Kate’s Review: “The Babysitter Lives”

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Book: “The Babysitter Lives” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Simon and Schuster, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Libro.fm

Book Description: When high school senior Charlotte agrees to babysit the Wilbanks twins, she plans to put the six-year-olds to bed early and spend a quiet night studying: the SATs are tomorrow, and checking the Native American/Alaskan Native box on all the forms doesn’t mean jack if you choke on test day.

But tomorrow is also Halloween, and the twins are eager to show off their costumes—Ron is a nurse, in an old-fashioned white skirt-uniform, and Desi has an Authentic Squaw costume, complete with buckskin and feathered headdress. Excitement is in the air.

Charlotte’s last babysitting gig almost ended in tragedy, when her young charge sleepwalked unnoticed into the middle of the street, only to be found unharmed by Charlotte’s mother. Charlotte vows to be extra careful this time. But the house is filled with mysterious noises and secrets that only the twins understand, echoes of horrors that Charlotte gradually realizes took place in the house eleven years ago. Soon Charlotte has to admit that every babysitter’s worst nightmare has come true: they’re not alone in the house.

The Babysitter Lives is a mind-bending haunted house tale from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Review: I did very little babysitting in high school. I had two families that I did the occasional babysitting job for, and they were family friends so it wasn’t really a ‘business’ relationship. Basically it was guaranteed pizza, soda, and the promise of watching “X Files” in syndication after the kids went to bed with a chunk of change to show for it. But I love a horror story involving a scrappy babysitter, so when I read that Stephen Graham Jones had a new audiobook about that very thing I was very, very excited. The man has already solidified his place as a favorite horror author of mine, and this trope just makes it all the more tantalizing! I went into “The Babysitter Lives” with a unique reading experience from the get go: it’s rare that I do audiobooks these days as I am not in a car nearly as much as I used to be. Because of this, I didn’t devour this book with as much aplomb as I may have a print book. But it’s still Stephen Graham Jones, and he is still a master of strange and entertaining horror stories, so as that was my only option, it was necessary, albeit a change from how I usually enjoy him.

Overall, I enjoyed “The Babysitter Lives”. I love a haunted house story, and Jones is always up to the task of tinkering with a classic trope and making it fresh and deeply unsettling or weird. It’s pretty clear pretty quickly that this isn’t your average haunted house or babysitting in trouble story, and as we follow Charlotte and her charges through a terror filled night things get more and more dire, and the plotting gets more and more compelling. There are a lot of different horror elements at play; a haunted house, shadow doubles, space/maybe time rifts, and some good old fashioned body horror and splatterpunk gore that had me cringing throughout. There were so many what the HELL is going on moments and twists and turns that it felt a bit like whiplash, but we were always grounded in Charlotte and her drive to be a responsible and effective babysitter, especially after a close call involving one of her other charges. She goes through some serious shit as this babysitting job goes on, and Jones really knows how to milk the scares and unease for all they’re worth. While it’s true that I wasn’t the BIGGEST fan of how some things shake out, I definitely get why they have to go the way they do when it comes to the story that Jones is trying to tell.

But the aspect of this book that made this all the more layered was Charlotte herself, whose babysitting duties are well honed and whose characterization makes the tale richer. Charlotte is a driven teenage girl who has dreams for herself, but is always having to deal with perceptions of those around her because of her Indigenous heritage. Whether it is the twins she is caring for who have Indian Halloween costumes, or hints of microaggressions for their parents, or even well meaning but sometimes insensitive girlfriend Murphy, Charlotte has lots of experience having to combat racist bullshit, and unfortunately it’s just another thing she has to fight against during this babysitting job. Jones balances this pointed commentary with other things at hand, so it always flows really well and just feels like another, more realistic horror (along with other aspects I haven’t touched upon here, but let’s just say that as a teenage girl Charlotte also has to protect herself from a more worldly creep than any spectre this house could create) to permeate the narrative and make it all the richer.

And finally, this is an audiobook, and I have found that even the strongest story can be derailed by an audiobook narrator who is lackluster. But we are in very good hands with Isabella Star LeBlanc, who brings all of the characters to life with varied performances, and who builds up tension with her stylistic choices in narration. I don’t do audiobooks as much anymore, but LeBlanc is a narrator who makes me think that perhaps I should carve out more time to do so.

“The Babysitter Lives” is a scary and relentless horror story that turns the haunted house and babysitter slasher tropes on their heads. We are so lucky to have Stephen Graham Jones here in the horror world! He consistently delivers!

Rating 8: Stephen Graham Jones keeps up with the weird and unsettling terror in a book about a badass babysitter!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Babysitter Lives” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but it would fit in on “Haunted House Books”.

Another Take: Fall 2022

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Don’t just take it from us, other readers like these books, too! And we have decided that we would like to showcase other reviewers and bloggers that have their own thoughts and feelings about books that we have loved. Here are a few of the books we’ve enjoyed recently and what other bloggers have to say about them.

“Eversion” by Alastair Reynolds

From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Ancillary Review of Books

The Quill to Live

SciFi Mind

“Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young

A deeply atmospheric story about ancestral magic, an unsolved murder, and a second chance at true love.

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Grim Dark Magazine (5 Stars)

Caffeinated Reviewer (4 Stars)

These Lyrics and Lines (5 Stars)

“Poster Girl” by Veronica Roth

WHAT’S RIGHT IS RIGHT.

Sonya Kantor knows this slogan–she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation.

Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives.

Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past–and her family’s dark secrets–than she ever wanted to.

