YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Crystal Storm (Falling Kingdoms #5): by Morgan Rhodes

Publish Date: December 13th, 2016

Number of Pages: 379 Pages

Publisher: Razorbill

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning! This review contains spoilers from this book and from previous books in th series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Falling Kingdoms – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Rebel Spring – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Gathering Darkness – Click HERE

To see my review of book #4 – Frozen Tides – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

When on the very edge of death, matters such as fortune and legacy are meaningless in the face of knowing that someone who cares for you will hold your hand as you slip away.”

– Morgan Rhodes, “Crystal Storm”

Power and what people are willing to do to gain it is a theme in the Fantasy genre that we’re all familiar with, it’s nothing new, but somehow it’s a concept that never seems to not help create an entertaining and twisty story that leaves us readers filled with intrigue and anticipated pleasure. Whether it’s kingdoms at war, supernatural beings threatening to take over, or the evil overlord is trying to destroy life as we know it; it always creates and allows the opportunity for us readers to have a widely encapsulating story.

Gathering Darkness is the fifth book in the fast-paced and unpredictable Falling Kingdoms series, and so much has changed with the development of the story so far with our characters like Cleo, Magnus, Lucia, Jonas, and even King Gaius as they’ve stolen, plotted, and enacted out certain actions that have caused so many evocation of emotions: anger, confusion, excitement, and grief. A total YA version of Game of Thrones, there’s been dueling kingdoms, backstabbing, magical orbs, forbidden love, manipulation, gruesome deaths, gods and immortals, alliances formed and lost, vengeful acts of revenge and retribution, and now even resurrections!

I’m going to be honest: I did enjoy this book and I absolutely devoured it when I got my hands on it, but at the same time, it felt like filler/complete setup for the next book which also happens to be the final book in the whole series. It felt shorter than every other book, and it felt like not as much got resolved with everything that happens. I get it… the author is trying to make that final book all that much more sought after to go out with a bang, so I can’t exactly knock her for that. It just makes the torturous year long wait for that final book all that much more worse.

One of the greatest aspects of this whole series are how all the characters are so morally grey. No one’s completely innocent, and no one hasn’t done at least one heinous act in order to get ahead in the game. They’re all flawed, and they all have proper justification for all their actions, which just makes for such a fun reading experience.

Cleo continues to be my favorite character; she’s not some badass assassin or thief, but that doesn’t make her any more of a damsel in distress. She’s not able to physically do much, but I like her spunk, her heart, and her courage in order to (hopefully) one day reclaim her home of Auranos. She’s feminine, and despite her physical shortcomings, she’s such a strong character. I also love her romantic storyline with Magnus, that has become a real treat to enjoy. It’s gone through so much ever since the second book, and they’ve come so far; it’s one of the best enemies-to-lovers storylines I’ve ever read and think people should read these books for that alone. I admit though, she has really learned how to play the game, and is really spiteful and greedy and isn’t the greatest with handling their relationship. At one point, she’s enjoying the sexy appeal of sneaking around, but it’s all because she’s actually ashamed to be seen with him. Plenty of angst to add to the plot!

Magnus is also such a treat to read. I mean, his character arc is nothing new or highly original: he’s basically the messy haired, broody, dark prince who has the sassy comebacks, but is a total softy when it comes to the woman he loves. He’s really gone through some major growth throughout the books, and he’s far away from the moody prince and is really starting to become a true leader and future king of Limeros–Or Auranos if and Cleo make it all the way!

Jonas is such an endearing character and is so easy to want to root for, he’s been through so much that he’s evoked the most emotional investment besides Cleo for readers to get behind. However, he’s not the greatest at making sure his plans follow through… I don’t think of his plans have been successful, nor has achieved any of his goals for himself–in fact, I’m pretty sure other people have been the ones to make any sort of his goals/plans actually follow through. He also seems to have totally gotten the short end of the stick when compared to the other main characters when it comes to storylines and overall success.

Lucia Damora is easily my least favorite character in the whole series. She was alright at the beginning, but after a few books, she has turned into such an annoying brat who doesn’t have any meaning of the word genuine in her soul. My final straw was her alliance with Kyan in all of Frozen Tides. Sure, she sort of saw the error of her ways, but she’s also such an indecisive brat who was fine with all the death and destruction going on, and while she tries to make amends for that in this book, part of me wonders if she can redeem herself at all by this point, at least for myself.

Amara has also become a real gem of a character! She’s more deceptive and dangerous than King Gaius, and the fact that she’d even kill her own brother shows how far she’s willing to go in order to get what she wants. She’s despicable and heartless, but she makes for a much more interesting story. Plus, she’s not just bad for the sake of being bad. As we saw in the previous book, she’s been looked down on all her life for being a woman and she is no longer allowing men to decide her fate for her. I thought she’s had a believable arc throughout and has some depth that makes her drive actually pretty relatable. Characters like her are the absolute best in these kinds of stories where there are multiple people vying for the throne; you never know what they’ll do next.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The ruthless Empress Amara of Kraeshia has taken the Mytican throne, and now uncertainty looms over the three kingdoms. Since Lucia unleashed the fire Kindred, wreaking havoc throughout the land, Myticans have been looking for someone—anyone—they can trust. They believe in Amara, not knowing her grand promises are built on lies.

