Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Review

Cover- Ninth House

Published: October 8, 2019

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Series: Alex Stern #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 458 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.


Darlington is the angstier, adult version of Richard Campbell Gansey III but without the bee allergy and Alex Stern is like Blue Sargent but with slightly more magic and possibly a death wish. FIGHT ME. Darlington is also the most interesting part of the book for the first 75% but then Alex gets way cool and the STAKES ARE RAISED, NOW WHERE IS THE SEQUEL. 

That could be the entire review, but I feel like that would be cheating you guys, you know? Like, how fair is that? So vague, yet so intriguing.

First of all, I’d like to say the audiobook is quite stellar and worthwhile, especially since there’s a cool little interview with Leigh Bardugo where she reveals an interesting fact that is related to the story. This is a book where the narration really brings it to life and perhaps make what would have been a good-ish book into a pretty cool book that I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to.

I think I summed up the characters pretty well in the first paragraph, but I’ll give some background on them now. Alex Stern can see grays, which are spirits of the deceased, aka ghosts. This gift brought her to the attention of Important People at Yale University, who offered her admission and a full scholarship if she would just join their secret society. This is all in spite of the fact that she was the lone survivor of a multiple homicide, is/was a drug addict, and most royally screwed up her life. What a second chance! Once at Yale she meets Daniel Arlington (Darlington) who is to be her mentor in the secret society, called Lethe House. Darlington (and now Alex) are meant to be the police for the eight other secret societies on Yale’s campus that produce the wealthy, the talented, and the ambitious people of the world. They each have their own unique brand of magic, some/most of which is disturbing. Like, borrowing people from mental wards to read the stock market trends in their viscera. *WHAT* *WHY* Lethe House is present at all events involving the other societies to ensure rules are followed, no more hobos are killed, and nothing goes wrong. Theoretically.

In theory, this book should be everything that could be interesting in a book. Magic in the modern world, secret societies, a collegiate setting, etc. It was interesting, but it did take awhile for me to really get into it and even then it took me awhile longer to find Alex Stern to be anything other than sort of bland. Darlington saved this book – his POV was interesting from the start and his absence was even more attention grabbing. He’s so totally not in Spain, but where is he? The mystery portion of this book (ie, who killed the girl and were the societies involved?) did keep me reading longer than I would have if the book solely relied on me liking Alex Stern. I did like her by the end and I will absolutely be picking up the sequel on release day. 

Overall, Ninth House was a win for me, with reservations. I felt the ending was a bit rushed and unexpected. Yes, it was a mystery/horror book but you know, clues are a thing and being able to smack your forehead and go “WHY DIDN’T I SEE THAT SOONER”  is how these things should go. It shouldn’t be me going “GOLLY, THAT WAS OUT OF THE BLUE, WHAT THE HECK”. Between this, and the blandness of the characters towards the beginning, this is only getting four stars from me. 

Currently Reading: 11/11/19

Cover- Blood of Empire

Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan

This lovely showed up on my doorstep this week and I wasn’t about to wait any longer to read it! It’s one of my most anticipated releases/finales of the year and it’s great thus far. I’m off work today and plan on doing lots of reading  and will hopefully finish this up!

Capturing the Devil by Kerri Maniscalco – Review

Cover- Capturing the Devil

Published: September 10, 2019

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson

Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #4

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Pages: 453 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 2.0/5.0

Synopsis:

In the shocking finale to the bestselling series that began with Stalking Jack the Ripper, Audrey Rose and Thomas are on the hunt for the depraved, elusive killer known as the White City Devil. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has them fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer—or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell have landed in America, a bold, brash land unlike the genteel streets of London they knew. But like London, the city of Chicago hides its dark secrets well. When the two attend the spectacular World’s Fair, they find the once-in-a-lifetime event tainted with reports of missing people and unsolved murders.

