Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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*This is the second book in the series, the first is Six of Crows*

Overall Score: 10/10

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Adventure

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Release Date: September 27, 2016

Source: Bought

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Review – NO spoilers

First of all, if you’re reading this review and you haven’t read Six of Crows, go read that immediately.

Opening this book and starting to read was like seeing a friend you haven’t seen in a while. I did a reread of Six of Crows a few weeks ago and I remembered just how much I loved every single one of the characters. The character development in this book was absolutely phenomenal. The characters questioned what they thought they knew about themselves and their limitations and each of them grew an enormous amount this book. Some of the moments were absolutely heartbreaking and some made me smile.

Even though this is a fantasy series, there are many parallels between the problems experienced by the characters and real-life. Leigh Bardugo addresses everything from a change in faith, whether in a god or a loved one, to mental illness to physical disabilities. Part of what makes her characters so incredible is that, even though they have these fantastical skills, they are ultimately relatable as human beings. It’s incredibly rare that I’m unable to pick a favorite character in a book but after reading Crooked Kingdom, I can’t pick any one character in the crew (except Kuwei, I’m not a huge fan of his) as my favorite. The crew is a family and each character brings something crucial to the group and to the story.

As for the plot itself, just wow. Hold on tight, you’re in for a wild ride. If you enjoyed the heist aspect of Six of Crows, this book is essentially how the team pulled off the ultimate con. I was constantly guessing and in suspense as to what the next move would be. While Six of Crows was more focused on action, this book was more about getting into the mind of your enemy. Seeing everything unfold was like seeing two chess masters face off, albeit with a lot more tension and suspense.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to these characters and their world just yet so I’ll be hoping for more novels from Leigh Bardugo in the future. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book that I believe sums up the duology perfectly while demonstrating the difference between this series and the original Grisha trilogy.

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary….When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

Review: The Timeseer’s Gambit by Kate McIntyre

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*This review is for the second book in a series, you can read my review of the first book here.

Overall Score: 7/10

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Steampunk

Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press

Release Date: August 4, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher (Curiosity Quills Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

It’s been three months since mild-mannered Christopher Buckley began working with Olivia Faraday, the eccentric Deathsniffer. They’ve hunted killers, solved murders, and learned to work together. But their greatest challenges are yet to come…

As a brutal heat wave wracks an increasingly unstable Darrington City, someone is killing young priests. Worse, they are using bound elementals to do it. As Chris and Olivia contend with rogue spiritbinders and a church under siege, the clock ticks down toward the trial of Doctor Francis Livingstone, accused of orchestrating the fall of the Floating Castle and the death of thousands. Chris believes the doctor is innocent, but the tide of the conspiracy aligned against him is strong enough to wash away anyone who would stand for him.

How far is Chris willing to go to save the doctor? Can Darrington city survive the rival forces tearing it apart? And can Olivia find her first serial killer before another body drops?

Review – some spoilers

This novel picks up a few weeks after the ending of the first book in the series, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. Chris is still dealing with the suicide of Fernand, his old family friend and mentor, as well as coming to terms with Rosemary’s departure for the country. This novel starts out with the mysterious murders of young priests. The clergy in this world are those without magic and yet the murders are being committed in locked rooms through the use of bound elementals, something no one in the clergy should be able to do.

Locked room mysteries are usually quite entertaining, however the mystery was not the focus of the novel. The investigation and the clues were interspersed between moments of Chris’ life outside of the investigation. While the multiple subplots worked for the previous book, I think that the author tried to accomplish too much in this sequel. Continuing the political aspect with the trial of Dr. Livingston, including Rosemary and her life in the country, as well as Chris’ exploration of his sexuality meant that not much time was spent on the investigation.

The growing romance between Chris and Will was an absolute delight to see. This was one of the few instances where I did not mind seeing a love triangle, mostly because of how understandable it was. Will is a wonderful character and we find out more of his backstory in this book (which made me like him even more). While I am rooting for the two of them to end up together, I applaud the author for allowing Chris to be confused and take the time to figure out where his heart belongs. Additionally, there was another couple revealed in the story that showed a new dimension to a secondary character and the society they live in.