In Paelsia, Magnus and Cleo reluctantly follow King Gaius to the home of his exiled mother, Selia. Selia is a powerful witch and claims she can help unlock the magic of the Kindred—if the visitors agree to her terms. When Jonas arrives from Kraeshia, he is shocked to find that his rebel army now includes his sworn enemies. Along with Nic, Felix, and the mysteriously resurrected Ashur, the contentious group agrees to cast aside old grudges—for now—and united against their common enemy: Amara.

Meanwhile, bearing the child of a Watcher and feared by all, Princess Lucia travels across Mytica to find her family. But time is running out. The impending storm signals the dark prophecy Timotheus warned her about. Her fate is written, and it includes none other than the rebel Jonas. When their paths collied, Jonas and Lucia must decide between blindly following their destiny or fighting for their own free will.

The battle for power culminates at the Paelsian palace, where Amara resides. Rain pours. Blood spills. And soon all will discover that the darkest magic comes at an even darker price

What I Liked:

  1. Enemies become Allies! One thing about this series that makes it so much fun is how unpredictable some characters truly are and how all the alliances and rivalries have changed so much within the series if not even just within one book. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing, and I would’ve never guessed at Magnus teaming up with Cleo based off just the first book back when I first read it, nor how they become the OTP of the series, and now they’re teaming up with Gaius! Like, WHUUUUUUUUT??
  2. Magnus and Cleo Romance Development! These two continue to drive up the romance I love in this whole series, and things aren’t all “happily-ever-after” after the two of them were getting it on in that cabin in the climax of the previous book, Frozen Tides. It’s back to the real world, and of course, everyone is maybe starting to see that something is going on between them. Not everyone is thrilled about them, and they make sure to remind Cleo of all the shady things Magnus has done in the past, and part of her starts to wonder if whether they’re right for each other or not. I for one am a huge stan for them, but even I remember how I was hoping for more to happen between Jonas and Cleo at the very beginning of the series.
  3. King Gaius Gains Depth! One thing that’s usually lacking in Fantasy-genre books/series, both adult and YA, is how the villain is incredibly underdeveloped. They’re bad just for the sake of being bad, and not a whole lot is revealed about why they got this way, and even of the King of Blood in the Falling Kingdoms series starts off this way, but after his death in Frozen Tides, he seemed to have changed his ways a little bit: he’s working with Magnus and Cleo to take down Empress Amara, and even the opening scene is of him and his mother when he’s a child and talking about what’s to happen in present time reveals more depth to his character. Maybe he’s seen the errors of his ways, or maybe he’s got some diabolical plan going on in his head? Who knows!
  4. Nerissa! She has been a side character that has actually been around since the beginning of the series; she’s just been under the radar, but she’s been a valuable role with her being a spy and reporting back to Jonas and the others. Since she’s made it this far, is still alive and even has a small romantic subplot developing, I thought she deserved a shout out!

The fire that hollows us out is what allows us to be filled with strength and power where before there was none.”

– Morgan Rhodes, “Crystal Storm”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Jonas Has Magic?…This was just a random plot twist that I was torn about. Since Jonas has now been saved by two Watchers, it’s not exactly hard to believe that maybe there would be some weird consequences because of that. Jonas seems to have snagged some magical abilities, but he has absolutely no control over them at all. I guess what I really didn’t like about this development was how it was tied up in the end of this book.
  2. Jonas Joining Up With Lucia, and Becoming Part of Prophecy…I love Jonas even though everything he’s sought after doing in this series was either a failure or was accomplished by someone else, but I continue to be disappointed as he joins up with my least favorite character in all these books. Even worse, he ends up randomly becoming a huge factor in the whole prophecy with Lucia and how she’s the sorceress reincarnated, and I just wasn’t for it with this whole development… Jonas once again gets the short end with these books.
  3. The Kindred End Up Being Boss Villains?…So with the appearance of Kyan being revealed as the spirit of the Fire Orb of the Kindred, it’s soon discovered that each orb actually has a trapped spirit within, and they want out. Imagine it like the Titans vs. the Gods of Olympus with the Kindred and the Watchers. While this was an interesting development, what I didn’t like was how we had no idea this was going to happen up until this point. I don’t know, I feel like all great series have the boss villain rather early on in the story. Gaius was the first big villain, but we had no idea there were these vengeful spirits within the orbs and that they’d end up being the big boss villain–like Voldemort or Sauron.
  4. That Cliffhanger Ending…Okay Morgan Rhodes……..that ending was just cruel! Sure, I’m kind of used to it with this series with literally every book having a big cliffhanger, but I’d read these books all the way back when they were being published, so waiting a full year to get any new updates and seeing what happened next was torture!

Conclusion:

Crystal Storm is yet another thrilling addition to the exhilarating Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, but feels a little less complete than the other books at the same time. It felt like the fifth book here was just pure setup for the the next book that also happens to be the final book to end it all. Whenever a series is wrapping up, it reminds me of myself and all my excitement back when I’d first read the first book and how I was filled with excitement amazing story and the wonder of where it was going to possibly go and what may happen when I get to the current point I’m at right now. There’s just something so magical about that whole experience for me!

