Review | The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas

The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas

Published by: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: March 4, 2014

Genre: Fantasy

Page Count: 435

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Purchase

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Celaena Sardothien is her kingdom’s most feared assassin. Though she works for the powerful and ruthless Assassin’s Guild, Celaena yields to no one and trusts only her fellow killer-for-hire, Sam.

When Celaena’s scheming master, Arobynn Hamel, dispatches her on missions that take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, she finds herself acting independently of his wishes—and questioning her own allegiance. Along the way, she makes friends and enemies alike, and discovers that she feels far more for Sam than just friendship. But by defying Arobynn’s orders, Celaena risks unimaginable punishment, and with Sam by her side, he is in danger, too. They will have to risk it all if they hope to escape Arobynn’s clutches—and if they fail, they’ll lose not just a chance at freedom, but their lives.


“If you can learn to endure pain, you can survive anything. Some people learn to embrace it- to love it. Some endure it through drowning it in sorrow, or by making themselves forget. Others turn it into anger.”

Coming into this series late, I knew I had a lot to catch up on. I knew I’d travel through painful and heartwrenching backstories. So I was nervous and hesitant to start the prequel. Sarah reminds us why Throne of Glass enchanted us at the beginning, how Celaena Sardothien suffered, how much she lost, and what she gave up to save the forgotten.

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ben, a fellow assassin, has been murdered. Celaena is hellbent on avenging him, but Arobynn Hamel, the Lord of the Assassins, has other plans by sending her and Sam Cortland to Skull’s Bay. Sarah introduces the infamous Lord of the Pirates, Captain Rolfe. And I am smitten even if I want to gut this man. Both she and Sam discover their master wants them to ship slaves back to Rifthold. This is moment shows me why I love Celaena, who is indignant and plans to thwart Arobynn’s plan.

This short story is a solid start to the novella. This experience shapes Celaena into the character who she is now. I was surprised by the hostility between Sam and Celaena. I wasn’t expecting that, but I loved the banter though. This story appalled, horrified, and sickened me. Sarah opens up her world and shows you the seedy side of Erilea. It gives you perspective and understanding behind Celaena’s convictions.

The Assassin and the Healer

⭐️⭐️⭐️

After the punishment Arobynn inflicts onto her and Sam after their actions in Skull’s Bay, Celaena meets a former healer, Yrene Towers, and teaches the young woman how to defend herself.

I’ve spoiled myself with many characters, so I knew who Yrene is. But I had zero knowledge about her history and her connection to Celaena. Even though Celaena is tough on Yrene, I enjoyed seeing Celaena display a softer side you don’t always have the privilege to see.

The Assassin and the Desert

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Arobynn sends Celaena to the Silent Assassins in the Red Desert. There, she must earn approval from the Master of the Silent Assassins. She believes she can easily win him over, but instead, she must work for it. You see a lot of conceit and pride with Celaena. Yes, she’s earned the title “Adarlan’s Assassin,” but that means nothing here.

This story proves crucial for Celaena. She opens up, learns how to associate with other people, and befriends them as well. I enjoyed reading this story even if it isn’t my favourite.

The Assassin and the Underworld

⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Coming back from the aftermath of what happens in the Red Desert, Celaena plans to pay off her debt to Arobynn, who is apologetic of what he’s done to her. To ask for forgiveness, he offers her another client, who wants her ex-husband dead.

Here is where you see the relationship between Celaena and Sam blossom. They fight, bicker, and plan her next job. But both of these characters evolve. Unfortunately, they aren’t told the full situation, and Celaena soon realizes she can’t trust everyone.

Lysandra is, hands down, the positive to this story though. I can’t get enough of Celaena and Lysandra’s fighting.

The Assassin and the Empire

⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Celaena wants out of Adarlan and the Guild and away from Arobynn. Sam finds a contract that may solve all their problems though. Both of them must kill the Crime Lord Jayne and his right-hand man Farran. She’s hesitant, with good reason. Sam believes he must prove himself by making the first kill.

This addition lays the groundwork of Throne of Glass. I wasn’t prepared for this one. No. No, I wasn’t. I cried hard, and I’ve been dreading this story because I know what happens. But the pain isn’t less gut-wrenching.

