When Night Breaks (Kingdom of Cards 2) by Janella Angeles

The competition has come to a disastrous end, and Daron Demarco’s fall from grace is front-page news. But little matters to him beyond Kallia, the contestant he fell for who is now missing and in the hands of a dangerous magician. Daron is willing to do whatever it takes to find her. Even if it means unearthing secrets that lead him on a treacherous journey, risking more than his life and with no promise of return.

After falling through the mirror, Kallia has never felt more lost, mourning everything she left behind and the boy she can’t seem to forget. Only Jack, the magician who has all the answers but can’t be trusted, remains at her side. Together, they must navigate a dazzling world where mirrors show memories and illusions shadow every corner, ruled by a powerful showman who’s been waiting for Kallia to finally cross his stage. But beneath the glamour of dueling headliners and never-ending revelry, a sinister force falls like night over everyone, with the dark promise of more―more power beyond Kallia’s wildest imagination, and at a devastating cost.

The truth will come out, a kingdom must fall, hearts will collide.

And the show must finally come to an end. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. When Night Breaks is available now. This is the second book in the duology. You can find my review for book one, Where Dreams Descend, here.

When Night Breaks was not the exciting ending to the Kingdom of Cards duology that I was hoping for. It continues on right where book one leaves off, which should have made the story easy to fall into, but instead it felt a little lackluster. There was more magic, more twists, more glitter…but there didn’t seem to really be purpose or reason to it.

Kallia finds herself in a situation that is dangerous and darker than we see in book one, which should have led to some character development. I’ll be honest: I didn’t love her in Where Dreams Descend, but she was prickly in an interesting way. Unfortunately, she seemed to have lost her self-confidence, instead retreating into herself in a way that wasn’t just counter to who she was in the previous installment, but also a little uninteresting. I appreciated her independent nature in book one and was a little bummed to see less of that. However, there was more of Jack who continued to be fascinating and dynamic. I’m a big fan of morally complex characters and he definitely fit the bill.

The other characters that I enjoyed in Where Dreams Descend didn’t really keep me enthralled this time around. It could be that they all worked better when they were able to interact with each other. Or maybe the situations they were in didn’t play to their flaws or strengths in a way that kept them interesting. I am not sure, but something just didn’t click for me. That being said, there were a couple of additions that I really enjoyed.

The world was cool, and I enjoyed seeing more of its hazy debauchery. Everything was overtly glamorous, with a hint of something off underneath, which was fantastic. I loved the feelings and images that were brought out in the world descriptions. That was the strength of this book. Sometimes a book’s worldbuilding suffers in the second installment, but here it continued to grow and amaze. At the end of the day, though, When Night Breaks felt a little disorganized. The author is obviously talented, but this book just didn’t quite pan out for me.

The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur Der Weduwen

Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes, or filled with bean bags and children’s drawings—the history of the library is rich, varied, and stuffed full of incident. In The Library, historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world’s great collections, trace the rise and fall of literary tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare manuscripts. In doing so, they reveal that while collections themselves are fragile, often falling into ruin within a few decades, the idea of the library has been remarkably resilient as each generation makes—and remakes—the institution anew. 
 
Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Library is essential reading for booklovers, collectors, and anyone who has ever gotten blissfully lost in the stacks. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Library: A Fragile History will be available for purchase on November ninth.

I was so excited to read The Library: A Fragile History! A book dedicated simply and wholly to the subject of libraries? Yes, please! This is an exhaustive, detailed dive into a subject that is dear to most book lovers: namely the history of libraries and the roles they have played over the years. I fully expected this to become a new favorite.

Unfortunately, that was not my final takeaway. This is the sort of book that does not benefit from a straight cover-to-cover read. It would be better taken in pieces over a longer period of time. There is simply so much information to take in. It is apparent that the authors took great care in doing their research and they spared no detail. And I mean no detail. Therein lies my difficulty. As much as the subject appeals to me, and as much as I’ve enjoyed other books about similar subjects, this book bored me.

It wasn’t for lack of knowledge on the authors’ parts. It wasn’t that the book was poorly organized. Rather, it was very well put together. There was just no excitement shown in the pages. I felt like the authors weren’t really all that invested in what they were writing. And that sort of rubbed off on me a little bit. This would make a great study guide, but as a book that is read for enjoyment, it just didn’t quite do it for me. I will admit that I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it in bits and bursts, instead of straight through. There was so much information to take in, after all.

