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A Fantasy Duology That Finally Fulfilled the Enemies to Lovers Sized Hole in My Heart: The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen Review

This post contains affiliate links, if you purchase something through them I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.

I mentioned a a few posts back in my review of Radiance by Grace Draven that I was working on a review of The Bridge Kingdom duology and here it finally is!

So I desperately want to love books that are marketed as “enemies-to-lovers” but until now I have yet to find any book that fulfills this trope to the extent that I always hope it will. Look, there’s nothing wrong with a book being considered “rivals to lovers” or even simply “we got off on the wrong foot to lovers” but when I say I want enemies to lovers, I mean enemies. I want my characters to be actively plotting how they’re going to kill each other before they finally realize that they actually don’t want to kill each other. Most of the time, enemies-to-lovers boils down to two characters who had some sort of miscommunication and once they finally talk to each other then they’re fine. Personally, I think that this trope fits in best in fantasy settings so when I was watching a video from Riley Marie about another trope I enjoy (video is hyperlinked through her name) and when she suggested The Bridge Kingdom duology I jumped at the chance to read it. And let me tell you, it was everything I was looking for in an enemies-to-lovers book. If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on the books, keep reading!

The Bridge Kingdom Review

The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom, #1)
Image: Cover of The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

A warrior princess trained in isolation, Lara is driven by two certainties. The first is that King Aren of the Bridge Kingdom is her enemy. And the second is that she’ll be the one to bring him to his knees.

The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom enriches itself and deprives its rivals, including Lara’s homeland. So when she’s sent as a bride under the guise of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture its impenetrable defenses. And the defenses of its king.

Yet as she infiltrates her new home and gains a deeper understanding of the war to possess the bridge, Lara begins to question whether she’s the hero or the villain. And as her feelings for Aren transform from frosty hostility to fierce passion, Lara must choose which kingdom she’ll save… and which kingdom she’ll destroy.

This book was so much fun to read. I’ll admit that I thought the story was slightly outrageous at times but I’ve never read a fantasy romance before and I think that this might be a new favorite genre for me if I’m lucky enough to find more books like The Bridge Kingdom.

From the very beginning I was entranced by the plot, this book threw us almost straight into the action and while it wasn’t necessarily what I expected I was intrigued to see where the story went. Our main character, Lara, has trained for most of her life alongside a number of her sisters in order to one day potentially be chosen to wed the king of Ithicana, or the Bridge Kingdom. Ithicana is seen as a power hold because the bridge that crosses over it is an essential trade route and Lara has been trained to see this bridge as a way to save her homeland from ruin. For her entire life she has been told by her father and her mentors that Ithicana is a selfish kingdom that only cares about gaining riches for themselves and so when she becomes the daughter that will wed Ithicana’s king, Lara knows she will do anything in her power to destroy the Bridge Kingdom and save her home.

The Bridge Kingdom was a delightfully angsty slow burn romance. At times, I genuinely forgot that this was supposed to be a romance because of the way that Lara had been so thoroughly brainwashed by her father and mentors. There were so many moments where evidence showing her the opposite of what she was taught were right in front of her and yet Lara constantly fought against that. It was frustrating but so realistic to the power that being brainwashed can hold on someone. As I watched Lara and Aren dance around each other waiting for one of them to slip up but also both falling for each other I was delighted with their chemistry and the path the story took.

The angst in this duology is honestly next level. As the story went on I enjoyed reading Lara’s inner battle with her duty to her home kingdom, her personal mission, and her conflicting feelings regarding Aren and Ithicana. Aren trusted Lara long before she trusted him despite the fact that everyone close to him still warned against trusting her so much. Lara wants to take down Ithicana because ultimately she wants freedom and that’s the only way she sees a positive outcome for herself. She wants her home kingdom to be taken care of but after being trapped for so long by her father she wants to be free from it all. Seriously, so. Much. Angst. Basically, if you’re not into characters who are prone to the dramatic, this might not be the book for you!

One other thing that I wanted to mention that I really enjoyed about this duology is the setting. I’m used to reading fantasy books that take place in deciduous or coniferous forest biomes with mountains, etc. There are usually oceans and they do often sail in other books but I liked that this duology had such a large focus on water. Lara grew up in the middle of a desert and Ithicana is a tropical grouping of islands. Ithicana has to deal with a storm season that make water travel incredibly dangerous. On top of the storms the waters are also infested with sharks. The islands also have deadly snakes so honestly just loving the danger in these books.