 

I overall enjoyed this prequel. But I didn’t love it though. I wasn’t invested in it as much as the other sequels. But like always, Sarah throws in foreshadowing that hurts and makes you want to skip by it. So prepare yourself when you attempt to read it. It’ll give you chills, make you ugly cry at points, but sets up a beautiful beginning to one of my favourite series yet.

 

What are your thoughts on Assassin’s Blade? Is it a so-so read, or did you thoroughly love it? Let’s chat!

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Review | Wildcard by Marie Lu

Wildcard by Marie Lu

Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 18

Genre: Science Fiction

Page Count: 352

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Purchase

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Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo’s new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she’s always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo’s grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone’s put a bounty on Emika’s head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn’t all that he seems–and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?


“That’s the difference between the real and the virtual. Reality is where you can lose the ones you love. Reality is the place where you can feel the cracks in your heart.”

I believe everyone all knows how much I adore Warcross. I never knew that I’d fall that hard for a science fiction book. But here I am, marveling at Marie’s creation. So Wildcard ended up as one of my top most anticipated sequels to read. While I enjoyed this hi-action, colourful, and thrilling read, I’m left wanting more.

Emika knows the truth behind Hideo’s NeuroLink algorithm. And with the help of the Phoenix Riders, she realizes she must stop him from releasing it to the world. But a bounty on her life causes her trouble, and she may be forced to rely on Zero and the Blackcoats, which are hellbent on controlling Hideo’s new toy.

Even though my thoughts are clashing with each other, I must admit that I’m in love with Marie’s worldbuilding. This author knows how to make a flashy virtual reality look utopic, but in reality, it conceals a deadly and hidden underworld. The premise of the book impresses me. It also terrifies me though. Emika travels through more of the Dark World. And with that comes the risks she never anticipates. We aren’t in the rainbow-filled Toyko anymore.

Marie explores the consequences of technological advancement. And I couldn’t get enough of that storyline. Unfortunately, the execution at the end feels rushed and hastily put together. I wanted more substance from this arc. And I didn’t find it. This sequel relies heavily on the plot, not the characters. And I believe that part is where the two books differ. I loved meeting the characters. And even though we get more backstory of some, they weren’t the pinnacle of the finale.

However, some stood out from the static. Emika will always be one of my favourite characters. Being thrown into a dangerous world, she feels the responsibility to set it right. She knows the dark path Hideo is taking to avenge his brother, and yet she can’t let go of her feelings. By the end of Warcross, I was swaying back and forth with Hideo. Some part of me doesn’t, nor will ever, trust him. But Marie shows us why he chose this direction. Zero may be on the most conflicting character to understand. But I love yet hate him.

I wanted to set my excitement high for this sequel. I wanted the Warcross world to engross, tease, tempt, and impress me. But this time, I didn’t login into this virtual reality. I’m left questioning the book more than loving it. If you’re in need of another championship fix, check your expectations. But I’d give it a chance if you fell in love with Warcross.

Beyond the Blurb | Addressing Sexual Assault in YA Books

 

For months, I psyched myself out of writing this post. A part of me doesn’t want to address the topic. But I’m committing more harm than good. So, for this week’s topic for my weekly/monthly discussion post, Beyond the Blurb, I want to address what the pros and cons of sexual assault in YA books are and why we need to keep talking about it.

As I write this post, I want nothing more than to delete it and keep quiet. But I can’t. Sexual assault is a difficult and intense topic to discuss. So I’ll admit this now: I’m a survivor. And my scars still haunt me. My demons still control who I am, even if I want to fight back. I will spend the rest of my life healing. So you can easily guess that sexual assault in any book is difficult for me to read. However, let me be clear: it’s 2018, and we people (and readers) need to stop ignoring assault.

So how widespread is sexual assault? Here are some US facts from Teen Help:

  • 42% of female rape victims were assaulted before they turned an adult
  • 1 in 5 men have been assaulted
  • 28% of male rape victims have been assaulted before turning 10-years-old
  • Teenagers will account for half of all reported sexual abuse
  • Teenagers (between 16 and 19) are 3.5 times more likely to be the victim

Unfortunately, many assaults will go unreported. Our society has allowed predators to go free because victims must “think about the impact of the accused,” there “isn’t enough evidence to prove it,” or the “accused isn’t credible enough.” But we don’t think about the repercussions of the survivor. So when you see these statistics, we cannot keep ignoring the issue. So I commend YA authors addressing assault in their books. But here are the reasons why writing about it is so important for survivors and possible future victims:

It shows the survivors that they aren’t alone

You don’t know how crucial this point is for survivors. When they’re assaulted, they’re isolated and feel as if no one will understand their pain, shame, fear, and anger. But they aren’t. As much as 50% of all women will be assaulted. Let that number sink in. We all know that literature often reflects our society. So a character’s story may show them they truly aren’t alone.

