Tag Archives: review

ARC: Dead School by Laura Gia West

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review.

I requested this book on NetGalley in large part due to the beautiful cover and the title. Dead School? How cool of a concept is that?

Unfortunately, I didn’t even make it to Dead School. This book reads like a rough first draft; I’m a bit confused about how this is considered to be a manuscript in finished form. There are punctuation and verb agreement errors aplenty, as well as some exceedingly strange word usage. Characters “waver” papers in the MC’s face and “clog” down the stairs. (And I don’t believe this is referring to clog dance, but in this book, anything is possible, I suppose.)

All this can be forgiven if the story is good. For example, I have been extremely forgiving in the past of translated works. Metro 2033, which is shoddily translated but utterly fantastic, is one example that springs to mind.

Yet there is nothing to redeem the story in terms of substance. The MC is unlikable and acts nonsensically, as do all the characters flitting around her. We start the opening chapter with the MC in the car with her parents on Valentine’s Day. They are heading to Red Lobster to eat dinner, toting along their cat. With a bit of handwavium, we’re led to believe that the local Red Lobster manager is super cool with animals and will allow such nonsense at the table.

Okay. Fine. Second page of the book, my fingers are already starting to desperately tighten around my suspension of disbelief, which has grown oddly slippery… But let’s press on.

Wait, stop! Fuck Valentine’s Day and turn the car around, Dad—we have to go back to school! The MC suddenly has a blinding desire to beat her stage fright and perform in the school talent show, which is taking place LITERALLY RIGHT NOW. The MC’s parents oblige her, because… you know… the author wants them to.

And then our MC nails her performance, even though she hasn’t gone to any of the rehearsals. (Not joking.) The students in the audience, all of whom the MC despises, are moved to tears—she’s just that amazing. All is looking up—soon the MC will be the school’s new Queen Bee. Because she attends a prestigious performing arts school, our intrepid MC knows that there are talent scouts in the audience, pens at the ready to sign her for a record deal. Too bad a stage decoration then falls on her and kills her.

All this ridiculousness happens in the first chapter. I read a bit of it aloud to my husband, and his assessment is that the book has an uncanny valley feel. The characters just all act so bizarrely, as if a thousand YA novels got mixed together in a blender and an algorithm spit out the common elements it thought define human behavior. Needless to say, I only made it a few chapters in before I had to call it quits.

Let me be clear: I normally try to find the positive in things—sandwich method, etc.—but I cannot be charitable with this book. There is nothing to be charitable about. Even the famous quotes from historic figures attached to each chapter heading are cringey; what does Shakespeare have to do with any of this? I’m reminded a bit of how the infamous indie game Crying Is Not Enough (epic Let’s Play right here) stuck famous quotes on its interminable loading screens… But that game was bad yet had heart, and this book is just terrible.

Nice cover, though.

My One and Only Duke by Grace Burrowes

I thought it wasn’t possible. I thought it was simply not meant to be.

But lo and behold, despite the fact that it’s February in Connecticut and we just suffered a snowstorm, in my heart doves are cooing, angels are singing, and double rainbows wreathe the sky.

Yes, as is only fitting for my Valentine’s Day post, I am happy to report that love is finally in the air—I have found a good romance novel. Let’s give credit where it’s due; Grace Burrowes was suggested to me by my mom and sister, and they have good taste. They knew exactly what I was talking about when I moaned that all the romance I’d ever tried was crap and that the writing quality got in the way of the falling-in-love bits.

And I promise, I will still read the stupid Phillips book, and I’ll even do my damnedest to do so with an open mind. But for now… in the present moment… let’s forget about that and focus on Grace Burrowes instead.

She can write! The dialogue is excellent, the characters interesting and natural-feeling. There was no jarring head-hopping, nor any stray details that vaulted me out of the nineteenth-century London setting. The narrative voice felt perfectly suited to the story; I frequently found myself looking up words in the dictionary, since hello, nineteenth-century London, but I didn’t have to do this to a ridiculous degree—and you know, I like looking up these older words that have fallen out of favor! Learning is cool, and so are immersive books in a historical setting that’s written just. perfect.

And the story was exciting. The basic premise is that Jane, widowed and pregnant, and Quinn, slated to die by hanging, find their fortunes turning on a dime when it’s discovered that Quinn is the long-lost heir to a ducal title. I don’t want to give anything else away, but the opening first act was like watching someone tie a ribbon into a perfect, beautiful bow. Everything came together as it should, Burrowes delaying the reader’s reward until the last possible moment. You can just tell that you’re in the hands of an author who won’t let you down.

So now I feel like I’ve at last kind of joined the romance community, like a chick hammering its first chunk of the eggshell away. I’ve added I don’t know how many romances to my TBR in the last few days, all of them tangentially related to Burrowes. (Thanks, Goodreads!) Who’s next? Eloisa James? Meredith Duran? Mary Balogh? I feel like a kid in a candy shop.

Love, at last! Hurrah! ❤

ARC: The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review.

As soon as I read Vicky’s review of this book, I knew it needed to be placed front row center on my TBR. I’m no Tudors historian, but I love me some Henry VIII, from Showtime’s The Tudors to Margaret George’s tome The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers.

The premise is simple: Henry VIII drama transported to a modern high school setting. These high schoolers are the cool you can only dream of—oodles of money, absent parents, an arsenal of witty one-liners on their lips. We’re treated to first person narration by the MC, Cleves, who is no-holds-barred hilarious. Let’s get real: nobody talks like this in real life, but it doesn’t really matter, since you just want Cleves to keep on spitting jokes. Also be prepared that there are some near break-the-fourth-wall moments; for some readers this is all in good fun and for others this might get annoying.

“I don’t give a flying fuck whether or not you slept with him.”
“Really. We’re done talking about guys, okay? Let’s pass the damn Bechdel test.”

If you’re looking for a standard whodunnit, this isn’t it. Really this book is all about character development, voice, and teen drama. Yeah, there are some dead queens and a finger-pointing blame game, but the sleuthing is kept pretty minimal until the end… This being said, I will say that the end does get intense, in an awesome way. I got actual chills. Yet the multidimensional characters and rock-solid voice are the real reason to open this book. I’m very curious to read the author’s future works; will we see a modern adaptation featuring some other infamous historical figures? Julius Caesar, perhaps? The Medicis? I’m game if Capin is.

Just a real quick reminder to everyone that Chapter Two of The Gold in the Dark will be posting this Sunday at 11 AM EST! All right, that’s all, folks. ❤

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

It’s no secret in the writing community that second books are tough. Most often, you’ve spent years perfectly crafting your first manuscript… Then it sells, and you’re given the task of putting together another viable book in a year and change that will match the expectations of your fans. In my opinion, it’s the main reason why sequels are, generally speaking, never quite as satisfying as their predecessors. And I’m willing to bet that this is the reason why Two Can Keep a Secret is just sort of… blah.

There are pacing issues, for one. The book starts off very slow, and it often feels like readers are not being shown the exciting stuff. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say that at the end of Chapter One the MC is present when a dead body is discovered… But then Chapter Two begins at the next morning, without giving us in-the-moment, heart-racing details about that discovery. If there’s a formula to modern YA, it’s that distance=bad. That’s the reason for the close 3rd POV/present 1st POV push. Show us everything exciting in a way that feels like we’re there with you. Flashbacks from the day after are not going to cut it.

But the real unfortunate issue here are the characters. That was what made One of Us Is Lying so awesome, right? I still remember the characters in that book, especially Addy. But here, the characters simply aren’t very memorable, and there are a whole heck of a lot of them. If you set the book down for a couple days after the first sixty pages as I did (not hard to do, since not much is going down action-wise), guarantee that you’ll come back to it and not be able to keep the names and relationships straight. Even Ellery, the main POV, reads pretty weak. Sucks to say it, but her true-crime fixation is going to draw inevitable comparisons to Stevie in Truly Devious—and Stevie takes the gold medal for YA true-crime aficionado any day of the week.

