Deals with Fate, a whimsically dark, wintery setting that reminded me of the Night Circus's atmosphere, and a twisty-turny love plot to fit all of the classics. I loved it.
Entry point for new readers? oof, equal yes and no
NOTE: Once Upon a Broken Heart is set in the same universe as this author's previous trilogy, Caraval. I was not smart enough to realize that before reading this (whoops), so I want throw that out here at the start of this review. This has crossover with Caraval. It is, however, marketed as the start of a brand new series.
Evangeline Fox grew up on fairytales. Her life is one, after all, even if some people don't realize it. A recent orphan, Evangeline works in her late father's curiosities shop and is in love with a boy. Her mother raised her on stories of the magical North, where curses and magic are real and everyone knows it. Evangeline's very existence—her hair is the color of rosy gold, her upbringing shrouded in magical mystery—everything points to the start of a good fairytale.
But then the boy becomes engaged to Evangeline's stepsister, and everything in Evangeline's life shifts sideways.
She decides to believe in yet one more fairytale—the existence of Jacks, the Prince of Broken Hearts. For those who need him in Valenda, Jacks has a temple where the broken hearted can go and ask for a bargain.
It's dangerous to bargain with a Fate, but Evangeline is desperate and "dangerous" sounds like it could get the job done.
She strikes a deal with Jacks. Things don't exactly go as planned. He's a Fate, of course, and Evangeline is a girl straight out a fairytale—the story isn't going to let them go that easily.
It's time to let the story unfold...
I don't want to get into the plot too much, as half of the fun is going into the story with as little knowledge as possible, but WOW! In short, I really enjoyed this one.
Highlights: I loved the dynamic between Evangeline and Jacks. Even though Evangeline was much more naive than I prefer for a protagonist, the dynamic really worked for me and fit the story's vibe. I was also a huge fan of the world. It takes a rare type of author to write with the same je ne sais quoi quality as early Erin Morgenstern, but Stephanie Garber reached it. It's the YA, winter version of the Night Circus in terms of atmosphere and I was into it.
Negatives: Was it easy to jump into this world WITHOUT having already read Caraval? ...No. I wish I'd known how many references, nods, and hidden nuances in this novel were going to directly relate to that previous storyline. I would have taken a second look at Caraval first. It wasn't as bad as jumping into a direct sequel, but I did feel like I'd entered a TV show at the start of the second season. New character arc but same setup, and it was a bit confusing.
Read this if you like well-told tales, fairytales and their retellings, the power of hope, a dang good time, and nothing too dark.
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!"
Excellent atmosphere, loved the fresh take on a very different—and minimally inspired—Jane Eyre retelling. Loved the magic component, the haunted house, the Ethiopian-meets-gothic vibes… ahhh so good.
First disclaimer: I have not read Jane Eyre.
Second disclaimer: I did not go into this book wanting, or requiring, a faithful interpretation of Jane Eyre.
Andromeda, or "Andi," is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. With a rough upbringing behind her, current poverty around her, and a very uncertain future ahead, Andi is out of options and in need of steady employment.
So when an offer for a house cleansing comes her way riddled with warnings, she's too desperate to refuse.
Andi arrives at Thorne Manor in the middle of the African desert with desperation and everything to gain. She needs to eradicate this manifestation at whatever the cost—she has nothing left to lose.
But Thorn Manor, with its English colonialist design and history forced into the African landscape, is nothing like Andi's expectations. It's dark and freezing cold in the middle of the desert. It's filled with weird, misplaced furniture and false illusions. There's a sense of foreboding that Andi has never experienced despite all of her prior cleansings. And, to top it all off, the host of the manor is not at all like her expectations.
Andi has a job to do. And as the servants keep disappearing (or worse) and the house creeps closer toward Andi with every breath, the stakes are too high to leave.
Now add in a romance, a ghost story, and a claustrophobic atmosphere on par with Mexican Gothic, and you have a STORY.
Don't let your guard down...