Determined to help, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin their investigations, only to find themselves facing a serial killer unlike any they’ve heard of before. Identifying him is one thing, but capturing him—and getting dangerously lost in the infamous Murder Hotel he constructed as a terrifying torture device—is another.

Will Audrey Rose and Thomas see their last mystery to the end—together and in love—or will their fortunes finally run out when their most depraved adversary makes one final, devastating kill?


Okay, so this book made me UNREASONABLY angry. I actually had to pause the audiobook and vent about it to my husband, who was caught entirely unawares by this outburst. He was stunned and had no idea what to say. This review will have spoilers ahead because I can’t talk about what frustrated me so much without spoiling all the things.

This is the final installment in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series and I did begin this with some trepidation as the second book was a flop for me. Audrey Rose spent the entire book whinging about EVERYTHING and she was SO SET UPON BY HER ANGUISH. It irritated me endlessly. The gave the third book a chance and was pleasantly surprised by the turnaround in her character – finally she was starting to act like the intelligent, capable young woman we are told she is. And the fourth book unfortunately mirrors the second and WHINGING Audrey Rose returns with a vengeance. She stops being the clever girl she’s supposed to be and turns back into an emotional wreck. It’s not entirely without reason, but nonetheless instead of seeing that a solution could be found she sees only the problem. Girl, use that razor blade and slice the old goon that stands in the way of your Thomas! Thomas is equally bad in this book and turns into a moping sop and suddenly loses all his intelligence as well. Two mopey idiots.

Oh yeah, this is also supposed to be a murdery, crime-solving type book but that part is almost an afterthought and if you’ve done any research on H.H. Holmes, aka the White City Devil, you’ll know who the culprit is as soon as his alias is used for the first time. The book focuses almost entirely on the Wadsworth-Cresswell wedding and their relationship. You feel sort of sappy happy leading up to the wedding and then when the cheap, unnecessary drama of AN UNKNOWN PREVIOUS ENGAGEMENT shows up the book revolves around Audrey and Thomas crying into one another’s arms and eating cake. Their collective intellect takes far too long to rebound and focus on solving the problem and in the end they don’t even solve it! I was SO MAD. It was such a cheap plot device – I don’t usually get this opinionated about what an author should have done, but having them get married and then go off to Chicago as a honeymoon destination would have worked so much more smoothly and elegantly. They could have been on their own, solving a murder unchaperoned (EGAD!) and living their best lives, but NOOOOO. We had to throw in some money-grubbing broad and Thomas’s estranged turd of a father for cheap soap-opera drama.

I’m just gonna stop that here. This book was a tremendous disappointment and the entire series is quite average overall, so if it still sounds like your thing go for it! I’m a bit mad at myself that I wasted my own time, but I’m also glad to know how things ended. I didn’t hate the ending, I just think it could have been so much more – this could have been a magnificent triumph, however it was almost like the characters settled and were trying overly hard to be modern for the era. It’s just whatever.

Waiting on Wednesday: Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!


Cover - Ashes of the Sun

Epic sibling rivalry, a world on the brink of civil war, and magic! Someone should really hire me to do dramatic and brief book summaries. Ashes of the Sun is the start of a brand spankin’ new trilogy by the one and only Django Wexler. If his previous books are anything to go by this will be a fantastic action packed book and I’m so excited. This will be released July 2020, so you’ve got plenty of time to whittle down those TBRs and make room for this awesome looking book!

The Throne of the Five Winds by S.C. Emmett – Review

Cover- The Throne of the Five Winds

Published: October 15, 2019

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: Hostage of Empire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 704 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Two queens, two concubines, six princes. Innumerable hidden agendas. Yala, lady-in-waiting to the princess of a vanquished kingdom, must navigate their captors’ treacherous imperial court.

The Emperor’s palace — full of ambitious royals, sly gossip, and unforeseen perils — is perhaps the most dangerous place in Zhaon. A hostage for her conquered people’s good behavior, the lady Komor Yala has only her wits and her hidden maiden’s blade to protect herself — and her childhood friend Princess Mahara, sacrificed in marriage to the enemy to secure a tenuous peace.

But the Emperor is aging, and the Khir princess and her lady-in-waiting soon find themselves pawns in the six princes’ deadly schemes for the throne — and a single spark could ignite fresh rebellion in Khir.

And then, the Emperor falls ill, and a far bloodier game begins…

The Throne of the Five Winds is the first installment of the Hostage of Empire series, an intricate and ruthless East Asia-inspired epic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of George R. R. Martin, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and K. Arsenault Rivera.


Could this book have been any better? Probably not! The Throne of the Five Winds truly just struck all the right chords for me and ended up being this lovely, enticing, and somewhat saddening beginning to what I think will be a tremendous fantasy series. This book could fittingly have been titled “A Game of Thrones” as well – almost the entire book focuses on the political machinations of the six princes, two queens, two concubines, and countless others that surround the throne of Zhaon. It was far more fascinating than I would have initially anticipated – I expected dense and possibly a dragging pace but that wasn’t the case.

Lady Komor Yala (called Yala, as her family name is listed first) was chosen to accompany her childhood friend, Princess Mahara, to Zhaon when she was to be married to the eldest prince to secure peace. Yala is intelligent and deadly, having been raised in the traditional Khir fashion whereas Mahara was raised to be a silent figurehead meant to bear children. I loved both Yala and Mahara for their bravery, friendship, and Yala’s dedication to her role as protector and lady. The other women of power in the palace (aside from the second concubine) were dreadful – scheming, cruel things out for their own gain. The princes and princesses were a mixed bag, with some being wonderful and others just as conniving as their mothers and twice as cruel. It was unavoidable that some of the princes found Yala appealing, as she was alluring if not traditionally beautiful, and that was honestly one of my favorite parts of the story. 

Ah yes, the story – it’s one of politics on a grand scale. With the Khir beaten and peace secured, the Zhaon have returned focus to their inner political battles though it may not be as peaceful as they thought. Mahara’s illegitimate brother has become heir and he doesn’t hold the same views on peace that perhaps his father does and he begins his own scheming. The Zhaon prince are either warriors or snakes (and sometimes both) and are trying to outmaneuver one another and it only escalates when it becomes apparent the Emperor is dying. The throne will soon be vacant and one of them will have the opportunity to fill it. There are numerous assassination attempts on multiple characters and there’s enough violence to sate the bloodthirsty reader. No full scale battles perhaps, but the action is certainly there. Though I love a good battle, the truly fascinating parts featured Yala and Mahara (good, since they’re the main characters). Yala is the quiet strength behind her princess and fills so many roles – secret guardian, spy, the fall guy (or girl in this case), companion, and so much more. She’s demure and intelligent and it’s made even better because she could also knife you with her hidden blade faster than you could imagine. 

I can’t fit all my feels for this book into words. It was just SO, SO GOOD and I was taken by surprise at how much I loved it! It saddens me that I have to wait for the next book which will hopefully be released in 2020 because this book ended on such a sad note with so many loose strings. I’m unsure where this will go next and what Yala’s next moves will be and I just want to know if she will be a magnificent and avenging angel. GEEZ.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Review

Cover- The Haunting of Hill House

Published: October 3, 2013 (orig. Oct 16, 1959)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Horror

Pages: 235 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 2.0/5.0

Synopsis:

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.


UGH. I was really looking forward to reading this during the Halloween season – classic ghosty, spooky tale, you know – and I was just so disappointed! It was promising at first, introducing us to the situation, the characters, and even the house but I quickly realized that it was going to be mediocre at best. 

The characters were fine if a little dull. We have Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and Dr. Montague who are all at Hill House to record any supernatural phenomena they encounter for Dr. Montague’s research. Eleanor is the most interesting of the lot simply because we get to learn the most about her past and motives for accepting the invite to Hill House. The others are flat, one dimensional characters with Theodora being the most interesting of them. She and Eleanor both are kind of dramatic.

I went into this thinking the synopsis sounded ominous, but I was left so underwhelmed. Perhaps the shorter length of the book left me wanting for substance or maybe it really was just as boring as I thought it was.  It took me THREE DAYS to read this even though it’s only just over 200 pages because it wasn’t enjoyable or even scary! The characters spend most of their time at Hill House dilly-dallying and talking about how they weren’t properly afraid of the haunty bits after they had occurred. The scariest part of the book was Mrs. Dudley the housekeeper.

I should’ve just watched the show, which is apparently much scarier and much different than the book.

Subscription Box Review: FairyLoot – October 2019

Basic Box Info

FairyLoot has only one box option, featuring a YA fantasy book and 5-6 bookish items each month for $33.90 USD or £26. International shipping is available, with the exception of Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Fiji, Guadeloupe, Costa Rica, Israel, Palestine and Haiti. Boxes ship between the 20th – 25th of each month.


October 2019 Unboxing: Love at First Bite

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Vampire haul!

This month’s book is The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh – a story set in 1872 New Orleans with murder, mystery, and vampires! I’ve seen some positive reviews from trusted sources and am pretty excited to check this out, hopefully sooner rather than later! This exclusive edition is signed, has sprayed red page edges, and come with art inside the dust jacket (above).

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I always get so stupidly excited when I hear that a special edition candle will be included in a box! This is a mini candle from The Melting Library  inspired by Interview with a Vampire. The scent is described as blood orange, damascus rose, and cashmere musk. I have a lovely Harry Potter themed full-size candle from Melting Library and they’re popular for good reason – nice scent blends and a pretty solid burn time!

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I’m all about getting unique and best of all USEFUL items in these boxes, meaning I was thrilled to get this rather gothic coaster set designed by Blanca Design. They’re cork on the bottom, though the material on top may not survive too many condensation covered drinks.

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Here we have a book baggie with art by Noverantale that claims to have waterproof lining – I didn’t get to test it out in today’s gusty, wet weather so that verdict will have to wait for another day. It feels really nice and will easily fit the standard sized YA book, though probably not a chunky adult fantasy which tend to have larger dimensions.

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In the same vein as the other vampire themed items (what a terrible pun!), we have a “Bite Me” sock hat and an adorable bat pin! The sock hat with a design by KDP Letters feels SO nice and cozy and I love that it’s a nice, neutral grey. This is a simple yet well made pin designed by @taratjah.

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And here we have what I’ve been thinking of as the “filler items”. We’ve got a lovely vampiress art print by Monolime Art. A Twilight quote as a sticker from Catarina Book Designs because we couldn’t not have a Twilight item in a vampire box. More tarot cards – really what am I going to do with all these things? Bookmarks? And lastly, a bookmark!

Subscription Box Review: The Bookish Box – October 2019

Basic Box Info

This box has a few different subscriptions options (shipping not included) :

  • Book + Shirt + Bookish Goodies – $43.00
  • Book + Bookish Goodies – $28.99
  • Shirt + Bookish Goodies – $29.99
  • Shirt + Book – $28.99
  • Book Only – $17.99
  • Shirt Only – $18.00

You can also pick whether you want the YA or Adult book subscription option, though it seems that the YA books are more popular!

They ship worldwide, so the only thing stopping you from subscribing is potential crazy shipping costs. I have no idea how much this would be, but if I remember correctly shipping was $8.00 for my box within the US.


October 2019 Unboxing: Autumn Magic

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Getting better at these flat lay things

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Left – Book 1    Right – Book 3 

The October box was quite the deal – it came with the first three books in the House of Night Otherworld series! Hardcover copies of the first (Loved) and third (Forgotten) books and a code for an audiobook download of the second (Lost) book were all included. I’ve never read any of the House of Night books, but this series has a surprisingly high rating on Goodreads, so I’ll check it out if I ever have a slow review month or an abundance of vacation days. The exclusive dust jacket this month is my favorite out of the three boxes I’ve received so far and was designed by Nicole Deal.

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This is also my favorite shirt design thus far! It’s perfect – my favorite color, a gorgeous design, and while the design looks light grey in the picture, it is in fact a metallic silver. This was designed by Paperback Bones. I mean, you can’t go wrong with Harry Potter themed items either, sooo…

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I’m also a total sucker for candles. Bookish themed candles are even better! This is inspired by 300 Fox Way from the Raven Cycle books and the scent is described as “crisp magic autumn air”. I’m kinda picky about scents and this is surprisingly lovely and not too sweet or overpowering. It doesn’t throw scent very far – I couldn’t really smell it across the room. Also picture here is the raven skull necklace which is a lovely rose gold color and also inspired by the Raven Cycle.

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This box included more tarot cards with lovely art by @darkandbeautifulart and another zodiac bookmark designed by Gabriella Bujdoso. A couple bonus short stories and the monthly pin were also included. I’ll be honest, this is my least favorite pin of all the ones I’ve received in boxes so far. It’s kind of boring and the art is dully colored.

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Pin close-up

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And last we have this EPICLY COOL Harry Potter scarf! It’s got mandrakes, brooms, rats, owls, cauldrons and all those other Potter-esque things. It’s super cool and I wore it to work the day after I got it just so I could show it off! I had to pose in the doorway so I could get the color to show up correctly on camera – it’s such an interesting chartreuse.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang – Review

Cover- The Dragon Republic

Published: August 8, 2019

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Series: The Poppy War #2

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 560 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.


The Dragon Republic was another one of my more highly anticipated sequels of the year and while it was a good story, it just didn’t rock my socks the way the first book did. The Poppy War kind of checked all my “boxes” – it had a school setting, a coming of age/growing into your own theme, plenty of action and magic, and dang, it went full on grimdark in the latter half. In short, I loved it. The Dragon Republic picks up not long after those events and Rin is really struggling with the death of Altan, her new role as leader of the Cike, and a crippling opium addiction. Oh yeah, she’s also an enemy of the state and the Empress would love to have her head on a pike. 

Rin is honestly a bit of a deplorable character this time around. She has so many weaknesses, she won’t step up to the plate and truly lead the Cike, and they’re just sort of adrift with a vague suicide mission in mind. I do appreciate the fact that the author went a different direction than many others and gave Rin these weaknesses she has to deal with rather than being a total awesome-at-everything Mary Sue. Rin isn’t really a likable character either and she’s trying to drive wedges into every relationship she has and spends most of the book trying to find someone who will tell her what to do and take responsibility for the brunt of her actions. In this respect it’s pretty unique in the fantasy genre. Surprisingly, despite all this her friends are still there for her and are trying to drag her out of the mire of her own making.

The plot this time around was still good, though it didn’t capture me the way The Poppy War did. As I mentioned, so much of the story focuses on Rin getting her act together (a semblance of togetherness anyway) and finding a new person to tell her what to do. This leads her to the Dragon Warlord Vaisra who has designs on creating democracy (OR DOES HE??) but he’s forged a perilous alliance with the Hesperians to accomplish his goals. Things remain quite dark in this installment, as the provinces are now at war amongst themselves and against the Mughanese soldiers that still wander about. There are some really fantastic battle scenes with lots of main characters in peril! SO THRILLING.

Overall, like, I know deep down on an intellectual level this was a really good book – well written, a poignant examination of Rin’s inner turmoil and all that, but I still didn’t love it, hence my rating. I would recommend the audiobook version because the performance was excellent, though it did take me a little longer to get through the book than it would have if I had read the physical copy since I can only grab an hour here and there to listen.

*Apologies for any misspellings! I’ve been cobbling the names together from other reviews I’ve read since I listened to the audiobook.