Review: No Child of Mine by Nichelle Giraldes

No Child of MineNo Child of Mine by Nichelle Giraldes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

No Child of Mine follows Essie Kaur, an ambitious young woman who has recently found out that she is pregnant for the first time.

Essie is in a very loving marriage with her husband, Sanjay, whom she adores, but in spite of that, Essie is less than stoked about the news.

In fact, privately, she’s pretty upset about it. Essie is currently in law school, almost through, ready to take the bar exam early the following year, how is she going to make that work now? The baby will be three months old when she is supposed to sit for the bar?

Essie keeps a lot of her feelings to herself; well, most of them honestly. She’s afraid people will judge her for not having the ecstatic, happy reaction society teaches us we are supposed to always have.

She wants to be happy. She loves the little being growing inside her, she really does, but that love is being shadowed by a lot of other darker emotions right now.

As the Reader, we sit inside Essie’s head as she struggles with these emotions, her changing body, her changing relationship and her ever changing reality.

While some of it borders on repetitive, I feel like as a person who frequently suffers from repetitive thoughts, it still made sense to me. I could imagine being Essie and having these same exact thoughts over and over.

In addition to Essie’s perspective, we also get a historical perspective following two women, Isabelle and Anna.

It’s unclear initially how these women are connected to Essie and her story, but as their narrative evolves it becomes clear where it is going. This aspect adds the impetus behind some of the darker elements in the present perspective.

Particularly, what’s going on with Sanjay.

As a soon to be 45-year old woman, who made a conscious decision at a very young age to never have children, these types of stories revolving around pregnancy and early motherhood either drive me crazy, or I end up connecting to them in a powerful way.

Regardless of the final outcome, I do enjoy picking up stories that involve these themes, because I like to see what sort of new elements, or perspectives, various authors will bring.

I think Giraldes did a great job of writing Essie’s perspective.

To me, Essie’s concerns and emotional struggle was 100% believable. She was a woman who had a plan for her future, who had sacrificed to reach her goals, and so close to the finish line had everything up-ended while her husband still got to live his dream.

I was nodding along in many parts, even yelling words of support for her. The only issue I had with this story really, and it’s a minor one, was the connection between the historic perspective and Essie’s present perspective.

For me, there were times, when it felt a little too disjointed. By this I mean, the transition between the two sometimes seemed jarring; like it wasn’t as fluid as I would hope.

Essie’s sections felt so straight forward, but for Isabelle and Anna, my brain was working overtime trying to figure out why it was even included. Because of this, for at least the first half, every time it switched perspectives, it kicked me out of the story.

At times, I felt a bit like I was reading two separate books.

With this being said, there is a certain reveal that happens, where after that, it started making sense. Plus, additional things were happening in the current perspective, where you could feel that distinct influence from the past.

Giraldes brought it around. It was eventually cleared up and tied together by the end. Although, one final nit-pick is the ending was too abrupt for my tastes.

Overall though, this is a very solid story. I think it provides a lot of food for thought, as far as a women’s role in the modern world, as well as interesting commentary on women’s issues spanning generations.

Thank you to the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press and Dreamscape Media, for providing me copies to read and review. I found this quite absorbing and am looking forward to picking up more from this author.

Also, I would definitely recommend the audio format. The narrator did an incredible job bringing it to life and making it compelling. I feel like it’s a great way to take in this story.

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Review: I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is MeI Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me by Jamison Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast Is Me is a debut YA Horror novel from Jamison Shea.

This story explores the uber-competitive world of professional dance; specifically, ballet. The setting is Paris and our MC, Laure Mesny, is just finishing up her training and is beginning her professional career.

Even though she has consistently been top in her class, Laure is constantly overlooked and she feels like she can never stop proving herself.

As a Black girl in a vastly White girl profession, Laure doesn’t fit the mold of what society expects its ballerinas to look like. Because of this, she has to fight extra hard for every achievement. She’s used to it, but that doesn’t make it less emotionally draining.

