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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From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash, #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

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“From this moment until the last moment, I am yours.”

At the end of 2020, I kept seeing this book all over book social media and it was being loved by such a vast range of bookish friends. And then it was the goodreads choice awards 2020 best romance winner! Up until this point, I had never really read anything by Jennifer L. Armentrout, but my curiosity was so very peaked! Then once I entered 2021, I still felt like I could not escape the hype of this series! Finally, I read a few reviews by friends and found out that this was a fantasy series,, with a paranormal romance, and that information, in addition to it feeling like higher powers were at work to get me to read this, made me finally give it a try. And one I read that first chapter I knew I couldn’t put this down.

From Blood and Ash introduces us to Poppy, who is a chosen maiden for the gods. She is not meant to be touched, to be looked at, or to experience anything that is not considered god-like. She is quickly approaching her nineteenth birthday and soon she will leave to the capitol and have her Ascension, where she will prove that she is worthy of the gods and will help protect her entire kingdom from a curse carried by those who are unworthy of the gods. Yet, there is another kingdom living in hiding, who will do anything to make sure Poppy isn’t able to make her Ascension and change anything. (I am trying to be kind of vague here, because I truly did not know before going in, or expect in my wildest dreams, the paranormal aspects of this book, and I believe it did heighten my reading experience!)

But Poppy has so many secrets, including her own kind of powers that are manifesting stronger and stronger to help read and sooth people’s emotions. And there is also the secret of what happened to Poppy’s family, that left her and her brother the only ones alive to carry out the will of the gods, while Poppy is also forced to carry so many scars, both physical and emotional, from that night.. And there are secrets in the palace where she is currently living with the Duke and Duchess and a lot of abuse going on behind closed doors that are only meant to protect her. But the weight of grief and expectations are getting too heavy for Poppy to bear, so at the start of this first book she decides to sneak away from the palace for one night where she can maybe experience things without being expected to be a pure vessel for only the god’s consumption. And when Poppy ends up at a tavern, and in a private room, with Hawke, a very young but very skilled guard, she gets a taste of what she has been missing and what she may want for herself, unapologetically.

“You’re a perfectly normal girl. What is expected of you is what’s bad”

I do think grief and abuse are a constant theme in this story, and we get to see how those two words can present themselves in so many different ways. Different fear tactics are constantly in play, both in this kingdom and in Poppy’s life, to keep people in check and to keep them abiding to a corrupt system. Serving evil can easily be masked by saying it is serving the gods. Ultimately, this is a swoon-worthy and angst-inducing paranormal romance story, but there are a few layers here that I hope people are looking and listening very closely to while reading!

“You deserve so much more than what awaits you”

This book has really good discussions about what it means to be a young person discovering your wants and needs, while also slowly growing into the person you want to be and how hard that can be to separate from expectations already placed on you. This book is very sex positive, and consent is always at the forefront. I am also just going to type this with my full chest and then pretend I didn’t but, for me and my body and my personal experiences, I thought that the building of orgasms (and just some body reactions in general) in this book were very realistic and very well done. But anyways, I loved seeing Poppy reclaim so many things, and this romance is the first one in what felt like years that I am trying completely head of heels in love with and rooting for. But, please allow me this one small mini drag for those of you who have read this book:

Overall, this book truly blew me and my expectations away and it was very much the perfect book for the perfect time in my reading life. I laughed, I smiled, I swooned, I cried, I gasped, this book truly made me feel so much and it was just an amazing journey throughout. I feel like the twists were very well done and laid, I feel like the romance was filled with yearning and angst on every page, and I was constantly left wanting more and more. And the last line of this book? Yeah, I will be picking up A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire immediately. This was a joy to read from cover to cover.

Content and Trigger Warnings: death, gore, talk of loss of a child, talk of kidnapping, talk of death of children, mention of loss of a child in past, loss of a loved one, mention of suicide, assault, physical abuse, blood depictions, mention of rape, anxiety depictions, self-harm to get blood, and general war themes.

4
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Lore by Alexandra Bracken

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Finished copy provided by Disney-Hyperion

“Nine gods have betrayed me and now demand cruel revenge.”