The Bridge Kingdom hit every single mark in my dream enemies-to-lovers book and I rated it five stars.

You can add The Bridge Kingdom on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in getting your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

The Traitor Queen Review

Heads up but this section will contain spoilers relating to the first book! If you haven’t read the first book feel free to skip down to the end of this post for my sign off and some extra links. Otherwise feel free to sign off here and I’ll talk to you in my next post!

The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom, #2)
Image: Cover of The Traitor Queen by Danielle L. Jensen

Synopsis

A queen now in exile as a traitor, Lara has watched Ithicana be conquered by her own father, helpless to do anything to stop the destruction. But when she learns her husband, Aren, has been captured in battle, Lara knows there is only one reason her father is keeping him alive: as bait for his traitorous daughter.

And it is bait she fully intends to take.

Risking her life to the Tempest Seas, Lara returns to Ithicana with a plan not only to free its king, but for liberating the Bridge Kingdom from her father’s clutches using his own weapons: the sisters whose lives she spared. But not only is the palace inescapable, there are more players in the game than Lara ever realized, enemies and allies switching sides in the fight for crowns, kingdoms, and bridges. But her greatest adversary of all might be the very man she’s trying to free – the husband she betrayed.

With everything she loves in jeopardy, Lara must decide who – and what – she is fighting for: her kingdom, her husband, or herself.

Review

I hopped into reading The Traitor Queen immediately upon finishing The Bridge Kingdom. If anything, these are great books to read back to back. The story is fast paced enough that you almost won’t realize that you’ve read about 700 pages by the end of them. The ending of the first book had me needing to find out what happened next so I devoured this book in about half the time it took me to read The Bridge Kingdom.

This book had so much action in it and I really enjoyed seeing how Lara’s sisters fit into the plot. Honestly all of the characters that we were introduced to in this book were integral to the plot and the way everything came together had me in shock more than once.

Now if The Bridge Kingdom was angsty, The Traitor Queen is on another level entirely. I definitely didn’t hate it but holy cow it was taxing to read at times. I just kept waiting for things to fall into place and stop having more things become something disastrously dramatic. Aren became a bit frustrating in this book because he had trusted Lara so readily in the first book and yet became so wishy-washy. I could understand his thoughts from the perspective of hating Lara but I also felt like he was heavily influenced by the people around him and at times it made me question his ability as a king. Obviously it’s important for him to be able to trust his companions but at the same time, he pushed them to trust Lara in the first book and I found it surprising that he took such a firm stance against her despite the fact that she tried to explain to him what happened.

Now Lara was dealing with the consequences of her actions from the first book and I could understand her feelings most of the time but I wished she had been stronger in her beliefs and her dedication to Ithicana. If this had been the case, I think that this book potentially could have been shorter and by the time I reached the actual ending I found myself thinking how much less taxing it would have been if this book were about 50 pages shorter. It seemed like Lara kept ending up in bad situations because she was in that same wishy-washy mindset as Aren and instead of dedicating herself fully to Ithicana from the beginning she kept getting in her own head. And don’t get me wrong, I loved this book, but again I warn you that if you aren’t a fan of angst or drama, this might not be the duology for you!

In the end, I gave this book 4 stars because it was a genuinely fun read. I think the main reason I ended up knocking off a star was because of the length and the heightened dramatics towards the end of the story. This was such a fun duology though and I can’t wait for the next book in this series to come out!

You can add The Traitor Queen on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in picking up this book you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon

If you’ve read the first (or both) book(s), what did you think of them? Also, if you have any fantasy romance recommendations feel free to leave a comment!

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. If you want to connect with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: nihilisticactus

On Readerly: sideofadventure

On Goodreads, where you can add me as a friend or follow my reviews. My profile is linked here.

For review requests, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’re interested in supporting the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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I Sincerely Hope the Second Book is Better: Review of Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

e-ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review.

When I first saw the cover reveal for this book I was entranced and couldn’t wait to pick it up. It was giving me Gothic romance vibes and I wanted to see how this might be incorporated into a young adult novel. That being said, I think that this might have done better as an adult Gothic romance but as it was I was bored with this book and found it lacking.

