The Shadow Hour

27245910by Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I finally got around to this sequel! The debut was such a fun surprise of humor and magic that I knew I wanted to invest in this series—I just got side-tracked for awhile.

We pick up 3 months after the events in The Girl at Midnight, with the gang hiding out in London as Jasper recovers from injuries. Echo and Caius try to figure out what strange dark monster is terrorizing the world and how to keep his sister Tanith from using it to fight the firebird. They learn the kuçedra is a shadow monster born to balance the firebird’s light, and much like the firebird, it can house itself in a living vessel. More chaos ensues as Echo and Tanith try to get to it first, and there are a lot of casualties along the way.

Although this is much darker, as middle books usually are, there are still really fun moments of flirting and jokes to lighten the growing feeling of utter doom.  My favorite moments were several key conversations between Caius and Tanith, Echo and Rowan, and Jasper and Dorian. Everyone has a nuanced arc and it’s satisfying to see how much they’ve all grown up and grown together.

We finally get some backstory about several characters, most intriguingly Echo, and there are some good surprises in this fast-paced adventure. (And a cliff-hanger ending, so prepare yourself). I was most impressed by how the gravity of this book seemed to grow organically from the relatively light-hearted first installment. The writing isn’t overly flowery but there are some heartfelt descriptions that had me pause in admiration!

Definitely a worthy sequel and I’m excited to see how this wraps up this summer! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Shadow Hour is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor – The most noted similarities between this trilogy and Grey’s have fallen away now, and Echo stands on her own. But this is definitely an excellent series to try if you love Echo’s journey! Karou and Akiva struggle to trust each other and build up the chimaera to face the seraphs as exposure in the human world threatens everything. See my review here.
  • Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater – A music prodigy attracts a soul-eating faerie muse who offers to enhance his skills and must resist. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Siblings Hazel and Ben must defend their hometown when the faeries in their neighboring forest start to get violent. See my review here.

The Brothers Grimm Vol 2: 110 Grimmer Fairy Tales

16000356by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm
Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

Over a year later, I finally finished this volume! It’s organized just like the other one, with similar tales grouped together, but this one had fewer famous stories and a lot more obscure tales of morality and violence. I would agree that these are “grimmer” because there were more chilling stories than I recall from the first volume!

However, I have to admit that some of my favorite stories were simply hilarious! “Donkey Cabbages” in particular had me cracking up (just read it—it should be a film). This volume also featured more stories with tricksters. Peasants, women, and nobles pull hilarious (and at times vindictive) pranks on each other for the strangest reasons! Like the other anthology, I enjoyed poring over this for a few months, just reading a few tales at a time.

These volumes are pretty and they’re very small, so I’d recommend these for anyone wanting to build their fairy tale collection with limited space. If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Brothers Grimm is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Rags & Bones: Timeless Twists on Classic Fairy Tales by Melissa Marr – Takes these fairy tales and give them a modern spin from a host of talented authors! Creepy and compelling, just like the best of the Grimm stories. See my review here.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer – One of the more interesting fairy tale retellings, this follows Cinder the cyborg in New Beijing as the prince prepares to host a ball to find his queen. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – If you like your fantasy dark enjoy this story about a girl apprenticed to a wizard to fight off a sentient, creepy forest. See my review here.

Our Own Private Universe

22082082by Robin Talley
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

I wanted a follow-up to “Georgia Peaches” and I was pretty happy with this one!

Aki has always wondered if she is bisexual, and a month in Mexico on a mission trip becomes a way for her to test her theories about herself and her life. An instant crush on Christa, a girl from another youth group quickly leads to explosive feelings between the two of them and a lot of hard decisions to make regarding who can know about their relationship and what exactly it means to each of them.