Nine gods have been abandoned by Zeus as punishment for a rebellion filled with betrayal. Since the banishment, these nine gods are forced to walk among humans like mortals, while carrying out their bloodline. Yet, every seven years, the Agon takes place in a city for seven days, where all the descendants from all of these ancient bloodlines can kill the god they descend from and take their powers (and immortality) for themselves. And the start of a new Agon is finally here, and is going to take place in New York City, yet our main character is haunted by the last Agon where her family was brutally murdered.

➽ Melora Perseous (Lore) – of House Perseus, underground fighter, trying to block out the loss of her family in the past, and the recent loss of another loved one. Lore is also last of her bloodline.

➽ Castor Achilleos – of House Achilles, Lore’s best friend and fighting partner growing up, who had leukemia.

➽ Miles – Korean, queer, Lore’s roommate and best friend.

➽ Van – Black, queer, Castor’s best friend.

➽ Gil – Recently passed away, but the one who became a family with Lore and Miles these last few years.

➽ Athena – Betrayed by her sister, Artemis, and one of the last original gods, yet is wounded so badly at the beginning of this book that she makes a deal with Lore so they can both try to get revenge.

“I will help you survive this week, and you will destroy the god once known as Aristos Kadmou, the enemy of my blood”

And so, Athena and Lore’s lives in this Agon are forever intertwined, while they try to survive in New York City, and try to get the vengeance they so desperately have wanted these last seven years against a new god called Wrath. But things change even more so when Lore realizes she is a lot closer to another god than she realizes, and she also is quickly realizing that things are a lot more personal than she ever imagined. Especially when Wrath wants to kill all the gods, regardless of bloodline and regardless of transferring magical abilities and artifacts attached to those bloodlines.

The premise and set up was truly amazing, and I was invested after the very first chapter! But I will say, this book felt a bit too info dumpy at times for me, and I imagine if you didn’t know much about Greek mythos this story could get extra confusing, but I really did overall enjoy it each time I picked it up. Truly, it made me realize how much I do miss reading urban fantasy, and I think the New York setting was very genius for the Agon. I loved learning about all the different types of magic and all the different artifacts, but I do wish they were woven into the story a little better, even though I was being all sidetracked like “wow I love this shield and I’m going to spiral about Dota AND the Iliad because of it and my nerdy ways!” And even though I did love the New York setting, I would forget that this was set in modern times, especially any scene with Wrath and any scene showing us Lore’s past. Then we should see Castor’s medical treatment in the past, or they’d mention New York bagel styles and I’d be reminded, but a bit of whiplash while reading.

I also want to briefly mention, and I do not want to be too personal, but childhood cancer is something that is very close to my heart and something that impacts every day of my life, so reading a book about a boy who had to go through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and stem-cell transplants, for a cancer he had to fight twice, to get to see him be a modern-day Greek God… it was just very powerful. I can’t even think of another YA book where we get to see a young side character be impacted by cancer and see those around them be impacted by it too, and not have it be the focal point of a sad story starring it. I just wish we had more representation for this very real situation where people’s lives are so heavily influenced by this disease that impacts so many children every single day. (This is one of the few triggers I do personally have, but I thought it was very well done, and it made my heart very happy to read, and I wish more children and young adults living with cancer, or living in remission, could read stories that give happy and hopeful endings.)

“It’s okay to want good things […] and to believe that you deserve a good life.”

Overall, I really liked this unique spin on Greek mythos, and I really enjoyed how this author intertwined this story in a modern day setting. I think it was a solid standalone, and I was very impressed with the characters, so many of the themes, and the central discussions of found family and second chances, and the constant reminder that there is no “right way” to heal from trauma and grief. Also, I will always love a good reclaiming of Medusa and her whole entire monster story. Be still, my Circe loving heart. But I really enjoyed Lore and Castor’s relationship. I loved the Van and Miles and truly were amazing side characters.

“And now history remembers her as a villain who deserved to die.”

Content and Trigger Warnings: a lot of blood depiction, murder, loss of a loved one, graphic torture depictions (some to children), graphic violence, gore, sexual assault, grief depiction, ptsd, child abuse, threat of pedophilia,, threat of rape, implied pedophilia, slavery, talk of cancer (leukemia), child cancer (and mention of chemo, radiation, stem-cell transplants, etc.), mention of heart attack, mention of cancer coming back, bombings, explosions, brief mentions of suicide, and war themes. This is a pretty dark book, and it surprised me a lot with the constant learning of the torture that happened to Lore’s family in the past, so please use caution and make sure you are in the right headspace.

