House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

First Lines: There was a wolf at the gallery door. Which meant it must be Thursday, which meant Bryce had to be really gods-damned tired if she relied on Danika’s comings and goings to figure out what day it was.

It was unintentional, but I kept putting off reading this Sarah J. Maas read because…well, copies at the library were always taken. And I wasn’t super excited about it. It wasn’t ACOTAR. So when I finally saw it on the shelves at the library, I decided it was time.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life–work during the day, party all night–until a demon murdered her best friend. Lost, wounded, and guilt-ridden, Bryce now has to pick up the pieces of what’s left of her life. When the accused murderer is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself as part of the investigation into what’s actually happening. And she’s determined to get justice. Hunt Athalar is a Fallen angel, now enslaved to the archangels he tried to overthrow in favor of a more democratic world. His skills and strength have now been given one purpose: assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with murders now happening throughout the city, Hunt has been given a deal he can’t turn down: help Bryce solve the murders and earn his freedom. As Bryce and Hunt go into the city’s underbelly and discover power and secrets that could ruin everything they hold dear, they also find a blazing passion between them. It could set them both free if only they let it…

OK, HEAR ME OUT. I have gone back and forth with my rating (between 4 and 5 stars) so many times now. So let me just call it 4.5 and be done.

Maas is Queen, fair and square. I am not denying that. This book was stunning at times in the best way. I think I spent 4 hours just trying to finish it because it was all so intense for so long and I had to know what happened.

Bryce is a wonderful lead female. As half-human, half-fae, Bryce is considered “weak” at best and “worthless” at worst by the other supernatural beings that live in Crescent City and belongs to a very rigid caste system. But Bryce doesn’t let that stop her from being the sassiest thing on two legs. When you’re at the bottom, what do you have to lose if you run your mouth to the most powerful people in the city? It’s brash, it’s stupid at times, but it is so entertaining. I love her.

And Hunt. I truly thought at first he was going to be a more “adult” version of Rhys from ACOTAR, but I was pleasantly surprised that, while there are certainly similarities, they are also two very different characters. Hunt is technically a slave, owned by the Governor of Valbara to do his dirty work. He’s been beaten and tortured for a couple centuries now, but he’s never truly been broken. Still, these things make him a bit more reserved a lot of the time, especially compared to Bryce’s impulsiveness and quick mouth. It was interesting to see how they balanced each other out.

I already alluded to it already, but the last…400? 500? pages of the book was really interesting. The story gripped me pretty well at that point and over a couple of days, I was grabbing for it whenever I had time to see what happened next.

BUT.

I know this is the first book in a series, but man, the first 100 pages or so were really slow. I legitimately didn’t know where the story was heading because nothing happened. Like, even the book jacket wasn’t helping me out at that point. And I kept getting lost in the terms. The multiple districts of Crescent City that are often referred to by nicknames (FiRo instead of Five Roses, if I remember right), the various creatures and demons, the hierarchy, etc. It was a lot to take in and there was just nothing driving the plot yet to really motivate me to figure it out. Honestly, I needed a glossary.

And I know I already made a fleeting comparison to ACOTAR, but I realized as I was reading this that it has a LOT in common with Throne of Glass. Like, they’re not the same story by any means, but there are multiple elements in common. I know Maas’s writing style at this point. I knew Bryce was going to be mouthy before I even picked up the book. I have a feeling there’s going to be a relationship curveball coming in the following books with someone. We’re building a Team of multiple friends and relatives to eventually (I’m assuming) overthrow the caste system. Like, this is all Maas’s writing to a T. I see the patterns now in what she does. So, for as much as I do absolutely love her writing, it’s not surprising anymore.

Still, I think this is absolutely a fabulous read and should at least get looked at by anyone with an interest in fantasy.

Worlds Afire

Worlds Afire

(Sorry, I don’t have first lines for this one. It’s a book told in poetry form.)

For many years (*cough* eleven of them *cough*), this book was on my to-read shelf on Goodreads. I’m super interested in random, weird bits of history and this, about the Hartford circus fire that absolutely changed circuses forever after that, was certainly on my radar. But I just never got around to it until I specifically put it on hold at the library. Twice. (Once, I never went to pick it up…)

It’s summer 1944 and World War II has been on everyone’s minds. So why not go to the circus and lift a few spirits? Hundreds are crammed under the Big Top, waiting for the show to begin. Minutes later, a fire breaks out and takes 167 lives and injuring 500 others. This lyrical story looks at the points of view of many people who were there, those who survived…and those who didn’t.