Regarding the actual murder mystery, it wasn’t quite as interesting as the first. The investigations did reveal how individuals are categorized and the effects the testing had one those who were not gifted. The insular nature of the clergy and the variety of backgrounds made for some interesting revelations. However, the ending was rushed and was entirely unexpected. Had the novel been focused on building the suspense of the mystery, I think that the resolution would have had a much greater impact on the reader.

This book was enjoyable and a relatively quick read despite how slow certain parts were. I am very intrigued to see what overall story the author is building to and I will read any future installments in this series.

Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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Overall Score: 7/10

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: March 7, 2017

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Review

If you’ve read Memoirs of a Geisha and enjoyed it, then you’ll enjoy this book.

This book is essentially a retelling of that story, albeit one set in a fantasy world. There are two stories told in alternating chapters. Rather than dealing with two different individuals, each story is about a different time period in one girl’s life, which is an interesting narrative choice. I found one story much more interesting than the other, although learning about Tea’s past gave some context to her current story.

After Tea, the main character, accidentally raises her brother from the dead, she is taken to a school for asha, who are essentially a combination of geisha, warrior (some of them), and witch. On her journey there, we learn how the dark asha, namely those who can raise the dead, are regarded in the different countries and what they can do. The author did a good job with the world building.

The book starts to majorly slow down once Tea arrives at the school for asha. After a rather promising start that involves a prank gone awry, this portion of the book becomes entirely focused on Tea learning how to be a proper asha. This involves dressing correctly, learning how to sing/dance, how to fight, and not a lot about actually using her magic. There are a few amusing things that happen but this part felt very much like I was re-read Memoirs of a Geisha.

Things pick up in the last 15% of the book, with Tea finally getting to actually use her powers. However, despite a few passages describing her lessons as a dark asha, her control of her powers seems to come from nowhere and doesn’t quite make sense in regard to character development. Had the middle portion been significantly condensed, I think that the ending of this book would make a good middle section.

Regarding the other storyline, we never really find out much detail about why Tea was exiled, what she did, how she acquired all of the stones, or anything else really. Had the first storyline converged a little more with this one, perhaps it would have made sense. As it is, I was left wanting a lot more information.

Overall, this book does show promise, however I think another round of edits and perhaps a condensation of the middle section would greatly benefit it. I would probably read the second book in the series if given the chance because I do like the premise and am curious as to how it turns out.

Review: Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae

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Overall Score: 8/10

Genre: Mystery, Fiction

Publisher: Pegasus Books

Release Date: December 6, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

Set in the weeks before the annual Inversgail Literature Festival in Scotland, Plaid and Plagiarism begins on a morning shortly after the four women take possession of their bookshop in the Highlands. Unfortunately, the move to Inversgail hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’d planned.

First, Janet Marsh is told she’ll have to wait before moving into her new home. Then she finds out the house has been vandalized. Again. The chief suspect? Una Graham, an advice columnist for the local paper—who’s trying to make a name for herself as an investigative reporter. When Janet and her business partners go looking for clues at the house, they find a body—it’s Una, in the garden shed, with a sickle in her neck. Janet never did like that garden shed.

Who wanted Una dead? After discovering a cache of nasty letters, Janet and her friends are beginning to wonder who didn’t, including Janet’s ex-husband. Surrounded by a cast of characters with whom readers will fall in love, the new owners of Yon Bonnie Books set out to solve Una’s murder so they can get back to business.

Review

Janet, Christine, Tallie, and Summer have all just moved to Scotland and taken over a bookstore from its former owners. They all left their lives in the States for various reasons and begun a business venture that will encompass the bookstore, a tea shop, and a B&B. Unfortunately, the town’s local agony aunt/“investigative reporter” is murdered in the garden shed of Janet’s house.

The four main characters in this book were all absolutely wonderful. They come from a variety of backgrounds (lawyer, librarian, social worker, and reporter) and have decided to pursue their dream. In all honesty, I was a little jealous of them and would happily switch places with them, murder or no murder. The way the dialogue is written reminds me of conversations I’ve had with my aunt and mother. It was quick, interesting, and incredibly funny at times. While the relationships between all four women are loving, they do have their moments of tension and disagreement like any family does. I would read the rest of the books in this series just for these four characters.

