Book Review: Kingdom of the Wicked

Title: Kingdom of the Wicked
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Year Published: September 7, 2021

Date finished: July 6, 2022

This book was recommended to me by my daughter. She loved it and thought I should read it because it’s fantasy and there’s romance. The cover was very pretty too.

The story is about a girl named Emilia who is on the hunt for the person who killed her twin sister. Emilia comes from a family of witches and can cast spells, summon demons, and whatnot. She’s got some powerful gifts, but because she’s portrayed as young (even though she’s 18), her personality falls on the very naive side. At times she seems mature, but her decisions always seem non-thought-out, hasty.

Emilia summons a demon to help her find her sister’s killer. However, in her haste, she summons the demon (Wrath) whom she saw at the alter where her sister was slain. She thinks he was the one who killed her sister, but because the spell she used forged the two of them to be stuck together for a time, she holds back. The story continues on the path of Emilia’s quest to find the killer even though she’s aware Wrath could be it. She begins to form an attraction for him, and he to her as well. Later, he gets into an altercation where he is injured pretty badly and leaves earth. Emilia now has fallen hard for him and wants to find him.

I’m not sure what to think exactly about this book. I don’t not like it, but I don’t love it either. I am intrigued enough to read the next book. It’s written very simply so it’s easy to read. The plot is simple as well. It’s sort of murder-mystery with magic, and then there’s the young, innocent romance. The characters don’t feel fully thought out. There is a sense that Emilia wants to go in one direction (to find the murderer of her sister) and yet she’s leaning so far the other direction (her sudden love for Wrath). There is consistency with the storyline. Nothing is too far-fetched into any direction so it makes it safe for the really young readers.

Who should read this book: Those who enjoy young adult fantasy or fantasy with a gothic or dark feel such as Caraval, For the Wolf, and Gideon the Ninth where it feels like it’s always nighttime. However, the writing style is more so for young adults, unlike Gideon the Ninth where the writing is more mature, similar to Dune.

Book Review: Gold Spun

Title: Gold Spun
Author: Brandie June
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published: June 8th, 2021

Date finished: September 17, 2021

Gold Spun by Brandie June is a Rumpelstiltskin retell about a 17-year-old girl named Nora who finds herself in a mess after rescuing a fae. The fae gifts her with a golden thread and promises to return to her every time she calls upon him. Excited about this golden thread, in her haste, Nora comes up with a plan to make money using it. This captures the attention of the prince who tells her if she could spin a room full of straw into gold, he’ll marry her. If not, she’ll pay a heavy price.

It’s been a long time since I read Rumpelstiltskin, so I had to search it up and brief through it. Gold Spun follows the storyline somewhat but with slightly different characters. I like the idea of the fae and the way he was portrayed. He felt likeable, yet you couldn’t really tell if he was trustworthy, so there was a mysterious edge to him. The prince at first seemed cocky and full of himself, but he turned out likeable. His affection for Nora made him protective and supportive and a real gentleman. As for Nora, I liked that she was always quick on her toes. She doesn’t give up and she has so much love in her for her family and the villagers. However, I also found her a bit childlike. I think she was meant to be intelligent and brave and was supposed to play it down, but I didn’t get that. I wanted her to be a little more mature for someone who was responsible for a lot of things.

The overall story was enjoyable. I love retells and Gold Spun did an excellent job with it. I found the love triangle just so cute. Also, Ms. June’s writing style is flowy and smooth and makes you want to keep reading.

Who should read this book: All lovers of retells, love triangles, and fairytales. This was a truly fun read with magic, faeries, royalty, and everything you could ever ask for in a fast-paced young adult fantasy romance story.

Note: I was given this book to read and review but the opinion is purely my own.

Book Review: Scythe

Title: Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA, dystopian
Year Published: 2017

Date finished: August 10, 2021

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is a young adult dystopian novel about two teenagers who were chosen to become scythes. The setting is far future in a world of chaos where rules were put in to control the people. One of the rules was the creation of Scythes whose jobs are to take lives, and thus putting fear into the people to maintain order.

The two main characters are Citra and Rowan. They were both chosen to learn the role of the scythe and thus were trained in the skills required for the job. Along the way, a mysterious death occurred leading to a bit of chaos. Lies and deception rang among the scythes in power creating disagreements between the leaders. The decisions Citra and Rowan made were difficult because they had grown to respect (and liked) each other.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and loved how it ended. I’m curious as to why it ended the way it did with one of the characters. My only gripe is that because it’s young adult, I found the killings a bit too morbid. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good grimdark with all the things (ASOIAF comes to mind), but this was definitely a young adult leaning more toward the younger end of the age group, so there were moments where I just couldn’t stomach it, because I couldn’t stop thinking about how a young person would deal with it. If this book was adult with a more mature writing style, I’d totally dig it a lot more.

Who should read this book: If you enjoy stories about teenagers put into a challenge with each other in a world where the authoritarian comes from adults who seem a bit clueless and/or who’ve gained power for their own greed, and the teenagers sort of “fix” the problem, then you’ll enjoy this book.

