Review: Pretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne

Pretty Dead QueensPretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I freaking loved this. A 5-star YA Mystery that’s highly underrated, IMO. Pretty Dead Queens is perfect for fans of Kara Thomas or Karen M. McManus!!

In this story, which is set in a small coastal town called Seaview, in California, we follow 17-year old, Cecelia Ellis, who goes to live with her estranged Grandmother following her Mom’s untimely death.

Cecelia’s Grandmother isn’t an ordinary Grandmother though. She happens to be a world-renowned Mystery author. She’s wealthy, feisty, lives in a gorgeous Victorian mansion, and pretty much has the entire town of Seaview wrapped around her little finger.

As the granddaughter to such a powerful figure, it’s no surprise that once she starts school, Cecelia gets enveloped by the popular crowd.

Her transition to her new environment is going way better than she ever could have expected. She has friends, a comfortable new home and even a couple of love interests. Even though she misses her Mom with every breath, it’s hard to complain about her current circumstances.

The town of Seaview is preparing for Homecoming, which is also a time when they think back on a tragedy that shocked the town decades before, when the Homecoming Queen was slain on the night of her coronation.

50-years earlier, Caroline Quinn’s body was found in the school pool, drowned on what should have been the most fun night of her life. A local man was convicted of the crime and is still serving time in prison.

Cecelia’s grandmother based her first novel on this crime and to this day, it remains one of her most popular stories.

On the Friday of Homecoming weekend, Cecelia finds herself in desperate need of a bathroom. She’s been watching the football game and at halftime all the bathrooms closer to the field are full. She can’t wait.

Cecelia knows there are locker rooms by the pool, so maybe she can find a free stall there. Unfortunately, what she finds instead is a dead body floating in the pool, practically a mirror-image of Caroline, all those years ago.

It seems the town has a copycat killer on their hands. Cecelia becomes obsessed with finding out the truth behind the crime. The dead girl was her friend, she needs to find justice for her, but what if one of her other friends is to blame?

I had so, so, so much fun with this story. The set-up and cast of small town characters were straight out of a classic mystery book. I loved the seaside setting and a new girl trope is something I always enjoy.

I liked how easily Cecelia slipped into her new life. It made sense in the context of who her Grandmother was that everyone would want to be close to Cecelia, and count her as one of their friends. She was an auto-It Girl.

I think Donne did an excellent job of tying in the history of the town, in particular, the case of the murder of Caroline all those years before, with the current mystery. I absolutely love stories that are set in small towns full of secrets, which describes this book to a tee.

I also appreciated how quickly this one kicks off. The setting itself provides a bit of an ominous tone, and you know something is going to happen, but it was fun getting there.

Cecelia also took to her role of amateur sleuth so well. She really wanted answers and was willing to put herself at risk in order to get those answers. I like that. It was dogging her and she wasn’t going to back down.

I feel like in a way, the mystery took her mind off the loss of her Mom, so I’m sure in that respect, it was helpful to her.

The side characters were all great too. I found myself really getting swept up in the town drama. It was interesting to watch Cecelia, as the outsider, navigate it all.

I feel like this is so underrated at this point and I feel like I am going to be championing it from here on out.

If you love YA Mysteries, you should absolutely check this one out. It’s so much fun. It’s got a classic, campy feel that I will always show up for.

Thank you to the publisher, Crown Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m so sorry it took me such a long time to get to it.

Silver lining: it was well worth the wait!!!

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Review: The Dragon’s Promise (Six Crimson Cranes #2) by Elizabeth Lim

The Dragon’s Promise (Six Crimson Cranes, #2)The Dragon’s Promise by Elizabeth Lim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Dragon’s Promise is the follow-up to Elizabeth Lim’s fabulous YA-Fantasy novel, Six Crimson Cranes.

I have had this on my shelves since its release, but couldn’t read it, because I hadn’t gotten around to reading the 1st-book yet. Also, a long-time veteran of my shelves.