This lyrical story is super short (I think I read the whole thing in about 20-25 minutes at most) but each poem comes from a different person connected to the circus or the events. An elephant trainer, a “freak”, young children eager to see the Big Top show, parents, police, etc. Everyone has the chance to voice a little of what they saw and what happened. The story does get a bit…gory isn’t really the right word…disturbing, I guess. There are references to how unidentifiable some of the bodies are, but otherwise the story isn’t graphic about deaths or anything. It’s actually shelved in my library’s children’s section, not YA or anything. It’s meant for children, so it does stay away from the worst of all that.

It’s short, but it’s tragic and makes you really think about what it was like for those who were there.

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

First Lines: Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany.

Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to read this. Like most people, I adored Hamilton. I’ve read other Alexander and Eliza stories, but this one was always on the back end for me. Maybe because I haven’t had the best track record with Melissa de la Cruz, but I was still willing to try it.

It’s 1777 and the Schuylers are throwing a ball. One of the oldest and grandest families in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be a founding family and even prouder of their three daughters: the witty Angelica, the dazzling Peggy, and the patriotic Eliza. When they receive word that Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s right hand man, will be at the party, Eliza can barely contain her excitement. If only he weren’t bringing bad news with him. Alex can’t believe his luck. From his humble beginnings to a guest at the Schuylers’ ball, Alex loves being in such exalted company. And when Alex meets Eliza, well…

For me, it was…slow. This is in part because I’m already so familiar with their story. The beginning sets up a LOT of their backstories, how Eliza’s from a wealthy patriotic family, how Alexander was a penniless orphan when he came to America, things like that. After they met, things took off a bit more because there wasn’t so much exposition anymore. However, near the end of the story, I felt like the pace slowed down again.

What I enjoyed about this was the tension between Alex and Eliza early in their courtship. Alex is smitten with this defiant, beautiful young woman, but Eliza only sees in him the man who is court-martialing her father for the fall of Ticonderoga. So that tension, while it lasted, was humorous and fun.

They are good characters, both of them. Eliza’s patriotism shines through, as does Alex’s ambition. Other characters are also quite fun, like the ones we’re familiar with from the musical (Peggy, Angelica, Laurens). Perhaps my favorite, though, was Aunt Gertrude, the aunt Eliza stays with in Morristown, NJ. Oh my, was she fun. And because I didn’t know her from the musical, her character was entirely new to me and quite interesting.

Truly, I do really think my biggest problem with this was that I knew too much already. There just wasn’t as much of a thrill for me to be reading about them going through some of these things (particularly that ending…) because I already knew more or less how things would turn out. I knew the characters and their particular quirks along with the ultimate fates of many of them.

Still, I won’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing another take on these two. It just wasn’t what I hoped for.

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

First Lines: Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, was a haunted man.

I read the first book in this series earlier this year, I think, and…I didn’t love it. But I liked the diversity it brought and how the characters were interesting. I just didn’t care for the plot of it. So I thought I’d give the author another chance in the follow up that brought back the tortured Viscount Griffin we briefly met in the previous book.

Hanna Zaydan has fought to become the finest bonesetter in London. She’s worked hard for it, even if most people scoff at her for being a woman, a woman of color, a bonesetter in general, or all three. When she meets the enigmatic Thomas, she knows he’s hiding more than he’s sharing, but with each appointment, she finds herself more and more drawn to him. Thomas, Viscount Griffin, has been dogged by rumors that he killed his family for years. More than a decade later, a tip about the killer’s identity leads him to the beautiful bonesetter. Griff is convinced Hanna is a fraud, but something about her makes him feel things he didn’t think he was capable of anymore. Can Hanna not only set bones but also mend hearts?

This was better than the first book. I liked this a lot more.

Hanna is a bonesetter, which is already a strike against her. Factor in that she’s female and Arab and she’s virtually a pariah to anyone outside of her family. I loved how she knew what she wanted to do with her career and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her she couldn’t. She was well trained and that was all that mattered. I also liked Griff, who we met in the last book. He has a tortured past and he’s working on healing from the murders of his parents 14 years ago that he blames himself for. Together, they made for an interesting couple.

The story is a bit of a slow burn. Like, there are initial sparks, but because of their backgrounds, they try to force it down. Then they become friends and try to deny that it’s more than that. It was kind of cute how their friendship formed and how it grew into something more. I liked that it built that way.

I still really like the diversity in this series/story. I liked seeing Hanna’s family and their traditions and culture. It really added something special to the story and to their love.

Cute story. I like that everything in this series seems to be about people defying those around them to do what they want with their lives.

There’s Someone Inside Your House (Netflix movie)

There's Someone Inside Your House (film) - Wikipedia

Everyone has a secret to die for.