Again, with my disclaimers at the beginning of this review aside, I thought this was a fantastic story. I read it over the course of one evening—and basically one sitting, if you don't count tea breaks!
Within These Wicked Walls had truly fantastic writing. Most times for young adult fiction/fantasy, I am attached to the characters, plot, or world building more than I'm attached to the actual words and their structure themselves. But for this one, the writing itself stood out to me. I loved the sense of place conveyed through the sentence descriptions, Andi's presence on the page, and the great sense of dialogue and scene transitions. This sounds like I'm reviewing an academic paper or something (boring, I know) but I really wanted to call it out here. GREAT writing.
I also thought that entire plot (romance, relationships, pacing, and all) was just.... chef's kiss. Really nice. I have no complaints besides a few spots that felt slowly paced.
Why is it so hard to talk intelligently in reviews when you love something??? Sigh. Please take my badly-constructed word on this: this story is fantastic, it's atmospheric, and it's a fresh take on a very old concept with some much needed non-Western influences.
I could see myself rereading this one every autumn. Pick this one up, gothic/ghost fans!
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
So I DNF'd this book years ago, but I guess I'm a different reader now, or maybe I just missed the magic the first time—because now it's a new favorite. Sometimes, second chances are worth it...
Main character: ★★
Scarlett and her sister, Donatella, live on an isle under the controlling rule of their abusive father. Scarlett believes in happy endings. Donatella...doesn't so much.
So when their grandmother tells them tale after tale of the mysterious Legend, the man behind the magic of the realm's mystical Caraval game, Scarlett's the one who writes to Legend year after year. If Legend would only invite them to participate in Caraval, then Scarlett and Donatella could win the game and be granted the grand prize... one wish. No restrictions.
For two girls with a very bleak future, winning Legend's elusive wish is one of their last shots at happiness.
So when Scarlett's letter finally arrives with invitations, Scarlett and Donatella can't believe it.
It's all about to begin, now. And remember, it's only a game.... (Right?)
Filled with lush descriptions, fantastical and transportive scenes, and enough twists and turns to actually surprise this jaded YA reader more than once, Caraval was more than worth the read!
Alright, so like I said from the beginning, this was a second-chance read for me. In 2018ish, I tried to pick this up and actually DNF'd it a few times within the first few chapters. I just couldn't get into it, the main character bothered me (I have a personal taste issue with really naively-written older teen characters), and I just. didn't. vibe.
But then, this author came out with a spin-off series in this universe in 2021 called Once Upon a Broken Heart. And I totally loved it. It made me curious enough to give Caraval another shot—again—and see if anything good lay beyond the opening part of the book.
Spoiler: a LOT of good things exist beyond the weak opener. So if you're like me, maybe give this one another shot.
This really worked for me, mainly because I’ve already ready the books it’s based on, but still. If you're ALSO obsessed with this era of history, then check this out! Another book to add to the canon of fiction and nonfiction centered on Chicago, the World’s Fair, and H.H. Holmes.
1890s Chicago. The World's Fair. All the glitz and glamour in the world focused on the Windy City...and yet something darker lurks the in streets beneath.
Women are disappearing. They're never seen again. And too many signs point to the Castle, a new hotel built near the grounds of the Fair.
Zuretta's sister, Ruby, left their small Utah town to escape to the wilds of Chicago to find a better life. When Ruby's weekly letters stop arriving, Zuretta knows something has happened. She goes to Chicago to investigate.
Once in the city, Zuretta realizes that Ruby is not the only girl lost in Chicago...not by a long shot. And the men of the police force and the famous Pinkerton detective agency have bigger fish to fry than helping one country bumpkin find her naïve sister.
When all signs point to the Castle hotel, Zuretta decides that she needs to infiltrate it from within. She becomes the Castle's new maid, under the watchful eye of the young owner... Henry Holmes.
The Castle's winding, nonsensical architecture entraps Zuretta while the screams in the walls haunt her nights. What's going on at the Castle, and just who, exactly, is behind it all?
Zuretta's going to find out—and hopefully escape with her life.