This story is high on the romance and high on the drama—honestly it reminded me a lot of high school and youth group experiences I had (the drama that is—anything LGBTQ did not fly) so I was pleasantly surprised to be hit with some nostalgia. Aki and Christa experience some instant-attraction that quickly becomes something more, but for me it didn’t veer into the “insta-love” category. I really liked Aki’s complicated relationship with her best friend and her older brother, and the fact that the mission trip never faded to the background. Aki and Christa must work their relationship around their chores and activities with the children, and it added a charming fish-out-of-water element to the plot. I was a bit uncomfortable with Aki choosing to call her relationship with Christa an “experiment” in the beginning (because she was testing her Bisexuality Theory for herself). It gets kind of convoluted with her wish to be more active instead of passive in her life generally, but I think it was clear that it was a quirk of Aki’s and not yielding to the stereotype.

It gets a bit heavy-handed towards the end because Aki helps organize a debate designed to educate the church members on social issues for the church conference coming up. (Several churches came together to do the mission trip and are trying to get the official organization statement put together for the conference). But overall, this was a fun fast read!

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


Similar reads:

  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – Another take on Christian girls who are into girls. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson. See my review here.
  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – A princess betrothed to a prince in a neighboring country moves there for her upcoming wedding. And while she desperately tries to feel something for her fiancé, she faces her growing attraction to his sister. So cute and romantic! See my review here.
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.

What to read again:

Reading the previous books in a series a second time lets you soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—I find it makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

abyss surrounds us

This debut wowed me last year and I’m so excited for the sequel! (See my review here). In the future, genetically engineered monsters known as Reckoners protect trade ships on the high seas from ruthless pirates. Cas has been training her whole life to be a trainer assigned to a beast and a ship–but as you can guess, her first mission is a disaster. Captured by the Pirate Queen Santa Elena, Cas is forced to train a stolen Reckoner to attack trade ships. Her ambivalent ally on board is Swift, a girl with secrets and a questionable moral compass that keeps Cas on her toes–even as the pirate girl begins to touch her heart. There is so much packed into this slim book! I highly recommend it for a healthy dose of adrenaline, romance, and betrayals.

26219455

A Conjuring of Light

29939230by V. E. Schwab
Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

The perfect ending to this series! I so rarely enjoy the last book in a series as much as the others, but this one hit all the beats I could have asked for. The end for each character felt right—probably because they all experience deep loss. Don’t worry, no spoilers!

This book picks up the instant after the cliff-hanger ending of book 2, which is perfect because I had to know what happened to Lila! She charges into White London to save Kell, and it is nonstop action from there. Essentially, Kell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard, and Holland must figure out if they can stop the warped magical incarnation Osaron before it destroys Red London in its quest for power. Of course, all the personal feuds and past history between them makes that task seem even more impossible.

Some of my favorite scenes in this series occur in this book! Lila in particular had me laughing out loud, and there are final revelations about magic in all the Londons that are clever and fun. It was probably important to include these moments to balance the relentless death and destruction. (Because it is absolutely relentless!)

Enjoy an excellent blend of dark magic, black humor, and awkward moments between these characters. It’s a bit faster-paced than the first two books and continues to build on everything I loved about the first two. Schwab stuck the landing and I can mark this trilogy as a new favorite series!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – A slow-burn story of dark magic in the wilderness of Rus’. One girl is destined by her mother to save her village from the growing power of the Bear. The atmosphere of this story is incredible and will keep a hold on you long after the last page! See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Because if you can’t get enough of magical doors in London you can read about Richard and how his encounter with the strange girl named Door sets off a chain of events that threaten everyone in the city.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A wonderfully dark story of a sorcerer and a girl with unusual magical talents that must learn to work together to save their land from the evil in the heart of their forest. See my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Even more adventures in magical futuristic London! Paige tries to gather voyants to her side as Scion’s threat grows. See my review here.

The Bear and the Nightingale

25489134by Katherine Arden
Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: January 10, 2017

This had a bit of a quiet debut but it delivered everything I hoped for! Plenty of Russian folklore, magic, a mysterious protagonist, and all things winter. I loved this!

Although Vasya is the main character, we follow a large cast over several years in the remote northern woods of Rus’. Vasya’s parents are beloved by their people, and everyone grieves when Vasya’s mother dies giving birth to her. When her father brings a new wife to their lands, the conflict between Christianity and the old traditions intensifies. The people, fearful of the hell their new monk preaches each week, begin to view Vasya as the daughter of a witch because of her strange ways. Her father, brother, and nurse attempt to shield Vasya both from the village’s growing hostility and the knowledge that the frost demon, the winter-king, seeks her life for his own reasons.