Lakesedge (World at the Lake's Edge, #1)
Image: Cover of Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

Synopsis

There are monsters in the world.

When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

There are monsters in the woods.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn…

There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name.

Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.

Review

This review will contain spoilers.

Lakesedge followed Violeta (Leta) Graceling and her younger brother, Arien, after they’ve been taken back to an estate with Rowan who is a boy known simply as The Monster of Lakesedge. As the story progresses, she realizes how entwined this estate is with the evil god the Lord Under. It’s a story about magic and seems very connected to a larger metaphor for mental illness and I can only hope that the second book improves upon the events of the first.

I thought that Lakesedge started off interesting enough. I will include a more comprehensive list of content warnings at the end of this review but I do want to start off by saying that this starts off right away with scenes depicting emotional and physical abuse. I’ll admit, I found large portions of this book to be really triggering and I almost DNF’ed it but when I set it aside for a few weeks I was already 60% of the way through and decided to just see if it got any better. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

When the story first opened it raised so many questions. I was so confused by the world and spent the entire book waiting for questions to be answered but only ended up with more questions. The world itself felt underdeveloped as a whole and I hope that the second book gives more explanation but saying that ultimately doesn’t fix this book. The woman who raised Leta and Arien was very religious and this seems to be how people are in the world overall. They essentially worship a goddess of light which is why the dark magic that Arien possesses is seen as evil. Leta has spent her entire life protecting Arien with a zeal that I think many older sisters could relate to. The Lord Under is the evil god that they have in this religion and he gets the main focus in this story which left me, again, with more questions because he was so tangible and yet the goddess was often an afterthought.

Past these aspects I found myself understanding next to nothing about the religion and culture of the world that these characters resided in. YA fantasy often doesn’t have the in depth systems that adult fantasy has and I’ve always been grateful for that because they’re easier for me to consume. This is one story though where I definitely needed more to understand what was going on. There was magic, and alchemy involved with said magic, but nothing really came of this. The powers were just mentioned and there and the story would move on. I understood that at the heart of it, Lakesedge was a character driven story but with the plot as it was, I didn’t feel like I was able to connect with any of the characters.

Our main character is Violeta (Leta) Graceling and I’ll come back to her later because I have a lot of thoughts about who she was as a person but first, the other characters. We also had Arien, Leta’s younger brother, Rowan, the Monster of Lakesedge, as well as an alchemist, Clover, and a housekeeper, Florence. I found all of the characters to be flat and too often they seemed to be there for no real reason at all. I was especially confused by Florence because as the only true adult in this group she didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Maybe if there was more explanation into the dynamics between her and Rowan or the culture I would have understood why she just sat on the sidelines while she watched these kids destroy themselves both physically and mentally.

The central conflict to this book is a corruptive magic that has spread through Lakesedge following an incident in Rowan’s past. Rowan is supposed to be this evil monster and yet there was next to no evidence of this outside of the stories from his past. So when Leta constantly tried to remind herself that she couldn’t possibly have feelings for him because he’s a monster, I got really frustrated. Their romance almost felt like it was supposed to be a take on the “grumpy-sunshine” trope though I’ve also read in some other reviews that it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling of sorts. I could see where the author wanted it go but neither character ended up being strong enough characters to make this work. I genuinely thought that Leta had more chemistry with The Lord Under than she did with Rowan (whoops).

Now on to Leta.

I know that the author probably meant to give Leta pure intentions in her actions throughout the course of this novel but she made me so sad. Her self-sacrificial martyr complex was genuinely too much for me. I kept waiting for her to find a different solution, or for the group to come together and actually stop her from taking the steps that she did and yet that never occurred. The heavy depictions of trauma and mental illness throughout this book coupled with the fact that the corruptive magic required a physical sacrifice from Rowan that took the form of self harm through cutting ate away at me. I have no idea if this overall portrayal of mental illness is something that the author intended to have going in but I don’t think that it was done justice if it was. And if it was unintentional I have to say I’m really disappointed with how it all came together overall.

Leta was characterized in a way that she was unable to think past the actions she was currently taking. She had been through so many traumatic things in her life and it broke my heart to she how she treated her own life and future as something that could be thrown away so easily. With everything she did, she took care of everyone else before herself. It got to the point where it felt selfish instead of helpful, the pain that Leta was causing the other characters, especially her brother, was too much.

