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 – 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.

Book Review – Academy for the Gifted by Hudson Warm

Genre: Fiction; Thriller; Young Adult

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

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I first received a copy of Academy for the Gifted by Hudson Warm I wasn’t sure what to expect. Knowing the author is a junior in high school, I knew this novel was either going to be painful or brilliant. Thankfully it was the latter, and I enjoyed every moment I spent reading Academy for the Gifted.

The main character Bexley Windsor arrives at the Grant Academy for the Gifted her senior year and quickly realizes that everything she ran from is following right behind her. During her first party, she finds another student’s dead body sprawled on the bed, and she’s the only one close enough to the situation to blame. 

Shortly after the body is discovered, Bexley agrees to help her roommate and friend investigate the murder and find the person responsible. Driven by the desire to clear her name and find the truth, Bexley learns that beneath the beautiful school around her lies a cutthroat elite system that pushes students to their limits. 

This story is Gossip Girl meets Vampire Diaries and I loved every moment of it. Hudson Warm does a fantastic job of pulling you back to those younger years walking the halls of high school, navigating the drama, and trying to keep your social, academic, and love life afloat throughout it all. 

The characters are diverse in background and personality, which gives the story a richness that will have you wanting to learn more about each character. 

But by far, my favorite part of this novel is the playlist at the beginning. There is something so special about having a soundtrack to accompany the story you are submerged in. It was a unique and nice touch. You can listen to the playlist here on Spotify.

Without including spoilers I will say I was disappointed by the ending. I felt like someone was unfairly punished, but that’s not to say it didn’t work with the plot line. But it’s hard when you like a character and have to watch everything not work out the way you want. 

You can buy Academy for the Gifted by Hudson Warm here on Amazon.

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 – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

It’s time to put Goodreads to the test with the 2020 winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

I’m seen rave reviews via Goodreads and Bookstagram, so I’m hoping you are all right.

This book joined my TBR cart months ago following one of my “big” trips to the bookstore where I purchased entirely too many books. So this one has been staring me down and taunting me for a while.

On my journey to completing all the books on my TBR cart – this novel seemed interesting and different. Although, I will be honest, I didn’t know anything about the book until I read the synopsis last night. I blindly picked this book up from the store, which is not like me at all.

With just one night of reading, I’m already about 100 pages in and enjoying the story so far. I always like the shorter chapters that jump around a bit, so the style of writing is perfect for me.

Keep an eye out for the review to see if this one lives up to all the hype. I would hate to lose my faith in the Bookstagram community for future book recommendations.

Synopsis

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

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.