Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

houseofsaltandsorrowHouse of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 6th, 2019

Publisher: Delacorte

Pages: 416 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I completely and utterly fell head-over-heels in love with this book. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it did not disappoint. It was absolutely everything I was hoping for and so much more. This might not be a completely perfect novel for everyone—or just in general, as literature is such an objective thing—but it was perfect for me. A dark retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, this novel had everything I love; suspense, intrigue, suspicious deaths, ghosts, curses, dark magic, all told in a beautifully eerie and captivating way. I was hooked from page one.

In this novel, we are transported to a manor by the sea called Highmoor where we follow a girl named Annaleigh. She was once one of twelve sisters, but death befalls sister after sister, placing the Thaumus family into a constant state of mourning. This unbelievable string of bad luck has caused the residents of their town to begin whispering about the family being cursed by the gods and they keep away from the sisters in fear.

When Annaleigh starts to experience vivid, ghostly visions of her sisters, she comes to realize that the deaths that have been written off as tragic accidents may not be accidents at all. On top of this, her sisters have been running off to go dancing at lavish balls each night, returning at dawn with their shoes completely worn through. But where are her sisters going? And who are they dancing with? Annaleigh must work to discover what is plaguing her family before more harm can come to them.

This is a hauntingly beautiful tale of a family under attack by an unknown force and the lengths Annaleigh will go to in order to protect the ones she loves. It is fast-paced and absorbing and I could not put this book down—it captivated me more than any book has in a while and it was wonderful. I am a massive lover of dark retellings that are both unique as well as faithful to the original story, and Craig completely nails this.

There is so much mystery and creepiness on every page of this story—moments that will make your heart pound and keep you riveted to each word. It is a complex and carefully woven tale filled with intriguing mystery, dark and frightening ghostly visions, and unexpected twists that constantly had me on the edge of my seat. I became so wrapped up in this story and these characters and I never wanted it to end.

All of the characters in this novel are created extremely well. Annaleigh is a very strong lead character. She’s intelligent, tough, and will do absolutely anything to protect her family no matter how confusing or out of control things appear to be. She maintains her convictions about what is truly going on at Highmoor despite facing disbelief from others. I feel like I connected with her right away—she is portrayed very clearly and is multi-dimensional.

Annaleigh’s sisters are also beautifully portrayed. I love that they feel so thoroughly fleshed out and that they are so realistic and three-dimensional. Verity is my personal favorite! And the relationships between all of them are done to perfection. They are realistic and believable, making it easy to come to care for them and to be eager to see their troubles end. Each sister’s personality is so vividly depicted and I was so glad to see that they played such a big role in the plot. Annaleigh’s love for them is so strong and the driving force of the story and the love they all share for each other is unshakable.

I actually ended up really loving the romance in this novel. This is something that I say very rarely, but Craig created such a sweet and lovely relationship that melted my heart. I was a little wary early on as a love triangle is hinted at briefly. However, it never actually happens, which I was very thankful for. There is quite a bit of insta-love here, but that is something I don’t usually mind, especially when the romance is well-constructed. Craig does one of my favorite things when it comes to romances in fantasy novels which is truly keeping it a side plot. Never once does it overpower the main plot and Annaleigh maintains her focus on her family and taking care of them.

Though I would have liked to hear more about his storyline and background, I really like Cassius a lot. Cassius is very caring and he and Annaleigh go together really well—you can definitely feel a strong connection between them. I wish he had been in even more of the story. The moments between Annaleigh and Cassius are so sweet and pure that they are a fantastic contrast to the rest of the novel. The progression of their relationship creates small breaks of light happiness among the darkness and sadness in the main storyline and that worked out beautifully. And frankly, it was just plain romantic, adorable, and enjoyable!

Now we come to my favorite part of this novel—the writing. Craig’s writing is completely and utterly beautiful. Her style is so lyrical and enchanting, bringing out a strong fairytale feeling in the narrative. At the same time, her words are haunting and emotional, flawlessly bringing out the darkness of the tale. Loss, longing, love, and hope all run throughout each page. It is a style of writing that is incredibly enjoyable to get lost in for hours.

The world-building is absolutely fantastic. Craig carefully constructs a detailed and intricate setting. Seamlessly blending the tone of the narration into the environment, she creates a vivid and entrancing experience for her readers. The setting is described so thoroughly it is very easy to place yourself there and feel it come to life around you. The atmosphere is dark and eerie—to the point where it is almost tangible—and fits perfectly with the narrative itself. It is extremely clear that Craig put a huge amount of time and effort into absolutely every aspect of this narrative. Her descriptions are so clear and detailed throughout and the way she constructs the Thaumus family’s life, traditions, and backstory is magnificent.