It creates a platform for survivors to finally talk about their assault

One reason why survivors never report their assault is due to the shame they face. Sexual assault kits and procedures are invasive and can possibly revictimize them. But when they are given the opportunity to open up and to address their past, you give them the chance to heal. If a character who was assaulted opens up about their pain, that choice may give survivors the strength to come forward.

It allows them to cope with their assault

For years, I wanted to ignore my past. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. If I did, then I’d have to admit that I was assaulted. But when more character arcs addressed sexual assault, I was able to open that door, let out my pain, and finally cope with my feelings. And I’ll forever be indebted to the authors who have helped me with my demons.

 

But when there is a positive in a situation, then you’ll always get a negative. So what are they?

The author may open up unhealed wounds or reach out to a much younger audience

You must allow survivors to come to terms in their own way. Many do not want to think about what has happened to them. And not every teenager who is the target audience for YA will face sexual assault. They may not understand yet.

The author may use sexual assault in the worst way possible

Please, authors, do not use sexual assault as a trope. It isn’t. It’s a real and dangerous life-altering event. Don’t use it as a way to make the character stronger. Because getting assaulted doesn’t make survivors strong at the beginning. They’re utterly broken. It’ll take years for them to harness that strength.

The author may have caused more harm to survivors

You cannot force survivors to confront their pain if they’re not ready. And if you do, you may hurt them more. Imagine being assaulted, then forced to deal with it. Why do you think court cases are so agonizing for them? Reliving their assault is hard enough. Being forced to remember what has happened, when all they want to do is to get lost in a book, may have negative effects on them and readers. So that’s why trigger warnings are so important. Use them.

 

So what are your thoughts on sexual assault in YA books? Do you think that including it in these books will help or hinder victims? Is it appropriate for the intended audience?

I’d love to see what you think on the matter.

Review | Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

Published by: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Genre: Young Adult, Superheroes

Page Count: 384

Rating: 4/5

Source: Purchase

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When the Bat’s away, the Cat will play. It’s time to see how many lives this cat really has. . . .

Two years after escaping Gotham City’s slums, Selina Kyle returns as the mysterious and wealthy Holly Vanderhees. She quickly discovers that with Batman off on a vital mission, Batwing is left to hold back the tide of notorious criminals. Gotham City is ripe for the taking.

Meanwhile, Luke Fox wants to prove he has what it takes to help people in his role as Batwing. He targets a new thief on the prowl who seems cleverer than most. She has teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and together they are wreaking havoc. This Catwoman may be Batwing’s undoing.


“She was a ghost. A wraith.”

In the highly anticipated third installment in the DC Icons series, Selina Kyle discovers her claws, and she’s looking to bring Gotham City to its knees. If you’re a huge DC fan as I am, then Catwoman: Soulstealer is your next read. Thieving, trickery, sexual tension, scheming, sisterly love, friendship, and female leads who know how to look good while stealing are what make the DC nerd in me sing.

The big old Bat is away, and Catwoman returns to the infamous Gotham City, and she’s looking for an all-female crew to swindle the rich and wreak havoc. But when she arrives, ghosts from her past want back what she stole from them. And they’re willing to burn Gotham to the ground to get it.

Catwoman is one of my hotly anticipated reads of the Summer. And before I picked it up, I had large expectations I wasn’t sure Sarah could carry out. She has disappointed me with a few of her books. However, she doesn’t let me down with this one. Catwoman is more rough on the edges. You don’t always see the human side of this multi-faceted character. But Sarah reveals a different perspective of her, and I love it.

Selina turns into a street fighter in order for her and her sister, Maggie, to survive. But when the cops come knocking, Selina must choose either going to jail or giving up her sister by accepting the deal with the League of Assassins. Two years later, she is more lethal, wiser, and determined to fulfill her plan. I love Selina as the villain, the anti-hero, and frankly herself. Her alter-ego doesn’t diminish her as a strong-willed character with scars to show. Sarah gives just enough depth for dedicated fans to appreciate and new readers to enjoy.

