Review: Whichwood (Furthermore #2) by Tahereh Mafi

WhichwoodWhichwood by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After taking 7-months off, I’ve finally decided to return to my TBR-Haul Project. For those who don’t know, this is a self-imposed project for myself, essentially aimed at crossing books off of my backlist TBR of purchased books.

Basically, I buy a ton of books and then never read them. My Reading Journal contains a spread each month of books hauled and I have been going through them month-by-month, and picking a few off that list to finally pick up.

It had been going quite well. I’ve found quite a few 5-star reads via this project. But then it sort of sputtered out.

One of my goals for this year is to return to it, ideally, picking up at least one book for it each month. This is my first for the year and I started it on January 31st, so it’s not off to a real rousing start…

It’s not too late to reach my goal though, so I have selected Whichwood as Book #19 for the project. I hauled this back in March 2019, and of course, never read it.

This past Fall, I did pick up the first book in this duology, Furthermore, on audio through my local library. I thought it was so cute and fun, as well as fabulously narrated by the fabulous, Bronson Pinchot.

I was so excited to return to this magical Middle Grade Fantasy world, Mafi’s whimsical storytelling and Pinchot’s enchanting narration.

With this being said, I was concerned that I wouldn’t end up enjoying this one as much as the first book. I was so wrong!

Part of my hesitation was that I didn’t know how closely this book would be related to the first one. I knew we were following a new MC, Laylee, and I felt like I was really going to miss Alice and Oliver from Furthermore.

I was so delighted to discover both Alice and Oliver play a huge role in this story!

This again was emotional, heart-felt, filled with important lessons and conversations that fit nicely into magical Middle Grade. Regardless of the age level designation, this is the type of story that can be appreciated by audiences of all ages.

This duology is the first work I have read from Tahereh Mafi and it has made me beyond excited to check out more of Mafi’s work.

Leave your favorites down below in the comments!!!

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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: Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

FurthermoreFurthermore by Tahereh Mafi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’œ

Furthermore has been on my shelves since its release in 2016. Y’all may remember, this was a darling of BookTube upon its release and also, look at this dang cover.

I had to have it.

But then like many books before her, she sat on my shelves, neglected for years.

Recently, I participated in a Middle Grade Readathon and one of the prompts was the read a book that had been on your TBR for a long time. I immediately thought of this one and am so happy that I finally picked it up.

This whimsical Fantasy story follows Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, who you can probably tell from her name alone, is all sorts of adorable. But as adorable as she is, Alice is grappling with a lot since her Dad disappeared.

Alice’s Mother didn’t cope well with her Dad’s disappearance and has really pushed Alice away. It’s not a warm and fuzzy relationship. Because of that, Alice feels pretty alone.

When a boy from her past, Oliver, arrives and offers her the chance to find her Dad, even though he irks her, she has to go. She has to agree and she does.

They set off on an adventure through the magical lands of Furthermore. An adventure that Alice hopes will finally reunite her with her Father. As they progress though, it becomes unclear, is Oliver being truthful with her? What is his motive? Does he actually know where her Father is?

Even though I had a hard copy of this book, I decided to listen to the audiobook. I was so delighted when I learned that Bronson Pinchot was the narrator. I had no idea that he even narrated audiobooks, but you better believe now that I do, I will be seeking more out.

He was such a fabulous narrator for this story, because the story is told by a literal narrator. His voice brought the whimsy and the fun and I felt like he was talking to me one-on-one. It was really well done and I definitely recommend.

I was swept up into this story. I loved following along with Alice and Oliver as they traveled through the different towns in Furthermore.

It’s funny, I’m not sure what it was, perhaps the smart writing and word play, but this reminded me a lot of reading The Phantom Tollbooth as a child. It was just magical.

Additionally, I loved the themes that Mafi explored. This is a story that can be read by kids, or adults. There’s so much to appreciate. I was shocked by the level of emotion I felt from this story. Seriously, I went through the gamut.

Alice is one of the most lovable characters I have read in a while. I could feel her uncertainty and loneliness. It made me want to hug her and tell her everything would be okay.

