Shadow and Bone Season 1 (Netflix Review)

It’s been such a long time since I’ve even attempted to write a review, although to be fair, they have always been the kind of post I have the most trouble with. The closest I’ve come recently is a Top 5 Wednesday back in March about movie adaptations, where I mentioned several of the movie and Netflix series that I’d been watching. I struggle a lot with reviewing books and movies because I prefer to be able to talk in detail about what I liked or didn’t like, and I find it so hard to do that without risking any spoilers. I guess I’m still a little put off by the time I wrote a detailed review of the soundtrack of the Addams Family musical on Amazon, where I gave context for each song, only to receive a comment from someone complaining that I’d revealed the entire plot. When I wrote that review, I’d naturally assumed that anyone who was listening to the soundtrack had already seen the show, although in hindsight, I guess it’s possible someone would be listening to the music before they’ve had a chance to see it. Either way, that comment was enough to make me nervous about spoiling things for anyone else, and it’s become really hard for me to figure out how to balance my reviews. For Shadow and Bone, however, I decided it was worth a try because this was one of my most anticipated adaptations! I will do my best to avoid any spoilers.

Plot

I was a little nervous going into this series at all because I remembered so little of the plot of the original Grisha trilogy. I never read the books when they originally came out, and to be honest, I don’t think I’d even really heard of them at the time. I started to hear a lot more about them through watching Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes on Youtube, who talked about the series and especially the Darkling a lot. Her videos really got me intrigued to try this one. I read the entire trilogy as well as Six of Crows back in 2018, and Crooked Kingdom shortly after in early 2019. I read King of Scars last year, and just recently finished Rule of Wolves as well, although that one was just after I finished watching the series. As a result, I remembered very little about the plot of the series, but it didn’t take long for it to come back to me while I was watching.

For those who might not know, Shadow & Bone is about a young woman named Alina who is a soldier living in a nation called Ravka that has been torn apart by the Shadow Fold. When an attack on her regiment leaves her best friend severely injured, Alina discovers a dormant power that marks her as a Grisha, part of the elite who can manipulate the elements as a kind of magic known as “small science.” Once her power is unleashed, she is rushed away to the royal court, led by the Darkling, to train to be able to use her powers to finally destroy the Shadow Fold. The first season of the show covers the events of the first book, Shadow & Bone, as well as adding in an additional subplot for the characters from Six of Crows. Kaz Brekker and his team of thieves in Ketterdam, who had a sort of prequel plot added to introduce these characters with a mission to kidnap the Sun Summoner for a wealthy merchant, in exchange for a huge payout.

One of the things I was most nervous about with the show was how the Six of Crows characters would be incorporated, since that duology took place after the events of the original series. I wasn’t sure how easily they could be included in a way that would still make sense, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this worked! At first, because I didn’t remember much of the books by time I watched the show, it threw me off a bit because I didn’t recognize any of this subplot, which I’d assumed had been in the books. Upon looking it up and realizing that it was brand new, I was impressed with how well it had been incorporated and especially how it fleshed out some of my favourite characters like Inej. It also provided an excellent way of including some of the scenes from the Six of Crows duology that had been in the books as flashbacks, such as the majority of Nina and Matthias’s storyline. While I’d still really love to see Six of Crows have its own adaptation, this was a great way to include these characters and offer a bit more worldbuilding.

In terms of the main plot, the series follows Alina as her Grisha powers are revealed while protecting her best friend Mal, causing her to be taken in by General Kirigan to be trained since her unusual power to harness light could help to destroy the Fold. Over the course of the season, Alina struggles with her new role as a Grisha and with her separation from Mal, her childhood friend with whom she had grown up in an orphanage and has always worked to keep them together. Much of the season is also devoted to a search for Morozova’s Stag, which is thought to amplify Grisha’s abilities, as well as Alina beginning to learn more about Kirigan and his true intentions. It is very difficult to mention much of the plot without risking spoilers, however I thought the series in general was very well-paced and I loved that it mostly stayed true to the books. There were a few differences, the most prominent of which was probably the backstory offered for The Darkling that didn’t exist in the books, aside from the addition of the entire Six of Crows storyline.

Characters & Casting

Like most adaptations, one of the most impressive things for me was the casting. I was immediately impressed by Jessie Mei Li, who was the perfect choice for Alina. Another change with the show which I didn’t yet mention is that Alina’s character has been changed to be biracial, with other characters often making assumptions about her and mock her due to her Shu heritage. While I’m not sure exactly why this change was made, I thought it did a lot to really highlight Alina’s feelings of being an outsider. Aside from her Grisha powers, she also faces a lot of negative comments about her appearance and stereotypes based on her Shu heritage. I have also seen quite a bit of criticism of the way race and racism were handled as a result of this change. This is not something that I’ve really looked into in detail at this point so I don’t really feel comfortable commenting on the topic. I did read one review recently that noted that none of the other diverse cast members seem to experience any form of racism or discrimination based on their colour, which makes the attitudes toward Alina that much more confusing, or at least lacking in context since not much was really explained about why the Shu are treated so harshly. Regardless, Jessie Mei Li did a brilliant job at bringing this character to life and her performance was a real highlight of the series for me.

Another character who has undergone some changes since the book series is Mal, played by Archie Renaux. As mentioned above, I didn’t remember too much of the book series, but I also remember that I wasn’t that invested in Mal, especially not as a love interest for Alina. In the books, the relationship seemed to be more one-sided with Alina’s initially unrequited crush on Mal, but the show develops his character and also their relationship a lot more thoroughly. The relationship between the two of them is such a strong part of the Netflix series, and I’m so happy they made these subtle changes to Mal to make it work a bit better. For the series, Mal was also changed to a mixed-race character which sets him apart as one of the few people whom Alina believes really understands her and shares her experiences. I think one of the main reasons that Mal could be fleshed out so much more in the series is because we’re not limited to Alina’s perspective like we were in the original books, which gives us room to follow him on his part of the plot and see what happens to him while he’s not with Alina. This was one of the best changes that could have been made, and along with Archie Renaux’s performance in the role, really helped make Mal a much more likable character.

Of course, I have to mention Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, who was another absolutely perfect casting choice. He strikes the perfect balance of sympathetic and villainous, and it is very easy to see how Alina falls for his ploys to get her help. He is manipulative, but you also can’t really help but by into the chemistry between them. In addition, I also enjoyed many of the side characters from the original series, such as Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta) and Genya (Daisy Head). For some reason, despite Zoya being such a major player in the series in general, I’ve always had a bit of a mental block for the character and have to refresh myself on what exactly her role is every single time. Although her role in this season wasn’t huge, it did give her a bit more prominence earlier on than she had in the books. To be fair, I did not quite recognize several of the side characters on sight as soon as they were brought in, but once their names were mentioned, I remembered them. I think that’s mostly to do with my own lack of memory for details of the series.

Lastly, I have to give special mention to Danielle Galligan as Nina and Calahan Skogman as Matthias, who brilliantly brought to life two of my favourite characters in this series. I thought these two actors captured the dynamics of this pair so well, and Danielle Galligan especially stole every scene that she was in. I also loved Amita Suman as Inej, who played the character almost exactly as I had always imagined, and Kit Young’s comic relief as Jesper. I think the one and only actor who took a bit of getting used to for me was Freddy Carter as Kaz, but that’s mostly because I had always pictured the character a little differently. Even while reading the series, I imagined the characters being significantly older than the ages mentioned on the page, so it was a bit of a shock to me to see Kaz looking so young. While I did ultimately end up loving his performance, it took me a little longer than expected to get used to him in this role. It may have also been because his storyline was brand new, compared to even many of the other Six of Crows characters, so there wasn’t as much familiarity to latch onto. Either way, I thought the casting for the series overall was incredible.

Visuals/Music

As always, this is the most difficult aspect for me to comment on because it is not something I particularly pay attention to. Visually, I loved the way the series captured the world and helped to really show the conditions that the characters were living in. I loved the Little Palace and the drastic change in lifestyle that presented for Alina, and especially loved the contrast it gave to how the army was living. I thought the Shadow Fold was also very well-done. I think the biggest highlight of all was Alina’s encounter with the Stag, which was particularly visually impressive. I also liked how the fictional languages were incorporated directly into the scenes sometimes. To be honest, I can’t say that I really remember any of the music from the show at all by now, but from what I remember, it was a good fit for the tone of series.