The only minor issue I had was with parts of the ending. Things happen very quickly and I found myself slightly confused at times. Mainly, I wish there had been a little more explanation of the religious/mythological elements—they appear to come somewhat out of the blue. I wish that those aspects of the plot had been developed a bit more and had a bigger part in the story, mainly because I was so intrigued by them. However, the ending, particularly the moments involving the main villain, was properly freaky and intense and it fit the tone of the story perfectly. And that small bit of confusion did not detract at all from my enjoyment of it.

As I’m sure you can probably tell by now, this is one of the newest additions to my list of all-time favorite novels. I connected with this story completely—it was right up my alley. The suspense, the intrigue, the characters, the world, everything was perfect. Erin A. Craig’s writing is so enchanting and beautiful and I loved getting wrapped up in it. I absolutely cannot wait to read more from her in the future! I very highly recommend checking this novel out if you haven’t already.

5.0 TARDISes

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Mini Review: Your Heart Is The Sea by Nikita Gill

yourheartistheseaYour Heart Is The Sea by Nikita Gill

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: January 22nd, 2019

Publisher: Thought Catalog Books

Pages: 196 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Let poetry help you examine the depths of your wounds. Let it remind you that no matter how deep it goes, you will be able to heal it because you have been able to heal every single wound inflicted on your heart and soul before. Let these words show you that you will be able to find the light at the end of the wound because you have always found your way before.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is the first poetry collection by Nikita Gill that I have read and I really enjoyed it. I read so many contemporary poetry collections these days and I have to admit, a lot of them start to run together. Many poets write on the same topics—that’s to be expected—but a select few really put forth work that stands out among the rest. This collection is definitely one of those. She touches on common and timely topics in a way that does not feel unoriginal or repetitive and uses a mixture of both poetry and short essays. Between her writing style, the way she sets up each section of the book, and her own unique way she approaches every topic she covers, Gill’s work makes for a very refreshing read.

This collection is broken up into eight different sections: The Anguish, The Descent, The Acceptance, The Defiance, The Survival, The Worship, The Wonder, and The Beginning. Each one deals with themes that portray the process of going from breaking all the way through to healing. I found this to be a really powerful way to form a sort of narrative that unfolded over the course of the book. Gill achieves a very accurate depiction of the healing process, as we all begin at the point of breaking before we become whole again. Her poems and essays fit each of the categories well, demonstrated progress, and brought the entire collection full circle in the end.

The topic of each section comes together to show the journey we take as we deal with individual aspects of our grief. Her work shows the importance of taking things a step at a time, letting ourselves feel every emotion and not shy away from them, and finally, picking up each piece and putting ourselves back together. One of the biggest messages found here is how we must find the courage to fight through our pain and heal while also allowing those experiences and our flaws to remain part of us. She reminds us that all of those things inside us—whole, flawed, broken, mending—make us who we are and we should never be ashamed of any of it.

Gill’s writing style is quite beautiful and her poems are very impactful. She writes in a way that flows very fluidly and is easy to become swept up in. She uses an even mix of her thoughts and personal experiences, making this work very relatable. I connected well with all of it, even when the topics were not similar to any experience I have dealt with in my life. Every subject is addressed in a way that is universally understandable. There is much value to be found and many things to be learned throughout this entire collection.

She brought out the emotion in every single poem and essay very vividly and made every moment memorable. Her writing is lyrical without becoming too flowery, which strengthens the depth and meaningfulness of each piece. The efficacy of Gill’s words is heightened through their frankness. She is poetic but very raw and honest—her writing is candid, focused, and doesn’t mess about. That kind of fearless writing makes a collection like this powerful and relatable. This is definitely something I can see myself returning to read many times in the future.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon

ziggystardustandmeZiggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon

My Rating: 4.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: August 6th, 2019

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

Pages: 368 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA. 

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is an incredibly beautiful and powerful novel. It is quite a heavy and emotional story and an absolutely stellar debut. I learned so much more about the 1970s and the LGBT community at the time. We get insight into society’s atrocious treatment of same-sex couples and the brave individuals who stood up for themselves and championed the freedom to love. This is such an important novel, particularly for young adult readers that did not grow up in this time period. It is a raw and moving snapshot of a time of great injustice but also of strength and the courage of standing up for what you believe in.

In this novel, we follow a teenage boy named Jonathan who is going through the process of discovering his true self and sexuality. He is facing the intolerance and attempted suppression of homosexuality that plagued society in the 1970s. These feelings are treated as a mental illness and Jonathan has come to believe that he is sick and needs to be cured. He copes with life by entering the safety of his imagination, getting advice and guidance from his hero, David Bowe’s Ziggy Stardust, as well as his mother who passed away after his birth.

Due to pressures from a variety of sources—his very close-minded father included—Jonathan has been undergoing painful and, quite frankly, inhumane treatments that he hopes will “cure” him. However, before he finishes he meets a new classmate named Web—someone who is fearless, strong-willed and, most importantly, not ashamed to be gay.  Before he knows it, Web is completely changing his world and taking him on an adventure through love that he never dared to consider.

