This was better than the second book, but still… I don’t know. I have feelings.
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Character development: ★★★★
My review of book one, Kingdom of the Wicked.
My review of book two, Kingdom of the Cursed.
This entire review is a reaction review, NOT a book summary. It is also filled with spoilers for the entire series. Please don't read if you don't want spoilers.
It's a few days after my read. I intentionally let it stew for a bit to see if I felt any other types of way about it. I still feel the same, which is... conflicted.
My journey with this series was a rollercoaster.
I absolutely LOVED the first book. I was obsessed. As an early ARC reader, I devoured it and then spent several months hyping it up to anyone that would listen. When book two came out, I bought it and its special editions immediately—and then waited for the release of book three, because I wanted to avoid cliffhangers and read the entire series in one chunk.
I'm kind of glad I did that, because if I'd read book two (Kingdom of the Cursed) right away... I likely wouldn't even be here writing a review for book three. I hated book two that much.
This third book was much better than Kingdom of the Cursed—more plot, a return to Maniscalco's clear plot strength (mysteries), and the character development felt authentic again. Kingdom of the Feared had a few notable plot twists that surprised me and I felt that the ending fit Emelia's journey given her particular set of character traits.
I guess... I just wanted more from this series. I wanted Wrath to be a stronger character, in line with who I thought he'd have to be after being alive for hundreds of years. (He read so young.) I also continued to find Emelia's weird blend of naivety + adult content super weird to read as an adult woman. She's like a baby in terms of life experience, and yet the plot throws her into these very New Adult situations and I'll be honest, it squicked me out a bit. Her weird switch from immature teen to Grown Adult Woman vibes in between books two and three due to... plot reasons... was also super abrupt to me. I wanted that transition to either have more time to grow organically or have it occur earlier in the story so I had time to get used to it. The immediate flip was odd.
Strengths in this series—even with my lackluster feelings—were still present in Kingdom of the Feared. I think this concept is super fun. I think the realm of Hell and its various kingdoms is worth exploring further, possibly with more intention spent on character depth and unique plot structure. I loved the gimick of the seven deadly sins represented in seven men. The romantasy element there is promising—I am planning on picking up her spinoff with Envy this fall, which should lean into that quite a bit. I think the storytelling is there.
I'm worried I'm alone in this corner, as a lot of other people whose reviews I trust not only LOVED book two, but they also seemed to enjoy this last book more than I did. Oh well--I still will recommend this to older teens and adult readers who don't mind a weaker plot arc.
A girl, a boy, and realms beyond death. Doors to other places and whispering demons in the corner of your eye. This was a very interesting read.
Delaney is a girl with one foot in the world of the living and one foot in the world of the dead. Having gone Deaf when she was a young child experiencing a deadly illness and a near/actual-death experience, Lane's life has gone through some unexpected paths.
Her latest unexpected path involves her mysterious enrollment in Godbole University. Lane's been inducted into a secretive program with unknown foundations and a distinctly macabre flair. What do the students learn? What exactly qualifies them for this invite-only degree?
And what the heck is up with her hot and mysterious teaching assistant, Colton Price?
(Yes, this is essentially a young adult romance told with a distinctly dark academia/speculative flair. You've been warned!)
With a creeping sense that something is afoot, Lane finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into a web of lies, alternate realms, and a worrying number of missing and dead students. Has Lane unexpectedly dropped herself in the middle of a dangerous game?
I don't want to do this novel any disservice by talking about the magical elements within this book. Part of the enjoyment comes from allowing the book to reveal its steps in due course to Lane (and the reader) as they unfold.
The Whispering Dark had a very cool premise. Lane's Deafness leading to a unique magical relationship with—you might have guessed—a whispering entity in the darkness was very unique and I enjoyed seeing that development unfold. This novel's unique blend of horror, portal fantasy, Romeo + Juliet vibes, and deathly gothic saturation was a heady combination to read.
And yet... Agh, I am conflicted.
Sometimes, there's a book that is overly mysterious and the ratio between the unknown and the revealed skews itself between "the reader has no clue what the F is going on" and "the reader knows too much about what is going on" in a satisfying way. And then other times... that ratio veers to far in one direction and loses its edge. I fear The Whispering Dark veered too far for me.
This is a novel with a lot of mystery: What is going on with this academic program? Why are students disappearing and turning up dead? What is Colton Price's backstory, and why is is mysterious childhood experience with death linked so intrinsically with Lane? How does this magic system of disappearing into portals/realms work?