Overall Impressions

I think it is safe to say that this is by far one of the strongest adaptations that I’ve ever seen. I loved how the series was able to mostly stay true to the original books, while changing just enough to keep it fresh and even updating a few elements (ie. Mal’s character in general). I was very nervous to watch this series because of how much I love Leigh Bardugo’s writing and wasn’t sure it would be done justice, but I ended up very impressed and I’m already really looking forward to more seasons! Like many adaptations, the casting was by far the highlight for me, and I thought the characters were perfectly cast in general. I’m very interested to see how the next books in the series will be adapted, and hope that any subsequent seasons will be just as strong!

Plot – 9.5/10
Characters/Casting – 10/10
Visuals/Music – 9/10
Overall – 9.5/10

Top 5 Wednesdays: Favourite Tropes

I always dread this prompt coming up because I always have a hard time trying to figure out what tropes I like. It sounds like such a silly thing to say since I naturally gravitate toward certain kinds of books over others, so it should be easy to pinpoint what I’m looking for. Even looking back on my lists of favourite tropes from previous years (here and here) didn’t help much, since I was thinking of many of those same tropes and didn’t want to repeat myself! There have been many times, especially in Stacking the Shelves posts, where I’ll comment that something sounds like exactly the kind of book I tend to love, but I still have a hard time really conceptualizing what it is I look for. I’m starting to think it’s just because I lack the words to know what the trope is supposed to be called. Aside from the most common tropes like instalove, love triangles, and a few specific romance tropes, I don’t really know what many of them are actually called. I guess it’s a good first step that I can identify what I might like from the synopsis, but it would help a lot when it comes to posts about tropes if I could get a stronger sense of what I do and don’t like, at least in a way to put them into words!

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Locked room mystery – In a previous post about favourite tropes, I mentioned forced proximity and very briefly said that a locked room mystery was a part of that, although my focus at that time was a bit more broad. I haven’t read a ton of locked room mysteries, but I find it so creepy to think that someone who is right there in the room with you must be the killer. I love these because it’s very interesting to see how the author can craft a believable crime from a very limited range of suspects. I also tend to enjoy mysteries and thrillers more when I can’t guess who is responsible, and these kinds tend to lend themselves very well to misdirection and confusing clues that keep me guessing. I’m pretty sure it’s a slightly different trope when the characters are not literally locked into a single room, but I love this trope even if the setting is a bit bigger, like an entire island, a whole building, etc.

Some examples: An Unwanted Guest, And Then There Were None, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, One By One, Nine Perfect Strangers

2) Creepy houses – I guess this should come as no surprise given how often I add thrillers to my list specifically because they have houses on the cover. I especially love gothic stories because of this kind of setting. I get so easily scared by these kinds of books, probably because the things that happen are often so realistic, like strange noises, so it’s very easy to put yourself in the character’s shoes. I especially love it when these books blur the lines between what’s real and what might be supernatural and/or all in the character’s head. I don’t know if there’s a name for that element of the trope, but it’s something I absolutely love. “House” could also be pretty broadly defined to include things like boarding schools, hospitals, or anywhere else where people might have lived for some time.

Some examples: Rebecca, The Turn of the Key, Home Before Dark, A Head Full of Ghosts, The Broken Girls

3) AI and/or robots – I suspect this one is largely because Star Trek was often on in my house when I was younger. I didn’t watch it much, but I always found the character Data very interesting. I don’t read a ton of sci fi, but I tend to love books that involve AI or robot characters because they open so many possibilities for interesting discussions/ideas about what it takes to be a person. I also find it very interesting to see the relationship between people and robots or AI, and how these books often show both the positives and negatives of using this kind of technology. In many cases, the AI characters seem to have very strong ideas about humanity and what they should be doing, and I find it so interesting to see how people are viewed from this perspective, in addition to how AI and robots are viewed from the humans’ perspective.

Some examples: The Illuminae Files, Klara and the Sun, Cinder, Thunderhead,

4) Villain perspectives – When I first thought of this one, I was thinking specifically of books like You, Lolita or even We Need to Talk About Kevin, where the story really lets you get into the mind of some very disturbing people. It’s likely because I’ve always had a strong interest in psychology and even majored in it, but I find it absolutely fascinating (and often very chilling) to read from these perspectives. In a sense though, this can also include retellings of other stories from the perspective of the character traditionally considered the villain. I find it very interesting to delve into the backstory of many of these characters and find out what shaped their lives, and especially what led them to the point where we last saw them.

Some examples: You, Lolita, Wicked, Vicious, Heartless

5) Mixed media – I’m not sure if this is really a trope, or just a format choice, but I tend to love books that use mixed media formats. I tend to find these so creative and I love the addition of different things such as photos or drawings, documents, text/email conversations, etc. In most cases, it really helps to bring the story to life and makes a nice change from traditional formats. Given how many books I read in a year, I guess it makes sense that I’d occasionally want to mix things up a bit and read something that is a little different. To be fair, there are times where I find mixed media a bit confusing since they sometimes jump around and lack enough context to really make sense of things at times, but in general, they tend to be some of my favourites.

Some examples: The Illuminae Files, The Themis Files, Sadie, Daisy Jones & the Six

Top 10 Tuesdays: Books with Nature on the Cover

I wasn’t so excited about this week’s prompt because it was basically the same as last week’s Top 5 Wednesday, and I thought it would be annoying to look for more options. I decided to look through my Goodreads TBR anyway, and in about 5 minutes, I’d found more than enough different books with nature of some kind on the cover! For some reason, there were a few that I picked that took me a while to process as nature. I found that was specifically the case for covers that were mostly grass — even though grass is definitely a part of nature, I guess it didn’t quite seem like enough. It was fun to look through my list and see a lot more variety of covers having to do with nature than I expected. Aside from just grass and flowers, there were also a few that involved animals or even weather conditions. Still, it tended to be the covers that had a lot of greenery on them that really stood out to me most as the best depiction of nature. I ended up picking the first 10 that I found, excluding any that I’d already used in my post last week, and I was surprised to see it was disproportionately a lot of thrillers! Once again, I have not figured out how to adjust the sizes of the images so if anyone else knows how to do it, please let me know!

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Recent Reads #11

I may be stretching things a bit by considering these all recent reads, since one was a book that I read two months ago now, but I purposely wanted to mention these three books together since they are three of the biggest fantasy books that I was excited to read this year. Aside from my series goal for the year, I’ve also set myself a list of 21 priority books to pick up this year, as well as a different list of 21 books that I expect to be 5 stars. I’ve had these kinds of goals each year for a couple of years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever completely finished my lists within the year. I’m hoping that this year will break that streak and I’ll actually prioritize the books the way I’d planned. Unlike my series goal, I didn’t necessarily make myself a schedule of when to read these books so it makes it a little more challenging to remember to fit them in. When it comes to longer fantasy books, I tend to aim for long weekends or other times where I have a few days off work because they are books that I really want to pay attention to. I’ve already read three of my most anticipated books from my list this year, and I’m so glad that I got to them all so early!

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It’s been exactly two months since I’ve read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, so it’s not quite “recent” anymore, but it’s a book that I really wanted to mention anyway! I’ve been waiting to read this one for years because I kept seeing V.E. Schwab mentioning it and the concept sounded so fascinating. I was a little anxious going into it because I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to all the hype, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I loved it just as much as I expected! To be fair, the book was quite different from what I thought it was going to be. This book reminded me quite a bit of classic fairy tales because of the whole idea of bargains and the unanticipated consequences of the agreements that were made. I thought Addie was a fascinating main character and I loved seeing all the methods she developed to work around her curse and how she would often use it to her advantage. I also loved the exploration of loneliness and legacy. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this one since it is still new enough that it’s a pretty high risk of spoiling it for others, but I thought this book was incredible. It was so beautifully written, and definitely lived up to all the hype around it. I can see where some might find it slow-paced or a little boring, but that was not the case for me at all!

