Backlist Bonus: The Dark and Hollow Places

8535273by Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This is much better than the previous book but Gabry’s sister Annah still has a bit of an issue taking charge of her own life. The twins were separated in the Forest of Hands and Teeth and now that the Dark City has largely fallen to the Horde, Annah is alone waiting for Elias to come back for her.

Annah considers herself the ugly twin because of the barbed wire scars across her face, and much of her story is spent lamenting her appearance and how it will prevent anyone from having feelings for her. A bit much to worry about in a world of the undead where it’s difficult to survive, but priorities. But before Elias returns, Annah meets someone new: Catcher, tied to everyone and everything she wants to forget about the past but who sees more than her scars or “Gabry’s sister” when he looks at her.

This is much darker and bleaker than the previous books and really draws you into the depression humanity feels, knowing it’s on the brink of obliteration. We see more of the shattered infrastructure of America, and the group feels more and more desperation to escape—despite the fact that a safe place to escape to might not exist. Aside from a haphazard scheme at the end (which completely departs from reality) this one is better paced and written than its predecessor. Just wasn’t exactly fun to read.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dark and Hollow Places is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – The only zombie book I enjoyed, probably because there’s more wry humor than dark introspection about Earth’s fate. “R” lost most of his memories when he became undead, but Julie stirs something in him he thought was lost forever.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Not exactly zombies, but Maren’s ability to consume anyone who loves her—bones and all—has all the gore and chills you’d expect. When her mother abandons her, Maren seeks out her estranged father, trying to find out why she is a monster. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan – A departure from dystopian but a story of revenge by the same author that had me turning the pages until the end. Francis survived a cruise ship disaster that took her best friend’s life, but she has a plan to dispense justice for those responsible. See my review here.

The First Time She Drowned

24724627by Kerry Kletter
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 15, 2016

I fell in love with the cover for this book, then I fell in love with the jacket summary, then I finally got it from the library and I fell in love with the writing. I’d seen a few reviews commenting on how beautiful the prose is in this story and they were all accurate. From the memorable first line, “My mother wore the sun like a hat…” to the last page, the diction and imagery captured me. To me it read like an adult novel rather than YA because Cassie is in college, the tone is heavy, and the story is about the adult relationship between Cassie and her mother. There is a lot of crossover appeal here, either way.

Cassie is checking out of her mental health hospital AMA (against medical advice) to attend her first semester of college. She’s understandably more nervous than excited because she’s been sequestered from the world for two years since her mother left her there against her will. We follow Cassie as she adjusts to the real world and tries to move past the complicated relationship with her mother. But just as she decides she’s over it all and will focus on her future, her mother reappears, promising the love Cassie has craved her entire life.

We slowly see the two narratives at war in Cassie’s life: what she believes her childhood was like, and what her mother says it was like. What Cassie believes herself to be, and what her mother thinks of her. As Cassie meets more and more people who seem to react strangely to her relationship with her mom, Cassie finds it harder to decide what really happened. This novel is an incredibly moving picture detailing how insidious and toxic abusive relationships are with chilling scenes and dialogue.

I’ve had friends with relationships that reminded me of Cassie’s mom; these women would strike their daughters physically and lash out verbally in my presence; they commented on their daughter’s weight/appearance; they said no boy will ever want them unless they can change everything about themselves, and then called their own daughter a whore or a slut. And half an hour later we’d be called out for dinner as if nothing happened. It was embarrassing and heart-breaking for me, and I can’t imagine how my friends felt at the time. When you’re a freshman in high school (especially from a religious background) nobody tells you how to react or help or deal with these issues. I wish now I’d done more than just tell my parents—it came down to “it’s none of our business” and that response made me sick to my stomach. As if their life had to be in danger before anyone would intervene, but their mental and emotional stability were fair game.

