It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Young Adult Edition

I read a pretty broad variety of books, both in age range and genre. I’ve already talked about great gifts ideas for both middle-grade and picture book readers. Today I’m moving on to young adult readers. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or shopping for yourself (totally allowed), I think these are some of the best of the best.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Thanks to the Write Reads on Tour, I was able to read an ebook of this before its release. I loved it so much that my husband surprised me with a physical copy. Full of puzzles to solve, and characters with questionable motives, this mysterious scavenger hunt of a book was a blast to read. You can read my original review of The Inheritance Games here. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a good mystery.

The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake

Oh, how I love this series, the first book of which is Three Dark Crowns. Led by a cast of strong female characters, these books center around a desperate struggle between three sisters to be Queen Crowned-because only one can survive to rule. Each sister has a different power (my favorite is Katharine, the poisoner), and the way they’re used is incredibly creative. The world is large and complex, and the characters are complicated and three dimensional. I especially appreciate the high stakes in the series: no character is untouchable. As a huge bonus, the series is already finished, so there’s no waiting impatiently for the next book to release.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

This is the first book in the Great Library series. It imagines a world in which the Library of Alexandria did not burn down. Instead, it became a controlling power, banning the ownership of books. The only books allowed to be read have to be okayed by the Library itself and we all know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Enter Jess, a smuggler of books who finds himself in an accidental rebellion, together with a fantastic group of characters. This book is fast paced and full of action and intrigue.

Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs

I read this book due to a glowing review by another blogger, and it introduced me to a fantastic author. Edwin is reeling from a bad breakup when he is assigned a group project with a new student. Somehow they end up “breaking” a WW2 veteran named Garland out of a nursing home. The three of them go on a madcap race around France, in search of Garland’s long-lost love. On the way, Edwin himself learns a little bit about love and an awful lot about life. Both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny, this book is on my “everyone needs to read this” list.

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I have actually mentioned this book on another list: books to read after (or instead of Harry Potter). Now, bear with me: this book is only like Harry Potter in the vaguest of ways: there’s a school for magic users, a main character who is always attracting trouble, and two best friends/partners in crime. That is where the similarities end. This is full-on fantasy, in a completely (and fully developed) fantasy world. It is not geared toward children or middle graders, and the characters aren’t kids. The writing is amazing, which is to be expected from author Tamora Pierce. You can’t go wrong with anything she’s written.

So there you have it. Any of these books would make great gifts for the YA reader in your life. What are some YA books that you think would make excellent gifts? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Middle-grade Edition

I’m so excited to talk about my Middle-grade gift suggestions today! I’ve read a couple of amazing middle grade books this year, and my oldest is an expert (being a middle grader, and all). If you’re looking for great gifts for upper elementary/ middle grade age, these are my picks!

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips


I was fortunate enough to join The Write Reads Blog Tour for The Beast and the Bethany back in August. I devoured the ebook and loved it so much that I’m planning to buy a physical copy for myself, as well as a few to give as gifts. This book is absolutely delightful! It resembles nothing as much as a brilliant cross between Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Read my full rave about it here. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (series) by Chris Grabenstein

My son was gifted these books a while ago and he loved them. He said they’re full of puzzles and riddles and are a ton of fun. He raced through them and could talk of nothing else for quite a while. This would be a great choice for less enthusiastic readers who need to be actively involved. Solving the riddles will suck them right in.

The Oddmire: Changeling by William Ritter

Both my son and I have read and loved the first two books in this series (the third will release next year). William Ritter is the author of the brilliant Jackaby adult series and I am happy but unsurprised that his middle-grade novels are just as wonderful and creative as his adult novels are.

This is about twin brothers, one of whom is a goblin changeling (although no one-not even the changeling himself-knows which is which). They are called to travel into the Wild Wood and save the day. It’s rare to find a book that has so much adventure, and so much heart. I loved all of the characters (especially the protective mom) and my son felt the same. You can read my full review of the book here.

