Review: The Caged Queen (Iskari #2) by Kristen Ciccarelli

The Caged Queen (Iskari, #2)The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s official. I am complete trash for the Iskari series.

The Caged Queen is the second installment of Kristen Ciccarelli’s highly underrated YA Fantasy series, Iskari.

If you are unaware, the three books within this trilogy are actually companion novels. Even though they follow a linear story, with the same cast of characters, each installment features the perspectives of different main characters.

Picking up shortly after the conclusion of The Last Namsara, this volume focuses mainly on Roa, her sister Essie, and the new King of Firgaard, Dax.

Roa and Dax, now married, are working on merging the interests of their two kingdom. As the two are still learning to trust one another, things don’t always go smoothly.

Although Roa did appear in the first book, we really didn’t learn too much about her; she remained the mysterious beauty that Dax hoped to marry, in order to (view spoiler).

The Caged Queen gives her full story. Most interestingly to me, is that her sister, Essie, who died in a tragic childhood accident, has remained with Roa in the form a bird of prey.

The two sisters share a very special bond and are able to communicate with one another in spite of Essie unconventional form.

Roa would love nothing more than to get her sister back to her old self and when she learns of a way to make that happen, she vows to try.

The only catch, she’ll need to kill the King, her new husband, Dax, in order to do so. Who will she choose? Her sister, or the man she could learn to love.

I am obsessed with this story. Ciccarelli has fully drawn me into this world. There are so many fabulous elements, I could swoon for days.

I’d like to keep this review somewhat succinct, however, so I will list just a few of my favorites.

The World. I really enjoyed how a good portion of this volume was set in the Scrublands and other outlying areas, as opposed to strictly in Firgaard.

Our main characters are traveling for a bit and I loved the desert atmosphere, with the stark, inhospitable terrain. It made the characters work that much harder for every gain.

The Legends and Back Stories. Interspersed amongst the core narrative are sections that tell of the lore and legends of this world, as well as some character’s early life/back stories.

This is the same across all three volumes and is one of my very favorite aspects. I find it to be such a lush and creative way of building out the world.

The Characters. I enjoy all of the characters. Their thoughts, motivations, inner and outer turmoil, angst, love, longing, grief, agony; it’s devastatingly addictive.

I was intrigued by Roa in the first book. I wanted to know more about her and I got exactly what I wanted with this volume. I loved the focus on grief, forgiveness and sisterhood, in this one as well.

If that doesn’t motivate you to give this series a shot, I’m not sure what will.

If you have had this one on your radar for a long time, like I did, take my advice and pick it up now. It’s a perfect escape for your reading pleasure!! That is all.

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Review: My Contrary Mary (Mary #1) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

My Contrary Mary (Mary, #1)My Contrary Mary by Cynthia Hand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

**4.5-stars**

Returning with all the fantastical humor of My Lady Jane, My Contrary Mary follows Mary Queen of Scots as a teenager in 16th-century France.

Although she has the title of Queen of Scotland, Mary has actually spent most of her life living in France, where she is betrothed to the Dauphin; future King, Francis.

She has her handmaidens with her, all named Mary, but luckily assigned nicknames so they don’t all respond at the same time. Less confusing that way.

Mary, our Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, also feels fortunate that she and Francis actually get along quite well; many young people aren’t as fortunate with their arranged marriages. #blessed

Just look at Francis’s mother, Catherine de Medici. It’s pretty clear she despises her husband, King Henry II and frequently plots against him in various ways.

Oh, the drama of the royal court!!!

Our varied cast of characters doesn’t end there however, we also have the infamous seer Nostradamus, along with his daughter, Ari, on Catherine’s payroll.

Lurking about behind the scenes providing predictions, potions and more!

I should also probably mention that our Mary is an edian, a shapeshifter, transforming into a mouse when it suits her.

This is an awfully handy skill for palace eavesdropping, as you can imagine, and has helped our dear Mary on more than one occasion.

Y’all, I’m giddy. This was so much fun. It was everything I wanted it to be.

I love the Lady Janies’ creative narrative style. It’s quirky, funny and full of subtle pop culture references. These authors sure know how to tell a delightful story!

Captivating from the start, if you enjoyed My Lady Jane, I think you will love this just as much. I know I did.

Thank you to the publisher, Harper Teen and Harper Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. It was pure fun on the page and I can’t wait to meet more Marys are the series continues!!!

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Review: Murder, She Wrote: Killing in a Koi Pond (MSW #53) by Jessica Fletcher and Terrie Farley Moran

Murder, She Wrote: Killing in a Koi Pond (Murder She Wrote Book 53)Murder, She Wrote: Killing in a Koi Pond by Jessica Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Following a Literary Conference in Bethesda, Maryland, Jessica decides to travel further South to visit with her dear friend, Dolores, in South Carolina.

