Review: The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3) by Maureen Johnson

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hand on the Wall is the third book in the Truly Devious series. At this point in the story, three people connected to Ellingham Academy have died since our intrepid protagonist, True Crime aficionado, Stevie Bell has arrived.

One, the victim of a potential prank gone wrong, the second, dead by misadventure and the third succumbed to a tragic accident in Burlington. Is that all these deaths are though? Were they accidents and misadventures, or something much more sinister. How about murder?

If you haven’t read the earlier books, you may want to avoid the rest of this review. Although I do try very hard not to reveal anything not included in the Publisher’s synopsis.

At this point, Stevie Bell knows who Truly Devious is. She’s cracked the case. One of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time, and she, a high school girl in rural Vermont has figured it out. At least she thinks she has.

It’s actually hard for Stevie to concentrate strictly on the decades-old case. Paired with the recent tragic events, it’s becoming muddled. Stevie is perplexed. Her gut tells her these three newer deaths are in some way connected to those of the past, but how?

With a storm of epic proportions bearing down on the private school, most students are quickly evacuated for safety. Stevie is right where she wants to be though. She can’t leave. Not when the answers she seeks could lie within these walls.

I loved the two previous books and this was definitely a solid continuation to the series.

I really enjoyed filling in some of the blanks regarding the historic-Truly Devious case. In this installment, as with the previous two, you do get alternating perspectives of both the past and present-timelines.

The information gained in this book really helped to make sense of some of the questions I’ve had regarding that earlier timeline, but where does it go from here?

This left off in a very intriguing place, so I am definitely excited to move forward with the next book.

Stevie has grown so much as a character since the first installment. She’s gaining confidence and really coming into her own. I am looking forward to watching her grow even further as she continues working on the many mysteries surrounding her.

Another aspect I really enjoyed about this one was the inclement weather. The storm essentially evacuating most of the unnecessary players from the school was a nice set-up for creating a spooky, claustrophobic-feeling ambiance.

I am planning to continue onto the next book very soon, in order to be caught up just in time for the 5th-book in the series, Nine Liars, to be released next month!

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Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella Is DeadCinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cinderella Is Dead is set in a stark-Fantasy world, 200-years after the legendary Cinderella’s happily ever after with Prince Charming.

We follow 16-year old, Sophia, who on the eve of her first Ball, can think only of how she wants to be with her girlfriend, Erin, forever after, not with some man, or boy, she doesn’t even know.

Even though it’s risky, Sophia pleads with Erin to run away with her. Erin refuses. In their society it is treacherous to be different; to want something different for their lives. Erin is scared to be caught, to put herself and her family at risk.

Within the kingdom, all young ladies of a certain age are required to attend the King’s Annual Ball, where they are paraded around in the hopes of being selected to be a man’s wife. They are given a limited number of chances. If not selected, it’s sort of unclear what becomes of them, but many forfeited girls are never heard from again.

The girls are chosen for completely superficial reasons, so it’s important to look your best; to be seen, but not heard.

On the night of their Ball, one of Sophia and Erin’s friends isn’t as prepared as she should be. The King reacts harshly and the poor girl’s fate is sealed.

After witnessing the King’s cruelty, and the citizens impotence in the face of such evil, Sophia can’t stand it anymore. She makes up her mind that she needs to get away. Feeling she has no other option, refusing to bow to these ridiculous traditions, Sophia runs.

Now a wanted criminal, on her own for the first time, outside the grip of the kingdom, Sophia begins to learn more about the kingdom’s history and finds that the lore the society is based upon is nothing but a bag of lies.

Together with her new friend, Constance, Sophia vows to return to the kingdom and dismantle the hurtful, unfair and savage system. It may not be easy though, as the King’s power stems for a formidable and unusual place.

While this started strong for me, with an intriguing premise and set-up, the further I got into the story, the more it lost my interest.

By the end, I was ready to move on. I still think this is a solid idea and build-up, however the final execution just didn’t match my tastes.

