Waterfall (River of Time, #1)

Waterfall (River of Time, #1)

First Lines: We paused on our hike, panting and wiping our upper lips as our guide–the old Italian farmer who owned this land–chopped down a small sapling, clearing the overgrown trail. “Ecco, vedi,” he said, pointing to the ground. See here.

This book initially caught my eye about five years ago. I don’t remember how I heard of it, but I can tell you it 100% I put it on my to-read list because of time travel and hotties. It sounded like a YA Italian version of Outlander.

Most American girls in Italy for summer vacation would be enjoying it. Seeing the sights, eating good food, etc. For Gabi and Lia, a summer in Italy isn’t exactly a vacation. They’ve spent most summers in Italy with their archaeologist parents, digging up forgotten sites and, well, being covered in dirt and living for months in outdated hotels isn’t their idea of fun anymore. They’re bored. But that all changes the day Gabi and Lia sneak into their mother’s latest find, an ancient tomb, and put their hands on handprints painted to the wall. Suddenly, the girls find themselves in 14th century Italy, in the midst of a fierce battle between knights of opposing forces. It seems their summer just got more interesting. And a lot more dangerous.

I love a good time travel story. My inner history nerd always wonders what I would do if I magically plopped down in one of these times. (Spoiler: I probably wouldn’t last a week, if we’re being realistic.)

This story caught my eye because it was traveling to a time and place I didn’t know much about: 14th century Italy. There are knights, battles, castles. What’s not to love? Although, to be fair, this book isn’t all that different from other time travel stories I’ve read. It shares a number of similarities to Outlander as well as Wake Unto Me, which is actually probably the closer match as it follows the “girl travels in time to find a hottie in a castle” trope. But still, it had a lot to recommend itself.

I did end up rather enjoying the story. It does have a lot of action and a lot of twists to the story. I liked seeing what trouble Gabi would get into with her 21st century ways (wearing PANTS? OMG girl.). Gabi is a strong heroine with an even stronger sense of what she needs to do: survive, and find her sister Lia, who has gotten separated from her. I liked seeing her adapt to her new surroundings and the fantastically funny commentary she had.

I adored the men in this story too. Everyone from the gallant Marcello to the charmingly flirty Luca, the men closest to Gabi have made chivalry an artform. It was swoony and cute and, yeah, cheesy, but that’s what made it so much fun. It was just a good time, reading this. However, I’ll also say that Gabi’s chemistry with her knight in shining armor was…a little lackluster. It was courtly and stuff, which I get, but it just felt a little cold. Or I’ve been reading too many romances and expect fireworks all the time. Admittedly, I’ve never been good with actually courtly love stories. (For example, I have a hard time understanding Mr. Darcy’s appeal in Pride and Prejudice just because I never see any emotion out of him.) So let’s be real, this is probably on me.

Now, just as I got started reading this, I realized it’s won some kind of Christian lit award. Which, you know, great for it, but I don’t really see it. Like, I kind of do. We’re in 14th century Italy, after all. Christianity is the norm and a way of life here. It shows up. There are crucifixes in bedrooms and prayers before they eat. I wouldn’t have expected anything different for the time period. But it’s not really part of the plot. Gabi makes an off-hand comment once about having found religion after saying her second prayer ever, but it sounded almost as sarcastic as it did serious. I don’t really see this as Christian lit at all. This is a sci-fi/fantasy novel through and through.

This was so much fun to read and I really can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #4)

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #4)

First Lines: On the sixth of April, in the year 1812–precisely two days before her sixteenth birthday–Penelope Featherington fell in love. It was, in a word, thrilling. The world shook. Her heart leaped. The moment was breathtaking. And, she was able to tell herself with some satisfaction, the man in question–one Colin Bridgerton–felt precisely the same way.

Of all the books, this was the one I was most looking forward to in this series. Seriously. From episode 1 of the show, I was in love with Penelope and Colin and totally shipped it. And watching them dance around each other for the previous three books, I was itching to see how it all came together.

Everyone in London knows Colin Bridgerton, the most charming of all the Bridgerton men. Penelope has been in love with her best friend’s brother for years, unable to say or do anything about it. Why would he want her, after all, when he could have anyone? Colin is tired of being nothing but an empty-headed charmer. But he’s also especially tired of everyone’s obsession with Lady Whistledown–and how the dratted woman can’t stop mentioning him all the time. After his return from his latest trip abroad, Colin finds that nothing is quite the same in London anymore, especially Penelope. There’s something that’s…changed about her. When Colin stumbles upon Penelope’s deepest secret, he has to decide: is Penelope a threat or a promise of a happily ever after?

The book, while good, didn’t hit me the way I was expecting.