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A month ago, I read A Court of Silver Flames, which was another book that I’ve really been looking forward to! I was very late to pick up ACOTAR in the first place before finally giving in to the hype, and I was surprised to find that it quickly became a favourite series. I went into it with quite low expectations, but Sarah J. Maas’s writing and especially her characters very quickly won me over. I was looking forward to this one because of the focus on Nesta and Cassian, who were both characters that I loved in the original series. I loved the way this book dealt with the long-lasting impact of the war on Nesta and several other characters, and I especially loved Nesta’s prickly attitude toward the beginning and the dynamic it created between her and Cassian. I was a little surprised to notice that I found Rhysand a bit more irritating than in the previous books, but I mostly chalked that up to being in Nesta’s perspective. I also was not surprised by the reason for his behaviour, although I have to say that I was not particularly invested in his and Feyre’s storyline, unfortunately. I loved the development of the relationship between Nesta and Cassian, although a little taken aback at just how graphic some of the sex scenes were. Having read all of Sarah J. Maas’s other books, I expected these scenes to be explicit, but these ones felt even more explicit than what I remembered from previous books. I also loved the friendships Nesta develops with Gwyn and Emerie and the training the three of them undergo. To be fair, I don’t think I connected with this book quite as much as I did with the rest of the ACOTAR series, but I still really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to the next one, although it’s a long way off.

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Just two days ago, I finished Rule of Wolves, which I’d been very highly anticipating ever since I finished King of Scars last summer. I took advantages of a couple of unexpected days working from home to start this one, although I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get quite as much reading done on those days as I expected (but that had to do with my schedule, not the book). I did need a bit of a refresher on King of Scars before picking this one up, but luckily I was able to find a very detailed summary online. It’s a good thing I did, since there were some very important plot points that I had completely forgotten! As expected, I absolutely loved this one and the characters were a huge part of the reason why. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this many times before, but Leigh Bardugo has very quickly become one of my favourite authors. Again, I’m hesitant to say much about this one because it is a very recent release and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I will say that I loved getting to revisit several characters from earlier books in the series, and I especially loved the development of Nina, Nikolai and Zoya. I’m still a little confused by the fact that the series is called the Nikolai duology when Zoya still seems to be the star, but she’s a great character too. I loved the alternating perspectives and especially enjoyed Nina’s chapters. I did find myself a little confused at times about the war between Fjerda and Ravka and the reasons behind it, but I think that’s mostly to do with it being so long since I’ve read the previous books. In any case, I was very excited that I got to read this one so soon and I loved it!

Top 5 Wednesdays: April Showers Bring May Flowers

It was a nice and easy topic for this week’s post, and so well-timed! I can tell that it’s spring right now since my allergies are full-force, which is not fun during the pandemic. I like flowers, but I usually can’t have them in the house because they trigger my allergies, and so does cut grass and budding plants outside. If I didn’t have allergies, spring would probably have been my favourite season, but instead I tend to prefer fall — it’s similar weather, but without the annoyance of sneezing! This week’s prompt was to look for books that had flowers or plants on the cover. I decided to set my Goodreads TBR list to random, and look for the first five books I could find that had flowers or plants on the cover. I know I have a ton of books with flowery covers on my list, so I was surprised to see how few showed up at first! To be honest, Goodreads’ random order isn’t the best because it often tends to show me the same few books over and over, despite me having literally thousands on my list, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that only a few came up. Since the covers have flowers but the plants don’t necessarily relate to the story, I decided it made the most sense to just show the covers, and not go into detail on them this time. I’m still having trouble figuring out how to make the pictures a reasonable size in this kind of gallery — if anyone knows how to adjust the size, please help me!

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

Top 10 Tuesdays: My Ten Most Recent Reads

I’m actually surprised we don’t get topics asking for our most recent reads more often! I’m so used to looking for books to fit a theme each week that it’s easy to forget to mention some of the books that I’ve actually been reading. In a lot of ways, I find it much easier to talk about the books that I’m excited to pick up instead of the books I’ve already read. In fact, one of the main reasons that I rarely do a proper book review for anything is because I’m always nervous about giving spoilers. I find it really hard to discuss books in detail without mentioning specifics of what happened, but I also don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone. This week, I was surprised to see a prompt asking for the books that we read most recently! It was a nice and easy one to fit and a good chance to really reflect on some of my recent reads, outside of a “Recent Reads” post, where I tend to focus mostly on the series or priority standalones I’ve been reading. I read well over 100 books each year (I’m already on my 57th book this year, for example), so it’s very easy for some to get lost in the shuffle! I’ve listed them from most recently, going back in reverse order which goes back to almost the beginning of April. I did skip over one trilogy (The Themis Files) that I read in April because I’m already intending to include it in an upcoming Recent Reads post, and it seemed that was the better approach to discuss a series in a bit more detail. Chronologically, this series should have been fifth on this list.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) This Train Is Being Held by Ismee Williams

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I originally planned to read this one in 2019 and was disappointed when it got delayed, then somehow didn’t get to it in time last year even though it was available. I enjoyed it overall, but didn’t quite love it as much as I expected either. I think the thing that threw me off most is that the synopsis and several reviews mentioned it taking place over three years, but that really didn’t come across to me at all. I kept going back and looking at the chapter headings to check what month it was, and to me, it seemed like the majority was over one year. Either I missed something, or the brief parts that were taking place before and after that year were somehow counted as whole years. This book is about two teenagers, Alex and Isa, who meet by chance on the subway and develop a relationship over the course of multiple subway encounters. Both characters had very complex relationships with their families, and those dynamics were actually the highlight of the book for me. The romance between them was nice but suffered a lot from a complete lack of communication, which was so frustrating to read! I also found the ending a bit rushed. Overall, I did enjoy this one and ultimately gave it 4 stars.

2) I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

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I was surprised to learn that this one was written (and narrated, if you listen to the audiobook like I did) by Modern Mrs. Darcy! I’ve read her blog many times and participated in some of her reading challenges in the past, but never knew her real name. This book is a collection of short essays that all have to do with books and reading. It’s a very short audiobook, at around 2.5 hours total, and it was a lot of fun to listen to. My favourite essays were the ones where she outlines a bunch of different bookworm problems, since I very easily related to almost all of them, and also the essay about the variety of different ways to organize your bookshelves. I also loved how she talked about the benefits and value of rereading books and the recognition of how you can get something new out of it each time you read. I’m a huge rereader, despite having a TBR of thousands, and definitely appreciated this view. I also loved the author’s commentary about how different the reading experience is when we have the freedom to choose our own books, as well as the risk of being bossy when trying to recommend books to others. This was a great book overall and something I could see myself potentially listening to again, although like most collections, I enjoyed some books more than others.

3) Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

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I picked this one up after hearing so many rave reviews for it, and it was definitely worth it! This book is a novel in verse about a teenage boy named Amal who is falsely convicted of a crime and sent to prison for it, and channels his feelings into poetry and art. Part of the appeal of this book for me is that Yusef Salaam was one of the Exonerated Five, a group of Black and Latino boys who were wrongfully convicted of a crime and imprisoned for it, but were eventually exonerated. It makes his writing that much more powerful since he had a similar experience to this character. What stood out the most for me about this book was the way it highlighted the “school-to-prison pipeline” which is something I had only vaguely heard of, but never really understood before. I found the sections discussing how his school system and teachers had failed him particularly impactful, and I also loved the section toward the end where someone is brought in to talk to the inmates and discuss “mistakes and misgivings.” This part of the book was so powerful, and I especially loved how it offered snippets of several of the inmates experiences, with many saying they had admitted to the crime even though they hadn’t done it because they thought it would give them a lighter sentence. This book was amazing and I’d highly recommend it!

4) Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

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I’ve been wanting to read this thriller for such a long time, and I’m so glad that I finally decided to pick it up after hearing it about it for years. It is about a woman named Amber who wakes up in the hospital unable to move or speak, but she can hear everything that is happening around her. Amber has no memory of what landed her in the hospital, but she suspects that her husband had something to do with it. I was immediately drawn in by the writing of this one, and I especially loved the way the author introduced all the characters and their dynamics. I also loved how the book was split between what happened shortly before Amber’s accident to her time in the hospital, and especially the addition of childhood diary entries. I thought the diary was an especially fascinating part of the book and some were very chilling. I also really enjoyed the way the author built up the clues toward each reveal, although I found a few plot points a little awkwardly written. I have one particular subplot in mind, but I’m not sure how much of it would be a spoiler so I won’t go into detail about which one. I loved the twists toward the end and thought the direction was relatively unique. I’m still struggling with my rating on this one — I gave it a 4.5 and rounded down on Goodread to a 4 due to the awkwardness of some plot points, but sometimes I think I should change it to a 5 because of how much I enjoyed the book overall!

5) Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

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I’m always a little intimidated to pick up books by this author because magical realism can be really hit-or-miss for me. When it works, it’s amazing but there are also times when I can’t quite buy into what is happening and it pulls me right out of the story. Luckily, I’ve had great luck with this author so far! This is my third book by the author, and another where I strongly debated my rating before ultimately rounding it up. It is about a young woman named Estrella who lives with her cousins and two other generations of women on La Pradera, but the family is cursed to lose anyone with whom they fall in love, until a mysterious boy shows up in the garden with no memory of his past. Like with all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, I really enjoyed the writing and the atmosphere overall. I knew very little about the plot of this one before I picked it up, so I was surprised to see how Estrella and her cousins were often treated as one person — although I did love that even one of the characters eventually called that out. I was also surprised to see the direction the author took with Fel and his past, and the revelation of how he came to be at the garden and the history of the land. I went into this one with relatively low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it!

6) Karen’s Roller Skates by Katy Farina

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This book was pure guilty pleasure. I was feeling in a bit of a reading slump in April, inexplicably since I actually read the same number of books in the month as I had in every month this year so far, so I decided I wanted something light and easy. It also helped that I had a reading challenge prompt that specifically asked for a guilty pleasure book. I grew up reading The Babysitter’s Club, but never really cared for the Little Sister series since I was already too old for it. I know I read at least some of them, but only really distinctly remember a few. I was sure I had read Karen’s Roller Skates because I had a strong memory of a part where Karen fell and cut her leg, and got gravel in her knee — so I was surprised to see that this scene was not in this book! Instead, Karen breaks her wrist and needs to get a cast, but worries that another boy in her class who also has a cast will get all the attention. I don’t know if the gravel thing was in the original and just didn’t make it into the adaptation, or if it’s actually from another book in the series and I got confused. Either way, this series is a fun read, even if I am too old for it. I didn’t quite love this one as much as the first graphic novel in the series because I found Karen a bit annoying, especially with her exaggerations about how she hurt her arm. However, I did really like her annoyance about how quickly her family stopped giving her special treatment and her visits to the neighbours to collect signatures on her cast. It was a cute book and fun to read in a new format, but I doubt it will be memorable in the long-run.

7) The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

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This book was at the top of my list specifically to read in spring because it just seemed like a perfect fit. It is about a woman named Lillian who was widowed three years ago, and she is still learning how to cope with the loss. When her boss signs her up for a gardening class, she soon meets an unusual group of friends who help her to move forward. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d like this one because I have no interest at all in gardening and as expected, I didn’t particularly care about that element. However, I did really enjoy the character dynamics and thought the class was a unique backdrop for them. I also liked the brief, humourous descriptions of how to plant the different vegetables that were included between chapters, although I think I skimmed most of them. I really enjoyed the way the author portrayed Lillian’s grief and the struggles she had when she started to have feelings for someone new, and I also appreciated the on-page acknowledgement that their attraction happened unusually fast. I was also happy to see that the romance was only a small part of the overall story, and the focus was really on Lillian herself. I ended up enjoying this book a lot more than I expected, largely because of the characters.

8) Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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This was another book that screamed “spring” to me because of the dandelion fluff on the cover. It is about a teenage girl named Sophie who is in love with her best friend, Peter, who has a chronic kidney problem and is waiting for a transplant. When she finds out that she is a match, Sophie hopes that donating her kidney will lead to him finally loving her back, however their relationship only becomes more strained. I’ve been really looking for more books that focus on friendship dynamics rather than romance, and this one was definitely a great fit, although there were some romance elements. I loved the way the author built the complex and extremely close friendship between Sophie and Peter, and it was easy to see where her feelings for him came from, but also where the codependence developed. I also loved how the author touched on topics that are not commonly addressed in YA, such as Peter’s exploration of his Judaism as well as his illness, and also Sophie’s younger sister Tabby who is raising a baby with her boyfriend after getting pregnant very young. I really enjoyed the way the author handled the shifting dynamics between Sophie and Peter after the transplant, and loved the way the author depicted them both making new friends and dealing with the impact it might have on their relationship. I especially loved the focus on Peter’s worries about always feeling like he “owes” Sophie something. This was definitely one of the strongest YA books I’ve read in a while, and well worth the read.

9) Because You Love to Hate Me edited by Ameriie

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This is another book that I’ve been waiting to read for such a long time, so I finally decided to go ahead and pick it up! It is a collection of 13 short stories about villains, written by bestselling authors each of whom was given a prompt by an influencer in the book community. I was a bit surprised to find that the book took me a little longer than expected to really get into, but once I started to get to stories by authors I was more familiar with, I stared to like it more. I enjoyed the idea of the vloggers giving the authors a specific prompt or challenge as inspiration, but was a little disappointed by the sections that each of them wrote to follow each story. I had expected them to talk about the prompt they chose and explain why or discuss what they like about villains, but many of the sections were parodies, advice columns, etc. and were pretty hit-or-miss for me. My favourite story of all was Nicola Yoon’s, which was a gender-swapped version of the God of War, and it reminded me a lot of books like We Need to Talk About Kevin. I also really enjoyed Marissa Meyer and V.E. Schwab’s stories. Looking back on it, I’m confused about why it took so long for me to really get invested since I actually really liked all of the stories. There were a couple of that I found a tiny bit confusing, but other than that, I loved the majority.

10) The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

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The only reason I picked this one up was because I had a reading challenge prompt that asked for a productivity book, and I was struggling to find something that would fit. I kept seeing this one come up on lists of suggestions, but had a hard time understanding what about it made it fit for productivity. I ended up listening to the audiobook one day while doing some work, and liked it more than I expected. The book offers suggestions on how to focus on what is truly important in life, and using your struggles and setbacks as a way to find meaning and move forward. I found the first couple of chapters a bit off-putting because of the constant swearing, especially since it seemed to be there mostly for shock value, but once I got further in, I started to enjoy the book. I really liked the way the author challenged the idea that people need to constantly be positive, and suggested that this kind of mindset actually holds you back from dealing with negative emotions. I also loved the focus on the drawbacks of self-esteem culture and the idea that everyone must excel at something to be valued. I think my favourite suggestion in the whole book was the idea that it is the things that people are really willing to struggle to achieve that show what is important to them — if you are prepared to work for it, you must really want it. I enjoyed the overall theme of choosing what to care about or not care about, and ultimately thought the book was a lot more interesting than I expected.

Stacking the Shelves (#42)

After a couple of months in a row with very few books added to my TBR, I was surprised to see that I had added so many this time! I think this is the most books I’ve added in a single month in about 6 months now, with a total of 63 books added in April! The vast majority of the books that I added are upcoming releases by authors that I’ve tried before, many of which aren’t even out until 2022. I added them anyway when I saw them as a placeholder so I can get updates on them when it is closer to the release date. It’s probably a little too early to add them since they are over a year away, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget them! We’re only about a third of the way into this year, but I’ve already started looking ahead a bit to next year’s challenges and making note of a few books or authors I might want to include. Of course, it’s much too early to make any real decisions now, but it definitely helps to keep some of these books in mind!

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme all about the books we are adding to our shelves each week. It is hosted by TyngaReviewsand ReadingReality.

1) The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding

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Robyn Harding is at the top of my list for an author to try next year. I didn’t think of her in time for this year’s priority authors list, but I have so many of her books on my TBR. This one is her upcoming 2021 release, and of course, it drew my attention because of the house on the cover. This book is about a couple, Thomas and Viv, who live in a beautifully restored home with their children. When they wake up one morning to find their porch had been egged, Thomas is quick to pass it off as a teenage prank. As more and progressively more serious incidents begin to happen, the family begins to worry but the police dismiss it as bored teenagers. Each incident brings growing fear, especially because each of the family members is keeping secrets from each other and from the outside world. This sounds like exactly the kind of thriller that I tend to love, and I’m excited to give it a try. I’ve had Robyn Harding’s books on my TBR since 2017 and keep adding the new ones as they come out, but I’ve yet to give any of them a try. With about 5 or so on my list now, she’s definitely high on my list to prioritize next time. I wish I’d thought of her in time for this year’s list!

2) You Will Remember Me by Mary Hannah McKinnon

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This one came up as a Goodreads Giveaway, and I didn’t even realize I already had at least one other book by this author on my TBR. I thought her name sounded vaguely familiar, but had no idea what else she had written. This book is due out next month, and it is about a man who wakes up alone on a deserted beach with no memory of how he got there. Meanwhile, Lily’s boyfriend Jack has gone missing, and her search makes her realize that he has been lying to her all along, and another woman named Maya is trying to find her estranged stepbrother, Asher. To be honest, I signed up for this giveaway without knowing too much about the book because I thought it looked interesting. I was surprised to realize I already had another book by this author on my list, and there is one more that I’ve been considering adding. I wouldn’t necessarily say this book is the highest on my priority list, but it seems like an interesting one. I’ve entered quite a few Giveaways over the year but I’ve only won a handful, so it’s unlikely I’ll get this. I’ve read quite a few thrillers that deal with people who have amnesia and it’s a trope I’m a tiny bit burnt out on at this point, but this book still seems like something I’d like to try at some point.

3) Malice by Heather Walter

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I saw this one come up earlier this month on Youtube, but I can’t remember whose channel it was! I love fairy tale retellings, so this one caught my attention right away. I was pretty sure this was an adult retelling, but I now see it tagged on Goodreads as YA so I’m not entirely sure. This book is an LGBT retelling of Sleeping Beauty, from the perspective of Alyce, who has been humiliated and shamed for her magical abilities, but has also developed a friendship with Princess Aurora, the princess who was cursed by a wicked fairy. Instead of fearing Alyce, Aurora seems to care for her and thinks Alyce should be proud of her abilities, but with only one year left on her curse, their time is running out. I tend to love retellings that are from the perspectives of a different character, especially when it is from the perspective of the villain! Sleeping Beauty has never been one of my favourite fairy tales because I found it a little boring, so I’m interested to see how this author would change it. I’m especially intrigued if it is an adult retelling (although I’d still read it if it’s YA) because that seems a little less common. This book just came out a couple of weeks ago, so I’m very interested to see other people’s reviews as they come in.

4) These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

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I’ve been hearing about this book for a while, so I was a little surprised to realize that it wasn’t already on my TBR! It is pitched as a Romeo and Juliet retelling that is set in 1920s Shanghai, which sounds so good! It is about an 18-year-old girl named Juliette who has returned to assume her role as the heir of the Scarlet Gang, rivals to the White Flowers. Juliette’s first love Roma is a member of the White Flowers, but he is also the first who betrayed her. With gangsters on both sides showing signs of madness, Juliette and Roma have to set their grudges aside and work together to ensure that their is a city remaining for either of them to rule. I think I passed over this one initially because I’m not that interested in gang stories, but the more I’ve heard about it, the more I decided I wanted to try it. There have been many Romeo and Juliet retellings, but I like that this one has such a unique setting. I’ve also seen amazing reviews for this one so far, which has only pushed it further up my list as something I need to try. I doubt I have room to squeeze it in this year year, but it definitely on my radar. There is also a sequel due out this November, so it might make more sense to wait and read them both together next year instead.

5) Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

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I’ve only read one Morgan Matson book so far, and I although I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else, it was enough to interest me in trying more. This book is her upcoming release due out this week, and it is about two best friends, Kat and Stevie, who have snuck away to spend a night in New York City. They are planning to have a fun night, but soon realize that it might be turning into one of the worst nights of their lives, especially once they find themselves stranded in the city with no phones and a series of problems to deal with. I actually hadn’t looked too deeply into what the specifics of the plot are with this one until just now, and it seems kind of weird but interesting enough to intrigue me. I’m especially interested in this one because it seems to have a strong focus on friendship, which is something I’ve been really looking for in books, and also seems different from the typical YA romance. In general, I’d like to try more of Morgan Matson’s books. I’ve been hesitant to pick them up since I assumed I outgrew them by now, but I liked Since You’ve Been Gone when I finally read it last year, so I think it’s worth it to read a few more and see.

6) From Little Tokyo, With Love by Sarah Kuhn

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I added this one to my TBR mostly on the strength of I Love You So Mochi, which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected last year, aside from the main character’s absolute refusal to recognize the idea that fashion was a career path. I was excited to see a new book coming by the same author, due out later this month. This one is about an girl named Rika who is working in her aunt’s business, and begins a search through Little Tokyo for her long-lost mother after seeing America’s sweetheart during a Nikkei Week Festival, along with a cute actor. I’m a little confused because the synopsis refers to Rika as an orphan, so I’m not entirely clear on whether she is searching for her mother as a person, or just to find out more about her. When I first read it, it seemed like she was trying to find a person, but that doesn’t really make sense if she’s orphaned. Either way, given how much I enjoyed this author’s previous book, it’s definitely something that I would like to give a chance. I’m hoping to like this one just as much. The synopsis also describes it a few times as being a modern-day fairy tale, and that sounds like a lot of fun.

7) Come With Me by Ronald Malfi

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I read Little Girls by this author during my first reading challenge in 2015 and it still stands out as one of the best (and creepiest) books I’ve read so far! I was very intrigued to see a new release by this author because I’d been wondering if I might like any more of his work. I rarely read horror because they freak me out so easily, but given how much I loved the previous one, I think I’d like to try this. It is about a man named Aaron who is haunted by the absence, and ghost, of his wife Allison, who was killed one morning in December. While going through her things, Aaron finds a receipt for a motel in another part of the country, and sets out to find out what she had been doing in the weeks leading up to her death. The more he discovers, the more he becomes consumed with his obsession to learn the truth about his wife and the secrets she may have been hiding. This actually sounds a lot closer to the kinds of thrillers that I tend to enjoy, so it might not freak me out quite as much as most other horror books, but I guess it depends on how scary it really is. I actually do tend to like scary books when I read the, but I always avoid them because I assume I won’t be able to handle it!

8) The Family Plot by Megan Collins

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I added this one to my list because I’ve read The Winter Sister by this author and really enjoyed it, and of course because of the house on the cover. I don’t know why these kinds of covers always draw my attention! This book is not due out until August, so it may be some time before I get to it. It is about a 26-year-old woman named Dahlia, who was raised in a secluded island mansion and kept isolated by her parents who were obsessed with true crime. Dahlia has spent the past few years living alone and unable to move on from her past, especially the disappearance of her twin brother Andy when they were 16. When her father passes away, Dahlia returns to the house she grew up in for the memorial, and is shocked to find that her brother’s body is already buried in the reserved plot. Each member of her family handles the discovery differently, and Dahlia soon realizes that her family and the mansion may hold the answers to what really happened to her brother. This sounds like one of my absolute favourite kinds of thrillers, and I’m very interested in trying it. I also still have this author’s 2020 release to read as well, which also sounds right up my alley, so these will both likely be high on my list to try next year.

9) Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

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I was hesitant to add this one to my TBR, despite seeing it absolutely everywhere lately, because for some reason, I always have a hard time getting into books by/about Native Americans. I’m not even sure why that is, but it’s hard for me to find any that interest me, and I haven’t loved the ones I’ve tried so far. I suspect it’s just a matter of picking the wrong books. This book is about an 18-year-old biracial unenrolled tribal member named Daunis, who has never quite fit in anywhere. She dreams of studying medicine but is forced to put that on hold when her family is struck by a tragedy that leaves her caring for her mother. When she witnesses a shocking murder that throws her right into the middle of a criminal investigation, Daunis reluctantly agrees to go undercover, but also secretly begins to investigate on her own using her knowledge of both chemistry and traditional medicine. Most of the Native books that I’ve read so far have been YA contemporaries, so I’m wondering if I’ll have a bit more luck with a thriller. This sounds like a very interesting story and the kind of book I tend to enjoy in general, so I suspect I’ll enjoy it a lot more than the others I’ve tried so far. It was generally the writing style more than the stories themselves that I didn’t love, so given how many great things I’ve heard about this one, I’d be surprised if I didn’t have a better time with it.

10) The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

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This is another one that I’ve been hesitant to add to my TBR, but decided to go for it since I’ve also been seeing it absolutely everywhere. This one is a thriller with a sci-fi twist, and it is about a girl named Cee who has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any memory of how she got there or what her life was before. All she remembers is that she had a sister named Kay, and Cee is determined to find her, devoting her days to building a boat and surviving until she can get off the island and find Kay. In another world, there is a 16-year-old prodigy named Kasey who is also living in isolation in an eco-city that levitates around the world for the people who protected the planet, but now need protection from it now that natural disasters are rising. Kasey doesn’t mind the isolated lifestyle, but her sister Celia hates it and decides to take a boat out to sea and does not return. Three months after her disappearance, Kasey has given up hope and assumes her sister must have died, but due to public pressure, she starts to second-guess herself and retrace her sister’s steps to find her. I think I wasn’t interested in this one at first because I’m not really into survival stories or cli-fi, but all the hype surrounding it so far managed to intrigue me.

11) Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

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This is yet another one that caught my attention mostly because of the hype. It’s due out in mid-June this year, and it is about a girl named Voya who is surprised to fail her Calling, a trial every witch must pass in order to get their powers. When her ancestor gives her a second chance, Voya agrees but is devastated to learn that her task will be to kill her first love, and the consequence if she fails is that every witch in her family will lose their magic. Voya is determined not to let this happen, but she has also never been in love, so in order to complete the task, she first must find the perfect match using a genetic matchmaking program that has recently hit the market. She plans to sign up, fall for someone and then complete her task before the deadline, but is shocked when she is paired with Luc, who seems to want nothing to do with her. I’ve always tended to love stories that involve witches, and this one sounds so good! It sounds like it would be such a fun read and I’m really looking forward to giving it a chance. There is at least one more book coming next year, and I’m not sure if it will stretch past that. I’m thinking it might make sense to wait and read the two of them together, depending when exactly the sequel comes out. Either way, this sounds like something I’d love.

12) Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide

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It’s lucky for me that this book is coming out this year because I have a reading challenge prompt that requires a book for each of the suits in a deck of cards. This book is set at Niveus Private Academy, where an anonymous texter known as Aces is bringing students’ darkest secrets to light. Devon and Chiamaka both fear that these secrets could turn their lives upside down and threaten their futures, but when Aces shows no signs of stopping, it turns into a dangerous game. It took me a while to add this one to my list because the synopsis was so vague. I’ve seen some amazing reviews so far from people who have read ARCs of this one, so it seems like a great choice. It has been compared to Gossip Girl and Get Out. I’ve seen the Gossip Girl show but only read a few of the books, and I no absolutely nothing about Get Out, except that several recent books have been compared to it. I was very excited to find something for the prompt that I’m genuinely interested in trying! This book is not out until early June so I can’t pick it up just yet, but it’s definitely one that I’m looking out for. I’m hoping to find great options for diamonds and clovers too, since I’ve been struggling to find those.

Top 5 Wednesday: Underhyped Books

I was surprised to see it has been so long since I mentioned underhyped books! It’s no secret, at least to anyone who’s read my posts before, that I have a tendency to actively avoid anything that is overhyped, although that does seem to be changing lately. I’ve definitely been picking up popular books more often, and even long before the hype dies down sometimes. This year specifically, I’ve been picking up quite a few books that have been talked about non-stop for quite a while! To be honest, I think the pandemic has played a bit of a role in that because I’ve been cut off from my access to the library, so instead, I’ve been buying more books and reading what I already have a home. Many of the books I’ve been buying are some of the most popular, which makes sense since these are easily accessible (and often more affordable, especially when there are sales). Several of the books that I’m personally most excited for but aren’t so well-known are upwards of $25 for the hardcover, which is very expensive! In contrast, just for the sake of comparison, many of the more hyped books cost anywhere from $15 – $20, so it’s quite a difference. Either way, I’ve read some amazing books in the past few years that definitely did not receive the hype they deserved!

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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All of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books are criminally underrated! For three years in a row, they have consistently been on my favourites of the year lists and I wish more people knew about her incredible writing. Her most recent book, Harley in the Sky, was an easy favourite last year and although it has over 4 stars on average on Goodreads, it has barely over 1000 ratings and only around 300 reviews. Those numbers actually make it by far the least well-known of her books so far, and it’s such a shame because they are all so strong. This book is about a teenage girl named Harley who dreams of become an aerialist in the circus, and after a fight with her parents, she ends up running away from the circus that they own to join a rival instead. As always, I was immediately drawn in by the writing and I loved Harley’s passion for what she was doing. I never really expected to enjoy a book that was literally about running away to join the circus, but this one worked so well. I also was very surprised to see that there was a mental health subplot involving Harley, which I thought was handled so well. I loved the focus on Harley’s relationships with her family and with her friends, as well as the very sweet romance. I completely devoured this book, and was shocked to realize most people had barely even heard of it!

2) Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

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I enjoy historical fiction in general, but have rarely read something that was set so recently. This book is set in New York in 1989, at the height of the AIDS crisis. It focuses on three teenagers, two of whom are gay themselves, and the third is a girl who has an uncle who is gay and also HIV+. Reza is Iranian and gay, but is terrified because all he knows about being gay comes from the media’s portrayal of men dying of AIDS. Art is the school’s only openly gay student but struggles with his conservative parents, and rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through photos. It took me some time to really get into the story, but soon started to feel like the characters really leapt off the page. I really enjoyed the way the author handled the complex relationships between the three characters, although I did find Judy a little irritating at times, especially because she made some kind of strange and potentially problematic comments. On the other hand, I absolutely loved both Reza and Art, and the way both of them reflected such different perspectives. I thought the setting was particularly interesting because it was something that I knew very little about, aside from the movie/musical Rent. I did hear a bit of hype around this one for a while, but definitely not enough!

3) Slay by Brittney Morris

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Of all the books on this list, this is the one that probably received the most hype and also has the most ratings and reviews overall, although still not very many. It currently has around 9600 ratings, and approaching 2500 Goodreads reviews, which is a decent amount but definitely not enough for a book of this quality. This was another book that was easily one of my favourites that I read last year, and I was surprised to see that the hype around it mostly seemed to have died out. This book is about a teenage girl named Kiera who is the creator of a massive multiplayer online game called SLAY specifically designed for Black gamers. When a teen is murdered over a conflict in the game, the news reaches the mainstream and SLAY is labelled as racist and exclusionary and is also targeted by online trolls threatening to sue Kiera for discrimination against white people. I loved the unique premise of this book, and especially loved how it tackled the concept of racism and safe spaces from an angle that I’ve never really seen before. I found the entire concept of SLAY very interesting and loved reading about Kiera’s process of creating the cards based on Black culture and developing attacks or defensive moves to fit them. I thought this book was very impactful and raised a number of very interesting and important ideas, and I hope more people will give it a chance.

4) The Silent House by Nell Pattison

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This is the one and only thriller I have on this list, but it is also a book that completely flew under the radar. I’m not particularly surprised given how many thrillers come out each year, but this one was so good! In fact, it was a little strange for me to notice “USA Today bestseller” on the cover considering no one seems to have heard of this one. This book is about Paige Northwood, a sign language interpreter who is hired to interpret for a deaf family after their daughter is murdered in their home overnight. I loved the unique premise of the story and was actually surprised to realize that it was a concept for a thriller that hasn’t been done before, at least not as far as I know. I loved the exploration of Paige’s role as an interpreter and the explanations that were provided about how it works. I loved the representation of Deaf culture, and Paige’s commentary about some of the attitudes and stereotypes that often come up. I was immediately drawn in by the writing and loved the way the author kept suspicion on so many of the characters, which really kept me guessing. Although I did guess the murderer relatively early, I was still thoroughly invested in finding out how and why it happened. I was also happy to see that this book was the first in a series featuring Paige, and I’m looking forward to trying more. I can see where this one would not stand out compared to other more popular thrillers, but it’s definitely worth a read.

5) Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m surprised every time to realize how underrated it is! I think this book got overshadowed by On the Come Up since they both involve Black teens trying to break into the music industry, and came out within a couple of months of each other. This book is about a group of teenagers who decide to use the mixtapes of their recently murdered friend/brother, Steph, to get him a record deal and get his music out there, while trying to uncover the truth about what happened to him. I thought all three of the characters were very interesting and I really liked the dynamics between them. I was a little confused about what their end goal was since it was hard to see what the teens would do when they ran out of new material, but it didn’t take long to get invested in the story anyway. I also loved that it was set in the 90s, since the hip-hop references really made it all come to life. I loved the message that this book put forward about lives cut short and the loss of all that talent and potential. Like all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books, this one tells a very compelling story with strong characters, and it’s a shame that so much of her writing flies under the radar.