Dolores has recently married her third husband, Willis Nickens, a wealthy businessman. Jess is eager to meet him.

After Jessica reaches the Nickens’ South Carolina home, she discovers she isn’t the couple’s only current house guest.

There’s staff, of course, as well as Willis’ son-in-law, adorable niece and business partner. Through observing Willis’ interactions with these other guests, Jessica quickly determines Dolores’ new husband is a bit of a jerk.

He seems to bully everyone he comes into contact with. Lording his money and power over them. When Jessica discovers his body, facedown in the koi pond, on her early morning run, she immediately suspects foul play.

The local law enforcement doesn’t seemed as convinced, however, and they brush off her initial attempts at assistance. Clearly, Jessica’s reputation did not proceed her.

Eventually, they come around to her side of things. Willis was in fact murdered. Their number one suspect: Dolores.

Jessica knows Dolores could never commit murder. Thus, she is forced to begin an investigation of her own, to clear her friend’s name and help to capture the real killer.

Killing in a Koi Pond was an absolute delight. Although the 53rd-installment of this beloved series, it’s the first penned by veteran Cozy author, Terrie Farley Moran.

She did a fantastic job channeling the original tone of the series. I really hope she continues on!!

This story held to the classic format, read quickly and will definitely keep Cozy fans engaged.

There were a couple of moments where the narrative fell into a bit of a lull, but overall, a real treat!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

This is the 37th-book in this series that I have read. I am huge fan and will keep on coming back for more as long as they are published!

Reviewer’s Note: If you are new to this series, you can jump in anywhere, you do not need to read them in order. Especially if you have ever watched the television program and have that background on Jessica’s character.

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Review: Gilded Serpent (Dark Shores #3) by Danielle L. Jensen

Gilded Serpent (Dark Shores, #3)Gilded Serpent by Danielle L. Jensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gilded Serpent is the third installment in Danielle L. Jensen’s Dark Shores series.

Coming in at just under 600-pages, Jensen definitely packed in a lot of information, action and startling revelations.

With this series, if you aren’t aware, you can read the first two books in any order. Meaning you can read either Dark Shores, or Dark Skies first, followed by the other.

I personally read them in publication order and would recommend that to others.

I felt like Dark Shores established the setting and functionality of the world perfectly. After reading that one, I had a strong hold on the type of series this was going to turn out to be.

It’s one that channels all the brutality of Ancient Rome, mixed with a fair amount of magic and heavy doses of political intrigue. Also, let’s not forget the sweet romance.

In Dark Shores, the action centers around Teriana and Marcus. In Dark Skies, we follow Lydia and Killian.

Gilded Serpent follows all four of these characters as their storylines begin to merge more and more.

Through the first two books, I became quite attached to all four of these main characters. Because of that, my excitement level for this release was heightened even more.

As I have mentioned in my previous reviews for this series, including the prequel, Tarnished Empire, I love this series and think it is incredibly underrated. All YA Fantasy lovers need to check this one out!

I did rate this book slightly lower than the first two books, mainly because it wasn’t as easy for me to follow, or stay as fully engaged with this one.

I think the length started to get to me, as well as the sheer volume of information that Jensen packed into this one. Also, I did have some issues at the beginning remembering what had happened at the conclusion of the first two books.

While I recognize that as a ‘me’ problem, I also feel an author including slight, subtle recaps is always helpful. I didn’t feel a lot of that here.

Regardless of that fact, however, I still really enjoyed my time reading this novel. The world continues to be built out. It’s dangerous, complex and full of compelling people, creatures and history.

I am really looking forward to the next book in this series. I am planning to do myself a favor and binge read the first three again prior to picking it up.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor Teen, for making my dreams come true and providing me with a copy to read and review.

I truly appreciate it and will be singing this series praises for a long time to come!!!

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Review: Tarnish Empire (Dark Shores #0.5) by Danielle L. Jensen

Tarnished Empire (Dark Shores, #0.5)Tarnished Empire by Danielle L. Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Tarnished Empire is a prequel installment to Danielle L. Jensen’s Dark Shores series.

Released in January of 2021, this story was just what I needed to tide me over until Gilded Serpent released. I was hella satisfied upon completion.

In this story, we learn more about Marcus and the notorious 37th Legion, which he leads as Commander. If you have read Dark Shores, you will be well acquainted with Marcus.

You may recall him as a smart, powerful and fair leader. In this story, he’s not quite as accomplished, or respected, as he will be someday.

