THE BRONZED BEASTS by Roshani Chokshi

In love they breathed. In destiny they believed. In the end, will divinity be their demise?

After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin. 

Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass. 

With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself… but at a price they may not be willing to pay.


Title : The Silvered Serpents
Author : Roshani Chokshi
Series : The Gilded Wolves (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA historical fiction / fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : September 21, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

So the end of this series is here and maybe, after loving book two so much, I should’ve tempered my expectations — after all, book one just wasn’t quite it for me — but honestly I’ve come out the end of this one just.. not knowing really how to feel.

This National Treasure-esque fantasy historical series has always leaned into “too smart for me” territory but I’ve enjoyed, even if I struggled to comprehend, the historical tie-ins, the history, the nuance, and thankfully this one maybe feel less stupid. But my intelligence or lack thereof aside, the series has always been balanced out by the delightful dynamic of the cast of characters (we love an ensemble, she continues to say, ad nauseum!) and after the events of book two, the dynamic sours and takes a turn. I wasn’t mad about it, and it was still enjoyable in its new configuration, but.. I don’t know, something was missing.

Likewise, the big conflict, the thing we’ve been leading towards, the main event if you will.. did I even really understand it? Nope. Could I visualize it? A little. Is that partially my problem? Probably! I plan to read some reviews and see if this just went wrong for everyone or, more likely, it was just me.

Additionally, the ending. How to describe it. Unexpected? Bittersweet? Lovely? It definitely went in a direction I didn’t see coming (hence the unexpectedness) and was a nice resolution to one of the other romances (hence the loveliness), but.. for how it finally did end, that last line, after all the time, all the loss..? Well, yeah, hence the bittersweetness. I also just wonder why. I don’t quite understand. Another thing I’ll be looking for clarity on in some reviews.

So, overall, this was a strange reading experience. But I’m not mad about pushing on to keep reading because the richness of this world, the diversity of the characters, the mystery of it all, the delightful ensemble banter.. there was a lot to enjoy. Would that I had ended up a higher note with it all but at least it’s not a low note! I’ll take the win.

PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMAN by Evie Dunmore

London banking heiress Hattie Greenfield wanted “just” three things in life:

1. Acclaim as an artist.
2. A noble cause.
3. Marriage to a young lord who puts the gentle in gentleman.

Why then does this Oxford scholar find herself at the altar with the darkly attractive financier Lucian Blackstone, whose murky past and ruthless business practices strike fear in the hearts of Britain’s peerage? Trust Hattie to take an invigorating little adventure too far. Now she’s stuck with a churlish Scot who just might be the end of her ambitions….

When the daughter of his business rival all but falls into his lap, Lucian sees opportunity. As a self-made man, he has vast wealth but holds little power, and Hattie might be the key to finally setting long-harbored political plans in motion. Driven by an old revenge, he has no room for his new wife’s apprehensions or romantic notions, bewitching as he finds her.

But a sudden journey to Scotland paints everything in a different light. Hattie slowly sees the real Lucian and realizes she could win everything—as long as she is prepared to lose her heart.

Going toe-to-toe with a brooding Scotsman is rather bold for a respectable suffragist, but when he happens to be one’s unexpected husband, what else is an unwilling bride to do?


Title : Portrait of a Scotsman
Author : Evie Dunmore
Series : A League of Extraordinary Women (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 448
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

For a historical romance, this was oddly light on romance. Plenty of sexytimes, when we eventually got to that point, but Dunmore spends a lot of the word count on many of the societal issues of the time (some of which are relevant today) — yes, a women’s right to vote has been the guiding star of this whole series, and all that is twisted up with that right, but this instalments shifts to the conditions of the working class, specifically miners, unions, and the wage disparity between the genders of said working class.

You can’t tell me Dunmore doesn’t know her shit or, at the very least, puts in a hell of a lot of hours on research. Much of it was interesting, though perhaps not always compelling, but I appreciated the debates between the two main characters who took to these subjects through the lens of their very different upbringings, perspectives, and privileges.

Where this story was less interesting was the romance. However, this more or less followed the format of Beauty and the Beast or Hades and Persephone so if that dynamic is your catnip, you’ll definitely be hooked — at least by the beginning.

Hattie is definitely something of a departure from the leading ladies of the other books who were, categorically, more radical and easier to identify with because they felt more modern. Whereas Hattie, despite attending Oxford, despite supporting the suffragists movement, faces the very real realization that though she supported the cause for a woman to not be property and possessed by her husband, it takes her own marriage for her to actually understand the fight. She is very much a representation of the women of the time — granted, a certain woman — where she is soft, monied, and comfortable, having been afforded everything in her life up until this point. Which makes her exposure to self-made and rough Lucian, to the small community in the Lowlands and their working conditions, everything, a shift. She is very much the spoiled rich girl getting a wake up call. She’s not ever cruel or terrible with her attitudes — she is, at heart, a good person — but Dunmore does occasionally make her lean into her bratty petulance and she has some less gracious reactions.

Whereas Lucian.. granted, he definitely starts off a villain, he has villainous ways, but the way he starts to lean in (get it!), curve himself around Hattie, even as he unbends; his whole backstory, really, was great. The problem, however, is I didn’t feel Dunmore gave it as much time to breathe. We get a lot of time to unpack much of Lucian along the way as he unravels parts of himself in tribute to Hattie and trying to find equal footing as a result of their less than honest beginnings and yet the big moment, the big confession, doesn’t come from him. Which makes sense but somehow you lose that emotional punch. Which I feel is kind of true for most of this book. There is much to be felt in the bones of this story, the causes, the conditions, the casual cruelty of the culture, but somehow the meat, the emotions, weren’t really present. Add to that fact that the romance only felt charged in the bedroom.. and it feels unbalanced.

Particularly when it came to the a conflict/plotline near the end which, honestly, comes out of nowhere and didn’t fit with the rest. Which then leads into this whole other conflict that just.. I didn’t like. You can see it coming a mile away due to foreshadowing, and it fits in with the formula this story is based around, but. But I would’ve been fine had the formula been altered.

All this long rambling review to say : I really respect and enjoy Dunmore’s commitment to her historical setting. The research, the atmosphere, the subject matter, the critical unpacking of a woman’s lack of agency during this time, everything. Thankfully, unlike book two, this one didn’t stray into grey areas or trip itself up, it’s just in the romance that I felt some of this was lacking. So I’m pleased to say I am going into the possibility of a book four (Catriona?) with higher hopes, more in line with what I expected after book one, and look forward to where Dunmore goes next.

KING OF CROWS by Libba Bray


After the horrifying explosion that claimed one of their own, the Diviners find themselves wanted by the US government, and on the brink of war with the King of Crows.

While Memphis and Isaiah run for their lives from the mysterious Shadow Men, Isaiah receives a startling vision of a girl, Sarah Beth Olson, who could shift the balance in their struggle for peace. Sarah Beth says she knows how to stop the King of Crows-but, she will need the Diviners’ help to do it.

Elsewhere, Jericho has returned after his escape from Jake Marlowe’s estate, where he has learned the shocking truth behind the King of Crow’s plans. Now, the Diviners must travel to Bountiful, Nebraska, in hopes of joining forces with Sarah Beth and to stop the King of Crows and his army of the dead forever.

But as rumors of towns becoming ghost towns and the dead developing unprecedented powers begin to surface, all hope seems to be lost.

In this sweeping finale, The Diviners will be forced to confront their greatest fears and learn to rely on one another if they hope to save the nation, and world from catastrophe..


Title : King of Crows
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book four)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 561
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : February 4, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

If not for my respect for the author’s research and unflinching honesty about the history (and horrors) that exist in America (and so many other countries), this would be a one star. She called this a ghost story, and it’s true, because so much of what made up this series was a haunting; a haunting of the forgotten, of what it took to “make” the country; those who were erased in the process, those who continue to be deemed less worthy or overlooked.. there are so many ghosts in that. Many sad, lots of them mad. And Bray never let us forget it.

It was exhausting, sure, but what made it worse were these characters. I’m sorry, I could never find the love, I only ever had brief glimmers of like. What kept me going was the plot. And bizarrely, in this big epic finale, there was almost.. no plot? You would think there would be a big rush to band together, figure out strategy, and confront the Big Bad but.. no. This was some side quest/travel/journey novel from one end of the country to another. With a lot of time just.. passin’ on by. But before we even got to that? We had to survive some stupidity.

“[character x] is killing people for power and has been for years! they are the reason for everything that’s happened! we have to stop them to defeat [big bad villain]!”
“I know! we, a bunch of seventeen year olds, should TALK to this grown adult! I’m sure they don’t know what they are doing!”

[insert “sure Jan” gif here]

This is just one example of the stupid in the early very stages of this book. And maybe it’s naive but after all the stupid in the three books previous (sometimes just the characters being dumb, other times the author making them be stupid for plot reasons) I just.. hoped we wouldn’t still be doing something like this. After everything they’ve been through, everything they now know, and how much character x has done to them personally and others, their first instinct is to drop all other avenues of investigation or planning.. and confront someone for a conversation.

I’m so irritated. Infact that whole scene, and at least one after it, bothered me to no end. And knowing I was only at 14% did not inspire me to continue. But I did. Obviously.

What came after was much slogging, our heroes separated, trying to survive and reunite, only to then just.. hang around on a farm. For some semi-valid reasons, sure, but mostly not. And throughout that time, they were often just so clueless.

So much of the added word count, dare I say filler, never actually feels satisfactorily resolved, either. I’m not even going to touch on how easy the climax/confrontation was to be resolved, after everything, but so many characters who we had been forced to endure, or who had been part of things along the way, are ultimately just.. brushed aside?

Everything about this experience was so strange. So unsatisfying. Which is a strange mix when butted up against my respect for all the elements Bray included and made a point to beat us over the head with.

I cannot recommend the series, part of me even wishes I had my time back (especially for books two and four), but it’s done. And I’ll hopefully never see or hear the words Baby Vamp, Lamb Chop, copacetic, or pos-i-tutely ever again.

This was a pretty disappointing note to end on as I wrap my Five Series to Finish in 2021 goal but. But! I did it. I already have a whole new selection for 2022 (blog post to come!) and I can’t wait to continue to close out more started-but-yet-to-finish-reading series in the new year.

BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU by Libba Bray

New York City.
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…


After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves. 


Title : Before the Devil Breaks You
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 561
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 3, 2017

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

You know those books that have very clear peaks and valleys in enjoyment where you can point out “see that? that’s where I started to hate this” or “this, this was where I felt the story redeemed itself”. Well.. yeah, this is one of those.

What started off slow, quickly (well.. not quickly, this is almost six hundred pages after all) started to prove itself better than its predecessor; and I don’t just mean plot-wise. Because for some of this I was having fun with the characters, too. But of course we can’t have nice things so that took a serious dive (or two!), and we ended things back where we started with me being checked out on character and only here for over arcing plot.

I don’t know if it’s really just me (likely, based on ratings) that can’t connect to these characters or what but like.. it’s not even that they just aren’t likeable. They just have do some questionable, sometimes outright stupid, things. Some can be blamed on the author who has thrown at least one under the bus for the sake of resolving a romance (which.. I’ll get to this in a mo) but the rest just seem to be their personality and, welp, I’m not here for it.

Much like how I wasn’t getting on with the characters, I also wasn’t getting on with the majority of the romances. In fact.. the only ones I liked where the queer pairings? And they didn’t even get much page time. Maybe that’s what saved them. As for what wasn’t saved, aforementioned character and the bus, like.. wow. Harsh. I guess that’s one way to solve a love triangle? Just kidding, no it is not. Curious to see that fall to shit in book four.

And having that said, I don’t understand how in a book with so much happening, much action, much filler, many characters, there were so many scenes that were just.. rushed over? Seemed to have been skimmed? It made the pacing so strange and it made the whole experience frustrating as, again, I was actually liking this more than I wasn’t. Until the last 20%.