And so on. There are a TON of questions, and The Whispering Dark prefers to leave you in the dark (pun intended) for a frustratingly long time instead of answering them.
I wanted to have more of a concrete sense of understanding around this magic system and its mechanics: I didn't get it. I wanted to know more about the lore and the background for these other realms and/or why this entity cared about our realm and our characters so much: I didn't get that, either.
And it's not just the magical elements of this novel that frustrated me... It was the characters and their antics too. We had some side characters who seemed under-utilized and under-described, and yet annoying present despite their two-dimensional aspects. We also had a very, VERY heady relationship between Lane and Colton that felt almost Twilight-esque in its gothic attraction/insta-love elements, and yet for 90% of the book I spent my time frustratedly waiting for the "reveal" to happen for Lane as we, the reader, know why their pairing is so significant and yet Lane is keep in the metaphorical dark to the point of ruining the emotional payoff of the reveal. (I know I sound heated about this last one, and I am. This was so frustrating to slog through and I don't think this book would have lost its edge if we'd allowed for their pairing to be more honest from the start.)
However, despite my issues with this novel's lack of explanations, frustrating lack of coherency, and over-the-top gothic romance vibes, I did still enjoy this read. I think I might be in the minority for the elements I mention above, so if you're interested in The Whispering Dark's premise I do recommend it.
A girl made of lies who can see the threads of fate. A prince with an interesting fate for the girl to weave around her. A plot, a curse, and some blood magic. This had all the makings of an interesting spin on the YA fantasy court tropes...
Character arcs: ★★
Violet is the official Seer of the kingdom. From a child of the streets to the pampered Seer in the tall tower, Violet's rise to riches involved one simple moment: she saw the future and saved the Prince's life.
Ever since that fateful day, Violet has done all that she could to keep her position as the powerful court Seer and personal advisor on all things fate to the King. She likes her cushy job, ok? And she's willing to fight tooth and claw to keep it.
That fighting instinct is sorely tested with Prince Cyrus.
Ever since Violet saved Cyrus' life, Cyrus has been the worst. They're basically nemesis now, with Cyrus hating Violet—her incessant lies to "save" the kingdom per his father's orders are apparently a personal betrayal—and Violet detesting Cyrus for making her daily life as difficult as possible.
There's a fine line between love and hate...
However, the hatred between these two reluctant coworkers has nothing on the drama waiting from them in this tale. Violet and Cyrus have bigger problems now: there's a curse coming for them both, and whole lot of deadly magic with inescapable consequences.
With the fate of the kingdom, Cyrus, and her own life placed in Violet's hands, things are about the get interestingly deadly.
Alright, y'all. Let's talk about it. Given my low rating, you can tell that this story really, really didn't gel for me. That was due to multiple different aspects.
I thought the fixation on Violet and Cyrus' hatred toward each other was a bit over the top and nonsensical after a certain point. From "I HATE YOU" screaming to passion, this arc was somehow both basic and overcomplicated for me. For me, it reduced both Violet and Cyrus' character development down to this one trope.
I also had a hard time with the balance between worldbuilding, plot, and character development. This might have been a “me” problem, but it felt like this story constantly pivoted away from whatever I wanted to have next… When it was time for an action point, we went into a snarky internal Violet moment. When it was time for some character growth between people, it seemed like we jumped into world building descriptions. I don’t know, it was off to me for the entire read.
All in all, not a new favorite read for me. But this might find its audience in younger readers less well versed in the genre. I'd recommend this to young tweens and newer fantasy readers without hesitation.
This has a house vibe, a trapped cat-and-mouse vibe, AND a vampire romance. Say no more. I definitely read the heck out of this and had a fun time.
Plot/Pacing: ★★ 1/2
It's current-day. Vampires have replaced the world of human celebrities and rich people with their emergence unto the world stage in their unworldly beauty. With a global fanbase, reality TV shows, and world news turned toward them, the five official vampire houses exist at the very top of society.
Naturally, humans are a part of this capitalist/celebrity food chain—literally.
To accommodate the vampires' need for blood and to satisfy the masses of humans obsessed with their allure, the five vampire houses have a system in place for blood donors. You can submit to become a blood donor, get paid for your time, and spend a set amount of time inside the vampire house. The catch? You sign a contract, you can't leave until they let you, and sometimes people don't come back out...
