Reviews · Summaries

Forged in Fire and Stars by Andrea Robertson

# of Pages: 371

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 53

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ara has always dreamed of the destiny she was promised her whole life of becoming the Loresmith, chosen defender of Saetlund, like her father was before her. But just as she’s beginning to think she’ll never leave her small village and the life she’s always known, her fate finds her.

To free Saetlund from the crushing hands of the Empire that took over her land, she’ll need all the help she can get. Along with the royal twins, heir to Saetlund’s lost throne, a thieving servant of the god of travelers, and a secretive Summoner who’s power comes from the abundance of nature, Ara must find the reclusive gods of Saetlund if she hopes to reclaim her birthright as the next Loresmith. Though helped by some surprising allies, Ara and her new friends must travel far to find parts of Saetlund many consider to be only myth. But before Ara can help Saetlund become free again, she must prove her worth not only in the eyes of the gods, but to herself.

Review:

As a preface to the summary, I’ll provide a brief review. Some friends and I have formed a book club, we’ll be reading one book a month together, and once everyone is finished we’ll gather virtually and discuss. I got the opportunity to choose the first book of book club. I chose Forged in Fire and Stars from the various options I had in my to-read stack because I was nervous to “recommend” a book for our book club that I hadn’t read before, but I’d read other books by Andrea Robertson (who used to write under her maiden name, Andrea Cremer), so I felt confident that this book wouldn’t totally tank.

Despite having taken away one star from a perfect score, I’m thoroughly hooked on this as the first book in a new series. The world-building is creative and engaging, and the pantheon of gods Robertson has created are diverse and unique. My biggest criticism is that I feel as though I’m not particularly invested in the characters themselves. I’m certainly invested in the plot and where the storyline is going to go, but the characters aren’t particularly engaging for me. I’m certainly rooting for them, but I don’t feel for them, at least not yet. I’m certainly excited for the next installment, where hopefully there will be a bit more character-building now that the plot is fully set up in this first book.

!!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!

Cast:

Ara – fifteen years old, daughter of the last Loresmith who was slain when the Empire took over Saetlund. Raised by her grandmother, who taught her all she could about her destiny, she is bold when necessary, but often doubts herself. Interested romantically in Teth.

Eamon – eighteen years old, twin of Nimhea, royal child of the deceased King and Queen of Saetlund. Hidden away from Saetlund and raised in secret, he and his sister have returned to Saetlund to help Nimhea take her throne. A well-read scholar, he has been prone to bouts of illness his whole life and is not a capable fighter. Brilliant storyteller. Seems to have betrayed the group at the end of the book by leaving the rest and going to the Empire.

Nimhea – eighteen years old, twin of Eamon, royal child of the deceased King and Queen of Saetlund. The firstborn over her twin by a few minutes, she bears the distinctive fiery hair of the heir to the throne of Saetlund, and is determined to sit on that throne someday. She and her brother have returned to Saetlund to find and help the Loresmith gain power to help the rebellion take Saetlund back from the Empire. Well trained and very skilled with a sword. Romantically interested in Lahvja.

Teth – sixteen years old, a thief and and orphan. He was adopted by Lucket, the “Low King” of his province, and is a faithful servant of Eni, the god of travelers. Unwillingly agrees to help Ara and the twins reach their destination, but after finding out that Ara will be the next Loresmith, joins their quest, with the Low King’s blessing, to help Ara win the favor of the gods so that she can become the next Loresmith. Skilled with a bow and arrow. Romantically interested in Ara.

Lahvja – eighteen or nineteen years old, a member of Eni’s Children, a group of traveling artists who are known by the Empire as Imperial Players. A talented singer and by trade a Summoner, a magic practitioner who can communicate with the divine spirits of nature. She is very in-tune with the natural world, and often seems to know things the others do not. Unwilling to interfere with what she believes is the natural order of things. Romantically interested in Nimhea.

Lucket – Low King of Ara’s province. Adopted father of Teth. After meeting Ara, offers to help the rebellion by providing supplies and sending Teth with Ara and the twins on their quest to find the gods.

Eni – The genderless god of travelers in the Saetlund pantheon. Teth is their devoted servant, and they appear disguised throughout the story to help the questers along. Briefly disguises themself as Fox, the furry companion of Teth when Ara found him. Firmly on Ara’s side in wanting her to succeed to become the Loresmith.

Review:

Act 1

Ara has lived her entire life in her small mountain village, far from the eyes of the Empire. Her father died before she was born, fighting off imperial invaders. His death told the emperor that there were no more Loresmiths, as her father appeared to be unmarried with no children. Ara’s mother went to live with her parents. When Ara was young, a fever took her mother and her grandfather, so she was raised by her grandmother and a family friend, who taught her the art of being a blacksmith. Ara’s grandmother taught her how to use Iron Branch, the stave of the Loresmith, given to Ara’s grandmother for safekeeping before her father died.

Ara had begun to believe that her destiny of becoming the Loresmith would never come to pass, and that the gods perhaps weren’t as interested in restoring Saetlund as she’d thought when she was little. But one stormy day twins Nimhea and Eamon arrive and tell her that they’re here to help her fulfill her destiny in becoming the Loresmith, and that they needed her for their rebellion to succeed and to free Saetlund from the Empire.

Ara joins Nimhea and Eamon on their journey to meet up with the rest of the rebellion. On their way, Ara catches a thief stealing from the twins. She chases after him through the woods, only to find herself in the ruins of a shrine to Eni, the god of travelers. She confronts the thief, who calls himself Teth, and convinces him to give back the jewelry and coins he’d stolen off of the twins. Ara calls upon his duty as a servant of Eni to help her get back to her camp. Unwillingly, Teth does so, and is thus roped into joining them on their journey into town to meet the rebellion.

They end up fighting off some bandits in the woods, where Ara successfully defends herself with Iron Branch, as she is not allowed to ever attack anyone, or else she will never be a Loresmith. Nimhea and Teth successfully kill the bandits. That night, they meet a mysterious traveler in the woods, and Ara feels compelled to offer this old woman Iron Branch to use as a crutch on her way home. The old woman denies her offer, which is a relief, but Ara feels as though she passed some kind of test.

Upon arriving in town, Teth is about to split from the group, but he asks Ara to meet him later that night. She is intrigued by this roguish thief, so she agrees.

Ara and the twins meet with the rebellion, which consists of a leader from each of the provinces. They want to bundle Nimhea up and keep her safe until the rebellion is ready to make a strike against the Empire. Eamon says that he and his sister must help Ara to find the gods and gain their blessings so that she can become the Loresmith. The rebellion says they’ll have to talk more about it later, but don’t seem inclined to let their prized heir go off on her own.

That night, Ara goes to meet Teth. After a scuffle in the bar, Teth takes her to a secret location which turns out to be the court of the Low King Lucket. Ara learns that every province has a Low King that is ruler of the thieves, assassins, prostitutes, etc. Basically anyone who operates outside of the law. And the Low Kings have a habit of being able to pay the Empire to keep its nose out of their business. Lucket is intrigued by Ara, who won’t admit to him or to Teth that she is going to be the Loresmith.

Teth walks her back to the inn, and Ara realizes she’s interested romantically in Teth. Nothing happens, but she does tell him that she’s the Loresmith, and Teth reveals that Lucket is his adopted father, who saved him from starvation when he was a young orphan.

The next day, Ara and the twins work to convince the rebellion to let them go off on their own to search for Ofrit’s Workshop, which legend says will help Ara on her quest. The rebellion is about to shut that all down, when Teth shows up with a deal. Lucket the Low King and the other Low Kings want to help the rebellion, and in exchange they must let the Loresmith continue on her journey with the twins, and Teth would go along for protection. All the rebellion had to do was look into the children that had been going missing from the province lately. They were worried the Empire was taking them, as they had taken all children of a certain age away when the Empire first took over Saetlund. The rebellion agreed, and travelers were off on their journey.

Act 2

Near the end of the first leg of their journey, the group came upon a band of Eni’s Children, nomadic performers. The questers joined Eni’s children for food and performances. At their own camp later that evening, they are set upon by shadow hounds, sent by the emperors wizards to track them down. But before the hounds can reveal their location to the Empire, a mysterious figure is able to dissolve the shadow hounds and protect them. The stranger is revealed to be one of the performers from Eni’s Children, who’s name is Lahvja. She is a powerful Summoner, and says the gods have told her she is to join them and help the Loresmith on her quest. Though weary, they accept her help because they would have been toast without it.

(Throughout the story, the reader is given glimpses of the two sons of the emperor. The eldest is a military leader who is in charge of all the Empire’s armies, and with keeping an eye on the powerful but unpredictable younger brother, who is the ArchWizard. The ArchWizard is determined to find and capture both the Loresmith and Nimhea on behalf of his father, who “collects” such magical rarities from the kingdoms he controls. It is the ArchWizard who had his minions send the shadow hounds).

The travelers, now five, join a caravan controlled by Lucket’s people, to travel through dangerous bandit country. The group takes to Lahvja joining them pretty quickly, except for Eamon, who doesn’t seem to trust her. Nimhea and Ara both worry the long journey has been too tough on him, but he holes himself up alone every night, reading and rereading the legends that will help Ara find Ofrit’s workshop.

Their journey is pretty smooth, until their caravan is taken over by imperial recruiters, who are there to find any able-bodied men and women to join the army of the Empire. They are able to avoid detection, but the caravan is destroyed and they must continue on their own.

Soon after, they enter the Scourge, a dangerous desert known for being all but impassible. The questers forge on, and are nearly to their destination, the Bone Forest, when they are attacked by giant ants. Ara is able to save them and all of their horses using Iron Branch, but not without the seeming sacrifice of Fox, who sacrificed itself to stop the swarm of ants.

Teth is inconsolable, but the weary travelers reach the Bone Forest. Lahvja says that she and Teth will stay behind, that the rest of the journey is for Ara and the twins alone. They follow the path into the Bone Forest, where servants of Ofrit have traveled for centuries hoping to find Ofrit’s workshop, where they will learn his mystic ways and use them to become his holy servants in their communities. But first the trio must make their way through a number of tests.

Act 3

Their first test comes in the form of two doors, one of which is said to be the correct entrance to the Labyrinth they will need to solve to enter Ofrit’s Workshop. The other will lead them into a part of the Labyrinth that they will never be able to escape. Eventually, Ara solves the riddle, in that neither of the doors are correct, that they must travel up the “stairs” in the center of the doors, which allows them to continue on the path that they’d been on before. Upon solving the puzzle, they are in the Labyrinth at last, which is yet another set of riddles that are custom to Ara, who is the main quester. Eventually, they are able to find themselves on the correct path after figuring out the order of the pathway is set based on the Loresmith attributes from the stories. They have passed the test and are able to enter Ofrit’s Workshop.

In the workshop they meet Ofrit, who is grumpy and does not appear to want to help them. But then Eni appears, and the god of travelers reveals that they’ve been helping Ara and her group all through their travels. She convinces Ofrit to help them, and Ara, Nimhea, and Eamon are given two scrolls to help them find the rest of the gods to petition for their help. Eni also tells them that Ara will need to re-form the Loreknights, which in the past have been the protectors of Saetlund who wield special weapons forged by the Loresmith. Eni also tells Ara to let Teth know he need not mourn, that his companion Fox is safe at home waiting for him, that the Fox that sacrificed itself for them was in fact Eni wearing the disguise of Fox to help keep them safe on their journey.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the trio is gone from Ofrit’s workshop and back with Teth and Lahvja. The group celebrates the success of their first mission, and Ara and Teth share a long awaited kiss. But when they wake the next day to start on their next journey, the group finds that Eamon is gone, and he leaves a notes that suggests that he betrayed them to the Empire and has left to join them, though he says that he only did it to protect his sister.

Nimhea is beyond grief and Ara just can’t understand how their friend betrayed them like that. Clutching the note that spelled out Eamon’s betrayal, but also was clearly soaked in his tears as he wrote it, Ara finds that she has meditated herself into the forge of the Loresmith. There, Eni is waiting for her and tells her that now is the time to forge her first weapon as Loresmith. She has all the materials she needs, along with a special ingredient that she finds she is able to imbue the weapon with. When she is done, she has forged a bow and five arrows, which are tipped with the solid form of Eamon’s tears. This weapon is meant for the first LoreKnight, which Eni says will be Teth.

Ara returns to the real world and regroups her friends to continue their journey, as Eamon did leave one of the two of Ofrit’s scrolls behind.

In the epilogue, we are once again given a glimpse of the eldest son of the Empire, and it looks to be that he is the high-ranking double agent that the rebellion said was helping them from within the Empire, code name “The Dove”.

End of Book 1

A few last remarks. I picked up on the identity of “The Dove” pretty early on, but I was impressed by how surprised I was at Eamon’s betrayal. There were several little clues sprinkled throughout that I was able to see afterward, but I did not see it coming, and for that I tip my hat to Robertson.