In spite of her challenges though, I loved that she never gave up. She was willing to do whatever she had to for the possibility of reuniting her Dad. It was great.

If you’ve had this one on your shelves for years like I did, don’t put it off any longer, pick it up as soon as you can. You won’t regret it!

I hit every single emotion reading this.

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Review: Under the Smokestrewn Sky (Up-and Under #4) by A. Deborah Baker

Under the Smokestrewn SkyUnder the Smokestrewn Sky by A. Deborah Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Under the Smokestrewn Sky is the 4th-installment of Seanan McGuire’s, writing as A. Deborah Baker, Up-and-Under series. A magical Middle Grade series loosely-connected to McGuire’s Alchemical Journeys; an Adult SFF-mindblower.

While technically this is classified as Middle Grade Fantasy, it is actually perfect for Readers of all ages, containing quite a few philosophical and science-based elements.

Speaking of elements, each book in this quartet is constructed around one of the four classical elements: earth, air, fire and water. The first book was earth, the second, water, the third, air and then in this one, we feature fire.

The series follows two children, Avery and Zib, the A-to-Z of our tale, who upon a normal commute to school one day encounter a giant wall where it shouldn’t be. Together they decide to go up and over this wall, thus finding themselves in a magical world, known as the Up-and-Under.

Each story follows the kids as they journey through different lands in this world, journeying along the improbable road, trying to find their way home.

After a short recap at the beginning, we slip back into the story where we left off. It had a bit of a slow start for me and did seem more philosophical in nature, as far as the conversations between the various characters went.

Personally, I could have used more action, but Baker’s writing, per usual, was intentional and fluid. Every detail is there for a reason and I would love to go back at some point and read all four of these back-to-back.

I feel like I forgot so much about the functionality, history and politics of the Up-and-Under in between books, that I wasn’t able to appreciate the over-arching story as much as I could have. I would also love to reread Middlegame after I do so, to see if I can pick up more details in that as well.

And I guess this is it. I actually wasn’t sure if this was going to be the conclusion to this series, but it certainly felt like it. I’m sad to see these characters go. It’s hard not to grow attached to them after all we’ve been through.

I also have some thoughts regarding this series and a possible, or maybe even existing, connection to the Wayward Children series…

I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a fantastical Middle Grade Adventure story, or anyone who has enjoyed previous works from Seanan McGuire, including the Wayward Children series.

I feel like the concepts are similar to that and now that you can read the entire series at once, all the better. With likable characters, suspense, magic and intrigue, this series is sure to be a hit with Readers of all ages.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me copies to read and review. This is a great series and will live in my heart for a long time to come!

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Review: Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

ThornhedgeThornhedge by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Thornhedge, T. Kingfisher brings her lush, humorous and whimsical storytelling to a quick and adorably-reimagined Sleeping Beauty origin story.

Kingfisher is one of my favorite authors. I have loved everything of hers that I have ever read and after reading this, it doesn’t appear that is going to change anytime soon.

I will try to write an unbiased review, but it will be difficult. I’m a fan girl, what can I say?

In this story we meet Toadling, who as an infant was stolen and transported to live in the world of the faeries. They treated her well, and her early life was undeniably warm and comfortable. She couldn’t lodge many complaints.

Once she came into adulthood though, the faeries asked a favor of her that ended up changing everything.

She is asked to return to the world of humans to bless a newborn child. A little girl. A bumbling, beautiful baby girl…

A century later, a knight approaches a wall of brambles, an impenetrable fortress of thorns. He’s heard legends of a cursed Princess high in a tower. He’s here to save her, as knights do.

Toadling, however, has different thoughts on this so-called curse and she’ll do anything to uphold it. You’ll have to read this enchanting story to find out why.

This was a super fun and quick read, which I did listen to on audio. It has a nice, cozy feel to it, that I definitely need every once in a while to break up my darker reads.

I enjoyed how Kingfisher gave us enough of the original tale that you could figure out what she was alluding to, yet she brought her own original twist that caused me to view the fairy tale in a while new light.

The twist itself was fascinating to me. Darker than I expected, but whimsical at the same time. I was really impressed with it.