A battle with mental illness often feels impossible. From my own experiences I can say that with every step forward I take it feels like I take ten steps backward. Reading this book I saw a lot of my own mental illness in the story and that worried me a bit. There have only brief periods of time where I have had a healthy journey with mental health and I have put in a lot of work to try and deconstruct from the beliefs that I held and still hold. Reading Lakesedge I thought my younger self would have loved the book but I also have to note that my younger self would also seek out books that perpetuated the bad beliefs because I didn’t want to get better. I didn’t think that any aspect of my life would ever get better. I kept waiting for Leta to realize that she was hurting others and when she didn’t I just felt numb.

Arien knew what he was getting into and I was frustrated that Leta did whatever she could to either sabotage his efforts or pull all the burden onto herself. This is an incredibly unhealthy mindset and I can only hope that something changes in the second book and things get better but I’m worried. I don’t want people to step away from this book and think that they have to suffer along or think that they have to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.

Lakesedge began dark and it was intriguing. I was looking forward to an angsty romance with a grand Gothic setting. There was angst galore but instead of something captivating and unique I found the plot to be depressing and repetitive and the characters to be two-dimensional. Everything about this book felt underdeveloped from the setting and characters to the plot and fantasy elements. I was disappointed by this and ended up rating it two stars.

If you want to check out the book on Goodreads, you can find it here.

Content warnings: Death of a parent, death of a sibling (neither on page, but mentioned), self harm in the form of cutting (for the purpose of sacrifice), vomiting, drowning, emotional and physical abuse, depictions of trauma and depression

If you’ve picked up Lakesedge, what did you think of it? Am I wrong for reading into the plot so much? I just know how I was as a teen and don’t want someone like me to pick this up and find it influential in a negative manner.

If you want to connect with me elsewhere:

You can follow my reviews or add me as a friend on Goodreads, profile linked here.

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And if you’d like to support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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A Powerful YA Sci-Fi Novel: Review of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

This post contains affiliate links, if you make a purchase through them I will receive a small commission with no extra charge to you.

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1)
Image: Cover of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

e-ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley in exchange for review

Synopsis

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Review

Content warnings will be included at the end of my review.

This book was amazing. A futuristic sci-fi retelling of the only female emperor of China, Iron Widow took an already fascinating story and elevated it even further. Before I get into my review, I want to point you towards the author’s YouTube channel, linked here. Not only are the videos well researched, they’re all wonderfully scripted and I’m in awe of Zhao’s ability to weave in sponsorships from other companies as well as hype for this book.

So, as mentioned before, Iron Widow is a futuristic sci-fi retelling. Though a number of liberties were taken with the story I loved seeing how Zhao laced historical tidbits into the larger futuristic setting. There were Chrysalises, giant robots that are powered through a psychic link, that are used to fight off mecha aliens. But on the flip side, there is a stinging commentary on the harm of a patriarchal society. The story touches on things like the practice of foot binding and the dangers that young women face in terms of purity. It was scathing and heartbreaking at the same time.

Zhao wove together a fantastic narrative that balanced all of the complex elements perfectly. Looking back, I can see how hints about the finale were sprinkled in though in the moment I was so absorbed in finding out what happened next that I was shocked I hadn’t seen it coming. Without potentially giving anything away, I will just say that I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on the second book.

Now a huge portion of why I loved this book was the characters. They were spectacular. Morally grey and scheming I think that if I ever started writing fanfiction it would be for this book. Wu Zetian is our narrator and at times she seemed to run solely on spiteful fumes but in the grand scheme of it all I was amazed at what she was capable of. Bitter and intent on avenging the death of her older sister, Zetian volunteers to be a concubine to a pilot of one of the Chrysalises. By surviving killing the man who murdered her sister, she ends up being paired with Li Shimin, a pilot known as the Iron Demon, as both punishment and test.

By surviving her link with Shimin, Zetian becomes something more powerful than the pilot system has seen before. This pair spent so much time dancing around each other that I really appreciated the addition of Gao Yizhi, a boy that befriended Zetian in secret when she lived in her family’s home. I think that the three of them ended up working together in such an unexpected manner I was surprised by how their personalities ended up differing from what I imagined them to be.

