Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked #2) by Kerri Maniscalco

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ARC provided by the publisher

➽ 1.) Kingdom of the Wicked ★★★

“And there is nothing more dangerous than love, is there? People fight for it. They die for it. They commit acts of war and treason and all manner of sin in its name.”

Whew, what a rollercoaster again! Kingdom of the Cursed picks up immediately after the events of Kingdom of the Wicked, and with Emilia trying to pick up the falling pieces of her life. Her main priority is to still avenge her sister and discover who was killing witches in her Italian town, but this time she is looking for clues in the land of actual heck, where she is promised to one of the seven demon rulers, and not the one she already has feelings for. Yet, Wrath escorts her back to his personal heck kingdom, and Emilia soon realizes there is much more she has to be in search of if she ever really wants to live a normal life again.

I feel like talking about my thoughts on this series is just so difficult. Let me start out by saying that this was the most easily consumable book I’ve read all year, and there wasn’t a moment I wasn’t thinking about it while not reading. The atmosphere, setting, and entire vibe is perfect, especially for the autumn time! The main character and her quests for vengeance and for her own discovery really is phenomenal. The writing is lush and descriptive and feels like its own sort of magical teleportation. And the story itself feels enthralling at every turn, and plot points are constantly being set up to leave the reader anticipating that next page, while also begging for the next book.

“When the demon responsible for Vittoria’s death finally felt the flames of my fury, I’d hopefully have burned this House of Sin to ash.”

But there was just a horrible chapter that really dampened my entire reading experience and it really breaks my heart because this is one of those situations where I truly believe if publishing houses would just hire beta readers who review critically, this could have been such an easy chapter to fix. I actually believe that if chapter 17 did not happen, this could have been a five star book for me and you could have seen me holding it up as a new profile picture in 2022. But that scene just 1.) made me wanna throw up and 2.) made it so hard to root for the romance after, even though the author constantly tries to make an excuse for the behavior, but it honestly just makes it feel even worse. Also, I wouldn’t make excuses for anything that happened in that chapter, but once I finished the book I realized that the “training session” was so unnecessary, at least in this book, and again it just ruined my reading enjoyment.

For the sake of the rest of this review, I’m just going to ignore this chapter. But in my review of Kingdom of the Wicked, I said how this series is the first series in so many years to remind me of those fantasy series I read when I was younger and truly could not put the books down, and I would look forward to their next installments being released months and months in advance, while trying to devour to story when it hit my kindle at midnight!

And this story was extra reminiscent of those feelings because this second book takes a very large jump in the adult or new adult fantasy genre. This book is very steamy, and Emilia and Wrath have very sexy thoughts on the brain 24/7. This author also makes full use of this series being about demons inspired off the seven deadly sins, and this story uses very public displays to showcase this. (I do scream at Emilia not knowing about oral sex though, especially when she claims to have read such naughty romance books in her past though!)

Overall, again, this is just a hard one for me to review and rate. I will for sure read book three and see how it all wraps up, because I am actually unhingedly invested in everything, especially with how this second book closes! I really loved all the new developments with Emilia’s powers and with all the witches and the history of witches, actually. I loved a lot of the side characters we were introduced to too, and maybe one demon prince will actually pull a Rhysand, which would be insane but I’d really welcome it at this point. I also want to see all of the different lands and castles of hell, too, because so far every exploration has felt magical and so exciting! I do apologize for this review being all over the place; middle books are always a bit more difficult for me to review, especially ones where I am trying to pretend an entire chapter didn’t happen. I’m going to be very curious what everyone thinks of this book once it releases!

“Not all stories end happily, Emilia”

Trigger + Content Warnings: a lot of blood descriptions + depictions, grief, gore, violence, mention of loss of a loved one, brief mention of the topic of rape, drugging, a lot of sexual themes and scenes, and a full warning that chapter 17 has very questionable physical consent involving mind control powers using magical compulsion – truly full dubcon vibes but sex does not ultimately happen, but it is just a very uncomfortable scene that actually made me nauseous, so please use caution while reading.