When I heard about this becoming a movie, I was cautiously excited. The book was written by Stephanie Perkins a few years ago and I read it back then. I didn’t think it was a stellar book, but Stephanie and her husband Jarod are obsessed with horror movies and I thought it would translate well to the screen. I just had to wait for a weekend when my boyfriend could watch it with me because I wasn’t sure this was something I could watch by myself.

Makani Young has moved to a small Nebraska town to live with her grandmother and finish high school. But what should have been an exciting senior year turns into terror as someone begins killing off seniors and exposing their dark secrets. The killer is terrorizing their victims with masks of their faces. Makani and her friends need to find out who the killer is before their own secrets make them the next targets.

I want to make a disclaimer first and say that I don’t generally watch horror movies. I don’t really know anything about their clichés or tropes.

But that said, I kind of liked this. It’d been long enough that I didn’t remember fully the plot of the book or who the murderer was. So those were nice surprises. I thought the acting was fairly decent. I didn’t feel like anyone was over the top in their portrayal of being scared or anything. And I really liked that there was a lead of color.

As my boyfriend pointed out as we watched, there are some pretty obvious red herrings in the movie, where it wants you to believe it’s someone that it’s clearly not. Those maybe weren’t the most impressive parts, but I thought Makani’s flashbacks revealing her own secrets were well done, tantalizing enough to give you enough information to know something happened without giving you nearly enough to figure it out. The story unfolded fairly well, really hyping up the terror of the moments, even if there were times it was predictable.

As someone who doesn’t like gore very much, there were definitely moments that were waaaaay to gross for me. There were some…inventive killings. There were times blood spurts everywhere. Some murders I could watch, others I flinched hard and looked away so I can’t tell you exactly what those looked like. But I will say the deaths felt weirdly satisfying in how they were committed? That feels weird to say, but it is a slasher flick, so…

The last thing I really want to say about this is that this is definitely for mature audiences. If it was rated, it would be R. There’s profanity all the time, characters smoke pot and drink and generally engage in fairly typical teenage behavior that just happens to get a harsher rating. I thought the way it was played felt very real to high school (I heard all those words in the halls, I know people did those drugs, etc.). But I know that’s hard for some people to stomach and I wanted you to know it was there.

Anyway, I rather enjoyed it. And it actually isn’t “scary” in the way I thought it would be. It could be because I didn’t watch it alone, but I definitely didn’t feel creeped out afterward like I was expecting.

This Light Between Us

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II

First Lines: He was seventeen the first time he saw her. A February dusk in 1943 on the cold plains of Manzanar. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains loomed in the distance, stoic and stark.

As someone who teaches the Holocaust in school every year through novels, I’m always on the lookout for anything new and different. This book, which make a young French Jewish girl and a Japanese-American boy penpals before and during WWII, seemed like it could be a really good addition to my novel list. I needed to read it.

In 1935, when 10-year-old Alex Maki is given a French pen pal for class, he’s disgusted to learn that Charlie Levy is a girl. Despite his reluctance to talk to her, letters fly across the Atlantic between the two of them. They share their hopes for the future and friendship with each other. Until Pearl Harbor and the growing Nazi persecution of Jews force both of them into situations that will make them confront the darker sides of humanity. From the plains of Manzanar to the horrors of Auschwitz and the brutality of European battlefields, they can only hold on to two things: the letters between them and the hope their friendship brings them.

The thing that drew me to this book is how original it is. There are so many Holocaust books out there, but it was really interesting to see one that tied it to Japanese internment camps in the US. It opens up a conversation and I like that.

And honestly, that became my favorite thing about this story. Alex is our narrator, so it heavily favors his experiences in the internment camps, but he is desperate for news of Charlie in France and we learn how that trickle of information came through, how he kept up with the events in Europe to learn what may be happening to her.

It’s a very realistic story. It doesn’t shy away from casual racism or legal rights violations or the worst parts of human nature. It doesn’t shy away from death or greed or brutality. At times, it’s quite painful. But in a story like this, one that is a horrific black eye on American history and covers even worse abroad, that painful realism is necessary to understanding how wrong it was.

Alex, as a character, is charming and naive in the beginning. He doesn’t understand why the government’s doing this to them and why his neighbors and friends are suddenly pretending they don’t have history. We also see so much of him come out in his letters to Charlie and how their friendship grows over time.

My only problem with this book is that the beginning is incredibly slow. I had such a hard time feeling like the story was going anywhere. The initial few chapters are almost entirely letters sent by 9- and 10-year-olds, which isn’t super interesting. It was necessary for character development, but I did seriously consider just giving up on the book a couple of times when I just wasn’t sure I could slog through more. But I’m glad I stuck with it and pressed on.

It’s a touching story. It’s unique and interesting while still having a whole lot of heart.