If you don’t mind books that are a little dry, the information in this book might appeal to you. After all, if you’re taking the time to read a book blog, chances are high that you love books and libraries. I really wanted to love The Library: A Fragile History, but this book just wasn’t for me.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the Scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Young Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word bondmaid flutters beneath the table. She rescues the slip, and when she learns that the word means “slave girl,” she begins to collect other words that have been discarded or neglected by the dictionary men.

As she grows up, Esme realizes that words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded. And so she begins in earnest to search out words for her own dictionary: the Dictionary of Lost Words. To do so she must leave the sheltered world of the university and venture out to meet the people whose words will fill those pages.

Set during the height of the women’s suffrage movement and with the Great War looming, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. Inspired by actual events, author Pip Williams has delved into the archives of the Oxford English Dictionary to tell this highly original story. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a delightful, lyrical, and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Dictionary of Lost Words is available now.

I agonized over what to write about The Dictionary of Lost Words. I love books about the love of words (The Grammarians and The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary come to mind) and I had high hopes for this one. Ultimately, I think I may have expected too much. I liked the book, but that indefinable thing that elevates a book from “good’ to “great” in my mind wasn’t there.

That being said, The Dictionary of Lost Words was very good. The story starts with Esme, the main character, as a girl. She grows up surrounded by words. Her dad works to gather words and their definitions for the Oxford English Dictionary, along with a team of other men. Esme gets the leftovers, so to speak; the words not deemed appropriate or good enough for the dictionary. I loved that idea. I loved the focus on the importance of words and the way they can affect change. The premise was fabulous.

I did feel that the book meandered a bit, and I found my attention wandering a little here and there. I had a particularly hard time during the second half of it. It just didn’t hold my focus. I think it might have been the switch in focus to include a little more about Esme’s personal life as an adult. It just wasn’t my thing.

What the book might have lacked in pacing, it more than made up for in detail. It is clear that the author put a ton of time and effort into making the book as close as possible to how things were at that time. The Dictionary of Lost Words might be a great read for readers who really enjoy historical fiction. However, readers who are looking specifically for a book about words and their power might be a teeny bit disappointed.

Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training

Adam Stern was a student at a state medical school before being selected to train as a psychiatry resident at one of the most prestigious programs in the country. His new and initially intimidating classmates were high achievers from the Ivy League and other elite universities around the nation. Faculty raved about the group as though the residency program had won the lottery, nicknaming them “The Golden Class,” but would Stern ever prove that he belonged?

In his memoir, Stern pulls back the curtain on the intense and emotionally challenging lessons he and his fellow doctors learned while studying the human condition, and ultimately, the value of connection. The narrative focuses on these residents, their growth as doctors, and the life choices they make as they try to survive their grueling four-year residency. Rich with drama, insight, and emotion, Stern shares engrossing stories of life on the psychiatric wards, as well as the group’s experiences as they grapple with impostor syndrome and learn about love and loss. Most importantly, as they study how to help distressed patients in search of a better life, they discover the meaning of failure and the preciousness of success. 

Stern’s growth as a doctor, and as a man, have readers rooting for him and his patients, and ultimately find their own hearts fuller for having taken this journey with him. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on July thirteenth.

Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training is an engrossing look into the lives of those learning how to help those with mental illnesses and provide quality mental health care. Told from the perspective of Adam, a psychiatrist-in-training, it follows his life as he tries to navigate the world of mental health care as well as his personal life.

I don’t read memoirs all that often. In fiction, I do not need to relate to or like a character to enjoy the book- I just want them to be interesting. In nonfiction, it helps if I care about the person the book is about. Adam was supremely human and very open about both his strengths and weaknesses. That takes bravery on the part of the author. He vacillated between feeling very out of his depth and unqualified and seemingly having extreme bouts of self-confidence. I can definitely relate to feeling unqualified as I am well acquainted with Imposter Syndrome in most aspects of my life.