As the story opens, I was intrigued by the system and I still find that interesting. I also like how Bayron framed the society around the legend of Cinderella. It was a clever plot device for setting the stage for some serious examination of a patriarchal society.

I also really enjoyed and appreciated how well the dystopian tone blended with the fantastical backdrop. That was nicely done.

I think where this started to lose me was the melodramatic interactions between Sophia and Constance. I didn’t like Constance at all. I was disturbed at how quickly Sophia shoved aside her once-proclaimed super powerful feelings for Erin the second she met Constance.

That didn’t feel genuine. It kind of turned me off to both characters. I also didn’t vibe with how quickly and easily the girls seemed to be able to overpower, or influence, others. This was especially evident in the final scenes, although I don’t want to say too much here because, spoilers.

Overall, I think this was creative and had a very solid set-up. The ideas explored were interesting and I loved the use of the actual fairy tale to set up the basis for the functioning of this system.

Even though the execution of this didn’t quite blow me away, I am still definitely looking forward to reading more from this author!!

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Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost BrideThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had my eye on this gorgeous book for a very long time. After recently reading through some glowing reviews from friends, I decided not to put it off any longer. Proving that sometimes I do make good choices. It’s rare, but it happens.

One of my favorite aspects of this ended up being the striking atmosphere. It was such a good fit as we transition from a spooky October into a still spooky, yet more cozy November…

Set in the 19th-century port town of Malacca, in colonial Malaya, this story follows 17-year old, Li Lan, who lives with her father and loving nursemaid, Amah.

Li Lan’s family was once well-off, but due to her father’s persistent opium addiction, they now find themselves virtually bankrupt.

Li Lan is at the point in her life when most young women her age are getting married. Due to their status, however, Li Lan finds herself without many prospects.

When her father first presents her with the idea of becoming a ghost bride for the wealthy Lim family, he says it lightly, sort of in passing; like he wasn’t really considering it.

The local practice of ghost brides are said to calm restless spirits of those who have passed on. The Lim’s son, Lim Tian Ching, has recently died under mysterious circumstances and his mother seems set on finding him a ghost bride.

Even though Li Lan would be set for life, having a lavish place to live, never wanting for anything, she’s not into it. Tying herself to a dead man for the duration of her life, no thank you. She wants more, maybe even love.

When she gets invited to the Lim home for a visit however, she does accept. There’s no reason to be rude. Plus, she’s genuinely curious about the family.

It is a very interesting visit. She’s mesmerized by their lifestyle and the characters fluttering around their lush estate. After the visit, the haunting of Li Lan begins.

In her dreams, Li Lan is visited by the dead Lim Tian Ching, whose spirit makes her incredibly uncomfortable for a host of different reasons. The nightly interactions begin to wear heavily upon her.

She even goes as far as visiting a medium to try to find a way to free herself of his spirit. In short, she’s given a potion of sorts to try to help and after taking too much, Li Lan slips into a coma.

Y’all, I am really simplifying this here, but you get the gist. Through her condition, Li Lan is transported to the parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where vengeful spirits, ghost cities and monstrous establishments abound.

There she meets Er Lang, a sort of spiritual guide, and they help her upon her journey. The more ensnared Li Lan becomes in this world, the greater the risk becomes that she will never be able to return to the mortal realm. It’s a race against the clock.

I adored the menacing, magical tone of this. I loved the infusion of Chinese folklore. It’s so interesting to read about and learn about. I have read a couple of other novels tackling similar concepts and always end up really enjoying the imagery of the dark underworld.

I did end up listening to the audiobook and I would absolutely recommend that format. It is actually narrated by the author and is completely mesmerizing.

I love when an author narrates their own story. If done right, it can just breath such energy and authenticity into it. Only they know exactly how their words should be read and wow, Yangsze Choo could be the best I’ve ever heard!!!

I know I am probably forgetting a million things that I wanted to say about this one. The goodness of it all has just zapped thoughts straight out of my brain.

Overall, I found this story to be beautifully-lyrical, fantastical and compelling. I’m so glad that I finally made time for it. I am definitely planning to read more from Yangsze Choo; looking forward to it. I’m a fan!

