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My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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MsArdychan's bookshelf: read

I Owe You One
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Love, Hate & Other Filters
The Wartime Sisters
The Belles
The Gilded Wolves
Hey, Kiddo
Blackberry and Wild Rose
Queen of Air and Darkness
Firestarter
The Retribution of Mara Dyer
The Evolution of Mara Dyer


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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea By T.J. Klune



Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he's given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Review:

I had seen the glorious cover for this book, The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T. J. Klune, on many other people's blogs, but I didn't know much about it.  Even the description from Goodreads makes it difficult to discern what type of book this is.  While it's clearly a fantasy, it has such a whimsical tone that one might first assume it's a Middle Grade book.  And I certainly think this would be a novel appropriate for even young teens.  There is no swearing, and it has a message of acceptance that everyone should like.  There is a gay romance in the book.  If you have a problem with that, then this story is probably not for you.  But I found the romance absolutely adorable.

The main focus of the book is on Linus, is a middle-aged gay man.  It's his transformation from a person leading a bleak life of following the rules to the letter into a person who is open to seeing (and reacting to) people for who they are that makes this novel truly special.  Set in an imaginative universe filled with people who magical abilities, this book about looking past labels and assumptions is delightful.  The characters and themes make this book truly special.

What I Liked:

World-Building:

The world of this book is filled with people who possess magic, along with other kinds of magical beings.  The majority of people, though, do not have magic, and are weary of those who do.  Magical people must "register" with the government, and they are discriminated against for most jobs.  Many are abandoned as children by their parents.  That's where the orphanages come in.  Linus is an inspector of these orphanages for magical youth.  His job is to ensure the wards are not being abused or exploited, and there seems to be a lot of that in these institutions.

I was really struck by how the author used phrases from real-life like, "See something, say something", to point out how magical people are viewed with suspicion.  The parallels between that and real-life discrimination are obvious.  

Characters:

Linus is a person who doesn't like to take risks.  He has a steady job that he has done for many years, never seeking a promotion.  He lives in a tiny home in a dreary city, and doesn't have a social life.  It's all too much trouble.  And yet...  He dreams of visiting the beach, listens to romantic music, and cares deeply about the welfare of the children in the orphanages he inspects.  He just has never felt seen by those around him, so he acts invisible.

I loved his journey.  He has such a good heart.  But he just hasn't had any motivation to venture out of his comfort zone.  When he arrives at the seaside village near the orphanage, he reads the files of the children he will meet and forms an immediate impression of them.  As the book progresses, he has to unlearn his assumptions and open his mind in order for him to see these wards for the children they are.  And as he has always felt, all children are deserving of love and safety.

Arthur, the headmaster of the orphanage, is a mysterious person who is both alluring and aloof to Linus.  He most certainly isn't following all the rules and regulations set forth in the department's giant rule book.  But he is also clearly doing a wonderful job of helping these children, many of whom were abused or neglected before they came to his orphanage.

Each of the children are such wonderful characters.  I don't want to spoil anything by revealing too much about them. But readers will be able to feel such empathy towards each of them. I especially felt drawn to Sal.  He can barely look people in the eye because of the abuse he endured at a previous orphanage.  When he finally felt safe around Linus, I nearly cried.  

Story:

The story follows Linus, as he is sent on a secret assignment to inspect the Marsyas Island Orphanage.  This is a government run institution where they are keeping the most dangerous (and misunderstood) magical children.  While Linus is part of this bureaucracy, he truly cares about the welfare of these children.  As his heart responds to the various children, and their charismatic headmaster Arthur, Linus is transformed.  He becomes the kind of person her has always wanted to be: taking chances and leading an interesting life.

He is also able to fight for these children, against a world who is all to eager to label them as dangerous.  Sadly it's easy to be afraid of the "other", especially if they look or act differently than you do.  Linus is determined to change the minds of , at least, the small village near the island.  It's a strong message to not be a bystander when people discriminate against others.  We can all use Linus's courage in this day and age.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 17th, 2020

Author:  T.J. Klune

Publisher:  Tor Books

Genre:  Fantasy

Page Length:  394 Pages

Source:  Public Library

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation: This is a delightful book with a message of empathy that is perfect for readers from young teens to adults.  The development of a gay relationship between the adults is lovely.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

ARC Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Ryes Bowen



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.


Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins.