Unbeknownst to her, Laure is about to find a way to change her position. She’s going to gain a power that will help her achieve everything she’s ever dreamed of.

Lured by a new friend, Laure ventures deep into the heart of the infamous Paris Catacombs and strikes a deal with a primordial river of blood.

((Cue Danse Macabre))

As she passes her bitter peers is status and fame, Laure keeps in mind the way they treated her before. She hasn’t forgotten and trust, she certainly hasn’t forgiven.

She’s not the only one with claws though and these dancers are willing to fight back. How far will Laure go, and what price is she willing to pay, to achieve ultimate power?

I liked this. I think as a debut this shows a lot of promise. The topics explored were compelling and the level of creativity was impressive.

I did find some areas of the narrative to be a little confusing, particularly in the second half and there were moments that slowed way down, which I didn’t find quite as interesting.

Overall, I do think this is a strong debut though. The descriptions were vivid and I enjoyed going along with Laure on her journey. She did undergo quite a transformation over the course of the story.

There is a romantic subplot that I could have done without as well. I would have preferred if it had remained focused on ambition and the relationship dynamics between the female characters, but that is 100%-personal taste.

I would be interested to see, if there is another book, where it goes from here. There’s definitely a lot of possibilities following this ending.

Thank you to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m looking forward to reading more from Jamison Shea!!

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Review: The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

The Salt Grows HeavyThe Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Salt Grows Heavy is a good novella. The writing is gorgeously-dark, with a lot of solid body horror, but it was just a little too abstract for my tastes.

((^^^ Clearly kidding ^^^))

My opinion matters not at all. If this sounds intriguing to you, definitely give it a shot. In fact, I want to be clear, I did enjoy this. I liked it. It’s a solid novella. I just could not tell you the point, or really what happened at all.

I think it is a fresh, yet horrific, take on The Little Mermaid, but I’m only pulling that from the publisher’s synopsis. Honestly, I would never have guessed that while reading this story, if I hadn’t been prompted ahead of time.

I think Cassandra Khaw is an incredibly smart and creative human. Khaw is most likely too smart for me. I do really appreciate their horror imagery though. It’s always a bit body horror, always a bit wildly-detailed and it never fails to make my toes curl.

I am going to continue picking up Khaw’s stories. Every time I am impressed with the creation. Some aspects hit, some aspects miss, but it’s always intriguing.

This is a bit of a short review for me, but this novella is just over 100-pages and I really didn’t understand 98-of the pages, so not sure what else to say.

Writing = beautiful; concept = over my head.

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

As mentioned, I find Khaw’s stories captivating, if a bit confusing. I definitely look forward to seeing what they deliver next!

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Review: House of Roots and Ruin (Sisters of the Salt #2) by Erin A. Craig

House of Roots and Ruin (Sisters of the Salt, #2)House of Roots and Ruin by Erin A. Craig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

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House of Roots and Ruin is the second book in Erin A. Craig’s tremendous YA-Fantasy series, Sisters of the Salt.

I looooooooved the first book, House of Salt and Sorrows, so much and I couldn’t wait to return to this beautifully-eerie world. It was one of my most anticipated YA-releases of 2023 and it did not disappoint.

This story takes place years after the conclusion of the first story. In this one, we’re following Verity, who I believe is the youngest of the remaining Thaumas sisters.

Verity is 17-years old and has spent her whole life living at the family estate, Highmoor, now run by her older sister, Camille. The rest of the remaining sisters are all all living in various places around Arcannia.

While Verity loves Camille and loves Highmoor, she’s beginning to feel stifled. She wants more.

Any time she broaches the subject of leaving the estate with Camille, however, her hopes are quickly dashed. It seems her sister wants to keep her trapped there, but why?

It’s as Verity is struggling with this issue that she receives word from her sister, Mercy, that the Duchess of Bloem is interested in hiring Verity to paint a portrait of of her son.

