A kingdom, or this?: Reviewing Captive Prince (Book 1 in the Captive Prince trilogy) by C.S. Pascat

Hello everybody! I’m back and in an incredibly pessimistic mood, which is why I needed to escape into fiction again. I have read this book previously, but in the form of an e-book so I feel like I couldn’t properly absorb what was happening. I don’t know if anyone else feels that way about e-books, or if it just me. The Barnes and Nobles by me re-opened recently and this was my celebratory purchase. Time to talk about the Captive Prince.

Damen had everything as the legendary warrior prince, until his brother took the throne. He strips Damen of his identity and sends him off to Vere to be a pleasure slave, which has long been an enemy to his home country of Akeilos. While there, Damen learns that he will serve Prince Laurent, who is just as beautiful as he is deadly and cunning. Damen quickly learns of the danger that lies beneath the glamor of the Veretian court, meaning he has to hide his identity and make unlikely allies, or he faces a deadly end.

I realize that this book is rather controversial in its subject matter and not because of the Male/Male romance. For those of you who are not familiar with this novel, it does contain graphic sexual violence within the context of a society where slavery is commonplace. Maybe this does not shock me as much because I studied Rome and this reminded me quite a bit of Rome. Obviously, this isn’t to justify it and we have a main character, Damen, who is in the same mindset of the reader. This book is more about politics than anything, which I thought was the most interesting aspect. It actually has a very Game of Thrones feel to it where every character is trying to navigate through complicated politics in which they are trapped. Nothing can be done simply and that is what makes the novel so interesting. Again, I understand any reservations anyone else might have about the subject matter, but I personally enjoyed it. It was just steamy enough without being gratuitous and it leaves you wanting more. It felt like a reworking of some of the worst tropes that tend to pop up in erotic fiction. It certainly doesn’t feel like mom fiction or fan fiction. Pascat is very mature in the way she handles touchier subjects, while also bringing in some inclusivity in the LGBTQ+ genre of literature. Captive Prince is a unique take on a genre that has often been disregarded for so long.

Warning: The novel does contain moments of torture, graphic sexual violence (including assaults on underage characters), and mentions of blood and gore.

Toss a Coin to Your Witcher: Reviewing The Last Wish (An Introduction to The Witcher) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Hello everybody! I am doing better and I hope you all are doing better as well. I just got done re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and felt a little inspired by Uncle Iroh. I made a cup of tea and hunkered down with a good book. In this case, I was inspired by my newest Netflix obsession, The Witcher. Now, I am really not much of a gamer so I can’t speak to the video game but (obviously) I am a reader who has been lacking in the fantasy series department for a while. I may have finally filled the hole in my heart left behind by Game of Thrones.

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a fighter who is skilled in magic and murder. Before hearing a call to destiny, Geralt must traverse across the country and battle dangerous monsters in this series of short stories.

I apologize now for the vague summary but it took me a minute to realize that this novel is not the first book in the series, but an introduction to the actual series. I found this to be the most interesting aspect of the novel and one of the most enjoyable. I like the way Sapkowski eases you as the reader into the world as, sometimes, adult fantasy can be rather jarring with its levels of violence and sex. While there is violence and sex in the novel, it didn’t feel gratuitous. It also didn’t feel like the story had to stop for violence or sex. There was still plenty of room for Geralt’s character development as well as interesting world building. I also thoroughly enjoyed the dry and understated humor that was sprinkled throughout the writing. Overall, I enjoyed this first step into The Witcher series and I absolutely bought the first novel before I even finished this one. (Also the Netflix series is fairly faithful, if you are interested.)