Jonathan’s story had my heart from the very beginning. Hearing his thoughts through all the events of this novel is equal parts hilarious, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Watching him grow so much and gradually accept himself over the course of the narrative is wonderful and I found myself feeling extremely proud of him. Every up and every down touches your core and makes you become increasingly invested in his story. This gripped me and held me until the final page and even well after finishing.

Every single character, both good and bad, in this novel is crafted incredibly well. Jonathan and Web are definitely two of my new favorite literary characters. They are two truly beautiful human beings—inside and out—and their relationship is done to absolute perfection. I adored every moment they spent together and there was one scene in particular toward the end of the novel that has genuinely become one of my favorite scenes from any novel I’ve ever read. I have been constantly replaying so many of their interactions in my mind since I finished reading this book and I love that.

Brandon does an amazing job of capturing the mind of a teenage boy going through this rough and confusing time in his life. It is so easy to connect with and feel for Jonathan, as he is so clearly and vividly portrayed. Each scene in the story is packed with so much detail and sentiment they are almost tangible. It is as if you are right there beside Jonathan, watching him grow and transform and always cheering him on. Brandon’s writing transports the reader back in time and right into the middle of things, making for a wholly unique and sweeping narrative.

The only minor issue that I faced was my personal connection to the writing style. Since we are in first person following Jonathan’s point of view, we get to hear all his thoughts as they happen. For me, it felt like it had a sort of stream of consciousness quality to it. I didn’t entirely click with it and it took some getting used to each time I picked the book up. But this was completely a personal thing, not a problem with the actual writing itself. As I’ve said, it is very beautifully written and that stream of thoughts that bounces quickly from one thing to another fits Jonathan perfectly.

Ziggy, Stardust and Me is an absolutely essential read in my opinion. It is a raw and unflinching look at the horrors of intolerance and the length people believed one should go to in order to rid themselves of these feelings they could not—or would not try to—understand. It is a book that will have a great impact on all of its’ readers and on the young adult literary world in general. We get a picture of what it was like for gay people living in this time and the painful and damaging emotional turmoil inflicted on them just for being themselves.

The importance of looking back on our history and learning from the mistakes in order to improve society is particularly important for this generation of readers. Love is love and that will always be true. Here we can find a message of the significance of being open-minded and helping continue the fight for equality. This is a story that will stick with me for a very long time. I look forward to reading future novels by James Brandon.

4.5 TARDISes

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Review: His Hideous Heart edited by Dahlia Adler

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hishideousheartHis Hideous Heart edited by Dahlia Adler

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: September 10th, 2019

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Pages: 480 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: “The Cask of Amontillado”. “The Tell-Tale Heart”. “The Pit and the Pendulum”. Filled with love and loss, vengeance and regret, the dark, chilling stories of Edgar Allen Poe have haunted us for over 150 years. Now, thirteen of YAs most celebrated writers reimagine Poe’s stories for a new generation.

These contemporary retellings will grab readers by the throat and drag them along to surprising and unsettling places, whether they are Poe aficionados or new newcomers to these classics. Tiffany D. Jackson, award-winning author of Monday’s Not Coming, transports “The Cask of Amontillado” to the streets of Brooklyn during the present day West Indian Day Carnival in Brooklyn. Poet amanda lovelace finds new meaning in the classic poem “The Raven” by blotting out words from the original lines. And Kendare Blake, New York Times bestselling author of the Three Dark Crowns series, gives the unreliable voice narrating “Metzengerstein” a contemporary edge.

With the original stories printed in the back of the book, HIS HIDEOUS HEART offers up a fun way to meet Poe for the first time, or for readers to revisit old favorites with fresh eyes. His work reminds us why we love to be scared, whether we get that thrill from watching the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, visiting a haunted house at Halloween, or by reading Poe’s spine-tingling stories.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

“Once upon a midnight dreary,
I received a review query,
About this very quaint and curious volume of Poe’s retold lore…”

First off, I have to start by saying I was incredibly tempted to write this entire review as a poem in the style of “The Raven” but, unfortunately (…or perhaps fortunately), I think that far exceeds my creative writing talents.

I know I am pointing out the obvious at this point, but this is a collection of thirteen YA authors’ contemporary retellings of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works. The authors have taken these chilling stories and reimagined them for a new generation of readers. These modernized versions are hauntingly unique yet still retain much of Poe’s signature tone and style while paying homage to the beloved originals. Thrills and chills, love, heartbreak, and revenge can all be found within these pages, forming a collection that further immortalizes these classic tales.

As a lover of all things dark and creepy, I immediately fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe’s work when we first studied him back in middle school. So when I heard about this collection, I absolutely had to give it a read—and I was not disappointed. As with any anthology with multiple authors, you’re going to have some hits and some misses. However, I found that the focus here on Poe retellings helped to unify the stories quite a lot more than other short story collections I have read. Each story possesses the vividly eerie, peculiar, longing, and vengeful qualities found in the originals and stays very faithful to Poe’s visions for them.