Verity is more than intrigued. This sounds like exactly the kind of opportunity she needs and the son, Alexander, is a young man just her age. This could be just what she needs, but how will she ever convince Camille to let her go?

As the sisters battle it out, the truth about why Camille wants to keep Verity at Highmoor is revealed, leaving Verity more confused than ever and more determined.

Verity decides she can’t wait any longer. Under the cover of darkness she flees, making her way to Bloem.

Once there, she’s entranced and impressed with her new surroundings. Bloem is stunning. The Duke is a celebrated botanist and the entire estate is replete with vibrant gardens and active greenhouses.

Additionally, Verity is smitten with Alexander. He’s handsome and charming. Their days together fill her with a sense of happiness she has never felt before.

Unfortunately, before long, Verity begins to be plagued by nightmares and dark feelings. Is her past catching up to her, or is something more going on in Bloem?

Reading House of Roots and Ruin was such a beautiful journey. It’s different than the first book, because of the setting. We’re now removed from the sea and thrust into a more botanical scene, but I still really enjoyed it.

In my opinion, Craig’s brand of gothically-infused horror imagery is unmatched in the YA genre. She brings such a rich atmosphere and the spooky imagery is A++.

The romance between Verity and Alexander was so pure and it was sweet watching it evolve. Verity has never had any sort of relationship like this, so she struggled a bit fitting her experiences with her expectations.

I thought that felt very real for a young woman and I enjoyed how Craig let her work through that versus just following a standard romance format.

I also enjoyed very much the complexity of the familial relationships, both Verity’s and Alexander’s. While the atmosphere was the highlight for me, I think the character work and the way the relationships played out deserve top marks as well.

We know a lot of Verity’s family history from the first book, and we do get a bit more here, but learning about Alex’s family, the Laurents, was so intriguing. Without giving too much away, I sort of feel like their last name should have been Moreau…

Craig did a great job of steadily building intensity. There is also an overriding mystery that kept me on my toes.

As the end approaches, everything begins to move at warp speed. I couldn’t put it down until I got to the end. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out and there were some twists getting there that I definitely didn’t see coming.

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a darker Fantasy story, particularly if you enjoyed House of Salt and Sorrows. While I could see people enjoying this as a standalone novel, I think it would be most impactful if you read the first book prior to this one.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Delacorte Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I’m not sure if there are going to be more books in this world, but if there are, I will absolutely be picking them up!!

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Review: Speak of the Devil by Rose Wilding

Speak of the DevilSpeak of the Devil by Rose Wilding
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Speak of the Devil is a creative work of Crime Fiction told in a bit of an unconventional way.

I’ll admit, the first couple sentences of the synopsis are what sold me on picking this one up. I needed nothing further. Yes, please. You had me at ‘severed head’…

In fact, this story does begin with a severed head in a dingy hotel room. Seven women, all very different, but all somehow connected to the man to whom the head once belonged, are gathered around it.

They all had their own reasons for wanting him dead, yet none of them own up to the crime.

Can they figure out who is guilty before the authorities decide for them?

First off, I found this extremely interesting, the content and topics explored. However, I also found the construction of the story to be a bit jarring. There are a lot of characters and you get all of their perspectives. The narrative jumps around a lot, not only via perspective, but also in time.

With this being said, I found the individual perspectives compelling. As you read how each of the women are connected to the murdered man, Jamie, and you come to understand the different experiences that they each had with him, the true portrait of who Jamie was becomes clear.

The way he treated these women. His narcissism, abusive, violent and derogatory behaviors landed him in the spot he ultimately found himself in, headless.

But we can’t just go around decapitating men who use, abuse, gaslight and disregard us, can we?

While I did have some moments where I had to really search my brain to remember some previous connection, or fact, overall, I did enjoy this one.