I think it is a great example of Kingfisher’s skill as a writer. I also highly enjoyed the narration of the audiobook. This story is pure, engaging entertainment.

I would recommend it to any Reader who enjoys twists on classic tales, whimsical, cozy fantasies, or Kingfisher’s work in general. There is no way this story isn’t going to bring a smile to your face.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. T. Kingfisher is a gift. She has a gift and she is a gift!

I will continue picking up every single thing she writes.

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Review: The Princess Fugitive: A Reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood (The Four Kingdoms #2) by Melanie Cellier

The Princess Fugitive: A Reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood (The Four Kingdoms, #2)The Princess Fugitive: A Reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood by Melanie Cellier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Princess Fugitive is the second book in Melanie Cellier’s The Four Kingdoms series.

The books in this series are all fairy tale retellings, this one focusing on the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

I’ll admit that I have never read the original source material for this classic fairy tale. What I do know of the story of Red Riding Hood, I have gotten solely through television and movie adaptations.

In spite of that, I still really enjoyed my time with this book. This story follows Princess Ava, who we got to meet in the first book in this series, The Princess Companion: A Retelling of The Princess and the Pea.

I wasn’t crazy about Ava in the first book. She was a bit of a twat, going against the interests of my favorite character in that book, Alyssa.

Here we learn the motivations behind Ava’s earlier behaviors though. Also, since she failed at her mission in the first book, she is forced to flee from her harsh family, bringing only her personal bodyguard, Hans, with her. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her because of that.

During their exile, Hans and Ava discover more about their kingdom than they knew before. For one, Ava’s family is even more horrible than she could have imagined, particularly her brother, next up to rule as King.

Even though they need to stay hidden, Ava feels compelled to do something to help the citizens of her kingdom, but she cannot do it alone. She needs allies for her fight. Will she be able to gain enough support to save her kingdom from downfall, or will she be the one to fall?

I really enjoyed my time with this story. I have so many other books I feel I ‘should’ be reading right now, but once I started this, I couldn’t stop.

I loved the relationship between Ava and Hans. The books I have read in this series seem to have in common forbidden romance tropes, people falling for people they shouldn’t. I sort of love that.

In this one, Hans is but a guard and Ava a Princess. How can that work? Their stations are so unlike one another. What’s clear though is Hans commitment to Ava, right from the start and that’s hard not to swoon over.

I also liked getting to see some of my favorite characters from the first book pop up here. I wasn’t expecting that at all and really enjoyed those connections.

Additionally, there is a bit of a competition at the end of this story and we all know, I love a competition.

Overall, I’m having a blast with these stories. They’re really not like anything else that I normally read, so it’s such a nice change of pace.

I am definitely planning to continue on with this series via audiobook. I have loved the narration so far. I find it completely engaging and I can’t help but get swept away, which is exactly what I am looking for.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a solid retelling.

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Review: The Atlas Six (The Atlas #1) by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six (The Atlas, #1)The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Atlas Six is one of those books that got so hyped up that it made me avoid it. I can’t recall precisely when the time period was, but I couldn’t go anywhere in the bookish social media world without having it pop up consistently.

Then, as happens many, many times with me, the cover got me. I’ll admit it. I wanted to own it because of the redesigned cover released by Tor. It’s stunning.

I finally decided to read it when a group I am a part of here on Goodreads chose it as a book of the month selection. I’m happy to finally know what all the fuss is about and I gotta say, this was wayyyyy better than I expected.

Since this is so hyped, and I think I am one of the last people left to read it, I won’t bother going too far into what it’s about. As a general description, I would say that it’s got the whole dark academia, secret society, magic-wielding multi-perspective thing down pat.

I was into this from the very start. The first two characters we meet, Libby and Nico, actually ended up being my two favorites of the entire book.

They’re academic rivals, which is something I tend to adore. Additionally, their backgrounds, plus the low-simmering constant vein of animosity running between them was giving me the Hermione-Draco fanfic vibes of my dreams.

We follow them as they are recruited by the mysterious, Atlas Blakely, to potentially join the ranks of the Alexandrian Society, a secret society composed of the most powerful magical academicians in the world.

I loved following along with Libby and Nico as they met the other recruits and began to learn more about what their participation with the process would actually entail.

Meeting the other individuals involved, Tristan, Parisa, Reina and Callum, was equally as fascinating and the dynamic amongst the group was ripe with tension.

This did remind me a lot of The Magicians. They share similar elements and I can’t say if this book handled those ideas any better or worse than that book did.

I sort of feel the same about them. I enjoyed it very much when I was reading it, but I’m not sure how long all the details are going to stick around in my brain.

There were some sections that were very dialogue heavy amongst the characters, as they waxed and waned about their powers and the overall magic system. I’ll admit to my eyes glazing over a bit during some of those sections.

For example, they would discuss in great lengths the parameters of their magic, what they would choose to do with it, the morality of certain choices, etc.

Personally, I just wanted to return to the action, but I can understand why those discussions may be important to the long-term growth of the story.

With this being said, the majority of this was intriguing. I found particular scenes, especially towards the end quite exciting and revealing. I absolutely will be continuing on with this series.

Overall, I’m so glad I finally took the time to read this one. I think this is a great base for the continuation of a series. I’m looking forward to it!

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Review: The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi (Amina al-Sirafi, #1)The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi was my first Chakraborty novel. I am so happy to have discovered her work.

This was such an incredible story; well told and well constructed. I loved this cast of characters so much. I honestly can’t believe how attached I got to them.

The star of our show, of course, is Amina al-Sirafi. As a woman over 40, I can tell you it was an absolute delight to get a female protagonist who was a little more battle-worn, and time advanced, than your typical lead.

Amina has had many, many adventures on the high seas, as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates. She’s loved and lost, been in tight spots and epic battles of wit. She’s also been married numerous times and even is a mother to a delightful little girl, Marjana.

She should be happy and I guess, in a lot of ways she is, but an adventurer will always have that nagging feeling in the pit of their gut that there’s more out there.

When Amina is approached by an extremely wealthy woman to embark on one more quest, she’s definitely reluctant. It’s dangerous and she doesn’t want to leave her daughter behind, in spite of the slight urge to adventure on.

Unfortunately, the woman really leaves her without much of a choice and when riches beyond Amina’s wildest imaginations are dangled in front of her, she agrees. One more mission.

Determined to succeed, Amina assembles a team of her old colleagues, each one with a specialty likely to contribute greatly to their task. They’ve got their means of transportation, they’ve got their team, they’ve got a goal.

Thus, they set out to find and rescue the allegedly kidnapped granddaughter or their rich benefactor.

This adventure was so engrossing. I loved the crew. The banter was witty and the stakes were high. As the story progressed, more magical elements were introduced and I definitely found it enchanting.

There were some sections towards the end that I found a little confusing, but it could have been because I was reading it so quickly. I was dying to discover what was going to happen, so it kept me going at a pretty steady pace.

I’m super stoked that this is just the start of this series. What a fun way to kick it off. I am very anxious to see where it is going to go from here. I can’t wait to go on more adventures with Amina and her crew!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Harper Voyager, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was fantastic!

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Review: Malice House by Megan Shepherd

Malice HouseMalice House by Megan Shepherd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a very successful start, Malice House dropped off a cliff for me around 75% of the way in. It’s unfortunate, I hate to say it, but it happens…

This story follows an artist named Haven Marbury. Haven’s father, a very famous author, has recently passed away. Because of this, Haven travels from her home in New York City to his property on the West Coast. She has inherited his possibly haunted house and everything in it.

Having recently suffered through a very traumatic break-up, with barely two pennies to rub together, the idea of having a place of her own, far from her ex, is actually a blessing.

Once at the house, Haven meets with her father’s 0ld-caregiver, a rather disturbing woman in her own right. A woman that in the past has refused to spend one single night at the property.

Unusual happenings begin pretty much right away. It’s a big house and definitely spooky. Additionally, it’s bringing up a lot of mixed feelings for Haven.

Sifting through her father’s belongings, Haven discovers an unpublished manuscript called Bedtime Stories for Monsters, which is quite different from his previous works.