Renie Mayfield has just been accepted as a blood donor for the house of Belle Morte. But she's not the typical groupie looking for a blood fix and some dangerous sex. She's looking for her missing sister, June. June disappeared in Belle Morte's house several months ago. And Renie is going to find her.
The only problem is, one of the vampires has a special interest in Renie. And Renie can't help but notice him back...
Cue the angst, the forbidden romance, and the drama of a locked-house atmosphere...
Belle Morte is something you need to have on your radar if you're a fan of the late 2000s and early 2010s vampire teen romance fiction. This book is clearly a love letter to that type of story, and it definitely attracted the right audience—I was a sucker for those then, and I had a nostalgically good time with this one too.
Was this amazingly written? Not really. Was this an original plot? Almost no. But did this give vampire fans something fun to read in the current era where vampire romances are harder to come by? Oh heck yes.
Come for the fun, not the literary value. Belle Morte is waiting.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Cool concept, really loved the death lord angle. Annoyed as heck by the main character to the point where I wanted to skim…so, a mixed bag of thoughts here.
Main character: ★ 1/2
Violeta Graceling and her brother, Arien, live in a wooded world filled with a mysterious blight. They live off of the long-suffering "goodness" of their adoptive mother, who works for the local villager as a painter for the village's important religious icons. It's a light versus the darkness, goodness versus shadow demons type of religion... and to Violeta and Arien's horror, every night Arien wakes to shadows coating his body.
Violeta knows that if Arien could just wish the shadows away, they could be safe. Harsh control is the only answer to Arien's issue...right? (Oh dear)
One day in the village, Arien is caught with his shadows by the visiting lord from the nearby Lakesedge estate: Rowan Sylvanan.
Rowan Sylvanan might be close to Violeta's age, but he's already a nightmare story that parents warn their children about at night. He killed his whole family, they say. He's filled with evil, they say.
Rowan takes one look at Arien and his shadows and makes the decision to take Arien home with him. And because Violeta is fiercely protective of her brother, Rowan begrudgingly takes her too.
But neither the estate nor Rowan are what they seem, and Violeta's going to have to face certain truths whether she's ready for them or not...
Sometimes, it's not really the book's fault or the reader's fault when the reading experience is "meh." Sometimes it's just....the main character. And for Lakesedge, my issues all circle around one thing: Violeta herself.
I thought this world was cool. I loved the gothic atmosphere, the mystique of the estate, the dark shadow magic at the core of the story. I thought the ending in particular was spectacular.
But.... I can't give this more than 3 stars, because for the first half of the book (and frankly, ok, the rest of the book too) I couldn't stand Violeta. When you have a first-person narration with only one POV, a lot of the story rests on that one main character and whether the reader can get behind them and their actions. And I just could not do it.
Violeta was stubborn to the point of dumbness, prejudiced to the point of fear mongering, and at the end of the day she was also... weirdly reactionary to her own story?
(Except for the very, very end where my complaint turns into a spoiler: (view spoiler))
I'm not sure if all of that stands up outside of my own personal opinions, but that was how I felt. Oh well. Another case of "it's not you, book, it's me!"
I LOVED THIS. I wish this had existed when I was in high school. The girl I was could have used this happy, hopeful book.
Main character: ★★★★★
The ending: maybe controversial, but I LOVED the ending in particular
Winnie is ready for another summer spent in her grandma's small-town diner, waiting on tables and hanging out with her ungirlfriend. She's comfortable in her space, in her life, and she's just waiting of for the summer's good times to come before she goes off to college.
But the summer has other plans for Winnie.
First off, their small town's annual Queen selection (where one resident is chosen as "Queen" for the summer and has a volunteer "King" to attend events with) takes a twist. Winnie, who didn't enter and hates public speaking, wins. She's a plus-size black girl in a small town, and she DID NOT ask for the spotlight. But when it's thrust on her, there's no choice.
And then things get even more interesting when Dallas, one of the most attractive boys in town, volunteers to be her King.
Winnie and Kara, two partners who refer to themselves as ungirlfriends—also mentioned as "Queerplatonic" in the novel—now have to navigate the complexities of romance, friendship, bonds, and what it means for Winnie, who's attracted to Dallas, and Kara, who isn't sexually interested in anyone but is bonded to Winnie, to deal with the new layers to their life.
I have literally nothing negative to say, besides one tiny tiny spoiler (located at the bottom of this review in italic). Outside of the spoiler, I loved LITERALLY everything about this story. I loved the positive fat girl representation. I loved Winnie's strong sense of self, her purpose, her drive, and her unwillingness to compromise her moral compass for the weak personalities around her.