There was a lot of great social commentary of the treatment of women who have been victimized; whether they are believed, or painted as somehow responsible for the evil things that have happened to them.

As a revenge story, I feel quite satisfied with this one and am definitely interested in picking up future work from this author. This got dark and I appreciate Wilding’s commitment to taking it there.

I would recommend this one to Readers who enjoy a lot of deep character work and social commentary in their Crime Fiction. Additionally, I would recommend the audiobook. I enjoyed the narration style quite a bit.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Minotaur Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. This has left me with quite a bit to think about!

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Review: Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth

MotherthingMotherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Motherthing is a really, really good domestic horror novel. I found it to be so unique and strange.

The topics explored were interesting and I was definitely shocked by the final bits ((pun intended)). Yikes. Seriously, in some ways, I may never view the world the same again.

I’m sort of kidding with that reaction, but also not really. This one took me by surprise.

In this story we follow Abby and her husband, Ralph. At the beginning of the story, Ralph’s Mom is found dead in the basement of the home in which they all live together.

It appears she’s taken her own life. There’s a lot of blood. It’s super tragic for Ralph, and Abby as well, of course.

The heart of the story explores the aftermath of that sudden death. It explores Ralph’s grief and also Abby’s mixed emotions about her mother-in-law and her actions.

The narrative is stream-of-consciousness from Abby’s perspective and while generally, that isn’t a style I tend to enjoy, it actually really worked for me here.

I feel like when an author is able to bring a great sense of humor to the perspective we are hearing from, it definitely helps me to settle in and enjoy the story.

Keeping in mind this is an extremely dark story, with stomach-churning, toe-curling, won’t eat for a week imagery, it still had moments where I literally LOL.

Even with all the humor, I felt like Hogarth did a great job of capturing the different levels and outward expressions of grief. It came off as genuine and believable.

Additionally, while some aspects seemed jarring, because they were shocking in nature, or otherwise upsetting content, the flow of the story consistently worked throughout. It was well constructed and presented.

The final scenes had my jaw on the floor. I think I sort of got lulled into it all over the course of the narrative and wasn’t expecting it to go the direction it did. I loved that part. It was a super solid finish.

I recommend the audio format, if you are someone who enjoys audiobooks. The narration was perfect for the story and it definitely felt immersive to me.

I cannot wait to read more from Hogarth in the future. It’s clear she is super creative and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

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Review: Maeve Fly by C.J. Leede

Maeve FlyMaeve Fly by C.J. Leede
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Maeve Fly is an Extreme Horror novel by debut author C.J. Leede. In addition to the fascinating cover, I was drawn to this book because the synopsis mentions the main character was inspired by the pages of American Psycho.

Even though I was bored to tears by American Psycho, I still wanted to see what this was all about. It had my attention.

Luckily for me, I enjoyed this much more than AP. I definitely felt the same tone throughout, but I really enjoyed the Feminist twist that Leede brought here.

This story follows Maeve, who is the Patrick Bateman of our story. Instead of NYC, we’re in L.A. for this one, where Maeve lives with her ailing grandmother, a former movie starlet. Their secluded mansion is Maeve’s safe haven.

By day, Maeve works at a theme park, it’s unnamed, but think Disneyland, where she plays a super popular ice princess. Let’s call her, Elsa.

Maeve works alongside her best friend, Kate, the only person, besides her grandmother, she feels a real connection with. That is until Kate’s brother, Gideon, arrives in town.

Gideon makes Maeve feel things she doesn’t necessarily want to be feeling. She tries to avoid him, but the attraction can’t be helped. Once they start chumming around, all bets are off. It’s no holds bar, gripping, pulse-pounding, exhausting, exploring their darkest and deepest desires.

We’re talking dark. Real, genuine debauchery. Maeve has a fetish with eggs. You’ll never be able to unsee that. I will never look at an egg the same again.