I have a lot of respect for how Zhao crafted these characters. Each one struggled with trauma in their own way and it was well shown that they have a lot to learn about not only themselves but each other and the greater world. And yet even with all of that, I adored watching the three of them come together. Zhao has marketed this as a book that steps away from the standard love triangle and instead ushers in a polyamorous relationship and I have to say, I think that this should be the new standard. No hurt feelings over sides being picked and I think that the representation of a relationship like this, especially in YA, is something that adds new depth to the genre.

Iron Widow was a dark and gripping narrative that kept me on the edge of my seat. It was unique and powerful and a spectacular book overall. I rated it 5 stars and I highly recommend this.

Content Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, alcoholism, depictions of trauma, anxiety, depression, mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, misogyny and sexism

You can add Iron Widow on Goodreads.

Or if you’re interested in picking up a copy of your own:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Book Depository // Amazon // Libro.fm // Indiebound (to find a local store to shop through)

If you’d like to connect with me elsewhere:

I’m on Twitter: nihilisticactus

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews here.

I’m on Readerly: sideofadventure

For review requests, etc.: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

And if you’d like to support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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I Understand Why Everyone Loves This Book Now: Review of Radiance by Grace Draven

This post contains affiliate links, if you make a purchase using that link I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I am on such a romance kick right now, specifically fantasy romance. I’ve been struggling a lot mentally (thanks uni!) so diving into some books that give me all the warm and fuzzy feelings I could possibly want has helped immensely.

I’ve seen so many people talking about Radiance by Grace Draven recently so I checked it out from my library because I wasn’t sure how I’d end up feeling about it but let me tell you…. This was PHENOMENAL and I completely understand why everyone who talks about this book raves about it.

Radiance (Wraith Kings, #1)
Image: Cover of Radiance by Grace Draven

Synopsis

The Prince of no value
Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.

The noblewoman of no importance
Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.

Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.

Review

Radiance is a friends-to-lovers romance following Idilko and Brishen, two individuals pledged to marry one another in a strategic political move for their respective kingdoms. They’re both close enough to the throne to warrant an arranged marriage, but far enough away that their feelings were never considered before being betrothed. This was such an intriguing start to a book, these two kingdoms are vastly different, one isn’t even inhabited by humans, and I couldn’t wait to see where it went. Ildiko is human and Brishen is from a race of human-like creatures called Kai. The Kai have gray skin, sharp teeth and claws, and large dark eyes that better suit them for their nocturnal existence. I thought that this aspect of the story brought so much humor to the plot. I loved how they were both disgusted with each other in the beginning in terms of appearance and the fact that their insulting descriptions quickly turned into terms of endearment was amazing. The humor that Draven laced throughout this book really brought it to a new level from what I expected it to be. I won’t spoil anything but there are a few scenes where Ildiko and Brishen tried foods from the others kingdoms and oh boy, I actually laughed out loud reading about Brishen trying this particular human food.

Something else that I thought Draven did well with this book was the honesty that she fostered between the couple. It was refreshing and downright adorable at times. I swooned on more than one occasion while reading because I couldn’t handle how sweet Brishen and Ildiko were together. Brishen was respectful and caring and he complemented Ildiko perfectly. With the honesty that they harbored the chemistry was evident from their first on page interaction. It was such a joy to watch their relationship develop. Friends-to-lovers is such a joy of a trope to read!

Radiance is the first book in a series, the first three books are currently out. I thought that this gave a great set up to the story. I could see it being read as a standalone, however, the epilogue immediately had me wanting to pick up book two (I’ve got about a two-month wait before I can get a copy from my library). The reason that I do say that it could be read as a standalone is because it gave me everything I would want in terms of a fantasy romance. It set up the relationship and had some conflict that did largely get resolved and with the exception of the epilogue there was a happy conclusion but I am very excited to get absorbed into this world some more. Draven has written a superb romance with this book and I recommend picking it up if you’re looking for an engrossing fantasy read with a sweet couple and a healthy dose of humor. A five star read for me.

Y’all, I think that I’m realizing how much more I enjoy fantasy romance compared to contemporary romance because I can’t get enough of these types of stories. Since the stories are romance centered, the fantasy elements sometimes take a backseat but I think that’s why I enjoy them so much. I love to get immersed into these fun plots where fantastical events occur but I don’t always have the brain power to read intense fantasy tomes. I have another review that I’m hoping to post soon for The Bridge Kingdom duology by Danielle L. Jensen. Same vibes and I loved them. And with that I’ve got to get back to studying!