3

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Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

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“For almost the past year I’ve been in love with a girl named Laura Dean.”

Freddy Riley is a 17-year-old lesbian Asian-American who is seeking the advice of an online romance dating column, because her girlfriend keeps breaking up with her over and over. And each time Laura Dean comes back into Freddy’s life, Freddy feels more and more shattered when she leaves, and she is unable to see what she can do to change the situation.

“What is it like to love this person who keeps breaking up with you and then presumably coming back to you? What does your love with this person offer you? Does it make you happy? Does it give you what you need to be a better person?”

This graphic-novel has so many layers, but this is truly a story about an abusive relationship, and how sometimes it can be so hard to see even when the lows feel so low, because the highs are so high. Laura gaslights, manipulates, and emotionally abuses Freddy in so many different ways, while also fetishizing having an Asian girlfriend.

This is also a story about friendship and how sometimes those can be hard to maintain, especially when you are going through a lot in your own life. And sometimes, especially when you are young and discovering who you are and want to be, it’s extra easy to lose yourself while only thinking about being someone’s favorite. Yet, it is never too late to try to be a good friend. And life is truly full of phases, and all friendships are different.

The prose is lyrical and oh so beautiful. I feel like I could have highlighted more quotes in this story than any other graphic novel to date. And the art? The most beautiful black, white, grey, and pink pallet, with details that are insane. This combination truly is a tier above and feels like something of magic.

This is a very diverse graphic-novel. Again, Freddy is an Asian-American lesbian, but the rest of the cast are also queer and/or poc, with a lot of body diversity too. And this story never shames these teens for getting into hard situations. It’s also incredibly realistic, and even when the discussions are difficult, they always feel hopeful to the reader. There is also a good mention of how different seventeen and eighteen are when it comes to where you are at in life and dating, especially when one is in high school and one is in college. (Give me Vi’s spinoff, I am begging!) And polyamory is even briefly discussed and the difference between consenting healthy dynamics compared to dynamics of polyamory uneven power where people are being taken advantage of.

“Love is hard. Breaking up is hard. Love is dramatic. Breaking up is dramatic.”

Overall, I really loved this, and I think it is such an important graphic-novel that truly can change people’s lives, especially queer poc in high-school feeling like they are doing something wrong in their abusive relationships. Relationships can be so hard and so messy, and breakups can be even harder and messier. I truly so wish that I had a graphic-novel about a queer biracial Asian girl when I was in high school, living through toxic breakups, but I’ll still keep Freddy Riley in my heart forever and recommend Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me constantly. (And I really loved… the part with the mom!)

Oh, and lastly, Lea gifted me this for my birthday and I thought it would be cute to read it and review it on her birthday! I am very thankful for her and this story that I really will cherish forever and always. 💕

Content and Trigger Warnings: underage drinking, abusive relationship, emotional abuse, cheating, manipulation, gaslighting, microaggressions, racism, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, and a relationship with a minor (17 + not sure how old but over 18).

4
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Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins | Chapter Breakdown Review with Spoilers

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1.) The Hunger Games ★★★★★
2.) Catching Fire ★★★★

Hello, I am here to finish off my breakdown reviews of The Hunger Games Trilogy! And ironically enough, Mockingjay was the last book I read in 2020! I will say, I feel like the series does get a little less enjoyable as I progressed through the trilogy all these years later, but I still think it is a solid series and I truly do think The Hunger Games itself is a masterpiece. But please use caution, because this breakdown will be filled with spoilers for each and every chapter of this book!

“What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.”

➽ Chapter One:
District 12 is gone, but Buttercup the cat is alive. Truly this opening chapter was so dark and really set the tone for this entire book, and Snow’s rose? Truly so scary and horrifying and a good reminder at how evil he actually is. Peeta is gone, and Katniss is officially with the previously thought dead District 13.

➽ Chapter Two:
Peeta is a guest being interviewed by Caesar for the world to see. And they are also showing the bombing of District 12 over and over to remind people what happens with you rebel against the capitol. We also get to see the hidden, unground District 13 base, and how they are very ready to rebel against the capitol and nothing will stop them. Katniss is going to officially be the Mockingjay to help rally as much support as they can get, while also trying to instill hope for a brighter future.

➽ Chapter Three:
We get to see what it is like to live in this new world that is the hidden District 13 and what is left of District 12, and we are easily seeing that things are very unfair here too.

➽ Chapter Four:
And Katniss is even starting to see how President Coin might not be too much different than President Snow, just a different guise for their evil.

➽ Chapter Five:
Katniss is getting fed up with always being used as a tool for someone else, but she finally has her bow back and is hoping the make the best of what she has left, even with Coin making her say lines to instill hope for the new war that is beginning.

➽ Chapter Six:
But it is getting harder and harder for Katniss to rally the districts without Peeta, because she has never been the best speaker, especially compared to him, and especially because him being held captive is impacting her so greatly. But truly, the foreshadowing in this chapter is very insane.

➽ Chapter Seven:
A hovercraft takes Katniss to see the sick people at a hospital, and the capitol bombs them immediately after. Gale and Katniss fight, and we start to see that they are believing two different stories, but Katniss and her anger at the capitol is growing and growing and because its on public display it is automatically rallying more and more people.

➽ Chapter Eight:
The Cinna mentions truly rip my heart out every time. But Katniss also is sneaking watching Peeta’s clips that the capitol is showing and the more and more distrust of District 13 is building and building.

➽ Chapter Nine:
The infamous hanging tree song, that still makes me a bit uncomfortable, but we get to really meet Katniss’ camera crew and see the torture they have also endured. Katniss and Gale reminisce about when they were kids, but Katniss is truly proving to the reader this was never a love triangle more and more because she deadass is like “I like that Gale likes to hunt” and it makes me truly giggle. Also, Peeta is getting tortured for information. :[

➽ Chapter Ten:
But Peeta still is able to warn District 13 of an incoming attack. So much foreshadowing with Prim, but Gale helps her find Buttercup and they make it safely to the evacuation zone before the first bomb hits. Katniss and Prim finally have a moment just for them and just between them and it really broke my heart because I have read this book before, hahaha! And Katniss and her trauma and anxiety making her feel like she is having a heart attack? Heartbreak again.

➽ Chapter Eleven:
More bombings are happening, but this time it is just to ensure that Katniss stays off television so she and her message will stop giving other rebels hope! Katniss and Finnick finally get to talk and Gale is annoyed with Finnick for no reason other than Gale is truly stupid and the bane of my existence. But Katniss leaves the bunker and Snow has left her more roses and every time it gives me goosebumps in the most disgusting way. Truly harrowing each time. But the resistance has decided they are going to do a rescue mission for Peeta and Annie! Also, let me just note that Katniss is mean to Buttercup in this chapter and it annoyed me too, lmaoooo!

➽ Chapter Twelve:
Finnick goes on the broadcast and talks about how he was sex trafficked as a child alongside many of the victors of the hunger games, and how Snow would kill their loved ones if they did not “willingly” participate. After, they are able to rescues Annie, Johanna, and Peeta. But… Peeta, because of the torture and brainwashing he has endured, tries to kill Katniss.

➽ Chapter Thirteen:
We get to learn a bit more about Peeta’s torture and the tracker jacker venom they used to “highjack” his memories.

➽ Chapter Fourteen:
They send Katniss to District 2 and fake Gale love triangle angst ensues.

➽ Chapter Fifteen:
Rebels start fighting other rebels and Gale is just… stupid. And Katniss gets shot.

➽ Chapter Sixteen:
Katniss is healing up slowly after what happened in District 2, and she is helping Annie find a wedding dress with the things she still has of Cinna’s, so that she can get married to Finnick finally. Please, I am crying.

➽ Chapter Seventeen:
Katniss is getting stronger and stronger. This chapter really shows how different everyone lives and tries to heal after the hunger games they’ve been a part of. And Peeta just has so much anger in him still.

➽ Chapter Eighteen:
They are all fake practicing storming the capitol, with fake gas and everything. We get to learn how Johanna was tortured (with water) and how that has very much impacted every day of her life since. But they all realize that this will be their last arena ever, but it fills them with hope to storm the capitol for real.

➽ Chapter Nineteen:
Peeta’s memories are reconstructed and he goes with them to end this once and for all. But a bomb gets triggered once they are in the tunnel.

➽ Chapter Twenty:
An emergency broadcast announces to the world that Katniss, Peeta, Finnick, and everyone else are dead, and this could work in their advantage because Snow will not be expecting them, but they have to make it out of the tunnel with the mysterious black gel.

➽ Chapter Twenty-One:
They have their first death with Boggs :[ and they get to see this funeral for Katniss being broadcasted while they are all trapped and not trusting anyone.

➽ Chapter Twenty-Two:
Peeta is whispering “Katniss” all creepy-like, but they are able to break through this tunnel that they were trapped in with lizard-like people monsters. But… Finnick dies protecting them and it truly is the most sad and unnecessary death in this book and him and Cinna just deserved so much better. But Katniss kisses Peeta and I’m still giggling that people think this series has a believable love-triangle.

➽ Chapter Twenty-Three:
Katniss gives Gale stitches, and then Gale and Peeta have some sort of weird heart to heart together. This story really doesn’t have the “who will Katniss pick in the end” vibe so many people lead you to believe it does. We also meet the “tiger woman” and I was side eying a little while reading about her ten years later. But they are ready to finally go head to head with the capitol once and for all.

➽ Chapter Twenty-Four:
Listen, I don’t mean to laugh, but Gale trying to get Katniss to shoot him and her being like “no, you’ll be fine” and lets the capitol take him sent me a little bit, I am sorry. But we get to see how Snow has tried to protect himself by barricading the capitol with children, because he is banking on no one being cruel enough to kill them while trying to get him. But, parachutes come and… when I say this is the most harrowing and fucked up thing in this book… I mean it. The way these parachutes have been seen as a symbol of hope and healing for the recipients who get them in the hunger games, so the kids are happy to see them…. Only to have them explode and kill them, like… truly I don’t even have words for how heartbreaking that is to read and think about. But then, to add more heartbreak, Katniss sees a braid and a duck tail and… I truly am crying typing this. All this, everything, Katniss being selfless, Katniss willing to do everything to protect her sister, Katniss proving over and over she will do anything, only for the resistance to kill her so heartlessly. I truly weep. Prim’s death truly will always stick with me, and it is why I was impacted so viscerally when rereading The Hunger Games earlier this year and seeing the foreshadowing in that very first chapter.

➽ Chapter Twenty-Five:
Katniss is told that she is “lucky” to be alive after the bombs detonated, but she truly feels lost and that everything feels a little hopeless even now at the end of this war. Snow is to be executed, but Katniss visits him and she realizes that he is not the one who killed the children and Prim.

➽ Chapter Twenty-Six:
Katniss is questioning everything, including who chose to put a 13-year-old in combat. She goes to talk to Haymitch, but he is drunk. Katniss is stuck with her own thoughts, thinking about what life would have been like without the games, and if her and Gale ran away from District 12. She is also very much questioning if it was Gale’s bomb that killed Prim, and she knows she will question that for the rest of her life. But once she thinks at least everything is over, Coin states that she wants one last hunger games, for revenge, and it will star the kids of the people who were for the capitol. Katniss is supposed to be the one to finally execute Snow, but when her arrow flies, it flies straight into Coin, killing her and her idea for a new plan for evil.

➽ Chapter Twenty-Seven:
Katniss is captured and thinking of suicide. She learns that the people “crushed” Snow to death, and maybe not ripped him apart like in the movie. But we get to see Katniss grieving and finally feeling like she can grieve unapologetically for everyone she has lost, Prim, Rue, Cinna, Finnick, everyone. We also learn that Annie and Finnick got pregnant before he passed away, and maybe that is a new symbol of hope.

➽ Epilogue:
Katniss and Peeta have two kids, and it took Katniss a very long time to actually have them, even though Peeta really wanted them from the start. The games are still over, but we see the grief and PTSD will always be in their lives. And even though they are trying to do the best for their kids, it haunts them that they are playing on a graveyard they will never fully understand.

Truly, this series is haunting and there are a lot of parallels that can easily and obviously be made to the world we are living in 2020. My heart does go out to Katniss and I do really like her as a character. I do feel like the series got a little less and less enjoyable as they went on, but the basic premise is just so unique and solid and really helped start the dystopian (and YA) surge. And Katniss and Prim’s relationship just really settles heavy in my heart, and it truly makes you think about a lot of things you’d be willing to do for the people you love. I do still giggle at the people who ship Katniss and Gale, because they must really like eating crumbs and my heart goes out to them too. But Finnick and Cinna are truly the brightest shining lights for me, and I’m so sad Suzanne Collins didn’t give us a proper spinoff of their past! But maybe one day.