My favorite stories from the collection were:

Night-Tide by Tessa Gratton
Lygia by Dahlia Adler
The Oval Filter by Lamar Giles
A Drop of Stolen Ink by Emily Lloyd-Jones
The Glittering Death by Caleb Roehrig
The Fall of the Bank of Usher by Fran Wilde

Now, I’ll go into some specifics about each of the individual stories and my thoughts on them.

She Rode a Horse of Fire by Kendare Blake (3.5/5)
Inspired by “Metzengerstein”

In this story, we follow a girl who works in a mansion. The young master of the estate, Friedrich Baron, loses his most recent girlfriend in a fire on his property. It turns out that she was the daughter of another wealthy family who has a centuries-long feud with Friedrich’s. Then, out of nowhere one day, a young woman appears and Friedrich begins to spend all his time with her. And, somehow, this young woman has a striking resemblance to a figure in a mysterious tapestry found in the Baron estate. Though it was an interesting story, it just felt like it needed something more. I would have liked a little more clarity about who the characters are—particularly the main character—and what their relationships to each other were. The way the story is told, it makes it seem necessary to have a few more of those details. Other than that, it is a splendid update of the original story—very faithful to all the elements of the plot with a more modern twist to them!

It’s Carnival! by Tiffany D. Jackson (3/5)
Inspired by “The Cask of Amontillado”

In this story, a girl named Cindy plans to get her revenge on a man named Darrell using Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Carnival to cover her tracks. It is clear that Darrel has been harassing her and her family relentlessly for years, though not much detail is given. The Cask of Amontillado is one of my favorite Poe tales and I felt that this was a pretty accurate depiction of the general idea of the story. It unfolds in much the same way as the original and that holding back of details is similar to how Poe tells his version. I think my only real issue was that I couldn’t quite get into Jackson’s writing style. It just didn’t click with me and I felt like there was a little something missing, but overall, it is an accurate retelling.

Night-Tide by Tessa Gratton (5/5)
Inspired by “Annabel Lee”

Gratton transforms this classic poem into a short story about lost lovers. A young lady tells of a girl she loves who has tragically fallen ill and passed away. The narrator mourns her Annabel Lee, reminisces of better times, and feels anger at the intolerant whispers of the locals in this beach town. This was my favorite story in the whole collection—I absolutely adored it. It is both beautiful and utterly heartbreaking and is such a brilliant take on the original poem. Gratton did an amazing job of capturing those feelings of loss and longing that emanate from Poe’s writing. A wholly unique and imaginative retelling!

The Glittering Death by Caleb Roehrig (4.25/5)
Inspired by “The Pit and the Pendulum”

In this story, a young girl is captured by an infamous serial killer named “The Judge”. He is going to kill her because he believes she has committed many sins and he wants her to confess them before her time comes. While trapped in a cage in his basement, she realizes she will have to determine how to beat him at his own game if she wants to get out alive. This is just begging to be turned into a full-length psychological thriller novel! The one thing I felt it was lacking was a bit more backstory for the main character. There were a number of plot points, specifically about her relationships with a couple other characters, that were only vaguely touched on. The fact that these plot points were brought up in the first place made some more detail necessary in order to fully develop the story.

A Drop of Stolen Ink by Emily Lloyd-Jones (4.5/5)
Inspired by “The Purloined Letter”

In this story, society has reached a point where our entire identities are written in a tattoo on our bodies that can be scanned whenever our details are needed. This makes it nearly impossible for a person’s identity to be stolen. However, that very thing has happened, and it is up to our main character to find the missing tattoo. Classic mystery/thriller style plot meets futuristic tech? Sign me up! I absolutely loved this story—it was definitely my kind of thing. Once again, this is another story that I would absolutely love seeing turned into a full novel!

Happy Days, Sweetheart by Stephanie Kuehn (2/5)
Inspired by “The Tell-Tale Heart”

In this story, we follow a girl who is dealing with a lot of pressure from herself to be the best but is struggling with being a minority in her school. She continuously loses out to a rich, white boy who does not put the same effort into things as she does. As the end of senior year approaches, she will do anything to become valedictorian. The Tell-Tale Heart is another one of my favorite Poe stories. However, I ended up not really liking this retelling. I do think it was very accurate and featured many of the important plot elements from the original. And, while I definitely understand the message Kuehn is trying to convey, I feel that this particular story is just not the right one to use in order to do that. I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about this one.

The Raven (Remix) by Amanda Lovelace (N/A)
Inspired by “The Raven”

This is a blackout poetry version of “The Raven” (one of my favorite poems of all time). Essentially, Lovelace takes the original poem and blacks out portions of the text in order to reveal a new poem that she has created from Poe’s words. Unfortunately, there was an error here with the digital ARC and nothing was blacked out, so I cannot give a rating or review on this one. However, I absolutely love Amanda Lovelace and her poetry is always so beautiful and creative. I am certain I will enjoy reading this when the collection officially releases.

Changeling by Marieke Nijkamp (4/5)
Inspired by “Hop-Frog”

In this story, the children in society who are deemed “crippled” are either being treated unfairly or just left to fend for themselves. There is a tale of the fae coming to gather these children and bring them to a better life that many of them are hopeful is true. We follow a character who was once found and taken in by the fae and who now does the same for others—while also aiding them if they wish to take revenge on those who have wronged them. This one felt like a dark fairytale and I loved that. It was definitely an interesting and unique take on the original story.

The Oval Filter by Lamar Giles (5/5)
Inspired by “The Oval Portrait”

This is the story of a guy named Tariq whose girlfriend has recently been murdered. Suddenly, she is haunting his Instagram feed, her constantly changing image in the oval profile picture helping lead Tariq to discover who has killed her. I had not read The Oval Portrait prior to this but I ended up absolutely loving both versions. Giles definitely captures the highly unsettling nature of the original work using our modern-day portraits—profile pictures. The changing image in the oval filter is described so vividly and the way it is used is truly creepy. Giles did a fantastic job of setting a clear and intense tone and atmosphere in a short amount of time.

Red by Hillary Monahan (2/5)
Inspired by “The Masque of the Red Death”

Despite being familiar with and having studied The Masque of the Red Death, I was honestly quite confused by this story. I couldn’t really figure out what was happening. We follow this mysterious girl with red hair and it is clear that she is some sort of otherworldly being out for revenge. But that’s about all I figured out. There are many references to names used within the original story, such as the bar the girl ends up at having the same name and distinct internal color scheme as the home where the guests are hiding from the plague in Poe’s version. The ending produces the same result as the original text. However, I could not figure out why anything was happening or anything about the girl and what exactly she is. I do have to give Monahan credit for making such a fascinatingly atmosphere setting, though.

Lygia by Dahlia Adler (5/5)
Inspired by “Ligeia”

In this story, our main character loses the girl she is deeply in love with to cancer. Then one day at school, she passes Lygia’s locker only to see a new girl who is somewhat reminiscent of Lygia—reminiscent enough that the narrator begins to do everything she can to make her the spitting image of Lygia. This is exactly the type of story that I love and I desperately wish this was a full-length novel. And that ending! I totally want to hear more of this story. I read the original “Ligeia” alongside this one as I had not read it before and felt that it was a very unique yet accurate retelling.

The Fall of the Bank of Usher by Fran Wilde (4/5)
Inspired by “The Fall of the House of Usher”

Here, we follow twins who, together, are the hacker phenom “Madrik”. They receive an email inviting them to a bank in need of their skills to test their new security system. Once the twins arrive, however, it is clear that something much more sinister is at play. The sci-fi/hacker story nerd in me was very pleased with this one. The only “complaint” I had was that I wish this had been longer. There were so many fascinating pieces of technology I wanted more details on, and I would have loved to hear more of the twins’ backstory. Nevertheless, I thought this was an absolutely brilliant modernization of the original tale. Taking the creepy and inexplicable things that ensnare the house in the original story and transforming them into things like biotech and robotics was so great!

The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay by Rin Chupeco (3/5)
Inspired by “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

In this story, we follow a transgender girl as she falls in love with a man who takes her on a wild journey. She marvels at his attention to detail and remarkable powers of deduction. After spending days together exploring the area, they find out that a double murder has taken place and they are swept up into the investigation. This kind of had some Sherlock Holmes vibes, which I liked. It was an interesting story, but I never felt like I was all that invested in it or the characters. I think part of it was the writing style. I have read and enjoyed Rin Chupeco’s work in the past, but have also found her writing style a bit difficult to get in to. It was a very faithful retelling of the original, however, with a neat, fantastical twist!

Overall, I had a really great time reading this. I definitely very highly recommend giving this collection a go if you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe or any of these wonderful YA authors!

4.0 TARDISes

Dahlia Adler is an Associate Editor of mathematics by day, a blogger for B&N Teens, LGBTQ Reads, and Frolic by night, and an author of Young Adult and New Adult novels at every spare moment in between. Her books include the Daylight Falls duology, Just Visiting, and the Radleigh University trilogy, and her short stories can be found in the anthologies The Radical Element, All Out, It’s a Whole Spiel, and His Hideous Heart, which she also edited. Dahlia lives in New York with her husband, son, and an obscene amount of books, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @MissDahlELama.

Contributors:

Dahlia Adler
Kendare Blake
Rin Chupeco
Lamar Giles
Tessa Gratton
Tiffany D. Jackson
Stephanie Kuehn
Emily Lloyd-Jones
amanda lovelace
Hillary Monahan
Marieke Nijkamp
Caleb Roehrig
Fran Wilde

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Review: One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

onelittlesecretblogtour

onelittlesecretOne Little Secret by Cate Holahan

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: July 9th, 2019

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 320 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town – and desperate for some kid-free conversation – she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

A taut, locked room mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, One Little Secret promises to keep readers eyes glued to the pages and debating the blinders that we all put on in the service of politeness.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Going in, this book seemed like it would be right up my alley in terms of the types of mystery/thriller novels I enjoy. So I am disappointed to say that I came out with rather mixed feelings about it—it was just a bit underwhelming for me. On the one hand, this story is packed with a few too many clichés and there are a number of elements of the plot that could have been executed better. On the other hand, it is a fast and fairly entertaining read that still completely held my attention all the way through. All this being said, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of my issues with the narrative are simply connected to my personal taste.

The characters that make up the intriguing cast of this story are definitely not particularly likable people. The tension in the house is incredibly palpable with the constant stilted interactions, nasty thoughts, and full-blown arguments. And they will immediately have you questioning why in the world they would ever agree to go on vacation together for a week in the first place. Despite this, there are still redeemable qualities in some of them and not everyone is quite as bad as they seem in the beginning.

Though my mixed feelings really apply to every aspect of this novel, I thought the characterization was decent. I found most of the characters to be realistic and thought they had a good amount of dimension. The majority of them evolved—along with my opinion of them—as the story progressed and as more of their backgrounds were revealed. Many of them are dislikable, but in a very purposeful way—you are meant to be suspicious of them for a while, and almost all of them do end up acting poorly at some point. I did feel like this only added to their believability. There are a couple characters—only one main one—who are quite one dimensional and somewhat unrealistic, but this is avoided for the most part.

Quite honestly, this novel is absolutely full of adult mystery novel clichés. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Commonly used elements can still make for a great story and I do not think that this is an entirely negative thing when it comes to this one. I do think it is a bit overdone. The topics used to create drama between the couples and in the plot of the novel overall are well written for what they are. There are scenes of domestic abuse that are so realistically portrayed they are quite intense and hard to read. The themes of betrayal are very vivid and the moments of insecurity are extremely relatable. All in all, Holahan truly brings every theme dealt with in this novel to life in a multi-dimensional way.

The issue here—and it is certainly more related to personal preference than an actual problem with the story—is that these commonly used plot points became too overwhelming. Trying to crowd all of them in caused the originality of the narrative to take a significant hit. Every unique moment is overshadowed by tropes like infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, and petty arguments. Though these topics are common in many novels and add a good deal of tension and drama, there needs to be more substance. In this novel, it felt like one was being piled onto the next just for the sake of raising more issues for the couples rather than actually building or progressing the plot.

The most major element of the novel that I feel could have been executed better is the creation of suspicion in the reader’s mind. A mystery novel should allow the reader to form their own thoughts about and distrust in the possible culprits by subtly directing their attention to potential motives. While Holahan does do that in some ways, it lacks a lot of that subtlety and ends up coming across as a bit forced. Though every person in the house is clearly going to be a suspect, there are constant and far too obvious reminders of why they could be guilty. It becomes very over-the-top and detracts from the suspense of the plot.

I definitely think Holahan could have left a little room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about each of the characters’ potential for being the killer. Developing them more naturally and relying solely on laying out personalities and backstories with the progression of the plot would have allowed for this. It is easy to get a clear picture of each character and form one’s own opinion based on the way she does these things over the course of the novel. However, too often the narrative strays toward a less delicate way of weaving in distrust of the characters, instead, pointing the finger quite plainly from one person to the next.

Another element of the novel I feel could have been executed better is the narrowing down of suspects over the course of the story. As the narrative progresses, each of the potential killers is cleared one by one until there are only two left in the end. This approach, for me, sort of killed the suspense. It would have kept me more on the edge of my seat if Holahan had left a few more options in there. This, though, is undeniably something that did not work for me personally and could easily be perfectly fine for a different reader. As it stands, I found the ending to be extremely predictable and it fell rather flat. I have to say, the choice of the killer upset me a bit for a number of reasons as well.

The writing itself is a strong point in this book. I really like Holahan’s writing style—it flows very naturally and is easy to get into. Her descriptions are very vivid and help to pull the reader into the story. She sets the scene for all the mystery and deception well, forming an environment that reflects the tone and emotion of each scene. The narrative never lacks realism, helping to immerse the reader and connect them with the setting and characters.

Now, after all that I have said, it may seem like this reading experience was a primarily negative one, but that is not entirely true. There were a lot of issues I personally had with it but, as I said before, I doubt they would apply to everyone. Personal taste was a big factor here. Also, I was very engaged in the story. I did not absolutely love it but it held my attention from beginning to end and I was truly interested in finding out how everything would resolve. Despite the predictability of many plot points, there were still enough surprises to keep me guessing. Overall, this is a novel that I would recommend giving a try. I know it is something that plenty of readers will find enjoyment in.