Book Review: For the Wolf

Title: For the Wolf
Author: Hannah Whitten
Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark
Year Published: June 2021

Date finished: May 12, 2021

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten is a dark fantasy about a forest that takes from the living. The main character is a nineteen-year-old girl named Red who has a special power within her and she’s afraid to hurt family with this power she doesn’t think she can contain. The forest is where she thinks she could do more to help her family and the town’s people. Secondary characters are her sister and the Wolf.

At first, I thought this was going to be a retell about Red Riding Hood, but it is far from it. The only thing similar to that story is pretty much Red’s crimson cape. However, there are other fairytales that are depicted in this story in a sort of retell, such as Beauty and the Beast. It’s done well with its own unique twist, so it keeps you curious.

Overall, I thought it was a good read. It’s slightly on the fast-paced side with some excellent world building. At times I felt Red appeared a little younger than her age, so I wasn’t super clear if this was going to be a young adult novel or not. About halfway through, it was clear it wasn’t young adult just by the writing style and the grimdarkness of it.

Who should read this book: If you’re into fairytale retells or just fairytale style stories, this is for you. There is magic, romance, friendship, family. There is also a love triangle but it’s subtle and done very well, I’d have to say.

Note: This book was sent to me for free to review, but the opinion is purely my own.

Book Review: Newdawn Roamers

Title: Newdawn Roamers
Author: Dominique Luchart
Genre: Sci-fi, YA
Year Published: 2020

Date finished: May 3, 2021

Newdawn Roamers by Dominique Luchart is a young adult science fiction novel about an advanced future earth with artificial intelligence. An intelligent entity was located making its way toward earth and scientists think it could be an invasion. They created a team called the Roamers to travel back in time to locate scientists who could possibly help them stop this invasion.

There are multiple main characters but eventually the story focuses in on the girl named Tesh. Her relationship with one of the Roamer takes a backseat until near the end when it leads into a love triangle. Also, the chapters are broken down by time periods and characters, so if you don’t pay attention, you can easily get confused.

I liked the advanced technology, especially the AI. There’s a lot of information to take in which I thought really helped create the world they lived in. I’m glad I came upon this book because it was a hidden gem.

Who should read this book: Anyone who’s into future worlds, advanced technology, time travel, and YA triangle. This book hits all those spots perfectly. In fact, I think it reads a little closer to new adult, but the YA vibe is very much there.

Book Review: The Phantom of Faerie Mountain

Title: The Phantom of Faerie Mountain
Author: E.M. McIntyre
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Middle-grade
Year Published: 2015

Date finished: April 9, 2021

The Phantom of Faerie Mountain, by E.M. McIntyre is a young adult/middle-grade fantasy story about a fourteen-year-old girl named Abby who finds herself in a world of magic and mystery.

This was a really fun read! Abby is a curious girl with a big heart. She’s not afraid of danger and will do whatever it takes to find out the truth. She also learns some secrets about her own family and herself.

This is a great story for young readers. It would also be a great bed-time story to read to the little ones. The dangers, the friendships, the talking dog, etc. all play an important role in Abby’s journey. I really liked Rory’s character. I loved his accent.  

Who should read this: Everyone. It’s the kind of book that takes you away from reality and into a fun magical world. There’s no gore or deadly violence so all can enjoy it.

Book Review: The Alchemyst’s Mirror

Title: The Alchemyst’s Mirror
Author: Liz Delton
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Middle Grade
Year Published: October 27, 2020

The Alchemyst’s Mirror by Liz Delton is a fantasy story about two sisters who are on a quest to find their kidnapped brother. At the same time, there is a missing object/item that’s very dangerous and needs to be found before the wrong person gets to it. 

Petra and Maisie own a bakery and are very happy in their lives. The only thing that worries them is their missing brother. They both want to find him, so they set a plan to find him. Maisie gets kidnapped before they began the search leaving Petra to go without her. While Maisie is gone, Petra and an explorer named Evan commence the mission to find the brother. During their search, they find clues to a dangerous secret society, and before they know it, they get tangled in a trap. Maisie, while kidnapped on a ship outsmarts the person who kidnapped her and finds her way back to save her sister and Evan.

This was a really fun read. The two sisters were strong and knew what kind of life they wanted to live. Even though they had lost their parents and their brother was kidnapped, they kept it together. They were very protective of each other and you can feel the love between them. The action was wonderful, and the villain was well done. This story was a little fast-paced and there were lots of telling/describing things (that were unnecessary), but otherwise, it was a great read.

There was one thing I found a little annoying and I hope this changes in the following books, but I found Petra somewhat unlikable in the sense that she was often verbally abusive to Evan, who happened to really like her. She bossed him around and yelled at him when he made mistakes. I’m not sure why he stuck around or why he’d like someone like that. I was confused. I think that’s the only issue I had. I secretly wanted Evan to stand up to her.