Colin actually seems kind of like a jerk in this one, which I was not happy about. I mean, I kind of understand it as well. So far, we’ve only seen Colin’s Public Face, what he wants society to see of him and Penelope is getting past that. But that didn’t make me happy that he was virtually an entirely new character for so much of the book.

Penelope, though, was exactly who I was hoping she’d be. She’s clever and funny and stronger than she thinks. She has done so much to be proud of and it’s great to see such an accomplished woman in a series like this.

If I have a plot complaint about this book, it’s that the way this ends throws some of the endings of the other books into question. It’s a minor thing, honestly, but all the Lady Whistledown stuff just doesn’t add up with the epilogues of the other books is all I’m saying. I can’t get over that.

I thought this was a sweet story and I ended up falling into the story very quickly, so it was easy and fun to read. I just wanted…something more, I guess.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)

First Lines: The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down from the mountains and sneak under the leather and fur of my jacket. It’s colder in Syhl Shallow than it would be in Emberfall, but it’s been so long since I experienced the gradual slide from autumn in winter that I’ve been reveling in it.

The first book in this series was my favorite book of 2019, without a doubt. I loved to so so much. But the second book was…rougher. What I found so special about the first book was missing in the second. When I had the chance to read this book, I immediately grabbed it, but I wasn’t sure which book this was going to be like: the beloved first or the trying second?

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Emberfall is failing, torn into two deeply divided factions: those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and ruler and those who want a new rule under Grey, who they believe is the rightful prince. Grey has given Rhen two months before he attacks, time Rhen should be using to prepare his army. Instead, he’s using that time to turn away from everyone, even Harper–who is desperately looking for a route to peace. Meanwhile, Lia Mara is struggling to rule Syhl Shallow in her mother’s place. After decades of brutality, Lia Mara’s gentler hand isn’t much liked. And with Grey and his magical powers at her side, many see Lia Mara as the worst option for Queen. As Grey’s deadline draws closer, Lia Mara begins to question whether she’s the Queen Syhl Shallow needs. War is war, though, and neither side will pull away first and show weakness…

This book did restore my faith in this series, but it wasn’t perfect either.

There’s something about Kemmerer’s writing that I just fall into when I get going on these books. Once I really got reading, I was completely in that world and I lost track of time in my world. It’s so easy to fall into the world of Emberfall and its politics and the relationships between the people. It did not take long to get sucked into what was happening and have a hard time putting the book down.

The story does still rotate between being narrated by Rhen, Harper, Grey, and Lia Mara. It was done in a way that wasn’t jarring, which I appreciated, as we tended to stay with one or two people for a good length of time before switching to the others. It’s interesting to be able to compare their viewpoints against each other when they see the same things happening.

The characters have definitely redeemed themselves this time around. Rhen isn’t as much of a jerk this time as he was in the last book, and I still really love Harper for her strength and bravery. Grey and Lia Mara are more grounded in themselves, their roles, this time around and they were easier to read about too. But man, do I still have a soft spot for some of the minor characters, particularly Jake and Noah. Those two…my heart.

My one big issue is the ending. Look, I know it’s a challenge to satisfactorily wrap up a series. I get it. But we’ve spent 3 books building to this and when it finally got to the climax, I went, “Wait, that’s it? We spent this long waiting for that? Well…” There’s so much emotion leading up to it and I was Here For It, but like…then it was just over? It didn’t seem worth all of it. Ok, like, the story still wrapped up nicely, don’t get me wrong, but I was disappointed there wasn’t more.

I’m glad I gave this book a chance and didn’t just stop after the last book. And I’m hoping Kemmerer comes out with more books soon because her writing style has won me over.

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days (Devil You Know, #1)

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days (Devil You Know, #1)

First Lines: “Do you know why I called you to my study at such a late hour, Lady Alexandra?” Headmaster Maurice de Marchand’s hand disappeared beneath his imposing desk at her approach, but Alexandra dared not glance down to note it.

Believe it or not, I’ve never really been a fan of this title’s obvious inspiration, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. And when there’s a connection like that to something I already don’t care for, it makes me hesitant to read a book tied to it. Even if it’s obviously completely different. I also had a negative experience with a previous Kerrigan Byrne book, where I thought the relationship was abusive more than healthy. But I thought maybe as she grew as a writer (that previous book was her first book), things would improve.

Lady Alexandra Lane has had to look after herself for years now, and it’s something she’s learned to do well. So well that no one would suspect someone’s blackmailing her about a dark secret in her past. With her family nearing bankruptcy, Alexandra will have to do something desperate…like marrying the most eligible–and wealthy–bachelor in the land. Who also has the reputation of a devil. Piers Atherton, Duke of Redmayne, is after revenge. And to do that, he needs to marry. It doesn’t really matter who, though finding a bride is complicated when you’re known as the Terror of Torcliff. So when Lady Alexandra proposes marriage to him, he knows something darker than him looms in her past. But he’s drawn to Alexandra’s wit and gentleness and independent nature. And soon, he finds he’ll do whatever he can to keep her safe. But that won’t be easy…

Actually, this was really good. (It’s also really long for a romance novel, too. Almost 500 pages.)