Top 10 Tuesdays: Animals From Books

I wasn’t too interested in this week’s topic until I realized how many of the books that are already on my TBR for this year involve animals in some capacity. I cheated a bit because I didn’t pick a specific direction for the prompt — I looked for books that involve animals in any way. I counted books that mention animals in the title or have an animal on the cover, as well as books that have animals as part of the plot. I was actually surprised to realize how many of the books already on my list involved animals since that’s not something that I specifically looked for, unless the challenge prompt asked for it directly. When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with books (and movies) involving animals. One of the biggest things that drew me to a book was if it involved dogs or horses. I loved reading stories of real-life animal heroes just as much as fictional animals, like Charlotte’s Web. I’m not even sure at what point that interest changed. I don’t particularly care now whether a book involves an animal or not, although it is often very nice to see them included! On the other hand, I get so anxious when any of my thrillers mention a dog since I tend to automatically assume the dog won’t survive (although luckily, the dog often does!).

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne

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The only reason this book came to mind so quickly is because my copy very recently arrived, and I remembered the turtles on the front cover. Otherwise, it is not a book that I would automatically associate with animals. This book is about a woman named Ruthie who works at a retirement centre, where she is responsible for maintaining the property and protecting the endangered tortoises that live in the gardens. While there, she is forced to work with Teddy, who is working there to earn his keep as part of his father’s plan to force him to grow up a bit. Ruthie soon decides to get Teddy out of her way by making him personal assistant to two of the most difficult women who live in the Villa, a role which no one else has managed to last in for more than week. I haven’t read this one yet so I have no idea if the tortoises are a huge part of the story, but the fact that they made it onto the cover makes me suspect that have at least a little prominence. They are also specifically mentioned in the synopsis, so that’s likely another clue that the tortoises are important!

2) The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

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This was actually the first book that came to mind when I saw this week’s prompt, probably because Anthony Horowitz is on my list of priority authors to try this year. To be fair, I chose him mostly because of his recent mysteries, and didn’t realize he was already well-known for several series. This book is about an editor named Susan Ryeland who receives a copy of Alan Conway’s latest novel, which she assumes will be another using his traditional detective format. However, the more Susan reads of his latest book, the more she starts to believe there is a hidden story contained within it of real-life jealousy, ambition and murder. The book does not seem to directly involve literal magpies, but I suspect it’s along the lines of The Cuckoo’s Calling, where the animal mentioned has some similarities to the case. Magpies are known for hoarding shiny objects due to their curiosity, so I would guess that someone involved in the mystery in this one has a similar kind of curiosity or tendency toward stealing shiny objects. To be honest, even though I’ve added this author to my priority list, I’ve somehow become a little intimidated to actually try his books. I have no idea why!

3) Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

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This was another book that came to mind very quickly, and another that I very recently bought! Not only does this one have a cat on the cover, but it also involves a character who owns a cat cafe, so it’s safe to say that animals are involved. Alexis Carlisle, who owns the cafe, enlists the help of Noah, a computer security expert when a stranger shows up claiming to be Alexis’s sister. Noah is madly in love with her and wonders if the timing will ever be right for him to let her know how he feels, and turns to his friends in the Bromance Book Club for help deciding whether to tell her the truth and risk their friendship. I’ve only read the first book in this series so far and I absolutely loved it! I was actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed it since I went into it with relatively low expectations. Now that I’ve loved the first one, I’m very excited to keep going with the series and hope to love the others just as much. I love that this is a romance series that focuses on the men’s perspectives, which is a still relatively unusual. I think I had this one mixed up with the previous one in the series so I may need to revamp my challenge plans a little to make sure I can fit in both. They are companion novels, but I still prefer to read them in order.

4) You Lucky Dog by Julia London

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This is the one book on this list that I’m not 100% sure is on my TBR for this year, but I definitely had it down as an option. I bought it recently from Book Outlet, and added it to my Goodreads list in the first place because it reminded me a lot of 101 Dalmatians. This book is about a woman named Carly who finds out that the basset hound she has recently fostered has accidentally been switched while out with the dog walker. When she goes to meet this dog’s owner to switch them back, the two of them soon realize that their dogs seem to have fallen in love. Given how depressed her dog had been until now, Carly thinks she may have found the key to his happiness and starts to spend more time with Max, the owner of the other dog, and his basset hound Hazel. Even though Max is her total opposite, she soon finds herself drawn to him. The plot to this one seems completely predictable, but also absolutely adorable. If this one isn’t on my TBR for the year already, I may need to find a way to squeeze it in because it sounds like it will be so much fun. It actually seems like exactly the kind of rom-com movie that I tend to love, and I’m hoping that will translate into a book format just as well.

5) City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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This is series that I probably wouldn’t have thought of on my own, but it came to mind because I have one of the books in it down for a prompt requiring a book with a character who has a cat. It took quite a bit of research to find books that might fit. To be fair, I guess the cat cafe in Crazy Stupid Bromance could have counted, but I don’t really see the animals in the cafe as pets. The main character in this book, Cassidy, has the ability to see ghosts, and her best friend Jacob is a ghost himself. Her parents are also part of a ghost-hunting team known as The Inspecters, who have been sent to Scotland to film a new TV series. I have no idea whether the cat is prominent at all in the series, but it is featured on the cover of all three books so I would assume it plays some role. I’m purposely waiting until October to read these books since it seems like a good one to read around Halloween, so it will be quite a while before I find out, but even the simple fact of it having a cat on the cover was enough for it to fit this week’s theme of animals in books.

6) The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

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I don’t know why, but I always have a hard time thinking of insects of any kind as animals, even though they are. I thought of this book mostly because of the butterflies on the cover and in the title, although I wasn’t sure if they were involved in the story in any way. This book is about an investigator named Naomi who has a talent for finding missing children. Naomi has vowed not to take another case until she finds her own younger sister, but soon finds herself pulled into a new case. A young girl named Celia is found running from an abusive stepfather and a mother who is an addict, and who sees butterflies around her which she sees as her guides. They also serve as a reminder of the Butterfly Museum that she remembers from when she was younger, a place where she always felt safe. I bought this book, as well as The Child Finder, which is the first in the series, on a whim last year and I’m planning to try them both at some point this year. I’ve had The Child Finder on my TBR for many years now so it’s about time I finally pick it up. Seeing this one again for this week’s prompt is just another reminder to try these two!

7) Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

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This is another book that has been on my TBR for way too long, and I really need to pick this one up before the end of the year. I chose it for this week’s prompt because it involves swans. It focuses on two sisters, Blanca and Roja, whose family is bound by a spell to the swans who live in the woods. The swans will draw them into a game where one of them will be able to remain human, but the other will become a swan. When two local boys become drawn into it too, the spell becomes entwined with the strange magic of the woods, and all four of them are forced to confront difficult truths. Like many of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, I find the synopsis a little confusing, but I usually end up finding that they make a lot more sense once I get into them and I generally end up loving them. As a side note, it’s also taken me a ridiculously long time (as in, until just now) to realize that the cover art actually has a swan with it’s head tucked into its feathers on it. I’d always assumed it was a rose or flower of some kind. This is another book that I keep feeling a little intimidated to try, even though I really want to read it!

8) Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

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I’m really looking forward to reading this series, although I’ve decided to wait for the third book to come out before I pick any of them up! To be fair, I’ve heard some mixed reviews for this one although in general, most people seem to really love it and I’m hoping I will too. This book is about a witch named Louise who is forced to marry Reid, a witch hunter who does not know that his bride is one. It took me quite a while to realize this book fits for this week’s prompt because of both the title and the cover art, even though I’m not sure the animals are actually involved in the book. I get the impression that serpents and doves are metaphors for the main characters, but I can’t say for sure. This is by far one of my most anticipated series to try this year, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I’m glad the third book is coming out early enough in the year that I can still prioritize it instead of pushing it back to try next year instead. it’s still several months before I’m planning to pick this one up, but I can’t wait! I love the idea of a fantasy series set in this kind of historical setting, even if the specifics of the world are fictional.

9) The Conference of the Birds by Ransom Riggs

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I chose this book specifically because it has the word “birds” in the title, but really any of the books in this series would fit. I’ve only read the first three so far, but I’m planning to re-read them and then continue the series before the end of the year. It’s another series that I’m planning to read around late September/October since it gives me Halloween vibes, at least because of the creepy photos that are interspersed throughout. This series involves ymbrynes, which are females who can take the form of specific birds and who are also responsbile for taking care of the peculiar children and protecting them. It’s been years since I’ve read the first three books and I really don’t remember the third one too clearly. I have a bit more memory of the first two since I’ve read them at least twice each. Either way, I loved the series and I very surprised to see that it was being continued. I’m looking forward to trying the rest of them, although I’m very cautiously optimistic since sequels to an already completed series always tend to be a little hit-or-miss. The fourth book came out 3 years after the series had “ended” which is enough of a gap to make me a little apprehensive.

10) Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult

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This book has been on my list for an embarrassingly long time, especially since Jodi Picoult is my favourite author. Any time I start reading an author’s later works first, I’m a bit hesitant to go back and read their first books. Really the only reason that I’m hesitant to try this one is because there have been a couple of her earlier works that I haven’t loved as much (Picture Perfect and Keeping Faith), although to be fair, Mercy and The Pact are two of my favourites and those were also among her first few titles. Every time I look at the synopsis, I’m interested in this one and the fact that I’ve given the vast majority of her books 5 stars should be reason enough to give this one a chance. This book also involve a character who is an oceanoagrapher who is an expert on tracking humpback whales, which sounds very interesting. I’ve really enjoyed the other books Jodi Picoult had written that involved characters who have expertise on specific animals (wolves and elephants, for example), so that’s another reason to try this one. Either way, it was a great fit for this week’s topic!

You’re Not Good Enough Book Tag (2021)

This is one of the only tags that I tend to revisit every almost every year, and it’s always so much fun! I was actually a little disappointed to find that I didn’t have too many very distinctive characters to use this year, so I ended up having to use a combination of characters from books I’ve read in 2021 and also many from books I’ve read since the last time I did this tag (mid-June 2020). I’ve done my best to include only one character per book or series, although I did have to make one exception and include two from The Dark Artifices because I just couldn’t find another character that was memorable enough to use. In theory, I probably should have waited until a little later in the year to redo this tag, but it is such fun that I didn’t want to wait.

This tag was created by ReadLikeWildfire and Beccathebookreviewer. To participate, you have to make a list of 30 character names, and choose two at random for every question. After you have picked your two names, you decide which character is a better fit for that question, and which one is “not good enough.” As usual, I’ve purposely split my list 50-50 to have an equal number of male and female characters, for the sake of balance. Since this tag has been out for a while now, anyone who wants to give it a try, consider yourself tagged!

1) You have only one more spot on your spelling bee team. Who would you pick to complete your team?

My options are: Aaron Soto (More Happy Than Not) or Pepper (Tweet Cute)

Definitely Pepper! Given how much effort she put into the Twitter war between her family’s restaurant and Jack’s, I feel like she would be more competitive than Aaron. I’m not sure either of these characters have particularly strong spelling skills, so I guess competitiveness will have to be the defining factor. I also feel like I would generally get along better with Pepper.

2) Both characters want to kill you. Which one do you kill first so you have a better chance of surviving?

My options are: Prince Henry (Red, White & Royal Blue) or Julian Blackthorn (The Dark Artifices)

Oh no! I wouldn’t want to kill either of these characters! I think if it was a question of survival, I’d have to get rid of Julian first since he’s much more likely to be a threat due to his Shadowhunter training. I don’t find Henry particularly threatening at all. I wouldn’t think of Julian as a threat in general either, but he has more potential to become one under the right circumstances.

3) You’re on The Bachelor/Bachelorette and you’re down to these two characters. Which one are you going to give your rose to?

My options are: Cardan Greenbriar (The Cruel Prince) or Kiera Johnson (Slay)

Tough choice (taking gender out of the equation) since both were very interesting characters. As much as I liked Cardan as a character, I absolutely loved his relationship with Jude and think it would take a very specific dynamic to be compatible with him. On the other hand, I probably have a bit more in common with Kiera because I also like computer games, so I guess I’d have to pick her.

4) You’ve been chosen for The Hunger Games. Who would most likely volunteer in your place?

My options are: Vanessa Wye (My Dark Vanessa) or Maggie Holt (Home Before Dark)

I don’t really see either of these characters as quick to jump in to volunteer for something like this. I can see Maggie being a little more likely to volunteer, but I think Vanessa would have a stronger interest in the Games and would probably fare much better in them. I guess I’ll go with Vanessa because I think she’d be more willing to participate, although I really don’t see her volunteering either.

5) You’re stranded on an island. Which character would you sacrifice to engage in cannibalism?

My options are: Scythe Faraday (The Arc of the Scythe series) or Kara Resnik (The Themis Files)

Very difficult choice! These are two of my favourite characters from their respective series. I guess if I had to choose, I’d sacrifice Kara because her impulsivity might end up putting us both at risk and I also think she’d be harder to get along with long-term than Faraday. On the other hand, Kara might have better skills to help survive the island.

6) You’re the next DC/Marvel superhero (with your own TV show of course). Who is your sidekick?

My options are: Nesta Archeron (A Court of Silver Flames) or Nikolai (King of Scars)

Definitely Nikolai! Although I really like Nesta as a character and she’d be a powerful sidekick, she’d also be very difficult to work with. Plus, Nikolai’s humour would be a good fit for the comic relief part that often comes with a sidekick’s role (at least for the TV series part of being a hero).

7) You’re a manager at the Avocado Admiring Company. Who would you fire for lack of communication skills?

My options are: Malcolm Kershaw (Eight Perfect Murders) or Ty Blackthorn (The Dark Artifices)

This is a tricky one, since Malcolm is unreliable and Ty has a lot of struggles with communication skills. Of the two, I think Ty is a lot more trustworthy though and it would be much easier to communicate with him than with Malcolm. I think Malcolm would function just fine in day-to-day communication, but he also couldn’t be trusted to communicate as openly and honestly.

8) You’ve just finished a book in which your favourite character dies. Which character is most likely to comfort you?

My options are: January Andrews (Beach Read) or Owen Pick (Invisible Girl)

Definitely January. I think Owen would mean well and make an effort to comfort me, but January is an author herself so I think she’d be a lot more likely to be able to relate to the experience of losing a character you love.

9) Ugh, it’s high school. Who would most likely be part of the popular clique?

My options are: Rhen (A Curse So Dark and Lonely) or Lucy Gray (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes)

Are we including the fact that Rhen can turn into a monster? Because I think that would really have a negative effect on his social standing. I see Lucy as being a little too independent to really care about being popular, but for some reason, I see her fitting in better with that crowd so I guess I’ll pick her.

10) The day has arrived: You’re finally one year older! Who would have the nerve to forget your birthday?

My options are: Mia Covere (Nevernight) or Addie LaRue (The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue)

Probably Addie, because she’d assume she would be able to get away with it since I wouldn’t remember her anyway. Mia’s very loyal, so I don’t think she would forget if I was on her good side.

11) You’ve just found an upcoming Booktube star. Who would it most likely be?

My options are: Gavin Scott (Bromance Book Club) or Maya Rehman (Yes No Maybe So)

I really like both of them and would probably subscribe to both of their channels, but I think of the two, I’d likely prefer Maya. To be fair, I have no idea what her taste in books is, but it might be fun to see Gavin’s opinions on the books that he and his friends are reading. I just feel like his channel would end up focusing too heavily on sports for my taste, unless we are limiting it to bookish content only. I get the feeling Maya would be into contemporary books, especially ones that deal with social justice, which I also enjoy.

12) Sleepover time! Unfortunately, you can only invite one person. Who would you invite?

My options are: Ronan Lynch (Call Down the Hawk) or Adele (Behind Her Eyes)

It’s a little ironic that I have the two characters on my list who have something unusual about their sleep already. Of these two, I would definitely pick Ronan since I would not trust Adele at all!

13) Bam, you’re pregnant. Who is the father or mother?

My options are: Ari (Bloom) or Simon (Well Met)

Considering Ari is still a teenager, I think I’ll have to go with Simon. I do think Ari would be a great father when he’s older, but he’s not quite there yet. I also think it would be fun for Simon to share his love of the Renaissance Faire with the child and have them grow up being involved with it.

14) You’ve just written a super important text. Who would see it but not reply?

My options are: Kenji (Shatter Me) or Emoni (With the Fire On High)

My gut instinct says Emoni, although it wouldn’t be intentional. I can easily see her getting too busy in the kitchen or with her daughter, and forgetting to respond even if she means to.

15) You’ve just woken up for breakfast. Your mom has been replaced by…?

My options are: Audrey Rose (Stalking Jack the Ripper) or Khai (The Bride Test)

Either of them would be fine, really. I think of the two, I’d slightly prefer Audrey Rose because her interest in science and forensics would be interesting to discuss, but I’d be fine with either of them.