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 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 – Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

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

There have been only a handful of times a series captured my interest at the level I would define as “obsession”. There’s, of course, Harry Potter along with Twilight, House of Night, All Souls and now, Shadow and Bone. The best part? I have so much more of the Grishaverse left to explore. Oh, and Ben Barnes as the Darkling. He’s also the best part.

Shadow and Bone

I first read Shadow and Bone (Book #1) in preparation for the Netflix show released last year. It hooked me immediately.

The nation of Ravka is divided by the Shadow Fold, a rift of complete darkness filled with monsters who feast on humans, and the fate of the nation depends on Alina Starkov, a lonely orphan and cartographer in the First Army.

Aline’s life changes when her lifelong best friend is attacked on a journey through the Fold. She finds power she never knew she had and is immediately pulled into the world of the royal court and the Grisha, an elite group of magical soldiers led by the Darkling.

This first novel does a superb job of engaging the reader and setting the tone for the entire trilogy. We are side-by-side with Alina as she learns to navigate her new status and leaves her old life and friends behind. The tone is ominous and thrilling because at every turn we are surprised with another element of Leigh Bardugo’s excellent story-telling.

While you can guess some outcomes in this story, there will definitely be elements that catch you by surprise, which in my opinion is what moves a novel from good to great.

“They are orphans again, with no true home but each other and whatever life they can make together on the other side of the sea.”

Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone

Siege and Storm

The second novel in the trilogy, Siege and Storm (Book #2), feels a little slower and incomplete at times. But I feel that’s something all middle books struggle with because as readers we are so invested and want resolution – something that won’t come until the final book.

I will attempt to give a quick synopsis of the second book without giving away too much from the first. I can promise no big reveals. But, of course, reading the synopsis of books further along in the trilogy will always reveal something unknown about the first.

Alina is reunited with her best friend, Mal, as they try to live a life together. Following the events of Shadow and Bone, Alina attempts to hide her powers once again and live a “normal” life with the only person who has always been there for her. But, as all great hero stories go – normal is not something written into her destiny.

Our heroine continues her dance with the Darkling and attempts to unfold the mysteries of what is to come and what path she should take. Ultimately it comes down to one thing – not allowing the Darkling to acquire too much power.

“You know the problem with heroes and saints, Nikolai?” I asked as I closed the book’s cover and headed for the door. “They always end up dead.”

Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

We meet new characters in this one as our Grisha and those around them take to the sea. My favorite of our newcomers – Nikolai. He’s funny, witty, and probably the only decent character in the entire series (kidding, of course). We increase from two to three suitors for Alina’s heart, and while sometimes that can feel overwhelming in a novel, Leigh Bardugo writes it brilliantly. None of the love interests or plot lines feel forced.

Ruin and Rising

Here is where the going gets GOOD. What was this story missing so far – religious zealots?! Well, now is their time to shine. Deep and gut wrenching character development for all of our favorites? You bet. Spine tingling tension? You’ll get more than enough.

The most compelling aspect of Ruin and Rising (Book #3) is the tension building. As we tread through this story and build up to the final showdown you will slide to the edge of your seat, hold your breath, and feel your heart quicken as Alina moves toward her true purpose.

I won’t go into too much of the synopsis here in an effort to avoid spoilers, but the “big reveal” in this novel and the way everything plays out is BREATHTAKING. You will not expect it and you will love it all the more for that.

Alina prepares for her final confrontation with the Darkling and continues to explore the full extent of her power. With her own personal band of (sometimes reluctant) friends, she sets out to find the final amplifier in hopes that she can gain the power needed to bring peace to her country. All while struggling to accept the life she’s always wanted is slipping further from her reach.

“I will strip away all that you know, all that you love, until you have no shelter but mine.”

Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising

The way this novel wraps up is not typically within the obvious tropes I enjoy, but Leigh Bardugo writes it so well and I’m so in love with the characters at this point I bask in the perfection of the conclusion. It’s gorgeous, brilliant, and it will make you wish you lived in the war-torn country of Ravka.

I have so much more to say that will absolutely include spoilers, so stay tuned for my “Let’s Talk About It” post where I will talk more in depth about the Shadow and Bone Trilogy.

