Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

ReprieveReprieve by James Han Mattson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this. I don’t read a lot of stories that feature this sort of Literary Fiction mixed with strong Social Horror.

I felt like this author did a great job constructing this one. I feel like with the people it’s going to hit with, it will really hit. Reprieve has the power to stay on your mind.

I listened to the audiobook and found it immersive. The tone of J.D. Jackson’s narration was, despite the content, soothing and very easy to get swept up in.

This story is set in 1997 and is constructed via a few different style elements. The idea is that there has been a murder at a full-contact, horror-inspired escape room called Quigley House, and we learn about the individuals involved, as well as the aftermath of the crime.

You get a few different character perspectives leading up to their involvement with the fateful night at Quigley House. You also follow along with the group of four contestants making their way through the different levels of the escape room process. Finally, you get court transcripts from the trial following the murder.

An aspect I think some Readers may dislike are the fairly large sections from the different perspectives in the before portions, that are pure character development. They provide context for the various characters ending up at the escape room, but they’re not particularly exciting, or thrilling, if I’m being honest.

With this being said though, I actually really enjoyed the author’s choices in constructing it that way. There were little hints provided throughout these sections that gave you insight into how they were all ultimately going to be connected. I liked watching it all come together.

Additionally, I enjoyed that sort of slow build-up of the eventual relationships and connections. I felt James Han Mattson gave real care to the creation of these characters and it gave it a certain level of authenticity that I appreciated.

The Social Horror was strong, particularly involving race and social status. Those themes branched throughout all of the different sections of the story and I feel like the author did a great job with it, bringing a slightly different perspective than I have read before. Jaidee’s experience as a foreign student coming to the U.S. was eye-opening.

Even though I had a great experience with this one, I do understand why some Readers aren’t connecting with this like they wanted. I think if you go into it expecting a fast-paced and exciting Horror-Thriller set in a escape room, you may be let down by the slow-build and focus on non-escape room content, of which there’s a lot.

I think if you enter this one with the right mindset though, and allow yourself to just settle into the character’s personal journeys, you could end up enjoying this as much as I did. Hopefully, this review will help you decide whether it will be for you or not.

I will definitely be picking up whatever James Han Mattson chooses to write next!

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Review: To Shape a Dragon’s Breath (Nampeshiweisit #1) by Moniquill Blackgoose

To Shape a Dragon's Breath (Nampeshiweisit #1)To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath is an exceptional start to a new YA Fantasy series. The world-building was great and I loved the protagonist, Anequs, and the setting of the Academy.

Also, DRAGONS!!!

This story follows Anequs, a teen girl, who lives on the remote island of Masquapaug, with her family and peoples.

After Anequs finds an abandoned dragon egg, she brings it back to her village and they guard over it, keeping it safe. Once the baby dragon hatches, it chooses Anequs and they are bonded.

The people of the village are delighted. In a previous time, their society had many dragons and those prosperous times are still remembered well in song and story.

After the baby dragon chooses Anequs, She becomes their only Nampeshiweisit; a person with a special relationship with dragons.

Unfortunately, there is no one left alive who remembers the old ways and can teach Anequs what she needs to know to safely raise and train the dragon.

For that and other reasons, Anequs needs to enroll in a private academy, far away on the mainland, where she will be registered as, and learn to become, a dragoneer.

We follow Anequs as she and her dragon, Kasaqua, travel to the city and enroll in the Academy. It’s Anequs first time living amongst the Anglish and it’s jarring; definitely not the easiest transition for her.

We get to meet the other students, as well as the Professors and get a front row seat to their classes and the inherent racism found there.

This story takes us through Anequs entire first year and leaves off in a great spot for the continuation of the story. I’m excited about the possibilities of the second book.

Blackgoose developed a lush and detailed world with this book. There was a lot of information given to the Reader involving the magic system, history and society’s relationship to the dragons.

I tried not to get too bogged down in the details, because I could see how trying to remember every single thing could ruin this experience for some Readers. I trusted Blackgoose to be able to weave an impactful tale without me having to take notes while Anequs was at class.

For me, it worked and I can see, as the series, continues, how things that seem foreign at the start as concepts, will just become old hat, the more you read in this world.

I was torn at the end on how to rate this one. It is very impressive in the scope and the world-building. Also, I enjoyed very much the intrigue as Anequs’s presence at the Academy has the potential to shake up the social order.

I also very much enjoyed the growth we see in Anequs as a character. She literally grew leaps and bounds over the course of this story.

However, it did have some pitfalls for me as well. For one, I felt it was a little too long and perhaps there were a few too many details, as far as the content of her classes went, etc.

The pace was slow, particularly around the middle of the story and some of the social circumstances bordered on repetitive. I waxed and waned and ultimately decided, as recently as this morning, to give it a solid 4-star rating.