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Review: The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in CluesThe Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues by Nova Jacobs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Last Equation of Isaac Severy as book #4 for my TBR-Haul Project. I hauled this book in May 2018 as a Book of the Month selection. I was super excited for it initially, but then it fell off my radar.

Described as a Literary Mystery, it just sounded like something I would enjoy. Unfortunately, the reviews weren’t drawing me to it, even though I frequently find myself in the minority opinion on ratings.

This story takes place after the apparent suicide of mathematician, and eccentric family patriarch, Isaac Severy. After his death, Isaac’s granddaughter, Hazel, receives a strange letter from him in the mail.

The letter claims that a secret organization is after his final, reportedly dangerous, equation and he charges Hazel with delivering it to a colleague of his for safe keeping. But first, she needs to find it.

In L.A. for Isaac’s funeral, it becomes clear that Hazel isn’t the only one with her sights set on Isaac’s missing equation.

The entire Severy family is in attendance actually and oh boy, are they interesting. A family full of barely functioning geniuses left spiraling by Isaac’s sudden death. What could go wrong?

In the midst of all the family drama, Hazel must follow the clues left for her in her favorite novel by Isaac in order to find the equation before it’s too late. Will she be able to pull it off alone?

Y’all, I really enjoyed this; what a pleasant surprise! I’m glad I ignored the overall rating and made time for it. It’s honestly like a Wes Anderson film come to the page.

I devoured this once I started. The quirky characters, Hazel’s bizarre mission, it was all so much fun. I did end up listening to the audiobook and I felt it was really well done.

The writing actually reminded me a lot of some of Kate Racculia’s work, particularly Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, which is definitely a bonus. It’s very smart, witty and darkly engaging. It’s different from pretty much everything else.

I definitely recommend this one for a change of pace. Ignore the ratings, dive in and enjoy the ride!

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Review: A Thief of Always by Clive Barker

The Thief of AlwaysThe Thief of Always by Clive Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

💚🦇 A modern classic. I loved this. 🦇💚

I picked up The Thief of Always as book #3 for my TBR-Haul Project. I hauled this charming paperback edition in April 2018 and she’s been gathering dust ever since.

Clive Barker is well-known as a heavy-hitter in Horror and Dark Fantasy, but this was actually the first thing I have ever picked up from him. I was very excited to check out his work for the first time. It did not disappoint!

This story, fit for all ages, follows a young boy, Harvey Swick, who is bored with his life. Aren’t they all sometimes?

One day, as Harvey is contemplating just how boring his life is, a man named Rictus appears to him and offers him the opportunity to travel somewhere exciting, away from his parents and teachers and school, a place called the Holiday House, where every day brings something to celebrate.

Granted, he doesn’t sell it to Harvey in exactly those terms, but you get the gist.

Figuring he doesn’t have any other enticing options, Harvey agrees and off he goes with Rictus. After arriving at the property he finds other children there already and befriends two of them, Lulu and Wendell.

Through them, the elderly housekeeper, Mrs. Griffin, and good old-fashioned exploration, Harvey begins to the learn the ins-and-outs of the Holiday House and it’s mysterious benefactor, Mr. Hood. Suffice it to say, it’s not all as holiday happy as they may want you to believe.

As the truth behind the property begins to be exposed, it seems Harvey needs to make a move fast or risk never returning to that boring life he took for granted before.

Y’all, I absolutely adored this story. From the very first chapter, I was completely drawn in. The writing style is lush, fluid and ominous, even when you aren’t quite sure why.

For me, that’s a characteristic of fiction that I have always been drawn to, even as a child. I would compare it to the tone of say Alice in Wonderland, or even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Where everything engaging, vibrant and beautiful, but you also have the chills for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on.

Barker absolutely nailed that tone. I loved the progression of Harvey’s story, the way he began to piece together that all wasn’t as it appeared at the Holiday House.