The town truly comes alive in this book as the secondary characters and local establishments are each given their own personality. From the bar at Nev’s to Basant’s local grocery store, I could see how the characters lived. Small town life is well portrayed in this novel. Everybody has secrets and some of the revelations had me laughing out loud (such as who exactly the knitting old lady was).

Regarding the plot, this was definitely not a thriller. It would be best enjoyed curled up with a good blanket and hot beverage. The plot does move along but not at a lightning fast pace. The clues are discovered through detective work and coincidence. The ongoing notes of the four women are wonderfully detailed and the reader goes through the investigation with them. The ending is perfect and wraps everything up nicely. I can’t wait to read the next installment of this series.

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

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Overall Score: 9/10

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Random House BFYR

Release Date: September 20, 2016

Source: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

Review (Slight Spoilers)

This book, despite its length, was a very quick and easy read for me. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys young adult historical fantasy. This book takes place in a Victorian London that has magic. However, after a witch and a magician opened the portal between worlds and unleashed the Ancients (demons that some theorize represent the seven deadly sins), only sorcerers are allowed to live and continue practicing magic.

The world-building in this novel was excellent. There was never a huge dump of information but rather the mysteries of this alternate world were unveiled throughout the story. This was likely due to the fact that Henrietta, a girl from a small town orphanage, was being introduced to the city for the first time. I also really enjoyed how the author portrayed the discrepancy between the rich and powerful and the poor. She introduced a variety of different opinions and had the characters argue their views.

Having Henrietta not actually be a magician did raise some rather interesting questions and lead to what was perhaps my favorite part of the novel. Her lessons from the magician showed us more of the world and her powers than any of the training she did with her fellow sorcerer trainees. Her different relationships with them were entertaining and I did enjoy seeing the way one romance developed. However, the love triangle (or square depending on how you look at it) took away from the rest of the book for me. Without spoiling anything, I think the slow developing romance that focuses more on similarities and training to fight the Ancients was the only one that I really cared about and could see the chemistry for (okay, I got a little emotionally attached and picked a favorite).

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable book and I will happily read all future installments in this series.

TBR Sunday: Volume 2

I’ve discovered so many excellent books in the last two weeks (I did mean it to be one but then life got crazy for a little bit). Ever since joining Bookstagram, I’ve been finding book recommendations left and right. All of those are in addition to the ones I find while browsing online or stopping in a local bookstore to just check out what they have. Anyway, without further ado, here are my top four picks! I decided to toss a non-fiction in there because it looks so interesting.

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The book: Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

Why I added it:

Summary: You may think you know women’s history pretty well. But have you ever heard of. . .
·  Alice Ball, the chemist who developed an effective treatment for leprosy—only to have the credit taken by a man?
·  Mary Sherman Morgan, the rocket scientist whose liquid fuel compounds blasted the first U.S. satellite into orbit?
·  Huang Daopo, the inventor whose weaving technology revolutionized textile production in China—centuries before the cotton gin?

Smart women have always been able to achieve amazing things, even when the odds were stacked against them. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs tells the stories of the brilliant, brainy, and totally rad women in history who broke barriers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors. Plus, interviews with real-life women in STEM careers, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to women-centric science and technology organizations—all to show the many ways the geeky girls of today can help to build the future.

Publisher: Quirk Books
Page Count: 240
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Release Date: October 4, 2016

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The book: Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip

Why I added it: Sarah J. Maas recommended a few books in her latest newsletter. This was one of the ones that I hadn’t yet read so, after looking at the summary, I immediately added it to my TBR list. That’s about the best reason I can give.

Summary: Deep inside a palace on the edge of the world, the orphan Nepenthe pores over books in the royal library, translating their languages and learning their secrets. Now sixteen, she knows little of the outside world—except for the documents that traders and travelers bring her to interpret.

Then, during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that has defied translation. Written in a language of thorns, it speaks to Nepenthe’s soul—and becomes her secret obsession. And, as the words escape the brambles and reveal themselves, Nepenthe finds her destiny entwined with that of the young queen’s. Sooner than she thinks, she will have to choose between the life she has led and the life she was born to lead…

Publisher: Ace
Page Count: 291
Genre: High Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Release Date: February 1, 2005

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The book: Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Why I added it: I absolutely love stories set in Victorian England, particularly if they have a fantasy aspect. This one looked particularly interesting because of the mirror-world aspect. I’m crossing my fingers that there won’t be a love triangle but it sounds like it will focus more on the mystery aspect (and arranged marriages don’t usually result in love triangles).