Earlier this month, I finally decided to pick up Six Crimson Cranes and I absolutely adored it. I fell in love with the world, as well as the characters. I had to have more.

After the heart-breaking conclusion to SCC, I needed to know immediately what was going to be next for our protagonist, Shiori. There were a lot of possibilities.

This story begins with Shiori now in possession of the powerful dragon’s pearl. Her goal is to return it to its original owner, but that is not to be an easy task.

At its heart this is a quest, which works well for me as that’s one of my favorite Fantasy tropes. It also features most of the characters that I grew to love in the first installment.

We travel to places such as the dragon realm and to Shiori’s step-mother’s homeland. The brothers are back supporting Shiori and offering her guidance when she needs it.

Her love interest, Takkan, also played a role here and I ended up loving him even more after this. They have the cutest relationship. The way it developed over the course of the two books just feels so natural. They’re easy to root for.

While I still loved the writing, the characters and the world, I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first book.

I know this doesn’t get said a lot, but I actually wish this had been longer. By that, what I really mean, is that I wish it had been broken into two books.

This feels, in a way, like two distinct stories. We have the first part, where Shiori gets to travel to the dragon realm. In the second part, she returns to the mortal realm and travels around there and does what she needs to do.

Personally, I loved the dragon realm and wish we could have spent more time there. There was a lot of political happenings and interesting new characters that I wanted to know more about.

Then in the same vein, the mortal realm section was just as interesting, but I also wanted to know more. It just felt rushed and like the two halves were smooshed together, when Lim’s fantastic writing could easily have carried this into two separate books.

With this being said, I still really enjoyed this story. It’s actually a compliment to say I wanted more.

I loved how quickly this kicked off. Having read the two books pretty much back-to-back made this a seamless experience for me. I love the lore behind the dragon pearl and learning more about that along with Shiori was so fun.

I can’t wait to the get to the prequel, Her Radiant Curse, which tells the story of Shiori’s step-mother, Raikama.

She is actually one of the most intriguing characters in this series for me, so I am so happy that prequel exists. She needs her time to shine!

I would recommend this series to anyone who loves YA Fantasy, particularly stories that incorporate fairy tale elements, or quests. Elizabeth Lim’s writing never disappoints. It’s always engaging and fast-paced.

Thank you to the publisher, Knopf Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it. This is a fabulous series!!

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Review: All the Dark Places (Detective Rita Myers #1) by Terri Parlato

All the Dark PlacesAll the Dark Places by Terri Parlato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

All the Dark Places is the start of Terri Parlato’s Detective Rita Myers Mystery series. There are 2-books released thus far, with the 2nd-book having just come out this past December.

I actually read them out of order, starting with What Waits in the Woods. I really enjoyed it and knew immediately that I needed to read this 1st-book ASAP.

I loved Rita and needed more of her in my life!

This is a dual perspective story following Detective Rita Myers, our MC, and Molly Bradley, the woman most closely linked to the mystery tackled in this book.

This story is set during the first week of January, which incidentally is when I read it. This tickled me for some reason. This has no bearing on my review, I just thought it was a funny coincidence.

So, it’s the first week of January and Molly has planned a dinner party for her husband, Jay’s, 40th-birthday. They have their tight-knit group of friends, which consists of three other local couples, over to the house.

It’s a great time. There’s plenty of drinks, laughs, food and even a beautiful cake. At the end of the night, the wine has definitely gone to Molly’s head. She heads upstairs to bed while Jay sees the other couples out.

The next morning when Molly wakes, Jay isn’t in the bedroom. He isn’t in the house at all and no coffee has been made. Fearing something is wrong, Molly rushes out to his office, housed in an outbuilding on their property. It’s there that she finds his dead body.

Detective Rita Myers is assigned to Jay Bradley’s case. An experienced detective, Rita is convinced that Jay’s murder isn’t some random act of violence. She believes someone in their circle is responsible for his death.