2.5 TARDISes

Author Bio:

13482092Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Widower’s Wife, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns, all published by Crooked Lane Books. The Widower’s Wife was named to Kirkus’ best books of 2016. An award-winning journalist and former television producer, she has written for BusinessWeek, The Boston Globe, and The Record newspaper. Her short fiction won first place in the 19th annual Calliope competition, a magazine published by the writer’s group of American Mensa. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, ages 7 and 5, and dog Westley. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002.

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Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

scarletScarlet by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2

Date Published: February 5th, 2013

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Pages: 454 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. 

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

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This is a spoiler-free review, but does contain some spoilers for the previous novel, Cinder.

It has taken me an absurdly long time but I have finally continued on with this series. And I am glad I did because it was so wonderful to be back in this world with these characters. I enjoyed Scarlet just as much, if not more than Cinder. This was another incredibly fun and exciting ride with an eclectic and loveable cast of characters. Even though these novels are starting to feel a bit young for me, I still absolutely adore this world and these tales. A fast-paced, heart-pounding ride from beginning to end, Scarlet is a wonderful installment in an already fantastic series.

Scarlet is the second novel in The Lunar Chronicles, a series of four novels, each loosely based on a classic fairytale. In this novel, we pick up exactly where the previous one left off. Cinder is making her escape from prison with a rather unexpected companion, Carswell Thorne. Meanwhile, Scarlet Benoit’s story begins. Her grandmother has suddenly gone missing and she is desperate to find her. However, no one in law enforcement seems to want to help her, so she decides to take matters into her own hands.

When Scarlet meets a street fighter named Wolf, she finds out that he might be the key to finding her grandmother. So, reluctantly—at least at first—she teams up with him to solve the mystery. Along the way, their path crosses with that of Cinder and Thorne—fugitives on the run—which leads to even more mysteries and surprising revelations. This ragtag group of heroes must stay one step ahead of the evil Queen Levana, figure out how to save Prince Kai, and not get caught in the meantime.

I have always been a massive fan of reading all sorts of retellings, particularly fairytale retellings; I have found myself tending to gravitate toward them a lot, especially in recent years. A reimagining of a classic tale is tricky to perfect, and while you do not want an exact copy of the original, you also do not want a retelling straying too far or going wild with strange twists and concepts that detract from the main message. But Marissa Meyer is a genius at this.

This fairy tale retelling is a lot more loosely based on the Little Red Riding Hood tale as opposed to Cinder, which I felt followed the tale of Cinderella a little more closely. While I absolutely adored Cinder and love retellings that stick pretty close to the original, Scarlet ends up being even more exciting and unpredictable. Just like with Cinder, however, I definitely feel that this novel lands perfectly in that area of unique yet still faithful to the original fairytale.

I’ve said before, I do find that it can be difficult to reinterpret a story in a unique yet solid way, and it definitely tends to be either a major hit or a huge miss. The plot that Meyer created for this novel, however, was spot on once again. She skillfully weaves sci-fi elements into this already established and well-known narrative. She builds characters that remind us of those in the old tales but who are distinctive and fit perfectly into her world and the reimagining. Meyer creates a novel that not only pays homage to a timeless tale but also ends up being a very singular story in itself, and it is distinctively her own.

We have some excellent additions to the cast of characters in this series on top of the amazing ones already involved. I really love Scarlet. She is another strong female lead who can hold her own. And her personality is so dynamic. She can be sassy and sarcastic but also tender and caring. She comes across as being a truly beautiful person. I am looking forward to seeing more of her, in particular, her relationships with Cinder and Wolf.

I also understand now why everyone always raves about Thorne—he is the greatest. I am so excited to see more of him in the next few novels, but he is already one of my new favorite characters of all time. And then there’s Wolf. My Wolf (…wait, did I say that out loud?). I am not someone who finds book boyfriends too often, but I think we’ll have to make an exception for Wolf. And I do really love seeing him and Scarlet together. They have a lot of chemistry from the very start—the way they play off each other is done so well. And I’ll admit it, I’m definitely shipping them.

Cinder is still as incredible as ever. She is such a strong heroine—intelligent, brave, unwilling to give up even after all the upheaval she is experiencing. She is facing seemingly impossible odds, but she pushes forward. And at the same time, she is not perfect. We get to see her flaws, her insecurities and anxieties. This adds a great amount of depth to both her story and the entire plot as a whole. She is a beautifully well-rounded character and it is interesting to see how she evolves over the course of these novels.

Once again, I really enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s writing. She has a talent for transforming these tales into something so unique, enchanting, and full of intriguing technology and magic. Her words flow beautifully and make her stories so easy to get sucked into. She has again created some great visuals with her incredibly vivid descriptions and well-developed settings. She further brings the world to life around the reader by making almost palpable emotions and an atmosphere to match. This draws the reader in and allows them to put themselves in every situation the characters are dealing with.