Review:

As someone who has read a lot of historical fiction (one of my favorite genres), I was really looking forward to this book.  Venice, WWII... I should have loved it.  While it had wonderful historical detail about life in Venice in the 1930's through the end of World War Two, the story was full of cheesy, unlikely scenarios, meant to throw the main characters together.  It took me out of the story and had me shaking my head at how silly it got.  I would recommend this book as a library read only.

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

The author does a credible job of showing life for a British expat living in Venice.  As Lettie learns about the city, we see Venice in all it's magic.  There are no cars, and streets bend and turn around on themselves.  It's inevitable that people get lost.  And that is the city's charm, turning a corner to find a hidden gem in this impossible city.

I also appreciated the details of life during WWII.  For much of the war, Italy is aligned with Germany, so life goes along no differently than before.  There are numerous festivals and traditions that only locals know about.  Then, when Italy breaks from Germany, the reality of war finally sets in.  Jewish people begin to be persecuted, there are checkpoints everywhere.  People can be arrested and put in camps just for not having the right papers.  It must have been terrifying.

Characters:

Lettie, Caroline's quiet spinster aunt, is anything but reserved in her youth.  An art student with a thirst for life, she is torn over her attraction to Leo, a handsome Venetian.  Leo is set to be married, so a relationship with him is impossible.  But fate seems to always throw them together (which I found to be a bit much).  I did like how strong Lettie was in a scary, stressful situation.  And I could understand why she didn't ever speak of her time in Venice with her family in England, later in life.  Perhaps her niece would have been impressed.  But her family in the 1940's would have disowned her for what transpired.

What I Didn't Like:

Story:

There are many situations in the story that hinge too much on chance to be a credible way to advance the action.  For instance, Caroline is given some keys, and the word, Venice, from her dying aunt.  Somehow, she is able to get to Venice, and find out what the keys are for?  This happens only be chance, as she walks by a bank with the same design on their logo as on one of the keys.  Could it be a safety deposit box?  Why, yes it is!  I found this way too convenient to be believable.

In the earlier story, there are numerous situations where Lettie runs in to Leo at just the right time: as she falls into the canal, as she falls into the ocean, as she is in a prisoner camp.  Wow, Leo has impeccable timing!  I would have found all these situations more credible if there was more deliberate purpose to the characters finding each other in these encounters.  Instead, it just seems incredibly lucky that these two are near each other in the exact right moment, again and again.

Romance:

I found the romance between Lettie and Leo to be very melodramatic.  There is the convenient obstacle of Leo being married to a beautiful, yet cruel young woman.  It's also handy to the story that he can't divorce his wife because her family are in the Mob (stereotype much?).

In the present day, Caroline (seperated from her husband) meets a Venetian who she might be related to, and jumps into bed with him.  If I found out I might be distantly related to someone, my first reaction would not be, "Wow, he's just my type!".  I was super icked out by this!


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  April 13th, 2021

Author:  Ryes Bowen

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  412 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  While there are wonderful descriptions of life in Venice, I found the story to be silly.   I would read this as a library check out only.


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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

ARC Review: Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenberg



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With its delightful adaptation of Napoleon Bonaparte's real attempt to write a novel, Finding Napoleon offers a fresh take on Europe's most powerful man after he's lost everything. A forgotten woman of history--Napoleon's last love, the audacious Albine de Montholon--narrates their tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal.

After the defeated Emperor Napoleon goes into exile on tiny St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic, he and his lover, Albine de Montholon, plot to escape and rescue his young son. Banding together African slaves, British sympathizers, a Jewish merchant, a Corsican rogue, and French followers, they confront British opposition--as well as treachery within their own ranks--with sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always desperate action.
When Napoleon and Albine break faith with one another, ambition and Albine's husband threaten their reconciliation. To succeed, Napoleon must learn whom to trust. To survive, Albine must decide whom to betray.

Two hundred years after Napoleon's death, this elegant, richly researched novel reveals a relationship history conceals.

Review:

I was approached by the publisher to review this book.  Being a fan of historical fiction, I readily agreed.  I don't really know much about Napoleon other than he lost the battle of Waterloo and was exiled after he lost.  But there is so much more to this man and his escapades,  The author, Margaret Rodenberg, really knows how to bring historical figures to life, and comes up with a suspenseful story.  The amount of historical detail in this book is impressive. I only wish that the characters were people I could find more sympathy with.  Mostly, it was rather sad how Napoleon, and his hangers-on, were stuck trying to return to their glory days, rather than accept their fate and find peace.

What I Liked:

Historical Details:

The amount of research that the author did was truly amazing.  She even traveled to the remote island of St. Helena, in the South Atlantic, where Napoleon was exiled for a second time.  From the clothing, to the food, to how goods were bartered on the island, the novel was rich in details.