Sarah easily incorporates classic DC villains and characters readers love. I savoured every moment Selina has with her sister and the schemes she concocts with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. And as a follower of Sarah, I know her writing will grip me until the very end. Every fight scene, tender moment, and foreshadowing come together to make an explosive plot. This storyline gives readers several gratifying character arcs and shows how deadly Gothman’s streets truly are.

What stands out for me is the bonds of friendship and sisterhood. I adored how Selina slowly lowers her guard when she brings Ivy and Harley into the fray. And even though I prefer Catwoman with Batman, the budding relationship with Luke Fox, or Batwing, is intriguing. However, I felt it’s more obligatory than natural. Why does Selina need a love interest? She doesn’t. Unfortunately, Luke’s character growth isn’t as well developed as Selina’s, and that choice puts a damper on the character himself.

Sarah delivers an action-packed coming-of-age with the right dose of love and an overwhelming amount of sass, snark, and scheming. Friendship is at the heart of this sequel. So if you love Catwoman, find yourself a copy. You won’t want to miss this.

“There are good people in Gotham. Protect them.”

Review | Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: May 29, 2018

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

Page Count: 402

Rating: 4.5/5

Source: Purchase

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On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.


“Your past doesn’t make calls on your future. It doesn’t matter who you were. Only who you are.”

I’ve survived my first Kristoff book. And when I closed it, I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or what I should do with myself. Lifel1k3 is a brilliantly crafted novel I never knew that could exist. And yet, here I am writing a review for it. Now, I understand why so many readers love Kristoff’s work. I’m an instant fan.

Rarely do I find a book that offers everything to readers: a stellar cast, captivating writing and storytelling, explosive worldbuilding, and heartbreaking character growth. But Kristoff exceeds those expectations. I was close in dnfing Lifel1k3, but I’m thrilled that I pushed on to find one of the best books of 2018!

Eve lives with broken memories and in a shattered country once named the US. But in this post-apocalyptic world, she wants nothing more than to survive the next day with her bestie, Lemon Fresh; her logika, Cricket; and her dying grandpa. But when she uncovers Ezekiel, a lifelike, that life is over when she attracts the wrong gang that wants to see her dead.

Other than the worldbuilding, the characters are what win me over with this book. I grew to love Eve. She’s a badass, tough female lead who takes nothing from no one. And as the storyline progresses, I empathize with her once she discovers her past and the lies surrounding it. She may rock a fauxhawk and a cybernetic eye and fight robots in death matches. But by the end, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Her character growth rivals that of well-written characters.

The lifelike, or android, displays more empathy, compassion, love, and humanity than most humans do. Ezekiel is swoon-worthy, but he’s the moral compass to the book. And I love that about him. Lemon Fresh—yes, that’s her name—may be the finest sidekick a woman can ever dream of. I loved the banter and sarcasm she brings to this colourful gang. And I can’t forget to mention Cricket. I can’t imagine I’d love a robot this much, but I never rooted so hard for one in my life!

Kristoff combines Tank Girl, Romeo and Juliet, and Mad Max in this outlandishly wild journey. What excels in this chaos is the worldbuilding. Eve and her cohorts live in the destruction of what was known as Kalifonya, now called the Dregs. Corporations now fight over what is left of the country after the annihilation of lifelikes, which refused to follow the Three Laws, which govern all robotics. Unfortunately, she has attracted unwanted attention from the Brotherhood. This mayhem just enhances the intricate design of the story. And with every chance I got, I reveled in it. Kristoff makes you want to love science fiction all over again.

I’m not sure if I can put into words of my admiration of this author. Even though Lifel1k3 is the first book I’ve read of his, I need the rest so I can tame my need for his writing. Not many authors have that kind of writing power. But Kristoff does. His writing enthralls your imagination from the start. You need to know how the world fell, how society made it this way, and if these characters will survive to the next chapter. This must-read science fiction needs to be on your TBR list.

Review | Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Published by: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: August 15, 2013

Genre: Fantasy

Page Count: 418

Rating: 4/5

Source: Purchase

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Celaena Sardothien is the king’s Champion-yet she is far from loyal to the crown, for the man she serves is bent on evil. But working against her master in secret is no easy task. As Celaena tries to untangle the mysteries buried within the glass castle, she can trust no one, not even her supposed allies Crown Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol, and foreign princess Nehemia.

Then, an unspeakable tragedy shatters Celaena’s world. She must decide once and for all where her loyalties lie…and whom she will fight for.


“But death was her curse and her gift, and death had been her good friend these long, long years.”

With badassery, betrayals, and deadly secrets, Crown of Midnight cements Sarah’s place in the fantasy world. Since I’ve had some time to control myself after reading this spectacular book, I can finally write my review. The foreshadowing master has done it again by writing a sequel that surpasses its predecessor. Am I surprised? No. Am I completely at her mercy? Yes. I’m here to stay, TOG fandom!

I lost count of how many times my emotions took a hold of me. And I somehow put myself together so I could move on to the next book. You know I’m dedicated when I can’t stopping reading a series. Sarah threads multi-layered arcs and brings them together to craft a well-executed story.

The Throne of Glass series is one of my favourites. And I truly don’t know how properly to explain my love for it. I had strong expectations with this sequel. I wanted everything her debut novel has to offer and more. And Sarah doesn’t fail. Having won the tournament, Celaena Sardothien is now the King’s Champion and must do his bidding, whether she wants to or not. As she uncovers secrets that should be left unburied, she faces a devastating loss.

Did I honestly believe I could love a character more? Clearly, I was wrong. I adore Celaena and her journey. You get to see more backstory with this cleverly thought-out character. And I can’t help but respect how multi-faceted she turns out to be. Death and heartache are not done leaving scars on her. And this book just shows how much she has suffered and continues to do so.

Like I’ve previously said, the secondary characters impress me. And I wasn’t sure what to expect from Chaol, Dorian, and Nehemia. I knew Chaol and Calaena explore a relationship, but I never knew it would tear strips into my already fragile heart. I shipped them hard. I loved his character arc, and the banter between the both of them made me so happy. Even though Dorian isn’t the love interest, he does play a strong role. And the tension between Nehemia and Calaena may be the hardest part of this book though.

Sarah slowly reveals this deadly and cutthroat world. You don’t want to live in Erilea. You don’t want to survive here. And yet she consistently proves how strong her characters are. Her storytelling improves as she uncovers the horrors of this continent. And I wonder how anyone ever lives in such a terrifying environment. Now, she intertwines fantasy into a magicless world. And I love that it builds suspense into her worldbuilding.

As I continue reading this series, I don’t know how I can love the next book more than the last. But I do. Sarah creates believable characters who I want to find freedom. And she unfolds a beautifully told story I’ll continue to admire.

Review | Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Published by: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: August 12, 2012

Genre: Fantasy

Page Count: 404

Rating: 4/5

Source: Purchase

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When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle. She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the king’s champion and be released from prison.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing she never thought she’d have again: a friend. But something evil dwells in the castle-and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the source of the evil before it destroys her world.


“You could rattle the stars,” she whispered. “You could do anything, if only you dared. And deep down, you know it, too. That’s what scares you most.”

A badass female lead with a hidden past, a world where magic has disappeared, a ruthless king who has slaughtered an entire country, and an intricately weaved storyline will capture readers who are looking for their next favourite series. I’m hooked. And I need more.

The hype and the fandom surrounding this debut book have kept me from it. And I regret not being a part of this fandom. For several years now, I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s second series, but I was hesitant to make the transition to TOG. So please kick me for not reading this sooner!

The characters are what make this book excel. I’ve known of what happens with select characters, but I never witnessed the story itself so I can appreciate the level of detail Sarah puts in her writing. And I must give her credit for what she has achieved in the series.

Celaena Sardothien, Adarlan’s Assassin, has survived her slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier. But this freedom depends on her winning the King’s Tournament. Sarah entwines Calaena’s past with her present. And with each passing page, you get a glimpse of her strength and determination. How can I appreciate a character with this much complexity? I don’t know. But I love her as much as Kaz Brekker. And she deserves the respect he receives.

The secondary characters— Dorian Havilliard, Chaol Westfall, and Nehemia Ytger—do not disappoint. They have their own arc, yet they’re drawn to Celaena. And they complete this stellar novel. I loved how they interact with each other, how they depend on one another, and how they grow into better characters.