3
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Buddy read with Maëlys & Lea! ❤

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao | Blog Tour

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ARC Provided by the Author & Caffeine Book Tours 
Publication: September 21, 2021 by Penguin Teen

“This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion.”

I’ll be completely honest, when I read the author note at the start of this book I knew I was about to fall in love with a new story. Xiran Jay Zhao lets the reader know that you are about to get a love letter to Chinese culture, Chinese history, and the only female Chinese emperor! The author does not shy away from the ugly things, but always shines such a powerful light on all the beauty, and truly crafts such an inspiring tale of a girl who will rise up the ranks and become more powerful than anyone ever let her believe or dream, including her family, her country, and even herself.

This story is Asian, queer, and all about abolishing the patriarchy and gender roles that every society tries to make people fit with their judgement, expectations, and laws. “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor” is the perfect tagline for this book! And this story is truly so powerful, so beautiful, and so high on my recommendations lists for you all!

Okay, on to the giant transforming robots and what the story is actually about! In this world, Huaxia is trying to protect the Great Wall against Hunduns and their alien mechs (who have already developed and established their own society and way of life on the other side of the wall And Huazia has modified versions of these robots that they call Chrysalises, and constant waves of battle are happening and being broadcasted for the people to watch and be entertained by. The pilots of these mechs are able to transform them into East Asian mythical creatures, and sometimes they are able to gain more special abilities under very specific circumstances when two pilots are able to bond together, weave their qi together, fight stronger together, and have a big adventure in battles together. But there are so few bonded pilots in this world.

But in Huaxia, young boys are hailed as heroes for piloting these machines, but it always takes two pilots, no matter how much society wishes to forget about the evils of the other seat. Young girls are given up by their families to serve the army and have their qi tested to see if they would be able to help pilot alongside a powerful boy. The thing is, most times the boy completely invades, using a psychic link, and uses up every ounce of lifeforce the girl has, killing her during battle.

“I wouldn’t live and suffer for anyone else, but I would die to avenge my sister.”

➽ Wu Zetian – our main character, who is ready to enlist herself in to the army, to the same pilot who her big sister was enlisted to, but only her ashes were given back. On a mission of pure vengeance, and being sick of being held back because of the gender she was assigned at birth, she finally wants to reclaim some semblance of power for her sister, even if she has to pay for it with her life. But when she gets into her first mech as a concubine-pilot, the world is not ready for the power she truly has to offer, even if it could change the war for once and for all. She also uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair because of the seriousness and pain of her footbinding.

➽ Li Shimin – the Iron Demon, pilot of the Vermillion Bird, and the scariest and most powerful pilots of them all. Not a single girl has made it out of his mech alive during battle. Was on actual death row for murder because his qi power was tested and noticed and now he is forced to endure another type of prison. He also is bisexual and half Rongdi. He is also struggling with alcoholism and immense trauma and grief. (unrelated, but I would give my life for him this very second.)

➽ Gao Yizhi – son of a powerful man who controls many of the social and public relations standards of Huaxia. Yizhi would sneak out and meet Zetian once a month in the forest of her village and help teach her things and just be a good friend to her. When I tell you I would die for this character. I also feel like the author really gave him some 11/10 one-liners. He is also bisexual and really does such a beautiful job teaching Zetian about polyamory. (yes, these three end up in a relationship together, even though it is not the central plot, it is perfect and I hope we are able to see more stories in the future normalize polyamorous relationships in the seamless way this one did!)

“love isn’t some scarce resource to battle over. Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.”

But we follow (and fall head over heels in love with) this trio, while they attempt to dismantle the patriarchy and different types of oppression these people have been facing since even before Zhou fell. I know I just gave you a lot of information, but I promise you the author does so much of a better job immersing you in this story and world. Their writing is actually the best writing I’ve read in the past few years and the amount of highlights my eARC has is actually sickening.