I also found it fascinating that Rodenberg was able to incorporate the unfinished novel that Napoleon, himself, wrote as a young man.  It was a smart device to show aspects of Napoleon's own formative years.  Both Clisson, the character in Napoleon's novel and young Napoleon himself, were from the island of Corsica, which had a profound impact on their lives.  Napoleon is often portrayed as feeling inferior, and I'm sure that being from Corsica, he was dismissed as an uncivilized person by the French.  You can see that the author was making the point that this had a deep impact on Napoleon's life.

The book has an extensive section, at the end of the book, that details who all the real life characters were, along with background information for readers (like myself) who aren't experts in European history.  This was much appreciated.

Story:

Even though I knew the outcome of the book (spoiler: Napoleon never leaves St. Helena), I found all the various plots he concocted to leave were quite compelling.  With his charisma and intellect, Napoleon manages to find ways to get messages out to the world, and get information about his family back to him.  He even finds ways to convince people to help him escape.  

But there was also a rather sad component to the plot.  Napoleon was rather like a fading rock star (or former politician...).  Everyone who stays with him in exile wants something from him.  They're really only with him because they are infatuated with his fame, they think he will reward their loyalty when he comes back into power, or they have no other place to go.  Even though he is surrounded by "Yes" men, he is very much alone.

What I Was Mixed About:

Characters:

There were no empathetic characters in this novel, aside from Napoleon himself.  The narration moves between Napoleon, and his lover, Albine de Montholon.  Although the novel does show that she had very few options as a woman in that era, I found Albine to be too calculating, and selfish.  She is constantly scheming to become Napoleon's lover so she can influence him.  She always thinks she's smarter than everyone else with her plots, and feels she's hit the jackpot when she becomes pregnant with Napoleon's child.  I might have had more sympathy with Albine if the author had shown more of her background,  I'm sure she had a difficult life.  But she never seemed to feel any kind of love for anyone other than herself.


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  April 6th, 2021

Author:  Margaret Rodenberg

Publisher:  She Writes Press

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Page Length:  358 Pages

Source:  Publisher

Format:  Paperback

Recommendation:  A lush historical novel of the waning years of Napoleon in exile.  While you won't find anyone you can cheer on, you will find the plot suspenseful, and the historical details superb.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Audio ARC Review: Broken (In The Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson

 


Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this audiobook from Libro.fm in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

 

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, she explores her experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation with brutal honesty. But also with brutal humor. Jenny discusses the frustration of dealing with her insurance company in “An Open Letter to My Insurance Company,” which should be an anthem for anyone who has ever had to call their insurance company to try and get a claim covered. She tackles such timelessly debated questions as “How do dogs know they have penises?” We see how her vacuum cleaner almost set her house on fire, how she was attacked by three bears, business ideas she wants to pitch to Shark Tank, and why she can never go back to the post office. Of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor―the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball―is present throughout.

A treat for Jenny Lawson’s already existing fans, and destined to convert new ones, Broken is a beacon of hope and a wellspring of laughter.

Review:

I've seen the covers of Jenny Lawson's many books, but this is the first book of hers I've picked up.  Although the humor in this book took some getting used to (there's a lot of bathroom humor for a woman in her late forties), Lawson speaks eloquently about the challenges of living with  mental health issues.  She shares her experiences with the various treatments, and health insurance problems she must cycle through to find something that works for her.  

Along the way, she also speaks to the impact this has on her family.  It seems like she feels no small amount of guilt that her illness takes up so much energy in her marriage. But she also understands that her husband and child accept her, and love her, for who she is.  Besides depression, Lawson has anxiety, which means she and her family have never taken a real vacation.  And she knows that she's different from the other mother's at her child's school. 

Where the book really shines is when Lawson talks about the universality of embarrassment.  Everyone has done stupid, foot-in-mouth, embarrassing things.  Her examples of fans sharing their embarrassing moments are hilarious, and help reminds us that whatever dumb thing we've done, we can move on.

Jenny Lawson also provides the narration for this book.  She is the natural choice for this and adds a sense of intimacy that no one else could provide.

This was a wonderful book that makes me want to go back and read all her other works.


A word about audiobooks:  

 If you like audiobooks, and want to support Independent bookstores, please consider buying your audiobooks from Libro.fm.  The money you spend supports Independent bookstores and not Amazon. 