Alexandra has been hiding a secret for years, a secret someone learned about and is now blackmailing her about. With her family now destitute, she’s desperate to find the money somewhere…desperate enough to marry the Terror of Torcliff. Piers expects people to think him a monster, given the scars he has across his face from a near-death experience. And he wants revenge against someone who wronged him, a revenge that can only happen after he gets married. While Alexandra may not have been his first choice, he is drawn to her.

Alexandra and Piers were very interesting characters. Alexandra is a bluestocking, a woman who studied at the Sorbonne and has become an archaeologist. She’s much older than heroines tend to be in historical romances–28–but I kind of loved that she had her career first and knew what she wanted out of life. Piers is fierce, strong, and generally antisocial. He prefers traveling the world to being stuck in a stuffy English ballroom. All of this lends itself to the myth of the Terror of Torcliff, a moniker he hates while also believing himself to actually be the monster others see him as.

The plot works, though at times it feels a little bit muddied just because the story is so long despite taking place over only ten days. I found it to be engaging, most of the time. The story mostly is narrated by Alexandra, though Piers does come through frequently. There were times I wanted to be furious at Piers for not understanding Alexandra, but Piers side is so well-written in those parts that you know exactly why he comes to the conclusions he does. And you can’t really fault him for thinking what he does given the evidence he has.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I also want to issue a warning here. I knew exactly where this story was going when I saw the dedication in this book, which says, “To every survivor #metoo”. So if this is a trigger for you or an absolute sticking point, maybe bypass this book. It uh…doesn’t necessarily shy away from the details. But I view this as a story of surviving, of living, than one that wallows in the trauma.

It was a sweet story. I have a new faith in Byrne’s writing.

RoseBlood

RoseBlood

First Lines: At home, I have a poster on my wall of a rose that’s bleeding. Its petals are white, and red liquid oozes from its heart, thick and glistening warm. Only, if you look very close, you can see the droplets are coming from above, where a little girl’s wrist–camouflaged by a cluster of leaves–has been pricked by thorns as she reached inside to catch a monarch.

I’ve been putting this book off for a while, for a couple reasons, I guess. While I like A.G. Howard’s work (Splintered), she can be a little bit…much. Also, this book has a 3.37 rating on Goodreads, which worried me that it might not be that great.

Rune Germaine has the voice of an angel–but every time she finishes a performance, she feels sick and drained. Convinced that it’s just stage fright and proper direction will help, her mother sends her off to a French boarding school for the arts, rumored to have a connection with the Gaston Leroux and The Phantom of the Opera. Shortly after arriving at RoseBlood conservatory, Rune starts to think maybe something otherworldly is happening here. There’s a mysterious boy in the graveyard who disappears as quickly as he appears. But as Rune starts to form a friendship with the boy, Thorn, who wears 19th century clothing as well, she finds that she’s cured when she’s near him. And Thorn may be falling for the girl with a voice from heaven, but he’s got to manage the real phantom…who will force Thorn to make the toughest decision of his life: lead Rune to her destruction or face the wrath of the phantom, a man who is the only father he’s ever know–and a very dangerous enemy.

A.G. Howard has gained a reputation of being able to twist a well-known story into something new and fresh while still retaining the essence we love so much.

She really wasn’t off the mark with this one.

I rather enjoy the musical, which is most of my understanding of the Phantom of the Opera story, though I have read the book before. I’m just far more familiar with the musical. And it was nice to see those little bits and pieces I recognized crop up in this story.

Here, we are introduced to Rune, a young girl with the voice of an angel–and singing she can’t control. When she sings, it makes her sick. But she physically can’t stop herself from singing an aria if it gets into her head. She doesn’t even have to know the song–she’ll be able to sing it flawlessly. She’s starting to hate her gift, even though everyone else loves it. Rune starts off the story somewhat beat-down and lost, fearful that this new start at a French music school is going to be just as disastrous as life in Texas. As the story continues on, it was really cool to see her change.

But I won’t lie, the mysterious Thorn was really more to my taste. When he narrated the story, I felt like the story moved so much faster and was so much more interesting. He has a dark past, secrets, and a simple hope for a better future that he’s not sure exists for him. He was actually really sweet and I kind of love him.

It’s hard to miss that some people really seem to dislike this book and I can’t pretend I don’t know why. Parts in the middle are really slow. And some parts are really weird. (There’s one twist I won’t spoil, but when I read it, my first reaction was, “Oh great. Here we go,” with an eye roll.) It wasn’t what I expected–or really even wanted–but I kept with the story and I actually liked how it ended.