With this book feeling more like setup for the sixth and final book, it certainly raised my expectations and makes me not only even more excited for the next title, but the fingers crossed that it’s the best possible ending that it deserves!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Legendary (Caraval #2): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: May 29th, 2018

Number of Pages: 451 Pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this trilogy, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

Too see my review of book #1 – Caraval – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

A much lighter and whimsical tale amongst the many that fall under the YA Fantasy genre, Legendary utterly sweeps you away, takes you on an enchanting quest, much like the previous book in this trilogy, Caraval. Both are filled with exotic locations, mysterious twists and turns at every street corner, gorgeous men with devilish smirks full of secrets, magical gowns that can transform based off the emotions of whomever is wearing them, and dazzling lights of the stars and streets as those who play the game and enter a hunt for the hope of something more.

Caraval was a fun summer read that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but there were definitely some things I had to say that I think could’ve made it better. I wanted more danger, more mischief and dark aesthetics; the stakes needed to be raised in order to add even more the excitement of this annual game. For me, Legendary seemed to have added all that to enhance the whole reading experience of these books! It was obvious that Stephanie Garber, the author, had decided to focus more on the storytelling aspect and less on the imagery and how it was described.

I’m sure it’s an added bonus for many readers that this time around, there’s less focus on Scarlett and more on her younger sister, Tella. Scarlett was our protagonist in Caraval, and the goal of the game was for her to find and rescue her sister, who’d been kidnapped as soon as she’d stepped foot on the island town where the game of Caraval was played. Not too many readers seemed to have liked Scarlett as the protagonist; she made some not-so-smart decisions, was cautious and sheltered, and was constantly the damsel in distress who needed the mysterious Julian to come and rescue her…It’s hard to get behind a character like that when there are so many stories out there now that have strong, fierce females who don’t need no man to help them out whenever things get rough. Tella is the complete opposite of Scarlett; she’s much more impulsive and daring, she’s more charismatic, and seems much more adventurous and courageous. I have to say she did make for a much more interesting story this second time around.

There was a much larger sense of worldbuilding in this book too that has to do with a larger story involving much mythology and lore that the author hadn’t included in the previous book. It involves the sister’s long lost mother, a deck of cards, and these ancient & immortal beings called “The Fates” that used to rule the world long ago, but have disappeared until recently. This had such a huge impact on the story and added so much to the overall depth of much more intricately crafted plot, and helped raise the stakes a large amount that the previous book needed.

I’m very curious if the author had all this planned out before she wrote the first book, or if all these new features were thought up afterwards as a way to keep the story going somehow. How much did she truly know before the first book?

Much like the last book, there were also a vast array of riddles and twists that I’m sure quite a bit of readers didn’t see coming, but there was also a fair amount of foreshadowing that I also think more seasoned readers would be able to catch so long as they’re paying attention. Some are more surprising than others, of course, but they get seriously much more juicy around the climax of the story. It all leads to a very cliffhanger-like ending that will make you want to get your hands on the third and final book ASAP!

I also love the theme that these books have become so consistent with; the whole play on what’s reality and what’s all just a part of the game. Everyone has secrets, everyone has their own motives behind their actions, and some are so much easier to read than others, and it’s actually so much fun to see how things play out, like, who are really allies? Who’s really an enemy? What are their true feelings for that character? Who the EFF is Legend already? The author asks so many questions about so many aspects of the story, it almost drives you completely insane at how much is going on behind the scenes and the rate in which they reveal themselves to Tella and you, the reader. I saw a comparison to HBO’s Sci-Fi thriller, “Westworld”, and it’s actually so true how the show and these books have such a similar theme driving the story. The whole idea of a park that draws people in, the cast of “actors” that enhance the experience, the story the audience experiences is entirely based on their choices, and there’s the scavenger hunt to find the ultimate prize at the end of the maze. It all raises some interesting points on the mysteries of the world and the human condition.

One thing I didn’t particularly like was how the romance building between Tella and Dante felt too similar to how it was built up between Scarlett and Julian in the second book. It was still enticing and a well drawn out slow-burn, but it lacked originality and just felt repetitive. I’m not sure if it’s the only setup the author is able to do in the romance department, but I hope for future stories that she can switch it up a lot better.

I’m happy to say these books are becoming a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking for a circus/theatre/performing arts-like story. Like Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, these books have the unpredictability and angst of “The Phantom of the Opera,” mixed with the over-the-top campiness of “Moulin Rouge.”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A heart to protect.

A debt to repay.

A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister, Scarlett, from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever…

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . the games have only just begun...

She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life.”