This story is emotionally exhausting and important to read. So often the mental health issues behind abuse aren’t thoroughly explored (for both the abuser and the victim) and the author handles this in an expert manner. I can’t recommend this enough!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The First Time She Drowned is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie are best friends with a pact to be the skinniest girls in school. Cassie prefers to vomit whatever she eats, Lia chooses to eat nothing. But when Cassie dies, Lia feels doubly haunted by her friend’s spirit and her own eating disorder, a nasty voice in her head that whispers if she can just lose enough weight, she and her problems will disappear. See my review here.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is a self-described fat Mexican-American just trying to fit in and survive her senior year. Between her absent father’s infrequent appearances, the pressure not to be “White,” her friend’s pregnancy and her other friend attempting to come out to his family, Gabi has a lot on her plate. But writing becomes her sanctuary in this beautiful, coming-of-age story told through her diary entries. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mary Iris Malone (Mim) is not okay with how her life is going. She’s not okay with knowing everyone thinks she is crazy. She’s not okay with her father’s remarriage. And she’s not okay with her father moving her replacement family hundreds of miles away from her mother. When letters from her mother stop, and Mim overhears a conversation that indicates her mother is ill, she wastes no time. She takes a bus to her mother. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: In the Hand of the Goddess

handofby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

The titles are overlong but these short books in the Song of the Lioness quartet are some of my favorites. In the first book, Alanna disguised herself as a boy to train as a knight alongside the prince of Tortall and a band of noble boys.

Alanna earns her place as a squire but her closest friends discover her secret identity. Now that they face more responsibility as they train to earn their shields, Alanna must work harder than ever to earn respect in the ranks. As she tries to reject the burdens of her true gender, Alanna must also contend with a plot on Prince Jonathan’s life—when she realizes it’s also a plot against her own. Her growing magical abilities threaten to reveal her to her enemies as she struggles to save the prince anonymously.

The themes and tone of this story have aged with the characters, and this is my favorite in the series. Everything I loved from the first story (secretly beating boys at their own games, political intrigue, dangerous magic, intriguing allies) is present in this installment with better adventures. Alanna fights against the all-too-true realization that when her friends learn she is a girl, their entire treatment of her changes (often in a bad way), regardless of her achievements or opinions. Her refusal to be put in their damsel-to-protect box is the fire of this series and was so important to me growing up. A must-read for fantasy-lovers!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, In the Hand of the Goddess is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job at the royal stables. But when she is unable to hide the magical nature of her gift, Daine must confront her past or risk never controlling her magic at all. A new set of characters and adventures with the same flair that made you fall for the Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel is studying to take over her father’s role as the kingdom’s Abhorsen (a necromancer that lays the dead to rest). When her father goes missing, Sabriel must rescue him despite having only a fraction of the knowledge and training she needs. One of my absolute favorite stories, see my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – Another favorite of mine, Mirasol struggles to accept her new magical abilities within her demense’s government. If she fails to learn in a few months what most apprentices learn for years, her kingdom could collapse. A Beauty and the Beast re-telling coupled with intriguing characters and slow-burn romance. See my review here.


Winterby Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy / Science Fiction
5 of 5 stars
Fourth in a quartet

This came out months ago and it took me so long to get to it because of the holidays, and then my insistence on re-reading the series first (which I am so glad I did!). This was worth waiting for! The perfect ending to this fantastic series of fairy tales told with a few science fiction twists.

To be honest, I worried about the size of this book. Once you start creeping over 600 pages I start to wonder if all those words *need* to be there. We’ve all encountered the stories that didn’t need to be that long, right? (Looking at you, Charles Dickens). Cress meandered a bit for me, so I had some anxiety, but it turns out those fears were unfounded! The writing is direct, compelling, and the characters kept surprising me! The pacing and points of view are perfectly balanced. Zero complaints.

Winter becomes one of our POV characters and she is fantastic! Unique from the other three girls and with her own demons to overcome. Through her we see the Lunar court and the damage done by Queen Levana’s regime, while through Cinder and Scarlet we see what life is like on Luna for the average citizen (spoiler: not good). As Cinder and her friends infiltrate the moon right before Levana and Kai’s wedding ceremony, Levana becomes more and more paranoid. When she attempts to have Winter killed for her beauty, all hell breaks loose on the moon. Winter is running out of places to hide, and Cinder is running out of time to claim her throne!