Serena’s Review (9 Rating)

Tor

Utopia State of Mind

Kirkus

Book: “House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson

Book Description: Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation is all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper, seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north–where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service–Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery–and at the center of it all is her.

Countess Lisavet, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home–and fast–or its halls will soon become her grave.

Kate’s Review (Rating 10)

Books, Bones, & Buffy Review (3.5/4 Stars)

Utopia State of Mind

Carole’s Random Life (4 Stars)

Book: “Such Sharp Teeth” by Rachel Harrison

Book Description: Rory Morris isn’t thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby’s father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she’d put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she’s attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She’s unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver–and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She’s changing into someone else–something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she’s putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

Kate’s Review (Rating 8)

The Reading Cafe

The BiblioSanctum (4.5/5 Stars)

Cats Luv Coffee

Book: “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Book Description: Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with her charismatic but reckless college ex-boyfriend, Silas. When he asks her to bail him out of rehab—again—she knows she needs to cut him off. But days after he gets out, Silas turns up dead of an overdose in their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and Erin’s world falls apart.

Then a friend tells her about Ghost, a new drug that allows users to see the dead. Wanna get haunted? he asks. Grieving and desperate for closure with Silas, Erin agrees to a pill-popping “séance.” But the drug has unfathomable side effects—and once you take it, you can never go back.

Kate’s Review (9 Rating)

Jenn’s Bookshelves

Ginger Nuts of Horror

Books, Bones, & Buffy (4.5/5 Stars)

Serena’s Review: “Raven Unveiled”

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

Book: “Raven Unveiled” by Grace Draven

Publishing Info: Ace Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+!

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

Book Description: Siora has been on the run for longer than she cares to remember, from her past and her gift. Born with the ability to see and speak to ghosts, she has heard their desperate pleas as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes, but Siora is preoccupied with her own troubles: namely an assassin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against her.

Gharek of Cabast was once the right-hand man of the reviled empress but is now a wanted fugitive. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. To make good on old debts and protect the vulnerable dead from a malevolent force, Gharek and Siora will both need to make an ally out of an enemy—and trust that will be enough to save each other.

Previously Reviewed: “Phoenix Unbound” and “Dragon Unleashed”

Review: I’ve really enjoyed the, at this point, many books I’ve read by Grace Draven. She has a fairly significant back catalog that I have been slowly working my way through. But it’s also been fun to read her “Fallen Empire” trilogy as it’s been published in real time. So far, I’ve really liked both of the books in this trilogy. We’re introduced to the main characters for this book back in “Dragon Unleashed,” so I was already primed with excitement to get to their story here. Plus, who doesn’t love a good old “enemies to lovers” romance??

Siora had finally felt as if she had a place and the beginnings of a home. But then, in an effort to save lives, including that of her young war, Siora was forced to betray the man who had taken her in. For his part, Gharek is not one to forget and forgive. While he is a wanted man by many for his role as the late queen’s assassin, he is still driven with one goal and one goal only: find the woman who betrayed his, and his daughter’s, trust. But as they race in a game of cat and mouse, Siora and Gharek begin to realize that larger forces are moving in the world and they have to trust one another if they have any hope of overcoming it.

So, shocking take here given everything I already said about this author and this series so far but…yeah, I really enjoyed this one! Ok? Ok, review done? But in all seriousness, it’s always so great to find an author who consistently churns out enjoyable books. I’ve definitely had preferences and favorites, but I’ve never actively disliked a book by Graven. And this trilogy in particular has been very consistent throughout: great individual stories, great characters, great love stories, and an interesting world and history that connects them all.

By the third book in the trilogy, readers should be very familiar with all of these elements, and in a lot of ways it was like returning to a cozy, favorite place. Don’t get me wrong, this world is brutal and cruel. But as a reader, it’s also full of lovely characters and stories, and by the time you get to the third book, you’re on constant look out for returning faces. The fear, then, is that the new characters could be washed out by older characters. But Gharek and Siora definitely hold strong on their own.

I found Siora’s character and her story particularly compelling. Hers is a tale of long experience living on the outside of society. But through these experiences, and the influence of her late father, she has developed a keen sense of right and wrong. So devoted to this path, she follows these instincts even when they work against her own best interest. Indeed, this is what has lead to the situation she finds herself in now: on the run from her late employer, Gharek. For his part, Gharek’s journey is much more introspective. His role and position in the world has been pulled out from beneath him. He’s still a father, but he is barely able to understand how to be that (or any other loving role) without falling back on the destructive tendencies that had made him successful. He loves his daughter more than anything, but then to express this he leaves her behind in pursuit of revenge that she didn’t ask for. This, of course, also is seen in his growing relationship and feelings towards Siora.

The pacing and action of this book does stumble a bit. For one thing, though we get a decent amount of time with Siora and Gharek together, I found myself always wishing for more. Maybe it was the many stages that this relationship needed to go through, but I found that each of these stages could have used a bit more fleshing out. I also stumbled a bit with the “big bad” of this story. In the past two books, the Empress was a very present evil. We saw her repeatedly and her influence on everyone and her kingdom was obvious. But this book opens with her having been dealt with already. And then the evil that we do end up with is of a much more nebulous sort. The danger was unique, the way that Siora’s death powers played into this was cool, but I just found myself lacking real investment in this storyline.

Overall, however, I really liked this book. Siora and Gharek have a lovely romance, and in a lot of ways, it checks off many of my favorite tropes. The actual plotting of this book was probably not my favorite of the three, but it was also by no means bad. I flew through this book in only a few days and highly recommend it to fantasy romance fans (as part of the entire trilogy, of course!)

Rating 8: An excellent conclusion to the trilogy, but I found the love story more compelling than the actual plot of hte book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Raven Unveiled” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Characters Who Hide Their Powers.”

Kate’s Review: “Blackwater”

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

Book: “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo & Ren Graham

Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Co. (BYR), July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Description: Tony Price is a popular high school track star and occasional delinquent aching for his dad’s attention and approval. Eli Hirsch is a quiet boy with a chronic autoimmune disorder that has ravaged his health and social life. What happens when these two become unlikely friends (and a whole lot more . . .) in the spooky town of Blackwater, Maine? Werewolf curses, unsavory interactions with the quarterback of the football team, a ghostly fisherman haunting the harbor, and tons of high school drama.

Co-illustrated by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham, who alternate drawing chapters in their own unique and dynamic styles, Blackwater combines the spookiness of Anya’s Ghost with the irreverent humor of Nimona.

Review: I’m admittedly a bit of a slacker lately when it comes to graphic novels, and I am making a promise to myself that in 2023 I am going to try and do a better job of reading more graphics. But when I saw “Blackwater” by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham on my Goodreads feed, it caught my eye, and I made sure to get my hands on it for 2022. It has a lot of great things going for it: a horror graphic novel! With POC and queer and trans characters! With a spooky cover right off the bat!

So first, the werewolf stuff. Werewolves aren’t a subgenre I dislike by any means, I just don’t find myself reading or consuming much around this kind of monster (that said, read “Such Sharp Teeth!” by Rachel Harrison!). But I do know when a werewolf story has hamfisted metaphors as opposed to well done ones, and “Blackwater” has a mix of both. For one, this isn’t REALLY werewolves in a traditional sense as it’s more about emotional state than moon phases. Once Tony, one of our protagonists, gets bit, he’s turning into a wolf whenever his feelings get the better of him, usually rage. Which is, frankly, a bit obvious and a little bit of a cheat to say it’s werewolves when it’s not REALLY at the heart of the matter werewolves, mythos wise. But on the flip side, there is a good exploration of grief and loss in this book that does also tie into wolf transformation, but also as it applies to other characters and the hardships they are facing. One protagonist Tony is grieving a broken relationship with his father or a changing friendship with a childhood friend, just as other protagonist Eli is grieving a strained relationship with his mother because of how she responds to his chronic illness. Both of them feel lonely in their own ways, and that fits into the overall metaphor well too. There is also a side story involving Eli’s ability to see ghosts and a ghostly fisherman who has some unfinished business on Earth that I found to be the most effective storyline, but I don’t want to go into why I found it as such as it will be pretty spoiler heavy if I did. But let’s just say that I did find myself crying a bit with this whole plot line.

But here is the aspect that didn’t work for me and I wish it had: the romance between Tony and Eli. I get what the authors were trying to do, having them slowly start to fall for each other after each having preconceived notions about the other, and having them both grow as people in a coming of age tale where their romance is just the icing on the cake. But the issue I had with this was 1) I didn’t feel like I got to know either of them well enough to get super invested, and 2) there is a moment that REALLY derailed it for me, and I need to talk about it a bit so I’m going to do a

So early on in the book, Tony is still pretty chummy with (though admittedly outgrowing) his childhood best friend Biff. Biff is a complete jerk, and he bullies Eli for being weird and solitary and different, and Tony, though he doesn’t approve, feels like he can’t push back against his friend. He doesn’t participate, but he doesn’t stop it either. He also offhandedly mentions to Eli that he has asthma and has to use an inhaler before his track meets. Eli, angry that Tony didn’t stand up for him, takes his inhaler out of his bag and throws it into the woods. Then Tony has an asthma attack during the track meet, to the point an ambulance has to be called. He ends up just fine, but still, that’s pretty serious. And when it does come out that Eli did this, there is anger on Tony’s part, but he is pretty much told that ‘hey, Eli made a mistake, but you should forgive him’ and that is that, and I just…. That didn’t sit well with me. I don’t have asthma so I’m not going to speak for those who do, but I do have memories of my younger sister having to be up at 3am with a nebulizer multiple times a week because of her asthma making it hard for her to breathe, so for this kind of thing to be dismissed as a slip up versus something that is potentially VERY dangerous was hard to swallow. I don’t need Eli to be a villain over it, because yes, people do make mistakes when they are in pain and it can be nuanced! But it made it hard for me to be rooting for them as a couple when Eli did this and then kept it a secret for so long. Add in a vague lack of fleshed out chemistry and it just didn’t justify the romantic reconciliation. If there was more time to give me a relationship chemistry based reason for them to overcome this I could have been more forgiving, probably. I’ve done it before! But I just didn’t see the chemistry or character development for that.

And I do want to mention the artwork, mostly because the two authors, Arroyo and Graham, alternate taking on the illustrations as the story is told. I liked the round robin-esque aspect of this and the way that two creators come together to tell a story through their own aesthetics. It doesn’t really add anything to the story at hand, but it’s a fun idea and I think they executed it well. I also liked their styles overall. They hit the right tone, with scary elements when needed but sweet designs as well.

(source: blackwatercomic.tumblr.com)

So when it comes to werewolf themes and romance I thought that “Blackwater” was a bit lackluster, but the deeper themes of grief and loss were well conceived and constructed. Ultimately I’d say it was ‘okay’.

Rating 6: It’s an okay werewolf tale with some decent themes about grief that work, but the romance was so so when I had hoped I’d be more invested. Plus there’s a moment that I thought was pretty unforgivable that’s glossed over.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Blackwater” is included on the Goodreads lists “Trans YA Fiction”, and “BIPOC Boy MC in YA Fantasy/SciFi/Mystery”.

Serena’s Review: “Saint”

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

Book: “Saint” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: As a boy, Elias learned the hard way what happens when you don’t heed the old tales.

Nine years after his lack of superstition got his father killed, he’s grown into a young man of piety, with a deep reverence for the hallowed sea and her fickle favor. As stories of the fisherman’s son who has managed to escape the most deadly of storms spreads from port to port, his devotion to the myths and creeds has given him the reputation of the luckiest bastard to sail the Narrows.

Now, he’s mere days away from getting everything his father ever dreamed for him: a ship of his own, a crew, and a license that names him as one of the first Narrows-born traders. But when a young dredger from the Unnamed Sea with more than one secret crosses his path, Elias’ faith will be tested like never before. The greater the pull he feels toward her, the farther he drifts from the things he’s spent the last three years working for.

He is dangerously close to repeating his mistakes and he’s seen first hand how vicious the jealous sea can be. If he’s going to survive her retribution, he will have to decide which he wants more, the love of the girl who could change their shifting world, or the sacred beliefs that earned him the name that he’s known for―Saint.

Review: Adrienne Young is a must-read author for me at this point. I’ve been reading her books for some time, and they always deliver on a good story, interesting characters, and, often, a sweet romance. I really enjoyed her “Fable” duology, so I was excited to nab this book once I realized it was not a cheap romance novel (ugh that cover!!) but in fact a prequel stand-alone that follows the story of Fable’s parents and how they meet.

Elias has devoted his life to one thing and one thing only: getting his merchant license and making a name for himself and for the Narrows, his beloved and dangerous home. But things begin to go sideways when he meets a mysterious young woman working as a Dredger for a rival crew. For her part, Isolde is running her own game, one full of secrets and a desperate attempt to reinvent not only herself but the world that her powerful mother has been shaping for her. Together, Elias and Isolde face dangerous, sweeping forces. But with a shared love for the sea, can they find their way through this storm?

I really enjoyed this prequel story. It’s always a bit hard to write a book like this, for several reasons. For one thing, the Saint we met in the “Fable” duology is very different than the young man full of vision and, in his own way, optimism that we see here. He’s been tested, yes, but he hasn’t gone through the life-shaping hardships that we know are before him. For another thing, we do know tragedy is ahead for these characters, knowing the state of affairs when Fable’s own story begins. But I think Young does a good job of taking those necessary and pre-determined components and creating something that still feels hopeful and fresh.

For her part, Isolde can be a completely new character, with only very few strings attached to who she should be on the page given from previous books. We know her fate in the “Fable” books, but we never see her in person. This leaves a lot of room for her character and story to be the groundwork for this book, and she serves very well in this role (even though the book is titled for a different character). I really liked the unique vision of this world that we see through Isolde’s eyes, through the eyes of a young woman who is the daughter of one of the most powerful people alive, her mother. And while much of Isolde’s life has been influenced by the privileges that this has given her, we also see how complicated and damaging this relationship has been to Isolde’s sense of self and purpose. Much of this book is focused on her journey to shape herself into the woman she wants to be and to wrestle freedom back from the ever tightening grip of her tyrannical mother. Isolde is made up of a lot of grit and will to choose one’s own path, two traits that are very apparent in her daughter, Fable.

Saint had a bit of a harder task, as we do have a pretty solid image of him presented in the “Fable” duology. That being the case, I did struggle a bit more with his chapters. I could see some hints of how the character we were being introduced to here could turn into that much harder, much colder man, but he also felt very different, too. And yes, events will shape him in major ways going forward, but something about the characterization just didn’t gel as well as I had hoped. I think I wanted a more ruthless, pragmatic character here, rather than the more typical YA hero that we’ve all seen fairly often.

I liked the story well enough, too. But again, here, it didn’t live up to quite what I could have wished for. By the end of the book, I had a hard time really pointing to the main conflict or plot of the book. It’s a very character-driven story (something that really works for me), but the plot and action itself is rather lacking. There are action scenes, of course, but the stakes never felt particularly high, and I wasn’t incredibly invested in the point-by-point movements of the plot itself. As a character reader, I was ok with this style of book. But those who might be looking for a more compelling story at the heart of their read might find themselves let down a bit by this book.

Overall, I thought this was a solid prequel. It did a good job of bringing to the page two characters that we’ve either met before or heard a great deal about before. Technically, it would be approachable on its own to new readers, but I do think that that would be doing yourself a disservice. As many of the strengths of this story come from its characters and the plot/world-building plays a definite second fiddle, readers who are already familiar with this world and these characters are likely going to enjoy this one more.

Rating 8: Very enjoyable, though its focus on characters over plot may hold it back a bit for some readers.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Saint” can be found on these Goodreads lists: YA Sea Adventures and Best prequel/sequel

Kate’s Review: “Wayward”


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

Book: “Wayward” by Chuck Wendig

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, November 2022

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

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

Book Description: Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. They were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them.

Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalking epidemic was only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world–and the birth of a new one. The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them are Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to look after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd–and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again.

Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed president Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse.

Against these threats, Benji, Marcy, Shana, and the rest have only one hope: one another. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together.

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

So, when I was reading “Wanderers” back in 2019 I felt a mild anxiety that I was constantly trying to write off. ‘A deadly pandemic? Eh, that’s not something you need to be worrying about, Kate. No way.’

Joke’s on me, I guess. (source)

Little did I realize that a year later it would be a reality that was consuming so many of us. Luckily it wasn’t a White Mask level of death, though that doesn’t mean it’s been a cake walk by ANY means. But, now it’s 2022, and while we are still in the midst of this life changing pandemic with death and sickness, I feel more secure than I did two years ago, or even one year ago (thank you, under 5 vaccines and lots and lots of therapy!). So much so that I could actually pick up “Wayward”, Chuck Wendig’s sequel to the pandemic end of world thriller/sci-fi/dystopia “Wanderers”. You probably remember how I couldn’t bring myself to read books about sickness and the world ending for awhile. I guess the fact I read “Wayward” shows how far I’ve come. Though now the worry is that it’s predicting a whole other society altering reality, with it’s huge themes of Christo-fascism and white supremacist violence…. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive in.

“Wayward” picks up shortly after “Wanderers” ends, and five years after the White Mask pandemic has wiped out a huge majority of the world population. The surviving ‘Sleepwalkers’ and ‘Shepherds’ are living in the isolated Colorado town of Ouray, where the seemingly benevolent (but actually dangerous) Black Swan AI is continuously running and trying to create a new world. There are familiar faces like Benji, the former scientist who is now a well respected town leader, and Shana, the first ‘shepherd’ who is now pregnant with the first child to be born in the community (who was in stasis for five years like the sleepwalkers were). At the end of “Wanderers” there were hints that this perfect rebuilding community was actually on a precipice, and we get to see that play out as Wendig tinkers with ideas of dangerous AI, and groupthink that can lead to cultlike behavior, unrest, and power grabs. I liked how Wendig did some full exploration of this, because the community that was being envisioned at the end of “Wanderers” felt a little too pat. I also liked revisiting Benji, Shana, et al, because I had forgotten how much I liked them and I liked seeing how they had all changed from the first book up through this book. The changes are believable both as to how they would change due to their circumstances, but also as to how they as characters would have changed with their base personalities in mind. Shana in “Wanderers” is pretty different from Shana in “Wayward”, but she is still Shana, and so forth, and it is clear that Wendig knows his cast inside and out. It is their inherent complexity and goodness that keeps this book from treading too bleak.

Though that isn’t to say that it isn’t bleak at times. Oh soothsayer Chuck Wendig, I must say that I’m a bit on edge that you have put another horrible thing out into the universe, given what happened last time! And that is the theme of Christ-fascist authoritarian groups trying to wipe out those they deem inferior against the backdrop of the end of society. Though I don’t think we spent too much time with white supremacist and totalitarian would be president Ed Creel in “Wanderers”, he has his own perspective chapters in “Wayward”, and good God we are once again getting into too real territory. Creel is a clear Donald Trump analog, but obvious or not it doesn’t make him any less terrifying as he continues to amass a white supremacist and violent following to do his bidding even as he bides his time in an underground bunker for the uberwealthy. “Wanderers” came out during the Trump Presidency when we were seeing these groups like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers and literal Neo-Nazis sing his praises, and now “Wayward” puts new focus on this in a post January 6 world. It’s all a bit on the nose at times, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant. Sure, the AI run amok themes were also scary, but that was more on the Sci-Fi side of things so it didn’t catch my anxiety as much as this all did. Maybe give it a few years.

But what I love about Wendig’s voice is that even through all this violence, trauma, sadness, and raw devastation, there is always hope. Hope through humor. Hope through love between family and friends. Hope that some places can get through a terrible thing like White Mask through their effort and community strength (I loved the idea of different parts of the world faring better based on factors ranging from environment to cultural aspects). Hope that no matter how bad things get, they can be addressed and salvaged. It’s hard to remember that hope is there, at times. But Wendig reminds us throughout the narrative, and I really liked that.

“Wayward” is a solid follow up to an end of world story that looks at what could come next. Wendig taps into a lot of modern anxieties and fears, but he also knows how to keep the reader hopeful. We need that sometimes.

Rating 8: A melancholy and suspenseful but ultimately hopeful follow up to an apocalypse book that now feels a bit too real, “Wayward” brings us back to Ouray and examines what happens after the world as we know it ends.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wayward” is included on the Goodreads list “Hugo 2023 Eligible Novels”.

Book Club Review: “In a Midnight Wood”


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Read the full disclosure here.

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 “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  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: “In a Midnight Wood” by Ellen Hart

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Bingo Prompt: A cozy mystery.

Book Description: Beloved heroine Jane Lawless finds that some secrets don’t stay buried forever in Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Ellen Hart’s In a Midnight Wood, the 27th mystery in this cultishly popular series.

Minnesota private investigator Jane Lawless is headed to the small town of Castle Lake for a little getaway. She and Cordelia plan to visit an old friend, participate in an arts festival, and look into a cold case that has recently come on Jane’s radar–thanks to a podcast Jane is now involved in which looks into Minnesota cold cases.

In Castle Lake, a high school senior named Sam went missing in 1999. Everyone thought he ran away, though the town rumor mill has always claimed the father killed him. In present day, within a week of his 20th high school reunion, Sam’s remains are found. People who knew Sam, and those around him, will be in town for the much anticipated reunion. It’s up to Jane to sort friend from foe, before it’s too late.