!!!End of Spoilers!!!

Have you read Forged in Fire and Stars? If so, let me know how you liked it by leaving me a comment. I’m pretty happy with this first book club pick of mine, and I’m excited for the second installment of the Loresmith series, which is set to release June of 2021.

If you enjoyed Forged in Fire and Stars, try:

The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Defy by Sara B. Larson

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Reviews

Wolf’s Bane and Wolf’s Curse by Kelley Armstrong

# of Pages: 260 and 283

Time it took me to read: 2 days each

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 37 and 40

Rating: 5 out of 5 for both

It’s been sixteen years since Clay and Elena became parents in the sixth installment of Kelly Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld. Now Kate and Logan are all grown up, teen supernaturals in a community that is working hard on diversity and inclusion. So when Elena sets her children up to attend a teen leadership camp for supernaturals of all races, the twins think that it might be a good way to show other kids their age that they aren’t the big bad wolves.

But from the moment they arrive, things are not what they expect. From angsty roommates to fake boyfriends, this is looking like a tough weekend for the twin werewolves. But it isn’t long before the camp takes an even more sinister turn, and suddenly Kate and Logan are fighting for more than just acceptance, they’re fighting for their survival.

Don’t you just love it when authors put out sequel series to books you love? I thought I’d read just about everything in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, so imagine my joy and surprise when I found out she’d written a duology about Clay and Elena’s children, sure to be packed full of familiar, beloved characters and chock full of surprising references.

I was not dissapointed.

Kelley Armstrong isn’t the number one best writer in the world, but she is one of my favorites for a number of reasons, and all of these reasons were present here: she’s a wonderful storyteller, and these books are full of the big build-ups and surprise endings of all the previous Otherworld books. Though not as sexy as her adult books, I feel that these books have just enough romance, and an exploration of gender and sexuality that is wonderfully modern, particularly after reading Women of the Otherworld in the past six months (the first of those books was written before everyone had a cell phone, so they can occasionally come across a little dated). But there are gay characters, bi characters, a trans character, and even a character that was on the asexual spectrum that I really connected with personally. None of them are caricatures, and I feel like this is a cast that isn’t only diverse in their supernatural races, but it’s not overly whitewashed or heterosexual, and this diversity is where YA is going and I was glad to see that Kelley was keeping up.

Something that I did NOT expect, but was stoked to see, were characters that showed up from Armstrong’s Darkest Powers series, which is YA and Otherworld adjacent, and I had pretty much completely forgotten about, having only read once years ago. Having some of those characters show up just made me desperately ready for a re-read of those books, so I’m very excited about that.

My one criticism is that while the diversity of this cast was on point, you can tell it’s been a while since Kelley was a teenager, and some of the dialogue felt a little like something that a middle-aged woman thinks that teenagers sound like, but they don’t really. This is coming from someone who, granted, hasn’t been a teenager in a while either, but I think as people age, they forget that most teenagers don’t necessarily have a stylized way of speaking. But though a few lines made me cringe a bit, it was such a little thing that I couldn’t manage to knock off even a half-star. Because I’m pretty much a sucker for anything Armstrong writes, so they’re all going to be five stars from me.

If you’re a fan of the Otherworld series, I certainly recommend picking up these books. They’re terrifically short and delightfully readable, with an ending you won’t see coming. If you’ve never read Women of the Otherworld (which has 13 books and a few novellas), you can certainly start with these two for a more bite-sized taste and you won’t feel lost. I do recommend reading them chronologically, but I’m not here to tell you what to do.

If you liked Wolf’s Bane and Wolf’s Curse, try:

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong (Women of the Otherworld Book 1)

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (Darkest Powers Book 1)

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast (House of Night Book 1)

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Reviews

Lightbringer by Claire Legrand (The Empirium Trilogy Book 3)

# of Pages: 565

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 81

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is the final book in the series, so I don’t feel the need to post a summary, but I just wanted to do a brief review. This review will, however, contain some spoilers. Most of it will be spoiler-free, but I’ve got some opinions and I would really like to share them. I’ll be sure and mark the section with spoilers in big print.

Review

If you’ve read the previous two books in this trilogy, you expect an epic conclusion, and Legrand does not disappoint. This is a very large cast story, especially since it transcends two different timelines, and in this final installment I believe you get more perspectives than ever before. This bob-and-weave between two different timelines and multiple perspectives (though it does stay in third person throughout) might be confusing and overwhelming in most situations, but Legrand masterfully blends this story together to make it cohesive and comprehensible throughout.

However, this is the second sequel in a row where the author, in my opinion, breaks the unspoken rule where the writer must give little hints of the major plot points from the previous book within the first 50-100 pages as a little refresher. Fifty pages in I nearly put the book down and thought about doing a re-read, but that’s close to 1200 combined pages in the previous two books, so I decided to forge on through. I’ll definitely do a re-read of all three books someday though, so I can get the full picture, because I’m sure there are some things I missed due to waiting at least a year between each book.

I would also like to say that this is probably the heaviest of all three of the books. In all but perhaps the last one hundred pages, all four of our “heroes”, Rielle, Audric, Simon, and Eliana, are utterly tormented and trapped within their own hells. So if you’re looking for something lighthearted, Lightbringer might be one to save for later.

However, Legrand offers a masterclass in worldbuilding, engaging though sometimes slow-moving plot lines, and the most morally ambiguous cast of characters you’ll find anywhere (except for Audric, who is a cinnamon bun).

!!!START OF SPOILERS!!!!

Here are the two main problems I had with this book, besides being mildly depressed through nearly all of it:

  1. I’m not really sure that Rielle deserved the redemption that she got. This book showed her getting real twisted and bad, and for the first time I saw her as nearly as much of a villian as Corien and didn’t have much pity for her at all throughout. I think while it was important that she got to the point where she would have killed Audric had Eliana not stopped her, I think she should have had to work a little harder to earn Audric’s trust back. I think he forgave her for everything a little too easily. It’s okay to love someone through their mistakes, but I feel she should have had to work harder to earn back the little bit of peace she got from their relationship in the end.
  2. I feel like all of those characters in the future timeline that were developed through all three of these books got the short stick. I know the whole point was to defeat Corien in the past to prevent the timeline they live in, but Navi, Remy, Patrik and Hob, and even Jessamyn, all just wiped from existence. I would have appreciated a little epilogue of “1000 years later” or something that went over that these characters were still born, but not under the same circumstances…because just wiping them all out seemed cruel and lame.

!!!END SPOILERS!!!

Overall I think that this book was a well-written, generally satisfying ending to a wonderful series that I would certainly recommend to everyone who loves fantasy. And considering the last book that I read with time travel (see last week’s summary of Greythorne), I think this series did a much better job of making things with time travel messy and imperfect, just the way it should be.

If you’re a fan of the Empirium Trilogy, try:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (for epic worldbuilding)

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (for morally ambiguous protagonists)

The Reader by Traci Chee (for not-your-traditional happy ending)

Reviews · Throwback Thursdays

Bitten and Stolen by Kelley Armstrong (RE-READ)

# of Pages: 384 and 389

Time it took me to read: 2 days and 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 55 and 55

Rating: 5 out of 5 for both

 

Elena Michaels is a normal woman. She has a career she enjoys, a boyfriend that dotes on her, and gets plenty of exercise. Well, most of that exercise happens on four legs, rather than two, and that is exactly what makes Elena NOT normal: once every week or so, she has to sneak out of her apartment in the middle of the night to transform into a werewolf. It’s not a big deal, she’s put that part of her life behind her, it’s really only a minor inconvenience. Except for when her former Pack’s alpha calls her for help in a way she can’t refuse.

Soon Elena is once again wrapped up in the life she’s tried so hard to forget, the world of tracking down rogue werewolves and helping to ensure that the secret of her Pack stays that way. And as always she finds herself again entangled with Clayton, the man who’s heart she’s broken a hundred times but who can’t seem to let her go, despite the fact that they have a past which she can never forgive.

But Elena is never one to back down from a fight, and when the Pack is threatened, she’s left to defend it with everything she has.


*This sequel description contains SPOILERS*

Elena Michaels is a werewolf. She’s finally accepted it and found her place at Stonehaven, the home of the Pack, with her alpha and her partner, Clay. Just as she’s started to fall into her old routines of keeping the Pack safe from exposure, she stumbles upon a new secret she never suspected: werewolves aren’t the only thing out there that goes “bump” in the night.

Elena and her Pack are just one “race” of supernatural being out there: witches, sorcerers, half-demons, vampires, they all exist for better or worse. And lately, members of each race have been disappearing. Against her will, Elena is drawn into the mystery of where these supernaturals have been disappearing to – and who’s been stealing them.

I’m going to try and keep these reviews for books I’m re-reading pretty short. This series has 13 books in it (yup), so I’m not sure I’ll review them all, and many of them I’ll probably try to review in pairs (as these are the first two books in the series and share the same protagonist.

“Women of the Otherworld” is definitely one of my top three favorite series EVER in the adult fiction genre. Typically, I have struggled with adult fiction for a few reasons: too much unnecessary sex, not enough plot, poorly developed characters, and lack of quality writing.

I have absolutely nothing against the romance genre, there’s a reason it’s the most lucrative genre in publishing, but those types of books aren’t really for me. And though there definitely is a difference between romance and adult fantasy fiction, I’ve found that the “fantasy” aspect is really the only major difference in most of my experience. I’m not opposed to a few steamy sex scenes, but I need plot and character to be driving the book, not just jumping from sex scene to sex scene.

“Women of the Otherworld” books are filled with complex characters, fast-paced plots, and yes, a few steamy sex scenes to keep things interesting. Pretty much everything you could want in adult fiction, in my opinion. Those are just a few of the reasons I find myself coming back to read the series in its entirety every two to four years. And now it’s especially fun, since I’ve roped a few of my dearest friends into reading the series along with me, so we trade the books back and forth and get to talk about them, which is especially fun, as it’s the first time reading most of them for my friends.

Specifically regarding Bitten and Stolen, you really couldn’t ask for a better introduction into this incredibly engaging and diverse urban fantasy world that Armstrong has created. Elena engages you on her journey from the very first page, her struggle against who she is and her desperate attempts to create a life for herself like she always imagined resonate through the pages. Even though I’ve never been a werewolf, I understand how upsetting it can be when your life isn’t going the way you planned, and it seems to just keep spiraling further and further from your control. Plus she’s a strong, smart, independent woman, and who doesn’t love that in a protagonist.

As for re-reads in general, there is something so comforting about returning to old favorites, being able to read through them at the speed of light, but also having forgotten enough about what happens that the action is still exciting.

I’m throwing in some new books in-between “The Women of the Otherworld”, so I’ll be bringing some fresh reviews to the site that aren’t re-reads. If you’re interested in what else I’m reading, since not everything will make it onto this blog, check out my Goodreads, you can add me at “Sarah Kruhlak”. I’m making my way through my “Book a Week” challenge this year, and I’m actually a few books ahead (one of the few good things to come out of quarantine).

If you liked Bitten and Stolen, try:

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson Book #1) by Patricia Briggs

Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires Book #1) by Rachel Caine

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Reviews

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House

# of Pages: 450

Time it took me to read: 9 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 64 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

Alex Stern never thought she’d be part of Yale University’s newest freshman class. She doesn’t speak three languages and she’s not set up to be the next great American novelist. She doesn’t even come from money. But what she does have is a unique kind of power that makes her desirable to Yale’s Lethe House, one of the nine highly secret and darkly alluring  societies that have existed at Yale for hundreds of years. The job of Lethe House and its initiates? Keep the other eight houses, the Ancient Eight, in check, for each one specializes in a type of magic that has the ability to make or break careers or bring countries to their knees, but without Lethe members monitoring and protecting these rituals, things can get messy fast.

Despite her natural ability to see “greys”, the shadows of those who have crossed the Veil in death, Alex quickly finds herself in too deep when a girl is murdered on the university’s campus, a girl with connections to more than one of the Ancient Eight. And even though Alex hasn’t been at Yale long, she’s learned fast that there’s no such thing as coincidences when the societies are involved. 

I’ll start out by saying that this book was not what I expected at all. I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, I think she’s one of the best writers in YA currently, her Grishaverse books grab you from the very first page. So I was very intrigued when I learned she’d branched out a bit into the adult fiction sector with what, to me, was marketed as a mystery novel set at Yale University’s campus.

As someone who tries to dip her toes outside of her comfort zone every now and again, I thought this would be a great opportunity to do so. However, it was pretty immediately apparent that this was not so much a realistic fiction mystery, but a story about dak rituals, ghosts, and magical substances that can put a person completely under the influence of the wielder. So, really, not so far off from the kind of stuff I read regularly.