I’d say this book would be great for those who enjoy a middle grade level of reading. It reminds me a little of Harry Potter in writing style.

NOTE: This book was given to me to read and review, but the opinion is purely my own.

Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Sci-fi, YA, Dystopian
Year Published: 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is a dystopian sci-fi about a young Coriolanus Snow before he became President Snow. The story takes place many years earlier, before The Hunger Games trilogy, when Coriolanus was seventeen and climbing his way up in the Capitol in Panem.

We follow Coriolanus through the 10th Hunger Games in which he is a mentor to a tribute named Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. It’s tough in the arena and Coriolanus does whatever he can to help Lucy Gray win. Outside of the Games, Coriolanus begins to fall for Lucy Gray and starts showing his attraction for her. She notices and reciprocates.

After the Games, it was revealed to a higher up that Coriolanus assisted Lucy Gray in unethical ways so that she would win. He was forced to become a Peacekeeper but was allowed to choose which district to work in. He chose District 12 to be closer to Lucy Gray.

In District 12, Coriolanus learns that Lucy Gray, along with a few others, including Lucy Gray’s ex-boyfriend, were planning an escape. One of the other members in the plan was Sejanus Plinth. Sejanus was originally from District 2 but moved to the Capitol as a young kid and became good friends with Coriolanus. Sejanus was also a Peacekeeper in District 12. After having seen how poorly the District people were being treated, he vowed to help the small group escape. A crime occurs during the planning in which Coriolanus took part in, thus causing the escape to terminate.

Lucy Gray still wants to run away so Coriolanus agrees to go with her. He was also afraid the crime would catch up to him and didn’t want to be hanged. On the day he was to sneak out to run away with Lucy Gray, he gets a promotion and is required to head to District 2 the next morning. He has to choose between his future and the girl he loves. He chose love, but while they were out of District 12 in an area where the Peacekeepers were not monitoring, he finds the weapon he used during the murder and attempts to discard it. He also learns that Lucy Gray had betrayed him and goes after her to kill her, but he couldn’t find her. He returns to District 12 and leaves for training the next day.

During the flight to District 2, they made a stop at the Capitol. It turns out that the Head Gamemaker, Dr. Gaul, wanted to train Coriolanus at the university because Dr. Gaul found Coriolanus brilliant with his Games ideas.

In The Hunger Games trilogy, Coriolanus is the antagonist and someone we detest because of his cold-heartedness and brutal ruling. In The Ballad, he is the protagonist and someone we are supposed to like and feel sorry for. He does come across as a decent person in Ballad. His love for Lucy Gray was real. He went out of his way to help her win, even doing things he shouldn’t be doing. It felt as though he wanted her alive because she meant so much to him. Even if he never saw her again, at least she’d be able to live her life in the District. However, because he was found out, he got the opportunity to be with her and to really know her. She was all that she said she was: a singer and song writer; a free spirit. She was also very clever. In the Games, her cleverness helped her survive and it also, at one point, helped save his life.

The story goes much deeper than a dystopian story about a young adult falling in love and learning about who he is. I read the QA, which included the idea behind the story, and was completely surprised. I did get the sense of a struggle between an authoritarian world and a romanticism or “freedom” ideal. It wasn’t about which character I liked better or who I should like more than the other. It was more about understanding people’s behavior based not only on their upbringing but also the environment they’re exposed to. It was a very powerful book with so many hidden messages and meanings.

I wasn’t expecting to say this, but I’m totally shocked by how great this book was.

Book Review: Caraval

Title: Caraval
Author: Stephanie Garber
Genre: YA Fantasy

I first read Caraval in 2017. Last month, my 13-year-old daughter wanted to read this together so we read it at bedtime. She loved it! I really enjoyed it the first time I read it and enjoyed it again this time. The great thing with rereading is you always find new stuff about the characters or the story and that’s exactly what happened. We are now reading the second book in the trilogy, Legendary, and it’s turning out pretty exciting.

Here’s the review from 2017:

The story is about a girl who’s been trying for years for a chance at watching a magical performance. She gets the opportunity eventually and learns that it’s not what she had expected. It was no secret that the performance was a game and you either choose to watch or choose to play but there are real consequences if you play.

This was a very fun read with humor and some serious issues that made it realistic. The author did great at fooling even the reader as to what was real and what wasn’t. It was written very simply but done well. I really enjoyed the relationship between the MC (Scarlett) and Julian…it was cute. The only thing I wasn’t too fond of was how unintelligent Scarlett was. I get that these are YA, but I think I would love a YA story where the girl is at least as intelligent as her age and had more depth to her.

The second time around, I liked Scarlett a lot more. I may have been a little harsh with my review of her because there were parts where she just wasn’t smart enough, but I can see now why it felt that way. She was only concerned about finding her sister and protecting her sister and seemed “klutzy” in that sense. I also didn’t see how powerful the magic was. Scarlett was completely under a spell and found it very hard to break. Knowing that now, she was a pretty well-developed character. Sometimes, it takes a reread to really understand a character, and I’m so glad I did.