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

What I Liked:

  1. Donatella Is Now The Protagonist! The most consistent complaint anyone had about Caraval was how a lot of fellow readers found they didn’t like Scarlett Dragna. She made bad decisions, she constantly got into trouble and needed a man to get her out of it, I’m sure the list goes on for more readers, but you get the point. Tella is the exact opposite of Scarlett, and she is much more courageous and impulsive, and it seems like a lot more readers prefer her over her older protective sister. Personally, I liked them both and didn’t mind as much, but I have to agree I did love seeing more of Tella this time around.
  2. The Stakes Have Been Raised! There was definitely a higher dose of danger this time around that the books really needed, and it was nice to see how the lines between performance and reality continued to become even more murky, the plots became more sinister, and even more mystery shrouded the carnival event with people’s lives and the fate of the world on the line this time around. The question “Is this really still just a game?” was asked a lot throughout the story, and I love how the author crafted so much mystery and left so much up in the air. It also helps that there’s a for sure villain this time around too: You’ll meet Jacks, who has some seriously twisted thoughts inside his blond, bleeding silvery-blue eyed head. I’m not going to give too much away, but read the book and see for yourself!
  3. The Theme: What Is Reality? With the added danger I mentioned before, it also goes into what I also mentioned of whether this is all still just a game, or if now it’s real. You’re constantly questioning the motives of so many characters and all that’s going on behind the scenes, I liked the comparison I saw somewhere with someone comparing this story to “Westworld.” Now, some may think that’s a reach, but let’s think about it: the theme of “what is reality?” There’s the idea of a park where people go and become someone else, they let the game take them over, there’s actors surrounding you playing roles to only enliven the atmosphere, and then there’s the hunt to win the heightened scavenger hunt to find the prize at the end of the game or the maze.
  4. More Mythology/Lore: The Fates! Another aspect of the story that made this so much more impressive of a story was how the author added these ominous figures known as “The Fates.” Spoiler Alert as I explain who they were:…………. ………………… …………….. Centuries ago, they were these immortal beings who ruled the world and were agents of chaos, but were banished into a deck of cards by a powerful witch. There’s much more to it, like who each one is and a list of magical objects too, but that’s the main gist of it, and I don’t want to ruin the full experience of you reading it for yourself. It all does nothing but add to the story and continue to heighten the drama of how the story develops.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I’ve Seen This Before…I do love Dante; he was in Caraval but was a minor character. He was the pompous, hot, mean guy, so I was happy to see him receive much more attention this time around. I also thought he was a great love interest for Tella, but I noticed with him and Tella that it basically just felt like a total repeat of the whole dynamic between Julian and Scarlett in the previous book. It seems like Stephanie may only be able to write YA versions of alphaholes with a Mr. Darcy kind of vibe in her dashing male love interests, and I was hoping for maybe something with more original between Dante and Tella.

Conclusion:

Everything that I said needed to be added to Caraval happened in this book; Legendary was like a new and improved version on it with so a much more intricately drawn plot filled with much more sinister plots, daring twists, enchanting magic, and of course scorching romance!

If you enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, you’ll definitely love this sequel too. It’s not grimmdark, epically high fantasy, or anything too serious. These books are just a more fun. light-hearted, whimsical tale that can still entertain and enthrall all the same! I’d say just about everything about Legendary was bigger and better, all except for whether I can’t decide whether Dante or Julian is the better love interest.

Like I said earlier, I wonder if Stephanie Garber had everything all planned out in advance before she wrote the first book, or if she came up with it all later on or as she was working. I must say, she really does know how to expertly weave an intriguing story together with just about everything I love in a story: mystery and lore, unexpected twists, mysteries galore, second guessing everyone and everything, and of course scorching romance. You can bet I am going to for sure be reading what is sure to be an epic conclusion with Finale being the next title.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone Trilogy #2): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 4th, 2013
Number of Pages: 435 Pages
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning! This book contains spoilers for the first book in the series, so continue reading at your own risk. You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

So I’m not sure if this would make any sense, but how does a sequel become so much better than the previous book: the plot gets more intense and impressive, the characters all have great development, and is just more original and creative in general….BUT you didn’t like the book any more than how you we’re lukewarm than the first one? I don’t get it; this book had everything it needed to become a much more entertaining read, but I still found myself bored and struggling to finish it.

One main reason I think this was the case is that I tried to read Siege and Storm during the pandemic for COVID-19, and I hate to admit how something I love to do: reading — is harder to do because somehow it’s a struggle to sit down and concentrate on what I’m reading… I’ve already dropped three books within the last month because I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough to keep reading. Maybe I’ll come back to them later on, but for now, they’re on my DNF shelf.

Overall, while I did mainly enjoy this sequel to Shadow and Bone, maybe it was the way the world is right now that kept me from fully enjoying it like I could’ve. I really liked the male characters like Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling, and how the plot got so much thicker with many great developments. I was really torn about both Alina and Mal as characters; I get where they’re coming from with what annoys me about them, but they still bug me about certain things they do and the way they are. I didn’t enjoy the midpoint of the story, and it was there that I really struggled to keep wanting to read. I just found it so immensely boring, and believe me, it hurts right in the chest to say something like that about a Leigh Bardugo novel. The Six of Crows is still such a favorite of mine, but those came later than this original trilogy, and going backwards with any author’s titles always ends on a bad note for me.

When I say boring, I think Goodreads reviewer Elise (TheBookishActress) said it best: the narrative of this book won’t allow it to get any darker than it already is. It’s filled with morally grey characters, and how EVERYONE makes evil decisions in order to gain an advantage over all the other key players in the battle for power. Some are less evil than others, but the point is, it could’ve played on the idea of people doing evil things for different reasons and giving us some much more interesting character development and raise a bunch of interesting questions about human nature, but it was limited by what the YA market was looking for at the time. It gets close to crossing the line, but still stays safely in it’s lane, and knowing Leigh Bardugo has more freedom to go farther with it in her later books turns me off to these books more, not allowing me to enjoy them than if I were to have read them before Six of Crows.

I will say that Nikolai Lantsov and The Darkling are easily the best characters to come out of these books so far; they’re possibly the best part of these books period

What It’s About:

I know the truth in your heart. The loneliness. The growing knowledge of your own difference. The ache of it.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Siege and Storm”

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka.

But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

There is no ordinary life for people like you and me.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Siege and Storm”

What I Liked:

  1. Much Less Tropey Than The First Book! One of my biggest complaints of Shadow and Bone was how there were so many clichés used: the mary sue character who thinks she’s plain and boring yet has more than one love interest, the magical school she travels to in order to train, the hot mean girl, the chosen one, etc. Sure, it may not have been so cliché back when it was first written, but hasn’t aged as well into 2020. This book felt much more original and unique in comparison, the plot has become bigger, the stakes have been raised, the writing continues to improve, and their is some major character development!
  2. Nikolai Lantsov! Another book boyfriend to add to the (large) growing list! He turned out to be an amazing character throughout the course of this book; he was so charming, passionate, suave, and witty. The pirate—or privateer as he prefers to be called—made the book more fun to read, and his whole arc made the story feel so much more unique and creative from the author. Personally, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if Alina ended up with him in the end.
  3. The Darkling! He continues to excel at being quite frankly one of the most interesting villains I’ve read in a long time, along with being one of my favorite characters in the whole Grishaverse. There’s hints that suggest he’s still human underneath the dark cloak of being the black heretic, and you can tell there’s an interesting inner battle happening there. Who knows what’ll happen there?
  4. The Roles Have Reversed! So I thought it was kind of interesting that Mal and Alina kind of switched places in this book when compared to Shadow and Bone: now Alina is the desired one, the popular one, the one with more influence while Mal fears he’s being left behind. Some could even say it’s poetic justice for Mal, who couldn’t see how great he had it before and now is fully realizing what he’s lost since the beginning of the whole story.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Really Boring Midpoint…I’m not going to lie, even though it breaks my heart to say this about a Leigh Bardugo novel, but I found the midpoint of this book to be just oh so achingly boring! Little tidbits of excitement were tossed in here and there, but for the most part, I was actually struggling to get through it! Take in mind there are several reasons on my part as the reader as to why this may be: 1. I started out with the Six of Crows books, which arguably are much better written, and going backwards with an author’s books never works out in my favor and 2. I read this is 2020 when the world is in the middle of a flippin’ pandemic! I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it difficult to stick with reading an actual book right now. Like, I’m not able to fully concentrate on what I’m reading because I’m just so stir-crazy if that makes any sense? Maybe I’ll think differently when I reread this book at a different time?
  2. Alina Starkov…Now, this one is split down the middle because I do still like Alina as a character; I felt like she’s had a great development as a character in this book especially. My problem with her is that she still sticks to some bad habits that she really just needs to break apart from. I love that she’s starting to gain some confidence in her abilities and now is starting to realize that her powers are really special and that yeah…she’s the chosen one to change the course of history. Everything that’s made her more interesting is because of the Darkling and the influence he’s had on her through these books so far. I hate to say it, because I’m also torn about Mal, but the thing she needs to stop doing is holding onto her past because she’s still too influenced by Mal and what decisions she makes that would make him happy. I get it: she’s a teenage girl in love for the first time, but lets maybe worry about the future of the world instead of worrying about which boy you should kiss next, yes? Katniss Everdeen didn’t have a problem with this.
  3. Mal…Arguably one of the most disliked characters in the book, which is sad considering I feel like that’s not the intent the author had for him at all. Many feel like he’s dragging Alina down, being petty and moody because of how things have changed since they were both pretty much foot-soldiers of the first army. To a degree, I can agree with that. While I do admire that the two of them are willing to sacrifice so much in order to make the other one happy, I feel like Mal is going down the same route as Chaol Westfall did in the Throne of Glass series, and only loves certain parts of Alina by this point. Obviously, I mean the non-grisha parts, and he’s upset at how things have changed and they’re out of his control, he’s getting left behind for men like Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling, and he just wishes things could go back to the way they were before: back to “normal.” I want to like him, I really do, but I will wait until I read the final book, Ruin Rising, before I make my final decision on him.

Conclusion:

Siege and Storm was a much better written, an all around better novel than the previously written book in this trilogy, but I was disappointed to say that it still somehow didn’t draw me in, but that may be the cause of the pandemic were in, and how that’s affected my ability to be able to sit and concentrate on reading in general. I definitely plan to reread this later when things get back to normal to see if my opinion changes at all.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4): by Morgan Rhodes

Publish Date: December 15th, 2015
Number of Pages: 413 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers from the previous books in the series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my full review of book #1: Falling Kingdoms – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2: Rebel Spring – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #3: Gathering Darkness – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

For anyone who’s been following in my reviews of this series, some may be surprised at how my rating has dropped when compared to the previous book in this series. Believe me, I was just as surprised at my reaction to this fourth book in one of my favorite YA fantasy series, but to be honest, I just couldn’t help but be disappointed in this title a little bit.

There were plenty of parts that I immensely enjoyed, and still can say I loved reading it like the other titles; I guess for me it was mainly my disappointment with the direction the series was starting to move in at this point. I feel like there was a shift in the overall feel of the books by this point, and the overall story had started to move in a direction that maybe I wasn’t so fond of, at least concerning certain subplots or character arcs. While plenty of the twists and the forbidden romance continued to pique my interest, there was just a lot more aspects that I just wasn’t entirely agreeing with.

There were a couple things I loved about this series. One was the introduction of the Kraeshian Empire, the homeland of Prince Ashur and Princess Amara Cortas. Its presence has been brewing in the background since the second book, so it was nice to see it finally make its grand entrance into the story. Another was, of course, how Prince Magnus’s relationship with Princess Cleo continues to develop oh-so-achingly slowly, and one last one worth mentioning was the development of spy/assassin/double-crossing Felix Graebas.

There were of course plenty of things I disliked about this books as well: Princess Lucia Damora being the biggest one worth mentioning. I go into more details about all these things I’ve mentioned further below in my review, as I do in all of my book reviews on this website.

Overall, I did enjoy this book like all the other books in this series so far, I was literally vibrating with excitement waiting for their publishing date every year after waiting those 365 days. I couldn’t help but literally binge read whenever these books came out, because while it’s such a cheap tactic to put on us readers, the author is damn good at those cliffhangers that keep us coming back! The thing is, I wasn’t nearly as satisfied with this book when I finished like I was with the other books. I can’t explain it, but like I said, I felt like there was just a major shift with the overall series once I got to this book, and while I still enjoy the story and characters and want to keep reading on, part of me just isn’t as emotionally invested as I once was *shrugs.* Part of it could be because around the time I’d first read this, I was really getting more into the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, and maybe that stole the thunder from this series a little bit?

What It’s About:

Because if you don’t choose to fight against the wrong in the world, then you are the wrong in the world.”

– Morgan Rhodes, “Frozen Tides”

Rebels, royals, and monsters wage war over the Mytican throne in the shocking fourth book of the Falling Kingdoms series, from New York Times bestselling author, Morgan Rhodes.

CLEO: Reeling after a bloody showdown in Limeros ending with Amara’s abduction of the water crystal, and a vacancy in the Mytican throne, Princess Cleo must cast aside her feelings and look toward her kingdom with the eyes of a Queen.

MAGNUS: With the kingdom in chaos, Princess Lucia still missing and quite possibly in danger, and a shocking realization about Cleo, the steely prince is once again torn between love and duty, leaving him wondering whether he’s strong enough to rule his people.

LUCIA: The young sorcercess has had her vengeance after the cruel death of her first and only love. Heartbroken and unable to trust anyone, she allies with the awoken Fire god, who also seeks revenge.

JONAS: After escaping death by the skin of his teeth, the defeated rebel—along with a mysterious stranger–leader reunites with Princess Cleo, only to find himself a mere pawn in a dangerous hunt for the elusive Kindred.

KING GAIUS: Abandoned by Melenia and betrayed by his own children, Gaius flees Mytica and sails to Kraeshia, where he attempts to ally with the famously brutal emperor across the Silver Sea.

What our hearts want can overtake what our minds tell us is forbidden to us. We can’t control these feelings, even if we desperately wish we could.”

– Morgan Rhodes, “Frozen Tides”

What I Liked:

  1. The Kraeshian Empire! It’s been something that’s been brewing in the background since the first appearance of Prince Ashur at Cleo and Magnus’s wedding in Rebel Spring, and you finally get a glimpse of the vast empire in the capital city! To be honest, it doesn’t seem too different from Dorne in Westeros from Game of Thrones, but the author uses it to really further the development of Amara Cortas, who is quickly letting us know she’s an irresistible force to be reckoned with in these books. You learn more about her and her family, and it adds some major depth to her crafty demeanor.
  2. Felix Graebas! You met him in the previous book, Gathering Darkness, and you probably loved him as much as I did for his cheeky personality and overall charming amount of shadiness. Turns out, he was actually an assassin sent by King Gaius to kill Jonas, but he couldn’t go through with it in the end because Jonas had become like a friend to him. Still, Jonas and Lysandra found out and banished him away, which leads Felix to realign himself with the wicked king and become his personal bodyguard! There’s more to his character, but I don’t want to give too much away; like Amara, he’s given more attention in this book and there’s more depths added to him and his motives.
  3. Magnus and Cleo’s Romantic Development! In Gathering Darkness, we got a major moment with them admitting their mutual unrequited attraction to each other—along with a steamy kiss—and Magneo officially became canon! In this book, their relationship continues to evolve as they return to the Limeros palace, Magnus’s home, and continue to bicker and get on each other’s nerves, but it’s okay because it’s foreplay for them. They reluctantly learn to trust each other and use their strengths together in order to come ahead of all the key players in the hunt for the Kindred.
  4. Many Cliffhangers! It’s definitely a normal expectation for these books, but the ending will blow your mind with how much happens! Lots of excitement for the last 25% of the book, and I won’t spoil it, but expect a lot of unexpectedness!

What I Disliked:

  1. Lucia Damora…I swear, I like her less and less with every book…Sis just needs to go away. In this book, she takes a walk on the dark side as she aligns herself with Kyan, who was actually the fire spirit trapped inside the Fire Kindred. It turns out each orb has some immortal being trapped inside like some sort of poké ball and releasing them is actually pretty bad news for EVERYONE, including the Watchers on the other side of the portals strewn about Mytica. Lucia and him travel around the realm and search for a portal that can still be activated and allow him to kill off Timotheus, the leader of the Watchers. While this new predicament is interesting and raises the stakes, Lucia does not. She’s just so easily unlikeable by this point, and her chapters were really bleh for me. So many opportunities with her whole story arc were just tossed out the window like a Corona beer during the pandemic; the storyline of her birth parents was a letdown, and even her powers aren’t all that much more impressive…
  2. The Kraeshian Rebellion…While at the Kraeshian Empire, Nic and Jonas meet Mikah, who is a servant-but-actually a leader in a rebellion group looking to overthrow the whole Empire led by Amara’s family…This whole addition was absolutely not necessary to include into the story, to be honest. Sure, it was an unexpected twist for Mikah’s character, but I can say this whole rebellion doesn’t mean anything for pretty much the entirety of the book. If anything, it serves as a plot convenience to rescue a certain character, but that’s it! There was another way to go about sneaking someone out of the palace than including this rebellion into the story, especially if it won’t come into play to the entire plot after that…pointless.
  3. Jonas Continues to Dwindle…Jonas is like that meme with the guy doing the post game interview, stating they had ’em in the first half. That perfectly sums up Jonas’s character in this series! I had high hopes for him, I really did—I even totally hoped him and Cleo ended up together—but he’s slowly being pushed further and further onto the back burner. He’s accomplished literally none of the mission’s he’s set out to do, and it feels like by this point, even the author is seeming to give up on him.

Conclusion:

Another thrilling edition to the bestselling Falling Kingdoms series, this title continues the usual recipe these books have: winding twists and turns up the wazoo, unpredictable character deaths, scorching romance, bloody political intrigue, and magic now oozing off the sides.

While many other readers who read this book seemed to love this addition, I was a little less than impressed with this title for the reasons I’ve already listed above, so I won’t repeat myself and get repetitive on the matter. Still, with the many cliffhangers this book gives us at the end, you can bet your cute butt that I’m still invested and kept reading these books! I’ve spent too much time screaming over everything that’s happened and just about everything else with these books to give up at this point.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

graphic novel, LGBT, New Adult Romance, YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones (Check Please #3-4): by Ngozi Ukazu

Publication Date: April 7th, 2020
Number of Pages: 352 Pages
Publisher: First Second
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, YA Romance, LGBT

***Warning! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of Book #1- Check, Please! Vol. #1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A fair warning is needed for anyone who’s about to start this next installment in the Check, Please! story: expect some tears. Expect tears both sad and happy to flow down those cheeks of yours because of how touching, how tender, how pure of a storyline this has come to be and just about everything else about it, but also because it’s coming to a close.

I was someone who’d discovered this story when the hardcover Vol. 1 came into the bookstore where I work one day, and I immediately fell in love with the cover and decided to give it a chance, then discovered something to truly fangirl over and completely stan.

The characters!

The banter!

The found family dynamic!

The coming of age tale!

The LGBT representation!

The slow burn romance!

All of it was just about perfect in my eyes, and these books were the YA LGBT graphic novel I wish I had growing up, or even just going through college myself. It makes me so happy to see so many more LGBTQ+ stories and books coming out for the younger readers that desperately need them in order to feel heard and understood.

After finishing the first book, I never really followed the webcomics posted (the original source of this whole story), and told myself to wait until this sequel was to be released in hardcover format almost a whole year later. Why, you may ask?…I’m not sure, but the best way for me to describe it is how I can’t watch a show by only viewing the one episode a week now. Netflix ruined that for me, and I’d rather just wait for it all to be released as a complete set rather than torture myself waiting to see what happens next with the little bit I’m given every week, if that makes sense? It’s all or nothing for me!

So fast forward, and it’s finally the time I can read this next volume, which contains main protagonist Eric “Bitty” Bittle’s Junior and Senior year of college. It felt like a reunion to get to go further into the story and see what happens after the VERY cliffhanger of that kiss him and Jack shared the day of Jack’s graduation! It was a whirlwind of past and present bunched together as we move forward in the story, but also are given lots of flashbacks to small scenes that happened before the start of book #2. It was a little jarring at first, but once the school year started, it was smooth sailing from there on. You’re reunited with a lot of familiar faces, and are also given a crop of new characters with the new incoming freshmen joining the team and Lardo trying to find her replacement once she graduates.

The bigger change in this book is Eric Bittle’s handling of his sexuality with his family, and I mean his biological family (I.E: his mom and dad). It has some heavier moments, but still keeps the usual lighter tone and mood of the whole series throughout, and leaves you with a sense of hope that our actual lives can turn out alright too.

There were a few issues I did have with the story this time around, which was odd for me considering I didn’t really have much if any from the previous book. One of which was the handling of a certain storyline involving Bitty and a newer face, Whiskey. I’ll go further into details with that below, but despite any issues I had, I still tremendously loved this book and was so happy with how it all ended: Where Jack goes, where Bitty goes, where their relationship goes, where everyone else goes, and just pretty much everything that happens.