I’ll start off by saying that to me, the distinction between “adult” and “young adult” is getting blurrier and blurrier these days. Really, the only thing that makes this “adult” rather than YA is the age of the characters. One might argue that there are significantly disturbing scenes, including sexual assault and heavy drug usage, that make it fitter for an adult audience, but we all know that sexual assault and drugs certainly aren’t limited to adults. These days, one can find books in the YA sphere that deal with violence, death, assault, drugs, sex, and yes, even use an unlimited amount of foul language. Because none of that is over the head of the sixteen to eighteen year olds these books are “marketed” toward. Plus, I feel as though publishers would be remiss if they failed to notice that a huge percentage of YA readers, such as myself, are well into their twenties and thirties and enjoy mature, socially relevant themes. End tangent.

Anyway, I have to admit I was expecting to be quickly pulled in head first as I usually am with a Leigh Bardugo novel, but that was not the case here. I will say, despite the fact that I gave this book the five-star rating I believe it deserves, that the story starts out slow. I found myself very bogged down with trying to remember all the names and the nicknames of the characters, as well as all of the different societies and what they specialized in. I recognized right away that everything that Leigh lays out for the reader is incredibly well researched and beautifully written, however, the story takes quite some time to pick up. Close to 200 pages in fact. Which is enough to deter many less serious, and some even more serious readers like me. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I would have made it through this book were it not for my unwavering faith in Leigh Bardugo.

Maybe that should deter me from giving this book five stars. But I don’t care, it’s my rating system and I can do what I please.

The last two hundred pages of this book were thrilling and exhilarating enough to keep me flipping the pages as quickly as I could. By that time, the reader is well acquainted with the different houses of the “Ancient Eight”, and what they do, and they begin to have more and more faith in Alex, even though by this point you’ve learned about her “storied” past and why she might not, in fact, be the kind of person you should put your faith in. But that is why I only got to liking her more and more as this book progressed.

To talk about character a bit, Alex Stern starts out as a farce of a standard YA protagonist. She can see ghosts, she had a rough childhood because they wouldn’t leave her alone, yadda yadda, seems very much like many other characters I’ve read before. But there was something about her that kept me from getting too attached to her from the start. And I think it’s because she’s really not “likable” as a person. As someone who has always been a fan of protagonists that are “likable” and “relatable”, it can take me some time to come around to some of the more gritty protagonists out there. Alex starts out as having seemingly shallow and basic motivations: she’s at Yale because she has been given the opportunity to be “normal” for the first time in her life, her mentors at Lethe House provide her with safety and security that she’s never had before, she just wants to be able to graduate and have a normal life and doesn’t really care that much about the rest of it all. This couldn’t be more opposite to her mentor at Lethe, Yale senior Daniel “Darlington” Arlington, who lives and breathes everything about Lethe, the societies, and the magic of New Haven, the town where Yale resides. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Alex must make a choice about whether she is just going to float along doing her due diligence to Lethe while trying to make it through her difficult classes and maintain relationships with roommates who know nothing about Alex’s past or her connection to Lethe, or whether she is going to dig deep and be the Lethe representative that Darlington always wanted her to be.

As I mentioned before, the enormous amount of set up required for this story, and the fact that the story jumps around in the beginning both in perspective and in timeline, means that it moves at a pretty slow pace during the first half. For most books I read, I’d argue that this means the book isn’t worth finishing. I have a whole personal philosophy that I call the “quarter” rule, where if a book hasn’t grabbed me by a quarter of the way through, it probably never will. And even if the book gets good at the end, is it worth the reader having to “suffer” through the setup? Mostly, I abide by my own rule and say no, the reader is owed some sort of gratification, something to pull them along through the setup, and that set up should only take at most a quarter of the book.

However, there are exceptions to every rule, including my own. As an avid fan of Bardugo’s, I felt that I owed it to her to read it through till the end, even if it ended up not being my cup of tea.

Oh boy, am I glad I stuck it through.

The last half of the book, the stakes get higher, and as the reader you start to formulate your theories about who murdered the dead girl found on Yale’s campus, and how it’s connected to the societies, and who has it out for Alex when she starts looking too close. Personally, I had my suspicions, which were then dashed, but then, just as you think you might be right, Bardugo throws you for another loop. The ending of this book was so well set up and supported, yet I really did NOT see it coming, which I love. When you read as much as I do, sometimes books get predictable, which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, I often enjoy books I can predict the endings to, but I do love to be surprised.

My apologies, as my first review in a while, my thoughts are a bit scattered, but I think I covered just about everything that I want to say about this book. To make a long review short, though this book takes quite some time to wind up, the ending is well worth it, and though Alex Stern isn’t the most “likable” hero, she shows true grit and is realistically developed, even though that development takes more time than most of the books I read. I’m quite excited for the next one, as sequels to books like this are often much better than the first, because the setup is out of the way and all that’s left is the meat of the story, which is certainly the best part of Ninth House.

All in all, Leigh Bardugo has done it again, proving her reputation as a first-class writer, but also showing her chops as a dedicated researcher, as she uses her world-building skill to truly make the reader believe that there is a dark, magical underbelly that has always existed within Yale University and New Haven.

If you liked Ninth House, try:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Reviews

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

Tempests and Slaughter

# of Pages: 455

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 65 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

Long before Tortall ever knew him as the master mage Numair Salmalin, he was a boy named Arram Draper, one young mage among many at the University of Carthak. Arram always knew he was more advanced than his peers, having been the youngest in all his classes since he began school. But when an extraordinary event draws the eye of every master mage in the academy, his life is changed forever. He is placed on a unique course of study along with the first real friends he’s ever had: Varice, who is as beautiful and charismatic as she is powerful, and Ozorne, last in a long line of heirs to the throne of Carthak, but the first mage born in his line for generations. Arram finally feels at home at the University as his studies become more advanced with every term and he grows into his power. As they grow, Arram and his friends must come to terms with the fact that things are not always as they seem, and despite each of them holding extraordinary power, sometimes one is not always in control of their own destiny.

 

So, as a fan of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe for over a decade, when I heard she was releasing a prequel about one of my favorite characters in said universe, I knew I had to have it. Despite her books being categorized as “middle reader”, I truly don’t think that one will ever be able to “grow out” of Tamora Pierce’s stories. This review may or may not turn into a fangirl rant about Tamora Pierce, and if so I apologize in advance (sorry not sorry).

I’ll start out by saying that anyone who is a fan of Song of the Lioness quartet or The Immortals quartet will love this story. Even though this book takes place many years before these series, it somehow feels right that this story has been written after them, as it is rich and matured perfectly. I believe there is no other character in all of the Tortall universe who deserves a series detailing his backstory than Numair (Arram).

For those of you who haven’t read Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals quartet (which, by the way, you absolutely should go out and do), it’s a series about a girl named Daine who has a very unique kind of magic, called wild magic, that allows her to communicate with animals and even, as her power is harnessed, transform into them. The series follows her and her teacher, Numair Salmalin, likely the most powerful mage in the world, through their adventures. In this series, Numair is a fully developed master mage, while Daine is his untrained pupil. In Tempests and Slaughter, we go back to Numair’s childhood, before he was powerful enough to have chosen a mage name, and is merely Arram Draper, the son of a tailor.

The biggest compliments I think I can pay this author regarding this book are a) I think only Tamora Pierce could make a book all about going to school exciting, and b) all I wanted to do upon finishing this book was go back and read The Immortals again, even though I’ve definitely read them within the last two years. Pierce’s books are just ones that you can return to over and and over again, and it just feels like going home. The Immortals and Song of the Lioness are up there among the ranks of the few series that I’ve read in their entirety more than twice.

Arram, as he grows from a young boy to a young man, is a wonderful character who you cannot help but admire. He is intelligent and determined, but at the same time absentminded and nerdy at times in a way that is totally relatable. Seeing him with his best friends Varice and Ozorne is wonderful, as they are unique and compelling characters in their own rights, but bittersweet and heartbreaking if you’ve read The Immortals (I promise, that’s the only spoiler I’ll give).

And, like I said earlier, despite the fact that this is literally a book about a kid going to school, it is fast paced and engaging throughout. The same could be said for Harry Potter and Hogwarts, but the difference is this book is really about the classes and the teachers and the actual magic that is happening. Harry Potter is a series that takes place at a school: Tempests and Slaughter is a book about school.

And a note about the Tortall universe in general: the world that Pierce builds is just stunning. The different countries, Tortall, Carthak, Tyra, the Yamani Islands, all are rich with their own histories and cultures. This universe also has its own unique gods and magical creatures, all of whom are known and worshipped to varying degrees. Despite being books for “middle readers”, Tamora Pierce does not do any sort of “dumbing down” or avoiding of difficult subjects in her stories. She discusses all the most difficult parts of growing up, both for boys and for girls, such as getting your first period and, erm, unfortunately timed erections for pubescent boys. She also includes characters of all races, genders, and sexualities. In fact Alanna the Lioness, who’s story I was exposed to at age 12, has multiple sexual partners throughout her story, all out of wedlock, and she is never shamed or has any personal guilt about not being “pure” when she finally does decide to settle down. Tamora’s stories gave me something so very valuable as a young girl that is pretty difficult for me to put into words, but I’ll say simply as this: Tamora Pierce taught me that women, no matter what their backgrounds or personal opinions, are all powerful in their own way and deserving of nothing but respect. And I will always thank her for that.

Anyway, I know that devolved into a fangirl rant, and again I’m not sorry. Moral of the story, if you haven’t read Tamora Pierce before, get your butt out there and pick up Alanna: The First Adventure. And if you have read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books before, but it’s been a while, never fear: Tempests and Slaughter is a great way to dive back in. Though I’m always going to recommend reading the Tortall books in the order that they were published, one is perfectly able to start reading these books for the first time chronologically with Tempests and Slaughter. It’ll certainly get you engaged and excited to read all the rest of them.

 

If you liked Tempests and Slaughter, try: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Defy by Sara B Larson

      Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Reviews

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval

# of Pages: 402

Time it took me to read: 7 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 57 pgs

Rating: 4 out of 5

For all her life, all Scarlett has wanted is to visit Caraval, the magical traveling show where audiences get to participate in the show. When her domineering father arranges a marriage for her, she is sure that she and her younger sister, Tella, will never get to see the fantastical performance. Only days before her wedding to a groom she has never met, she receives an invitation to be the special guest of the shows powerful leader, a man known only as Legend. 

With the help of an unlikely ally, Scarlett and Tella manage to escape their island home and find their way to the secret location where Caraval is located, only to be separated upon arrival. Now Scarlett has to join the game, and she only has five nights to solve the clues of Caraval and find her sister. While dodging deadly obstacles, she must struggle to remember the most important rules of Caraval: things are rarely as they seem, and don’t get swept too far away from reality. Afterall, Caraval is merely a game, right?

 

I feel as if I’ve been consuming a lot of “circusy” media lately. I’ve been totally obsessed with the new movie, The Greatest Showman, and this is the second sort of circus book that I’ve read in the last month or so. But this book was really different than Daughter of the Burning City, though both had the same sort of gothic-y carnival vibe. Scarlett continues the trend that I’ve been seeing in YA recently of being a fairly flawed, naive protagonist, though not so much as some of the others that I’ve read. I like this aspect of her personality, though she is certainly not the most original of heroines I’ve ever read, and that is almost entirely why this book didn’t get the best score that it could have. Scarlett starts the book afraid of everything, but through the story learns to loosen her hold on the reigns of her life and take risks. Grow though she may through the book, it is clear from the beginning that she will endure anything to save her little sister, and that is something that seems fairly stereotypical about her character.

The world of Caraval, however, is unique and vivid, it’s characters and atmosphere larger than life. Though the interesting part is that what may seem like magic in the dark, may be far less mysterious when the sun comes up, and that’s all I’ll say. But this is definitely a world where fantasy reigns, and I like that in the books that I read.

One of my favorite parts of this book was that I really didn’t predict the ending at all. Every time I thought I had it pegged, it would tease me into thinking that I was right, but then twist everything that I thought on its head. And everytime that happened, I felt as if I was really having the experience that Scarlett had, as she attempted to figure out the game that was Caraval.

This book is brain candy of the highest degree, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I think the world that Garber weaves is wonderfully rich and entertaining, but with the number of books that I’ve read recently that I feel have really impacted me, this book just didn’t make me feel changed in any way, and that I think is the only real drawback that I can report. If you like a dark, unpredictable fantasy, this book is totally for you. Especially if you’re in a circus-y mood, like I am.