You can add Radiance on Goodreads at this link.

Or if you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find it at the following:

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Audible

Other places you can find me:

Follow my reviews or add me as a friend on Goodreads here.

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Again, But Better: Rereading Christine Riccio’s First Book & Reading Better Together Too

It’s so weird to think that it was back in 2019 that I got sucked into book blogging. I had recently gotten back into reading after a years long slump and the book that pulled me fully into the reading community again was Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. I reread my original review and it was a bit of a mess but it was a book that I was honestly incredibly excited to read and I can tell how caught up in my feelings I was about it. I remember when I started to get views on that post and then likes and even a comment I was shocked! My blog has always felt so small and insignificant that I still tend to forget that actual people read my posts and I’m not just shouting into the void.

For this post, I wanted to reflect upon that original reading of Christine’s first book and then review it a second time with some updated thoughts. After that I’ll dive into my review of Better Together which is her second novel and I’ll finish with a small wrap up on this experience.

Just a note before I begin, this post will contain spoilers.

Again, But Not Better

Again, but Better
Image: Cover of Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

I read Again, But Better at exactly the time I needed to read it. It made me sad and nostalgic for people that I no longer had and life opportunities that either passed me by or that I wish I could experience again. Reading it in such an emotional mindset I think I chose to overlook a lot of things that bothered me more this second time around.

One of the first things I noticed while rereading this was that there were constant references to Harry Potter. Not only did these age very poorly, I don’t think they were necessary in the first place. When it comes to contemporary books I know that there will be pop culture references but authors need to tread carefully because the more specific they get, the easier it is for the book to lack a timeless nature. In terms of the writing itself after years of watching videos from Christine it was obvious that she wrote this. It was enthusiastic and awkward with a sprinkling of quotable lines throughout. This book was also a self insert to the extreme. With the recognizable writing style coupled with the FrenchWatermelon19 blog name of the main character I was shocked that Christine was okay with this book going out into the world… I can only hope that if Pilot was based off of a real person that he did not read this book. Pilot was such a weird character for me because I actually liked him more than Shane at times because he was subdued compared to her but he also had seemingly no autonomy and I don’t want to speculate on things simply because of the self insert nature but it seems to me like Pilot was a 20-something who wasn’t interested in something serious and the do-over put him in a tight spot that ended up causing people a lot of pain. As a person who heavily romanticized relationships because of books and “happily ever after” I just have to wonder.

Overall, a lot of the issues I mentioned in my original review remain the same. I disliked Shane’s family. The fact that her father threw a hissy fit in front of an entire restaurant of people and promptly disowned her was appalling. Families are messy but there’s a fine line between a messy family and abuse and I think that Again, but Better lacked the nuance to have been written about an abusive family. In the end I did appreciate that Shane had something of a self discovery journey over the course of the plot and it was nice to see her make her own decisions. In terms of the romance in this book, the codependent nature of Shane and Pilot’s relationship upon getting their do-over was annoying and I actually enjoyed when they broke up. I don’t think either of them had enough self awareness to do the right thing and during this reread I thought that there was a lot less chemistry between the two than the first time I read the book. I’m also still incredibly uncomfortable with the cheating aspects of the story.

Again, But Better was an awkward debut novel and despite being a book I read at the right time, the second time around revealed a lot more flaws after realizing this was rated 4 stars on my Goodreads I changed my rating to 2.

Please Stop Vomiting: My Review On Better Together

Better Together
Image: Cover of Better Together by Christine Riccio

I’m not going to do it. Like really I will not go back and count how many times the characters threw up on page…

Okay, I think it actually only happened 5.5 times (the half time being a spit take and not actual vomit) but I still think this is too much vomit for this book!

Anyways, the quickest way to sum up Better Together would be Parent Trap but with significantly more trauma.

Like really, sisters Siri and Jamie were separated by their parents messy divorce at the ages of 4 and 6. They both end up attending the same self help retreat over a decade later and with the help of some more unexplained magic they swap places. Here’s the kicker though, Siri thought that Jamie was an imaginary friend. Seriously, their mother told Siri that Jamie wasn’t real and sent her to therapy in order to FORGET HER SISTER. So this ended up leading to a very dramatic scene at the retreat where Siri panicked over her “imaginary friend” appearing in front of her.