Ok so right off the bat, this is another one of those books that I think is either going to really, REALLY work for people... or be a huge miss.
It's a huge YES from me, but I think a lot of my enjoyment came from knowing way more about this story's real-life historical roots. If you've already read Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, then you're extremely primed to like this one too as The Perfect Place to Die is a "perfect" (couldn't resist that pun) young adult fictional companion to that story.
However, if you've NOT read any of the supporting works (Devil in the White City, fictional renditions like Kerri Maniscalco's Capturing the Devil, etc.) then you're left with the main plot itself, which does have some quirks/weaknesses as it attempts to follow the historical accuracies. It's not the most dramatic of stories, and it's also not the most complex—but again, it's because it's following the historical blueprint.
An interesting one for sure. I enjoyed the read and will definitely recommend it to the right audience.
Many thanks to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Fantastic setup for a series!! Wish the first half had been less boring. Poisons, mythology, secrets, creaky old mansions, and more—OH MY.
Last third of the book: ★★★★★
Briseis has a strange skill. A gift, maybe. Some might call it a curse. Growing up adopted in Brooklyn, Briseis and her two moms discover that she can grow any plant. She can rebirth a plant from its withered ashes. The plants also want to... be close to Briseis. In fact, whenever a plant is near her it literally moves to be closer.
As you can imagine, this is a problem in the nonmagical world of our current times, and especially in the concrete jungle of New York City where every plant is noticeable.
One day, Briseis and her moms receive a strange visitor claiming to be a solicitor from the small rural New York community of Rhinebeck. Briseis' birth mother, Selene, and Selene's sister, Circe, lived in an old mansion in the community and both have died recently. Briseis is the sole inheritor.
So her family moves to Rhinebeck.
Now surrounded by the ghosts of her birth family, a gothic mansion filled with secrets, and a mysterious garden on the property with a locked gate, Briseis is about to discover the true meaning of her abilities and just what, exactly, they're meant for.
Cue the dramatic, suspenseful music!
I thought This Poison Heart was awesome. Well, for for the first half, not so much. I was bored silly. In order to give this large plot its proper setup—and to get Briseis from Brooklyn to Rhinebeck and more—we had to take a lot of time to build up the suspense and get to know all the players involved. While this totally makes sense, it made for an extremely boring opening read and made me slip into the assumption that this novel was going to be just like other YA traditional novels.
It is NOT like your run-of-the-mill adventure. You just have to get past that part to realize it.
Once the plot kicks off, this was awesome. I couldn't stop reading it, and I loved what the author brought into play for the next book. This series (duology? more?) is going to play with a lot of myths, magics, and more—and I can't WAIT!
Starts off simple and slow, but once you fall into this story it is one word—mesmerizing.
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ and ★★★★, depending on how far you are in the book
Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2
So first off, for those who miss clear clues like me, this is the first book in a duology! It is not a standalone novel. Six Crimson Cranes is a beautiful, mesmerizing, and classic YA retelling tale that involves all the best elements of the genre and a few unique twists. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. When her stepmother, also possessing magic, discovers Shiori's secret, she curses Shiori and her six brothers. Shiori's brothers turn into cranes, and Shiori herself is cursed with silence and her identity is hidden by a covering on her head. They are then magically flung from the palace and separated.
Once a princess, now a mute and unidentifiable girl in the rural countryside, Shiori is stuck and in need of a plan. She has to defeat her evil stepmother, break the curses on herself and her brothers, and save her kingdom from the outside forces who want to overthrow the land.
It's a tall to-do list, that's for sure.
But Shiori's endurance and sense of self are strong, and she knows she can do this. Armed with her sentient paper crane, Kiki, and a will to live, Shiori sets off on the adventure of a lifetime.
(Shhh, I won't talk about it anymore. Go read it!)
What? Amy loved a retelling? No way. Yes, way. I did. I thought this was a beautiful novel with quite a lot going for it.