Reading something like this can seriously help someone who’s struggling feel less alone in this world. It goes over so many issues that people around that age deal with: the anxiety, the pressure, the relationships, high expectations both set on yourself and others, love, thinking about your future, independence, leadership, and of course the joys and pains of coming to terms with your sexuality if you’re queer. Even if you’re not a hockey fan—or any sports in general—I feel like anyone who’s looking for a story like this one can enjoy it!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Bitty is heading to junior year of college and though he has overcome his fear of getting ‘checked’ on the ice, he and Jack now face new challenges. They must navigate their new relationship while being apart, and also decide how they want to reveal their relationship to those around them. Not only that, but Jack and the Falconers are now a big part of the NHL–and Bitty’s life! It’s a hockey season filled with victories and losses.

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

What I Liked:

  1. It Truly Makes You Laugh & Cry While Reading! I’m not someone who gets overly emotional whenever I read something. I can get incredibly emotionally invested in some things, sure, but that’s different. I can 100% full honesty, full disclosure admit that I both laughed out loud and actually teared up when I was reading this. If something can evoke so much emotion from a reader, that only proves that it’s something worth checking out!
  2. There’s Great Closure! Lately over the last couple years, a lot of series for me have come to an end, and I’m always so deeply disappointed when I feel like something didn’t end well. The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Game of Thrones, the IT movies just to name a few…but it seems like a lot of these popular books/movies/tv shows just can’t end on a perfect high note when the series itself was so spectacular through the journey. Check, Please! was thankfully not something I needed to add to my list of disappointing endings because the author actually did a great job of tying up all her loose ends, had the right endings for each of her characters, and it all just came together almost perfectly. Anyone who’s already a fan of the story will adore it!
  3. Bitty’s Development! Eric Bittle, or “Bitty” has really come into his own through the series. He’s become more confident in himself and his abilities on and off the ice, his relationship with Jack, his coming to terms with being gay, and to him all of a sudden being a senior on the team and is thrust into a position of leadership amongst the other players. I saw a bit of myself in Bitty sometimes along his journey, what with his whole self discovery and coming out in college amongst all his friends. He was a great protagonist to follow throughout the four years that they totally called it: they go quicker than you think!
  4. It Reveals Realistic Coming-of-Age Issues! I’d kind of mentioned it above, but this book tackles so many issues that really resonated with me, and I feel like relate to a lot of people around my age: anxiety, depression, acceptance, financial woes, fear and uncertainty of what comes after college and the future in general, coming out, friendships, first love…there’s plenty more, but if that doesn’t convince you, what will? Each issue is addressed and handled incredibly well; I’d almost even say there doesn’t even need to be a trigger warning for any of it because the book keeps its lighter tone throughout.
  5. The Found Family Trope! I’m such a sucker for the story arc of a group of diverse people coming together because of a certain cause or similar interest, and how they get closer over time and learn so much about each other…and eventually notice certain faults each person may carry, but loves them anyways! They support each other, they love to be around each other, and always enjoy each other’s company. The group also grows as more people join in over the years and the bond just continues to keep growing while they never lose touch of that original base that the group dynamic was founded on…I just love found/chosen family story tropes, they get me every time!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Many Flashbacks In The Beginning. The book starts off with many flashback scenes of certain things said or certain events that happened before the start of the book, all the while being mentioned or referenced in current time. I found this to be a little jarring, disorientating, and a confusing way to start for a graphic novel. Mainly, I think I just got a little overwhelmed and couldn’t tell what was past and present; maybe if the flashbacks had a certain difference in color tone or grading to make it visually less confusing, that would’ve been helpful!
  2. The Issue with the Player, Whiskey! Whiskey is a newer character introduced in this book, and he’s introduced as Bitty is talking about him to Jack over the phone, saying that the guy seems to want nothing to do with him and he has no idea why (kind of like how Jack first treated him tbh, but at least that got better). There’s a scene that happens at a college party, and then it’s entirely left alone until close to the end of the book when Bitty and Whiskey finally address it. To be honest, this whole storyline irked me a little bit! It never really fully gets addressed and felt like it’d gotten shafted under everything else going on, and even the final confrontation left a lot to be desired in terms of how is this going to be handled moving forward…Plus, it showed Whiskey’s character to not be in the greatest light, and I’d just hoped for more to come out of this whole storyline…

Conclusion:

It’s always sad when something comes to an end, and Check, Please! is no different than any other book, tv show, or movie that you adored and suddenly it’s over. What’s the hardest part is that hangover-like feeling of being lost and wondering to yourself: What now? Do you wallow and mope about how it’s over and worry if you’ll ever find something to love as much as you loved that story? Or, do you get excited at the anticipation of that hunt to find that next thing to obsess over? I guess it depends on the specific reader…

A truly great conclusion to an incredibly uplifting, joyful story of a little queer baker/figure skater/vlogger who turns into a hockey player, overcomes his fears, and finds true happiness with those he ties up his skates next to on the bench and shares the ice with. So many feels…but just what an amazing series! Can’t recommend enough!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell