Book Review from a Teen Reader: The Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi

Today, my teenager has once again given me permission to share a book review. This time, he’s reviewing the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure how heavy his review is on spoilers. Enjoy at your own risk!

Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again. But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that? (Taken from Amazon)

I recently read the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, and Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, Aru Shah and the City of Gold, and Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality) and I really, really liked it!

Every single one of the characters was likable, fun, and unique. Not only that, but the story itself was set at just the right pace to make it hard to put down yet easy to pause for stuff like, y’know, eating, drinking, and other necessary things (Curse you, Life! Can’t you see I’m trying to read?).

As you probably guessed, I really liked these books. I don’t want to go into too much detail (because SPOILERS) but I will try my best to outline the series without actually saying anything too specific.

Well, let’s see…there’s a bunch of characters, and they do some stuff, and other stuff happens…I’m just kidding! I can tell you more than that (Hold onto your hats! This is gonna be fast)!

The Pandava series is a series under the unique title of “A Rick Riordan Presents book”, which basically means that, one, it has something to do with mythology, and two, Rick Riordan liked it. There are other Rick Riordan Presents books (I’m currently reading one called Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee) and all of them fall under those categories I mentioned earlier. So if you like good, fun books with undercurrents of interesting cultures and mythologies, the Rick Riordan Presents title is one to watch for.

The Pandava series is also the subject of this current book report, so back to talking about it!

Based off Indian myth and legend in its theming (though probably not all of myth and legend, because that would make my brain explode. India is BIG)! The Pandava series focuses on a group of girls who are the reincarnations of the Pandava siblings, ancient and powerful heroes from Indian myth. I won’t name names because some of them only show up in later books. so that would be a…SPOILER.

Anways, Aru Shah, the main character of the series and maybe a Pandava (no spoilers here, though she totally is) accidentally releases The Sleeper, the main villain of the series with some complicated backstory and motivation, from his imprisonment while trying to impress some rich kids from the local school (by showing them a definitely cursed lamp she was told not to touch and then touching it). This leads to lots of bad stuff, which of course leads to the main body of the book. Heroic quest, anyone?

Along the way, lots of really likable and interesting characters show up, and I won’t say any names because my favorite characters only shows up later in the series, but for all of you out there who have read the books, I’ll say that a certain naga prince is my favorite character (“I can’t die! I haven’t even learned what a microwave does!”).

Before I close off my report, I want to say thank you to the author for including a glossary of terms and pronunciations. Without it, I would not know where to start with some of the more complicated stuff. Plus, it’s fun to read the author’s opinion on all of it!

Anyways, I highly recommend this series to anyone who liked this report because the series is way better than the report says (it’s kinda hard to talk about how awesome a book is without actually saying anything specific).

The characters are great, the story is great, the action and humor and emotions are great, and overall, I’d say that the Pandava series is fantastic. I hope you decide to read it and, if you do, I hope you like it as much as I did.

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham


Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms.

Before getting to the review, I have to give a little backstory. My oldest son occasionally allows me to share book reviews that he’s written. Author A.R. Witham heard about that and sent a copy of his book, along with a kind and supportive note, to my son. It meant so much to my son and I am so grateful to the author for this kindness. My son reviewed The Legend of Black Jack as well (you can find his review here).

Jack Swift can remember anything—even the horrible things he’d like to forget. To keep his guilt-ridden memories from haunting him, and to dodge his abusive foster mom, he buries himself in any book he can find, dreaming of his ultimate escape: becoming a doctor.

But fate has another escape in mind.

At 3:33am on his fourteenth birthday, Jack is kidnapped by a monstrous rhinoceros and whisked away to another sphere of existence: the land of Keymark. Though this world is filled with pixies, monsters, pirates, elves, warriors, and all sorts of mythical wonders, it is without healing magic—that magic was stolen by an evil, immortal prince hell-bent on domination. With no understanding of medical science to heal their wounds or illnesses, Jack’s kidnappers ask the impossible of him: use his knowledge to save a life…or be trapped in this bizarre world with no chance of rescue.

Jack doesn’t have secret magic, a great destiny, or any medical experience.

Why do they all expect him to become a legend? (Taken from Amazon)

The Legend of Black Jack is a fast-paced book full of adventure and heart. The novel centers around the most likeable main character, a boy named Jack who has an eidetic memory. After losing his father and bouncing from foster home to foster home, Jack- whose thirst for knowledge is matched only by his desire to become a doctor- finds himself embarking on a new adventure with the most unlikely of characters.

They say he was an outsider. A man with no home, no family, no friend to call his own. The man with nothing left to love. The empty man.”

The beginning reminded me so much of The Name of the Wind, which was astonishing considering the difference in target age. I loved how it was written and I was immediately drawn in. The book continues wonderfully, not only keeping me invested, but keeping my oldest son invested as well. It was awesome being able to talk about the plot and our favorite characters together.

I loved that Jack’s strengths were the things that people might have found odd about him: his fascination with how the body works and bits of knowledge gleaned from encyclopedias. These are not the usual trappings of the hero in a story, and it was genius. He was an incredibly nuanced character, who grew and changed as he experienced new things and dealt with growing fears.

Jack having fears and continuing on despite them made me like him all the more. This is the sort of book that, on top of being tons of fun, middle-grade and high school readers will relate to. Sure, the setting is fantastical, but the things Jack deals with transfers over to real-life fears and doubts. I think the stories that often stick with us the most are the ones that do this.

The creatures and characters that show up throughout The Legend of Black Jack are fantastic! While my son’s favorite character was Chance, I was partial to Rooker the pirate. His relationship with Jack and the way it grew and developed, was wonderful to read.

The world was full of creativity and rip-roaring adventure, which I loved. At the end of the day, though, the relationships were what made me fall in love with this novel. My 14 year old loved the book – and so did I. The Legend of Black Jack is something special.

Let’s Talk About: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.

For those of you who would like to see some of the amazing pieces published during last year’s SPAAW, you can find them linked here: Self-published Authors Appreciation Week Hub.

I hope it will be even bigger this year. Let’s shout about self-published authors!

The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham

Every now and again, I share a book review written by my oldest son. Author A.R. Witham kindly gave him a copy of The Legend of Black Jack not too long ago. I’m sharing my son’s review exactly as he wrote it. Enjoy!

I recently read The Legend of Black by A.R. Witham, and I absolutely loved it! There are so many things to talk about here, so I gotta stop with the intro already and start with the actual review.

The Legend of Black Jack is an awesome fantasy story that isn’t just about one thing like some other books, it’s about everything in the world of Keymark. It follows the story of Jack, a young boy (or Toshan) from Chicago with a perfect memory. His life is kind of rotten at the start of the book, but it quickly gets better when he is brought to Keymark in order to use his knowledge of medicine (he wants to be a doctor so he memorized every medical book he owns) to save the life of Xiang-lo, an important resident of Keymark.

Admittedly, I was a little uncomfortable with the part where Jack has to perform surgery, but it was mostly me. Anyways, back to the review!

After the operation, Jack meets and befriends Valerian Tsai, a Border Knight and wielder of a blade that glows gray with the power of the Wikk, which is what they call magic in Keymark. I personally loved the idea of magic flaming swords in different colors, it was really unique. Valerian introduces Jack to Abrahim Qin, another Border Knight and wielder of the Azure Blade. Abrahim attempts to train Jack in combat and quickly decides that Jack is best off with a simple staff.

After the somewhat fruitless training session, Jack meets more residents of Keymark (I’m not naming names to avoid spoiling everything). But then, the evil armies of the Necrorceror (the villain of the story) attack! Led by a warrior in red with a flaming sword, the horde of zombies and dog-sized cockroach things quickly overrun the area, leaving Jack running for his life.

Jack is quickly picked up by Rooker Flynn, a pirate and the new captain of the ship Venture Brigand. Rooker and Jack befriend each other during their voyage to Rimmy’s Cull, a bustling seaport town known for being a hub for merchants, pirates, and trade. When they arrive, however, they find that Rimmy’s Cull has been set ablaze, and is under attack from the man in red armor and the army he leads. Again, I will leave some things out in order to avoid spoiling the book completely (even though I already said a lot of things), but let’s just say a lot happens during and after that.

I don’t want to say any more about the story than I already have, so instead I’ll talk about my favorite characters and other things.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: my favorite character is Chance the Jinx-cat. A Jinx-cat is basically a cat-person, or I guess you could say they’re walking, talking, tail-having anthropomorphic cats. Chance just has a lot of personality, in my opinion. I also happen to really like cats and Chance portrays a cat’s personality well. Chance doesn’t appear until later in the book, so I’m technically revealing more spoilers, but I haven’t said anything about his role in the story, so I think I’m good there.

Another thing I want to say is just that Mr. Witham did a really great job giving each of the Border Knights unique and interesting personalities, even though some don’t appear much at all. Again, I want to compliment the idea of the magical color-coded blades. Now that I think about it, it kinda reminds me of the Keyblades from Kingdom Hearts mixed together with the different colors of Lantern Rings. Cool!

Suffice it to say, The Legend of Black Jack is now one of my favorite books. Everything worked so well to really give life to the world of Keymark and to keep me interested. It’s definitely going on my reread list!

By the way, thank you to Mr. Witham for sending me the book. I thought the note you wrote me was very nice!

March of the Sequels: A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig

Jetta is a wanted criminal. The army wants her for treason against the crown, for the sabotage of Hell’s Court temple, and for the murder of General Legarde. They also want her for the power in her blood―the magic that captures wandering spirits to give life to puppets, to rocks, to paper . . . to weapons. They’re willing to trade the elixir that treats Jetta’s madness for the use of her blood. The rebels want her, too, to help them reclaim their country. Jetta may be the one who can tip the scales in this war.
But Jetta fears using her power will make her too much like Le Trépas, the terrifying and tyrannical necromancer who once held all Chakrana under his thumb―and who is Jetta’s biological father. She’s already raised her brother from the dead, after all. And scared off Leo, the only person who saw her as she truly is. With Le Trépas at large and a clash between the army and the rebels becoming inevitable, Jetta will have to decide if saving her country is worth sacrificing her soul. (Taken from Amazon)

There are spoilers for For a Muse of Fire (first in the series) below. You can find my review for that book here.

**Here Be Spoilers**

       Oh man, I loved this book! From the plot-line to the characters, everything was done well. It was a worthy sequel to For a Muse of Fire.

Jetta is a great character. She’s tough without being cold and emotionless. In fact, her emotions are a big part of what makes her so tough. She has an illness that is most definitely bipolar (as confirmed by the author). I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but books that feature mental illness with consideration and respect automatically get extra points from me. This one in particular means a lot, since I also have bipolar. It is a mental illness that is rarely represented in YA, and even more rarely mentioned in the fantasy genre. Heidi Heilig’s choice to not only feature it in a fantasy, but to show both the positive and negative aspects of it is pretty stinking cool. But I digress.

In this book, Jetta has been offered a medication that will help with her illness, in exchange for the use of her blood by the crown. Whoever uses the blood can bind souls to inanimate objects, essentially animating-and controlling-them. The crown wants to use her power as a weapon against the rebels, who Jetta sympathizes with.

The rebels also want to use Jetta. Meanwhile, she’s afraid to use her power at all, worrying that it will make her like her biological father. He’s a monstrous necromancer, and everyone is afraid of what would happen if he- or another like him- came to power.

Of course, there’s also ye random romantic entanglement with Leo, another rebel. I’m not a huge fan of their relationship because it often came across as an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the plot, but I admittedly don’t like most dramatic bookish relationships.

I liked that Heilig didn’t pull punches. I was justifiably concerned about what would happen to some of the characters in the book. I like when an author gives things a sense of urgency, and she does that very well. I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.

I feel like this series is very underrated and deserves way more hype. It’s well-written and fast-paced, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. The mental illness representation just pushes it even higher in my esteem. I highly recommend this book.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

March of the Sequels: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

During March we are enjoying March of the Sequels, a monthlong challenge issued by Sue’s Musings. Basically, the challenge is to read (and review, if you’re a reviewer) more sequels.

Filled with political intrigue, violent magic, and malevolent spirits, the mesmerizing second book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia epic fantasy trilogy that started with the award-winning The Queen of Blood.
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.
Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.
Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.
But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.
Sarah Beth Durst established a place of dark wonder in The Queen of Blood, and now the stakes are even higher as the threat to the Queen and her people grows both from within and beyond the borders of Aratay in this riveting second novel of the Queens of Renthia series. (taken from Amazon)

The Reluctant Queen is available now. It is the sequel to The Queen of Blood, so there will be some slight spoilers for book one which I’ll try to keep as minimal as possible. You can find my review for Queen of Blood here.

The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy. The story continues in a way that I did not expect, but which makes perfect sense. Daleina has some disturbing news: she’s dying. As queen, she alone has the power to command the spirits that inhabit the land, to keep them from destroying everyone in Renthia. Without a queen, the lives of each human are forfeit. Daleina sends her champions (think King Arthur’s knights) to hopefully find and train an heir-because time is running out.

Here’s where things get complicated: Ven, the champion that trained Daleina, does find a candidate- one who is more powerful than anyone he’s ever seen. Naelin, who hides this power, is a mother focused on raising two healthy, happy children. She has no interest in traipsing off to be trained to use her power, and she definitely doesn’t want to become a queen. However, she might not have a choice: other candidates are mysteriously dying and things aren’t necessarily what they seem.

Being a mom myself, I loved Naelin. She knew where her priorities were and she made no bones about it. I felt horrible for her when she realized that the only way to protect her kids was to learn to protect everyone. Naelin’s kids were her whole world, and it was gut-wrenching when they were in danger as a direct result of her power.

This book moved a little more slowly during the first half, but it was never boring. The character development was fantastic. I loved getting to know more about Champion Ven, who grew in leaps and bounds between book one and the end of book two. There was an entirely new facet of his character revealed that added an extra layer of humanity to the plotline.

Sometimes in fantasy books, child characters are either incredibly annoying, or incredibly one dimensional. Neither of those things happened here. The children were fully developed characters, and they definitely contributed to the story.

The second half of the book ramped up until it became a breath-taking confrontation. I honestly didn’t know how things would end up and I loved every nail-biting moment. Once again, author Sarah Beth Durst showed incredible creativity in both her spirits and how they interacted and fought. Add in political intrigue, an epic battle, and some major backstabbing, and it’s safe to say that The Reluctant Queen has become one of my new favorite fantasies. This is a fantastic series for both fantasy veterans, and those who are just dipping their toes into this wonderful genre. I highly recommend it.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Felicity Morrow is back at the Dalloway School. Perched in the Catskill Mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to finish high school. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds. 
 
Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s past. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind now, but it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget. 
 
It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she has already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called method writer. She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity to help her research the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource. 
 
And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway—and herself. (Taken from Amazon)

Start with a mystery, throw in a dash of the spooky, and add a bit of romance and you’ve got the premise for A Lesson in Vengeance, a fast and entertaining read. This book is available for purchase now.

The book is told from the point of view of Felicity Morrow, a girl just returning to school after witnessing a horrific accident that resulted in a death the year before. Only Felicity knows something that other people don’t: her girlfriend was murdered, and Felicity knows who did it.

While the premise in and of itself isn’t anything new, the execution is very different. Felicity struggles with both feelings of guilt and embarrassment over her mental illness diagnosis. I could relate a little to the second thing. No one should feel embarrassed about having a mental illness, but I did for many years because of the stigma that comes along with it. Author Victoria Lee has a Ph.D. in psychology, which she put to interesting use here. Felicity was a fascinating character, partly because of her struggles, although I really didn’t like her.

In fact, I didn’t like any of the characters. That didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book at all; if anything, it made me more curious about what secrets each of them was hiding and who they really were underneath their shiny exteriors. There are four other characters that Felicity interacts with, each of them a roommate in her dorm, a dorm that is steeped in legends of murder and witchcraft. Felicity is drawn to these legends and to the supposed magic that comes with them. What role magic plays in this story is a discovery I’ll leave to the reader, so as to avoid spoilers.

While A Lesson in Vengeance was good, there were some things about it that I didn’t love. The pacing felt choppy, with more time spent on developing the plot than seemed necessary, and not enough time spent on the climax. I would have loved for the ending to be stretched out a little more, and it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I also wonder if the very end of the book was a late addition because it really didn’t fit the tone of the story. Then again, I’m the sort of person who likes endings to be a little less…. finished, so maybe I’m not the best judge here.

A Lesson in Vengeance was a fun read, and would be great paired with a cozy blanket, a stormy night, and a favorite warm drink.

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this “twisty, atmospheric story that grips readers like a siren song” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike. (taken from Amazon)

Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.

The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.

When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.

There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.

While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.

It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.

All of Us Villains by Amana Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.

The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world―one thought long depleted.

But this year a salacious tell-all book has exposed the tournament and thrust the seven new champions into the worldwide spotlight. The book also granted them valuable information previous champions never had―insight into the other families’ strategies, secrets, and weaknesses. And most important, it gave them a choice: accept their fate or rewrite their legacy.

Either way, this is a story that must be penned in blood. (taken from Amazon)

All of Us Villains is The Hunger Games for goths, with a hint of Needful Things thrown in for good measure. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was definitely not expecting the sometimes brutal exploration of what humans are willing to do to survive.

I have read and enjoyed Christine Lynne Herman’s The Devouring Gray, and I am a fan of books that twist norms, so All of Us Villains intrigued me from the get-go. In a world where magick exists, the book follows seven teens who are thrown into a competition where there will be only one survivor (the Hunger Games vibes are strong here). However, these seven will be fighting for their family’s control over powerful magick.

The concept of a battle to the death over control of a powerful magic source is an interesting one, and the book is just different enough to distinguish itself from The Hunger Games. Another difference between the two books are the multiple points of view that add different layers to the book. The characters all added something new which really helped flesh out the world.

Briony considered herself the perfect champion, and is one of the few characters who actually wanted to be in the competition. She isn’t necessarily blood-thirsty, she is just supremely confident in her ability to win. Of course, there’s a hiccup (no spoilers given, I promise) that changes things completely, leaving her with different choices to make, and many questions that need answering.

There’s Isobel, who didn’t want to be in the competition and is understandably terrified. She is also rather annoying. I can’t put my finger on why she bothered me, but she did. Possibly because she felt a little less fully developed than some of the other characters. Or maybe it’s that her whole budding romance with another champion seemed really odd (Now? While you’re all busy trying not to die?) What do I know, though? I’ve never been in a battle to the death; maybe that’s the best time to go looking for romance. However, she was an odd combination of ruthlessness and selflessness, which was definitely fascinating.

Gavin was easily the “villain” of the villains. He has something to prove and will do just about anything to prove it. I liked that his desperation led to an interaction that allowed one of my favorite characters to develop a little. The fallout from some of his choices also caused things to change in unexpected ways, which I really enjoyed.

Then there’s Alistair, one of my two favorite characters. He’s the one expected to win; powerful, with a dark reputation, he was so much fun to read about! Instead of being a stereotypical villain, he is actually unsure of himself and trying to protect himself by becoming the monster everyone claims he is.

My favorite character by far was Reid McTavish. Not a champion, he actually owns a magic shop which helps several champions with exactly what they need- but what is the price? He reminded me a little of Leland Gaunt from Stephen King’s Needful Things, and I was loving the reminder. I could never quite figure him out, which was brilliant. I know he has an angle, probably one which is deliciously diabolical, and I can’t wait for it to be revealed.

That last sentence brings me to an important point: this ends on a cliffhanger. I know that is not everyone’s thing, so I figure it bears mentioning. I do believe it worked well in this case, as any sort of finalized ending would make book two start in a very odd way.

All of Us Villains was a fun, quick read. While I wouldn’t necessarily say it shattered expectations or was incredible, it was extremely entertaining. At the end of the day, books like that have their place too. I recommend this book to fans of The Hunger Games, readers who like their characters to be morally conflicted, or those who want something diverting and fast-paced.

The Girl of Dorcha Wood by Kristin Ward- The Write Reads on Tour Spotlight

Today, I have the privilege of joining the Write Reads on Tour in talking about an exciting new young adult fantasy, The Girl of Dorcha Wood, by Kristin Ward. This book is available for purchase now.

What is The Girl of Dorcha Wood about?

Treacherous. Evil. Dark. Dorcha Wood is all of these. And none of them.

The people of Felmore talk of Dorcha Wood in whispers, if they speak of it at all, fearing the wrath of the Cù-Sìth should their words be carried on the wind. Those murdering beasts still roam the darkness of the forest, the last remnants of the cursed Aos Sí—a race of elves long since vanished from the world. 

But to seventeen-year-old Fiadh, it is home. A haven. A forest whose secrets become known only when it chooses to reveal them. Her life is one of balance until the outside world shatters it. 
From the moment Fiadh set eyes on Gideon, the peaceful rhythm of her life was lost. As a new path unfolds, Fiadh confronts the reality of old hatreds, the consequences of things hidden, and the truth of who she really is. 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08ZLFL8ZB
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57478429-the-girl-of-dorcha-wood

About the author:

Kristin Ward is an award-winning young adult author living in Connecticut. A science and math teacher for over twenty years, she infuses her geeky passions into stories that meld realism and fantasy. Kristin embraces her inner nerd regularly, often quoting 80s movies while expecting those around her to chime in with appropriate rejoinders. As a nature freak, she can be found wandering the woods – she may be lost, so please stop and ask if you see her – or chilling in her yard with all manner of furry and feathered friends. Often referred to as a unicorn by colleagues who remain in awe of her ability to create or find various and sundry things in mere moments. In reality, the horn was removed years ago, leaving only a mild imprint that can be seen if she tilts her head just right. A lifelong lover of books and writing, she dreamed of becoming an author for thirty years before publishing her award-winning debut in 2018. Her first novel, After the Green Withered, is one of many things you should probably read.

https://www.kristinwardauthor.com