If you liked Caraval, try: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Reviews

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

The Library of Fates

# of Pages: 314

Time it took me to read: 2 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 45 pgs

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

Amrita, princess of Shalingar, has lived a charmed life. She lives in a beautiful country where nobody lives in poverty, the people live in peace, and men and women have equal rights to pursue what they want to in their lives. Amrita has a loving father, a nursemaid who has always been like a mother to her, and her childhood best friend, Arjun, who might in fact be more than just her friend. But when the powerful Emperor Sikander of Macedon becomes interested in Shalingar, Amrita is willing to do the unthinkable and become this horrible tyrant’s wife to save her kingdom.

But everything changes when Amrita meets Thala, a young oracle who is a “gift” for Amrita. When the tides quickly turn from political alliance to hostile takeover, Amrita and her new friend must escape the clutches of Sikander to go on a journey that neither of them wants with a destination that will surprise them both.

 

Okay, I just wanted to start out by saying that the flap of this book focused a lot of the relationship between Thala and Amrita, but also talked about finding new love, and I was super sure that these two were going to end up falling in love. Sorry, spoiler, that doesn’t happen, and I think the book would have earned five stars if they had. Sorry, I just think it would have been pretty cool to see a same sex couple in this fantasy story based on Eastern mythology. But I digress, and will talk about things that actually happened in this book.

First off, I loved how this book was fantasy, but really drew a lot from Eastern tradition and mythology, which I don’t know very much about, but I recognized that Sikander and Macedon were loosely based off of Alexander the Great, which was pretty interesting. I thought that the world that Khorana created was rich and vibrant with colorful descriptions of a lush palace and the contrast of harsh deserts and dark caves.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was how unpredictable this book was. I thought I had some ideas about how the story was going to end, but it really ended up being different than I thought, and perhaps that’s because I really can’t say I’ve read any other books quite like this one before.

Amrita is a great main character, she seemed pretty realistic to me. She grew up privileged, but still smart and capable. She is at the beginning skeptical of the world around her, but also very afraid of being alone and doing the wrong thing. She was a very easy heroine to like and to cheer for. Thala was also a wonderful character, an oracle who has immense power, but has been kept as a slave since she was a child and force-fed a drug to make her premonitions more potent. She is a believer in the magic and spirituality of the world, but she is harsher and fiercer than Amrita, who is much softer in comparison. Two vibrant, unique female main characters that face a number of challenges together, and are the true heroine’s of the story.

Now, I’m going to talk about why I didn’t give this book full marks. While, like I said earlier, I did really like this books unpredictability, I’m not sure I’m fully behind the story’s ending. It’s not a sad ending, but it’s not necessarily a happy one either, and I think that out of all the possible endings the author could have picked, this was the weirdest one, though part of me thinks it’s nice. I’m of two minds about it.

The other thing was that I think this book was pretty rushed story-wise. These two main characters go on a very intense journey that takes place over really only a few days, and I feel like the character development and the plot seemed a little hurried, and I’m not sure that I quite believed that these two characters could have such a transformation over such a short period of time. If the book had been longer, I think I would have believed the developement a little bit more. Though it was a nice, short weekend read, which was nice because I did not have time to read anything longer this week.

Overall,  I liked the book and would recommend it for anyone who is a lover of fantasy and mythology who is looking for something a little bit different.

 

If you liked The Library of Fates, try: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Magyk by Angie Sage

 And I Darken by Kiersten White

Troy by Adele Geras

Reviews

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

The book of dust

# of Pages: 450

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 65 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Malcolm Polstead is a smart, curious boy of elevan. His life has always been interesting, but ordinary and happy. He lives with his parents, who own an inn/pub on the river in Oxford, he has his own little canoe, La Belle Sauvage, which he rows across the river to visit the nuns in the priory, who are his closest companions. His days are spent in school, and his nights are spent helping his parents out in the pub, where he’s always privy to the most important news and gossip in town. And it is in this way that he first hears about a very important infant who is staying with his very own nuns at the Godstow priory: the baby Lyra, who is already the subject of much mystery and intrigue. And before long, Malcolm finds himself inexorably wrapped in the life of the baby Lyra, and the forces that conspire to either protect her or harm her. 

 

As soon as I heard that Philip Pullman had another book coming out from the world of His Dark Materials, I knew I had to have it. The Golden Compass was one of my very favorite books growing up. Long after I had read all three books, but before the movie came out, I remember my mom telling me that she read something about the author being a hard-core athiest, and that there was some really blasphemous God-killing scene in The Amber Spyglass. This was right around the time there was a big stir about it, and I think to this day that His Dark Materials is banned in just about every private school in America, which I always thought was odd, because at the time I read The Amber Spyglass, I read right through the scene where “God” dies without batting an eye. I was only twelve or thirteen at the time, and I feel as if a lot of that book went over my head. It was only after my mom mentioned it that I remembered going oohhhhhh, I see how people might be uncomfortable about that. However much of a radical that Philip Pullman might be, I don’t think that his books deserve to be banned anywhere, because they are quite obviously words of fiction, and even as a very impressionable, though not particularly religious, preteen, I never felt as if there was any sort of “agenda” drilled into my head or anything. They were just delightfully creative fantasy books with talking animals and witches, where this entity called “The Church” were the bad guys, though my twelve-year-old brain did not even associate “The Church” of His Dark Materials with the churches that I understood in the real world.

Anyway, enough about that. The Book of Dust was a wonderful dive back into the world of Lyra’s Oxford. Even though I haven’t read any of the books since I was in middle school, it didn’t take me long to really become fully immersed in the world that Philip Pullman creates once again, with the gyptians and the daemons and Lord Asriel and Ms. Coulter. Though the nice thing is, if you’ve never read His Dark Materials, you can still pick up and enjoy The Book of Dust, without feeling like you’re missing anything, though surely it’ll make you want to go and pick up The Golden Compass. I know my next reread, for sure.

The main character of this book, Malcolm, has the same wonderfully pure, intelligent quality that Lyra has, though this book puts Malcolm, only elevan, though very adult trials, and is definitely a test of his goodness and purity. Something that I believe that Pullman does very well is writing children that are still fairly believable as children, but makes them very intelligent and strong in a way that inspired me as a youth not much older than Lyra or Malcolm. These books, I think, are very accessable to any reader above the age of ten, though I wouldn’t call any of them “easy” by any means. Philip Pullman would never talk down to any of his readers, just because they were children, and all of the children in Pullman’s books are written with the respect they deserve, which is always something that I’ve loved.

Though I did feel as if both Lyra and Malcolm had some similar core qualities as characters, Malcolm didn’t feel redundant, or anything like that. He’s a unique character, and his story is very unique as well. This book is more complex than The Golden Compass, which I feel is the most accessible of His Dark Materials, and I feel as if this book is a more advanced first book in the trilogy than The Golden Compass, though I honestly couldn’t say that one is better than the other, just different.

