Retro Book Review: Tithe


Happy Wednesday! As I announced last week, I thought writing some “retro” book reviews would be a fun summer goal for keeping the blog going. Last week, I did a re-read of Dark Visions by L.J. Smith (review here). This week, I’m reviewing Tithe by one of my new favorites, Holly Black.

Tithe is the first book in Black’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy, originally published back in 2002 (which is very nearly 20 years ago? oh my…). Recently, the Modern Faerie Tales have been reissued with some gorgeous new covers. I would have been in middle school when Tithe first came out, but for whatever reason, Holly Black was not on my radar back then. The first book of hers I read was The Cruel Prince, and after that, I was hooked on her beautiful, brutal faery world and its characters.

Tithe is also excellent, although not for the faint of heart, I suppose. It’s a fairly dark, gritty urban fantasy, and, although it is a YA series, the Modern Faerie Tales deal with some pretty heavy issues. Black’s spin on the world of the fae is equal parts beautiful and cruel, pleasurable and painful. Its teen MCs are imperfect, its parents range from being selfish to downright neglectful, and no one is safe from the capricious, deadly fae.

At the beginning of Tithe, Kaye Fierch is on the road with her mother, a musician who survives paycheck to paycheck, and gig to gig. But a nearly fatal clash with one of her mother’s bandmates sends them packing for Kaye’s grandmother’s house in New Jersey. Kaye hasn’t been to school in years and, despite her grandmother’s insistence, isn’t about to go back now. She smokes, stays out too late, and is generally a bit aimless. In New Jersey, she reconnects with an old friend, Janet, and Janet’s loner brother, Cornelius (Corny) Stone.

Their New Jersey is one of abandoned warehouses, dark alleyways, and underground raves. But it’s also a world many of the solitary fae – faeries who have been exiled from the Seelie or Unseelie courts – call home. Kaye remembers some imaginary friends she made as a kid. In Tithe, those once imaginary friends turn out to be all too real and know the truth about who Kaye really is. Kaye’s journey is one of self-discovery, of survival as the human and fae worlds collide. And of new love in the form of white-haired Roiben, a Seelie knight who has been traded to serve the Unseelie queen as a show of peace between the two courts.

I am giving Tithe five stars. I love to read (and write) imperfect characters, and Kaye certainly fits the bill. I think some readers, and some perhaps concerned with what teens are reading, balk a bit when the character isn’t some sort of role model. But I don’t believe all characters, even those in YA books, are obligated to be role models. In fact, there are likely many teens out there who may relate to Kaye, a girl from a poor family, with a somewhat neglectful parent and a poor track record at school. Those teens have stories, too. And those teens need to see characters like Kaye who are overcoming odds and discovering their own strengths.

Also, Roiben sounds hot. So there’s that.

If you’re a fan of the fae, urban fantasy, and don’t mind it with a large helping of romantic horror, I recommend Tithe! In the coming weeks, I will also be reviewing the second two books, Valiant and Ironside. I am officially hooked on Holly Black!

Retro Book Review: Dark Visions


Context: I’ve decided to write some “retro” book reviews this summer. I’m defining retro as any book originally published more than 15 years ago. For all you L.J. Smith fans who may or may not be out there, today I’m reviewing a classic: Dark Visions.

I was originally introduced to L.J. Smith in middle school, when my friend handed me The Forbidden Game and said, “I think you’ll like this. Julian is hot.” LOL. Every few years, the nostalgia hits me, and I re-read TFG or Dark Visions, mostly because they’re my favorites, but also because I own them.

I’m not saying Dark Visions is perfect or anything. It was an older book even when I read it for the first time (it’s nearly as old as me). Although I do like L.J. Smith’s writing style, I can’t lie that the characters in Dark Visions sound like something out of a 1950s movie. Honestly, some of it has not aged well. But it’s still one of my favorite comfort reads.

