Monday, September 21, 2020

Review: Queen of Volts by Amanda Foody

Queen of Volts (The Shadow Game #3)
Inkyard Press
Publication Date: September 1st, 2020
Hardcover. 598 pages

About Queen of Volts:

"Return to the City of Sin, where the final game is about to begin…and winning will demand the ultimate sacrifice. Only days after a corrupt election and brutal street war, one last bloodthirsty game has begun. The players? The twenty-two most powerful, notorious people in New Reynes. After realizing they have no choice but to play, Enne Scordata and Levi Glaisyer are desperate to forge new alliances and bargain for their safety. But while Levi offers false smiles and an even falser peace to the city’s politicians, Enne must face a world where her true Mizer identity has been revealed…and any misstep could turn deadly. Meanwhile, a far more dangerous opponent has appeared on the board, one plucked right from the most gruesome legends of New Reynes. As the game takes its final, vicious turn, Levi and Enne must decide once and for all whether to be partners or enemies. Because in a game for survival, there are only losers… And monsters."

Queen of Volts was a truly brilliant and epic finale that I am more than satisfied with--but I'm also so upset to be done with this world and these characters!

This is one of those reviews that's almost hard to write in a way because how do you adequately and succinctly review a trilogy finale that has meant so much to you and was just as good as--if not better--than the rest of the series? I'll do my best, but no promises! 

I have absolutely loved getting to know all of these characters and their completely troubled, messed up selves as they navigate the chaos of living in The City of Sin and learning both who and not to trust. I really think The Shadow Game series is one those critically underrated series that has so much depth and intrigue, yet I just don't see as many people talking about this series as I would expect. This is a story that has been so carefully plotted and contains so many different mysteries, plot lines, character relationships, and more that it's hard not to become fully immersed int his world--and to be extraordinarily sad to leave it. 

Although the plot and action in Queen of Volts are compelling and well-written, the characters are what really make this book--and the entire series--something truly special for me. Not only is there a rather large array of characters, but the diversity, authenticity, and sheer growth and development of each one make them shine and truly make this book impossible to put down. There are some unbelievably difficult decisions that must be made in this book that I could even begin to imagine making, and seeing how Foody writes these situations creates a rather remarkable experience. 

Levi and Enne remain what I'd call the centerfold of this story and remain so in Queen of Volts, but it's the rest of the characters--Lola, Grace, Harvey, Roy, Harrison, Sophie, etc.--that fill the story with even more life and excitement. Watching all of them interact in different ways and with relationships that are ever-dynamic and always unpredictable adds a strong level of intrigue and even anxiety because you truly never know what's going to happen next, this entire series has felt incredibly unpredictable throughout. It's also a pretty brutal book, all things considered, and I have enjoyed how the different dark places that Foody chose to explore in such careful ways. There are some unforgivable things that occur, along with difficult things that are possible forgivable, but still immensely difficult to get through, and I think Foody handled these well. The POVs we follow in this book are that of Levi, Enne, Harvey, Sophia, and Lola, a group of characters that I think were the perfect choices for this particular book. Each POV felt unique and separate from one another, so I never had any issues figuring out what perspective I was following, and I love that we've gotten to explore so many different characters' perspectives over the duration of the trilogy.

Even though this is a nearly 600 page book, it flows incredibly well and I flew threw it without even noticing. The pacing is almost effortlessly wonderful (although I have no doubt that Amanda Foody worked extremely hard on it because she is an incredibly dedicated and diligent author) and never feels too slow or too fast--there was almost always a nearly perfect balance to me. 

Overall, I've given Queen of Volts five stars! I have enjoyed this series so much and it has only grown in it's quality, depth, charm, and maturity as the trilogy progressed. If you haven't read this trilogy, I highly commend you do so--and if you have but haven't yet picked up this final installment--do it!


*I received a copy of Queen of Volts in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*


Friday, September 18, 2020

The Friday Face-Off: Minimalistic



Friday Face Off New
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme at Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in our literary universe. You can find a list of upcoming topics at Lynn's Books.

This week's topic is:
Minimalistic

As much as I love beautiful patterns and designs, I also enjoy a well-designed minimalist book cover! Not all of the covers for John Fowles' The Magus are minimalistic, but a few are so I decided to go with this one! It was,a s always, hard to decide which cover to feature, but I am such a fan of so many of these that I figured it'd be a really neat one to feature. (Side note: if the formatting on this post is a bit weird, please bear with me--Blogger has officially updated everyone to their new UI and I sort of hate it and have been having difficulties with formatting, so fingers crossed it all works out.)

The MagusBüyücüThe Magus
2004 Vintage Books | 2006 Turkish | 2001 Black Bay Books

The MagusThe MagusMagicianul
2001 Black Bay Books #2 (?) | 1985 Laurel-Leaf Books | 1988 Romanian

Magicianul
2013 Romanian |1997 Vintage | 2008 Greek 





 2001 Russian| 1997 Panther Books | 2019 Persian




My choice(s):
The MagusThe Magus
I don't necessarily care for the woman in the circle, but I have always really loved these designs that play with the typography of Fowles' name, especially in comparison to the title itself. Something about it is just really compelling! I do love the bird from the 2004 Vintage as well, though!



What cover(s) do you like the most!?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

Tsarina
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten
St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: November 10th, 2020
Hardcover. 496 pages

About Tsarina:

"St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.

Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?"

I received an ARC of Tsarina closer to the beginning of this year (you know, that beautiful time known as the "Before") and I decided to save it to read closer to publication, so this review has been a long time coming! While putting together this review post, I also discovered that the publication date has apparently been pushed back from October to November, so this is now an extra early review, but we're just going with it. 

Before diving into this review, I do want to add a content warning for explicit sexual encounters, rape, and other types of violence (I say "types" because apparently Peter the Great is very, uh, creative in how he occasionally punishes and/or kills people).

Tsarina is an ambitious story that follows Marta/Catherine Alexeyevna (I will refer to her as Catherine in this review for sake of matching the synopsis), second wife of Peter the Great, from her youth up to the end of her life--which was a lot of content to cover. I'll admit that I initially thought that this book was going to follow her life mostly once she was involved with Peter the Great in the upper realms of society, so I was surprised by how much time was spent on her youth and growing up. I'm glad we got to see what her life was like growing up (with fictional liberties taken, of course) and I think it really helped to put her actions from later events in the story into better perspective.

It is through a series of both misfortunes and luck that eventually lead to Catherine's relationship with Peter the Great that culminated in her becoming empress briefly after his death. I was in turns shocked, excited, XX, and so many more emotions while reading about her journey from poverty to being, quite literally, associated with one of the most powerful people in Russia at the time. Accompanying Catherine on this journey was a whirlwind of emotions and experiences and I really enjoyed getting to know the entire cast of characters that were a part of Catherine's journey. Catherine herself remained a rather impressive figure as she never really gave up or stopped trying to do better for herself. She is unexpectedly ambitious and has a sharp tongue that she utilized excellently and is part of what I think allowed her to make it to such heights in this story.  I was constantly surprised by how stubborn Catherine could be and how much that often seemed to work out for her in the end--her power-without-having-power was truly an enjoyable sight.

Alpsten brought the world of 18th century Russia to life in the most exquisite ways, from vivid descriptions of the lands and cities themselves to the exploration of different classes and levels of society to the strategic and often complex military and political strategizing that occurred. I know that this is historical fiction, but it is so apparent that Alpsten did immense research in order to create such a realized and authentic world and story.

Despite the fact that this is a longer book at nearly 500 pages, I still felt as though there wasn't enough time to fit in everything. At the same time, however, there were certain periods of time in Catherine's life that I felt dragged on a bit too long, whereas others were brushed over. Catherine underwent twelve pregnancies throughout her life and many of the later ones with Peter the Great seemed to be glossed over a bit, simple interspersed amidst all of the other chaotic political events occurring at the same time. In a way, this probably matches the chaos of what it was really like at that time for Catherine, but it was significant moments like these that I felt could have been incorporated in slightly better and smoother ways. Alpsten was thorough in including as much detail and major events as possible, which I appreciate, but it was done in a way that felt rushed and not as entertaining to read as it could have been.

Overall, I've given Tsarina 3.75 stars! If you like historical fiction, Russian-focused books, or simply following a remarkable female protagonist on her journey from poverty to royalty, then this is absolutely a book I'd recommend.

*I received a copy of Tsarina in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend & The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow


Can't-Wait is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings that spotlights exciting upcoming releases that we can't wait to be released! This meme is based off of Jill @ Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday meme.

October is yet another huge month for publishing releases, which means I'm going to once again be sharing three releases for my Can't-Wait Wednesday's this month!

This week's upcoming book spotlights are: 

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #3)
Hollowpox: The Hunted for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #3) by Jessica Townsend
Publication: October 15th, 2020
Orion Children's Books
Hardcover. 384 pages.

"Morrigan Crow and her friends have survived their first year as proud scholars of the elite Wundrous Society, helped bring down the nefarious Ghastly Market, and proven themselves loyal to Unit 919. Now Morrigan faces a new, exciting challenge: to master the mysterious Wretched Arts of the Accomplished Wundersmith, and control the power that threatens to consume her. 

Meanwhile, a strange and frightening illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning infected Wunimals into mindless, vicious Unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. There are whispers - growing louder every day - that this catastrophe can only be the work of the Wundersmith, Ezra Squall. 

But inside the walls of Wunsoc, everyone knows there is a new Wundersmith - one who's much closer to home. With Nevermoor in a state of fear and the truth about Morrigan threatening to get out, the city she loves becomes the most perilous place in the world. Morrigan must try to find a cure for the Hollowpox, but it will put her - and everyone in Nevermoor - in more danger than she could have imagined."
I have been loving the Nevermoor series and this next installment has been one of my most anticipated releases of the year! I can't wait to finally get a chance to read it.


and...
The Once and Future Witches
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Publication: October 13th, 2020
Orbit
Hardcover. 528 pages.


"In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. 

But when the Eastwood sisters--James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna--join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive. 

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be."
I have a copy of this coming from Orbit and I can't wait to check it out! I'm really curious to see what's next from Harrow and this premise sounds like it's going to be a strong one.



What do you think about these upcoming releases? What are your anticipated upcoming releases?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Colorful Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme now hosted by Jana over at The Artsy Reader Girl!

This week's topic is:  Freebie: Colorful Covers!

There were a few different ideas I was playing with for this week's cover freebie topic, but in the end I decided to keep it simple and fun with some of the more colorful covers of books I've read (and two I haven't!). There are a lot of books that have bold colors on their covers, but I tried to stick to books that had at least three or more different prominent colors that really make the whole book seem exciting and full of color. I'm pretty pleased with the result!

Gods of Jade and ShadowWundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #2)The Sky Is Yours
The House in the Cerulean SeaThe Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)After the Quake
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingThe Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIBA Fierce and Subtle Poison
Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
The Sky Is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB by Adam Shaughnessy
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Have you read any of these books? What books would you add to this list?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Blog Tour: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin--ft. Excerpt!

It's still blog tour season for me, so once again I'm excited to share with you all a blog tour for These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin! Today's post will be an excerpt from the first chapter to give you a taste of what to expect from the book. :)



ABOUT THE BOOK:
Title: THESE VENGEFUL HEARTS
Author:  Katherine Laurin
Pub. Date: September 1st, 2020
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Pages: 368 
Find it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Books-A-Million | AppleBooks | Kobo | IndieBound | Bookshop.org


SYNOPSIS:
Mean Girls meets Siobhan Vivian’s The List in THESE VENGEFUL HEARTS, an utterly addictive standalone YA debut that follows 16-year-old Ember Williams as she seeks revenge against the Red Court, a secret organization of Heller High’s most elite female students that specializes in granting and requesting favors—and which is responsible for the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. 

A thrilling novel about a secret society and the dangers that lie in wait for anyone brave enough to join—perfect for fans of Karen M. McManus, Kara Thomas, and Maureen Johnson. 

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities known only by their leader: the Queen of Hearts. 

Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Now, she’s determined to hold the organization accountable by taking it down from the inside. But will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?"



EXCERPT:

Of the ways I’d want to start a Monday, finding a car covered in blood was not one of them. The murmurs began just after first period, and fragments of muted conversation led me out to the Heller High parking lot. I was curious to see the spectacle drawing so much attention. 

The crush of students flowing out of the school buoyed me along in a tide of bodies. Between gaps in the crowd, I caught glimpses of the word smeared across the car’s windshield in blood red relief. 

LIAR 

Gray clouds hung low, casting the macabre tableau in watery light. The chill that slithered up my spine had nothing to do with the brisk October morning. I skirted a group of girls in front of me, recognizing familiar faces from my geometry class, and found myself staring down at the thick crimson streaks. The letters looked nearly dry, and I couldn’t fight the morbid impulse to touch them. A distinct tackiness remained. Was it corn syrup or actual blood? I didn’t care to investigate further. 

There was no proof that the infamous secret organization made up of Heller High’s elite even existed, but this exhibition had all the makings of a Red Court takedown. Whispers from the ring of students surrounding the car reached me and I stepped backward, edging away from notice until I was part of the throng gathered to witness the scene. It didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention to plain old jeans-and-a-tee-every-day Ember Williams. Good. 

Other words, some so ugly I couldn’t look at them for more than a moment, marred the rest of the car’s windowed surfaces. My eyes skipped to the girl huddled beside a tree next to the parking lot. Tears stained with mascara ran in inky rivulets down her cheeks. Two of her friends rallied around her, whispering softly. 

No amount of consolation was going to wash away the stain from this one. More than a few heads from the crowd were turned in her direction. I didn’t know her name, but I had a feeling she’d be remembered as that girl, the one whose car was vandalized with blood. She’d been marked by the words we’d all seen: liar, cheater, tramp. 

Why did the Red Court target her? Who wanted this girl humiliated—to be brought so low in front of the whole school? Or had she been reckless enough to throw in with them and ask for a favor she couldn’t repay? No. The vulnerability in her expression was too raw to fake. This girl was a pawn in the Red Court’s game. The pull to learn more about the group known for dealing out ruin and favors in equal measure went beyond cursory interest. I needed to know more. 

My stomach gave an uncomfortable tug, as if my body was eager to put distance between me and the girl now that I’d seen the damage. A sob shuddered through her, and I tore my gaze away, shifting my feet and noticing a stickiness below my sneakers. A thick coat of red clung to the bottom of my shoes, marking me too. Ugh. I must have stepped in a pool of the blood. I told myself it was fake blood because I couldn’t stomach the alternative. I’d have to go change into my running shoes before next period. 

“Everyone back inside,” a teacher called from the main doors. His tone left no room for argument. 

The mass of students quickly dissolved, moving back into the school. The whispers rose to chatter as theories were passed around like mono on prom night. I trailed behind a couple holding hands as they maneuvered through the crowd. 

“This is the worst one so far,” the girl said. 

Her boyfriend scoffed. “Worse than the video of Brett Shultz’s keg stand? No way. He got kicked off the football team for that. Brett had Division I schools scouting him, too.” 

A rogue Facebook account cropped up just after the school year began with some incriminating footage of the varsity running back at a party in a stunning display of upper body strength and chugging technique. The video made it all the way to Principal McGovern, who reluctantly had him removed from the team, along with the school’s shot at a state title. 

“Do you really think she cheated on her boyfriend?” someone behind me asked. 

“Does it matter?” his friend responded. 

I shook my head in silent reply. It didn’t matter. That was the power of the Red Court; gossip and innuendo were all it took for a star student to fall from grace after accusations of cheating. 

As I passed a small cluster of teachers just inside the doors, I stepped nearer to catch the edges of their hushed exchange. 

“—needs to do something.” 

“The district’s policy on bullying—” 

“I know the policy, but this is beyond ‘bullying.’ It’s the third time since the school year began.” 

This may have been the third public display of destruction in the last six weeks, but it was hardly the third time the Red Court had struck. Their takedowns were legendary and highly visible to ensure maximum exposure, but they also excelled in the small things no one would notice unless they were looking for anomalies. My eyes were wide open. 

For as long as anyone could remember, there have been rumors that the mysterious Red Court was pulling the strings behind the scenes at Heller High School. Its ranks were shrouded in mystery, but its influence was undeniable. Rigged Student Council elections, changed grades, and ruined reputations were all in their repertoire. 

Half of the school treated them like the Boogeyman, the near mythical thing that was out to get you. It was easier to deny their existence than to acknowledge the specter of their presence. Takedowns like the one outside were as likely to be attributed to the Red Court as they were to be pinned on anonymous wannabes posing as the Red Court to allay suspicion. It seemed like the other half of the over two thousand students at Heller made a sport of trying to guess which members of the prom court were legitimate and which ones owed their wins to the Red Court. 

But I knew the truth. 

The Red Court was real, and I needed in. 

I pushed my way through the crowded halls to get to my locker. All around me a chorus of voices carried the news of the Red Court’s latest victim, the story spreading faster than I could move. 

My phone buzzed in my pocket. It was probably my best friend. I ducked into an alcove to check my texts. 

Gideon: Did you hear? 
Me: I saw, actually 
Gideon: And? 
Me: It was probably them. Who else would mess around with that much blood? 
Gideon: Ew. Was it real blood? I thought of my shoes again and shuddered. 
Me: Who cares? The car looked like the prom scene from Carrie. They got their point across. 
Gideon: I saw Mrs. Martin leading the girl into her office. If something like that ever happened to me, I’d want to be put in the hands of the nicest—and most capable—guidance counselor, too. 
Me: Yeah, I saw her outside. 
Gideon: It’s too bad. She looked wrecked. 

We were reaching the point in the conversation at which I was supposed to condemn the monsters who did this. I wasn’t ready to go there with Gideon. Revealing the true depth of my disgust at everything the Red Court stood for was not something I could do over text. Truthfully, my feelings about the Red Court were this gnarled mass inside of me, too big to start talking about at all. 

Me: I gotta run. Lit is calling. 
Gideon: Ok, see you after. 

Before I’d made it halfway across the school, the warning bell rang. I gave up the attempt to change my shoes and turned to book it upstairs so I could suffer through American Lit with a room full of disenchanted sophomores. Oh joy. On an ordinary day, class was a chore to get through. On a day like today, with my mind busy dissecting the latest Red Court takedown, it seemed like my school would live up to its nickname after all. Welcome to Hell High. 

“Ember?” Mr. Carson called my name like a question. 

Crap. I must have missed something. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on Mr. Carson’s analysis of Leaves of Grass, which was a shame. Whitman had some serious 19th century game going on. “I sing the body electric” gave me chills the first time I read it. 

“Yes, Mr. Carson?” 

He sighed impatiently. Or perhaps disappointedly. “Do you have any thoughts on the final section?” 

I glanced at my notes from the night before to read the scribbles aloud, but a mocking voice cut in. 

“Whitman’s talking about the physicality of the body and how it is part of the soul or is the soul. Like it’s just as important as the soul, which at the time was elevated above a person’s body in significance.” 

I threw a baleful look toward Chase Merriman—insufferable know-it-all—and was given a smug half-smile in return. He just loved to one-up me. Mr. Carson turned his gaze to me for more input, but my premeditated discussion points wouldn’t add anything to the dialogue. I gave my Lit teacher as unaffected a shrug as I could manage even though a sharp retort branded with Chase’s name tried to claw its way out of my throat. I pushed it down, not deigning to give Chase the satisfaction of knowing he got under my skin. 

Mr. Carson continued droning on, asking for our “thoughts” and “feelings” about the poem. Poor guy didn’t seem to understand his audience. Disengaged was our default setting. It really took some doing to rouse us. Though Whitman’s work was taboo back in the day, most of the students here had probably seen something more risqué in their Instagram feeds over breakfast this morning. 

The bell rang and Mr. Carson’s shoulders slumped. Another day of not making a difference. I almost felt bad for him, but this was his chosen career path. He had to know what he was getting into when he signed up to teach freaking poetry at a public school. 

“Could you hang back a minute, Ember?” Mr. Carson’s words caught me six inches from the door and freedom. 

I smiled tightly. The next period was my off-hour, but Gideon would be waiting. Every moment I wasted in the classroom diminished the chances of running out for my caffeine fix, which were already slim since I had to trek back across the school to change my sneakers first. I would not spend a moment longer than necessary in these shoes. 

“What’s up, Carson?” He was one of those teachers who thought using “Mr.” in his title meant he was uncool, so I dropped it whenever I needed extra brownie points. Not that my brownie point bank account was in that much need. 

“It’s unlike you to space out during an epic poetry discussion. Everything ok?” 

Mr. Carson was probably my favorite teacher, and we had a strong rapport, but I couldn’t tell if his use of “epic” was sincere. I hoped for his sake he was being cheeky. “

Just having one of those days, you know?” Vague, Ember, be vague. “I’m sure I’ll be back to contributing the only meaningful insight tomorrow,” I added with a rueful smile, which he returned. 

“Sounds like a plan. So you know, I’m always here if you need an ear.” He shut his copy of Leaves of Grass with a snap, effectively ending our conversation. 

“Thanks!” I bolted out the door as fast as I could without seeming rude. 

Running down the steps two at a time, I nearly crashed into Gideon as he waited at the foot of the stairs near the school’s main entry. 

“What’s the rush, Em?” His words came out in a whoosh as he caught me. 

“I need to stop by my locker before we get coffee. Let’s go!” 

“Seriously? There isn’t time for a detour if we’re going to make it back before the hour is up. Let’s just hit the library instead.” 

He was right of course, but I was in desperate need of a large Americano. I wanted to argue, but once Gideon made a decision, there was no way he’d change his mind. If only there was someone as bullheaded as him on the debate team with me. 

Gideon broke down what he’d heard about the takedown this morning as we walked through the halls. I was too busy sulking to add to the commentary. I spun the combination on my locker, wondering how in the world I could explain the bloody shoes to my mom. The door swung open, and I tossed my bag to the ground. I was already toeing off my sneakers when a flash of red caught my eye. 

The Queen of Hearts sat alone on the top shelf of my locker, the coy smile on her face said she knew something I didn’t. If the rumors were to be believed, she did. A Queen of Hearts was the eponymous calling card of the Red Court’s leader, and its presence could only mean one thing: my invitation had finally come. 

Excerpted from These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, Copyright © 2020 by Katherine Laurin. Published by Inkyard Press.



“Ember draws readers into the drama of finding the members of the Red Court… Recommend this to fans of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds.” –School Library Journal 

“Laurin’s novel tackles the destructive power of high school bullying through characters who are compelling in their complexity.” –Kirkus Reviews





ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

KATHERINE LAURIN lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, and tiny dog. When she's not writing, Katherine enjoys reading, traveling, hiking, and listening to true crime podcasts. These Vengeful Hearts is her first young adult novel.

LINKS: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Review: The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves #2) by Roshani Chokshi

The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves, #2)
The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves #2) by Roshani Chokshi
Wednesday Books
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2020
Hardcover. 416 pages

About The Silvered Serpents:

"They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost — one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job."

The Gilded Wolves was an extremely hyped fantasy release last year that I was personally a bit disappointed with. However, the ending of The Gilded Wolves was enough of an interesting cliffhanger that when I was presented with the opportunity to read a copy of The Silvered Serpents, I knew I wanted to check it out. Fortunately, I can say that I thought The Silvered Serpents was definitely an improvement from the first, though it still lacked a little something to completely draw me in. 

The Silvered Serpents picks up not too long after the events of The Gilded Wolves with all of our characters moving on from and trying to pick up the pieces of some of the more tragic fallout. Now the group of friends are somewhat reluctantly coming together to hunt down an ancient artifact that both Séverin and Laila are after, though both for vastly different reasons. This book really felt like a departure from the first book for a variety of reasons, including the differing relationship dynamics, location, and motivations for each character. 

As mentioned, a majority of the events of The Silvered Serpents take place in one new location, the ice palace, which I think added a new and interesting dimension to the series. I really enjoyed exploring this new setting because it sounds stunning and I found it to be one of those places that simply embodies a sense of intrigue and mystery, and I also thought that the singular setting allowed for Chokshi to really spend more time focusing on character development and plot, which she did really well. There was one particular place within the ice palace known as the Menagerie that was filled with a variety of rather...foreboding animals made of ice that was easily one of the most captivating components of the palace. 

I once again seemed to struggle with connecting to the characters as a group, but individually I felt that their development and Chokshi's descriptions were strong and effective in showcasing the internal struggles that each one faced. However, I feel like I once again struggled with enjoying the group as a whole. The camaraderie feels forced, and one of the my favorite characters from the first book was no longer which only added to the sort of disjointed feeling. There were a lot of conflicts between the characters, which of course is only natural when faced with high stress situations and pasts full of secrets, but it did sort of take away from the experience that the first book had where everyone seemed to mostly work together. There were also a few newer characters that we got to know and that I thought added some particularly interesting new dynamics to the story and friend group. I liked parts of these new characters, but I found some of the ways in which Chokshi incorporate them felt slightly awkward at times. 

Much like in The Gilded Wolves, this book was full of puzzles that our characters had to solve throughout the course of the book. Some of these were enjoyable and interesting, but I also lost interest in a lot of them and the explanations and/or descriptions of the characters figuring out how to solve them. On the one hand, I appreciate how much thought and effort Chokshi always puts into these components, but on the other hands I often feel that they drastically alter the pace of the story and cause things to start dragging a bit. There was also still a small issue with info-dumping and what seems to be a desire to include so much that just overwhelms the plot and story. Despite this, it was still a mostly entertaining read and I genuinely enjoyed the imaginative creations and plot that Chokshi developed. 

Overall, I've given The Silvered Serpents 3.25 stars! If you read and enjoyed The Gilded Wolves, then you'll definitely enjoy The Silvered Serpents as well. 

*I received a copy of The Silvered Serpents in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*