Couple this with some predictable plot twists. I called two of them pretty early on, thinking that I was being led astray by McManus and it couldn’t all be this easy, could it? I didn’t predict the main baddie, but many of the other surprises didn’t land with as big of an ooh! aah! punch as you would hope.

So I don’t really recommend this book, but I understand that it’s a sophomore effort. I’ll be reading future works by the author (I think there’s a One of Us Is Lying sequel in the works?!), but Two Can Keep a Secret is a pass for me.

The Queen’s Wing by Jessica Thorne

You know when you read a fantastic first chapter and you get that sinking feeling? That the rest of the book can’t possibly keep this up type of feeling? The Queen’s Wing keeps the momentum going. By the last few chapters, I was stopping every couple of pages to shake my head at my husband and mutter, “How is she doing this? This is just so good.”

He called me jealous. I’m just happy to have discovered a new favorite author.

I’ve seen some comparisons online between The Queen’s Wing and Sarah J. Maas. I actually don’t think that comparison is apropos. I’d pitch this as science-fantasy à la Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, with voice and pacing similarities to Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Don’t let the cover fool you; this book doesn’t read as over-the-top, fluffy YA. It is NOT The Selection. Sure, there’s a princess and a love triangle, but the MC has such a deep sense of duty and self-awareness that this really should be classed in that mystical “new adult” realm that never really materialized in the way we thought it would.

And the romance is perfect. If you want a love triangle done right, this is it. You won’t end up hating the MC for being a selfish asshole, and nothing feels forced.

Plus there are loads of crazy plot twists and surprises—surprises that actually surprise you. So many books like this are predictable; this one is not. Yet none of the plot twists broke my immersion.

Once again: it’s perfect. Read it. I’d be shocked if this isn’t a top book of the year for me. And by the way, Thorne is coming out with a sequel in a couple weeks, and she also writes under the names R. F. Long and Ruth Frances Long, so there’s a back list for fans of The Queen’s Wing to catch up on. Thanks to Lauregalie for turning me on to this book, and happy almost weekend, everybody!

The Great Pursuit by Wendy Higgins

This was a book I’d been looking forward to reading for a while. After my near total abstention from fantasy last year, as well as my recent read-through of the more serious The Bird and the Nightingale, I was ready for a fluffier fantasy read, which The Great Pursuit promised to be. Come to find out when I picked the book up that this series is not a trilogy, but a duology! I just about could have kissed the cover. God knows I’ve started enough series, never to continue on.

But somehow this sequel to The Great Hunt didn’t catch me nearly as much as its predecessor. In the first book, we’re introduced to the MC, Aerity. She’s a teenage princess who loves aerial silks. (Hence the name choice, I’m sure.) All this might seem a bit random, and it is, but her hobby is a unique, defining characteristic, and—spoilers directly ahead—she’s able to use her acrobatic abilities in the first book’s climax in a combat situation. It was a memorable scene that made me want to dive right into the next book.

Yet Pursuit seems devoid of a lot of that unique charm. I don’t think there’s one scene in the second book where this side of Aerity is allowed to shine once more; I’d bet it would be easy for many readers who read the first book a while ago to forget entirely about this aspect of her character. I guess it’s a consequence of having to focus the plot on the brewing political tensions; this book simply feels more generic than the first in the series.

All this coupled with a world that feels overly small. Characters traverse vast distances to different kingdoms and climes, but their journeys feel like they take place within two days max. In the final battle scene, armies feel like they’re made up of fifty people. A chase scene in a maze of tunnels was a great moment, but that’s a confined scene by necessity of the fact that the characters are in tunnels. Once the characters emerge back out into the open, we’re back to feeling like this “war” is just a faction vs. faction small-scale brawl.

So I may be in the minority here since the Goodreads reviews speak to more people enjoying the second book than the first, but I really liked The Great Hunt much more than The Great Pursuit. I hesitate to advocate for just reading the first one, since that could maybe prove unsatisfying, but… Yeah. Just read the first one.