I did enjoy this one very much and I am definitely going to be picking up the next book. I would recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a lush YA Fantasy, with strong cultural influences and important social commentary.

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

This is a grand debut and I look forward to reading more from Moniquill Blackgoose!

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Review: The First to Die at the End (Death-Cast #0) by Adam Silvera

The First to Die at the EndThe First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved, loved, loved They Both Die at the End when I read it all the way back in February 2019. Trust me when I say, since that time it has lived rent free in my heart.

I, along with most other people, believed it to be a standalone novel. Then shockingly, a prequel novel was announced. The First to Die at the End is that prequel. I’ll be honest, I’ve been so scared to pick this up.

I wasn’t sure any other content was necessary. How could it possibly live up to the story told in TBDATE?

Finally, however, I could resist my curiosity no more. I had to read it and ultimately, I am really glad that I did. Silvera successfully pulled off the unasked for prequel.

In this story, our main characters are Valentino and Orion. The stage is set on the eve of the launch of Death Cast. Valentino, with dreams of becoming a professional model, has just, as in this very day, moved to New York City.

Orion, is a life-long New Yorker with a tragic past. He is anxious for the launch of Death Cast due to the way death has previously touched his life. Also, he has a very serious heart condition. He always feels the clock is ticking for him.

Through a twist of fate, these two boys meet in Times Square and feel an instant connection. As Death Cast goes live, one of them gets a call and the other does not.

They decide, no matter how it is going to turn out, they are going to spend the next 24-hours together. Death Cast is untried. Will their prediction be correct, or will it all end up being nothing more than an elaborate hoax?

Woven throughout the over-arching storyline, we also get vignettes of side characters that Valentino and Orion encounter along the way.

I know not everyone is crazy about the inclusion of these types of tiny slivers of life, but I loved them and the way it demonstrated the interconnections in general.

It’s like all the tiny connections that we may never realize or understand, but we are all connected in one way or another. I think Silvera showed that beautifully.

As far as the main characters go, they were fantastic. They were complex with plenty of backstory to make you want to fight for them. I enjoyed the relationship that developed between the boys.

Of course it is a bit instalovey, but it sort of had to be, considering the brief time-frame of the narrative. I actually didn’t mind it. I sort of feel like if I had met Valentino on the streets, I could have fallen in love with him just as quickly.

The banter was great and Silvera provided plenty of hard-hitting issues to consider. It really showed a range for emotion and difficult circumstances, but also the power to rise above and keep living every day with intent.

There were also some fun connections to the original book and the NYC setting was vivid. So, while this wasn’t quite as powerful for me as the first book, I still really, really liked it and appreciate the characters and the heartfelt way Silvera told their stories.

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Review: Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

Burn Down, Rise UpBurn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently learned about this novel via a Book Riot article on the 13 Best “Good For Her” Horror books.

Click here if you would like to see the full list:

Good For Her Horror Recs

I knew right away from the blurb that I was interested. After reading the full synopsis and a couple of reviews here on Goodreads, I couldn’t wait.

I found the audiobook through my library and immediately downloaded it. I love a sudden mood read like that and this one paid off big time. Not only did I really enjoy this, but I’ve found a new author to follow.

This story starts out with an absolute bang and before I forget, the audiobook, I absolutely recommend it. Okay, so yeah, the beginning. You’re following a boy who has had something happen to him. You aren’t sure what, but you can tell he is sick, scared and seeking medical attention.

He enters a hospital and finally gets some help, but things do not end well. He takes off and subsequently disappears.

Our MC, Raquel, her Mom works at that hospital and is on duty at the time the boy comes in. Unfortunately, after her interaction with him, she’s infected too and falls into a coma. With her Mom fighting for her life, Raquel has to stay with her Dad at his place.

As if this isn’t stressful enough, the Bronx, where Raquel lives has been plagued recently by disappearances that barely get noticed. Raquel has tried to ignore that, pretend it’s not even happening, but when her crush’s cousin goes missing, she suddenly has to pay attention.

In fact, Raquel promises her crush, Charlize, that she will help her try to find her cousin.

What the girls discover is chatter about a horrifying local legend called the Echo Game. It’s said that if you play the game it’s possible you can get trapped in a sinister world underneath the city.

They believe Charlize’s cousin may have played it and that the game is connected to his disappearance. With this in mind, there’s only one choice really. They need to play.

I had so much fun with this. From the very start, the scene at the hospital, I was hooked. I had to know what was happening. It was disturbing, which we love.

I really enjoyed the writing style. The writer’s imagination and ability to create some truly startling horror imagery were on full display within this work. It was getting under my skin and left me wanting more.

Burn Down, Rise Up felt like a Love Letter to the Bronx disguised as a Horror story. I feel like it’s really special in that way. It actually made me want to go out and research the history of that area.