If you are interested, please click on my link.  When you sign up, you'll get a free audiobook:

 http://libro.fm/referral?rf_code=lfm75477

Full Disclosure:  I do earn audiobooks if you sign up.

 

 

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  April 6th, 2021

Author:  Jenny Lawson

Genre:  Humor/Memoir

Audio Publisher:   MacMillan Audio

Audio Length:  8 Hours, 18 Minutes

Narrator:  Jenny Lawson

Print Publisher:  Henry Holt & Co.

Book Length:  288 Pages

Source:  Libro.fm

Format:  Audiobook

Recommendation:  While the humor may be crude at times, this book had wonderful, humorous insights into life, mental illness, and long-term marriage.  I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.

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Monday, March 29, 2021

ARC Review: The Ladies of The Secret Circus by Constance Sayers



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder-a world where women tame magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. But each daring feat has a cost. Bound to her family's strange and magical circus, it's the only world Cecile Cabot knows-until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate love affair that could cost her everything.

Virginia, 2005: Lara Barnes is on top of the world-until her fianc√© disappears on their wedding day. Desperate, her search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother's journals and sweeps her into the story of a dark circus and a generational curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations.

Review:

I first became familiar with Constance Sayers when I read her novel, A Witch in Time, for my book club.  It was a good blend of the modern with the supernatural.  The Ladies of The Secret Circus moves further into the fantasy realm, with much of the novel set in the magical "Secret Circus", and the rest set in a small Virginia town.  Both settings had wonderful world-building, intriguing characters and a plot full of mystery and suspense.  This was a fun, exciting read.

What I Liked:

World-Building:

I enjoyed both the small town of Kerrigan Falls, Virginia and the chic world of Paris in the nineteen-twenties.  Sayers got the details of a small town just right.  Everyone had known each other since childhood.  This could be stifling, but also a comfort in difficult times.  I loved the details of how the downtown area changed over the years.  While there were several new businesses run by the younger generation, they were all housed in older buildings.  The radio station used to be a pharmacy, and the new coffee shop had been repurposed from a feed and supply shop.  

In the world of nineteen-twenties Paris, there was both excess and destitution.  While the young and carefree lived it up in bars and nightclubs, many people barely eked out a living.  Artists, especially, suffered in order to afford their paints.  

The Circus itself was a gothic nightmare, run be a daemon, Althacazur.  All of the performers were living in their own personal Hell.  There was a whole mythology associated with the Circus.  People in Paris would need to desperately willing to do anything in order to the Circus, and only then would they receive a ticket.  Did they sell their souls for this?  Possibly so.  But the Circus itself was so magical, people were eager to do whatever it took to get in.

Characters:

In Kerrigan Falls, Lara has been left on the altar by her fiance, Todd.  Is he really missing or did Todd just skip out on his wedding?  Lara is both angry that he abandoned her, and worried that he may actually be missing.  It's hard for her to move on.  

Lara relies on Ben, the police chief. At first, he is a strong, reassuring presence as Todd's disappearance brings news outlets from all over the U.S.  But when a year passes and there is still no lead on what happened to Todd, Lara begins to see Ben as a person she enjoys spending time with.  Ben, a divorced man who is a good ten years older than Lara, is obviously interested in Lara.  But he also worries that Lara isn't ready to move on.  I liked that even though Ben was very comfortable with himself, he still wasn't sure about starting a relationship with Lara.  He was also a shot of realism to the story that kept the novel from going over the top with the fantasy elements.

Cecile (of the Circus) is very innocent considering she lives in actual Hell.  Her Father, Althacazur, seems to indulge her, but is harsh with her twin sister, Esme.  Yet, Cecile is terribly jealous of Esme, who is the star of the circus.  Cecile doesn't feel as though she is really a part of the circus, since she only helps behind the scenes.  She is constantly looking to be valued by others.  It's no wonder that when a Parisian painter is interested in her, she falls madly in love.

Esme is both a tragic figure and a villain in the story.  Given how she is punished by Althacazur, it's no wonder she resents Cecile.  She has many reasons for hating her sister, which are revealed as the story progresses.  While this doesn't excuse her behavior, it does explain it.

Plot:

The main plot takes place in the more realistic world of Virginia, where there have been several mysterious disappearances, each thirty years, to the day, apart.  Somehow, they are connected to the Barnes family and their ancestor's past in the Secret Circus.  As Lara grieves for her missing fiance, she begins to learn about the Secret Circus, and it's connection to her family.  The portion of the plot reminds me more of a crime novel than a fantasy book, with Ben, the no-nonsense cop, following the clues.