The investigation leaves no stone unturned as Rita digs into Molly and Jay’s life. It turns out, their group, like most, is hiding a lot deep dark secrets, including Molly herself.

It’s really hard for me to not 5-star a book that keeps me invested for an entire day. I flew through this and loved it. It wasn’t totally perfect, but pretty damn close.

I am well and truly invested in Detective Rita Myers now. I can’t wait for more books in this series, but I have a feeling, since the second one just released, that I’m in for quite a wait before book three.

I listened to the audiobook for both and loved them so much. It’s dual narrators, to fit the dual perspective and the narrators truly captured the spirit of these characters.

I definitely recommend this series to any Reader who enjoys Police Procedural Mysteries, or Crime Thrillers. Parlato’s mysteries are engaging and hard to put down once you start.

Detective Myers is such a compelling MC as well. She’s someone you can really get behind. She’s strong, smart, determined and always looking to do what’s right.

When I say I read this straight through, I’m not joking. I was on a journey with these characters. I didn’t even have time to make status updates. That’s how invested I was. I’m actually hoping for a paycheck from Rita’s department for my efforts.

If you’re looking for a strong new Mystery series to start, look no further. This is where it’s at. While you’re reading it, I’ll just be over here patiently waiting for more!!

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Review: Playground by Aron Beauregard

PlaygroundPlayground by Aron Beauregard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Grossly entertaining!!!

Is this book for everybody? Absolutely fucking not. This is for a very niche market.

If you’ve never read Splatterpunk or Extreme Horror before, don’t start here. You’ll want to ease yourself in more gently than this. This could scar you for life.

I had fun with it. I loved the premise and the gore was non-stop and gag-inducingly detailed. However, I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy this and that’s fine.

To each their own. That’s what makes the reading experience so great, it’s different for each of us and I love that journey for us all. For Readers who do love Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror, this is a hell of a lot of fun.

If the thought of a demented version of Squid Game played by children on torturous playground equipment is intriguing to you, than you should definitely check this one out.

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Review: The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict

The Christmas Murder GameThe Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Christmas Murder Game was the perfect audiobook for me to listen to over my Christmas holiday.

It didn’t require surgical-levels of concentration and the plot was easy enough for my holiday-fried brain to follow.

In this story we meet Lily Armitage, who is returning to her family’s lavish estate, Endgame House, for the first time since the tragic death of her mother, twenty-one years ago.

The Armitage family has an annual tradition called the Christmas Game and this year, the stakes are higher than ever. The winner receives the deed to Endgame House itself.

Lily doesn’t really want the house, but she receives a personal invitation she can’t refuse. If she attends, she may be able to get further information about her mom’s death, which Lily has long not believed the official story on.

The Christmas Game takes twelve days, with riddles and clues to finding twelve separate keys, and Lily must compete against her estranged cousins for the ultimate prize.

When bodies start dropping and the family gets snowed in, it’s clear someone will do anything to win this year’s game, even if it means killing off the competition.

I liked this. It’s a solid story with a lot of reveals and red herrings along the way. I really enjoyed the setting, including the harsh weather that helped build tension.

With this being said, while it did feature a lot of elements I enjoy, such as a locked room feel, unlikable characters, inclement weather and deeply-held family secrets, I didn’t find the overall story that gripping.

Most of the characters were a bit one-dimensional, but I did definitely want to know what was going on. I had many theories, none of which panned out 100%.

This is the second story that I have read from Alexandra Benedict. I think I preferred Murder on the Christmas Express a bit more, but reading this over Christmas probably did have a slight impact on my enjoyment level.

I do always find it a bit more challenging to really focus around this time of year, particularly when traveling.

Either way, I will be continuing to pick up anything I can from Alexandra Benedict, and you should too!