This concept is actually something I really love in my dark fiction. More specifically, I always enjoy when the history of a place influences the Horror elements of a story. It’s like the place holds onto trauma, whether it be collective or singular, and then channels that into the present events.

I thought that was done so well here. Additionally, I enjoyed going along with Raquel as she fought so hard not only her family and friends, but for her community as a whole.

Overall, I am so happy that I picked up this book. I was really impressed by it and cannot wait to read more from Vincent Tirado. If this book is any indication, I am going to love them all!

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Review: Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder

Sister, Maiden, MonsterSister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sister, Maiden, Monster is a wild, imaginative, bizarre, toe-curling, cringe-inducing story that is a conglomeration of many different genres.

If I had to narrow it down, I would describe it as say, Cosmic Horror blended with Apocalyptic Pandemic Fiction, and I guess, a side of Transgressive Horror.

I read this in less than a day and it left my head spinning. I know I didn’t understand it all and honestly, I can’t even say that I ‘enjoyed’ it. Like it’s not a jolly good time, but I am sort of gobsmacked by the entire thing.

I don’t want to really go into the story at all, because I went into this knowing nothing about it, and I feel like that’s the way to go. Be warned however, as I mentioned earlier, that this is Pandemic Fiction.

I know a lot of people aren’t ready for that yet, considering all we’ve been through over the last few years.

This story is broken into distinct sections and each one follows a different perspective. In a way, that arrangement made it seem a bit more like connected novellas, as opposed to one cohesive story.

I wasn’t crazy about that format, I think I would have preferred to switch back and forth between the different perspectives as the story progressed. However, that is 100% personal taste and the author should be free to tell the story any way they wish.

For me though, I do think that had an effect on my experience with this story.

As far as the perspectives, I feel like my favorite was Erin. She is the first character we hear from and actually the one whose experience, with the pandemic unfolding, most closely relates to what we all experienced in early-2020.

By the end of the story, I was still enjoying the characters I was meeting, but I had less of a grasp on what was actually happening to them. And Baby Gregory, don’t even get me started! You’d have to read it to believe it.

I did really enjoy Snyder’s writing style. I felt it was very smooth and engaging. They also explored some interesting themes and were able to successfully carry those themes throughout.

Overall, I think this is a compelling story with a lot to cringe at and consider regarding our world. I would recommend this to people who enjoy Bizzaro Fiction, or Cosmic Horror. You need to be prepared for wild events if you pick this up though. I’m just saying.

Also, I did listen to the audiobook and absolutely recommend that medium. The narration was fantastic. It pulled me into the story right away.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

This is the first of Snyder’s work that I have picked up, but I am definitely interested in reading more. Sister, Maiden, Monster releases this Tuesday, February 21st!!!

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Review: Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt

Tell Me I'm WorthlessTell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tell Me I’m Worthless, originally publisher by Cipher Press in 2021, was rereleased on January 17, 2023 by Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio.

This story mainly follows Alice and Ila, close friends and part-time lovers, who have been estranged after a hallucinatory night spent in a haunted house. Their friend Hannah was there that night too, but she never made it out.

The Reader gets both Alice and Ila’s perspectives, as well as a third perspective that I will let you discover for yourself.

I went into this story expecting it to be a new take on a haunted house story and it is, but I wouldn’t classify it as a haunted house story per se. Rumfitt does creatively use that beloved Horror trope to bring something completely new to the table within these pages.

As a piece of Transgressive Horror, this story definitely gets high marks. For me, although I can appreciate the creativity and gut-punching social commentary, I can’t say this was a highly enjoyable reading experience for me.

Please note, I am not remarking on the skill or creativity of the author when I say that, I just feel like this story wasn’t particularly suited to my reading tastes.

I could have used a bit more of a linear plot and a stronger atmosphere, as that is one of the main things I look for. There was a lot of great character work here and topical commentary, but there were also a lot of fever dream-type, internal monologue rants that sort of lost me.

Additionally, I found some of it a little hard to track. With this being said, I still appreciate all that Rumfitt poured into this story and the stark, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners feel of it all.

I would definitely pick up more of Rumfitt’s work.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio, for providing me copies to read and review. I would recommend the audiobook as a medium for this.

They did some really unique sound work for a few of the intense horror scenes. It’s definitely worth checking out.

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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: Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Lavender HouseLavender House by Lev AC Rosen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in 1952-San Francisco, Lavender House follows disgraced former-police officer, Evander ‘Andy’ Mills. Andy was recently fired from the SFPD after being caught in a compromising position during a raid on a gay bar.

Without steady work and shamed by former acquaintances, Andy is floundering, so when he is approached by an older woman named Pearl with a proposition, he readily accepts.