The narrative style is biting and shocking, as you would expect Extreme Horror to be. It’s stream of consciousness from Maeve’s perspective and being in her brain is not a comfortable place to be.

I did enjoy some of the ideas that Leede explored in this. For example, Maeve talks about how we have a need to understand why people do horrific acts, but when men perform such acts, it’s sort of like, men are aggressive, men can snap, men can be harmful. It’s not super shocking, but when the same acts are performed by a woman, it’s almost unbelievable to us.

Maeve’s thing is, what if this is just me? There’s no reason behind it, no justifications or excuses. It’s her true being, point blank.

I also liked the dichotomy displayed in Maeve’s life. She loves her job, she’s interacting with children all day, the epitome of a pretty, pretty princess, but as soon as the park closes and she’s free in the world, she’s a monster, a predator, an evil being.

That back-and-forth was really well done and I appreciated how Leede set that up. I also loved the ending of this. The final two scenes were my favorite of the whole novel.

Overall, I feel like this is a good book. I think it is smart and visceral. For me, though, I felt a little disconnected with it at times. It was sort of a mixed bag.

I enjoyed a lot of the themes and the ideas behind the creation of the story, but didn’t vibe as much with Maeve’s narrative voice.

Also, I feel like I am just not enjoying Extreme Horror as much as I used to. That is my own reading journey though, and yours may be completely different, so please keep that in mind when reading this review.

Fair warning: don’t be fooled by the subtle-sounding synopsis. This is intense, torture, body horror, fetish acts, sexually explicit content for days, it’s all here. If you’re looking for a good shock, you’ll definitely find it somewhere in this story. I dare you not to be shocked by at least a few scenes. You can’t do it. You can’t.

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

I would definitely be interested in picking up more from this author in the future, especially if she continues with the feminist themes that were so well done here.

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Review: On the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel

On the Savage SideOn the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly, this could be one of the most powerful stories that I have ever read. I am shattered.

Dark feminist fiction, gut-wrenching and poignant. A story of girls, women, sisters, mothers and friends. Dear Lord, my heart hurts.

I am really not going to say anything about the plot of this novel. I went into this knowing nothing…

…and I definitely recommend that reading journey. I picked this up just because I had seen quite a few of my book friends who enjoy Dark Fiction giving it 5-stars.

I read snippets of their reviews and knew that this was a story I wanted to check out. I listened to the audiobook and recommend that as a format. The narrator, Catherine Tabor, mesmerized me with their presentation of this story.

I would caution Readers going into this who may be triggered by talk/experiences of addiction. This novel does explore the harsh realities of the opioid epidemic in the United States and the author does not pull punches.

That is merely one impactful topic explored in this though. We also dive deep into the cycle of poverty, experiences of women and girls raised/living in grossly unsafe environments and the rural sex trade, amongst other things.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was instantly drawn into this narrative. McDaniel’s writing style is smooth and captivating, raw and gritty.

The choices McDaniel made in telling this story, I have no words; chef’s kiss. I am in awe. There are a few different perspectives over the course of the story, and you also jump around a bit in time.

Additionally, there are little sections that I found to be so unique, that added such depth to the narrative.

For example, McDaniel gives the perspective of the local river. I always love a sense of place within a story and the way this is done is great. The history and feeling, the desperation. It’s so well done.

Also, there are sort of fantastical Medical Examiner’s reports after the bodies of missing women are found discarded in the river. The reports give descriptions of them and their lives that in a way, I felt lifted them out of the darkness of their reality and gave them a whimsical identity/features. The one they deserved and may have desired.

What could have been in another time, another place.

Overall, McDaniel has achieved a captivating, heart-wrenching, authentic story of addiction, poverty, struggle and love, within the pages of On the Savage Side. This one will live in my soul for a long time to come.

I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!

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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the WitchingThe Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

In The Year of the Witching we follow a young woman, Immanuelle Moore, who lives in a Puritanical-feeling settlement known as Bethel.