It’s dark and twisted, right up Haven’s alley. She has an epiphany. She needs money. Her father’s name on a cover will sell any book. She’s an artist. She’ll illustrate this book and pitch it to publishers as a father-daughter posthumous collaboration.

Unfortunately, a local group of bibliophiles that her father was a part of, the Ink Drinkers, start continuously trying to insert themselves into the process of deciding what to do with the unpublished manuscript. Haven probably should have kept that discovery to herself.

After that, things start to get really weird. Haven feels like they’re crazy, she wants them to stay the heck away from her. It’s her father’s work. They have no say over what she does with it, or do they?

There’s an attractive, though suspicious, neighbor. There’s potential poltergeist activity at the house. There are monsters coming to life and attacking. There are crazy locals and a dark, ill-feeling atmosphere.

As mentioned above, I was super intrigued by this in the beginning. I love the idea of fictional stories pulling through into real life. Monsters jumping off the pages and wrecking havoc. Are you kidding?! That’s amazing!

There were a few fun twists and as it began to come together as to what was happening, I lifted an eyebrow. Okay, Megan Shepherd. I see you. You are a Horror Gurlie. Me too!

At some point though, it kept going and went too far. It got so convoluted that it was hard to follow. I’m not sure what could have improved, I’m not claiming to be an author here, but it completely lost me by the conclusion.

I liked Haven as a character and enjoyed watching her discover some fairly significant family secrets. I just wish the pace could have been more even. The monstrous elements did build steadily, but they didn’t stop at a coherent point. It just devolved into chaos.

The more I think about this, as I am writing this review, the more disappointed I get. I am serious when I say, I really enjoyed the beginning. There are so many elements in this to love, especially if you are a fan of darker fiction. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t pulled through to a solid conclusion in my opinion.

With this being said, just because I wasn’t crazy about the ending doesn’t mean you won’t be. If the synopsis sounds intriguing to you, absolutely give it a shot. You could find a new favorite read within these pages.

Thank you to the publisher, Hyperion Avenue, for providing me with a copy to read and review. Even though this one didn’t blow me away, I would definitely pick up more Megan Shepherd novels.

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Review: Hell Bent (Alex Stern #2) by Leigh Bardugo

Hell Bent (Alex Stern, #2)Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hell Bent is the second release in the Alex Stern series by Leigh Bardugo. I’m told this is a trilogy, but at this point I would certainly accept a lot more.

As this is the second book in the series, I may mention certain things in this review that some may consider spoilers for the first book. I will try not to, but if you are concerned at all, turn back now.

In this book, we find Alex and Dawes desperately trying to find Darlington and bring him back from…well, hell.

It’s so dangerous and many would have chalked it up as a loss, but Alex and Dawes refuse to give up. After a failed attempt, it’s clear the girls cannot achieve their goal alone. Dawes thinks she knows the reason and the type of team they will need to assemble to help them.

They need to find two other people with a very specific qualification. It won’t be easy, but there’s more going on in New Haven than Darlington being missing. It’s imperative they work quickly.

As faculty members begin to mysteriously die off, it’s clear Alex and Dawes will need all the help they can get.

In this installment, both Alex and Darlington’s backstories continue to be built-out, but we also get more info on the side characters. Most importantly, the things that these characters have been through in their lives that make them strong additions to this team. They’ve all had their traumas.

I loved the team ultimately assembled, every one of them. It was giving me light Buffy-vibes in a couple of different ways and I was verrrrrry here for it.

Alex’s past comes back to haunt her when she least expects it, providing us with a very convincing new villain. I was really intrigued with the new occult/supernatural elements explored in this one, the new villain being one of those.

I think my favorite thing about this was watching Alex let down her guard a bit with her peers, or dare I say, friends. She has always been closed off, so watching her accept help from others was really very satisfying.

The closing scenes left me so excited for the next book. There is absolutely zero information on it right now, that I know of. It literally could be years, but you better believe I will be rereading these first two books again prior to it’s release.

Upon completion, I was left with my head spinning, racing and ecstatic. There was so much that happened over the course of this story, I can still hardly wrap my brain around it all. I seriously can’t wait to move forward with this series!

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