The more he figured out, the faster the pace got as well, so it gave me a sort of heart-racing feeling as I made my way to the conclusion. I loved that aspect. There were so many cool elements throughout to enjoy, but those final few chapters really sealed the deal for me.

I am so very happy, after all this time, that I finally made the time for this one. It’s an absolute treat. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves a classic-feeling spooky story. Bonus, it’s perfect for this time of year.

I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Barker’s work!!

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Review: Elevation by Stephen King

ElevationElevation by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

I picked up Elevation as Book #9 for my TBR-Haul Project.

I hauled this all the way back in October 2018 and had planned to read it immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick it up as soon as I wanted and then it got buried on my shelves and forgotten.

This happens a lot, hence the need for the creation of my TBR-Haul Project. If I actually followed through on things, we wouldn’t need this type of self-improvement project.

But enough about me, let’s get to Elevation, which happens to be a Castle Rock story. That fact alone ups its rating. I love that twisted little town.

We follow Scott Carey, who has a disturbing health ailment he’s trying to make sense of. It sounds insane and he’d prefer not to have the whole town gossiping about it, therefore, he confides only in his good friend, retired General Practitioner, Doctor Bob Ellis.

Scott is losing weight, a lot of it and rapidly. Yet, his physical appearance looks no different.

It’s bizarre and no matter how long the two friends discuss it, they just can’t come up with an plausible explanation. However, scales don’t lie. He weighs the same dressed, or not, with heavy things in his pockets or not.

The problem is there seems to be no end in sight, besides reaching zero on the scale. What will happen then? Basically, Scott believes his life now has a rapidly approaching expiration date.

During the midst of all of this, he also is dealing with regular life stuff. Including befriending some new neighbors, a married lesbian couple who own a local dining establishment, and seem to be the talk of the town.

The women, Dee-Dee and Missy, are new to Castle Rock and not everyone is happy about the restaurateurs presence.

As the town starts preparing for its annual Thanksgiving Day 12k, Scott begins to notice the discriminatory behavior directed at the couple. In his own bumbling way, he decides to try to help.

Then there’s the actual road race, the turkey trot. An odd and well-detailed road race that Scott not only participates in, but excels at.

Unlikely friendships are formed and the rest of the book plays out with all the characters learning a lesson or two.

This story is like the Aesop’s Fable of Stephen King’s written work. It’s short, concise, a bit fantastical and I think he had a point to make; maybe a lesson for all of us.

In fact, I believe at the time, this story may have gotten a bit of heat for being too political. I personally have no opinion on that either way, but what I did take away from this was the quality of the storytelling.

As always I found the writing to be absolutely fluid and engaging; top notch stuff. However, if this had been included in a short-story collection, it wouldn’t really stand out to me as a favorite, as say something like Secret Window, Secret Garden, 1922 or The Body.

The book itself is gorgeous. The end pages and the illustrated chapter headings, loved them. 5-stars for the packaging. I’m happy to have it on my shelves as part of my vast King collection.

Overall, while this won’t stand out as one of my favorites of King’s work, I am glad that I finally made time for it. It always feels good to check something off a list!

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Review: Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency ContactEmergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up Emergency Contact as Book #6 for my TBR-Haul Project. I hauled it all the way back in July of 2018 and then for some reason never picked it up.

My initial attraction, and frankly the reason I bought it, was for the cover. I mean, look at her! She’s stunning. I was also hearing great buzz for it at the time though.

In spite of the fact that it’s been collecting dust all that time, I have never really lost interest in the story. After picking it up, I’m disappointed in myself for neglecting it for so long!

This story is set in Austin, Texas and follows two main characters, Penny and Sam.

Penny is just entering her first year of college. With dreams of being a writer, she’s looking forward to getting to Austin and leaving her small town life behind.

Penny was raised by a single mom, who she loves so much, but has a complicated relationship with. Penny’s mom was young when she had her and sometimes, to Penny, it feels more like she is the parent than the child.

Sam is in his early-20s and he is in a major rut. After a break-up, he’s stuck secretly living at the coffee shop in which he works.