The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

Did you know that the author of the famous Percy Jackson series has also written an Egyptian series. As much as my son loved the Percy Jackson books, he says the Kane Chronicles are even better.

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris

My middle-grade reader says this was his favorite book that he’s read this year. It definitely spawned an obsession with magic tricks. This is an incredibly quick read (my middle-grader finished it in a day), so I suggest buying more than one book in the series. That way your reader can jump right into the next installment as soon as they want.

So, there you have it. These are my top suggestions for middle-grade gifts this year. Have you read any of these? What are some middle-grade books you’d recommend? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

Interview With a Middle-School Reader

The other day I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve picked my middle-schooler’s brain about books (zombie pun not intended, but still chuckle-inducing). The first time I interviewed him about what he’s been enjoying, he was in fifth grade. Now…he’s not. Time flies, unless it’s 2020. Then it crawls inexorably toward the next weird disaster. But I digress.

My middle-schooler is definitely leaning in the fantasy and sci-fi direction as far as his reading taste. I’m so proud. Here’s what he’s been reading over the last little bit:

The Frith Chonicles by Shami Stovall

I introduced my oldest to this book after having read and loved it. He enjoyed it so much that he kept on going. He’s now read all the books that are released and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. He says, “It was a very different fantasy from what I’m used to, but not in a bad way. I liked all the magical creatures and some were pretty cute. I liked the characters and the storyline was large and expansive. I definitely recommend it for slightly older kids, like teenagers.”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


My avid reader loved this one so much, he finished it in three hours.
He says “I really liked this one. It was nice and cute and it had some really good magic tricks. It was funny and I liked the illustrations. It also had some secret codes in it which were really hard to figure out, but once I did, they were fun and rewarding.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My oldest has mixed feelings on this one. He says, “I think I like it the most out of the quote- unquote “classics” I’ve read so far. I feel like it was written for a different generation, though.”

The Oddmire by William Ritter

I’ve read the first two books in the series (all that are out right now) and I loved them. Here’s what my oldest had to say: “I liked it! The first book felt like the beginning of a really important fantasy adventure. The second book was more straightforward than the first, but they were both great. I like Cole the best. He just seemed like an adventurous prankster type. I’m excited about the third book.”

There you have it. He just finished Huckleberry Finn and did not like it at all (to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I read it either). He’s on to The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Beast and the Bethany next. I know he’s going to love meeting The Beast. So, readers: what are some more books that my oldest might like?

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

Hush by Dylan Farrow- ARC Review

They use magic to silence the world. Who will break the hush?

Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.

From Dylan Farrow comes Hush, a powerful fantasy where one girl is determined to remake the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this review. This book is available now.

I was intrigued by the rather vague mention to dreams bleeding into reality, so I just had to pick Hush up. I have to be honest: this felt rather generic to me in many ways. Dylan Farrow is a skilled author, there’s no denying that, but the story itself felt like an idea that hadn’t been fully fleshed out yet.

Shae is the main character. When she was younger, her brother died of the Blot, a mysterious plague thought to be spread by ink. After her mother is murdered, Shae decides to track down the Bards, the only people who are now allowed to read and write. There is a reason for her choice, but it doesn’t really make a ton of sense if you think about it for too long. A good chunk of Shae’s decision to find the Bards is for knowledge. If anyone can help her, it would be them. This book is a lot of “don’t notice, don’t question”, with Shae needing to overcome her blind acceptance of things to discover the truth.

Unfortunately, Shae was a rather forgettable character. I never really got a feel on who she was. Again, I got the feel of a half fleshed-out idea. She was stubborn when it didn’t make sense to be, had the dreaded insta-attraction that I hate, and I just felt like she was more a stereotype of what people say all YA female characters are like, as opposed to being a full character. I don’t need to love a character to like reading about them, but feeling apathy regarding the main character definitely detracts from my enjoyment of a book.

The world itself is a fascinating one, full of little details that make it more three-dimensional, and it’s apparent that the author has a vision and is capable of realizing it. Even bare bones of the plot are pretty stinking cool. It just needs to be a little more developed.

I have a feeling that this series will grow and evolve into something great as it continues on. Unfortunately, I won’t be reading any subsequent books. Hush was just not for me.

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall- The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour

EYibC4aWoAIlHxyMagic. Sailing. A murderer among heroes.

Gravedigger Volke Savan wants nothing more than to be like his hero, the legendary magical swashbuckler, Gregory Ruma. First he needs to become an arcanist, someone capable of wielding magic, which requires bonding with a mythical creature. And he’ll take anything—a pegasus, a griffin, a ravenous hydra—maybe even a leviathan, like Ruma.So when Volke stumbles across a knightmare, a creature made of shadow and terror, he has no reservations. But the knightmare knows a terrible secret: Ruma is a murderer out to spread corrupted magic throughout their island nation. He’s already killed a population of phoenixes and he intends to kill even more.In order to protect his home, his adopted sister, and the girl he admires from afar, Volke will need to confront his hero, the Master Arcanist Gregory Ruma. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Also, thank you to The Write Reads for allowing me to join the book tour. This book is available now.

Every once in a while a book comes along that reminds me why I love the fantasy genre so much. I’m happy to say, this is one such book. So, brace yourself: I’m about to wax enthusiastic. Let me just roll up my sleeves, crack my knuckles, and…here we go!

As many great stories do, this starts with a youth who wants more. Volke is a gravedigger, but he wants to become an arcanist, leave his small island home, and travel the world. He wants to be a hero. An arcanist is someone who has a magical bind with a fantastical creature which allows the arcanist magical powers that correspond to the creature’s magic.When Volke gets his dream, it doesn’t quite go as planned. It turns out that the person he’s looked up to his entire life might just be a murderer. And Volke needs to stop him.

I found Volke to be an interesting character. On the one hand, I loved his determination and desire to be a hero. On the other, he could throw a rocking pity party. It made him extremely believable and, surprisingly, still likable. I have to say, though, my favorite character was a certain drunk mentor who stole every scene he was in.

One thing I enjoy about the fantasy genre is the opportunity to be creative. There’s no limits to what is allowed when creating a fantasy world, and author Stovall took advantage of that. The world is remarkable. The sheer amount of thought put into the history and customs are astonishing.And the creatures! White harts, phoenixes, harpies, and more! You’d think having such a huge variety of creatures would feel like too much, but it’s quite the opposite. Each has its place and function in the story. I was a huge fan of the scenes involving the white hart in particular because it was such an original way of using that fantastical creature.

The book never lagged, and no character was superfluous. I was able to sit back and enjoy the confidence with which Stovall wrote. I love being able to disappear into a fantasy world for a while!So? Who should read this book? Everyone. Enjoy!

Shami Stovall is a multi-award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction, with several best-selling novels under her belt. Before that, she taught history and criminal law at the college level, and loved every second. When she’s not reading fascinating articles and books about ancient China or the Byzantine Empire, Stovall can be found playing way too many video games, especially RPGs and tactics simulators.

If you want to contact her, you can do so at the following:Website: https//sastovallauthor.com
Twitter: https//twitter.com/GameOverStation/
Facebook: https//www.facebook.com/SAStovall/
Email: s.adelle.s@gmail.com

Venators: Promises Forged- The Write Reads Blog Tour

Venators Promises Forged

It has been mere days in the world of Eon, where Rune Jenkins, her twin brother Ryker, and their friend Grey have been trapped, fighting for their lives. After discovering the truth of their ancestry, the three are far from home, and far from anything resembling their mundane lives of the past.

While Ryker is still held captive by the eerily beautiful Zio and her goblins, Grey falls into the clutches of Feena, the Fae queen. She begins to drain his soul bit by bit to feed her dark underground garden, and Grey has no hope of escaping on his own.

It is now up to Rune to save Grey, as his precious time slips away inexorably. But the Council has denied her permission to embark on a rescue mission, until she can harness her Venator gifts and prove herself capable of venturing into the Fae queen’s territory. As Rune discovers that promises in Eon are forged with life-or-death consequences, she realizes that she must act quickly, or else be swallowed and Grey along with her by the dangers of Eon. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author and Dave at the Write Reads for a copy of this book and for including me in the blog tour. This book is available now.

