Book Review – Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

If you’re looking for a haunted house vibe, Gallant by V.E. Schwab is the perfect book. I wouldn’t call it Horror, but it has a sinister tension all throughout the novel that I found equal parts comforting and terrifying. 

Olivia Prior, our scrappy main character, has always seen whispers of ghouls and shadows lurking around Merilance School for Girls. After receiving an invitation to return home to a family she’s never known, Olivia ignores the warnings in her late mother’s journal and journeys to Gallant. 

The secrets of her family begin to unravel as she uncovers the truth of who she is. The decision to take her place with the Priors or follow in her father’s footsteps weighs on her as she explores Gallant.

“When people see tears, they stop listening to your hands or your words or anything else you have to say. And it doesn’t matter if the tears are angry or sad, frightened or frustrated. All they see is a girl crying.”

V.E. Schwab, Gallant

This novel is a campfire ghost story brought to life. As always, Schwab is a fantastic story-teller, weaving a tale that grips and pulls you through the end. There is a slow build, but it’s worth the wait. My compulsion to call haunted house stories cozy says a lot about me, but this story wrapped me up in a warm blanket. The only thing missing was hot chocolate and a fire. 

Gallant has a strong Rory Power (author of Wilder Girls and Burn Our Bodies Down) vibe, in that the descriptions drive the terror and the constant anxiety of the story climbs in a steady pace. It’s somehow horrifying without the gore and jump scares. 

“Safe does not mean happy, does not mean well, does not mean kind.”

V.E. Schwab, Gallant

I don’t know if I have to give you a criticism or explanation of why Gallant didn’t reach five stars for me, but here goes. Calm, cozy, warm – those are the words that come to mind for this. It was a simple and enjoyable story. And it was perfect for me when I read it, but it wasn’t hard to put down during reading sessions. My life wasn’t somehow altered by this story or the characters.
Every book won’t do that, and that’s okay. But if you’re looking for an easy read to lose yourself in – I highly recommend Gallant.

Book Review – Autumn’s Tithe by Hannah Parker

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / 5

With Hannah Parker announcing the release date for Autumn’s Traitor (December 9, 2022), the second book in The Severed Realms Trilogy, I thought it was about time I wrote my review for Autumn’s Tithe

For me, nothing hits home quite like a badass female main character – and Larken is everything I could have hoped for.

Autumn’s Tithe by Hannah Parker is the first book in The Severed Realms Trilogy, and I can assure you I will be picking up the follow-on novels the moment they are released. 

Ballamor, the human realm, is separated from the faery realm of Airodion except for seven days a year when faery royalty crosses into Ballamor to select a human girl for tithe. Most young girls dream of the day they are chosen for a beautiful life in the faery realm.

Larken has never cared for luxury, let alone among the fey, but when she learns something is amiss with the fey and her best friend may be in trouble, she crosses the bridge into Airodion to find her only friend and bring her home. 

This book has it all – gorgeous descriptions of the fey and their lands and a Nancy Drew vibe where we are solving puzzles and traveling the lands in search of answers. It’s rounded out with an eerie feeling that the darkness running throughout this story is more than we could ever imagine. 

Where the story falls short is Larken’s relationship with the faery prince, Finder, and with overall character development. The story is well-written, the imagery is painted beautifully, but I’m not fully convinced of Finder and Larken’s connection. We spend so much time learning about the dynamics and history of the world itself, sometimes the characters are lost. 

I’m hoping this was a creative decision and as we move through this trilogy, we build a better relationship with our characters and learn more about their relationships with each other. I’ll still be picking up book two and hope to learn more about our characters individually and their relationships with each other.

Book Review – Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

The Bookish Box once again delivered a gem to my doorstep. Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross paints a gorgeous and captivating world filled with complex and intricate characters. From the moment I was introduced to Azenor, I wanted more. 

I remember sitting on my back porch and cracking the book open, unsure of how I would feel about it. After reading the first page, I ran back inside to read it aloud to my husband – in complete awe of Rebecca Ross’s ability to paint a picture in such an inventive and spectacular way. 