Summary: Beautiful and nuanced as it is dangerous, the manners of Regency and Victorian England blend into a scintillating fusion of contemporary urban fantasy and court intrigue.

Between Mundanus, the world of humans, and Exilium, the world of the Fae, lies the Nether, a mirror-world where the social structure of 19th-century England is preserved by Fae-touched families who remain loyal to their ageless masters. Born into this world is Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver, who escapes it all to live a normal life in Mundanus, free from her parents and the strictures of Fae-touched society. But now she’s being dragged back to face an arranged marriage, along with all the high society trappings it entails.

Crossing paths with Cathy is Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds treaty with a dislocated soul who polices the boundaries between the worlds, keeping innocents safe from the Fae. After a spree of kidnappings and the murder of his fellow Arbiters, Max is forced to enlist Cathy’s help in unravelling a high-profile disappearance within the Nether. Getting involved in the machinations of the Fae, however, may prove fatal to all involved.

Publisher: Angry Robot
Page Count: 384
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Young Adult
Release Date: February 26, 2013

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The book: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshone

Why I added it: In case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. One of my favorite authors is Phillippa Gregory and this book was recommend for fans of her. I’m hoping that it will be more in line with The All Souls Trilogy as opposed to the Outlander series (I enjoyed books 1 and 2 but beyond that was a little much for me).

Summary: York , 1577: Hawise Aske smiles at a stranger in the market, and sets in train a story of obsession and sibling jealousy, of love and hate and warped desire. Drowned as a witch, Hawise pays a high price for that smile, but for a girl like her in Elizabethan York, there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. Four and a half centuries later, Grace Trewe, who has traveled the world, is trying to outrun the memories of being caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami. Her stay in York is meant to be a brief one. But in York Grace discovers that time can twist and turn in ways she never imagined. Drawn inexorably into Hawise’s life, Grace finds that this time she cannot move on. Will she, too, be engulfed in the power of the past?

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Page Count: 460
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy
Release Date: August 30, 2012

Review: The Deathsniffer’s Assistant

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Overall Score: 9/10

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Steampunk

Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press

Release Date: July 13, 2015

Source: Amazon Unlimited

Book Summary (From GoodReads)

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant is a fantasy novel with a unique pseudo-Edwardian setting and a murder mystery twist. What’s not to love about floating castles, eccentric lady detectives, and a protagonist who judges everyone by the quality of their shoes!

After losing his parents in the Floating Castle Incident, the sensitive and mannered Chris Buckley has spent six years raising his magically talented little sister, Rosemary. They have been living on the savings that his once-wealthy family left behind. That money is drying up, and Chris finds himself with no choice but to seek out work in Darrington City as it spirals into a depression. The only employer willing to consider his empty résumé is O. Faraday, the manic Deathsniffer. Faraday’s special magical gift is a heightened intuition which is invaluable in hunting down murderers.

When a Duchess calls on Olivia to solve the mystery of her dead husband, Chris finds himself tangled in Faraday’s daily life and unable to extract himself from the macabre questions of the investigation. His involvement grows more complicated as political forces close around Rosemary. They only see her as a tool that can be used to end the depression at the cost of her freedom—or even her life.

Chris must juggle the question of who killed Viktor val Daren with the responsibility of keeping Rosemary and her magic safe from those who would use her up and toss her aside. Worst of all, he begins to learn that the national disaster that took his parents’ lives may not have been the accident it seemed.

Set in a world very similar to 1900s London, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant combines the investigative murder mystery with a tale of personal and societal redemption. It is about the relationships between broken people who clash more often than not, but manage to shape and learn from one another in spite of this. The story is told from the perspective of Christopher Buckley, young and impressionable and influenced by the prejudices of his time, as he finds himself surrounded by a cast of exceptional women whose differing characters will slowly reconstruct his understanding of strength in others—and in himself.

Review

Warnings: This is a murder mystery series and some parts are graphic.