Power Has Its Price: Reviewing The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Hi everybody! I hope a lot of you are at least seeing some improvement in every day life. I’m from the US so I don’t have many positive things to say at this exact moment. It felt very serendipitous that the prequel to The Hunger Games be released now. I had almost forgotten it was coming out this year until I saw the display at the store where I work. Of course, I bought a copy immediately. In my opinion, The Hunger Games trilogy still holds up as I read it through adult eyes. Now, let’s relive our pre-teen/teen glory days as we talk about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

As the tenth annual Hunger Games approaches, a young Coriolanus Snow is desperate to restore his once great family name to glory. When he’s given the opportunity to be a mentor for the Hunger Games, he realizes the odds are stacked against him as he must face his better prepared classmates. His initial anger with being tasked to mentor the tribute from District 12 turns into an opportunity when he meets the enigmatic, charming, and spontaneous Lucy Gray Baird. With a new sense of hope, Coriolanus must make sure that Lucy Gray survives the dangers of the arena, while he tries to survive the dangers outside of the arena.

Like many fans of the original trilogy, I was nervous at the idea of a prequel coming out so many years later. I, however, quickly became swept up in the world of Panem once again. Coriolanus Snow is an interesting character study, given the impression we have of him from the original trilogy. The novel presents an interesting dilemma as it shows someone who is so close to the edge of compassion for the reader, but still manages to be unlikeable. He has an almost similar origin story to Katniss, but with a different approach to the systems that have been used to oppress a population. Some work against it from the outside, while others work for it from the inside. The world of Panem was still just as familiar, but Collins adds a level of uncertainty as the Hunger Games are still in its infancy in this novel. I found this to be a very compelling read with the same no-holds barred level of violence and brutal honesty from the trilogy. I would say that fans of The Hunger Games will find this an interesting addition that offers an even more complex look at the dystopia of Panem.

What we do here echoes in eternity: Reviewing The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

Hi again everyone! I hope you all are still doing well. Maybe you’re doing better than before. I can say that I have experienced some improvements in my life, including being able to finish books quicker than before. Lately, I’ve been finding myself reading more books about books. I love the meta nature of those stories. Now, let’s talk about The Library of the Unwritten.

As the head librarian of the Unwritten Wing in Hell, it is Claire’s job to maintain and organizing books while also making sure the stories don’t escape from Hell’s neutral space. When a rather stubborn hero escapes from the library, Claire must go on a retrieval mission with her assistant Brevity and an awkward but kind demon named Leto. The mission soon turns into something bigger when they are attacked by a powerful angel named Ramiel, who believes they have the Devil’s Bible. This book could bring about a war between Heaven and Hell. It is up to Claire and her friends to find the book before Heaven and Hell begin their war with Earth as the battle ground.

This book was a random pick off the shelf for me and I had put it off for a bit. I must say, though, that this was a delightful read. The world of the book is so unique and an interesting way to view novels, written and unwritten. The novel has a nice, snarky sense of humor about it that balanced out with the heavier, more emotional moments. What I enjoyed the most, though, is how well-rounded and dynamic the characters were. Everyone had a satisfying arc, which I feel is rather rare at times. The Library of the Unwritten is a great fantasy novel that I found to be quite charming and endearing. I have a feeling other readers and authors alike will find enjoyment in this book.

Look Beneath the Surface: Reviewing The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Hi everyone! I’m back sooner than ever with another book review. It has been a while since I read a book in day. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. Thankfully, I found the perfect book to breeze through. In undergrad, I discovered Good Mythical Morning and it has been part of my morning routine ever since. I watch way too much Youtube, by the way. When I saw Rhett and Link were coming out with a novel (and a mystery one at that) I was pretty excited. Normally I am rather hesitant with debut novels but I am always willing to give them a chance and I was glad I gave this one a chance. Now, let’s talk about it.

Bleak Creek is a quaint little Southern town where incoming freshman, Rex McClendon and Lief Nelson spend their days trying to film their magnum opus, PolterDog. With the help of their friend, Alicia, the boy are determined to make history with their film. After an accident happens while filming during the church barbecue, Alicia is sent off to the infamous Whitewood reform school. Rex and Leif decide to take in upon themselves by teaming up with Janine, a film student looking to film her own documentary. As the group investigates, they begin to uncover the dark secrets that lie beneath the unassuming town of Bleak Creek, one that may put their lives in danger.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading this novel but I was certainly (pleasantly) surprised by what I got. The novel is way darker than I assumed, with plenty of twists that kept me reading onward. The town of Bleak Creek feels perfectly real as well as shockingly terrifying. There were parts were my jaw dropped from how dark the book became but that was the best part. The novel also had just the right amount of nostalgia that didn’t overpower the scarier elements. It definitely filled the Stranger Things void in my life. You don’t have to be a fan of Good Mythical Morning, either, to enjoy this book. It was a swift read with plenty of twist, turns, and shocks to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Warning: There are instances of blood and violence. It’s pretty PG – 13, though.