Six Crimson Cranes starts off extremely simple. In fact, for the first section of the plot I thought to myself, "oh boy, I don't think this will be a favorite. It's too classic." But I was wrong. Once you get into the plot itself, Lim's talent for detail, emotion, and simplistic—yet elegant—plot shines through. I was entranced by Shiori's struggle and coming of age moments. This reminded me of the best kinds of retellings, the old-school classic movies, the works.
I also loved several things that are serious spoilers. Not going to touch on those in this review, but I'll say that this isn't as basic as you might assume, and just because the template is reminiscent of other fairytales does NOT mean that Lim takes us through the motions. There are some very cool and unique flips here.
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Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was a fantastic collection with very few duds for me. All taking place from sunset to sunrise... what a fun concept that left the authors with a LOT of wiggle room. (Also, isn't that deranged smile of mine the look of someone who has been "up all night" reading this?? Because that's what happened.
For anthologies, I love to do a short breakdown for each story with individual star ratings. They're listed below! My top favorites were the stories by Kayla Whaley, Marieke Nijkamp, Tiffany D. Jackson, Julian Winters, and Kathleen Glasgow.
Also, as a note, I am in love with the diversity in topics, sexuality, gender, race, physical abilities, wealth, and more in this collection. This truly felt like a representation for teens anywhere in the country. (All stories were USA based.)
Never Have I Ever - Karen M McManus (4 stars)
A classic game, an overnight party with band nerds...when one dare ends up with the group discovering their neighbor has been murdered, what's next?
Like Before - Maureen Goo (3.5 stars)
Three high school girls have fallen apart, and one third of their triangle is desperate to bring then back together. If she can just make them relive their memories, then everything will work out, right? RIGHT?
Old Rifts and Snowdrifts - Kayla Whaley (5 stars)
A wheelchair-bound teen and her ex-best friend are caught in his mom's florist shop during a dangerous snowstorm—it's time to unpack what led to their issues, and if there's something they can do about it.
Con Nights, Parallel Hearts - Marieke Nijkamp (5 stars)
The first, but not the last, story that made me tear up. One night, three friends are camping out before a convention. One of them wants to share their childhood trauma... and we see three parallel versions of that situation.
Kiss the Boy - Amanda Joy (2.5 stars)
A personal dud for me, but then I'm not a teen and my days of fretting over kissing boys and high school drama are behind me. A cute story amongst some harder-hitting ones.
Creature Capture - Laura Silverman (3 stars)
An overnight adventure featuring a Pokemon Go lookalike game, one girl who's convinced she's too weird to be a friend, and a very on-the-nose message about realizing that sometimes it's up to you to play the first move.
Shark Bait - Tiffany D. Jackson (5 stars)
Jackson's readers will know this story was always going to be a deep cut—and of course it was. A Black teen escaping reality at Martha's Vineyard with her boyfriend who can pass for white. A late-night accident. What now?
A Place to Start - Nina LaCour (4 stars)
Two new stepsiblings are left alone in their new, combined household while their moms go off to their honeymoon. Will they break down the walls, metaphorically or physically, before the morning?
When You Bring a Dog to Prom - Anna Meriano (4.5 stars)
Very cute post-prom situation that shows the blended and ever-complicated dramas of teens today. With some angst with a happy ending thrown in for some fun. This one made me tear up in a happy way.
Missing - Kathleen Glasgow (4.5 stars)
Even though this collection's concept was about stories taking place at night, for some reason I was surprised to see a horror story in here. I shouldn't have been! This creepy asylum adventure was chilling, seriously sad, and completely absorbing.
What About Your Friends - Brandy Colbert (4 stars)
An all-night dance marathon at a college takes a turn when our main character discovers one of her old best friends—who she ghosted the year before—is on the opposing team. Will emotions dance themselves out too?
Under Our Masks - Julian Winters (5 stars)
A cute and adorable geek story about a teen boy superhero and his crush, who is determined to stake out said superhero one night. Is it time for romance, or the truth about his identity? (Fans of TJ Klune's The Extraordinaries will LOVE this one.)