Very glad there’s only one more book to go because even though this series hasn’t been a total fail (though it obviously hasn’t been a total win, either) it’s rather exhausting to be trapped in this dreary racist past (as opposed to our dreary racist present) and I find my skin crawls more from the terrible non-magical human characters than it does from the spooky ghosts or horror elements. Imma need something fluffy after this for sure.

THE KEEPER OF NIGHT by Kylie Lee Baker

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side. 


Title : The Keeper of Night
Author : Kylie Lee Baker
Series : The Keeper of Night (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 401
Genre : YA historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Inkyard Press
Release Date : October 12, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I don’t know about you but I hadn’t heard much about The Keeper of Night. So if, like me, you were oblivious to its existence.. you may want to pay attention.

Ren’s entire existence is defined by being on the outside. The daughter of an English Reaper and a Japanese Shinigami, she resides in London and is bullied, disrespected, and ignored for her heritage — something that, I’ll admit, was really getting my back up because I thought her father, the obvious culprit for her dual heritage, had been let off the hook and all the hate and distrust was focused solely on his daughter. And well.. he is demoted for his transgressions but Ren still bears the brunt of it as he gets to, mostly, wash his hands of it all. I got to say, I’m hella tired of that particular narrative. Next time I want the kid to be welcomed and the parents to be ostracized please and thank you. Also, I hope more of this backstory is explained in book two as, currently, I’m not quite satisfied by how things stand.

But anyway, stuff happens and Ren is forced on the run and her brother, who has always loved her despite having been also tarred with some of the same brush as his sister, even though he is not biracial, flees to Japan with her. And basically this whole relationship, this whole bond? The best. They didn’t always get on, they could never full understand each other, but they were still there for each other.. though this bond definitely does get tested along the way. Especially when Neven admits to feeling like a fish out of water in Japan and expresses those feelings to Ren, even though it was only a glimpse of what Ren had endured in London for centuries — and I really loved that Baker explored this.

While so much of this story ends up being about Japanese mythology and legends, the author leans close to, if not outright, grimdarkness with some of the violence and demons they encounter. Maybe it’s not quite grim but it is dark. Being that the whole premise is set around death and soul collecting, I like that this wasn’t glossed over considering the target audience.

Also not glossed over is Ren’s anger, which we see explode out of her a few times once she’s away from London and is able to both articulate and let herself rage, about all the years of being told who she is, what she isn’t, and how she’s not accepted. Because unlike what she thought.. she is not immediately welcomed in Japan. She’s seen, once again, as a foreigner. This disappointment felt so raw and real and I honestly have no words to describe it.

Where things sorta fell apart for me was near the end. I knew this wasn’t a standalone (yay it’s only a duology!) so maybe that explains why the big climax came upon us in a bit of a quick and dramatic fashion — well, there’s two, really. I loved the first, which I sorta saw coming (but one reveal was still a surprise) but it was what followed that.. I don’t know. I really enjoyed where things ended, though, and I’m so keen to see how it all resolves — or if it even does — in book two.

If you’re looking for a dark YA fantasy, set in the past, with a compelling setting, rich in atmosphere and setting, with a main character who isn’t remotely the hero, though not quite a villain, but definitely grey in hue.. you should give this a go.

** I received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher (thank you!) and this in no way influenced my review. **

LAIR OF DREAMS by Libba Bray

The longing of dreams draws the dead, and this city holds many dreams.

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s become a media darling, earning the title “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” Everyone’s in love with the city’s newest It Girl…everyone except the other Diviners.

Piano-playing Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident Ling Chan are two Diviners struggling to keep their powers a secret—for they can walk in dreams. And while Evie is living the high life, victims of a mysterious sleeping sickness are turning up across New York City.

As Henry searches for a lost love and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, a malevolent force infects their dreams. And at the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans that extend farther than anyone can guess…As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?


Title : Lair of Dreams
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 613
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : August 25, 2015

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

Yeesh, we’ve taken a bit of a dip in this series — and by we I mean me — but a brief scan of ratings shows I’m definitely the outlier on this one. So, well. You know the saying.

But let me just take this brief moment to get the snarky out of the way : the main premise/conflict of this second book is that people are falling prey to a sleeping sickness, unable to wake up. And hoo boy was that some powerful mojo because I, too, was wanting to fall asleep while reading this.

Okay, snark over. I hope.

Listen, I’m a big fan of Bray’s obvious dedication to research and setting and, in some cases, the atmosphere. But in addition to this just being so long, and everything taking so much time to sort out, along with all the little side quests that are building the main meat of the series.. well. It just felt a bit much.

And it was all made worse by the fact that this sleeping sickness originated in Chinatown and so, leaning into the racism of the time (hahah we laugh because it isn’t gone.. and also, just wait), it becomes the Chinese Sleeping Virus. With sounds a lot like something else. And oh, they do quarantines, post signs barring certain people from entering establishments, spread propaganda about the hygiene of certain people, there are assaults in the street.. yeah. It was really real. So it wasn’t fun to read about something we’re more or less enduring now despite the century of time difference. So, again, while I appreciated the very real historical relevance of the racism, the segregation, the talk of eugenics.. it was just hard. And butted up against the length of this, the sleepiness of the sleepy sickness, the fact that I still don’t like many characters — and am starting to actively dislike a few — well. We did not have a great time.

About the characters, though. Ling saved this one. And Henry had his moments. I couldn’t give much of a fig about anyone else, though, and if Old Bill doesn’t drop dead soon.. I swear.

Anyway, certainly less thrilled to be reading on in this chonky four-book series but now that we have a solid gang of teens amassed to like.. potentially battle evil, with some still in the closet about it all, things might get more interesting. Maybe. Cautious optimism, it’s to what I cling.

THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

SOMETHING DARK AND EVIL HAS AWAKENED…

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries her uncle will discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho is hiding a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…


Title : The Diviners
Author : Libba Bray
Series : The Diviners (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 578
Genre : YA fantasy / historical fiction / paranormal
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date : September 18, 2012

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating :  ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

Well, here we are. The start of my last undertaking to complete my Five Series to Finish in 2021 challenge. And of course I saved the chonkiest instalments for last.. poor (maybe!) planning on my part but I always intended to save these for spoopy season. And I don’t regret that choice — so far.

This was a reread for me, as I gave up on this series due to extended gaps between releases, but everything on from here will be new. Having said that, I remembered the broad strokes of the plot, and most of the main character’s persona, but not much else. So a lot of this was still surprising. But other than the atmosphere, the vibe, and the setting which lends itself to both very gloomy and also very glittery (1920s), I didn’t.. love it.

This is a long book and hoo boy does it feel long at times. I could more or less lose myself in the anticipation of the reveal and the mystery and the lead-up to the big confrontation but if I paused to take breaks, I didn’t feel inspired to come back to this. Also, at this point, there isn’t a single character who has stolen my heart. Most are fine, or interesting, or tolerable, but perhaps some of my ambivalence is because I just don’t have a favourite. Right now this is definitely a read I’m looking forward to continuing for plot reasons only.

For those of you who don’t know what this series is about, here’s some broad strokes : prohibition, the occult, America, racism, grief, murder, paranormal, spooky vibes, flappers.. and more!

I’ve yet to decide if I’m diving right into book two (I know, shocking! but again.. these are long) or if I’ll divert myself with a palate cleanser. Either way, looking forward to seeing how the rest of this unfolds.

SUBTLE BLOOD by KJ Charles

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan–disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control.

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong. 

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever—or be torn apart for good.


Title : Subtle Blood
Author : KJ Charles
Series : Will Darling Adventures
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 290
Genre : historical fiction / LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : KJC Books
Release Date : June 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

It’s strange to feel less than effusive over a Charles read but honestly since book one this series just hasn’t filled me with the usual love I come to expect from this author. But looking back I think I was slumping during book two and honestly I think I’m doing the same now. So maybe it’s just me. And in fact the only reason I’m even bothering with a review is because I’ve reviewed the first two. So maybe I’m also feeling a bit blah from having to force myself to sum up my thoughts.

An easy positive from this? Is my love for the couple. In book two I think I was more taken with the ladies who were secondary to the action — and they were still great, with a few very important key reveals in this third book — but I found my love for this couple again in this finale. I think it was the mystery and big conspiracy, woven through the series but coming to a head here, I didn’t much care for.

Ultimately, though, a lack lustre Charles is still a great read. My expectations from this author are just pretty huge after all these years. But again, it could just be me. As always, I look forward to what is to come from Charles next. If you have still yet to discover her? What are you even waiting for.

A DOWRY OF BLOOD by S.T. Gibson

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation. 

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. 

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death. 


Title : A Dowry of Blood
Author : S.T. Gibson
Format : eBook
Page Count : 248
Genre : historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Nyx Publishing
Release Date : January 31, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Maybe had I not been disliking so much of what I have been reading this wouldn’t have been as memorable. Or maybe it just is that good. I can’t tell anymore.

I should have paid more attention to the convenience with which you arrived. There are no angels in this world to accompany the dying in their final moments, only pickpockets and carrion birds.

A Dowry of Blood is a sorta epistolary/memoir-style recounting of what basically amounts to the brides of Dracula, even though she never names him, and their undead lives over the course of centuries. Much like the first bride, Constanta, I was enthralled. Not only in the story but how it was told.

This isn’t very long, there are passages of time we only get vague explanations for, but the retelling of events centers around three specific brides, and how the arrival of each changed the dynamic of Constanta’s relationship and inevitably led to its downfall; by unmasking the abuse hidden just below the surface of a suffocating love used as an excuse for control. Each bride responds to it differently and I thought the author’s choices in this regard were so well done.

It’s not only all that and a bag of chips but it’s also sapphic, it’s also queer, and it’s almost novella-like. The winning just doesn’t quit.

Definitely recommend if this seems like your jam.

DON’T BREATHE A WORD by Jordyn Taylor

Present Day:
Eva has never felt like she belonged… not in her own family or with her friends in New York City, and certainly not at a fancy boarding school like Hardwick Preparatory Academy. So when she is invited to join the Fives, an elite secret society, she jumps at the opportunity to finally be a part of something.

But what if the Fives are about more than just having the best parties and receiving special privileges from the school? What if they are also responsible for keeping some of Hardwick’s biggest secrets buried?

1962:
There is only one reason why Connie would volunteer to be one of the six students to participate in testing Hardwick’s nuclear fallout shelter: Craig Allenby. While the thought of nuclear war sends her into a panic, she can’t pass up the opportunity to spend four days locked in with the school’s golden boy. However, Connie and the other students quickly discover that there is more to this “test” than they previously thought. As they are forced to follow an escalating series of commands, Connie realizes that one wrong move could have dangerous consequences.

Separated by sixty years , Eva’s and Connie’s stories become inextricably intertwined as Eva unravels the mystery of how six students went into the fallout shelter all those years ago . . . but only five came out. 


Title : Don’t Breathe a Word
Author : Jordyn Taylor
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA mystery contemporary/historical
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : May 18, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

This was an interesting dual-timeline story, that later connects, of an event in the past that is the catalyst for the creation of a secret society at a boarding school. It mashes up Cold War paranoia with present day priviledge and the new girl at said school who is brought into the society and uncovers the crime at the heart of the organization.

I found this an easy read and enjoyed it when I didn’t think too hard about the unlikeliness of the whole thing enduring through the decades. Also the fact that no one had uncovered anything in the decades since? Like with most stories, suspend some disbelief and you’ll have a good time.

At it’s heart, however, is a good message for teens — and those of us non-teens who sometimes forget — that people worth your time, be them friends or family or peers, won’t demand sacrifice or secrets or for you to bury your discomfort just to be in their presence. Friendship, love, respect.. these are not conditional.

While this wasn’t perhaps all that surprising or original, except for the circumstances taking place during the historical timeline, if you like secret societies, boarding school settings, and mysteries for YA protagonists to unravel, you should give this one a go.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

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