Whenever the story switches to 1925 Paris, we are transported to a strange, gothic world.  Cecile and her sister are humans living among daemons and magical creatures.  One false move, and the punishment could be being sent to the White Forest (where people go mad) or worse.  

The main plot in the circus portion of the book revolves around the rivalry between Cecile and her sister, Esme, and their infatuation with a French painter.  This is a wonderful vehicle for the author to delve into the fabulous Paris of the nineteen-twenties.  Famous artists, such as Hemingway, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein make cameo appearances.

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 23rd, 2021

Author:  Constance Sayers

Publisher:  Redhook

Genre:  Fantasy

Page Length:  448 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A suspenseful fantasy tale with the excitement of the circus and a murder mystery, as well.  A page-turner.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

ARC Review: The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Michael Kingman thought he was going to die by the executioner’s axe, forever labeled as a traitor. Still alive, and under the protection of the Orbis Mercenary company, Michael and his family and friends are deeply involved in the seemingly rival conspiracies that are tearing The Hollows apart. With the death of the King, both the Corrupt Prince and his sister Serena are vying for the throne, while the Rebel Emperor is spreading lies amongst the people, and all of them want Michael dead. This is a story of betrayal, murder, and rebellion, and in this direct sequel to the debut novel The Kingdom of Liars, also some hope for justice.

Review:

For the most part, I try not to review books in a series unless I have read the previous books first.  Imagine how dismayed I was when I finally had time to read The Two-Faced Queen, by Nick Martell, only to realize that this was book two in a series!  I guess I was too enamoured by the beautiful cover when I requested it from NetGalley.

"Okay," I thought, "no problem. I can knock out the first book, then move on to the next one."

So, I downloaded the The Kingdom of Liars (book one) from the library and learned that it was nearly 600 pages!  I then checked on how long The Two-Faced Queen was, also around 600 pages.  Oh boy!  Well, after a marathon of reading over the last week and a half, I have finally read both novels.  My head is spinning from the rich world-building, the huge cast of characters, and layered storytelling.  It was totally worth it.

What I Liked:

World-Building:

This fantasy book has a complex world of magic, and societies, with checks and balances built into both systems.  Only some could use magic, but it's use came at a price.  The most common type of magic was called Fabrications.  People lose memories each time they use this type of magic.  The stronger the magic, the more memories a person loses.  If someone uses a small amount of magic they may forgets the name of an object.  If they use a large amount of magic  they forget entire days, or who their loved ones are.  Eventually. if one uses too much magic, they become a Forgotten, who loses all their memories.  I loved this check on power.  

The society that the novel is set in is really complicated.  The kingdom is called Hallow, and there is a rigid class system in place.  Besides royalty, there are high and low Nobles, several organized religions, military divisions like the Ravens and Scales, Mercenaries, and then there is the Kingman family.  This family is not royalty, but is directly bound to the royal family.  They are just as influential as the royals, and are the only people who can speak freely to (and be a check on) the royals they are bound to.

Language:

While I am not a person who normally likes lots of cursing in books, I found the language used in this novel to be quite refreshing.  Yes, this is a fantasy world that seems to be set in medieval times (aren't they all).  But there are an abundance of F bombs and other, more modern, speech.  Yes, the author could have made up curse words.  But, I've always felt that device was a bit trite.  If you have a bunch of twenty-something people together, no matter the time, there ought to be a fair amount of cursing, carousing, and bad behavior.  This made the characters much more relatable for me.

Characters:

The focus of the story is on Michael Kingman, who feels the full weight of his family's legacy.  He and his siblings, Gwen and Lyon, have been told over and over that they are to live a life of service to Hallow.  They really reminded me of the Kennedy clan in America.  There are people in this family who have done amazing things, and others who never live up to their potential.  Since their father has been found guilty of killing one of the royal princes ten years earlier, the Kingman family have been in disgrace.  But Michael never believed his father was guilty.  Now Michael has been accused of killing another royal, and he must convince Serena, the princess he is bound to, that he didn't do it.

There are many other characters who feel the weight of family history on their lives.  Besides Michael and Serena, there is Dark, a Mercenary who is hell-bent on destroying his father.  Chloe, a Raven who must try to live up to her mother's high standards as the group's leader.  Trey, Michael's best friend, grew up in an abusive situation and is determined to lift up his section of the kingdom out of poverty.  Everyone is driven to prove themselves.  There are a lot of backstories to keep track of.  However, the author weaves a tale where this all makes sense.  Thankfully, if the reader does become confused, there is a handy list at the front of the book to show who belongs to which family, and what part of society.