The Ghost of Goon Creek - Francesca Zappia (3.5 stars)
A loner "ghost hunter" girl ends up taking a group of teens out to a haunted spot one night. She thinks they're humoring her for weird reasons, when really they just want to get to know her. Cute, but a bit of let down after the earlier spooky story if I'm honest.
Thank you to Algonquin for Young Readers for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was a BLAST. Knives Out mixed with The Westing Game mixed with Truly Devious mixed with #prepschool vibes?? Y'all.
Sheer enjoyment: ★★★★★
Characters and their drama: ★★★★
Mystery(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★★ 1/2
There was nothing I did not love about this book! It was fun! It had drama! It had mysteries! It had reveals you could guess and reveals you couldn't! It had a love triangle that toed the line between fun and catchy! There are dead people!
(Ok, so that last one is for my fellow morbid mystery fans, but still. It's a selling point.)
Clearly I've had a lot of caffeine going into this review, but bear with me. This book *feels* like a caffeinated speed ride anyway. So it's totally appropriate.
Avery Kylie Grambs is chipping away a meager life on the edge of poverty with her older half-sister, Libby, when everything changes.
A mysterious guy arrives at her school saying something about the reading of a will, and that they can't read the will until Avery herself is present. The will is for Tobias Hawthorne, Texas oil tycoon and $47 billion-dollar billionaire.
To say Avery is confused by this is a colossal understatement. But this guy doesn't give her a choice - she's placed on a plane to Texas.
...where she discovers that this billionaire, who she has NEVER met in her life, has left her with almost the entirety of his fortune. On one condition: she must live in Hawthorne House, the family's estate, for one full year with the (now penniless) remaining Hawthorne family members. If she leaves, the money is forfeit.
She can't kick out the Hawthornes, they can't contest the will, and all that's left from old man Tobias Hawthorne is 5 letters: 1 for each of his 4 grandsons, and 1 for Avery.
Avery's letter is just two words: "I'm sorry."
AHHHH! I refuse to share more of this plot because of spoilers, and really half of the fun is just letting the story unfold. This has the makings of a perennial classic in the realm of YA mysteries. And I am so here for that. To me, this was more fun than One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, and more mysterious than other mansion-setting mysteries. It had it all, and while some of it could definitely be housed under clichés in the genre, I thought they were extremely well done.
Eagerly awaiting the next book.
Wow! I love reading something so new it's unlike anything I've read before.
Three siblings vie for their godhoods in the lingering aftermath of their mother's murder in a mythological tale like the classics... Bring it on!!
Plot/Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
First off, a moment of silence for future YA fantasies that I'll have to read following this book. They have big shoes to fill, as my expectations have been raised. Dream Country brings something new to the realm of YA literature—and I am here for it.
The siblings of Dream, Nightmares, and Sleep have existed in separate realms for 6 years, ever since the murder of their mother, Night. The triplets were never charged with Night's murder, but the blood on their bodies and the lack of truth following the incident tarnished the legacies of all three children and they've been battling it ever since.
Now it's six years later, and the triplets are about to experience another upset: their realms are in trouble.
For years, the three realms of Dreams, Nightmares, and Sleep have been separated by an ornate Gate/Wall composed of Ivory and Horn. Dream can touch Ivory but not Horn, Nightmares can touch Horn but not Ivory, and Sleep can touch neither. So they remain separate, with their Minor gods living in the three realms alongside them.
Then the Gates come down. And things will never be the same for these long-estranged siblings.
Like I mentioned right off the bat, this debut sparkles with newness. From its focus on godhood and realms to its mythology-inspired storytelling and writing, Dream Country is unlike the rest of the genre. On some level, it made it harder to get into as it was so different, so "off" from the rest that I struggled to engage with its method of storytelling for the first third.
However, once you get into the story and get on board with the writing style, the tale sings. I loved spending times with these archetypal siblings. Its a story that doesn't bring too many surprises or twists, but it does deliver on worthwhile emotions and beautiful, lyrical imagery.
Looking forward to more from this author. She has a talent for a new perspective.
Thank you to Onwe Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.