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Review: Sabotage on the Solar Express (Adventures on Trains #5) by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Sabotage on the Solar Express (Adventures on Trains, #5)Sabotage on the Solar Express by M.G. Leonard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sabotage on the Solar Express is the 5th-book in my favorite Middle Grade series, Adventures on Trains.

If you haven’t seen me gush about this series before, let me just give you are brief overview of what it is about.

This series follows Hal, a talented young artist with a penchant for solving mysteries. Hal’s Uncle Nat is a travel writer, who specializes in trains, and he takes Hal along with him on some of his journeys.

Hence the name of the series.

In this installment, we travel to Australia, where billionaire tech mogul and train enthusiast, August Reza, is set to run the maiden voyage of the winning design of his Reza’s Rocket competition.

We first met August Reza, and his daughter, Marianne, in the second-book of the series, Kidnap on the California Comet. Having made friendships over the course of that journey, Nat and Hal are graciously invited onto this test run for the new train, dubbed the Solar Express.

A child from Australia, Boaz, designed the winning train with his hybrid locomotive, driven by hydrogen fuel cells and solar power. Reza believes this design has the potential to change the future of train travel.

But during the journey from Alice Springs to Darwin, the train is sabotaged and soon they are running out of control through the vast expanse of the Australian Outback.

Will Hal and friends be able to discover the saboteur and stop the runaway train before it runs off the tracks, no doubt with disastrous, and maybe deadly, results?

As usual, this story was such a delight to read. I loved being back with Hal and Nat. We kick off rather quickly with them already being in Australia, and before you know it, the Solar Express has started her journey.

There are a couple of different mysteries tossed our way before we even discover the sabotage. I liked how intriguing all the elements were together. Were they related, were they not? It was really well plotted.

This is definitely the biggest thrill ride of series thus far. At times this felt like a version of the movie Speed reimagined for kids. There were some real pulse-pounding moments. Through it all, Hal stayed true to his character with a cool head and analytical mind.

We had a nice set-up for the next book, which it sounds like takes place over Christmas holiday for Hal. I can’t wait to pick it up. It sounds like a perfect Winter read.

I definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a solid, heart-warming, engaging Children’s Mystery. This can honestly be enjoyed by Readers of all ages!

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Review: The Merciless Ones (Deathless #2) by Namina Forna

The Merciless Ones (The Gilded Ones, #2)The Merciless Ones by Namina Forna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Merciless Ones is the second-book in Namina Forna’s Deathless series. Admittedly, it took me a minute to recommit to this story, but Forna definitely got me in the end.

I’m glad I waited until now to read it, as the next book is releasing just a few months from now, in February 2024. This had an exciting conclusion and I can hardly wait to find out what is going to happen next!

This book picks up 6-months after the final events of The Gilded Ones. We continue to follow Deka, who is currently residing in Otera with her new friends. They’ve freed the goddesses, but should have known in a world as brutal as this, their fight was far from over.

When strange happenings begin to put all they’ve fought for at risk, and signs point to a dark force growing in the kingdom, Deka and her crew need to figure out what’s going on ASAP. Known now as the Gilded One’s, Nuru ((explained as a bit of a chosen one)), Deka feels it her duty to continue to lead the charge.

The investigation into what is happening takes the group on quite an adventure and of course, puts them in a lot of additional dangers.

Most surprising, a few figures from Deka’s past pop up and the reunions are not warm and fuzzy. Yet again, Deka goes through it in this story. The hits, they just keep on coming, and by the end, I had gained even more respect for this hella strong and resourceful character.

This story is interesting. It started slowly for me and through the initial set-up, I couldn’t see where it was going. After finishing, it’s no wonder I couldn’t. I never in a million years could have guessed some of these revelations.

The final portions of this book contained so many jaw-dropping moments. It pretty much took what I thought was well-established about this world and flipped it on its head.

It was an extremely exciting conclusion, and as mentioned above, I am so glad that the next book is releasing fairly soon. I can’t imagine having to have waited like a year to find out what is going to happen next.