Though you won’t catch me saying much of anything negative about any of Philip Pullman’s books, which I’ve loved since I was a child, I will say this: he is one of the more pretentious writers I’ve ever met. While I think that it’s excellent that he writes books that are accessible to a young audience while not talking down to them, he does write with this haughty air that if I didn’t love the stories and the characters so much would bother me, because it’s the same vibe that most writers who consider their books “literature” have. I’m not sure if I’ve ever ranted about how much I’m annoyed by writers who take themselves too seriously, but I am so very irked by them. Writing fiction, to me, is art done for entertainment’s sake, and some authors, I feel, try to hard to impress some heavy symbolism on me, the reader, or write books with the intention that book clubs will gather and talk about the heavy “themes”. The best books, for me, are ones that use symbolism and address heavy themes without making me think “wow, the author tried really hard to leave me with THAT impression”. Philip Pullman has, always, danced on that line for me. He’s almost too pretentious, but not quite. Which is why I considered giving this book 4.5 stars, but I’d be lying, because I loved every page of this book.

If you’re a lover of Philip Pullman, this book won’t disapoint. If you’re a fan of deeply immersive, intricate fiction, this is definitely the book for you. But if you’re looking for something that’s light and easy to read, I’d recommend something a little bit different.

If you liked The Book of Dust, try: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Reader by Traci Chee

 The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Reviews

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl by rainbow rowell

# of Pages: 434

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 62 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Cath and her twin sister, Wren, have just started their first year of college. Wren has always been the confident one: doing whatever she wants to do, dating lots of boys, going out drinking on the weekends. Cath is pretty much the opposite: she’d much rather stay at home working on her Simon Snow fanfiction than go out and socialize. But even though Cath and Wren have had separate interests, they’ve always had each other’s back. But now Wren has her own roommate, in her separate dorm, and her entirely different classes. So Cath is on her own, and she’ll have to navigate life with a grumpy older roommate, that roommate’s overly chatty boyfriend, and an English teach who knocks on fanfiction like it’s the end of the world.

Cath has never been the resiliant twin, but this year she’ll have to learn how to navigate college on her own, and discover the middle ground between growing up, and never letting go of the things that are the most important to you.

 

I’ve never really loved realistic fiction, but every once and a while, I read a really, really good piece of realistic fiction, and it reminds me that I really should dabble in this genre more often. Rainbow Rowell, surprise surprise, totally knocked this one out of the park, and I think I enjoyed it just about as much as Carry On, even though I read them out of order. It’s not like there are spoilers or anything, but if you read Carry On after Fangirl, I imagine it’s just like getting to read Cath’s fanfiction, which would be such a cool thing if you’re a fan of Fangirl.

Fangirl is the story of Cath Avery, who’s twin sister Wren has “abandoned” her for the first time in their lives because she wanted to have a different roommate and live in a different dorm and have different friends. Cath has a lot of anxiety about this, she’s so intimidated by her upperclassman roommate and her upperclassman classmates in her fiction writing class, that she spends the first month of school subsisting entirely on protein bars that she brought from home because she is too anxious to ask anyone where the dining hall is or how it works. As someone who has gone through her life with anxiety–not this severe, but still a fair amount of anxiety, I really connected with Cath.

This story also celebrates something that I think gets looked down upon by people who aren’t a part of the community: fanfiction. Most people think fanfiction and immediately picture Fifty Shades of Gray-esque smut, or a bunch of nerdy wannabe writers who can’t write anything of their own. This book really proves that those stereotypes just that–stereotypes. Fanfiction is written and consumed by hundreds of thousands of people, and you can find it for just about anything out there with a fanbase–movies, TV shows, books, videogames, you name it. And while some of it is totally smutty, most of it is just an exploration of what could happen outside the cannon of a piece of art.

I myself am someone who spent a lot of time in her early to mid teen years writing fanfiction. And it really helped me to become the writer that I am today. Because, as you can see through Cath, being a writer of original content is really hard, and sometimes you really want to let out your creative energy, but don’t have an endless well of original characters and worlds to draw from. So we borrow characters that we adore and put them in new settings, new situations, and that not only allows us to create content without the stress of creating something totally original, but also allows you to continue to experience the characters that you love so much, but the books are over, or the TV show could have gotten cancelled. And by writing fanfiction and posting it online, you can not only get really nice praise from readers, boosting your self-esteem and drive to keep creating content, but criticism that allows you to become a better writer.

Sorry, I really didn’t mean for this review to be “why I think fanfiction is great”, but I just figured I’d put it out there, because what Cath experiences when her English teacher slams fanfiction is very common–a lot of “real writers” don’t see fanfiction as a legitimate art form, and that’s bull. I don’t think fanfiction writers should be profiting off of or publishing their work, but the fanfiction community is large and supportive, and I think that those who turn their nose up at fanfiction should be the first ones to read Fangirl and learn a thing or two.

Anyway, back to the actual review. Rowell’s characters in this book were all entirely relatable. I knew someone like every single one of these characters in college, and I could just see perfectly in my mind’s eye the campus, the dorms, the dining hall, everything. And I really can’t say enough about how much I loved that Rainbow Rowell has a cast of characters that struggle with mental illness, but have a loving, supportive group of people around them who help them through it. And I’m not a twin, but I’m sure all the twins out there who read this will appreciate that Cath and Wren, though they do have many of the same interests and have had many of the same life experiences, are two very different characters who have different ways of dealing with their mom’s absence and their dad’s issues–I imagine it would be easy to make twins seem like they’re the same person, or go too far the other way and make them opposites. Cath and Wren are harmoniously different, but enough the same that it’s believable that they had the same childhood.

I’m trying to think of something that I could criticise, but it’s really hard, because it was amazing. I guess the only thing that I could say is that, pacing wise, the first half seemed to take a lot longer to read than the second half. It’s odd, because I think that the two halves had just about an equal number of “action parts”, but something about the second half just made it flow quicker. I don’t know, this might not even be an actual problem, this book was wonderful.

This isn’t the most cohesive review I’ve ever written, but please read Fangirl. And then read Carry On, if you haven’t already. Fangirl is a wonderful story, which will appeal to both lovers of realistic fiction and lovers of fantasy alike, trust me. Any Harry Potter fan in the world will feel a real connection with Cath.

If you liked Fangirl, try: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan