middle part of the book, but I felt like there was much more action overall in this story than there was in the previous. There was also still the habit of falling back on jokes that are very well worn by now. Poppy’s graphic book was funny enough when it was introduced, but we get it (though, to be fair, there were a few surprises tied to this that came up here). Also, Poppy has questions. Which, honestly, seems like a totally normal, heck, responsible thing to do given the fact she has to choose whether or not to RULE AN ENTIRE COUNTRY! But, again, because this book simply had more action and plot to it, these repetitive things didn’t hit quite as hard because most of the time they were coming up in the middle of actual scenes where stuff was happening.

I’m also going to hedge my excitement by admitting that this series has definitely followed a few tropes that I generally find annoying. Like the fact that Poppy is a super special girl who has been leveled up again and again. But, like I said before, it’s almost gotten to such a wackadoo extent that I’ve come back around to loving it! If you go full-on in your embrace of the extreme ridiculousness, it still somehow work, and I think that’s what Armentrout has managed here.

Casteel is still good, too, though I’m mostly here for Poppy herself. There was one decision that he makes early in this book, however, that I thought deserved a lot more attention. I think there was a pretty big missed opportunity and missed point altogether that had to do with this decision (you’ll definitely know it when you see it). Luckily, because it’s such a long book and there are so many things happening, this actual event quickly fell into the rearview mirror. But whenever I did stop and think back on it, I was annoyed again with how it was handled. Mostly, because I do think there was a way of doing this that would have covered all bases, and for whatever reason, I feet like Armentrout missed this and ended up in a situation where Casteel and Poppy (maybe mostly Poppy) were kind of out of character.

The last third of this book was bonkers. There were some huge reveals and huge game-changers in the world and magical elements. I was able to see a few of these coming, but most of them I only had portions of, with larger reveals about the how/why still to come. Kind of spoilers, but….

Kate…you might need to get in on this action

Have I mentioned often enough how crazy this series is? But in a good way? So far, that’s been my main takeaway. I was pleased to see more action in this book, so hopefully that will continue on from here with the second book’s slower pace being a one-off rather than a standard. This book also ended on a massive cliffhanger. Lucky me though that there’s only three days until the next book comes out! Just don’t do it again, Armentrout.

Rating 8: More action packed than the second book and the author has managed to still continue adding on top of her already crazy complicated world and magic system. Somehow in the best way?

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Crown of Gilded Bones” is on these Goodreads lists: Epic High Fantasy/Romance/Mythology in 2021 and only one bed? but how about only one horse??? (I couldn’t not include that second one. How is that an actual Goodreads lists?? Very funny.)

Kate’s Review: “Chef’s Kiss”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Chef’s Kiss” by Jarrett Melendez and Danica Brine (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Oni Press, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: Watch things start to really heat up in the kitchen in this sweet, queer, new adult graphic novel! 

Now that college is over, English graduate Ben Cook is on the job hunt looking for something…anything…related to his passion for reading and writing. But interview after interview, hiring committee after hiring committee, Ben soon learns getting the dream job won’t be as easy as he thought. Proofreading? Journalism? Copywriting? Not enough experience. It turns out he doesn’t even have enough experience to be a garbage collector! But when Ben stumbles upon a “Now Hiring—No Experience Necessary” sign outside a restaurant, he jumps at the chance to land his first job. Plus, he can keep looking for a writing job in the meantime. He’s actually not so bad in the kitchen, but he will have to pass a series of cooking tests to prove he’s got the culinary skills to stay on full-time. But it’s only temporary…right? 

When Ben begins developing a crush on Liam, one of the other super dreamy chefs at the restaurant, and when he starts ditching his old college friends and his old writing job plans, his career path starts to become much less clear.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

I’m someone who likes to bake and cook but doesn’t have a real talent for it. I mean, I can follow a recipe and I have a few dishes I’m a pro at, but when it comes to being able to do things on the go or creatively I did NOT inherit that skillset from my Dad (who is an excellent on the fly cook). So stories about people who are creative with food always fascinate me, and “Chef’s Kiss” by Jarrett Melendez caught my eye because of this. And also because it is in graphic novel form! I’ve read a couple graphics that center around food (specifically the first few volumes of “Oishinbo”), but that’s about it. Plus, everything I read about “Chef’s Kiss” sounded not only sweet, but also had the added benefit of the author being a food writer as well. It was an interesting combination to say the least, so I had to give it a try.