He dreams of becoming a filmmaker, but those dreams are on hold at the moment, as he just tries to struggle through day-to-day life. Being newly sober is the icing on the cake, but he does his best to make it work.

When Sam and Penny meet through Penny’s new college roommate Jude, it’s silently like a gut punch for them both, but they don’t make a real connection until later.

A chance encounter finds them alone and the serious experience they go through together that night creates a bond that they keep all to themselves.

From that point forward, they remain in daily contact via text messages and an all-consuming relationship blooms through that remote form of interaction.

As they continue to get to know one another, feelings and emotions begin to grow, but will the two be able to take it from the screen to IRL?

The audiobook format of this story swept me away. We have two narrators, one for Penny and one for Sam and they truly brought this narrative to life. I genuinely felt like I was listening to Penny and Sam tell their stories.

I absolutely adored both of these characters. Penny especially. The way she thought and viewed the world, it was so natural and relatable. I loved her sense of humor or sort of snarky attitude towards life.

Sam was such a sweetie, who although he had been let down by many people in his life, still managed not to be jaded and just had the kindest heart.

In addition to loving them individually, I loved the chemistry and banter between these two. From the very first moment they met, I knew we were bound to have something special here. Watching their relationship grow through a less traditional medium than face-to-face interaction made it that much more enjoyable.

There was a certain level of pining that came with it that I’m not sure we would have experienced otherwise.

Both of these characters were dealing with different and very serious life issues involving family, past traumas and self-confidence. Watching them work through those things, and help each other work through those things, was believable and ultimately left me feeling hopeful.

I was surprised by how connected I felt to these characters as the story progressed. I haven’t really been picking up a lot of Contemporary stories recently and this one revamped my interest in these types of topics and narratives.

I am definitely planning to read more of Mary H.K. Choi’s work. If it is half as great as this, I have a lot of stellar reading ahead from this author!

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Review: Sweet Little Lies (Cat Kinsella #1) by Caz Frear

Sweet Little Lies (Cat Kinsella, #1)Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Twenty-six year old Cat Kinsella is a DC with the Metropolitan Police Force, her dream job. After a less than stellar childhood, Cat has made her own way in the world and tries to keep the past just there; in the past.

As we all know though, the past frequently comes back to haunt us and Cat’s about to learn that lesson the hard way.

When Cat gets called to work a murder scene very near the pub that her estranged father still runs, old memories get stirred up, throwing Cat’s brain into overdrive.

Additionally, the victim, a housewife named Alice turns out to be very much linked to Maryanne Doyle, a teenage girl who went missing from Ireland almost two decades ago. Is this a coincidence?

Cat’s family met Maryanne while they were vacationing in Ireland just before she went missing and Cat has never forgotten her. Maryanne could do that; make an impact.

But the biggest takeaway from that time for Cat, was that her father was a liar and perhaps worse. After Maryanne’s disappearance, he was questioned by police and lied to them.

He said he never met the girl and that wasn’t true. In fact, her father may have known Maryanne very well; certainly more than he should have.

Cat has always suspected he knew what happened to her and it definitely drove a wedge between them. Could he also be involved with this current case?

Cat has to solve this mystery now, or risk it continuing to haunt her forever. Thus, Cat and her team dig into the investigation. It goes deep and gets twisted.

Sweet Little Lies is the first book in Caz Frear’s Cat Kinsella Mystery series. Incidentally, this was a debut novel.

This was also the 7th-book that I picked up for my TBR Haul-Project. I hauled this back in August of 2018, when it was my BOTM pick for the month. I was originally so stoked for it and then it sort of fell off my radar.

I’ll admit it took me a little while to really get invested in the mystery, but Frear definitely brought it around in the second half. I think initially I had a hard time keeping track of who was who and what was happening.

Like the whole Alice / Maryanne thing, I’m not sure if I wasn’t paying well enough attention at first, but it took me a minute to get a grasp on that.