The dream world comes to life in Azenor every new moon, bringing the imagined into a harsh and terrible reality. Clementine Madigan and her father protect their small town from these monthly horrors until two magicians show up challenging them for the title of warden. 

After being forced to leave her town, Clem only has one thing on her mind – revenge – but as events unfold there are more twists and unexpected turns than I could predict. 

“Dreams often revealed one’s greatest vulnerability; dreams were doors that led into hearts and minds and souls and secrets.”

Rebecca Ross, Dreams Lie Beneath

The magic, characters, and plot in Dreams Lie Beneath are unlike anything else I’ve read in my 30-ish years of reading fantasy literature. This book is a flawless piece of art that will dig its claws in and never let you go. 

The true highlight was Clem – our heroine and all around badass. She reminds me of Jude Duarte, and I can’t think of a higher compliment than that. 

Now – the not-so-fun part – what didn’t work. 

This was an amazing story and I was enthralled, always wanting to read more. But I did not connect with the characters or story on a personal or emotional level. Not every book will change my life, and that’s okay. Unfortunately this falls in that category for me. 

If you haven’t read a Rebecca Ross novel yet, I highly recommend you pick up one of her many books next time you’re at the bookstore. She has a talent for bringing unique stories to life. You won’t regret it.

Book Review – It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

Genre: Fiction; Romance

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

Verity by Colleen Hoover is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while, so going into one of CoHo’s romance novels – I was a bit nervous.

I have complicated feelings about this novel, much like I did with Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom (review here). So while there are 5 stars up there, take the time to read through this one because it’s not as simple as me loving it or enjoying it. 

It Ends With Us follows Lily, jumping from past to present, as she explores love, pain, and abuse throughout her life. She’s worked hard to escape her hometown and build a life and business of her own. When her father dies, she’s pulled back to memories of him and her first love – Atlas Corrigan. 

Queue Ryle Kincaid, a gorgeous neurosurgeon, who shows Lily what life could be like in the perfect marriage, perfect relationship, and perfect life. But then memories of her childhood begin to repeat themself in her current relationship and it all begins to crack. 

She finds herself leaning on her longtime flame, Atlas, and confused by it all.

“Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.”

Colleen Hoover, It Ends with Us

When I talked my husband through the synopsis of this book (with a few more details/spoilers) his response was “hits a little too close to home, don’t you think”? 

Occasionally I get really personal on here, and this is going to be one of those times.

While I myself have never been in a physically abusive relationship, my father was abusive. My earliest childhood memories are filled in fear and intimidation and stories of the horrific things my mom had to experience and I sometimes witnessed.

So for me this novel showed me what my life could have been like if my mom didn’t leave my father or if I didn’t have the self-awareness and strength to ensure I broke the cycle of abuse. I felt like I was reading an alternate reality version of my life. It was upsetting and hard and I cried. But I don’t regret reading it. 

While I don’t think it’s healthy to constantly expose ourselves to the things that trigger our emotional or psychological trauma – for me, I do find it therapeutic to sometimes allow myself to submerge in those feelings. I take the time to think and process, and while I feel wrung out at the end, I feel better. 

I understand that doesn’t work for everyone.

So that’s what this novel was for me. It was a beautiful and terrible story that explores love and abuse and how hard it can be to break that cycle when it’s all you’ve ever known. I hope you take the time to read it. This is a different take on your standard romance novel, and I feel like it’s an important one. 

We read all of these fluffy rom-coms (or sexy dark romances) and live in these fantasies – it’s good to have a check sometimes and have a story that explores how complicated love can be – with yourself, your partner, your parents, your kids. 

“You can stop swimming now, Lily. We finally reached the shore.”

Colleen Hoover, It Ends with Us

Book Review – Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

This review is long overdue. Vespertine is one of the best fantasy novels I have read recently, and I really hope you decide to pick it up.

Artemisia is the hero we all need. She’s strong, independent, and 100 percent over the bullshit. She’s training to become a Gray Sister, a nun who works to cleanse spirits of the dead so they can pass peacefully. Without the Gray Sisters, the dead would return to torment the people of Loraille. 

When possessed soldiers attack Artemisia’s convent, she uses the power of an ancient spirit bound into a sacred relic. Artemisia knows there are risks to utilizing this power. The Revenant is capable of taking over completely if she isn’t careful. But a partnership forms between the pair as they work together to fight back against the evil spreading throughout Loraille. 

We have ancient religious secrets, dark magic, and unlikely friendship – what’s not to love about this story. 

“Me, the goat, the Revenant, we weren’t very different from each other in the end. Perhaps deep down inside everyone was a just a scared animal afraid of getting hurt, and that explained every confusing and mean and terrible thing we did.”

Margaret Rogerson, Vespertine

I grew up in an extremely religious environment, so the element of pushing back against corrupt religious leaders and seeking out the truth hidden among the tenants of religion used to control people speaks to me more than I expected it to.

My copy of Vespertine came from The Bookish Box, so it’s not something I had heard of or was interested in previously. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m so thankful for my subscription. Not to mention, the book itself is gorgeous. 

We love a badass heroine (with no love interest, which in my opinion really makes the story) who is putting her life on the line for people she knows would murder her if she makes the slightest misstep. But regardless she follows her intuition, revives magic long forgotten and forbidden, and saves the people who will likely be her downfall one day. 

“They would martyr me themselves to satisfy their hunger for a saint.”

Margaret Rogerson, Vespertine

Artemisia has always been an outsider and knows that isn’t going to change no matter how many lives she saves. You will be cheering for her from the moment her name appears on the page.

Margaret Rogerson wrote a reluctant hero in the best way possible. I fell in love with Artemisia and you will too.

Book Review – Lore by Alexandra Bracken

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / 5

Here we are with another popular book I didn’t enjoy as much as expected. 

I floundered for the first hundred or so pages of Lore by Alexandra Bracken trying to acquire a grasp of the backstory and the dump truck load of information thrown at the reader. I assume if you have an in-depth knowledge of Greek mythology you may fare better than I did, but it took me a while to get the hang of the different families/gods and characters. 

This novel follows Lore Perseous, a resistant heroine as she’s pulled back into a world she ran from seven years ago. As punishment for a past rebellion against Zeus, every seven years the Agon begins where all nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals. The descendents of each bloodline hunt the gods, and anyone able to kill a god seizes their divine power and immortality. 

Lore teams with her childhood friend, Castor, and Athena, one of the last original gods, in an attempt to take down a mutual enemy. 

Honestly, I find the synopsis even a little hard to follow, but after I spent some time on the book everything clicked into place and I was able to relax and enjoy the story. 

“It’s not always the truth that survives, but the stories we wish to believe. The legends lie. They smooth over imperfections to tell a good tale, or to instruct us how we should behave, or to assign glory to victors and shame those who falter. Perhaps there were some in Sparta who embodied those myths. Perhaps. But how we are remembered is less important than what we do now.”

Alexandra Bracken, Lore

The one redeeming element of this novel are the twists, turns, and unexpected moments that keep the story interesting and surprising. If it weren’t for the unpredictable story line, this may have been a one-star read for me, which is unheard of in my reviews. 

If you really enjoy Greek mythology and have a basic understanding going into this, I think you will really enjoy Lore. But if you’re like me and have zero background knowledge, there are probably better places to start in terms of novels inspired by the Greek gods.

Book Review – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Fiction; Historical Fiction; Romance; LGBT

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

Saying I read a lot would be an understatement, but despite all of that reading I rarely see pieces of myself within a novel. There are characters I want to be or characters I want to be friends with, but when I take an honest look at who I am – there are few places I see Ciera. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of those places. 

As the title suggests, our main character is Evelyn Hugo, an aging Hollywood star. Throughout her life she’s portrayed a carefully curated version of herself, but she’s ready to tell her story. No one knows why, but she reaches out to an unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job with a promise of her full story if she does it right. 