I’ll admit that Better Together, while not amazing, ended up impressing me more than I thought it would. It was obvious to me that Christine had grown slightly as a writer although it still had much of the same enthusiastic and awkward nature that Again, but Better had. I thought that Siri and Jamie ended up feeling like much more realistic characters than Shane did, however that doesn’t mean huge improvement since I really didn’t find Shane to be a well written character. With that being said I thought that Jamie was frustrating as hell and without the anger I felt while reading her chapters I’m unsure I would have been able to distinguish between the two narratives.

The main issue that I had with Better Together (other than the whole traumatic imaginary friend thing) is that there was so much conflict and so much angst that could have been played into but Christine barely scratched the surface. Both Jamie and Siri had personal struggles that they were trying to deal with and I wish that we could have seen more of how their switch allowed them to cope with and work through what was going on in their real lives. For this to be a standalone it didn’t give me the resolution that I was hoping for by the time I had reached the ending. Though I will say I appreciated that Christine had both girls attend therapy throughout the course of the book. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start.

I’ve gone back and forth a few times now about how I wanted to rate this and I think I’ve settled on 2 stars. It was okay and while it did have improvements from Again, but Better it wasn’t great. I was uncomfortable with how the divorce was handled by the parents and I felt like a lot of aspects to this book felt underdeveloped. I’ve watched most of Christine’s videos about her writing process and I know that she overdrafts when it comes to word counts. That being said I have to wonder what she ends up cutting out.

But Will Her Next Book Have Better in the Title

Christine’s books seem geared towards a younger audience and I think that they could be good transitional books as young adult readers look for adult books to pick up. That’s kind of the path that I took with them anyways. They are very surface level in terms of conflict and overall character growth and I think that younger readers would find them enjoyable. However, I would just hope as these readers grow up and read more that they could look back on these two books and eye them a bit more critically. They’re not great examples for how families and relationships should work and while no family or relationship is going to be perfect I just don’t want young readers to end up being set on a path where they normalize things they shouldn’t.

And one last random point… Something that I’ve noticed with both of Christine’s books is that she isn’t consistent with the things that she changes about the real world or the characters. In Again, but Better Shane didn’t seem to swear and instead used things like “fudge” instead of “fuck” but then there were moments when she did swear and there wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to it. Then in Better Together with the changes about the real world there were numerous references to things and people that were unchanged, like Timothee Chalamet just randomly being included in the plot, but then in other instances Christine would do something like change a dating app name from “Hinge” to “Hunge”. The inconsistency was a bit confusing at times. Siri was also another character that “didn’t swear” so there were even more nonsense words in her chapters. Seriously, authors either use actual swear words or refrain from using any at all.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of either of these books, I thought that this was actually an enjoyable experience in the end. It was interesting reading the two books back to back because I was better able to see how Christine grew as a writer. At this point, I’m unsure if I’ll pick up her next book outside of potentially using it for blog content. Or just to see what outrageous unexplained magic she decides to throw into that plot.

The biggest thing that I have to think about though is, will Christine end up having the word better in the title of her third book??

And with that I’m signing off. I’ll talk to y’all in my next post, though if you’re interested in connecting with me before then you can find me at the following:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

My Goodreads profile is linked here. You can add me as a friend or follow my reviews over there.

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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Books Reviews

A Twisted & Beautiful Folkloric Fantasy Debut: Review of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I swear, this post did not want to be published! I have been working on this for weeks now because every time I’ve saved it as a draft as soon as I come back to it all I get are error messages so I have to start all over again! This time I’m just going to try and get it all done in one sitting, including images and links, so that I can finally post this.

The Wolf and the Woodsman
Image: Cover of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

Reid provided content warnings for her book which will be included at the end of my review

First off, I wanted to thank William Morrow through NetGalley for the e-ARC of this book as well as Danielle at William Morrow for sending me a finished copy!

The Wolf and the Woodsman was everything I hoped for and more. This folkloric fantasy debut from Ava Reid follows Évike, a pagan woman who has been treated as an outcast in her village of “Wolf Girls”. Évike has not only been scorned because of the man who fathered her, but also because she’s the only girl in her village without any magic powers. When the Woodsmen come to take away yet another girl, it’s Évike who gets taken. A sacrifice for the protection of someone else in her village. As the plot unfolded and twisted itself down grim and harsh paths I read with bated breath and finished this in two sittings.