Overall, I wasn’t as crazy about this sequel as I was the first-book, but honestly, that happens to me a lot. I just get so immersed in the initial world-building, that I fall in love.

Then when it starts to slow down a bit, in order to build up tension, or establish future conflicts, I begin to lose a bit of interest, or connection.

Nevertheless, I’m still pretty obsessed with this series and this book blew my mind by the end. Forna’s world-building is incredible. It’s a fairly complex system, but written in a way I feel is accessible to a wide-range of Readers.

I’ve found it easy to empathize with Deka. I’m definitely rooting for her. Her character saw a lot of growth in this installment and even some shifts in her powers.

I don’t even think we know yet the true extent of her powers, and I’m so anxious to learn more in the next book. I also love the friend group, more of a found family, that Deka has gathered around her. They’ve bonded so deeply after the hell they’ve been through, and those bonds run deep.

If you haven’t started this series yet, now is the perfect time to do so. The world and characters are so well developed, it’s easy to get swept up in the action.

Forna has created a brutal world and doesn’t pull punches in her action scenes. You’re going to read some things that will make your toes curl. For me, that’s a plus. It gets me even more invested. You can feel how high these stakes are.

I love Deka and am so excited for The Eternal Ones!!

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Review: Amari and the Great Game (Supernatural Investigations #2) by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Great Game (Supernatural Investigations, #2)Amari and the Great Game by B.B. Alston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amari and the Great Game is the 2nd-book in B.B. Alston’s Middle Grade Fantasy series, Supernatural Investigations.

The 1st-book in the series, Amari and the Night Brothers, completely stole my heart when I read it in 2021. It was one of those spectacular cases where the story meets the hype. It was just as great as I had anticipated.

It was one of the most engaging Middle Grade stories I had read in a while and I was excited for more!

Amari and the Great Game released in August of 2022 and because I had listened to, and enjoyed, the audiobook for the 1st-book, I wanted to continue with that format moving forward with the series.

Y’all, the library loan wait was real. She was long.

It finally came through at a time when I could utilize it; my annual Thanksgiving solo-road trip. Perfection.

The well-narrated audio was a great way to pass the hours, and the miles. I was swept up again into this world and loved the new aspects and feel that Alston delivered.

This story follows Amari after the tumultuous events of the 1st-book. Her life has completely changed and she finds all sorts of new responsibilities and worries on her plate.

We deal a lot in this one with magicians and the sort of negative associations many in the Bureau have of them. We also get treated to the Great Game, a magical competition, that puts all competitors at risk.

I will say, for me, this did have a different feel than the first book. I think mainly because of the nature of the story. Amari has grown up so much since the 1st-book and she’s now a fairly confident and astute young practitioner, who knows how to fight the good fight. It’s bittersweet.

In the 1st-book, her character was more the kind that you want to shelter and protect. She was like a baby bird, who has now grown so much, she’s ready to leave the nest.

Because of that, I don’t think I was able to form the same emotional attachment to the story. Hence the 4-star rating here, versus the glowing 5-stars of that 1st-book.

Also, middle book syndrome being what it is, this did feel like we were building a lot towards something. With this being said, I am really looking forward to the 3rd-book, which I expect to be absolutely epic.

Regardless of my slight, and I do mean very slight, diminished enjoyment, this is still hands-down one of the best Middle Grade Fantasy series on the market currently. If you haven’t started it yet, and love this genre, you need to.

Alston knows how to bring the action and the world-building is so well done. This is sure to have you at the edge of your seat, cheering for the heroes and wishing you were there alongside them.

I can’t wait to see where Amari’s story goes from here. She’s an absolute forced to be reckoned with and I know at the end of the day, she’s going to make me, and her family, proud!

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Review: What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat

What We HarvestWhat We Harvest by Ann Fraistat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


What We Harvest, a 2022-debut from Ann Fraistat, is a YA-EcoHorror novel set in the farming town of Hollow’s End.