He and his men are assigned to squash the last resistance to the Senate’s rule. It’s a sticky situation with a lot of innocent people falling into harms way.

Agrippa, a soldier in the 37th, and a friend of Marcus, plays a central role in this narrative. He is a charming and engaging character who brought some light humor to the mix.

I loved Agrippa and was happy to hear that we are going to be getting more of him in Gilded Serpent!

His romantic interest, Silvara, is a washer woman, who also is secretly part of the resistance. When Agrippa and Silvara begin a relationship, it’s anyone’s guess what secrets will be shared between them.

Overall, I found this to be a good story. It kept me engaged and I really enjoyed the action scenes, as well as the behind the scenes political maneuverings.

I loved learning more of Marcus’ backstory, as well as more about the Dark Shores world in general. This is the type of world where every detail is interesting.

Jensen’s world-building is top notch. This series is currently underrated in my opinion. If you are sleeping on it, wait no longer.

Start this series!! It’s so good!

Personally, if we were to discuss reading order, I would recommend reading them in publication order. Even though this is a prequel, I would read Dark Shores and Dark Skies prior to this one.

I am picking up Gilded Serpent this week ((FINALLY)) and am so pumped to be back in this world with some of my favorite characters!!!

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Review: Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3) by Martha Wells

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rogue Protocol is the third book within The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.

I picked this series up on a whim last year and quickly fell in love with Murderbot and Martha Wells’ humorous writing style. It draws you in right away!

In this installment we rejoin Murderbot on its continued hunt for answers regarding its violent past.

It ends up on another mission, this time heading to a terraforming facility once run by the mysterious and sinister GrayCris Corporation.

More humans are involved; there mucky things up for our beloved Murderbot, yet again. It also needs to befriend, or intelligently influence, another AI. This time a tragically adorable, human-form companion robot named, Miki.

Miki’s entire personality was exploding with cute. I loved their interactions; so pure.

As usual, there was a lot of action, more betrayals and corporate cover-ups. It also ended much too quickly, although this one definitely crushed my heart a little bit there at the end. Not going to lie.

Why did I have to be listening to it before I had even had my first coffee of the day?

Sadness aside, I can’t quit Murderbot! I’m excited to continue on with their story.

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Review: Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan Is Killing ItFinlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is a hilarious, modern-day Cozy Mystery, that will leave you simultaneously at the edge-of-your-seat and clutching your sides with laughter.

As a start to a series, this story succeeded in making me fall in love with these characters. I cannot wait for more!

Finlay Donovan is a struggling novelist. She is also currently single-moming two small children, as her jerk ex-husband left her for the hot, blonde, real estate agent he had been having an affair with.

Making matters worse, on the morning of a very important meeting with her agent, to discuss her barely existent new novel, Finlay discovers her ex-hubby has also fired their nanny. Without giving her any advanced notice!

Not a great start to the day. As single-moms are known to do, however, Finlay figures it out, all whilst barely holding herself together on the inside.

She makes her meeting with her agent, at a Panera, of all places, and they have a great, albeit slightly stressful discussion about Finlay’s career.

Unbeknownst to Finlay, another patron was listening in on the conversation.

Not understanding they were discussing the plot of Finlay’s floundering novel, this woman now mistakenly believes Finlay to be a successful contract killer.

She then proceeds to try to hire Finlay to kill her husband. He’s a scoundrel, she says; he won’t be missed and she is willing to pay a hefty sum. While Finlay is intrigued, she obviously sees the problems with this plan.

However, somehow, as turns out to be common in Finlay’s life, she ends up in over her head. Before she knows it, she is embroiled in the dark underbelly of her community, where murder abounds.

This novel is fun from the first chapter. You are immediately thrown into the chaos of Finlay’s life and into her hilarious inner musings.

Not long after the Panera incident, Finlay is able to rekindle her relationship with their fabulous nanny, Vero and the two become, quite literally, partners in crime.

The relationship between Finlay and Vero gave me life. They played off each others personalities so well. I loved how they worked together and became like family.

There were great side characters, red herrings, action and drama. It is just pure fun to read; light, funny and full of over-the-top hijinks.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I really appreciate it!

I cannot wait to see what Finlay and Vero get up to next!

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Review: Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Artificial Condition, the second installment of The Murderbot Diaries, we reunite with everyone’s favorite Sec Unit, Murderbot.

Murderbot is curious about its past, having been involved in an incident at a mining facility, which left a lot of humans dead. It has only vague recollections of that time and has a strong need to know more.

Recently setting out on its own, with no ties to any human, it now has the time to seek answers.