Book Review – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Genre: Fantasy; Fiction

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / 5

I picked up The Midnight Library by Matt Haig last year after seeing  the hype on Bookstagram and Goodreads. My expectations were high and maybe that’s why I was more critical of this novel than others I’ve read.

The Midnight Library lives in the space between life and death with endless shelves full of every possible life you could live. All you have to do is decide what choices you want to change and open a new book to experience all that particular life has to offer you. You can change a regret – like giving up on a dream you had as a child – or something small – like not saying yes to that date.

Our main character, Nora Seed, finds herself in the Midnight Library holding a heavy book full of her life’s regrets and working her way through all of the ways she could have avoided those regrets. But, of course, nothing turns out the way she thinks and there is no magical solution for a perfect life. She follows different career paths, undoes break-ups, says yes to things she previously avoided, and experiences her lives full of dreams she never followed. 

And although it was the hype that brought me here, it’s time to share my unpopular opinion – this book did not change my life. Maybe I’m too cynical or just wasn’t in the right mental space, but this was not the book for me. 

Disclaimer: I rarely like books or stories with a neat and happy ending and I’m never a fan of a predictability.

From the moment we arrived in the Midnight Library with Nora, I knew how this novel was going to end. It was well written and a fun read, but it was also predictable. 

I also found it unreasonable that Nora would be wildly successful at every career path she chose. Life doesn’t work out that way – we can’t just decide to be an Olympic athlete or a world renowned scientist. Sometimes, we decide to follow a dream and it doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would. 

All that to say – there are some beautiful parts of this novel. Matt Haig is a spectacular writer and it’s apparent on every page of this book. 

Expectation

“Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she’d had the sense that she wasn’t enough. Her parents, who both had their own insecurities, had encouraged that idea.

“She imagined, now, what it would be like to accept herself completely. Every mistake she had ever made. Every mark on her body. Every dream she hadn’t reached or pain she had felt. Every lust or longing she had suppressed. 

“She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale.

“She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best.

“And in doing so, she imagined what it was like to be free.”

In this chapter Matt Haig captures a struggle that is so human, something I think we all struggle with and should all be working toward. At the heart, this chapter sums up what this novel is about – not focusing on our regrets and how we can change ourselves, but learning to love ourselves no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done. 

I know my rating here isn’t high, but if you are someone who loves a feel good story – I recommend this novel. I guess I’m more of a doom and gloom reader.

Book Review – Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

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.

I received Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer in a recent monthly Bookish Box subscription and was immediately pulled in by the cover. I thought it was gorgeous and wanted to read it immediately. For the most part, I found it enjoyable but that’s about as far as it went. 

This novel follows two main characters – Tessa Cade and Prince Corrick – as their kingdom battles a sickness sweeping through the land bringing heartbreak and corruption. The story is set in Kandala, which is split into six sectors, some better off than others.

Prince Corrick and his brother, King Harriston, began ruling the kingdom after the assination of their parents and shortly after the sickness began to spread. While there is an elixir to hold off the effects of the sickness, access to the elixir is not available to all and only two sectors are capable of growing the delicate moonflower needed. 

This story has a strong Robin Hood vibe, with Tessa and her partner stealing moonflower from those who have an abundance and giving it to those in desperate need. As the story continues, the divide between the rich and impoverished grows until rebellion takes hold. 

“A spark of rebellion is all it takes to defy the night.”

― Brigid Kemmerer, Defy the Night

I enjoyed reading this novel and made my way through it quickly. It was an easy and fun read. Prior to picking it up, I had been on quite a book-break. This was mostly due to being sick and then the final month of pregnancy. I couldn’t stay awake to read no matter how hard I tried. 

I’m often hesitant to start books I didn’t carefully select. I’m not a fan of not finishing a novel, so I try to read the synopsis and reviews before deciding to open a book. That way I’m more confident I will finish it. Defy the Night did not disappoint. 

However, when I say this book was an easy read, I mean just that. If you are looking for some kind of unexpected ending, twist, or uniqueness to the story – this is not the novel for you. After reading two or three chapters I could have told you how this novel would play out. It’s the first book in a series, but I’m not sure I will pick up the remaining novels. I want a book that makes me think and surprises me.