One Embraces One’s Enemy: Reviewing Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Hello everybody! Again, I hope you are all doing well and still holding together as we all start to realize that quarantine isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. (Not that anything about this situation is fun. I’m just hoping my sarcasm is clear in text). I am officially done with my semester and my brain is fried. Thankfully, I have time to get to my TBR list. I’m also planning on posting a “boredom” list of random things I have found to keep myself occupied. Before I get that, let’s talk about Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.

Tracker was well-known for his ability to hunt down anyone or anything with his remarkable sense of smell. When he’s hired to track down a nameless boy, he must team up with a shape shifting man only known as Leopard and other misfits. The more Tracker searches for the boy, the more creatures and enemies he runs into who are also after the boy. Now, Tracker is in over his head and he must find the boy and the truth behind his search.

It took me longer than I would like to admit to get through this novel but I was thoroughly immersed the whole time. The narrative voice is so authentic and layered with different characters overlapping each other. The world of the book is so rich and detailed. Some of you might enjoy that this novel has several maps in it. This book is also so infused with mythology that it gives the novel an almost hallucinatory quality (in the best way). It is a truly unique experience reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf. It is definitely a novel you might need to re-read in order to fully absorb the world. I would recommend this if you are a fan of either The Children of Blood and Bone or Game of Thrones. It delivers that epic element that all fantasy novels should.

Warning: The book does contain graphic violence and sexual violence. Please be aware if you are uncomfortable with either of those subjects.

We will make another path: Reviewing A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Hi everybody! I hope everyone is still doing their best to stay safe and sane as we continue forward with lockdown or quarantine or whatever you want to call it. I am a week away from being done with this semester. It’s a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I’ll have a break from the pressures of grad school and having to deal with online classes. On the other hand, I will be incredibly bored. I still have a stack of books I’m so excited to get through, though. While I wait to be free, I decided to review another book I read this semester. It isn’t what I would choose to read but I am very glad I read it. Here is my review of A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

Rafiq and Layla have only wanted what was best for their children, but tragedy drives their family apart. Now, on the day of their eldest daughter’s wedding, they must come to terms with the tragic past that has haunted them. First, they must come to terms with Hadia’s untraditional marriage, then their second daughter Huda’s determination to follow her sister’s path, and finally, they must try to reach out to their youngest and only son Amar, who has been estranged for the last three years. The family must learn to forgive the past in order to create a better future.

Like I said, this was a required novel so normally it is not something I would choose to read so I was happily surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. I am even writing my final paper on it. The writing is delicate and doesn’t pressure you to choose any one side as conflict happens. The characters are perfectly imperfect, which makes them feel like real humans. Mirza’s attention to detail within this non-linear novel is what makes this novel so unique. With the main family being Indian and Muslim, it offers a different perspective on tradition and culture. I think it is always important to explore other cultures, especially through literature. Even when Mirza touches on topics that are still rather taboo, like addiction, she handles it beautifully and carefully by offering multiple perspectives. The book is as heart warming as it is heart breaking with such great attention to detail. I would highly recommend this book if you are looking for a good tear jerker with a lovely message.

Rather die than doubt: Reviewing Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Hello everyone! I was finally able to knock a book off my TBR list! As much as I don’t like isolation or quarantine or whatever you want to call it, it gives me a good excuse to lock myself in my room and read to my heart’s content. This book is also one that has been on my radar for quite some time now. It was one of those books I picked up, read the description, and thought “This is right up my alley.” Now let’s talk about Ninth House (not The Ninth House).