I loved seeing Adam’s growth in his ability to properly diagnose and treat patients, but more importantly in his ability to connect with his patients. He realized that his patients are more than just a diagnosis and list of medications: they are real people with unique stories, backgrounds, and experiences. Watching his empathy and understanding grow was an incredibly rewarding experience.

The patients themselves were fascinating. I wanted them all to find the help they needed and defeat their personal demons. I could feel the sadness in Adam Stern when a patient was lost (spoiler alert: not every patient has a happy ending). I could also see his excitement and renewed sense of purpose when a patient improved.

I did sometimes find the switch from Adam’s psychiatric situations to his dating life a little bit jarring from time to time. I understand why it was there-to highlight the way a profession in mental health affects every aspect of a person’s life- but I struggled to pay attention during those parts. It just wasn’t as interesting to me.

Taken as a whole, I found Committed to be a fascinating look at life as a mental health expert. It is an important profession, when taken up by caring individuals, and I have the utmost respect for Dr. Adam Stern for the aid he is able to provide.

In the Garden of Spite: A Novel of the Black Widow of La Porte by Camilla Bruce

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. In the Garden of Spite is available for purchase now.

Belle Gunness wasn’t always a murderer. Once she was a girl wronged. Once she was a child looking to escape. Once she was a hopeful mother. Maybe. Or maybe she was always vicious, always dangerous, and always hungry for violence. This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.

I had honestly not heard of the Widow of La Porte prior to this book. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m the most knowledgeable when it comes to the bloodier side of individuals. I was completely sucked in and spent most of the book wondering how much of this grisly story could possibly be true. It turns out, quite a bit.

Belle was originally named Brynhild and spent her childhood in Norway. The reader joins the story right at what could be viewed as the catalyst to Brynhild’s bloodlust. I have to be honest: I did skip past the opening experience that Brynhild suffered. I was able to infer what happened without reading it, and it is something that I personally choose not to read about in books. I don’t usually give trigger warnings, but please be aware that this book is harsh (it is about a serial killer, after all).

After her first murder, Belle traveled to America to begin a new life. This “new life” led to the deaths of many men, including two husbands. The way the story unfolds is nothing short of enthralling. Author Camilla Bruce had an amazing way of portraying a damaged woman who can hug her children and plan a murder in the same moment. It was disturbing and brilliant in equal measure.

In the Garden of Spite is told from two perspectives: one is Belle’s sister, who is initially unaware of Belle’s tendencies, and the other is Belle herself. It was fascinating to see Belle’s sister, Nellie, as she begins to notice that there are things that are off about Belle. As the story progresses, Nellie wrestles with her desire to protect her sister and her knowledge that she might be keeping secrets for a serial killer. I really felt sorry for her, while at the same time wanting to shake her. Her dream of “saving” her sister from a bad life in Norway left her with feelings of guilt and fear. It also left a hefty body count.

Belle herself was terrifying. She was cold-blooded but was able to mimic the emotions others expected from her. She was smart but rash. She was never overwritten, if that makes sense. Instead, she was incredibly well-developed with many layers. She definitely got under my skin.

I flew through this story and was equally fascinated by the author’s afterward, explaining where facts ended and speculation began. Holy crow, author Camilla Bruce was able to mesh truth and fiction brilliantly! I was left with shivers and the hope that In the Garden of Spite won’t be her only foray into the true crime genre.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost Book #1) by C.L. Clark

On the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire, two women–a princess and a soldier–will haggle over the price of a nation in this richly imagined, breath-taking sapphic epic fantasy filled with rebellion, espionage, and assassinations.
 

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
 
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
 
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Netgalley for providing me with The Unbroken in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This is going to be a tough one for me to talk about. While I really appreciated certain aspects of The Unbroken, I ultimately didn’t love it as much as I was hoping. The hype for this book was high, which probably unfairly raised my expectations.

Touraine is a soldier in the army of Balladaire (The “Sands” army). She didn’t sign up for the job; rather, she was forced in as a child. These child armies are raised with the teachings that their fight is a noble one and all violence will ultimately be justified. It’s really hard to think about because there are really situations of this happening in the real world. This added an extra weight to the situation that both intrigued and saddened me.

Luca is a princess of Balladaire. She ends up going to try to stop a rebellion and prove to her uncle, the regent, that she is worthy of ruling Balladaire. Like many power grubbers, her uncle is reluctant to relinquish any control. Touraine and Luca become intertwined when an assassination attempt on Luca’s life is stopped by Touraine, leaving Luca in her debt, so to speak. There’s more to the “how it got there”, but Touraine ends up being Luca’s spy/representative.

The Unbroken is a political fantasy, a slower-burn that shows the ramifications of decisions on every side. This sort of book requires commitment from the reader, simply because there is so much to pay attention to. The setup was a fascinating one, exploring themes of colonialism and how it affects everyone involved. It is not the sort of story I’ve really ever seen in fantasy before.

I struggled to pay attention during the first bit of The Unbroken, to be honest. I disliked both the main characters, which made it tough. I mean, I really disliked them. I think that was intended by the author. If so, consider the mission accomplished. I don’t mind disliking characters at all. I don’t need to “connect” to a character to enjoy reading them. My problem was that the characters often made decisions that seemed very much the opposite of what they would do based on what the author has told the reader about them. It made it very difficult to understand who these characters are on a fundamental level.

The pacing seemed a little off from time to time. However, while I had a hard time becoming invested at the beginning of the book, the second part picked up and became much more interesting. The Unbroken made me think. It kept me guessing. It showed me the ugliness that often shows up if a person so much as scrapes the surface of a situation. This wasn’t what I would call a “comfortable” book, but I definitely think it is absorbing.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark


Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world forty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city―or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…(taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on May eleventh.

This book takes place in a fantastical version of Cairo. I loved the creativity of the world. The way it was described painted a vivid picture of a new twist on an already interesting setting. I’m a big fan of that steampunk sort of world, so I was immediately enchanted. Magic abounded and everything was just a little heightened. I happily began to expect the unexpected.

A Master of Djinn follows agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi, who works for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, as she tries to solve a murder that rapidly goes sideways. I wanted to like Fatma, I really did. However, she just sort of irked me. She really wasn’t all that…competent, to be honest. I had a hard time believing she was the experienced agent she is supposed to be. Worse, though, is her personality. She was judgmental and condescending and it just really grated on me. Thankfully, her new partner Hadia was pretty much the opposite of Fatma. She was smart, eager to prove herself, and a fun character to read about.

Of course, the mystery soon turned into a much bigger situation. I’m a big fan of stakes being raised, but I do sort of wish this particular mystery had stayed just that-a mystery, as opposed to being a huge conspiracy (for lack of a better word). I was hoping for a whodunnit. I got both less and more.

I ended up being entertained by A Master of Djinn, but I didn’t love it. I honestly think what took it from the “love” to “like” reaction was Fatma. The mystery itself was interesting, and the world was absolutely fantastic.

I suggest this book to readers looking for a fun puzzle, set in a unique, fantastical world.

Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 by Terry Brooks

Escape to worlds full of adventure and magic in the first-ever Terry Brooks short-story collection, featuring both new and fan-favorite stories from all three of his major literary worlds: Shannara, Magic Kingdom, and The Word and the Void.

Here are heroes fighting new battles and struggling to conquer the ghosts of the past. Here are quests both small and far reaching; heroism both intimate and vast. Here we learn of Garet Jax’s childhood, see how Allanon first located Shea Ohmsford, and follow an old wing-rider at the end of his life. Here we see Knights of the Word fighting demons within and without, and witness Ben Holiday and his daughter each trying to overcome the unique challenges that Landover offers.

This collection of eleven tales is a must-have addition to the Terry Brooks canon—a delightful way to spend time with favorite characters, and a wonderful reminder of what makes a Brooks story such a timeless classic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 will be available on March second.

Terry Brooks is a giant among fantasy authors. Even if you haven’t read any of his works, chances are you recognize the name. He’s most well known for his Shannara books, although I personally like Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! the best. When I was given the opportunity to check out his short fiction collection, I jumped at the chance.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s Terry Brooks! Some of these stories add a new level to already established worlds and characters. His writing skill is on full display and is fantastic, as usual. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of his works, and it was fun to catch up.

On the other hand, some of the story additions were just odd. For example, the very first story was written for an anthology by Poul Anderson called Multiverse. It did not really make a lot of sense to make that the very first story, seeing as it was written for someone else’s anthology collection, and it alienated me a bit. If it was going to be in Small Magic, I personally would have preferred to see it pop up later on, after there had been some short stories that took place in worlds created by Terry Brooks.

My favorite story of the collection featured a cantankerous dragon. While I definitely felt that some stories were much better than others, I feel that most Terry Brooks fans will enjoy the collection, even if only for the sense of nostalgia it provides.

I personally didn’t love it as much as I was expecting, but it wasn’t awful. While Small Magic is worth checking out, I strongly suggest reading some of Terry Brooks’ full length fiction first.

Come Take Me: A Celestial Satire by Ethan Herberman

The time is now (almost), and some Americans have decided that Canada is not quite far enough from their roiling homeland. For them there is ComeTakeMe.com, a website where people advertise to get taken by aliens.

Will anyone succeed? How about Marshall M. Shmishkiss, a starry-eyed optimist determined to become his world’s most eligible abductee? Marshall trains his body. He trains his mind. He tries to prepare for every challenge that might await a lone human on a ship of galactic explorers. And soon he will face a choice.

Either make one final, Faustian attempt at leaving his planet . . .

Or get used to down-to-earth drudgery and the end of his dreams. (taken from Netgalley)

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

Marshall M. Shmishkiss is a man determined to leave it all behind. He doesn’t want to move to a new place or quit his job–he really wants to leave it all behind. He trains in an attempt to be taken by aliens. He submits videos of his training to a website called ComeTakeMe, where they are viewed by the company that oversees the website.

The employees of this company call him the “Shmish” and they get great pleasure out of laughing and mocking the videos. Honestly, it was really cruel, despite the oddness of Marshall’s videos. You would think that would immediately endear me to Marshall, but I did not like him much. I don’t necessarily think it’s the character that I didn’t like, just that I was unable to click with the writing.

When I read a book that is so other, I need to have some sort of thread that connects me to the story, or at least brings me along for the ride. In Come Take Me, I was often confused. Things felt a little…blurry, for lack of a better word. I feel like the book was a little disorganized, especially at the beginning.

While the story idea was a clever one, I ultimately felt a little “meh” about this book. I think that says more about me than the book itself. I just didn’t click. It happens sometimes. I wish the author the best with Come Take Me , but I can’t say I would recommend it.

Across the Fourwinds by Shane Trusz and Daryl Frayne

An ancient Gateway between worlds is vulnerable, endangering life on earth. Two teens begin an epic journey to find out why.

Since his mother’s tragic accident, Will Owens has been a loner. And for good reason: he claims to see dark creatures emerging from the forest near his home. Ostracism is a way of life until he meets Morgan Finley, a fencing champion with everything going for her—except a dark family secret.

In pursuit of answers, these unlikely friends enter the forest and discover a magical kingdom where a dragon has unleashed a powerful disease. When a young sage reveals their true identities, Will and Morgan join a small but courageous resistance on a quest to save the Fourwinds. (taken from Amazon)

A rather simple, but still enjoyable fantasy, Across the Fourwinds had things that I both liked and disliked. It’s a portal fantasy, which isn’t my favorite fantasy subgenre simply because it’s so difficult to get a proper real world/ fantasy world ratio. In this case the jump to the fantasy felt a teeny bit rushed. I would have liked the introduction of the characters to have a little more attention before throwing them into a new world. That being said, the world is pretty cool.

What I liked so much about Fourwinds is the amount of fantastical creatures. I love seeing how different authors tackle the use of familiar magical critters such as dragons and gnomes. While nothing was earth-shatteringly unique, the authors nonetheless made these creatures their own. The world has a lot to it, and hints at things not explored in the book. That always makes the setting seem larger and more interesting to me.

Now for the characters. I have a bone to pick here. The male characters are well-developed and continue to grow throughout the story. The female characters-not so much. I felt like Morgan existed as a mere background note, although there were pretty common reminders of how attractive she is. What a bummer! So much more should have been done with her character! There is lots of potential for character growth in the next book, so here’s hoping we see more from her.

The plotline was interesting, the world was vast, and there was action aplenty. Despite some hiccups, Across the Fourwinds was fun fantasy.