Sarah’s storytelling drags you in. You aren’t aware of the outside world until you’ve read well past midnight. The thing is that you don’t care. You want to know what happens in the next chapter, and you can’t get enough. I love her writing. And the way she builds a believable yet devastating world makes me marvel at her work. I don’t want to live in this world, but I want her characters to defend it, fight for it, and give up everything to make it better.

I was scared to commit to this series. But I stayed for everything else. I’m thrilled to be a part of the fandom. And I can’t wait to see what Sarah has in store for us.

Review | Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Published by: PRH Canada Young Readers

Publication Date: May 22, 2018

Genre: Contemporary, Thriller

Page Count: 384

Rating: 5/5

Source: Purchase

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Three years ago, Skye’s brother Luka died in a mass shooting at the local high school. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim — he was a shooter. Now, Skye returns to the small town she had fled to start anew. But the scars of the past don’t heal easily. And there’s one person Skye dreads seeing most: Jesse Mandal. Her childhood crush and former best friend until the massacre tore them apart.

Told in alternating points of view, Skye and Jesse wade into the mystery of what took place that fateful day. But someone clearly doesn’t want Skye back in town, and when she and Jesse uncover new evidence that could clear Luka’s name, it becomes obvious that someone wants the past to stay buried.

In the aftermath of violence, someone has to pay. Blood for blood.


“There’s grief, too, but I bury that even faster. You aren’t allowed to grieve for someone like Luka. It doesn’t matter if he was an amazing brother. Luka Gilchrist was a monster. Write it on the board a hundred times and don’t ever forget it.”

I knew coming into this book that I’d more than likely be an emotional mess. And while I was, I have gained even more appreciation, admiration, and respect for Kelley, who takes on such a polarizing subject. This thriller will keep you up at night, tear you apart, and somehow make you question your thoughts on school shootings.

Aftermath is a thought-provoking, unapologetic, and in-your-face story that everyone needs to read. We as a society never look past a school shooting. We don’t forget the victims, the dead, and the survivors. But we don’t think of those families who must face the fact that their loved ones murdered other students. We shun them. We forget them. We allow our teens to bully their siblings. Yet Kelley makes you question if we should. And because of that, I will never forget this story.

Skye lives in the shadow of her brother’s heinous act, and she cannot move past her pain and her fear of what people think of her and what they want to do to her. She suffers from the past. And once she’s forced to move back to her hometown, she wants nothing more than to disappear. What she fears the most is seeing Jesse, her former best friend and childhood crush, whose brother died in the shooting. But the town hasn’t healed. And soon, she discovers some residents want her gone.

I’ve never cried harder over or sympathized with a character more than Skye. Her internal battle with herself breaks my heart. She constantly fights the thoughts of mourning over her brother and condemning him. But I utterly relate to this honest and broken character. And her scenes forced me to put down the book and breathe. But she faces more than just herself though. A town and the students of the new high school will not let her forget. And the only person she can rely on is Jesse.

Jesse Mandal struggles with seeing Skye show up. And at first, he pushes her away. But with the help of his forgiving mother, he knows she’s not the one to blame. These two evolve throughout the story. And while their past and pain shape them into who they are, Jesse and Skye refuse to allow these feelings defy them. But as he discovers evidence that may prove Luca’s innocence, their strength is put to the test. The thriller aspect of Aftermath still keeps my heart racing even as I write this review. And I am still feeling the after effects of the ending. I had some inkling that it may end the way it did. However, Kelley surprises even me.

She shines a difficult yet important light on mental illness, especially PTSD and anxiety. And she beautifully shows that there is more than one side to a shooting. This character-driven masterpiece is worth the pain and tears. And I cannot recommend this book enough. Buy it, read it, and bring the Kleenex. Trust me when I say that you’ll need it.

Review | Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Published by: G. P Putnam’s Son

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Historical

Page Count: 415

Rating: 4/5

Source: Purchase

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The highly anticipated sequel to Flame in the Mist—an addictive, sumptuous finale that will leave readers breathless from the bestselling author of The Wrath and the Dawn.

After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice—to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.


“Ours is a love stronger than fear and deeper than the sea”

I’ve been waiting to come back to this beautiful, rich, and detailed series. Renée combines fantasy, historical touches, and romance that will make her readers swoon. Smoke in the Sun doesn’t disappoint.