Monique, our other narrator, has seen better days. Her husband is gone, her career is stagnant, and while she may not know why Evelyn chose her – she’s going to use this opportunity to jump start her career. 

The novel is a series of conversations between Monique and Evelyn where the aging actress tells the story of her life and her many relationships, whether romantic or not, along the way. Evelyn shows no restraint or hesitation (once she gets going) when retelling her story – regardless of how it makes her look. 

“It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.”

Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

While we have two narrators, it’s not your typical jump back and forth. The novel flows like a conversation and it’s beautifully written. 

The author also portrays the characters throughout the novel without labels or definitions that often come with LGBT characters. People are so much more complex than the words we tack onto them to help us better understand. Here the characters push away that constraint and show us who they are down to their core. It’s gorgeous and made me fall deeply in love with every character introduced in this novel.

At its core this is a romance novel. While a lot of the focus is on the relationships of Evelyn Hugo, it’s also a dazzling narration of her love story with herself. It’s hard to truly fall in love with yourself and everything you are. Acceptance is so hard to cultivate when we look in the mirror. To see that reflected in this story is eye-opening. 

“People think that intimacy is about sex. But intimacy is about truth. When you realize you can tell someone your truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is ‘you’re safe with me’- that’s intimacy.”

Taylor Jenkins Reid, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

I could go on and on here about everything I love, but I’ll end with a plea that you read this one (if you haven’t already).

Book Review – The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Genre: Fiction; Romance

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 / 5

Hypothesis: Adam Carlsen might be my new favorite book boyfriend.

If you’re anything like me then you regularly find yourself scrolling through Netflix looking for the most predictable, lovable rom-com available and devour it without a complaint. They make you happy and bring joy into your life even if you know exactly how it’s going to play out.

That’s the feeling I got when reading The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood. Every guess and prediction I made throughout the book came true, but that didn’t stop me from reading this in one sitting – unable to put it down for even a second.

The main character, Olive Smith, is a third-year PhD candidate and jaded when it comes to romance, but her best friend has eyes on a man Olive already dated. So she does the only logical thing she can to convince her BFF it’s okay – she gets a fake boyfriend, who also happens to be a notorious asshole.

Our love interest, Adam Carlsen, is a hotshot on campus that has made more than a few students cry and give up their graduation dreams, but he seems to have a soft spot for Olive. 

Queue the transition from fake boyfriend to real boyfriend, and honestly one of my favorite sex scenes I’ve read in a book. 

One of my favorite elements of the novel is that each chapter starts with a hypothesis from Olive. It’s a cute way to set the scene for the upcoming part of the story and gives some insight into how Olive thinks and approaches a situation.

But what really hits home is Olive’s struggles with confidence in a male dominated field of work. She’s busting her ass and dealing with assholes who may not think she has what it takes. Eventually she realizes her potential and stands up for herself. Honestly, I was more excited about that part than the romance. I love a badass, powerful woman who takes zero bullshit.

“Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

-Ali Hazelwood, The Love Hypothesis

If you love a fake boyfriend trope, Alpha male protects his girl, sappy romance – this is the book for you. I have already bookmarked Ali Hazelwood’s next novel Love on the Brain and her STEMinist novellas all coming out this year. 

With just this one book Ali Hazelwood jumped to the top of my list for romance writers. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Book Review – The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / 5

I love the idea of The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige. I purchased this book solely because I thought the cover was gorgeous, and once I read the synopsis I knew it had the potential to be a favorite of mine. While it didn’t hit “OMG I HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE” status it was still a fun read. 

Westerly College’s sorority Kappa Rho Nu isn’t just a sorority – it’s a coven hiding behind the facade of a sorority. And they aren’t just anyone among the Greek life – they are the best and brightest, the envy of everyone on campus.

Throughout the novel we switch between the perspectives of Vivi Deveraux, a freshman looking to find her place and set down roots after a life of moving from place to place with her mom, and Scarlett Winters, a legacy Raven with her sights set on becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Following the initial meet for the new members, Vivi and Scarlett are pinned together as big and little for initiation.

Queue the big secret that could ruin it all for Scarlett, throw in some “she’s stealing my man drama,” and a few dead and/or missing bodies and you’ve got yourself The Ravens.

If you like mother/daughter drama – this is the book for you; if you like catty interactions in girl friend groups – this is the book for you; if you like Mean Girls – this is the book for you. Nothing is as it seems in this novel from the girls glamouring themselves to change their physical appearance to evil witches hiding in plain sight.

This one is definitely slow to start, but once we get into the magic and #drama it really takes off. We start with the assumption that this is your stereotypical sorority with your stereotypical sorority girls – obsessed with image and overall self-centered people. The authors work to shift that for us a bit throughout the novel, and they do an okay job. But I would have liked to see more of this. 

If you want a fun and easy read, The Ravens is a good place to start. It’s always nice when you buy a book because of a pretty cover and end up liking the book as well. The sequel The Monarchs came out earlier this year, but I haven’t picked it up yet. If I do, expect a review for that one as well.

Book Review – Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Genre: Fiction; Thriller

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ / 5

I had high hopes starting Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell. I read her novel And Then She Was Gone and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, this time around didn’t do it for me and left me wanting more from the story. It’s marked as a thriller, but mostly it’s just a story about a few people keeping mildly interesting secrets to themselves until “the big reveal”.

Invisible Girl is a weird and winding story about Owen Pick, a 30-year-old living in his aunt’s spare bedroom; Saffyre Maddox, a girl stalking her ex-therapist; and the Fours family. 

Everyone around Owen expects the worst and his life is beginning to fall apart. He’s pushed to his final breaking point after he’s identified as the last person to see Saffyre Maddox alive before she disappeared. Owen’s plot line is one of the more interesting parts of the novel, but for the first third of the book I hated it. In a time of frustration, Owen turns to the incel message boards. I was expecting that to take a different path, but it didn’t go as I predicted, which ultimately redeemed Owen as a character for me. 

Then there is Saffyre Maddox. Mysteriously disappeared, stalking her ex-psychologist, and holding a secret she’s afraid to tell anyone. Once she confides in an unexpected confidant, her story begins to unfold and ultimately leads to her disappearance. I think a lot of girls and women will be able to identify with Saffyre’s story. While I did like this character, I just found the reasons around her disappearance a little over-dramatic and a let down after the build up of the entire novel.

“It’s amazing how boring you can get away with being when you’re pretty. No one seems to notice. When you’re pretty everyone just assumes you must have a great life. People are so short-sighted, sometimes. People are so stupid.”

Lisa Jewell, Invisible Girl

And last, but certainly not least, we have the Fours Family. From the start of the novel I hated the father of the family – Roan. I typically assume the worst in men, and in his case I was right. Everyone in the family has secrets of their own and enough gaslighting to go around. 

And I can’t mention Roan without calling out his wife Cate. While I did like Cate, she’s your stereotypical nosey neighbor who can’t just leave people alone. She’s watching, listening, and ultimately drawing shit conclusions about people she doesn’t even know. If not for her drawing conclusions about her “weird neighbor” the story would have unfolded differently.  

This entire novel is about three or four plot lines all tangled together by a handful of events, mostly centered around the night Saffyre Maddox disappeared. While it works, it almost doesn’t. It feels like Lisa Jewell forced the weaving of these characters and it doesn’t feel natural to me. 

And, of course, you know if you’ve read any of my other reviews – I can’t stand a thriller where everything works out perfectly in the end. The characters get the resolution they want/should expect with all of the loss being in the court of our “bad guys”. Maybe I’m terrible for wanting the characters, even the good ones, to suffer a little, but here we are. 

If you want to read a thriller by Lisa Jewell, I will recommend And Then She Was Gone a million times over Invisible Girl. This one didn’t hit the mark for me, and I don’t think it will for many others.