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a survivor. After finding herself in the worst of circumstances, including being the sole survivor a multiple homicide, she is given the chance to join Yale’s freshman class, but this new opportunity comes at a price. Alex is paired up with the charming but arrogant Darlington who is tasked with guiding her through Yale’s secret societies. These societies thrive on magic and are home to many powerful figures. When a girl is murdered and Darlington goes missing, Alex must delve deep into the Eight Houses where she learns of the forbidden magic they use that brings back the dead and preys on the living.

Lately, I have had a fascination with the dark academia genre of novels and Ninth House is a perfect fit for the category. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of mystery and magic, all wrapped up in the politics of higher education. The main character, Alex, initially annoyed me but she becomes more sympathetic and charming, while still maintaining a deadly presence about her. I enjoyed the way that Bardugo set up her magical world with clear rules among the sensory rich and disturbing acts of magic. This book wasn’t too graphic or gory but did have just enough to make the stakes higher. Overall, I did enjoy this novel and would recommend it, whether you enjoy dark academia or not. (Note: I have not read any of Leigh Bardugo’s books so I can’t make a fair comparison there but let me know if they are worth checking out. I have plenty of time.)

Warning to readers: This novel does contain scenes of sexual assault and violence.

The world must bow before the strong ones: Reviewing Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Hello everyone! I hope you all are doing well and staying healthy during this time. My university is moving to online classes at least until the end of March. While it is scary, I prefer caution over anything else. The only bright side I am finding is that I can do some catching up on my TBR pile. Why not combat scary with something scarier? I have mentioned previously that Dracula is one of my all time favorite novels so I was very excited to find this gem amongst the other spin-offs. Let’s talk about Dracul.

As a child, Bram Stoker was bedridden with a mysterious illness and his only company was his nanny, Ellen Crone. Ellen Crone, though, is not what she seems. When mysterious deaths begin to happen around town, Bram and his sister Matilda begin to put together a pattern but their nanny disappears. Years later, Matilda reveals her ongoing investigation into Ellen to Bram. Now, as an adult, Bram must confront the mystery of his childhood and the deeper, darker secrets that put everything he knows and loves in dangers.

I was mostly drawn to this novel as it was co-written by Bram Stoker’s great-great-grand nephew. I am normally hesitant with spin-off novels like these but I was thoroughly impressed with this one. It is equal parts creepy, gory, and suspenseful. The writing is great as it hops back and forth through time, increasing the mystery. The first part of the book does drag on a bit, if you ask me but the ending makes it worth the wait. The novel definitely harkens back to the classic horror I love so dearly. Dracul was thrilling and enjoyable for me and any fan of horror literature. I would definitely recommend giving this one a chance, if you are unsure like me. (Just a heads up, though: There is some serious gore in this book so be wary).

an explainer of my own unique journey: Reviewing Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Hi everyone! I apologize for my prolonged absence from this blog. I’ve been teaching classes and as well as taking classes. I am cheating slightly because I did read this book for a class but I really wanted to bring awareness about this novel. It is important to me to breakthrough my usual genres and explore more. I want to widen the discussion and become more aware of social issues that exist outside of my realm. That is why I will be talking to you about Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

In Evaristo’s most recent novel, she explores identity, intersectionality, feminism, and other social issues through the interconnected lives of her characters. From a radical lesbian playwright, to a gender non-binary influencer, to a ninety three – year – old woman, these stories all involve complex internal and external issues they must face in order to full realize themselves in this heartfelt, charming, and unforgettable novel.

This novel is hard to describe but it is truly incredible. Evaristo plays with form and narration in order to make the novel so much more impactful. I was truly entranced by this novel and the areas it explored. Evaristo includes a very British sense of humor and self-awareness in order to bring you as a reader closer to the story. Since the characters come from all walks of life, it is easy to find someone to gravitate to. The way Evaristo blends together wider social issues with very personal stories is brilliant. It shows that we are all learning and no one is perfect, no matter who they are. I learned a lot from Girl, Woman, Other and it really redefined women’s literature for me. You don’t need to be British or a woman to fully appreciate this novel, which would certainly be a good pick for a book club. I cannot recommend this novel enough as it is perfect for casual or critical reading.

PS: If you had this novel, I would love to talk about it more with you so let me know in the comments.