Immanuelle is an outsider amongst the group. She is accepted for the most part, but no one is really warm and fuzzy towards her.

This stems back to Immanuelle’s mother, who had an affair with an outsider, a man of a different race, the result of which was Immanuelle’s birth.

Immanuelle’s Mom’s life had a tragic ending. Because of this, and the stigma attached to her very being, Immanuelle tries her best to just get along and fly under the radar. Unfortunately, no one can do that forever.

After a mishap leads Immanuelle to the forbidden Darkwood that surrounds the settlement, she encounters the spirits of powerful witches killed years before. These spirits gift Immanuelle the journal of her dead mother.

This may sound puzzling, but trust me, in the context of the rest of story, it flows nicely.

Intrigued by the journal, Immanuelle becomes focused on discovering the truth behind her mother’s life. The more she digs, however, the more she stands apart from the rest of her society. It becomes clear that the history of Bethel isn’t as clear-cut as the leaders try to make it.

The Year of the Witching is a very solid story.

While I didn’t personally find it to be as successful as House of Hunger, I still enjoyed the eerie atmosphere and dark, vivid imagery Henderson brought to the page.

The initial build-up was strong and captivating. I liked meeting Immanuelle and learning a bit about her family history and the beliefs/traditions of Bethel.

Some of the insights into Immanuelle’s Mom made me sad. I felt for Immanuelle. She definitely was not dealt an easy hand. Reading of her overcoming and finding her power within herself was definitely satisfying though.

I did find some of the action towards the end difficult to track. There were moments where I couldn’t picture anything that was happening.

Overall though, I did really enjoy this. It’s a powerful story with some interesting themes explored. Immanuelle was a sympathetic main character; easy to get behind.

I am hoping that Henderson does end up releasing a sequel to this. I know that was sort of up in the air for a while, but I would love to see more with these characters!

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Review: The Twenty (Major Crimes #2) by Sam Holland

The TwentyThe Twenty by Sam Holland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Twenty is the second book in Sam Holland’s intense Crime Fiction series, Major Crimes.

I very recently read the first book in the series, The Echo Man, and was blown away by it. Gritty, gruesome and gripping, the taut mystery really did it for me.

I wasn’t quite sure going in how exactly this one would be related to the first and it did take me a wee bit to figure out the connection.

These novels are set in the UK and I’m not super familiar with their criminal justice system, so please forgive me if I get the terminology wrong.

I think essentially, this involves the same large police department, but it just follows investigators at what in the U.S. would be called, a different precinct, than the first.

We aren’t following any of the same main characters as the first book, but The Echo Man crimes are alluded to and one of the investigators from the first book is mentioned a few times, as well as getting her own cameo.

Our two mains here are DCI Adam Bishop and Dr. Romilly Cole. The crimes involved are numerous, brutal and perplexing. They also connect, in a way, to Romilly’s past.

The case at the heart of the book involves bodies being found, in varying states of decomp, that have roman numerals marked above them. It quickly becomes evident that the killer is counting down and there’s a way to go.

If they can’t find this sadist and stop them in time, a lot more bodies are bound to fall.

This is another solidly-brutal and compelling story from Holland. It did take me a bit longer to get into this one; to connect, but it did pick up speed and intrigue in the second half. The end left my jaw on the floor.

There were a lot of complex relationship dynamics in this one and at times, I felt like those issues sort of overshadowed the overriding mystery. Or maybe, it would be more accurate for me to say that those relationship subplots distracted me from the overall mystery.

Because of this, the balance was a little off for my taste.

With this being said, I still found this to be a super enjoyable read. In my opinion, it would be hard to follow up The Echo Man, as it was such a fantastic debut.

I feel like Holland has succeeded with her sophomore effort. This delivered intrigue and action. It left me wanting more. Happily, it seems like with this ending, there will definitely be more books in this series.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Crooked Lane Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I cannot wait for the next book!

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