Making a new acquaintance, an AI, who it calls ART, the two, when not binging media shows together, set to work preparing Murderbot for the next steps.

It alters itself a bit, in order to pass as a human, and accepts an assignment as a security consultant. Its new clients are a group of computer scientists, who had their work stolen from a previous employer.

They want to negotiate to get it back. This assignment will take Murderbot exactly where it wants to go.

Yet again, it struggles with, dare I say, emotions where its human charges are concerned. It is the most soft-hearted Security Unit in all the galaxy; although it can definitely slay when it needs to.

There’s corruption, there’s evil entities, there’s action, there’s humor and whole lot of heart.

I adored the interactions between Murderbot and ART. Just the sweetest moments.

If I wasn’t so terribly frightened of the possibilities for AI, I would want one myself.

Overall, this was a highly entertaining novella and I cannot wait to carry on with this series.

Martha Wells has an incredible style and I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, fast-paced Science Fiction series!!

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Thoughts on The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)The Gunslinger by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

3/20/21: 5-stars yet again!!! Who is surprised?

Now the question is, do I continue to read the entire series and actually read the final book this time? If ka says it is so, it will be done.

3/15/21: It’s been almost a year. I guess I should pick up The Gunslinger again. Why not!?

I only have 1,100 other books I want to read.

Picking up for the 4th time! 🖤

6/3/2020: ALL HAIL THE KING!!!

Five mind-blowing stars, again.

In contrast to the rest of the books in this series, The Gunslinger, is like the black and white portion of The Wizard of Oz.

By the time you enter The Drawing of Three, you’re in Technicolor, baby!!

Earlier

Reread number three.

Also, buddy reading with my dear friend, Shannon. It’s her first trip to the Tower and I am so excited to join her at the start of her adventure!

Original Review:

Every once in a while, a reread will come along that completely changes your outlook and opinion on a story.

This was absolutely the case for me and my reread of The Gunslinger.

Originally, I read it in my early 20’s, just out of undergraduate school and to be honest:

I didn’t get it.
I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like the atmosphere.
I didn’t like the strange dialogue.
I didn’t like the ending for one of my favorite characters.

I had read a lot of King books and this was so different for me. Rereading it now, on the cusp of 40:

I loved it.
I love the atmosphere.
I love Roland.

I understand where this is going.

The palaver between Roland and Walter at the end left me in absolute chills. Where once I gave this 3-stars, I now give it a very solid 5.

I put it down and immediately went to my bookshelf and grabbed The Drawing of Three: The Dark Tower II and started reading it, staying up way past my bedtime in order to do so.

Now this thought consumes me:

I need to get to this damn tower!

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Review: Obsidio (The Illuminae Files #3) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Obsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3)Obsidio by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am over the moon in love with The Illuminae Files. I certainly consider it to be ground-breaking and if this doesn’t gain Classic status, the world will suffer for it.

I’m sure AIDAN would see to that.

As Obsidio is the third and concluding book in the series, some mild spoilers are ahead. I will not be hiding them.

You have been warned.

After Hanna, Nik, Kady and Ezra, survive the attacks on the Heimdall Station, they find themselves crammed aboard the Mao, with 2,000 other desperate refugees.

The only choice for those aboard the Mao is to return to Kerenza, the site of the initial BeiTech assault. They’re not really sure what they’ll find there, but it has to be better than drifting through deep space, eventually running out of supplies, including oxygen.

On Kerenza, Kady’s cousin, Asha, has survived and joined the underground resistance, fighting against BeiTech’s continued presence on the small mining planet.

When her ex-boyfriend shows up, among the ranks of the enemy, she cannot believe her eyes, but perhaps she can use their prior relationship to their advantage.

The narrative alternates back and forth between the situation on the Mao and that on the ground of Kerenza. There is a lot of drama and a whole lot of action!

I loved how this brought everything together, including the style of the Files themselves. It all becomes clear and frankly, is just brilliant storytelling.

It’s hard not to fall in love with these characters, as you are with them through every step of the battle. I became so connected to each and every one of them.

There were moments when I had to step away. The ending got pretty hairy. I knew Kaufman and Kristoff weren’t looking to spare my feelings, so absolutely anything could happen to any one of our heroes at any time! It was intense, to say the least!

I’m so happy that I finally saw this series through to the end. I even read Gemina twice, which turned out to be my favorite book in the series upon reread.

Of course I am a little sad that it is done, but feel like it is a story I could revisit. For now, Hanna, Nik, Ezra, Kady, Ella and AIDAN, will live on in my heart; strong, funny, fearless and smart, just as they’re meant to be.

I highly recommend this series to everyone in the Universe!!!

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