Story:

There are plots, and sub-plots, enough to make your head spin.  There is the constant threat that a royal or a nobel will kill Michael to avenge the death of Serena's father.  There is the thread about Michael's mother trying to rebuild the family's place in society.  There is a plot about immortals who may secretly be controlling everything.  There are several love stories happening as well.  All of this is happening while a rebellion is expected occur in the near future.  

At times, it was difficult to understand just where the story was headed.  Is it a story about the Princess's ascension to the throne?  Is this a story about a serial killer who is targeting pretty much everyone?  Or is this a story of revenge on the Kingman family by those who have been wronged by them in the past?  If you answered yes to ALL of these questions, you would be correct!  This is why the book is nearly 600 pages.

The story really goes in a million directions and it takes a while for everything to come together.  But, the result is a richly layered story in a vibrant world.  I really felt I could follow it for several hundred more pages, and I would still be enthralled. 

Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 23rd, 2021

Author:  Nick Martell

Publisher:  Gallery/Saga Press

Genre:  Fantasy

Page Length:  592 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  Filled with a rich world and exciting characters, this is a wonderful fantasy series that you will gladly want to read more and more.  A thrilling page-turner.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

ARC Review: Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales



Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions in my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she's not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?

Review:

At first, Perfect on Paper, by  Sophie Gonzales, seems like a typical YA novel,  There is a meet-cute, a somewhat improbable premise, and a sweet resolution.  But this novel is much better than this description.  The characters are an array of LGBTQ+ and straight people, with the main character, Darcy, being Bi.  I loved that this book brings up topics of Biphobia among the LGBTQ+ community.  Does Darcy need to prove she's Queer enough to be accepted by her LGBTQ+ peers, her parents, and even herself?

What I Liked:

Premise:

Darcy, a scholarship student at an elite private school, has a side-business as an anonymous advice giver.  Teens leave letters (and ten dollars) in locker 89, which Darcy, as soon as the coast is clear, collects and answers each day.  But one day, Darcy is seen by Brougham, another student, who blackmails her into helping him win back his ex-girlfriend.  This was a fun way to introduce the reader to all the many characters at this high school, and show some of the tricky situations these teens face.

Characters:

Darcy is a bisexual girl, which she sometimes finds challenging.  At the beginning of the novel, there are microaggressions described that come to a head later in the book.  I loved how this issue is presented (not something I really thought about before, to be honest).  It made me think about some of the prejudices I have held, and will attempt to erase in the future.

Brougham, is the straight boy who Darcy is helping (albeit via blackmail) to win back his girlfriend.  He is definitely shaped by his parent's terrible marriage.  When his parents argue it's an all out screaming, objects being thrown, fight.  It's embarrassing for Brougham to invite people over due to all the drama.  And this has caused him to be very reserved with other teens.  Darcy hs real empathy for Brougham, as her parents acted similarly before they finally divorced.

LGBTQ Representation:

Besides Darcy, there are several other LGBTQ+ characters.  There is her sister, Ainsley, a transgender girl, and Darcy's lesbian friend, Brooke.  These were more than superficial characters.  I really liked that they were very well fleshed out people, with many good, and not so wonderful, qualities.

Story:

I enjoyed the story so much.  Each chapter begins with one of the letters Darcy answers from locker 89.  And her advice is actually pretty good!  Because Darcy's advice is anonymous (and people often do not say who they are), she is privy to many secrets in and around the school.  She also has given anonymous advice to a student she can identify, namely her best friend Brooke.  But is the advice she gives to help Brooke, or help Darcy?  

Another part of the story which I really loved was about crushes.  Darcy (as is often the case in YA books) has a crush on her best friend.  In most stories, Darcy would declare her love and Brooke would confess she also was secretly in love with her.  But Perfect on Paper is much more realistic.  

What I Was Mixed About:

Story:

While I liked the story very much, there was one aspect of the novel I didn't appreciate.  While one character really has to pay a steep price for their actions, others did not.  I was really glad that there was some accountability in this book, something many books lack.  But one of the most annoying characters in the book really gets away with some serious misconduct without any consequences.  I found this very frustrating.  I was surprised that the other character didn't call them out on it.  But I supposed that this is what happens in life. 


Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Release Date:  March 9th, 2021

Author:  Sophie Gonzales

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Page Length:  304 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A fun YA book with solid representation of LBGTQ+ characters and situations.

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