3

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Trigger and Content Warnings: torture, death, murder, war themes, blood depiction, talk of (fake) miscarriage, bombings, anxiety depiction, ptsd depiction, loss of a loved one, forced drugging, thoughts of suicide, talk of alcoholism, talk of rape in the past, talk of pedophilia in the past, talk of sex trafficking in the past, and slavery.

Buddy read with Lea! ❤

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (The Folk of the Air #3.5) by Holly Black

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1.) The Cruel Prince ★★★★★
1.5) The Lost Sisters ★★★★★
2.) The Wicked King ★★★★★
3.) The Queen of Nothing ★★★★★

“Hate that was so bright and hot that it was the first thing that truly warmed him.”

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is an illustrated novella following Cardan Greenbriar, during many different stages in his life, while we slowly see all the different things that shaped him cruelly. The sound that left me when I opened this book and realized we were going to get present day with Jude from Cardan’s POV… be still, my hopes and dreams and heart.

Rovina Cai’s art is truly so beautiful that it renders me speechless. I was already in love with her and her art because of her work with The Wayward Children series, but this entire book feels like am immersive work of art. From the perfect color palette, to the most perfect details, she executes the vibe of Cardan and his story in a way that I don’t think another artist could.

In this story, Cardan’s life is very much impacted by a troll named Aslong who was wronged by Cardan’s father. She tells a story about a boy with a heart of stone, who finds himself in a predicament with a monster girl who won’t scare him away, until his heart starts beating again. And then all throughout his life, she tells his alternate versions of this same story, each version with a new meaning for a new version of Cardan himself.

“She was the only real thing in a land of ghosts.”

We also get to see so much of Cardan’s perspective during The Cruel Prince, much like we did with Tarryn in The Lost Sisters, and it was everything. Nicasia and Locke have much wanted character development in this book, too, and I am literally on my knees begging for Holly to just give us the trilogy in Cardan’s complete point of view. But we see Nicasia being fostered on the land because her mother, Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea, wants to start putting pieces in motion. We get to see Locke, and his empty house and even emptier heart, teach Cardan the word “cruel” on every page. And these two, in addition to a prophecy looming over this young prince, are truly the first catalysts to this story and I was so in love seeing behind the scenes. And when Holly gives us Locke’s perspective one of these years…

“Playing the villain was the only thing he’d ever really excelled at.”

Each part, each mini story, we get to see Cardan questioning who he is and who he wants to be. Not to make this too deep, but Cardan very slowly realizes that he is not responsible for the terrible acts his family committed; both to him and to the people they ruled over. He struggles with his identity of a prince who should feel like he has everything, and a boy who feels like he has nothing. But seeing him finally understand that he deserves not only love but unconditional love? Him slowly appreciating that his heart can be warm and beat unapologetically? Truly some powerful stuff.

On a personal note, I think most of you know that Holly Black is an author who means a lot to me. Her fae stories are what first got me into YA when I was young, and it really changed me as a reader and probably a human as well. I know most of you know that 2020 has been a hard year for everyone and everything, very much including my reading, so being able to curl up and read about my emotional support fae, from my emotional support author, just meant a lot to me. I truly think reading this book a day before release (bless you Waterstones and my mail person) was the best reading experience I’ve had all year, and for that alone this book was probably the easiest five star I’ve given in a year of not a lot of five star reads.

“Feels as though she has to earn the crown on her head over and over again.”

Overall, this felt like the fairytale of my dreams. Cardan is my favorite character in The Cruel Prince series (or any of Holly’s books, I think) and this truly was such a magical, wonderous, unforgettable addition to this world. I am incredibly biased over this series because so much of my heart and nostalgia are wrapped up within this world, but I honestly think there is just so much to love on every page of this book. I feel blessed to read about each time Holly gives us a new book, and this will for sure be a favorite of mine for all of 2020. Lastly, I cannot believe we really got to read about Cardan going out for boba.

Content & Trigger Warnings: abandonment, bullying, abuse, mention of drug use, humiliation, talk of cheating, and a lot of drinking.

5

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