“Chef’s Kiss” is both a love letter to food as well as a story about finding oneself, all with the added sweetness of a cute, queer love story to fall head over heels for. Our main character Ben has just graduated from college with aspirations to be a writer, but when he can’t get past the interview phase of job hunting (due to a lack of experience; I remember those days. HOW CAN I GET EXPERIENCE IF NO ONE WILL HIRE ME WITHOUT EXPERIENCE?), he applies for a kitchen position at a local trendy restaurant as it is the only place that doesn’t seem to require experience for consideration. It’s pretty clear from the get go that this job is going to end up being more than just a desperation gig, but that’s okay because while it’s a familiar storyline, Melendez knows how to elevate the best parts of it and turn it into a cute and comfortable coming of age tale. Ben is a relatable and likable main character, and watching him start to suss out his life is a nice journey as he has self doubt, anxiety, and a burning passion for cooking and food awakened inside of him. The conflict is pretty standard: his friends worry that he’s changing in ways that aren’t positive, he hides this from his overbearing parents for fear they will be angry, and Chef Davis, head chef and owner, is INTENSE and INTIMIDATING. But even so, there is a comforting undercurrent that everything is going to be just fine in the end, no matter what happens. I liked Ben a lot, and while his friends were a little two dimensional I liked them too. I also liked the crush that Ben has on fellow chef Liam, and seeing the two of them have their moments is very cute.

And man oh man, the food. Melendez is clearly a food writer because he knows exactly how to make the food and the restaurant culture come to life on the page. There is very much an affection for the culinary arts, and also the hectic and stressful culture that can come with them. I imagine that in “Chef’s Kiss” this is a very romanticized and tame scenario, as I’ve heard MANY things about the chef’s life and hustle, but for the purposes of this story it’s all very romantic and cozy. I just believed everything (well most everything, more on that in a bit) that was presented, from the neurotic head chef to the friendships made with other cooks to the way that food can bring out creativity and passion and self expression.

I’m now going to dedicate this next chunk of this review to Watson the pig. Yes, this book has a pig character, and yes, I absolutely loved this pig character. Ben is told that he doesn’t have to impress Chef with his food creations during his probation, but he does have to impress the restaurant’s pig, and this part of the story is so farfetched but so damn cute that I absolutely loved it. Watson’s opinions on the various offerings range from the expected to the utterly cartoonish (imagine a pig sitting in a lotus pose achieving enlightenment. It’s that level), and while it is not in any way shape or form realistic when the rest of the story is, it is charming as hell and I couldn’t wait to see what Watson was going to do next.

And finally, the artwork is pretty cute. While the lion’s share of it is pretty standard design, the way that it emphasizes the food offerings and food prep itself made my mouth water. It really conveys the complexity and the uniqueness of different kinds of food, and I thought that having the visual really added to the reading experience.

(source: Oni Press)

“Chef’s Kiss” is a super cute and chill contemporary romance. Maybe don’t read it on an empty stomach. But be sure to read it if this kind of tale warms your heart.

Rating 8: A cute and fun coming of age story with a gregarious pig, “Chef’s Kiss” is a sweet romance that will make you hungry.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Chef’s Kiss” is included on the Goodreads list “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ+ Themes”.

Serena’s Review: “A Far Wilder Magic”

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Book: “A Far Wilder Magic” by Allison Saft

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.

Review: My dad was a hunter, so I always grew up knowing what hunting season we were in by the various dead animals that we’d fine hanging in the shed. Deer, turkeys, even a coyote once or twice (usually when one was bothering my neighboring aunt and uncle’s chickens). And yet, I’ve still been the person who balled through “Fly Away Home” and can’t even think about multiple scenes in “The Fox and the Hound.” All of this to say, a fantasy novel focused on a hunt for a magical fox elicits some very conflicting feelings. But the high praise for the sweet romance was enough to sway this on onto my TBR pile.

Margaret Welty never knows when her mother will return. She understands, her mother is a famous alchemist and has a life-long mission that all but consumes her. Still, alone in a house that is falling down around her, Margaret’s life is full of chores and loneliness. That is until Wes shows up at her door hoping to become an apprentice with Margaret’s mother. Neither seem likely to get what they most want, but in Wes, Margaret sees a way forward for them both. If they kill the hala, the last magical creature in the world, the reward will likely draw Margaret’s mother home, gaining Margaret her family and Wes his teacher. But as the hunt draws nearer, Wes and Margaret begin to question what it is they really want.

So for all of my melodramatic concerns about the fox hunting in this story, when I actually got to the end of it and found myself reflecting on the story, that aspect had very little to do with it. For one thing, I really liked the mythology around the magical hala in the first place. The book explores how one mystical, barely understood creature (creatures, previous to them being exterminated) fit into a wide host of different religions. It was a great way of exploring how a religion or faith’s core beliefs or origin story can really shape the way that those who adhere to that faith move through the world. The different things they prioritize, the different things they condemn, all stemming off of a shared magical set of creatures, even though these different religions interpret and understand them differently. It was a really interesting exploration of religion that I hadn’t expected to find in a YA fantasy story.

Beyond that, however, this book had a huge focus on family and family dynamics. The biggest chunk is devoted to Margaret and the unhealthy and, really, abusive home life that has made up much of her childhood. What I liked so much about this exploration was that it didn’t outright demonize Margaret’s mother. The book explores how events in life can draw on darkness within us all, and it really comes down to the individual whether that darkness consumes them or not. But that everyone could potentially have that trigger in life that could send them down a dark spiral, making the support systems and sympathy we have to those around us all the more important. Even covering these aspects of it, the book doesn’t shy away from pointing out the harsh truths and responsibility that Margaret’s mother has for what she has inflected on her daughter.

Beyond that, the book looks at the conflicted feelings that would arise in a young woman who is beginning to open her eyes to the damage their parent has created, even while still feeling a strong sense of love and loyalty to that unhealthy parent and parental relationship. The book doesn’t sugar coat any of this, avoiding having Margaret come to some big “ah ha!” moment that immediately frees her of the guilty (however misplaced) that would come in challenging a parent in this corrosive dynamic.

Weston’s story is much more straight forward, but it, too, explores family dynamics and the balance between responsibility towards the care of one’s family and the important of following one’s dreams. The story also touches on some of the more complicated aspects of sibling relationships, and how two people who love each other so much can still be incredibly challenged to fully understand the other person’s choices and perspective on life.

I also really enjoyed the romance of this story. It was a slow-burn romance, just as I like. And, with all of these other major themes and fantasy elements, I felt like the balance of romance to story was perfect. Their relationship built up in what felt like a natural way, with various starts and stops along the way. Wes, in particular, had an interesting arch in the romance. He originally shows up as this rather flirtatious, unserious charmer whose social ease has allowed him to quickly form connections with people. But because of this, he struggles to recognize more serious feelings when they show up. Margaret’s story as someone who has learned to have low expectations of those she loves is perhaps a bit more common to see, but equally well done.

I really liked this book. I think it managed to tackle some big themes while keeping up a fast pace, introducing a new magical world, and drawing out a sweet slow-burn romance. Very well done and I recommend it to most all YA fantasy readers! All the better for it being a stand-alone book.

Rating 9: A story that explores the deep trauma of a parent/child relationship gone wrong while also maintaining its sense of wonder and beauty in a new fantasy world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Far Wilder Magic” is on these Goodreads lists: YA Fantasy Standalone Books and Fantasy Frenemies.

Kate’s Review: “The Night Shift”

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Book: “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat |Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in Linden, New Jersey, four teenage girls working the night shift are attacked. Only one survives. Police quickly identify a suspect who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, in the same town, four teenage employees working late at an ice cream store are attacked, and again only one makes it out alive. Both surviving victims recall the killer speaking only a few final words… “Goodnight, pretty girl.”

In the aftermath, three lives intersect: the survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive her tragedy; the brother of the original suspect, who’s convinced the police have it wrong; and the FBI agent, who’s determined to solve both cases. On a collision course toward the truth, all three lives will forever be changed, and not everyone will make it out alive.

Twisty, poignant, and redemptive, The Night Shift is a story about the legacy of trauma and how the broken can come out on the other side, and it solidifies Alex Finlay as one of the new leading voices in the world of thrillers.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

On paper, “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay was complete and utter catnip for me. There’s a time jumping mystery, there’s a whodunnit murder element, there are multiple characters who may or may not have secrets, and there is a healthy does of 90s nostalgia. I remember that going to Blockbuster on Friday night was an EVENT! I also saw all the hype surrounding this book, so I jumped in really hoping for a home run. And we didn’t quite get there.

There were, however, things to like, and I will start there because I do want to highlight the positives. For one, we have a pretty well thought out and well connected story, told through the perspectives of interconnected characters. The first is Ella, a therapist who was the sole survivor of a multiple murder at her high school workplace, Blockbuster, in which her coworkers were killed and she was not. The second is Chris, a public defender whose brother Vince was the main suspect in the Blockbuster murders, but disappeared off the grid after he was released from custody before he could be tried for the crime. The third is Special Agent Keller, an FBI agent who is trying to connect a new multiple murder scene at an ice cream shop to the Blockbuster murders, as there is, once again, one survivor named Jess, and the perpetrator said the same phrase to her as he said to Ella. I liked how these three characters were separate at first, and then slowly converged into the big story and overarching mystery as they are trying to handle their own baggage and mysteries, and it really kept me engaged and interested as I read. I especially liked Keller’s POV, as she is determined and gritty and had the scenes that I found myself most invested in, since she was doing a lot of the investigating that felt like it was getting somewhere (I have more to say on Ella and Chris in a bit). AND she is doing all of this while eight months pregnant with twins, which was kind of a fun tidbit and felt very Marge Gunderson from “Fargo” (especially since her husband is SUPER doting, much like Norm was in that movie).

Speaking of couples goals. (source)

But that kind of segues into the things that didn’t work for me as much in this book. Firstly, many of the other characters outside of Keller felt pretty two dimensional and not super explored. Ella is a pretty typical and standard examination of trauma, in that she has devoted her life to trying to cope by compartmentalizing, and has completely messed up her personal life because of it (when we meet her she is meeting up for a hook up in spite of the fact she has a fiancé, because wow look at what a mess she is, right?!). Her connection with Jess, the newest victim, is based of her skills as a therapist as well as the fact she’s been there before, but Jess is tragic and precocious and hiding her own issues that only serve to muddy some waters. Since we don’t really get into her head she is, once again, pretty standard fare that we’ve seen before. And then there’s Chris, whose story is tragic in its own ways as he clings to the hope that his brother Vince is innocent, and has been thinking he has perhaps found him via the Internet. This was, admittedly, an interesting plot line, but Chris himself is also pretty two dimensional. And on top of all of that, the mystery itself becomes glaringly obvious in terms of conclusion pretty quickly. There were a few ‘mini’ mysteries here and there that kept me kinda guessing and invested, hence the engaging aspect of this book, but the big one wasn’t shocking, and the journey getting there on that outcome alone wouldn’t have been as compelling. And frankly, the big mystery should be compelling.

I think that I will go back and read Finlay’s previous book, as there is definitely potential in “The Night Shift” that has glimmers of a thriller I’d enjoy. But as a final product and full package it was a little ho hum.

Rating 6: Admittedly super engaging, but the big reveal isn’t very surprising, and most of the characters are pretty two dimensional.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Shift” is included on the Goodreads list “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2022”.

Highlights: March 2022

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Here in Minnesota, March is the month where everyone is forbidden from using the word “spring” in fear that we will be immediately pummeled with several feet of snow in karmic pay back. But at least the days are definitely getting longer and no comments on that will change the angle of the sun! However, as….shhh…spring…is not a whole lot better than winter at this point, we’ll still be mostly holed up with books this month. Here are some we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “A Far Wilder Magic” by Allison Saft

Publication Date: March 8, 2022

Why I’m Interested: While I think foxhunting is a pretty terrible sport in general, the idea of writing a story about a hunt for a powerful magical creature does sound intriguing. I’m not sure how my bleeding heart self will do with the topic, overall, but I’m definitely curious. I’m also all in for a book that’s being promoted as having a sweet romance at the heart of the story, something I always enjoy. I really don’t have much of a mental image of what this book’s going to be about, but sometimes going in blind is the best way to discover something great!

Book: “Gallant” by V.E. Schwab

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Schwab is definitely an author on my “instant read” list. While I’ve definitely had a range in my enjoyment of her books, she’s always excellent with characters and a solid fantasy writer in general. I’m also really curious about this book, as it sounds like more of a middle grade fantasy, something I haven’t read by this author before. When a young orphan girl is suddenly called to a home she never knew, she soon discovers that there are more secretes than answers at Gallant. And that she has a family with much more history than she had ever suspected. I also really love this cover. Can’t wait to get to this one!

Book: “A Thousand Steps Into Night” by Traci Chee

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Why I’m Interested: I had so much good luck with the Korean fantasy, “The Girl Who Fell Into the Sea,” that it was a natural step to immediately request this Japanese fantasy story when it popped up on Edelweiss+. This is the story of a young woman who has resigned herself to a simple life as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when she is cursed to slowly turn into a deadly demon, she sets out on a quest to cure herself. But along the way, she begins to realize that perhaps she never fit into the quiet life she had been born into. I also really, really love the cover on this one! My hopes are pretty high, so I really hope this one is a hit.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay

Publication Date: March 1, 2022

Why I’m Interested: The description captured my attention for a couple of reasons. The first is that it mentions the Y2K panic of December 31st, 1999, something I definitely remember. But the second is that it sounds a lot like the Austin Yogurt Shop Murders, an unsolved crime involving teenage girls who were murdered at their place of work with no answers to be found. On New Year’s Eve in 1999, three teenage girls are murdered at the Blockbuster they work at, with one lone survivor. Then, more than a decade later, a new group of teenage girls are killed at an ice cream store, with one survivor. The two girls have similar recollections of the murderer’s final words. Now the Blockbuster survivor, the brother of the initial suspect, and an FBI agent are all looking for the truth. I imagine this is going to be twisted and intricate, and probably a little sad as well.

Book: “The Last Laugh” by Mindy McGinnis

Publication Date: March 15, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This probably isn’t a shocking selection, given how much I enjoyed the first in the series, “The Initial Insult”. That reimagining of “The Cask of Amontillado” (amongst other Poe works) ended in the way one may expect it to, though instead of two men it was two teenage girls at the heart. Now we pick up again with “The Last Laugh”. Tress murdered her old BFF Felicity by bricking her up in a coal shaft. But even though she may have gotten away with it, she’s severely injured from her encounter with the sideshow panther she ran afoul. Not to mention the heart necklace around her neck is beating, a reminder of what she did do her former friend. Meanwhile, her cousin Ribbit is starting to feel like he needs some revenge of his own… and some of that is towards Tress. I can’t wait to see how McGinnis wraps this all up!

Book: “Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror” by John F.D. Taff (Ed.)

Publication Date: March 22, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This is another book that was affected by a delay, but now this short horror story collection is FINALLY coming to light. While I know I’ve been hot and cold with short story collections, this one sounds hard to beat. I mean, look at some of the names who contributed: Stephen Graham Jones. Caroline Kepnes. Alma Katsu. All authors whose works I have LOVED in the past few years. And the people whose works I haven’t discovered yet? I cannot wait to see what other authors have put forth, and maybe I will find some new favorite writers!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

Monthly Marillier: “The Dark Mirror”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “The Dark Mirror” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, September 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Bridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever…and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger…for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

Review: When I was planning out this review series, I can honestly say I forgot about this trilogy in my first run through of scheduling. So, take from that what you will! I can say that this is another of Marillier’s trilogies that leave me with the very hipster opinion of preferring the second book in the series to any other. As you will see, this book wasn’t my favorite, and as much as I do enjoy the second entry in the trilogy, I think it’s this lukewarm start that has me so often forgetting about these books’ existence in Marillier’s catalog of work.

Bridei’s childhood is clearly centered around some greater plan being put to work by the druid Broichan. Mysterious and reclusive, Broichan is not one to explain himself to Bridei, but Bridei does know that when they discover a baby girl at their door, this is definitely not part of the plan. Now, growing up alongside Tuala, Bridei begins to suspect why his teacher was so cautious to begin with. But Bridei himself can’t help but feel a stronger and stronger connection to the young woman, and, soon enough, the fates of an entire people may rest in her hands.

So, this another of my least favorite of Marillier’s works. Many of her strengths are equally present: the lyrical writing, the clear sense of the world and time period, and a flowing style of storytelling that lends even practical scenes a sense of wonder and magic. But some of her most common limitations are also present. That is, a stalled pace, especially in the beginning of the story, and a romance that is hard to become invested in. This latter point is the most puzzling, because her amazing romances are part of the reason I love her so much! But she is one of those authors who seems to either really nail the romance or to miss the mark altogether.

This book leans heavily on the political situation surrounding Bridei’s coming of age and the role he is meant to have in the future of the land. As such, much of the story is very much set in the human world (as opposed to some of Marillier’s more fantasy-focused stories). This isn’t a bad thing on the face things, but the story does feel slow and plodding for the first half or so. It’s a struggle to really put together the pieces that are moving and see much of an actual story arch building in the book itself.

The romance was also very cringe-y at times. It’s a hard balance to write a romance that develops from childhood friendship into romance, especially when there’s a distinct age gap. I think that “The First Girl Child” did very well, but that relied on separating the main characters until the younger of the two, the young woman, was an adult (by the time’s standards). Here, Bridei’s views of Tuala seem uncomfortable at times, given her age. I also felt like the resolution for the romance came on too suddenly in the end, with their feelings for one another going from zero to hundred over the course of one event. It wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t hold up to Marillier’s more complex and swoony romances.

This was only my second time reading this book, and I can say that my original lower opinion stands pretty true. I think I might have disliked it even more than the first time I read it, as I found the romance to be harder to read without feeling uncomfortable this go around. But I do remember liking the second book much more. In fact, I know I’ve read that one more than once, though it’s still be about a decade since I last revisited! I hope it holds up!

Rating 6: A slow, plodding pace isn’t helped by a romance that falls more on the cringe side of the cringe/swoon scale.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Mirror” is on these Goodreads lists: Wise Women, Witches, Midwives, Healers, and Strong Girls! and Medieval Fantasy Books.

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