This book is the sequel to Venators: Magic Unleashed. I’ve done my absolute best to keep this review spoiler-free.

This book is full of action, a sweeping fantasy world, and a surprising amount of character development. The author continues to make her world bigger, and more detailed as the series continues on. I’m used to seeing vampires and werewolves or dragons and warriors or fey creatures in a fantasy book: this series has all of them, and more. Author Devri Walls manages to make this enormous world unfold naturally. She has different cultures, mythologies, and histories all fully formed. It’s pretty cool.

The characters were a little confusing at times. Rune was often fun (and I can relate to getting hangry), but her relationship with Grey was just…odd. I couldn’t get a handle on Grey, but he was going through a lot emotionally, so maybe that’s why. The side characters were all interesting, especially Beltran.

I found this book to be enjoyable. If you like fast-moving fantasy with a slight hint of romance (slight enough that this romance-hating reader wasn’t annoyed), then this series is for you.

Have you read this? What did you think?

 

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

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Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s what I thought the book was going to be: an old, misunderstood woman rescues a boy and nurses him back to health. As she does so, she comes to care for him as a son, leading her to try to solve the mystery of what happened the night he went missing. I was WAY off. This is about two teens who have one of those “instant connections.” You know – the kind where they both think they’re destined to be together forever, despite not knowing anything about each other. Oh – and ignoring the fact that there’s a possibility that one of them is a murderer. So, you know. It’s your usual boy-meets-girl – meets weirdness story.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know this sort of book is not my thing. It’s on me; I completely misunderstood the plot when I bought this book. I’m going to do my best to proceed as though this is something I’d normally read, and review it accordingly. Please bear with me and wish me luck!

Firstly, let me say that Shea Ernshaw did an excellent job of describing not only the setting, but the feel of the story. It takes place in an isolated, snowed-in area, near a forest that’s known to be haunted. There’s a boys’ camp across the lake, but that’s it. It was very well communicated that if anything were to happen, the few people up there would have to fend for themselves. It’s an interesting way to raise the stakes and one that she put to good use here.

The characters, while not what I expected, were likable. Oliver, in particular, was a fascinating character. He started out with a spotty memory, which turned into secrets as he slowly began to piece things together. I liked that he was an unreliable character. He clearly couldn’t be trusted but the question is: are his secrets harmless?

The story itself was just okay. I knew each twist before it happened, and the ending was a bit of a letdown for me. I’m not a huge fan of the deus ex machina trope (is that a trope?), and it just didn’t work for me. However, I have a feeling that I’ll be in the minority on this opinion. If you like stories where something random happens to suddenly save the day, this one’ll be right up your alley.

Over all, if you’re into supernatural mysteries with more than a hint of romance, this book will be one for you. It’s not my thing, but it’s a skillfully told representative of that type of story.

Ruthless Gods by Emily A. Duncan

Amazon.com: Ruthless Gods: A Novel (Something Dark and Holy ...
Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. Their paths are being orchestrated by someone…or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

In her dramatic follow-up to Wicked Saints, the first book in her Something Dark and Holy trilogy, Emily A. Duncan paints a Gothic, icy world where shadows whisper, and no one is who they seem, with a shocking ending that will leave you breathless. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Gothically gorgeous, this follow-up to Wicked Saints (review here) was everything I wanted it to be. I loved the darker vibe, and the progression of characters. It took a little bit longer to really “get going” than the first book did, but the character-building made it worth it. All of the main players have had their world shaken in some form or another, and seeing how they handled it (or didn’t) was fascinating.

I enjoyed reading about Nadya’s crisis of faith (for lack of a better term); it was heartbreaking and interesting, all at once. As in Wicked Saints, Malachiasz was my favorite (I’ve nicknamed him “Mal” because there is zero chance I’ll ever read that name correctly). He’s such a complicated character; I love it!

Emily A. Duncan’s strength lies in her ability to create an atmosphere both dangerous and foreboding. I had no idea what was going to happen next, which was fabulous. My only complaint about this book is that I would have loved to have a summary from Wicked Saints in the beginning, simply because so much happened.

If you like a darker feel to your fantasy, this series is for you.

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Image result for chain of goldCordelia Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, a warrior trained since childhood to battle demons. When her father is accused of a terrible crime, she and her brother travel to London in hopes of preventing the family’s ruin. Cordelia’s mother wants to marry her off, but Cordelia is determined to be a hero rather than a bride. Soon Cordelia encounters childhood friends James and Lucie Herondale and is drawn into their world of glittering ballrooms, secret assignations, and supernatural salons, where vampires and warlocks mingle with mermaids and magicians. All the while, she must hide her secret love for James, who is sworn to marry someone else.

But Cordelia’s new life is blown apart when a shocking series of demon attacks devastate London. These monsters are nothing like those Shadowhunters have fought before—these demons walk in daylight, strike down the unwary with incurable poison, and seem impossible to kill. London is immediately quarantined. Trapped in the city, Cordelia and her friends discover that their own connection to a dark legacy has gifted them with incredible powers—and forced a brutal choice that will reveal the true cruel price of being a hero. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s the weird thing: the Shadowhunter books have everything I hate in a book. Annoying love triangles (or octagons)? Check. Constant clothing descriptions? Check. Angst coming out of the wazoo? Double check. So, why on earth are these books my guilty pleasure (except for Queen of Air and Darkness. That was an unmitigated disaster)? Two reasons: the universe Cassandra Clare has created, and Magnus Bane. Now that we’ve gotten that figured out, let’s move on to my actual review, shall we?

I was incredibly nervous about this book after reading Queen of Air and Darkness. Thankfully, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Cassandra was back in form for this book, and it worked very very well. There wasn’t anything earth shattering in terms of plot: there’s still angst, misunderstood and unrequited love, and brooding galore, but the sense of fun in previous books was back. There were many more fight scenes, which I loved. I enjoyed seeing the creativity used to describe some of the demons, and the seraph blades were in use again, which was something I’d been missing lately.

The characters were all a blast, although two stood out to me: Lucie, a spunky Shadowhunter who writes truly terrible fiction in her spare time; and Matthew, a ne’er do well with a sardonic sense of humor and hidden depth. The book centers around Cordelia, who has traveled from Idris with her mom and brother, in an attempt to ingratiate herself into London Society, the end goal being to help her dad who has been accused of a grievous crime. Of course, all chaos breaks loose, and the next thing you know, demons are running amok. There’s also a mysterious illness that is striking down Shadowhunters.

Cordelia, Lucie, and Matthew are joined by their friends, jokingly known as the Merry Thieves, as they try to do what the Clave can’t: save their friends. The storyline was a lot of fun because there was a bit of a mystery thrown in. I also enjoyed the Merry Thieves and their camaraderie. It felt very genuine. The James-Cordelia- Grace love triangle annoyed me, as love triangles always do. It wasn’t as bad as it’s been in the last few books, however; there was more to the book than just angst, which was fabulous.

Magnus made a short appearance, which I loved. The book is fast-paced, and once again the world itself is a load of fun. For those of you who haven’t read any of Cassandra Clare’s books, think Buffy with tattoos, and you’re close. I always enjoy seeing the vampires, fae, warlocks, Silent Brothers, and more that show up.

There were some things that I didn’t love, aside from the angst I’ve already talked about. Anna, for example. I wanted to love her, but the author had her constantly winking. It was weird. In every single one of her scenes, she “dropped a wink.” I ended up imagining a constant eye twitch. It made what could have been an awesome character fall a little flat.

I also didn’t love Tatiana, mainly because I wanted a more three dimensional character than what was written. There’s still time for development for her, though, so we’ll see.

All in all, I found Chain of Gold to be a blast to read. I’m looking forward to Cassandra Clare’s next book, something I wasn’t sure would happen again. Yay!