Pearl needs an experienced investigator to look into the death of her wife, soap magnate, Irene Lamontaine. Even though Irene’s death appears to be an accident, Pearl has her doubts. She needs the truth.

Thus, she invites Andy to their estate, Lavender House, to look into the incident. It seems like a simple, yet interesting assignment, and may be exactly what Andy needs to get his life back on track.

Arriving at Lavender House, Andy discovers something he has never experienced before. A safe haven filled with a found-family of Queer people.

Andy is astounded by how comfortable everyone is with just being themselves. There is no need to hide, no risk of hateful repercussions. How could any violence come to this place?

Before long, as Andy gets to know the individuals living within the gated estate, he begins to think that maybe Pearl is onto something after all. Perhaps Irene did fall at the hands of another, but was it a stranger, or someone the women consider family?

Lavender House was such a delightful change of pace for me. I’m not quite sure I have ever read a Queer Historical Murder Mystery before, but I sure would like more!!

I absolutely adored the setting and tone of this novel. Rosen brought a real film noir quality to it, which fit so perfectly with a 1950s-detective story, enhanced even more by the wonderful narration from Vikas Adam.

The themes and topics explored within were handled so tactfully and blended perfectly with the overall mystery. I liked how neither aspect was heavy-handed; they each contributed evenly to the overall course of the story.

I enjoyed all of the characters and loved the idea of this safe space set amidst a very unsafe world.

My one slight critique would be that the mystery felt almost too simple. The linear narrative and minimalist investigation left me wanting more. I do understand that there is something to be said for sticking to the basics and nailing what you do. I do get that.

I just feel like Rosen definitely has the talent to push this even further.

It sort of felt like driving a performance car on the highway. It’s comfortable and enjoyable, but you definitely miss the exciting twists and turns of a back-country road.

I just wish this could have been built out a little more. However, with this being said, can we talk about this ending!? This has to be the start of a series, right?

I mean, there could not have been a more perfect set-up for the continuation of this story. I really hope it happens, because I feel like there is a big need in the market for this type of story.

I would absolutely, 100%, no doubt in my mind, pick up the next book if there ever is one. I feel like I have so much to learn about Andy and I would love to tag along with him as he solves more mysteries!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Forge Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I will be keeping my fingers crossed that I get to see more of Andy Mills!

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Review: Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

Mistakes Were MadeMistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Following her divorce, Erin Bennett feels like she and her ex-husband are in a competition for their daughter, Parker’s, attention. So, when Family Weekend rolls around at Parker’s college, Erin and her ex decide to split the nights.

On a night when Parker is having dinner with her Dad, Erin heads to an off-campus bar by herself. She’s looking for nothing more than a cold drink.

For Cassie Klein, Family Weekend is the perfect time to avoid campus like the plague. All those happy families, gross.

Thus, she decides to hit up an off-campus bar as a means of escape. She’s not looking for anything, but when she spots a beautiful woman sitting alone at the bar, she offers to buy her a drink.

Little did Cassie know that harmless gesture was going to lead to the most enticing one night stand of her life.

The next morning, Cassie’s friend Parker convinces her to go to breakfast with her to meet her Mom. She’s not super pumped about it, but Cassie tags along anyway.

Imagine her surprise when she walks into the restaurant and discovers Parker’s Mom is her steamy hook-up from the night before.

Erin is equally taken aback when her daughter walks in with the sexy girl from the night before. Erin had no idea Cassie was a college student, let alone a friend of her daughters.

Both women cover it up well, but their mutual attraction burns through every moment they are together. More unsettling than this though, is the fact that they can’t stop thinking about one another when they’re apart.

Cassie and Erin cannot stay apart. It’s like it’s against the laws of physics. They are drawn together like opposite poles of a magnet. Having no choice, they begin sneaking around.

It’s risky as heck, but it’s more than just great sex. Although neither wants to admit it at first, it’s complicated, they grow to really care for each other, but how the heck are they going to make this work? Is it even possible?

Meryl Wilsner’s debut novel, Something to Talk About was the first F/F romance published by Berkley. I was so stoked about it for months, but at the end, it left me underwhelmed.

I enjoyed the writing and the characters, but the pace was quite slow and it was lacking the steam I was looking for. Y’all, at 5% into Mistakes Were Made we had steam; a lot of it.

The pace of this one was night and day compared to that first book. I feel like Wilsner listened, because man oh man, did they deliver with this story.

The characters were still fantastic, there were some serious issues being explored, but the forbidden romance trope brought the fun. There were moments that I was a little uncomfortable for Parker, but at the end of the day, they are all adults and I liked how Wilsner wrapped it up.

Overall, I found this one to be highly entertaining. A huge success of a sophomore novel. I am definitely looking forward to more from Wilsner in the future.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. This is a perfect example of why I never give up on an author after only one book.

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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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