I came for the world and stayed for the characters. The relationship between Vasya and her older brother Alyosha was my favorite—watching them evolve from siblings that teased each other to adults that look out for each other was a satisfying and enjoyable journey. About halfway through is when the story becomes truly creepy! The winter-king, his brother the Bear, and different events in the village had me on edge until the end. (I would jump so hard if someone interrupted my reading!) The constant feeling of being watched by dark creatures or mercurial spirits soaks through each page and creates the best kind of tension. Vasya’s determination to protect her family and village despite their disapproval is a moving conflict, and I could not get enough of the winter-king!

The last page had me wistful to go back and stay in the wintery forest—this debut provides that lush experience of listening to stories by the fire at night. The writing is savory without being too flowery. This is a perfect read for snowy days!

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


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A lyrical and dark tale of a girl taken by a sorcerer to learn magic. This seems foolish until she learns of the evil power festering in the kingdom’s forest, threatening to rise and destroy everything. Beautiful, funny, romantic, dark–I absolutely love this book! See my review here.
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni find themselves in New York City in 1899 through strange circumstances. Their unlikely friendship is marked by strange happenings as they try to build lives in the city of immigrants.
  • The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell – If you want a bit more of the Russian winter, follow Feo’s quest to save her mother, the wolf wilder. With only her half-wild wolf pack and the help of a young soldier, Feo must journey through the forest to St. Petersburg and free her mother from unjust imprisonment. See my review here.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – Another story featuring a girl unsure of her powers and destiny thrust into saving her kingdom from dragons and other evil forces. It has a similar mood and is one of my favorite books! It’s rare that anything I read reminds me of it. See my review here.

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

28814910by William Burnett
Nonfiction
4 of 5 stars

I heard an interview with the author on NPR and the process he described intrigued me, so I went out on a limb and grabbed a copy! (Pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve gotten a book rec from the radio?)

What caught my interest was the process he described briefly in the interview, which is the premise of the book here. Basically, if you aren’t happy with how your life is going in any area (work, play, love, health) there are ways to analyze what is making you unhappy and what you might be able to do to change that.

Once you know what isn’t working, you figure out if it’s a problem you can fix, or if it’s something out of your control. You brainstorm things that might be better (although this largely focuses on jobs, it highlights ways to improve your friendships and health as well). Then you try them out with limited commitment, to see if you’re right. And if you are, commit! If you aren’t, try again. In fact, you’ll probably try a lot of things, which is exactly the point!

This was basically how we decided to move to Colorado about 18 months ago. We liked being outside but we had exhausted what St. Louis had to offer. We didn’t like our jobs. We went a bunch of places wondering if there was something we’d like better, staying as long as we could and seeking out not just the tourist attractions but what a real life in different cities would be like. We had so many lists of pros and cons and “this would be ideal” vs  “this would work” and it took two years to pull off. Ultimately, we got about half of what we wanted, so a year later (after even more planning) we moved again to eliminate our commute and upgrade a couple of things and BAM! Life is pretty awesome right now!

Anyway – if you have middle-class resources and a reasonable network (or willingness to meet strangers) this will probably be helpful. It does assume having a college degree, for example. It definitely has some helpful pointers for job hunting and ways to do a personal inventory in an organized way. So for that alone, I’d say it’s worth a read!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – If you feel like your possessions are keeping you from living your best life, this is an interesting and effective method to decluttering your living space and ensuring each item you possess is functional and/or brings you joy. See my review here.
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler – The comedian provides insight and humorous observations about living the best life for you and fighting your way through a male-dominated world. If you enjoy her onscreen or onstage you will enjoy this! See my review here.
  • The Book by Alan Watts – As someone who was heavily sheltered from any eastern philosophies and religions, I found this an interesting and easy intro to a different way of viewing yourself and your place in the world. It’s concise and thought-provoking.

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