I also just deeply loved the themes of feminism and how sometimes things can feel exceptionally heavy when you have been raised your entire life to honor your elders and trust that they know best, when we still have so many systems (and corrupt governments) to dismantle in our world today. I’m typing this review in 2021 where you are still unable to get a divorce in the Philippines that isn’t an annulment, and how living in the US means constantly seeing powerful men make laws that take away women’s rights to their own bodies.

“I close my eyes, picturing myself taking command of a Chrysalis, towering over buildings and smashing the earth with my colossal limbs or luminous qi blasts. I could crush anyone who’s ever tried to crush me. I could free all the girls who’d love to run away.”

Overall this was just the Asian, queer, polyamorous, feminist sci-fi story of my dreams. The layers were so haunting and deep, the themes were so loud and important, the writing was pure perfection and genius levels of lyrical, and the characters were completely and wholeheartedly unforgettable. And I truly believe that book two, and the conclusion to this duology, will be even better come 2022.

Also, this author is just really cool and creates really amazing content on youtube and their blog. I truly think they are just so inspirational, and I believe one day they will have a few stories written about them and the hope and happiness they are giving to so many, including so many Asian kids all around the world who are feeling so seen and feeling even more pride in their cultures.

Also (lastly for real), this book being published on September 21st, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, and celebrating another story about a woman, a rabbit, and their sacrifices brings actual tears to my eyes. Very galaxy brain of this author and pub house and just a really beautiful final touch.

Iron Window will for sure make my best books of 2021 list, and I am so truly proud and honored to have been on the blog tour for such a powerful story.

Content + Trigger Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, gore, human sacrifices, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, extreme alcohol addiction, lots of consumption of alcohol, lots of depictions of blood, lots of depictions of trauma, depictions of depression, anxiety depictions and panic attacks, many mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, humiliation, misogyny and sexism, talk of disease, themes of colonization, and war themes

5


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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

(i’m the worst) buddy read(er) with May ❤

Xiran Jay Zhao is a first-gen immigrant from small-town China who was raised by the Internet​. A recent graduate of Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, they wrote science fiction and fantasy while they probably should have been studying more about biochemical pathways. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Iron Widow is their first novel.

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A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee


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“Once upon a time I found it so easy to forget the stories about Godwin House and the five Dalloway witches who lived here three hundred years ago, their blood in our dirt, their bones banging from our trees.”

I feel like all of Goodreads was screaming “sapphic dark academia with murder and witches” at me to read this, which I very happily obliged, but even with keywords as magnificent as those I still found so many other things to fall in love with about this story.

This is such a beautifully crafted and hauntingly atmospheric book staring a lesbian main character who is coming back to finally finish her senior year at a very spooky boarding school. She is also living with an immense amount of grief, anxiousness, and psychotic depression.

Dalloway School is a very isolated school, and the house that Felicity is going to be sharing with four other girls is even more isolated from the rest of the campus. And even though there are beliefs of witchcraft all over the school, the Godwin House is where five young suspected witches lived before they were murdered 300 years ago.

The writing in this is so wildly fresh, and pleasing, and dare I even say the most aesthetic. The word choices and how each sentence is structured feels so very deliberate and it truly made the whole reading experience even better and even more haunting. Truly some of the best words and passages I’ve read in such a long while and it was truly a treat every single time I picked up this book, while I also seamlessly fell back into the story.

There is also a major theme and plot of literature and how these five girls are working on different theses. Felicity’s thesis is about misogyny and the portrayal of women in horror literature. Where a new girl named Ellis is working on an entire book, trying to research these murders to help be inspired for her next award winning novel. And because their projects kind of go together (and because they are living in a really creepy house that five women lived before they were murdered) they decide to work together, and Ellis very much wants to prove to Felicity that magic is not real once and for all.

I really loved the constant bringing up of mental health in the past and how women who were not understood (even without mental health struggles) were so easily deemed witches and made them pay for it with their lives. I also just loved how we get to see an unreliable narrator talk about lots of unreliable narrators! Again, the writing in this book is just so well structured and it is so impressive all the building layers.

But this book also centers around some very heavy and important things, like the importance of taking your prescribed medications, and how scary isolation can be and how it can also make you much more susceptible to be abused without necessarily realizing it easily. And also, how much darker things can turn when those two things are happening to you simultaneously!

I just had a really good time reading this, I think it’s not only beautiful but it’s so very important, and the ending will truly leave you screaming.

“…old and rotten tales about missing girls and desolate mountain cliffs, how Felicity Marrow claimed it was an accident, but no one else was there to say for sure.”


Trigger and Content Warnings:
murder, death, gore, violence, grief, loss of a loved one, a lot of blood depiction, rituals, a lot of alcohol consumption (under aged), a lot of smoking, substance abuse, talk of racism, anxiety, anxiety attack, vomiting, self harm (to get blood), talk of suicidal thoughts, actual suicidal thoughts, talk of being institutionalized in past, mention of illness with an elderly family member, lots of mentions of not taking prescribed antidepressants, gaslighting, manipulation, abuse, a situation with sever parental neglect and abandonment, and animal deaths that are pretty dark. in general, this book is very graphic, and have very visceral depictions of struggling with mental health, please use caution!

4
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2021 Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag

MidYearBookTag
The original tag was created by ReadLikeWildfire and Earl Grey Books!


Hello, friends! I know I am maybe a couple days late, but I was trying to get one last read in! I’m not sure how it is already July and we are half way through another year, and another year in a pandemic! But I’m always sending you all my whole heart, and wishing you the best in life and with your reading. And I hope you enjoy this little mid-year reading update of mine! 💗

So far in 2021, I’ve read 21 books

And here are some other fun statistics I’ve generated by using Brock at Let’s Read‘s spreadsheet!


➽ 1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2021:
She Who Became the Sun Shelley Parker-Chan
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➽ 2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021:
We Free the Stars Hafsah Faizal
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➽ 3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to:
Yolk Mary H.K. Choi
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➽ 4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:
Iron Widow Xiran Jay Zhao
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➽ 5. Biggest disappointment:
The ​Crown of Gilded Bones Jennifer L. Armentrout
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➽ 6. Biggest surprise:
Amari and the Night Brothers B.B. Alston
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➽ 7. Favorite new author (debut or new to you):
Ace of Spades Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
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➽ 8. Newest fictional crush:
Jane Su from One Last Stop Casey McQuiston
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➽ 9. Newest favorite character:
Ouyang from She Who Became the Sun Shelley Parker-Chan
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➽ 10. Book that made you cry:
A Wish in the Dark Christina Soontornvat
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➽ 11. Book that made you happy:
Honey Girl Morgan Rogers
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➽ 12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received):
Chain of Iron Cassandra Clare – Waterstones Edition


➽ 13. What book(s) do you need to read by the end of the year?:
Yolk Mary H.K. Choi, A Lesson in Vengeance Victoria Lee, The Fall of Babel Josiah Bancroft
Book CoverBook CoverBook Cover



When I started writing this up, I was a little scared that I was going to be disappointed with the amount (or lack) of books I’ve read. The last few years, when I was very active in the community, I always read over 100 books and one time even over 200! But looking at these statistics and these books, I can’t help but feeling very thankful because I have never had a reading year halfway update where I have read so many things that I’ve truly loved. And I think in general we should all just be a lot gentler with ourselves and our expectations always, but especially still trying to navigate our lives during this pandemic. And I’m very hopeful thinking about how many books I am still excited to get to before December 31st! Okay, friends – I love you so much! If you want to see other years of me doing this book tag:  HERE is my 2020 tag, HERE is my 2019 tag, HERE is my 2018 tag and HERE is my 2017 tag! Happy reading, and I’m so proud of you! 💗

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Also, what I have been listening to on Spotify for the first half of 2021
(add me, lets be friends, please!)

3 Mini Reviews | The Drowning Faith, The Chosen and the Beautiful, Darling

hi hi hi – i miss you all and i hope you’re well! i have a bunch of these half written up mini review posts so i figured i would actually throw three together! i can’t wait to start reading all your mid year posts and statistics! and hopefully you will see one from me soon! i love you all so much, happy reading! 💕


The Drowning Faith (The Poppy War, #2.5) by R.F. Kuang

1.) The Poppy War ★★★★
2.) The Dragon Republic ★★★★★
3.) The Burning God ★★★★★

“She’s the only divine thing he’s ever believed in. The only creature in this vast, cruel land who could kill him. And sometimes, in his loveliest dreams, he imagines she does.”

Well, those fifteen pages broke me and my heart completely. This was everything. This was perfection. These are my new favorite fifteen pages of all time. Be still, what is left of my heart.

The Drowning Faith is a collection of a few scenes, where we get to see Nezha’s perspective of many events from the first two books inThe Poppy War series. Nezha and Rin have one of the most complicated relationships throughout all three books, but these few pages really just made the impact of everything they’ve been through, fought for, and built together that much stronger.

“It doesn’t matter that he loves her. It doesn’t matter. It’s never mattered.”

Rin and Nezha were always stars from opposite sides in the celestial sphere, even if they always looked like they were formed from the same exact constellation. These scenes hurt to see from Nezha’s point of view so very badly. Yet, they both shined so brightly in a war that they were forced to be main players in just by being born.

But this short amount of pages still talks about colonization and how Petra and the hesperians are happily able to commit the most evil acts in the name of their god, while taking over everything to prove Rin and Nezha’s are lesser, even when they are the ones winning the battles.

Truly, I could write a thesis on these crumbs, but I have extensive reviews for all three books that I suggest you check out instead. But this truly was such a treat, and I feel so honored that Rebecca gave these scenes to us. Even if it allowed for a certain kiss scene to break me all over again in the best and worst ways, and even if page ten has now left me to become a ghost now inhabiting this husk of a human body.

“She’s everything he’s not: unbound, reckless, free. He’s never known anyone like her. She terrifies him, and he loves her so much it hurts.”

Content and Trigger Warnings: torture, violence, death, human experimentation, and war themes.

5


The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

“…like some kind of sacrament that I had forgotten to take.”

a queer asian-american main character great gatsby? i knew i needed this in my life. i will be honest, i have never been the biggest fan of the great gatsby, so i do believe this impacted my enjoyment a little bit, because this book does very much still hold true to the original work! but i still thought this was a beautiful reimaging, with such lush prose and one liners, that left my heart beating so very quickly so many times. the magic was also so hauntingly perfect and i know it’s something i’m going to think about constantly for quite some time. the themes of identity within the story were also very important, and how no matter how much you feel like you fit in, people will always remind you that you will never truly be one of them. and the themes of identify outside the story, and how we deserve to carve out our own spaces, we deserve to be the main protagonists of beloved classics and modern day lit, and our voices deserve to not only be told, but to be amplified really was everything to me as a queer asian reader.

i can’t wait to read more by this author, and i’m very thankful that the chosen and the beautiful is a book that exists.

content and trigger warnings: a lot of talk of drinking, talk of war, talk of loss of loved ones, death, murder, racism, microaggressions, a lot of cheating, abuse / domestic abuse, mention of suicide, mention of slavery, mention of blood.

4


Darling K. Ancrum

K. Ancrum is truly just a once in a lifetime author. Her prose and craft are so unique and so smart and every book by her feels like something of magic. Darling is a modern day thriller reimagining of Peter Pan with a very diverse cast; our main character is Black and we have a very full cast of side characters side characters of color (Black, Korean, and Ojibwe), who are queer (lesbian rep, ace rep, bi rep, and a really beautiful Chicago drag scene moment that I could gush about forever), and disabilities (hearing impairment & amputated hand).

Wendy has recently moved to Chicago, but when moving into her new bedroom she realizes the window is broken and unable to stay closed. And this story is told over the course of one night when she leaves through the window with Peter Pan himself because of a promise of a party, but she soon realizes that Peter did not walk out of the pages of a fairytale.

This is a very unsettling and uncomfortable story about the vulnerability of kids (especially bipoc queer kids) who feel like that don’t have a place to belong. Every book by this author is truly a love letter to found families, but this book also explores the importance of safety and how hard it can be to recognize abuse, especially when it it can be disguised as kindness when you are longing to find a place to belong. Again, this can be a bit of a terrifying read at times, but you will be swept alongside Wendy, becoming more and more enthralled, discovering all the things, and wanting to protect all the lost kids.

K. Ancrum is just an author that really means a lot to me, and I know her stories are touching and helping and healing so many kids who are able to find her words. She is such a bright light in this universe, and I’m forever thankful that I get the honor to read her books. Truly, once in a lifetime.

Content and Trigger Warnings: death (off page), murder (off page), police brutality, child abuse, manipulation, abduction, child abandonment, explosions, grooming, blood depiction, brief mention of disordered eating, and anxiety depiction.

5


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Winterkeep (Graceling Realm #4) by Kristin Cashore | Drumsofautumn Review

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1.) Graceling ★★★★★
2.) Fire ★★★★★
3.) Bitterblue ★★★★★

“It had taken her so long to give up that key, the key to her cage. But it was a cage that no longer existed, because she’d destroyed it, by herself.”

I have been a huge fan of the Graceling Realm Trilogy ever since I first read it after Bitterblue’s release. The series means a lot to me because I discovered it right when I started becoming the reader that I am today and the series was something that so perfectly encapsuled all the things that I love in books.

Ever since finishing Bitterblue, I have always wanted more books in this series. I wanted to read more about this world and I wanted to read more from these characters. So when Winterkeep was announced, I honestly could barely believe it. After all those years of me putting my wish out into the universe, it finally came true.

Winterkeep takes place four years after Bitterblue and a new land, Torla, has been discovered. The nations closest to Monsea is Winterkeep and it is quite different from what we have seen before. Winterkeep is a democratic nation that is way more industrial than any of the nations we know from the Graceling world. Not only that, there are telepathic foxes that people can bond to and sea creatures that communictae with some humans too, called silbercows.

In the beginning of this story Bitterblue, Hava and Giddon travel to Winterkeep, after envoys from Monsea drowned under mysterious circumstances. But we do not only follow their POVs but also a newly introduced character called Lovisa, who is the daughter of the president of Winterkeep.

“You’re going to be the friend to me that you’ve always been, and I’m going to show you that you’re safe now. We are not going to lose each other. You’re not alone with your fears, Bitterblue. We’re a team now, you see?”

I went into Winterkeep with really high expecations, having not only loved the original trilogy but also Cashore’s more recent standalone release, Jane, Unlimited. And my expectations were more than met. Winterkeep is a beautiful addition to the Graceling series and world, that feels comfortable and familiar in many ways but has so many different aspects to offer too.

As a long-time fan of the series, I would highly recommend reading the original trilogy before you dive into Winterkeep but I will say that I think Winterkeep is very much readable on its own too. There will definitely be things that you won’t have context for but it isn’t really relevant for the storyline but more so for character backgrounds and relationships.
But Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue hold up so incredibly well, even in 2021, that there is no reason to skip those before you dive into Winterkeep.

“The fox wondered, as he wondered more and more lately, how any fox who cared about any human ever managed to keep the secrets of foxkind.”

Winterkeep is a nation that is very different from anything we’ve seen before. Even though Graceling and Bitterblue took place in a different land than Fire, they were still very similar in many aspects, with the biggest difference being the existence of monsters in Fire.

But Winterkeep is something completely new. In general, the land of Torla is quite different and very industrial. There is also a democratic system in place.
At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about a land in the Graceling world having trains and airships but I got into the world of Winterkeep pretty quickly and at the end of the day, anything is possible in Fantasy, especially in Kristin Cashore’s worlds.

I just found Torla and Winterkeep very fascinating and wanted to find out more about it at all times. The more I read of the book and just got a picture of this new land on the map, the more I just fell in love with it. And I think that it is a very refreshing addition to this Graceling world as we knew it before.

“She stopped in the middle of the room and stood there with her eyes on fire and her fists clenched, and Giddon was amazed, as he always was when she was angry, at how much power, fury, and force her person could convey. ”

I am always very in love with Cashore’s characters and I think this book showed very specifically how much she excels at writing different character’s voices. We mostly read from Bitterblue’s, Giddon’s and Lovisa’s point of view and I never had any issues keeping these characters apart. The characters and their voices stood out so distinctly, it was almost like I could actually hear different voices in my head while I read the different chapters.

There is also other POVs but those have significantly smaller chapters and I don’t want to talk about them more to not take anything away from anyone’s reading experience, as I feel like you just have to discover that for yourself but they all added a lot to the storytelling.

I enjoyed reading from Giddon’s point of view so much more than I initially thought I would and I really came to love him so much more than I ever did in the original trilogy. He is absolutely the charatcer that grew on me the most in this book.

“Maybe you have too much experience of the bad things that happen when you love someone, and too little experience of the good things,” he said. “Maybe you’re protecting yourself.”

But Lovisa is without question the stand-out character and protagonist for me. Her development throughout this book is immense and she goes through so much. There are huge themes of parental abuse, not only affecting Lovisa herself but also her three little brothers.

Seeing Lovisa understanding the abuse that she has faced throughout the years and her entire character development in so many different aspects was the storyline that really made the book for me, more than any of the political intrigue or mysteries (althought those go hand-in-hand with Lovisa’s storyline as well).

But, again, this book deals a lot with parental abuse and in general is quite heavy and dark in parts. If you have read the original trilogy then you will already know that Kristin Cashore does not shy away from truly exploring darker themes in her stories as well and Winterkeep is definitely no exception with that.

As in the past, and maybe even more so in Winterkeep, Cashore really gives room to these themes and handles them with care. And I think that Cashore has an amazing way of balancing her stories, so that the weight of it never feels too heavy while reading and there are still so many joyful, happy and funny moments in this story.

“I don’t have time,” she said, knowing she could skip her homework, that the homework shouldn’t matter more than her brothers; but also knowing that she couldn’t stay overnight in this house, where at every moment she felt the darkness closing around her like a cold, lonely cave. Knowing that part of the reason she needed to go was to escape the sadness of these boys.”

I think that there are many more things to discuss about this book, but I’d rather you explore them yourself first and then discuss with me. I can definitely wholeheartedly recommend reading this newest addition to the series.

Ultimately, all that is left for me to say is that after years of waiting and then finally getting a new book in this series, I am left with a lot of gratitude but I am also left with wanting even more.

For me, Winterkeep has proven even further that this series and world is so worth exploring much more of and I would not mind at all for Cashore to add more books. And while I’d expect Cashore to introduce us to another protagonist if she ever adds any more books, I also think that even Lovisa’s story is far from done.

Trigger and Content Warnings for murder, parental abuse, sexual harassment, slut-shaming, kidnapping, blood, drowning.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

The Project by Courtney Summers | ARC Review

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ARC provided by Wednesday Books
✨ My Review for SADIE

“Having a sister, Mom says, is a place only the two of them will share, made of secrets they never have to say aloud—but if they did, it would be a language only the two of them could speak.”

Courtney Summers is an author who has always meant a lot to me and her stories always impact me more than I have words to write in a review. I truly believe no other author writes about the sibling experience and feelings that I personally have better than her, even though I always am left feeling grateful and thankful that I am not a main protagonist in her stories. And The Project is no different; it is hard hitting, filled with twists and turns that make you constantly question what is real, it is lyrically written, emotional, and fully a heart-wrenching story about the things you are willing to do for someone you unconditionally love, even when you feel isolated and confused and so very scared. Oh, and it’s about cults and how they prey on people who are isolated and confused and so very scared, too.

Lo was only thirteen-years-old she was in a car accident that left her parents dead and with everyone believing that she wouldn’t be alive much longer. Bea was only nineteen-years-old when she watched her world fall apart when she walked into the hospital to maybe say goodbye to her little sister. Desperate for hope that Bea wouldn’t lose Lo too, she went looking for something to believe in inside the hospital, and found Lev Warren. And when Lo ends up making a huge leap to recovery that very night, Bea realizes there is nothing she wouldn’t pay to ensure her sister will live.

“Bea closes her eyes. She wants Lo to understand that night in the hospital, what was supposed to be Lo’s last night on earth. How it brought Bea to her knees and how it split her heart in half and how its breaking called forth a miracle.”

Six years later, Lo is alone again and hasn’t spoken to Bea in many years. She feels hurt and abandoned and just misses her sister so much, and she directs all that pain in to the Unity Project, that Lev Warren runs and where Bea is a member. And then one morning, Lo’s world gets touched again by the Unity Project when she witnesses someone take their own life, but before they do they recognize her because of Bea. And this death touches even closer when it impacts her job, and she gets the opportunity to finally do a story for the magazine she is working for. And she decides she will finally contact her sister again and make her see the corruptness of the Unity Project, and she won’t let anyone stop her, especially Lev Warren.

“All I wanted was to claw my way back to my sister, but the whole time she was surrounded by new love, she buried her old family and built a new one on top of its bones.”

This story is mostly told in Lo’s perspective, but we get little glimpses of Bea’s throughout and every time I could feel my stomach and heart just drop lower and lower. The things that both of these sisters were willing to do for one another renders me utterly speechless. Truly, I feel like no one can write vulnerability and sacrifice, unconditional sibling love, earth-shattering desperation, and pure heartbreaking hope like Courtney Summers. All while also making her characters feel so real, and their journeys feel like you are right beside them experiencing everything alongside them. Yet, also make you question everything at every twist and turn.

Lev is written in a way that is scarier than any monster in any fantasy book, because monsters like him are living and dwelling and thriving in our world today. They prey upon people who are isolated from their families, people from lower incomes, people who are unable to get help from broken American health care systems, people who very rarely will realize that what they are experiencing is manipulation, gaslighting, and abuse. And if they are able to realize it, they are unable to seek help because men like Lev are gaining more and more power, more and more followers, and more and more resources to keep you trapped every single day. This is a hard book, and it is so very dark at times. The range in which Lev is able to manipulate people into believing his cult is a community is actually harrowing. And seeing Lev lead people into believing that he is a vessel for God, chosen to do His wants, is truly some of the scariest literature I’ve ever read and it really will leave me feeling haunted forever.

“The hard part is this: the small broken girl inside me clawing against the wall I’ve built to keep us separated. The one who still wants so much for certain things, despite all she knows.”

Overall, I really did love this and I very much believe Courtney Summers was born to write and impact so many people with their stories. Her way of crafting and telling stories leaves me in awe, and I’m always completely blown away reading all her last lines. The reason I am giving it four stars is because I didn’t love the ending. I mean, this wouldn’t be a Courtney Summers’ book without a bit of a mysterious ending, but this one was just a little too mysterious for me and left the book at a little bit of a weird note when you look back at everything that was endured. But the last line? Perfection. Speechless. Masterpiece. Everything. Courtney Summers and her stories truly are something special and I’ll carry them within my heart always, despite how heavy they are.

Content and Trigger Warnings: abandonment, loss of loved ones, sleep paralysis, grief, depression, panic attacks, hospitalization, talk of death of child in past, physical abuse, torture, emotional abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, blood depiction, complications with childbirth, murder, child abuse, captivity, and cults. Please use caution and make sure you are in the right head space for this book, because a lot of these triggers are themes that are brought up a lot and unapologetically. Stay safe, friends!

4
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