I’ll also admit – the premise of a kingdom-wide sickness – I’m really just not ready for COVID-type books yet. The whole time I was reading all I heard in my mind was “pandemic” when the sickness was mentioned. The main symptom was even coughing, which didn’t help differentiate. 

Overall, I would say this isn’t a bad novel and if you’re looking for a fun and easy read, check this one out. But I’m not sure if I will be reading the remaining books in the series or recommending this one to a friend. 

“Mind your mettle, Tessa.

― Brigid Kemmerer, Defy the Night

What I’m Reading – Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

It’s time.

I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo back in the spring in preparation for the Netflix show (highly recommend) but for whatever reason I held off on the remaining books of the trilogy. But now that I’m working my way through my to-be-read (TBR) cart, it seemed like a great time to finish the trilogy and move them from the TBR cart to the bookshelves.

While I haven’t written a review of Shadow and Bone (I plan on doing one post for the entire trilogy), I did enjoy both the book and the Netflix show. So if you haven’t visited Grishaverse yet, I highly recommend picking up a Leigh Bardugo book whenever you have a chance.

I typically write these posts once I’m about 50-100 pages into a book, but I haven’t started Siege and Storm yet. Hopefully I will only have great things to say about it. So stay tuned!

Synopsis

Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Alina Starkov’s power has grown, but not without a price. She is the Sun Summoner―hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Shadow Fold. But she and Mal can’t outrun their enemies for long.

The Darkling is more determined than ever to claim Alina’s magic and use it to take the Ravkan throne. With nowhere else to turn, Alina enlists the help of an infamous privateer and sets out to lead the Grisha army.

But as the truth of Alina’s destiny unfolds, she slips deeper into the Darkling’s deadly game of forbidden magic, and further away from her humanity. To save her country, Alina will have to choose between her power and the love she thought would always be her shelter. No victory can come without sacrifice―and only she can face the oncoming storm.

Book Review – The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Genre: Dark Fantasy; Fiction

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

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang blew me away. I loved every moment I spent reading but will admit the content makes for a difficult read at times. In my opinion, that’s a testament to Kuang – her writing is so descriptive and real it elicits a deeply emotional response. 

Please note— this is not Young Adult Fiction. There are parts of this book covering heavy topics. Before diving in, please look up the trigger warnings. I would list them here, but things I would consider a trigger warning may not be the same for everyone. 

The novel centers around Rin, a poverty stricken orphan who spends her days working for her adoptive family. In an effort to escape her situation, Rin begins studying in secret in hopes of being accepted into the elite Sinegard Academy where she starts to learn she may have the ability to tap into the powers of a Shaman. 

From the moment we meet our protagonist she’s struggling and fighting to make her own way. Rin faces an uphill climb both externally with her teachers and peers and internally as she battles with the decision to let her powers as a Shaman fly free. 

While Rin deals with these personal conflicts, the Federation of Mugen invades the Nikara Empire (Rin’s home country).. Despite being a student at Singard Academy, Rin and her fellow students fight on the front lines. Her power could end the war but might also end with the loss of her humanity.

“You humans always think you’re destined for things, for tragedy or for greatness. Destiny is a myth. Destiny is the only myth. The gods choose nothing. You choose.”

R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The Poppy War is violent and graphic, but it paints such a beautifully tragic story, I couldn’t look away. I also prefer books a little more on the graphic side, even if my husband swears it makes me more jumpy and gives me nightmares. In fact, he’s been home for hours and I jumped when he walked into the kitchen earlier. 

While the novel touches on the subjects of trauma, genocide, addiction, and self-harm – it was done in a humanizing and raw way. We see the impact war can have on a country and the horrible past of a government who is just trying to hold their empire together. Pair that with Rin’s journey to discovering the true extent of her powers, and you have a powerful and emotional story.

“I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. Was she now a goddess or a monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.”

R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

Some authors include brutal descriptions and violence for the sake of those things, but in The Poppy War every scene is included for the purpose of character development, world building, and story development. I can’t think of a single scene that felt like “filler violence.” 

The descriptive writing used by Kuang to bring the brutality to life throughout the novel, also paints a vivid and clear picture of the Nikara Empire and all the provinces visited as the story unfolds. The reader witnesses the poverty in the Rooster Province, where Rin is from, and the overwhelming wealth of Sinegard along with everything in between. It truly is a gorgeous novel. 