This had so much action and so many deeply emotional scenes–probably the most emotive in the series. Yet there’s still humor mixed in with the continued exploration of what makes us human. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves fairy tale re-tellings!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Winter is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Rose wakes up after 62 years in stasis to find out everyone she knew is dead and she is the missing heiress to the largest company in the world. And not everyone is happy she’s alive.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A dark and compelling fantasy novel (with humor too!) about a girl taken by the local sorcerer to be his assistant for ten years. This wasn’t her plan at all–and neither is the discovery that she may have her own powers. See my review here.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Aelin returns to Adarlan to dismantle the web of corruption controlling the country, starting with her old master, the King of the Assassins, and ending with the King of Adarlan himself. See my review here.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A band of criminals unites to retrieve a prisoner with the knowledge of how to enhance a person’s magic (with fatal results). They all plan to betray each other eventually, and it’s a question of who will crack first. See my review here.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Echo is a common thief (who happens to be friends with the Avicen, a bird-like race) who decides to steal the Firebird, the only thing that can stop the perpetual war between the Avicen and their dragon enemies. See my review here.

Revisions: Clearer on 1, or clearer on 2?

In the last month I’ve ripped apart my first chapter several times and although it’s better, recent consensus (and looming deadlines) indicate I need to drop it and move on for now.

Am I still feeling positive about revisions? Yes, which is still a first for me! I’m moving through my changes much faster and trying new things without having as much anxiety about it, so although my first chapter needs a break, it doesn’t worry me the way it used to. For some reason I used to operate under this fear that if I changed something I couldn’t go back to it (um, computers make that super easy!) or I was somehow betraying my original intent by altering it. I’d get stuck on these thoughts and end up making the most minor substitutions (a word here, a semi colon there) and then growl about how revising was pointless, look, it’s not any better, I’m gonna write something Shiny and New that will obviously be Perfect on the first try.

Complete nonsense of course! I’m starting to get addicted to making the changes my book needs to make it better. It’s like spring cleaning – you throw everything open to the fresh air and get rid of the clutter and bring in something fresh and alive. Voila! The chapter is better!

That’s how I’ve felt most of the time. On the flip side, revising feels like going to an eye exam. You sit with pages and notes in front of you with different ideas for improvement and ask yourself “Is this clearer on 1? Or clearer on 2?” a few times, with no right answer. (Because seriously, the difference between those always seems so small to me!) Or THIS happens–you’ve been going through options one and two for a few pages, making some choices, everything is moving along and then BAM!

“Or what about 3?”

What the hell, I thought we were working between these two options, you can’t change the game now!

“Or 4? Here they are again, 3 or 4?”

NO-well, wait, maybe Option Four…dammit, I said there were only two options, do you know how this screws with everything down the line if there are FOUR options??? But Option Four does solve Character Arc Problem 2…ughhhh, fine, Option Four. Let’s revisit the previous ten pages with all four options in mind…

Too many options can give me anxiety. I outline, I make a plan, this plan is supposed to avoid Surprise Options this far into the process. That moment of “What about 3?” always used to make me tear my hair out. I wanted to make progress, I didn’t want to start over yet again–but now I’m finding that instead of freaking me out with Too Many Choices these moments get me excited! Because if that’s what you need, find it out now and put it in and then move on with something great!

This book has been in the works for years…partly because it’s been so hard to let go of things and make changes, so now that I’m finally ready to do that, I’m excited to see how it turns out. So back to the cave for another month!

And a special thanks goes to Erin for always responding with enthusiasm when I text her “Heyyyyyy…wanna read my first chapter again?” ❤

The Winner’s Kiss

The Winner's Kissby Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This book is incredible, but I’ll attempt to tone down my fangirling! I had no idea what to expect with this book–I recommended The Winner’s Crime constantly last year (seriously, if you read my blog on the regular you were probably wanting me to get a grip, but I just loved it that much!)–and I knew this trilogy could end with a clever happily ever after or a satisfying tragedy. I was fine either way–I trust the author that much.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell you how it ends!