I think I’ve probably made this abundantly clear after all this gushing but I seriously loved this book and this series remains one of my all-time favorites. I loved immersing myself in this world again and getting to explore it even further. I particularly enjoy learning about all the fascinating and unique technology that it is filled with, and we get plenty of that in this novel. The plot is very fast-paced and exciting and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never wanted to put it down. I cannot wait to move on to the next book, which I have a feeling I will be doing very soon.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

theassassinsapprenticeAssassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Farseer Trilogy #1

Date Published: April 1st, 1995

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Pages: 392 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.

So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I went into this novel with what seemed like absurdly high expectations and it managed to not only meet but exceed all of those expectations. Having heard so many wonderful things about Robin Hobb’s novels, I was certain I would enjoy it, but I never expected to fall so in love with this absolutely beautiful piece of literature. Assassin’s Apprentice captivated me from page one. Literally. One day, I picked it up just to try out a few pages and there was no stopping me after that. I devoured every aspect of this narrative, was enchanted by the magic, enthralled by the political intrigue, and surprised by all the twists and turns. This world and its characters completely ensnared me and I never wanted to leave.

In this novel, we follow Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, and a royal bastard. As a young boy, he is abandoned and sent to live in the royal household where he is written off, shunned by most he comes across. He begins his time here living with the stable master, Burrich, and finding what little companionship he has with the animals he works and lives with. When a magical art, called the Wit, makes itself evident within him, he finds peace, and even love, with the intense link this power allows him to have with his animal friends. Despite the danger of it and the nobility’s distaste for such powers, it is his lifeline in a world that wishes he never existed.

From the day he gets dropped off at the Farseer door, we are witness to many years of Fitz’s struggle to fit in, grow up, and to simply just survive as a reluctantly tolerated member of this royal family. When he one day garners the attention of the king, he is thrust into a life of lessons that befit a child of the Farseer name—and there is something more. Under cover of night, Fitz is being trained to become a powerful, royal assassin. And with strange goings-on at court and the growing underpinnings of corruption among royals, Fitz may just have his work cut out for him.

Robin Hobb’s writing is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read. She completely captures the high fantasy style of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which I have always thought had such a unique and particularly enchanting quality to it. This is the sort of writing that truly made me into the fantasy lover that I am today, and there was this very poignantly nostalgic feel that wrapped around me until the final page. To say she has a talent for crafting an emotionally vivid and intriguingly complex narrative is an understatement. The way she has woven each and every element seamlessly together to create a multi-layered and unforgettable tale is remarkable.

Now, when I say this novel is complex, I definitely do not mean that it is challenging to follow or understand. Personally, I was blown away by how easily I fell into the many branches of this storyline. There is so much intricate detailed poured into every moment—into every event and setting and relationship. Years go by and new knowledge, twists, and turns fill each page and never once does it become muddled or overwhelming. Hobb writes in such a way that effortlessly carries you over every single page, not allowing you to get lost along the way. So many stories and so many characters and so many twists, yet not one bit of it is left unresolved.

And as if I haven’t been gushing enough already, there is still the topic of the characters. These marvelous, three-dimensional characters that are the driving force of this novel. Fitz is an incredibly strong lead character, someone who is easy to connect and sympathize with. His story is equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-pounding, and it is impossible not to cheer for him all the way. He faces such massive obstacles and stands up to them, persevering in the most unlikely circumstances. Fitz is not one of those flawless heroes—every aspect of his life, every success and failure, is chronicled in these pages. His growth throughout the narrative as he fights to give himself a life is awe-inspiring.

Every single character Robin Hobb creates in this story is multi-dimensional and fully fleshed out. They are all made into a significant element of the overall narrative, contributing in some way, however small, to the unfolding of the plot. I thought Hobb did a brilliant job building each and every one of her characters with care and precision.

Chade and the Fool were two of my absolute favorites. From the second they enter, they are both depicted with a vivid and striking characterization that makes them unforgettable. Another favorite of mine was Verity Farseer. He is truly a gentleman—a compassionate, intelligent, and hard-working man who stands up for what he believes in and puts the welfare of his people above anything else. And, just on a side note, he may also be one of my new book boyfriends.

As I am sure you have already guessed, I adored this novel with all my heart, and it has turned me into a complete Robin Hobb addict. This was such a satisfying read and is one that will continue to stick with me throughout my entire life, both as a reader and as a writer. It is this type of work that inspires me so greatly when it comes to my own personal writing, as fantasy is my genre of choice.

It is rare to find a book that impacts me quite as much as this one did—one that rekindles that initial feeling I had as I discovered my love of reading—and which reminds me why I am so passionate about literature. The next book, Royal Assassin, is sitting in front of me as we speak, and I am so eager to throw myself back into this world. If you have not tried out Robin Hobb’s novels, I highly recommend giving this one a go.

5.0 TARDISes

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