This is a novel for people who enjoy fantasy stories about an underdog who claws her way to the top, only to find new and more life-threatening challenges when she gets there. Rin is not a hero, but she’s also not a villain – at least not yet. I’m anxious to see where her story takes us and watch as her decisions unfold. The magic (and god who has chosen her) that resides inside of her carries terrifying power.

What I’m Reading – The Serpent’s Curse by Lisa Maxwell

I’ve been waiting to read The Serpent’s Curse by Lisa Maxwell for a while. With The Last Magician and The Devil’s Thief (the first two books in the series) under my belt, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the third installation.

Previous Book Reviews

The Last Magician

The Devil’s Thief

I have loved this series since first picking up The Last Magician last year. There’s a badass female protagonist, an unstoppable gang of rebels/outcasts, and magic all around. From Esta to Harte and even our friends left back within the confines of the Brink – this series is filled with characters working together (whether they even realize it) to overthrow a corrupt government, fight against terrible unknown forces, and save magic.

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE Lisa Maxwell fan, and this series is the reason why.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend picking up book one in the series as soon as you can.

Synopsis

Evade the Serpent.
Heed the Curse.
Rewrite the Present.

Esta isn’t a stranger to high-stakes heists. She’s a seasoned thief who has no reservations about using her affinity for time to give her an edge, and she’s trained her whole life for one mission: travel back to 1902 New York, steal the ancient Book of Mysteries, and use its power to destroy the Brink and free the Mageus from the Order’s control.

But the Book held a danger that no one anticipated—Seshat, an angry goddess was trapped within its pages. Now that terrible power lives within Harte, and if given the chance, Seshat will use Esta to destroy the world and take her revenge.

Only Esta and Harte stand in her way.

Yet in their search to recover the elemental stones needed to bind Seshat’s power, Esta and Harte have found themselves stranded in time with a continent between them. As Esta fights to get back to Harte, the Order is no longer the only obstacle standing in her way.

Saving Harte—and magic itself—will put even Esta’s skills to the test. And all the while, another danger grows, one more terrible than both Seshat and the Order combined…

Book Review – The Wicked King by Holly Black

Genre: Young Adult; Fiction; Fantasy

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

If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince yet, go check out my review. And be warned – there are some spoilers for the first book in this review, so proceed with caution.

Now … onto The Wicked King by Holly Black.

This book really screwed with my emotions. 

After reading The Cruel Prince, the first book in The Folk of the Air Series, I was ready to jump into The Wicked King. The main differences between the two – first, this book was definitely a time for character development. 

You get to know the characters intimately. They make you smile, piss you off, and ultimately make you want to yell and scream. I fell in love with Jude, Cardan, and (some of) the other spies. I developed a deep hatred for Madoc, Locke, and even Taryn at times. 

Second, Holly Black was trying to trigger me with the ending of this one. 

This novel revolves around Jude trying to keep the heir to Faerie safe. In the first novel we learn that Jude’s step-brother Oak isn’t really her brother at all, but the rightful heir to the throne. To accomplish this – she takes control of the one person she (thought) she hated most – Cardan.

As she gains power, things escalate quickly, but we all love to see our Jude rise to the top, despite her constant battle (slash romance) with Cardan. 

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”

I have never cheered more for a character to be successful in scheming and manipulation than I have for Jude. She is my hero, girl crush, and ultimate idol. Even as we begin to see her weaknesses (ie: Cardan), I am cheering for her to kick some ass and take over the world. 

That’s where we get to the ending. 

Without spoiling the ending – I will just say the end of this book pissed me off so much I refused to pick up the third novel in the series for months. It took some convincing for me to even consider reading The Queen of Nothing (review coming next week). 

One of my favorite elements of this novel is our adventure to the sea and how we begin to learn more about other parts of Faerie outside of Elfhame. Holly Black has built an extraordinary world, equal parts beautiful and terrifying. She captures the essence of Faeries perfectly. I haven’t met another author who does it quite like she does. 

I could not recommend this book and series more. The next chance you get – head to your local bookstore and go ahead and buy the entire series. You won’t regret it.