Dark Visions is a trilogy (the three books are often found together now in an omnibus edition) following Kaitlyn Fairchild, a teen artist whose drawings are often prophetic. Because of her spooky powers, she feels out of place in her small town and is sort of viewed as the town “witch.” Then, destiny comes knocking when she’s recruited to an institute for psychics in San Francisco, where she joins four other teen psychics (Rob, Gabriel, Anna, and Lewis) to learn to hone her abilities. It becomes quickly apparent, though, that nothing is as it initially seems at the institute, and its enigmatic leader, Mr. Zetes, has recruited them for more nefarious purposes.

The first book in the trilogy focuses on Kait’s time at the institute and getting to know the other psychics. For the first time, she feels like she has real friends, and even falls in love for the first time, with psychic healer Rob. Unfortunately, she – and basically everybody, lol – butts heads with Gabriel, the bad boy of the bunch who may or may not have murdered someone.

Okay, maybe I just like these books because of Gabriel? L.J. Smith has always done misunderstood, broody antihero very well. Her books also tend to feature a central love triangle, between the main heroine, a well-liked golden boy (who is not without his own flaws), and a Broody McBroodypants. In Dark Visions, we of course have the Rob-Kait-Gabriel love triangle, with both guys appealing to different sides of Kait. I had sort of forgotten this until I re-read it (and this may be a bit of a spoiler, but these books are 30-years-old…), but it does come with the lesson that your first love won’t necessarily be your last, or only, love – and that you can love people in different ways. Which, duh…but still, I think it’s a nice lesson to impart, especially for teen readers. When you’re young, breaking up with someone can feel like the end of the world, but it’s definitely not. I promise you, you will love again, lol.

Part of the reason that Dark Visions (and L.J. Smith’s other books) might be so memorable/important to me, is because – back at the time I first read them – YA was not nearly the behemoth genre it is now. The YA section of our local library was several shelves against a wall crammed with delightfully pulp-y paperbacks. It was right before YA started to get really big in the mid- to late-2000s. Back then, I also read a lot of V.C. Andrews, which probably could be considered YA by today’s standards (perhaps except for all the, uh, incest…), it just wasn’t marketed as such at the time. I think it’s great there are so many options and subgenres of YA now. So many choices for teens! And for older millennials like me who read/write YA. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but I think much of the reason L.J. Smith’s books will always hold a special place in my heart.

I just got some of Holly Black’s older books from the library (curbside pickup has been my best friend during the pandemic), so I think doing these types of retro reviews will be one of my summer projects. For now, happy Friday eve – and happy reading!

Monster Girls and Wicked Boys


Happy Thursday! I haven’t really done a book review on this blog for quite some time. But, I recently read Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy, and I have thoughts, lol.

It’s been awhile since I felt like anything pulled me in as much as this series did. And it was somewhat unexpected. I read the first book, The Cruel Prince, early last year, probably a month or so before the pandemic began. I really liked it! But it took me until this past month to read the next two (The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing). I was so pulled in that I actually went back and re-read The Cruel Prince, then read the other two again before I had to return them to the library. I rarely re-read books at all, let alone this soon after the first read, haha. I was curious to see, though, what clues Holly Black might have sprinkled throughout the series leading up to its conclusion.

So, this post is sort of part book review, part discussion of themes that I liked in the trilogy. First, the review part: top-notch books, five million stars. Lol. (I should note, too, the title of today’s post is borrowed from How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, a short story collection and companion to TFOTA.)

The series centers around Jude Duarte, a girl whose parents were murdered by the Folk and then raised by their murderer, a redcap named Madoc, in Elfhame. Jude and her twin sister, Taryn, have quite a different upbringing in Elfhame than they would have in the human world, to say the least. The fairy world is one filled with intrigue, epic political rivalries, debauchery, and violence. In the first book, Jude has aspirations of becoming a knight. She craves both physical armor and the respect such a position would grant her, but she’s also, in a sense, armored her emotions, her heart, just to survive as a human in Elfhame.

Jude is a great, and perhaps rare, type of character in YA literature. She is unapologetically ambitious and will do anything to take, and hold onto, even a little bit of power in the fairy world. Especially in the first book, she’s very nearly, if not entirely, a psychopath. She also has a bloodthirsty streak.

There’s actually quite a lot of political intrigue going on in this series, so it’s unfair to boil it down to its central romance. But, what a “romance” it is. Cardan is the youngest prince of Elfhame. When they’re in school together, he and his friends are bullies, and to say Jude hates him is an understatement. Cardan “hates” her at the start, too, although perhaps it’s more fair to say that he hates himself for not actually hating her, a puny human.

If you’re an enemies-to-lovers fan, this is the trilogy for you. And clearly from some of the reviews I’ve seen after finishing the series, not everyone is a fan of this, and that’s fine. This aspect of the book seems to have gotten some slack because Cardan is, of course, a bully at the beginning, and for some readers, that’s a deal breaker. But, although I think it’s fair to say a relationship like this doesn’t translate well to real life (and it doesn’t have to), I love the themes Holly Black is able to explore with this dynamic.

Because it’s true, Cardan is cruel at the start of the series (although some of his friends are arguably worse), but Jude is also horrible, in her way. Like I said, she will do anything to get ahead, to feel like she has at least some control in a world she knows is against her. And this includes tricking, lying, and controlling Cardan in The Wicked King. Cardan has a troubled past that explains much of why he is the way he is, and he grows out of this by the end of the series. One of the themes of the trilogy is that boys can change, and I actually think this is really important. Not in a sense that you should be in a relationship with someone who bullies you (you absolutely shouldn’t), but in a more general sense. Like, honestly, boys absorb a lot of toxic messages, whether they’re aware of it or not, about what it means to be a man. But, as you get older, you can learn new things – realize what you’ve been taught or raised to believe isn’t necessarily true – and change your perspective as a result.

Jude, too, goes through a learning process throughout the series. She comes to learn that loving someone doesn’t mean controlling them. The emotional armor she’s built around herself begins, slowly, to chip away.

I think this trilogy’s themes also resonated with me because (shameless plug alert), it reminded me of what I was trying to do in my Reborn series. In Reborn and Relapse, Siobhan and Jasper have a pretty toxic relationship. They could both use a lesson in love does not equal control. Jasper blatantly manipulates Siobhan in the first book, believing he has her best interests in mind. In the second book, I try to reverse their roles a bit. Jasper is starting to come around, disliking the darker version of himself he’s become. And, despite everything, he does love Siobhan. She knows this. She knows this, exploits it because she gets something from him, too – but can’t give herself entirely to him, emotionally. Siobhan, in this way, is hurting him right back; she’s aware of it, but she goes ahead with it, anyway.

Another aspect of Holly Black’s trilogy I appreciated was the way she reversed gender roles. In addition to wanting to become a knight, Jude has many of the personality traits that, if we do see them, we usually see them in male characters. Like I said, she’s shamelessly ambitious, needs to control everything, and has a penchant for solving problems with violence. And, this is a bit superficial, but I also love how Cardan is the “flashy” one, ha. Jude does get dressed up in the books, but she tends to gravitate toward more practical clothing, while Cardan’s closets are full of fancy attire.

Anyway, these kinds of role reversals are what I like to see in books, and also what I tried to incorporate in Retribution. I want to see heroines who are ambitious, complicated, controlling, bloodthirsty, unapologetic. “Monster” girls, as Holly Black might say.

If you are a fan of YA, fantasy, and romance, I highly recommend The Folk of the Air books!

Pieces of Me


This post by H.N. Sieverding about Resembling Your Characters got me thinking about the pieces of me, both the obvious and not so obvious, sprinkled throughout the Reborn series.

There’s the saying to “write what you know” – and in many ways I definitely did that in Reborn. Siobhan and I have several superficial similarities and differences. At one time, we were both blonde. Although, as I was just joking about with Ms. Sieverding, my highlights have grown out during the pandemic, so my natural brown hair is showing now. My hubby likes to tease me about it, but he says he loves my hair/me either way. (Good answer.) Siobhan is short, whereas I’m on the taller side.

Our backgrounds are probably the most similar thing. Like Siobhan, I grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania (and Shadesburg is my fictional version of Pittsburgh). She also loves science, but I made her a biology major instead of chemistry. We were both in sororities. Luckily, my sorority’s president and adviser were not capricious Greek goddesses (as far as I know). Probably the biggest difference, personality-wise, is that I made Siobhan way more outgoing than I am. She also tends to blurt things out without thinking, whereas I am more cautious about what I want to say (or at least try to be).

That being said, although I was writing what I knew, I wouldn’t say Siobhan is me. She doesn’t make the same decisions I would. At the end of the day, I am trying to explore a character who isn’t you or me. I think sometimes, the author is purposefully doing this so you as the reader can insert yourself in the action or fantasy. (And, not to drag this series or anything, but Ana in Fifty Shades of Gray is sort of like that.) Not that there wouldn’t be aspects you can/can’t relate to with Siobhan or my other characters, but they go through their own changes as the series goes on.

Well, that was already a bit of a tangent. So, what other pieces of me have I inserted into the books? Personality-wise, I am probably more like Carly. I think at one point in the third book she mentions living in her head a lot – as a writer, that is definitely me, haha. I made her a math major because heroines with STEM-related interests are still not something I see a lot of in young adult books. Her obsession with 80s music and movies is also 100% me, lol. As is her close relationship to her grandmother when she was younger.

That’s where the similarities end, I think. It’s difficult for pieces of yourself to not end up in your work, whether it’s intentional or not. And while I think it can be important for authors to put themselves in shoes that are not their own (otherwise, you’re going to write about the same character/story over and over again), we also need to be cognizant of whether you are/aren’t the right person to do a certain storyline justice. Especially when you’re coming from a point-of-view that’s typically the majority or more privileged perspective. That’s another aside that could be an entire post of its own, but I just wanted to qualify that here.

I was also trying to decide if there is a male character in Reborn most like me? Jimmy is the punk rocker among the group, and I do love a lot of the music I have him reference (The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, David Bowie). Like, every book I write always has to have some not-so-subtle Bowie reference, bahaha. I guess Dolos and I have the whole vivid imagination thing in common, although he takes it to a whole new level (and I am not a trickster god, that I am aware of).

So, there you have it! Probably more information than you ever wanted to know about what parts of me ended up in the Reborn series. But I hope you enjoyed it!

Love Triangles


Hello dearies, and happy 2021! It’s been a strange year, to say the least, but I wish you all health and happiness in this new year! I spent my holiday vacation binging (bingeing?) season 2 of The Mandalorian with hubby (SO AMAZINGLY GOOD) and starting season 3 of my current guilty pleasure, Hannibal. (Very Christmas-y, I know.)

But, anyway, this post isn’t about any of that (even though this blog will be converting to a Mads Mikkelsen stan account very shortly…). The last book I read for 2020 has got me thinking about love triangles.

Now, some people really hate love triangles. I’m not in that camp – occasionally, I love a good, ol’ fashioned love triangle, especially if it’s done well, or if there’s a twist on it. There was one in the first two books of my Reborn series (Siobhan/Jasper/Jimmy), although I think my novella Rectify put a nail in that coffin. I realized there was a rather accidental one after I finished writing the third book, but I also put a twist on this in the next installment, Retribution. 😉 Sorry for the book plug, but I couldn’t resist…

The reason I’m thinking love triangles today, though, is because the book I just read did one…poorly. And I’ve been pondering why it didn’t work for me.

The book is Finale, the third book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series. Now, I’m definitely not here to bash this series. I enjoyed the first two books, and I generally liked the magical, whimsical world of games and deception Ms. Garber created. But in the second and third books, there was a love triangle between one of the main heroines, Donatella (Tella) Dragna, Legend (the gamemaster of Caraval), and Jacks/the Prince of Hearts (one of the Fates, the major supernatural/god-like race in the series).

Now, Legend and Jacks are both villainous types in these books. And it’s potentially interesting for the heroine to be caught between two villains (as long as she’s not merely their pawn). But it fell really flat for me, to the point where I was wondering…what is the point? Jacks is kind of a vivid, intriguing character, but why is he here? Why does this love triangle even exist? Even as a villain (or antihero), it would work if he serves as a foil to Legend, or gives Tella something Legend can’t. But most of the time, he’s just kind of there, being cruel and capricious, and Tella seems attracted to him for no reason. Legend goes through more of a character change than Jacks, but even that didn’t have as hard of a punch as it should have.

So, what does make a good love triangle? This example might show my, ahem, age, but I always liked the way L.J. Smith approached them in her novels back in the day. I still think and talk about her books…a lot (Exhibit A). Lol. They’re like thirty years old. It’s fine. But in her books, there was always a light-darkness theme going on with the love triangles her heroines found themselves in. In The Forbidden Game trilogy, Jenny was in love with Tom, her high school sweetheart, who represented light and safety to her. But the part of her that’s growing up, and possibly growing out of Tom, is intrigued by the danger and mystery trickster god Julian offers, despite his darkness. The books aren’t even that long, but Ms. Smith manages to show how Tom isn’t always the safety net Jenny has come to depend on, and how Julian isn’t all that he seems, either. They both offer her something she wants, even if those sides of her are in conflict.

For this next section, if you don’t want spoilers for The Infernal Devices, Splintered, or A Court of Thorns and Roses series, I would stop reading…right about…now.

The other twist on YA love triangles that seems to have become popular in recent years is that…it’s quite possible…to love more than one person during your life? I know it seems crazy, but it’s true! All kidding aside, I think this is an important message for teen audiences. And it makes for a better story! In Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices trilogy, Tessa marries Will, and they have a very happy life together. But as he’s a shadowhunter and she has demon blood, she outlives him. Long after he’s gone, she reunites with Jem, the other love of her life. There’s a similar theme in A.G. Howard’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired trilogy, Splintered.

I’ve just decided I don’t want to spoil Sarah J. Maas’s ACOTAR series, but if you want to read a trilogy where all of your expectations after reading the first book are completely upended, in the best way possible, READ THESE BOOKS. IMMEDIATELY. Books don’t have to have a message, but I think this series does. It’s an important one and not incorporated in a “preach-y” way or anything like that.

I guess if this post has any sort of conclusion or advice, and isn’t simply me rambling, it’s this. Love triangles can be fun! They don’t have to be super complex or convey some sort of message, but each love interest should offer the central character something he or she wants – or fulfill them in some way – the other person can’t, emotionally or otherwise. It will be more interesting if each of the three characters has very clear internal and external motivations, especially if they come into conflict (and beyond just the fact you have two people fighting over the same person). Or, you know, they should at least be different in some way, and not basically the same person, lol.

Any thoughts about love triangles? I would love to hear them below!

Super Secret Project


As I was giving this web site a much needed makeover, I realized I hadn’t written a post since…December 2018?! *Gasps*

And to be honest, I don’t really have the compulsion to blog as much as I used to (although I could probably do a bit better than once every ten months…). I mostly want this web site to be a place where people can find out more about the Reborn series, and what I’m currently working on, all in one place.

I do have a few more books planned for the Reborn series. The first wraps up Siobhan’s (and Carly’s) stories from the previous three books. I also have a partial draft of a stand-alone, Halloween novel that takes place in the Reborn world. I thought I’d be able to get that out for this Halloween, but I’m pushing it back again. (Sorry about that, but I had a wonderful, whirlwind of a summer getting married and moving!)

Also, I have a super secret WIP that has kind of taken precedence. I’ve been working on it on and off for a long time, and it just needs to get done. But I’m excited about it! There’s really no reason for it to be super secret, except that it’s not part of the Reborn series, and I’m not ready to talk much about it yet. I will say it’s a YA science fiction novel with some romance and a lot of drama. (Think Riverdale…with aliens. LOL.)

In any case, you know I like to share playlists of the songs I’m listening to while I’m working on a project. So, here you go…my super angsty, YA book playlist (with YouTube links).

In retrospect, there is a lot of Billie Eilish on here. I’m an adult.

Bad Guy – Billie Eilish

Bubblegum B*tch – Marina (formerly & The Diamonds)

Girls Like You – The Naked and Famous

Starry Eyed – Ellie Goulding

Lock You Up – Charli XCX

Shampain – Marina (side note: this is the best music video ever)

Bury A Friend – Billie Eilish

One Of A Kind – Placebo

Indie Rokkers – MGMT

Teen Idle – Marina

Emotional – Charli XCX

Ocean Eyes – Billie Eilish

E.T. – Katy Perry

Updates August 29, 2017


Why hello there! It’s been a while (sorry about that)…

Madelaine Petsch ouch yikes riverdale cringe GIF

It’s been a pretty busy summer. A great summer, but a busy one.

Even so, I did make some time for writing! However, I stepped away from the Reborn series for the latter part of the summer to work on a different project. I spent much of the summer revamping an old young adult sci-fi (with some romance) novel I’d written awhile ago to get it ready for Pitch Wars.

What is Pitch Wars, you ask? You can get the deets on author Brenda Drake’s web site, but it’s basically a contest to try to win a mentor (usually an editor or previously published author) that will help you further revise and polish up your manuscript. Later in the fall, there’s an agent showcase where you can pitch your newly revised manuscript to agents.

To enter, you need a completed middle grade, young/new adult, or adult novel. You start by submitting a query letter and the first chapter of your manuscript to four mentors of your choosing. There are different mentors for each of the three categories, and before the submission period there’s a blog hop during which each mentor describes what genres they’re interested (or not interested) in mentoring.

I gave it a try this year and didn’t get a mentor…but that’s okay. I’m remaining optimistic. 😉 If anything, I got to see what the contest was all about and may try again next year with a different manuscript. There were around 3000 entries this year and about 180 mentors, I think (I don’t remember the exact stats), so competition was fierce. Plus, now I have a manuscript I can fiddle around with more. I may try to query agents and small publishers with this one first. If that doesn’t work out, I’ll consider self-publishing it.

But now I’ll get back to other writing projects/ideas as well. This summer I also joined a few professional organizations to up my networking game, including Romance Writers of America and Pennwriters. I’ve been meeting some great people through them so far. I have a few author friends I keep in touch with online, but it’s nice to have some real life author acquaintances, too. The writing life, as you can imagine, can be a pretty solitary existence, so it’s super important to take that extra step to network with other writers and potential readers.

I’ll have to check back in with my writing/publishing plans for fall because…I don’t know what they are yet.

Geek & Sundry reaction sam and GIF

It might be fun to post another short story for Halloween, though, like I did two years ago with the short that eventually become my novella Revenge. But we’ll see!

 cat future sunglasses future is bright GIF

Book Review: Lady Midnight


I’ll have a real update post for you tomorrow, but I’m also trying to get caught up on book reviews. Here is one for Lady Midnight, the first book in Cassandra Clare’s newest trilogy, The Dark Artifices.

Back Cover Book Summary:

lady-midnight“In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?”

*****

So, I am typically a huge Cassandra Clare fan. I loved The Mortal Instruments series. I loved The Infernal Devices trilogy even more. But Lady Midnight was a 3-star read for me and a kind of shaky start to this newest trilogy.

Part of the problem is that LM takes about one hundred pages for the plot to really get moving and interesting. The beginning of the book is A LOT of set up, which is somewhat needed but seemed to take too long and wasn’t as organically incorporated into the developing plot as it could have been. The Mortal Instruments series has a memorable opening with Clary encountering the shadowhunters for the first time in a club called Pandemonium. The opening of this book does not live up to that. Plus, I found myself not really invested in the main plot point–Emma’s search for the person who killed her parents–at least initially. This did get better.

A few other aspects that bothered me: First, there were too many kids. Haha. I get that Clare has developed this character, Julian, who had to grow up quickly, taking care of the household and his brothers and sisters–and I liked that about him. I did. He was one of my favorite characters in the book. But I think she could have gotten this point across without quite so many younger siblings. Plus, when their names are Ty, Livvy, Tavvy, and Drusilla, I got them mixed up, lol. At least at first. Maybe part of it was I didn’t care to keep track of who was who. I liked that she includes Ty as an autistic character, but the other ones seemed pointless. (Or maybe I’m terrible.)

The other major drawback for me was the incorporation of characters from previous books. Look, I get that she has created this world now and it’s all connected and that’s fun, but I could have done without the cameos from Clary, Jace, Alec, Magnus, Jem, and Tessa (Jem’s is the only one that should have been there because it made sense). I would love to know what’s happened to these characters since the ends of their respective series, but maybe in a short story or something. In LM, I just wanted to get a feel for the new characters, and these throwbacks to past books kept taking me out of the story.

I love getting lost in long books, but only if there’s a point to it being that long. I think this book could have been tighter for the reasons mentioned above, and, consequently, about 100 pages shorter than it was.

That being said, I didn’t actually hate this book. Mark Blackthorn’s plot thread saved this book for me. As far as I’m concerned, the entire book could have been about that conflict. Maybe she could just write a series about Mark and Kieran in the Wild Hunt.

There are also some cool surprises in Lady Midnight. (This might be a tiny bit spoiler-y, so stop reading now if you don’t want any sort of spoiler, even a small, vague one.) At first, I thought the rule about parabatai not being allowed to have a romantic relationship was as dumb and senseless as Emma and Julian seemed to think it was, but that got better, too.

Despite the issues I had with this book, I still intend to read book 2, Lord of Shadows, to see where all of this is going.

Book Review: Enshadowed by Kelly Creagh


Back cover summary: “Varen Nethers is trapped in a perilous dreamworld—a treacherous and desolate realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life. Isobel Lanley, plagued by strange visions and haunted by the nightmares of Varen’s creation, is the only one who can save him. Isobel knows that her only hope lies within a Baltimore cemetery. There, in the early morning of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, a mysterious stranger known as the “Poe Toaster” will make his annual homage at the legendary poet’s grave. Only the Poe Toaster holds the key to the way between worlds. But great dangers lie ahead for Isobel. An ancient evil, draped in veils of white, is watching, challenging her for Varen’s affections. When Isobel finally finds Varen, he is no longer the quiet and brooding boy who once captivated her, but a dark force, powerful and malevolent. Could Isobel’s greatest love also be her greatest adversary?”

*****

For the most part, I liked this sequel to Creagh’s debut novel, Nevermore (read my review here)–maybe not as much, but I still liked it and enjoy the author’s writing style.

I think what might disappoint readers somewhat is the lack of Varen in this follow-up. Although the trilogy certainly covers other themes, the relationship between Isobel and Varen is the main focus of the first book, so I’m not sure if it was daring or misguided on Creagh’s part to lessen Varen’s presence in Enshadowed. It’s carried through in a different (and unexpected) way…I don’t want to say too much about it because it would likely spoil the book, but just wanted to warn readers that it might not be what they expect. (I think the official book summary is misleading in this way.)

Because of this, it felt like one of those books that, while well written, is very much a transitional installment and doesn’t stand very well on its own. I’m glad all three books are out because now I don’t have to wait to read the third one, haha, and hopefully the third book will wrap things up nicely since the author does leave you hanging and wanting more.

However, Enshadowed still has a lot going for it, which is why I’m giving it four stars. As a YA paranormal/horror book, it definitely has some creepy parts, particularly in the delightfully sinister character of Pinfeathers. Creagh also reverses a few popular tropes. By the end of Nevermore, we know that Varen is trapped in a dangerous dreamworld of his own creation, held captive there by the alluring but evil Lilith. In the sequel, it’s up to Isobel to find a way back to the dreamworld to rescue Varen, although the end result of this probably isn’t what you’d expect, either. Creagh addresses some of the unanswered questions left at the end of the first book, but leaves plenty of mysteries still waiting to be solved in book three. I enjoyed her paranormal spins on the Poe Toaster and Poe’s own murky past and demise.

All in all, I thought it was a good, if not an amazing, sequel, and I’m definitely interested to see where Kelly Creagh is going with all of this in the third and final book.

Book Review: Nevermore by Kelly Creagh


Back cover summary: “Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.

Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.”

***

I’ve been bad about writing reviews lately (well, bad about reading outside of work, period), but I absolutely have to tell fellow YA paranormal, horror, and romance fans about this book by Kelly Creagh. It’s the first in a trilogy, and, although it seems like she’s been enjoying some success, I don’t think nearly enough people know about this book. So I want to spread the word.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I got this book from the library last weekend. (As an aside, I checked out a new library–I LOVE libraries–but didn’t know where anything was yet so had to ask someone where the YA section was. The librarian started prattling on about the summer YA reading list, and I got the feeling they thought I was looking for some books for a kid or something. Nope, I’m just in my late 20s and still read young adult books…and if you’re one of the people playing Pokemon Go right now, you have no room to judge…)

Anyway, I recognized this book from Goodreads and decided to give it a go. I mean, the book summary sounded intriguing if a little predictable, and I wasn’t sure how the Edgar Allan Poe spin would play out, even though it seems like a unique twist for a YA book. Plus, Varen Nethers has to be the bestest character name ever. So, excited but not sure what to expect, I checked it out of the library.

And Ms. Creagh completely sucked me in.

I guess I’m so pleasantly surprised because Nevermore did not have to be this good. The cheerleader/goth “forbidden” high school romance that forms the premise is probably overdone, but Kelly Creagh writes it in such a way that feels fresh and not corny, for lack of a better word. (At least in my opinion). Nevermore opens with the main character, unlikely heroine Isobel Lanley, getting partnered with king of the goths Varen for an English class project. (They decide to do theirs on Poe, of course, Varen’s favorite writer.) Varen and Isobel butt heads for much of the first third of the book or so. She’s still hanging with the popular crowd and dating one of the football players (Brad), but when her “crew” starts to turn on Varen and Brad becomes disturbingly jealous of the fact she has to do this project with Varen, Isobel starts to see that maybe her so-called “friends” really aren’t that great. Throughout the course of the project, she finds herself more intrigued by Varen and drawn into his world, which turns out to be stranger and more twisted than she ever expected.

I thought the tension between Isobel and Varen was great, although it took them a little long to start discovering their feelings for each other for my taste. And, although Varen is your typical dark-and-broody anti-hero (as find out, he kind of has a good reason to be), he’s not mean to Isobel or so forgone that leaves you wondering why she would be interested in him in the first place. He’s somewhat sarcastic in the beginning, and at one point he tells her she’s “not his type,” but it’s more of a mutual dislike (Isobel’s not great to him in the beginning, either). Brad is the real creep. In general I just really liked the characters in this book. Isobel starts off as being the stereotypical, bubbly cheerleader but changes a lot throughout Nevermore. No matter what’s thrown her way, she never stops fighting. One of my other favorite characters was her locker neighbor/new best friend Gwen, who really pops off the page and is just hilarious.

All in all, I would say this is the perfect book for high school readers who enjoy paranormal, horror, and romance. And also for old people like me who also enjoy YA books. 😉 Seriously, though, it’s a pretty balanced mix of horror, humor, and romance. Not so scary as to make you leave a light on at night, but it definitely as some creepy parts. And I just really liked Creagh’s writing style. It’s a dark but beautiful debut novel.

Nevermore isn’t totally without some problems. It’s 500+ pages and, even though it’s still an easy read, I felt like it could have been a little shorter. Like I said, the romantic tension between Isobel and Varen takes a little too long to build up, and is pretty understated (there’s a desperate kiss at one point, but that’s pretty much it). Then again, it is a YA book, so that’s age-appropriate. (I’ll admit, I used to write more YA-oriented stories, but then transitioned to New Adult so that I could write sexier scenes, teehee). Also toward the beginning there’s a chapter broken up with some long passages from The Red Masque of Death as Isobel is reading through The Complete Works of EAP that really pulled me out of the story. I mean, gotta love Poe, but it was a little much. Luckily, it didn’t become a “thing” throughout the book. Otherwise, I really liked the Poe-inspired world she created in this book.

But, at the end of it all, I loved Nevermore and can’t wait to read the next two (Creagh leaves you hanging at the end of book 1). A well-deserved 5 stars!