This novel begins with Christopher Buckley, the young, orphaned head of the once-great Buckly family, looking for a job in order to support his younger sister Rosemary. The world this story takes place in in a pseudo-Edwardian England with a strictly structured magical caste system. The world-building was fantastic, it never felt overwhelming or as if crucial aspects were missing. Rather, it was integrated seamlessly into the novel. The types of magic were well explained, from Rosemary’s binding power to Olivia’s death sniffing (a speciality open to truth sniffers). Depending on your categorization, only certain jobs are available to you, which is how Chris Buckley finds himself seeking employment with O. Faraday.

When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. All of that changed as soon as we met Olivia Faraday. She is mercurial, incredibly intelligent, and the best detective around (imagine a female Sherlock Holmes). She is also a death sniffer, a sub class of truth sniffer. She investigates murders and goes after the truth like a bloodhound. Her methods are highly unconventional yet effective. As she goes through the case, Chris observes and records all of her observations, the scenes, the characters, and her guesses.

Having access to all of the same information the detective has means that this is the best type of murder mystery, one where the reader can follow along with the investigation and test their wits against the detective. Even given that, I was still surprised when the murderer was revealed. However, I realized that there had been little clues available to the reader, I just had not been astute enough to connect the dots. While the central investigation ultimately drives the plot, the secondary plots are equally as interesting.

One of the secondary plots is centered on Rosemary, Chris’ younger sister and ward. She is an incredibly powerful binder of elementals and manifested naturally, which makes her incredibly valuable to certain political parties. Chris has spent the last six years attempting to conceal her ability and protect her. However, Rosemary is somewhat of a brat (which is understandable given that she is a young teenager). Her secret is revealed first to her new nanny and then to the world. I’m not entirely sure where her story will go next but it was interesting to see the competing political parties and learn more about the current state of the world.

The other secondary plot emerged toward the end of the novel and set the stage for some potentially very interesting revelations in the second book. The only thing that would have made this book better is a classification of the various types of magic, perhaps in a table at the beginning or end, and a little more world-building since some of the politics left me slightly confused.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable book. While the main mystery was solved, there was enough left unsolved that I cannot wait to delve into the second book.

Review: The Graces by Laure Eve

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Overall Score: 7/10

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Mystery

Publisher: ABRAMS Kids, Amulet Books

Release Date: September 6, 2016

Source: Received a free copy from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Book Summary (From NetGalley)

When a glamorous family of teenage witches brings a mysterious new girl into their fold, they unwittingly nurture a powerful black magic that could destroy them all. This paranormal YA fantasy features intrigue, spells, and a devastating twist. In The Graces, the first rule of witchcraft states that if you want something badly enough, you can get it . . . no matter who has to pay.

Everyone loves the Graces. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are captivating, wealthy, and glamorous. They’ve managed to cast a spell over not just their high school but also their entire town—and they’re rumored to have powerful connections all over the world. If you’re not in love with one of them, you want to be them. Especially River: the loner, new girl at school. She’s different from her peers, who both revere and fear the Grace family. She wants to be a Grace more than anything. But what the Graces don’t know is that River’s presence in town is no accident.

Review

When I put this book down after finishing it, I had no idea how I felt about it. I couldn’t even decide if I liked it or not. I’ve been thinking about it for two weeks now and I think that is itself a testament to this novel. Very few books I’ve read lately have made me think as much as this one did. Parts of it read a little like Mean Girls, parts like a thriller, and then the ending made me reevaluate everything I thought I knew about every single character.

The Graces are the three most popular high schoolers and River, whose family just moved to the area after losing her father, wants desperately to fit in with them. The high school dynamics were spot-on (from the inner thoughts about fitting in to the “oh my god, did I mess something up?”) and really made the story come alive. Most of the parts of the book set in the high school itself felt like Mean Girls but with a magical twist.

Having the characters themselves question the existence of magic even as they are performing was  a unique aspect to the novel. Each character had their own view on the magic of the family and seeing how those interacted made this novel unique to me. Additionally, the family dynamics added another layer to the novel as the Graces definitely had more going on than they would ever show outsiders, including River.

The ending was absolutely superb. I don’t want to ruin it for anybody but I can’t wait for the second book to see how everything develops and what happens next. Some things did seem to come out of nowhere but the concept of secrets was so embedded in the novel that it wasn’t surprising that there were important things the reader was unaware of. While there were aspects to this book that I wasn’t a huge fan of, I am hooked.