I have a hard time pinning this story down. It’s urban fantasy, but not really. It’s a tale of magic, but it’s also not? It’s a retelling, but it’s a totally new story too. I guess maybe this is the kind of book you need to look into yourself to figure out what it is because I think most people will categorize it as something different.

I liked it. It wasn’t my favorite fantasy/urban fantasy/retelling ever, but it had its moments.

Top Ten Series That Should Have Been Standalones

Hey guys! So recently I had a ShowerThought about a first book in a series that I loved, but the rest of the books haven’t really matched that level of awesome. And then I immediately thought of another book that did that too. And then I realized there have to be more and that it might be a fun topic to look into.

Here’s my definition of what I’m talking about: 1) these are books that may have initially been meant to just be standalones and the publisher ordered more books but it was never actually meant to be a series or 2) it was always supposed to be a series but the first book would have been fine on its own.

Let’s get started! Also, if you know of any I’ve left off, feel free to leave them in the comments! I definitely want to hear if you agree/disagree with me as well!

Top Ten Series That Should Have Been Standalones

1.Divergent by Veronica Roth

Funny enough, this wasn’t the first book I thought of, but it’s definitely the best example of what I’m talking about. I’m a fan of this book and I was waiting impatiently, like everyone else, for the final book. But after reading all of them, Divergent is far and away the masterpiece in this series and I almost wish that was the end of it. Like, the rest of the books are unnecessary.

2. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

This is actually the book that set this off because at the time of writing this, I’m reading the third and final book in this series. And it hurts me that I completely adored the first book so much (Rhen, Grey, and Harper are this amazing trio I just can’t get over), but the rest of the books don’t have that same magic. Book 2 focuses more on Grey and less on Rhen and Harper, which kinda sucked but it wasn’t a bad book, and I’m really missing the urban fantasy elements we got in the first book but have never gotten since.

3. The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

I’m actually almost mad at myself for putting this on the list, but I have my reasons. Look, The Goddess Test is one of my favorite books ever. I reread it all the time. And the other books aren’t that bad either. (I sometimes reread the 2nd one too. It has some really good moments too.) But despite that I actually like some of the other ones, I feel like the plot suffered in them. The relationship between Henry and Kate was what kept the stories afloat. But after book 1, the rest get a bit melodramatic and rely on misunderstandings and overreactions to keep the story going.

4. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I feel like this one’s going to be controversial with some of you. I thought the premise of the first book was awesome. I loved the idea of magic in the blood and the training and the underground movement. All of that. I even really enjoyed the second book. But. That third book. I just could not even finish it. It was too sadistic, too long and drawn out. Ugh. I think I would have been happier if the series had just stopped with book 1.

5. Freya by Matthew Laurence

I’m not sure how many of you have ever read this series (duology, I think?) but the first book was definitely better than the second. This is about ancient gods who are finding ways to survive in our modern world when people don’t worship them anymore. We follow Freya, who is hilarious and so much fun to watch get into trouble, as she tries to bring down a group that’s kidnapping these gods for their own purposes. By the second book, the story just felt stale.

6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This one might be controversial too. So like, ok, I liked the first book and maybe the second, but I either aged out of this series or too much time passed between books and I just lost the thread of it. But I think the premise of the first book was strong and I wish it had stopped there. Or that it had at least stopped when the series was supposed to after 3 books, maybe.

7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I don’t actually have a problem with Where She Went, except that it does come across as whiney at times. My thing with this one is that when I think of this book, I don’t even think of it as a series. (Some of you might not even have known there was a sequel.) Granted, I liked seeing what Adam and Mia were up to after the first book, but I didn’t need it.

8. Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

The first book in this series is stunner. A weird dark fantasy that ties itself to Edgar Allan Poe and his stories, this is creepy and funny and strange all at the same time and I loved it. But the second book was rough. Again, maybe I aged out or lost the plot by the time I read the second, but it really wasn’t doing it for me. Perhaps I’ll reread it some day and my opinion will change.

9. Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins

I know I’ve read this whole series, but really all I remember for sure is that I loved the idea of the first book and that it felt recycled and stale in the rest of the books. Higgins is a pretty talented writer (I’ve enjoyed some of her more recent books a lot), but I think, if I remember right, her writing was a bit immature at this time. Or maybe that was just 2000s YA. Either way, I’d have been happy stopping the series early.

10. The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Cordova

Ok, I’m not going to lie, by the time I got to this point trying to find more series I hadn’t liked all the books in, I’ve gone back almost a decade. I don’t remember what happened in this book, but I rated this one a 4 and the second one a 2, which I almost never did back at that time unless it was really bad. So that’s what I’m basing this on.