Kate’s Thoughts

Outside of the “Tita Rosie Kitchen Mysteries”, I don’t really do many ‘cozy mysteries’ when it comes to the litany of mystery sub genres. I’ve dabbled here and there, but it’s not really my thing. But Book Club is always making me challenge myself, and when it was a cozy mystery prompt, I went in with an open mind. Oddly enough, even though I’ve worked for multiple public library systems in Minnesota, I had never heard of local author Ellen Hart or her character Jane Lawless, so “In a Midnight Wood” was completely new to me as a title and series. I had no idea what to expect in terms of specifics, but had some preconceived notions based on the sub genre, and I was, mostly correct.

“In a Midnight Wood” has a lot of really charming elements to it. The most obvious are our main character Jane and her ride or die best friend Cordelia. I really enjoyed their friendship and they way they interacted with each other, and I liked that we were getting a story about two aging lesbian best friends who have each other’s backs, but also call each other out on their nonsense. While I was jumping into a series 20+ books in, I still felt like I got to know Jane and Cordelia and who they were as people in spite of the fact I have missed OODLES of backstory. I also, being a Minnesotan, really liked the Minnesota setting in the fictional town of Castle Lake. It just felt like an outstate Minnesota town, with the insular community, the main street area with beloved local businesses, and the descriptions of chain of lakes food specialties, from burger joints to mentions of some favorite local beers (Grain Belt forever!)

On the flip side, the mystery and plot itself was fairly generic and run of the mill. I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, and the beats of twists and red herrings and reveals were fairly easy to spot. It also felt a little out of time in some ways, as the mystery at hand involves people who graduated in 1999, but as adults sound less like elder millennials and a bit older than that. And finally, and this is purely reflective of the choice we as a book club made and not on the book itself, jumping into a long running series twenty plus books in may have been a bit of a mistake. Not one that derailed the experience or anything! But there were definitely references to past characters long gone that seemed meaningful, but were meaningless to me as a reader with no context.

Overall, “In a Midnight Wood” was an entertaining choice for Book Club. I don’t think I’m going to tackle the series as a whole, but it made for a good discussion.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked Jane and her friend Cordelia, and I loved the Minnesota references and location, but the mystery itself was pretty run of the mill. And jumping into a series 20+ books in was probably a mistake.

Book Club Questions

  1. Have you read any cozy mysteries before this book? If so, how does this one fit the genre and what did you think of it within said genre? If not, do you think you’d read others?
  2. What did you think of the setting that Hart created? Did the town and the people there engage your interest?
  3. This series started in the late 1980s and has been going on ever since. If you haven’t read this series, how do you imagine it has changed as time has gone on, and if you have, what have you noticed about the changes in the characters and their journeys?
  4. Do you think you will continue on in this series, be it going back to the beginning, or picking and choosing plots that sound interesting to you?
  5. Jane has her own true crime podcast. Do you listen to any podcasts, true crime or otherwise?
  6. There are a lot of awesome bits about food in this book. Did any of the foods stand out to you as something you’d want to eat?

Reader’s Advisory

“In a Midnight Wood” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists that I could find, but it would probably fit in on “Small Towns With Secrets”.

Serena’s Review: “The Vermilion Emporium”

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Book: “The Vermilion Emporium” by Jamie Pacton

Publishing Info: Peachtree Teen, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: It was a day for finding things . . .

On the morning Twain, a lonely boy with a knack for danger, discovers a strand of starlight on the cliffs outside Severon, a mysterious curiosity shop appears in town. Meanwhile, Quinta, the ordinary daughter of an extraordinary circus performer, chases rumors of the shop, The Vermilion Emporium, desperate for a way to live up to her mother’s magical legacy.

When Quinta meets Twain outside the Emporium, two things happen: One, Quinta starts to fall for this starlight boy, who uses his charm to hide his scars. Two, they enter the store and discover a book that teaches them how to weave starlight into lace.

Soon, their lace catches the eye of the Casorina, the ruler of Severon. She commissions Quinta and Twain to make her a starlight dress and will reward them handsomely enough to make their dreams come true. However, they can’t sew a dress without more material, and the secret to starlight’s origins has been lost for centuries. As Quinta and Twain search the Emporium for answers, though, they discover the secret might not have been lost—but destroyed. And likely, for good reason.

Review: This book had early marketing that compared it to a mix of “The Radium Girls” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” And that’s definitely one of those situations where the weirdness of that mixture just adds to the appeal. I mean, what does that even mean? But the book description itself also sounded intriguing and the cover seemed to speak to a sort of historical/fantasy hybrid of sorts. So what did it turn out to be?

Quinta and Twain each feel as if they have hit dead ends. Quinta’s mother often spoke of a future for daughter full of greatness, but looking around her now, Quinta only sees the mundane. For his part, Twain’s hopes of buying him and his brother a new life via passage on a ship out of the city died alongside his brother when he perished in a tragic accident. But when Quinta and Twain find themselves thrown together, privy to a long-lost magical substance, each sees their future opening up before them once again. However, some secrets may have been forgotten for a reason, and Quinta and Twain may be in over their heads.

This was another frustrating read for me, largely because after the first few chapters I was feeling pretty good about the book as a whole. First off, and for me most importantly, the writing seemed solid and engaging, painting a vivid new world full of interesting new magic and sympathetic characters. Twain, especially, with this tragic story of the loss of his brother was a particularly interesting narrator. His story also starts off quickly, jumping the reader right into the action and setting out a path for him to follow early on.