Once I started really focusing in on it, the investigation became gripping and intense. Cat’s personality, although dry to me initially, really began to grow on me. I’m sure she’ll continue to grow as a character in future installments.

I am definitely interested in moving on with this series. Overall, a I found this to be a compelling Police Procedural!

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Review: The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3) by Blake Crouch

The Last Town (Wayward Pines, #3)The Last Town by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Last Town is the concluding book in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series.

I read the first two books last Fall, but for some reason, as often happens, I then failed to pick this one up. Sometimes when things are so good, you just don’t want them to end.

Luckily for me, this is a very memorable story, so I had no problem picking this one up even though almost a year had passed. I hadn’t forgotten a thing.

The truth of Wayward Pines, even the idea of it, is so horrifying that it is seared into my brain from now until forevermore.

After the reveals of the second book, which had huge repercussions for the entire town, things get much worse. Much, much worse.

Ethan Burke has ticked off Pilcher and that results in Pilcher cranking up for a temper tantrum of epic proportions. He’s about to unleash a community-wide shitstorm, pretty much the equivalent of a 10-year old flipping over a game of Monopoly because they’re losing.

This installment was non-stop action from the very start. It’s dropping you off directly where the action left off. There’s no time to pause.

It’s bleak. Not going to lie. For the majority of the book, I felt pretty helpless with regards to my favorite characters. How the heck are they going to get out of this?

It seemed the end was near. I mean I could feel it, watching the percentage run down on my kindle. It was coming. What was it going to be?

Overall, I am satisfied with this ending. I wouldn’t have guessed the ending and I can’t argue with it. This was a tough one. The world was what it was. There were no easy answers.

I think Crouch did an exceptional job over the course of these three books building out this world and providing characters that the Reader could care about. I loved many of these characters and it was sometimes tough to read about the things they went through.

I would definitely recommend this series. Even though it is a bit of an older series, it’s absolutely worth picking up!!

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Review: Bright We Burn (The Conqueror’s Saga #3) by Kiersten White

Bright We Burn (The Conqueror's Saga #3)Bright We Burn by Kiersten White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bright We Burn is the third and final book in Kiersten White’s sweeping YA-series, The Conqueror’s Saga.

I bought this entire trilogy back in 2018 and she has stood quietly, yet beautifully, on my shelves, unread, for all these years. I picked up the first book on a whim, And I Darken, last month when I started my TBR-Haul Project.

The goal of this self-created project is simply to get me to read some of the backlist titles that I own. And I Darken was the first book of the project and I’m so glad it was.

I had such a successful reading experience with that book and consequently binged the rest of the series.

I found the world White created over the course of this series completely immersive. I was transported to the Ottoman Empire era and I found it to be such a refreshing, captivating, mysterious, yet brutal, setting.

The characters, particularly our main characters Lada, Radu and Mehmed, were each so fleshed out and distinct. Over the course of the series I became so attached to them and invested in their lives. I was like a helicopter mom circling them; especially Lada.

Lada was my favorite character. I loved her strength and determination. I felt like White wrote her really well. It was easy to understand her motivations and as hard as she was, you could tell that it was because she was essentially traumatized from her childhood.

She pushed everyone away, only keeping her country in her heart, that way no one could break it. I felt for her. Additionally, she’s a complete and total badass.

After returning to her home country, Lada uses a thousand stakes to send a message to her rivals. This one would never go down without a fight.

Radu grew so much in this one as well. It took a lot to get him to this place, but I think he finally is able to gain some sort of peace, or at least understanding, in his life that was satisfying to see.

He was a sweet baby bird that I want to protect throughout this beginning of this series. In this book, it didn’t feel as much like that. He really came into his own and although not a perfect situation, we love to see the growth.

Overall, White sent me on a tremendous journey with these characters. I seriously haven’t been this emotional at the close of a series in a long, long time. We’re talking actually tears, folks.

Kiersten White has destroyed me. I may never fully recover.

I’ve now read 9-books from this author and I’ll tell you, she’s a heavy hitter in my book.

I will continue to pick up anything she writes and I recommend you do too!

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