I’ve been putting off this review for awhile. Now, I’m still not sure if I can express the thoughts I feel about this book. When I started reading it, I was anticipating high action and deadly battles. And while we do see that more toward the end, Renée offers a story that creeps up on you, draws your attention, then attacks your every emotion. By the final book, I’m invested in these well fleshed out characters who I adore and who bring a different perspective to the novel.

Women who seem to play more of a background role are truly the hidden force and the backbone of the series. I’ve been craving a book where women will risk everything, even their own lives, to fight for a better world. And Renée beautifully illustrates that the power they have to offer.

The worldbuilding relies much more on court politics. And that is where Renée’s writing shines. Betrayals, deceptions, an unstable leader, and familial bonds intertwine to make a complex and layered storytelling. I wasn’t sure what to expect from one chapter to the next. And I loved living in the thrill of finding out. And I enjoyed how she spines her intricate tale. But her characters may just surpass her writing though. Each one adds to the depth of the story itself, and I can’t help but rave about them.

Mariko—who survived an assassination attempt, fell in love with the enemy, and outwitted even the Black Clan—is a well-developed main character. Along with persuading her betrothed and her brother, she must protect Okami and discover who wants her dead. I adore her development in Smoke. Sometimes, you need to read of a quiet yet forceful character who surprises you.

Okami, oh my heart, suffers so much. And yet his strength and determination are what make him an outstanding character. He doesn’t let the empire or the emperor break him. I thought I loved him in Flame, but I was wrong. I don’t always comment on secondary characters, yet I feel that they deserve at least a mention. Each one brings a new dynamic to the story.

I knew coming into this duology that I would want more sequels, more storylines, and frankly more everything. Yet Renée offers a satisfying conclusion to an already thrilling series. You need to read it.

“Our deepest truths are usually the hardest to conceal.”

Review | Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Published by: Feiwel & Friends

Publication Date: February 27, 2018

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Page Count: 352

Rating: 4.5/5

Source: Purchase

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Alosa’s mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he’s under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father’s justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first…after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.


“I may not have been born in the sea, but I was born to rule it. I am the daughter of the siren queen.”

Alosa is back, and she is ready to defend what is hers. Going into this sequel, I wasn’t sure if it could top my love of the first. Oh, how was I thoroughly mistaken. Daughter of the Siren Queen reminds me why I love sirens and pirates. Tricia captures what intrigues you in Pirate King, then cranks up the thrill factor.

One downfall of the Pirate King is that it doesn’t explore the rich world Tricia has created. And while reading it, I hoped for more world building. But do not fret. Tricia comes through and shows us a devious world ripe for the taking. She makes being bad fun. And some authors don’t always achieve that feeling. But she weaves a wicked tale that will hook you in and make you want to slit some throats. I got lost in this finale, and I want the world to know this series is worth the risk.

As Alosa recovers the final pieces of the map that will lead to the lost treasure, her father’s secret surfaces, and she and her crew must race against the pirate fleet and her father in order to claim the treasure as her own.

Tricia beautifully executes a fast-paced thrill ride that keeps you on the edge. It’s almost as if you can smell the sea breeze, hear the flap of the sails, and feel the sword in your hand. She blends together loyalty, friendship, strength, and feminism to create a truly imaginative novel. And yet she squeezes in just a bit of romance, and I’m left breathless.

Even though this sequel is plot-heavy, I feel that the characters drive the overall novel. From little Roslyn to Niridia, they are the beating heart, and I fell in love with all of them. I left a special piece of myself with the crew of the Ava-Lee. I must say, though, Alosa and Riden are what solidify Siren Queen into such an enjoyable read. Both their chemistry, banter, and growth make my heart swell with pure happiness. And the way they connect with the crew is magical. However, Alosa’s development stands out the most though. She will be one of my cherished characters.

The author introduces us to more siren mythology and Alosa’s history, which is much darker than I anticipated. But what I adore is how she doesn’t make the sirens purely bloodthirsty. They’re more regal, majestic, and otherworldly. And Alosa reflects their qualities and characteristics while she internally battles with both sides of herself. That inner turmoil speaks volumes.

Daughter of the Siren Queen is one of the most enjoyable sequels I’ve read this year. Do not take another moment debating to read this series. You need to read it. Now.

“Your enchantments last long after your song fades.”