We follow Wren, a teenager, whose family descends from one of the founding families of the town and is well known for their rainbow wheat fields.

Each of the founding families has their own unique, somewhat magical crop. For decades Hollow’s End has flourished. Tourists come from miles around to marvel at the miracle crops. That is until 5-months ago, when the blight set in, ruining crops, animals and people alike.

Now the town is at the edge of total destruction, with curfews and quarantines in place, there’s no more marveling at the crops. It’s all running and hiding for your life.

After Wren’s parents fail to return from helping at a neighbor’s farm, and Wren gets herself in a bit of a pickle, she needs help. She ends up having to call the last person she wants to reach out to, her ex-boyfriend, Derek.

Unfortunately, Wren and Derek will have to put past issues behind them in order to survive. In fact, the teens may be the last hope for Hollow’s End. Will they be able to stop the blight before it gets them as well?

What We Harvest is a cracking debut. I love small towns filled with big secrets, and not only did this town harbor a lot of secrets, they were also very dark and dangerous ones.

This story kicks off very quickly, with the blight already having been taking over the town for a while. I liked Wren’s perspective right away and learning about the blight, as well as the history and dynamics of Hollow’s End.

You know right away that something very dangerous lurks here, hiding in the woods during the day, but you don’t really know what. I loved the ominous tone this sets. Right from the start, you know to be on edge.

Scattered amongst the more dangerous scenes, we also get some quieter moments, reflecting on Wren and Derek, and the various relationships in their lives. It was a nice balance between those more personal moments and the intensity of what is going on with the blight.

I enjoyed Wren and Derek’s relationship a lot, as we got to the bottom of what was really going on between them. I also liked learning about the founding families and the lore that surrounds how the town came to be.

Those elements did remind me of The Devouring Gray. If you enjoyed that book, I do think that you could really enjoy this. Another one with similar vibes would be Burn Our Bodies Down, although I did enjoy this story more.

The entire drama of this narrative played out so well. I feel like it was paced brilliantly and did have some super intense, edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter moments.

The Horror elements were well executed too, particularly in regards to the effects of the blight. There were definitely moments I was truly scared for these characters that I had grown attached to.

Overall, this was a great reading experience and I’m sure glad that I finally made time for it.

If you are a fan of any sort of Eco-Horror, YA or Adult, I think this one is worth giving a try. There’s some interesting elements in here that could keep you up at night. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!

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Review: The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games #3) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Final Gambit (The Inheritance Games, #3)The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

This was solid, but definitely my least favorite so far. I sort of feel like Barnes jumped the shark with this one…

If you get that reference and have read this book, you might be nodding your head right now.

I may also be being a bit hyperbolic with that leading statement, but since The Final Gambit is the third book in the series, I was really hoping to be blown away by it. It’s been such a solid build up to this point. Sadly, I just wasn’t.

Granted, in the whole scheme of things, this is still a good book and the series will always hold a special place in my heart. With this one though, for the first time, I feel like I am reading it more for the brothers than for Avery.

In fact, the ironic part is, I’m really, really looking forward to reading The Brothers Hawthorne, even though this one let me down a little.

I do think Barnes has created a compelling overall story arc with this series and those boys in particular have caused a lot of drama, mixed feelings and general swooning.

I did enjoy how this story covers the final days of the time stipulated in the will, where Avery has to remain living at the Hawthorne mansion before she officially inherits the estate, and all that goes with it.

It was nice to feel that whole ordeal sort of wrapping up. Avery did definitely grow as a character over the course of the trilogy, but I’m not sure I would have made the same choices as her. Perhaps she is just more mature than me.

Overall, while this was my least favorite of the trilogy, it’s clear that JLB is an incredibly talented writer, who knows how to create tension and drama.

As I mentioned above, I am very interested to check out the next book in the series. I am anxious to get more from the boys. I feel like I am going to love it and then all will be right in the universe.

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