I also loved the romantic relationships and navigation of queerplatonic (which I learned for this book!) and, in a way, discussions of polyamory and the extremely different permutations of what that looks like. I also loved the strong happy messages at work in this novel. AND, before I devolve into endless streams of "love this love this love this," I also loved the negotiation of families, and how sometimes... you both can grow out of family and realize that family isn't the be all, end all. Very deftly done.
SPOILER: Winnie didn't put her name in the jar to be considered for Queen...and we never find out who put her name in. So that felt like an abandoned plot thread. But at the same time, that didn't matter in the scheme of the plot so I honestly forgot about it until I finished the book and tried to write this review.
Come for the concept, stay for the drama. This was a near-perfect blend of Gossip Girl, modern day royalty, and drama.
Drama: ★★★★ 1/2
What would have happened if George Washington had accepted the offer to become America's king? As our history books state, he said no, and the Presidency was created.
But what if...
American Royals follows the modern-day lives of America's royal family—the House of Washington. A perfect mishmash of British royalty with a distinctly American twist, American Royals was SO MUCH FUN.
Beatrice Washington is the first born, and the first woman chosen as next in line for the throne. An 18-year-old with her life planned out down to the man she's supposed to marry, she secretly dreams of being allowed the freedom of choice in the land of the free. But what's a princess to do when the whole world is watching?
Samantha Washington is one part of two—her twin brother, Jefferson Washington, is America's heartthrob—and Sam's the mess up. Known as the spare, Sam realizes that the only way to carve her mark into history is to be the loudest, the worst, the most—anything and everything that Beatrice isn't. What's a spare to do when all she wants is to make an impact?
Nina Gonzalez is Sam's best friend and the daughter of the royal court's Chamberlain. She's grown up in the halls of the palace all her life, and Sam and Jeff are her closest friends. It's not her intention to fall in love with the prince, but when one night crosses the line, will she take the plunge and risk the wrath of the American people to be with her knight in shining armor?
Daphne Deighton was born to be a princess. Scraping her way to the top with a smile on her face and steel in her eyes, she was Jeff's perfect porcelain girlfriend until it all came crashing down and Nina stole his heart. What's a girl to do but take things into her own hands?
Following the POVs of these four women entangled in the palace, American Royals was something else. I couldn't get enough of the clever world-building, the hate-to-love-it cliched drama, and the scheming. Nina's window as a Hispanic woman attempting to following her own path was my favorite part of this story, seconded by Beatrice's stoic exterior/mad mess interior dynamic.
This series is going to make a splash, and I can't WAIT for the next book.
Thank you very much to Penguin Random House for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
These Witches Don't Burn? More like these witches don't bore! (Couldn't resist.)
I absolutely loved reading These Witches Don't Burn. Fun, filled with memorable characters, extreme relationship drama, and so well paced it's basically ready for its movie adaptation, this book is a great LGBT+ contemporary read.
Everyone knows the history of Salem, Massachusetts. People went mad and claimed girls were witches, and they killed them. As many other novels have explored—what if the witches were real? These Witches Don't Burn covers the same ground relating to Salem, but it does it with a surprising sense of diversity, humor, and heart.
Hannah is an Elemental witch in her junior year of high school. She's training to be a full witch in her coven, she's attempting to balance her home life with school, and she's dealing with her persistent ex. Adding some fire to the flames, Hannah's ex is one of the witches in Hannah's coven, and she's everywhere Hannah is. Awkward.
The main drama for These Witches Don't Burn lies in the relationship dynamics between Hannah, her ex Veronica, Hannah's friend Gemma, and the new girl in town, Morgan. There is an action-based pseudo-mystery plot going on in the background as the witches discover that a Witch Hunter is in town—attempting to murder them in the style of the 1600s Salem witch trials—and Hannah finds herself in the middle of the drama, but for me the main narrative lay in the relationships.
To be honest, that's why I enjoyed it so much.
These Witches Don't Burn is feminist, fun, and filled with the kind of relationship drama that everyone can relate to. I loved it. My only caveat to the story was that it fell into some of the anti-men tropes that these novels often have. The men in this novel were either suspicious, problematic, dead, or part of the mystery in a nefarious way. I can't get into the spoilers, but once you've reached the finale you'll see what I mean. I wish there had been a few positive male characters in the story not because we need positive male roles in every story, but because it seemed like an intentional oversight and felt like an over correction in the name of female empowerment.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.