Things began to go down hill when I met the female main character. Quinta seemed interesting enough at first, but quite quickly it began to feel like her entire motivation and drive centered around the prediction her mother made that she would be great. She also seemed overly fixated on the fact that she only let people down and that she was a “one night girl.” Seriously, that last phrase was repeated so many times that I almost got out a note pad and started counting. I get the general type of character that these two things are supposed to be painting, but the repetitive way that Quinta talked about and described herself quickly began to feel unnatural.

And then, the romance. Oh, the romance. Why, instalove, why?? Again, the first few pages of Quinta and Twain’s interactions had me interested. There was some good banter and chemistry, and I was hopeful that that would turn into a solid foundation for an eventual relationship. NOPE! For such a “one night kind of girl” Quinta sure did jump in quickly! Seriously, they were holding hands within pages of meeting, and Quinta was immediately discussing how she didn’t buy into “love at first sight” but man, she was starting to have questions now. It was so rushed and uncomfortable.

After that, I really struggled to connect with anything else in this story. There were never any major conflicts the two characters had to face and very little character growth of any kind was involved. And if I had to hear the phrases “one night girl” or “meant for great things” a single more time…Alas, it was not for me. Perhaps fantasy readers who are not as put off by instalove and looking for lighter fare may enjoy this, but ultimately it felt like a wasted opportunity for a good story.

Rating 6: A promising start broke down fairly quickly and left me struggling to get through this one.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Vermilion Emporium” can be found on this Goodreads list: YA Novels of 2022

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 4)”

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Book: “American Vampire (Vol.4)” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Jordi Bernet (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2012

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: American Vampire flashes back to two very distinct points in American history. The first tale comes from the early 1800’s with the “The Beast in the Cave” featuring art by the legendary Jordi Bernet (Torpedo, Jonah Hex). Learn about the original American Vampire, Skinner Sweet, and his involvement in the brutal Indian Wars, and an ancient evil hidden in the heart of the Old West. Plus, more about the man Skinner used to call his best friend – James Book!

The second tale comes straight from 1950s America, where American Vampire is terrorizing the suburbs with hot rods, teenyboppers and fangs! “Death Race” focuses on ferocious new vampire hunter Travis Kidd – but what is his connection to Skinner Sweet? As the story comes to a violent end, a sworn enemy’s identity is finally revealed, and lots of blood is spilled!

Writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Rafael Albuquerque bring together even more threads to the complex tapestry that is the world of American Vampire.

Review: Admittedly as I was going about my read through of “American Vampire”, I picked up “Volume 4” and had an ‘I have no memory of this place’ moment. I had vivid recollections of the previous volume, just as I have recollections of what comes next. But this one didn’t stand out in my mind. So I was eager to dive in and remind myself what this volume had to offer. But as I was reading, I realized that there was probably reason I didn’t remember much. “American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the story yet.

But as always, let’s start with what I did like, and that was mostly the story “The Nocturnes”. We follow Calvin, one of the Vassals that was sent on the basically doomed Taipan mission during WWII, who we thought was dead, but actually was turned into a vampire when he was accidentally exposed to some of Pearl’s blood. The good news is he’s still working for the Vassals, and this standalone tale is following him and what he’s been up to. Mostly it’s taxonomy for the organization, categorizing different and new vampire subspecies, and in this story it isn’t a mission that has his interest, but a familial one: once he became a vampire he cut all ties to the living world outside of work, and he just wants to see his brother perform in his singing group. Unfortunately it’s in a sundown town, and also unfortunately, there are vampires afoot. I like Calvin as a character, and I liked seeing this exploration of what you have to give up as a Vassal, as those we have met up until now have been pretty solitary anyway. I also liked the way that it explores Jim Crow racism and sundown towns, and Calvin’s Othering because of his skin as well as his undead status. It’s a perspective we haven’t seen yet in the story and I enjoyed it.

BUT, that said, the other arcs in this collection haven’t aged super well from when they were first published. For one, guess who has once again been relegated to the sidelines: Pearl. She is barely in this book. Felicia Book isn’t in it at all. And we are STILL dwelling on Skinner Sweet, and while I KNEW that he wasn’t actually dead, it’s still frustrating that we didn’t get any kind of breather from him as a character who gets a huge friggin’ spotlight. This story takes us back to when he wasn’t yet a vampire, and we find out that he was actually good friends with James Book of all people, and they fought together during the Indian Wars, and oh boy. OH BOY. For one, the very complex and tragic subject matter at hand just doesn’t really sit well with me these days, given how the U.S. Government has consistently participated in a genocide against Indigenous peoples, and having that as a plot point in this story feels pretty grotesque. For another, we get into what is a well meaning story about the actual first American Vampire, an Indigenous woman named Mimiteh who was attacked by colonizer vampires and staked by the Vassals of the Morning Star as a precaution. After rising from the dead she is worshipped and feared by the Apache peoples that the U.S. Government is trying to overwhelm, and it just feels appropriative. It sure doesn’t help that Mimiteh is stark naked in nearly every encounter we see of her, which makes it feel all the more dehumanizing. And here’s a tip, making James Book, one of the pretty clear cut ‘good guys’ of this series, a participant in colonial driven genocide is probably not a good idea if you want him to remain clean nosed (creepy relationship with Felcia’s mother aside). The other story is about a vampire hunter for the Vassals named Travis Kidd, whose family was killed by a vampire and now he’s trying to take all vampires out. I did like some things about this story, namely that Travis kind of has a Charles Starkweather feel to him, in that when we first meet him he is killing his teenage girlfriend’s family, but they are vampires so it’s not the horrific spree that Starkweather had. It’s a wry reference to be sure. But, SURPRISE SURPRISE, do you know who it is that he ultimately wants his revenge against? You guessed it. SKINNER FREAKING SWEET. So we get very little Pearl in this collection, NO Felicia Book, and we get TWO HUGE STORIES WITH SWEET. SERIOUSLY?!

My feelings towards Skinner Sweet, and I MAY BE THE ONLY ONE?! (source)

Okay, so it was a bit of a stumble, but “American Vampire (Vol. 4)” does set up the next arc with a solid cliffhanger. I feel like Pearl and Felicia get more to do next time around, so onwards I go with higher hopes.

Rating 6: It just hasn’t aged super well. Also, while I knew we weren’t done with Skinner Sweet, I REALLY wish we were done with Skinner Sweet. That said, a story following Calvin is pretty good, and I liked some true crime connection and homages.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “Cursed”

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

Book: “Cursed” by Marissa Meyer

Publishing Info: Feiwel and Friends, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: Adalheid Castle is in chaos.

Following a shocking turn of events, Serilda finds herself ensnared in a deadly game of make-believe with the Erlking, who is determined to propel her deeper into the castle’s lies. Meanwhile, Serilda is determined to work with Gild to help him solve the mystery of his forgotten name and past.

But soon it becomes clear that the Erlking doesn’t only want to use Serilda to bring back his one true love. He also seeks vengeance against the seven gods who have long trapped the Dark Ones behind the veil. If the Erlking succeeds, it could change the mortal realm forever.

Can Serilda find a way to use her storytelling gifts for good—once and for all? And can Serilda and Gild break the spells that tether their spirits to the castle before the Endless Moon finds them truly cursed?

Previously Reviewed: “Gilded”

Review: Back when I reviewed “Princess of Souls,” I went on a mini rant about Macmillan only handing out one ARC per day to each individual during ALA. And back when I reviewed “Gilded” last week, I went on another mini rant against myself for delaying reading this duology. Well, combine those two and you and get the rant where I missed out on an ARC for “Cursed” at ALA because a.) I hadn’t gotten around to reading the first one and b.) they were only handing out one ARC, so I picked “Princess of Souls”…

Man, I wish I had picked his book instead!

Expecting a child and engaged to the evil Erkling, Serilda’s prospects really couldn’t be worse. Add on top of that the fact that her beloved village children are trapped under the Erkling’s curse, and she cannot tell her love and the father of her child, Gild, any of this for fear of tipping off the Erkling to her plans. With the clock ticking on her pregnancy, Serilda is desperate to find a way to save the children, Gild, and her own baby. But as she works to uncover the secret history of the land, she discovers that the Erkling’s game is much greater than she had suspected.

I pretty much read this book immediately after finishing up “Gilded.” I think it really worked being read in this way, as the story picks up immediately after the previous one kicks off. It really could feel like one, longer book. In some ways, I think it was even improved on for being read this way. As, given the way the action of the entire duology is spread out, this book opens on the lull before the story. The previous book set it all up, but this stories opens with Serilda in a fairly impossible situation. Ultimately, as judged on its own, I do think this one struggled a bit more with pacing right off the the bat because of this. As the story continued, there were long swaths of time where very little happened. There were also large changes in scenery and situation that would also feel a bit like they petered out into yet another lull. But, overall, I do think the plotting and pacing work, if they are a bit more jumbled than in the first book.

This is still very much Serilda’s story, and I continued to enjoy her as a main character. I thought the way Meyers handled her pregnancy was interesting (if a bit of a cop out in certain ways), and Serilda’s relationship with the children of her village and the child she will soon bring into the world remains her primary motivation and focus. The romance is, of course, still very sweet. But, if anything, this book reinforced again and again that this is not the relationship at the core of Serilda’s world, as much as she loves Gild. I really liked this. Not only is it refreshing to read about a main character who’s motivational relationship is not yet another romantic interest, but Meyers used this opportunity to continue to build on what was, really, a very bare bones start to Gild and Serilda’s relationship (Serilda even spends time reflecting on whether or not she truly can say she’s “in love” with Gild having only known him for a total of three nights at this point). However, perhaps unsurprising to those familiar with my pet peeves, I did struggle on and off with why Serilda continued to keep so many secrets from Gild. She seemed to be very dismissive of his ability to keep a secret or remain level-headed in front of the Erkling. But…isn’t he the one who’s been successfully dealing with this cruel king for centuries?

The story did take good number of unexpected turns along the way, and I think this really worked. As I said, there were lulls to the story, but every time I began to get the first hints of tedium, Meyers would throw a massive switch into things, and I’d find myself facing almost a completely new story and challenge. I think this worked very well and helped combat some of the pacing issues. I was able to predict a few of these reveals, but the way everything came to light and played out still was surprising and fun. There was one final twist towards the end that I’m still not completely sure makes a lot of sense. But…eh, I could go with it.

This was a very solid conclusion to the duology. I think the pacing does knock it down from a 9 to an 8, for me. But it was still a very solid read and one I greatly enjoyed. Fans of the first book are sure to be pleased with this one (just don’t expect greatly increased Gild/Serilda action though!)

Rating 8: An excellent continuation and conclusion to a unique fairytale retelling, this book (and duology) is sure to please YA fantasy fans!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cursed” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Epic High Fantasy/Romance/Mythology in 2022 and YA Releases November 2022.

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