*Spoilers for The Winner’s Crime*

Kestrel and Arin’s story has taken a dark turn at this point. They’re on the same side (but Arin doesn’t know that) and they’ve agreed they can’t be together (for completely different reasons) and just when Kestrel decides she’s ready for Arin to know the truth, Arin doesn’t get the letter pouring out her heart and detailing her secret deceptions. Her father does. And he lets the emperor banish her to a work camp in the north. Now we see how Kestrel and Arin handle the worst challenges they’ve ever faced. Understandably, Arin is trying to forget Kestrel, and Kestrel has some deep-rooted daddy issues to sort out.

Personally, I have loved Kestrel since about halfway through the first book. My shelves are full of warrior girls, girls finding their Destinies as queens and goddesses and leaders in rebellions. They’re all small but fierce, talented with some weapon or magical skill. They are very fun, but Kestrel is nothing like any of them. And I kind of like her better. Kestrel’s untalented physically. She can’t fight, and she doesn’t want to. She relies on outwitting her opponents, and she continues to do so here. The game of wits between her and the general is agonizing and emotional from start to finish. Her arc deeply resonates with me and her struggle to put names to her emotions is so moving. This book is a fitting end to her story–I’ll say no more!

I’ve never been as enthralled with Arin, but he was much more interesting to me in this book. Both of them experience so much growth with the perfect balance of light and dark moments–Rutkoski devotes most of this book to their changing feelings (amidst the backdrop of war and plenty of battles) and it has a serious mood I don’t often find in YA, but I love it.

The tone is heavier than the first two and there are a lot of descriptions, so I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re in the mood for a different type of YA, it’s going to delight you!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winner’s Kiss is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A band of criminals is drawn together with the promise of a payout if they complete an impossible heist. They have nothing in common but this prize, and they all plan to betray each other once they succeed. This is YA at its finest–it’s flawless and you’ll fly through it! See my review here.
  • Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat – This trilogy is remarkably similar to The Winner’s Trilogy, with m/m romance and more explicit scenes. The devious characters plot and play at the adult level here, the writing is top-notch, and there are more schemes than you could wish for. See my review here.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore – A companion novel to Graceling, this follows the last human-shaped monster, Fire, as she becomes a tool to Prince Brigan to uncover a plot against the king. Fire’s beauty and gift for mind-control means she can have whatever she wants, but all she wants is not to become the monster her father was.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Aelin returns to Adarlan for her most difficult mission yet-destroy the empires of the King of the Assassins and the King of Adarlan at the same time. See my review here.

What to read again:

Ever since Harry Potter I’ve enjoyed re-reading the previous books in a series before the next one comes out. You get to soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—it just makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?


The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Wrath and the Dawn

I was a little unsure about because The Arabian Nights is a classic collection of tales that has defeated me several times. I’ve never made it all the way through an edition of it, and setting a YA novel in that world seemed…well it seemed like a short story idea, not a novel. And definitely not two novels. But I was wrong! (Thanks, Erin!)

Shazi and Khalid’s story was spellbinding – I couldn’t put this book down, and although a few things could have been smoother or explored better, this was an amazing interpretation of the legend! (See my review here). The second book comes out next month and you do not want to miss it!

Rose and the Dagger

What else should you revisit?

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ACOTARI was already hooked on her Throne of Glass series when she announced she was doing a faery trilogy – at the same time! TWO Maas books a year?! YES. I still don’t understand how she’s doing it (the schedule? the work? the revisions? the deadlines? the tours?) but she’s either superwoman or a robot.

Feyre’s story is a wonderful interpretation of two old legends, Tam Lin and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I love those fairy tales and the elements she wove into her own story are lovely. Feyre’s life is forfeit when she accidentally kills a faery in the forest, but her captivity by the mysterious Tam Lin is not at all what she expected. (See my review here). As with her other series, I imagine details and minor characters could become important at any time, so definitely pick this up before next month’s release of book two!


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