This book was whimsically dark as Reid knit together Jewish mythology and Hungarian history. I’m not Jewish though I ended up picking up on a number of references that were made throughout the book. I really enjoyed seeing how Reid tied everything together. The writing was absolutely beautiful. Rich descriptions of the world woven throughout fantastical stories and Évike’s own stinging inner dialogue. I was so immersed in the story that I didn’t want to drag myself back out until I was finished reading. I’d like to note that the body horror and gore described throughout are not for the faint of heart. The Wolf and the Woodsman is an adult novel and I would heed that warning. If you’re a person who is sensitive to graphic descriptions this might be a book that needs to be passed on. It was all pertinent to the story itself and added to the dark nature. This was a dark story and it was unexpected because I find that many fantasy stories I’ve read tend to lean towards a “happily ever after” ending. And obviously I love those too but I appreciated that this book felt so realistic in terms of characterization and life consequences of horrific events.

The grim fairytale-esque sheen that covered the surface of the story revealed thought provoking horrors once peeled back. A corrupt kingdom, filled with impoverished peasants who stood atop the backs of the pagans and the Yehuli because they believed themselves to be more worthy of an upward climb. An impending war that has caused a turning tide in the kings own men. It was fascinating and terrifying to read it all unfold because I was so invested in Évike and her survival. Over the course of the book, Évike put every ounce into protecting such fragile relationships that developed over the course of the story. As she interacted with her peers and eventually her father I couldn’t help but hope that these characters would hope for the best for Évike just as I was. For her to want to save anyone but herself was heartbreaking because even after years of being treated as less than and fighting for her survival she still revealed a caring nature in these moments.

Now, not only was Évike caring but she was powerful in her own way. The self discovery journey she went on through the course of the book proved to be beneficial in numerous ways. Her power in bringing men to their knees was hands down one of my favorite parts of this book. She intimidated a king but her enemies-to-lovers relationship with Prince Gaspar was perfection. They were never meant to be and yet as their banter and curses turned to something more I couldn’t stop reading. As I reached the end of the novel I couldn’t help but see all the beginnings that could unspool from it.

This was a standout read and will definitely be one of my favorites for the year. Hands down a 5/5 star read! Links to purchase the book for yourself will be included underneath the content warnings.

CONTENT WARNINGS (as provided by the author)
– Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation
– Torture, including whipping
– Self-harm, including self-amputation 
– Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets)
– Antisemitism
– Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
– Physical abuse by parents and parental figures
– Graphic descriptions of vomiting

If you’d like to pick up your own copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman you can find it at any of the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Indiebound (you can find a local indie to purchase through there!)

And as of writing this post, Sierra Elmore has a book box available for preorder for September. You can find that here!

And if you’d like to connect with me elsewhere:
I’m on Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc my email is adventuresandespresso@gmail.com.

You can follow my reviews or add me as a friend on Goodreads here.

And if you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is here.

I’ll talk to y’all in my next post!

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Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a Whale
Image: Cover of Lynne Kelly’s Song For A Whale

The story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Lynne Kelly’s Song For A Whale was a beautiful book about a young girl’s need to belong and her determined journey to help a whale also find a place to belong. Iris is deaf. Her grandparents are deaf and she has a friend, Wendell, who is also deaf but she attends a hearing school. On top of all this, while her mom and older brother have learned sign language to easily communicate with Iris, her father has never put in the effort instead relying on her lip reading skills and other people to translate. This book centers on her discovery of a whale called Blue 55 who sings in a frequency that other whales can’t understand. Iris immediately relates to Blue 55 and she sets out on a journey to give him a song that might finally make him feel heard.

In both high school and my first round of college I took ASL classes. I spent three years learning it in high school and was actually planning on minoring in it in college. For a really long time I was interested in becoming an interpreter and while my career goals have ultimately changed since then I think that learning sign language is something that everyone should do if presented the opportunity. The Deaf community is wonderful and I’ve met a lot of great people over the years that have pulled me out of my shell from my time learning ASL. It’s an incredibly expressive language and it taught me a lot about communication so I was excited to pick up a book featuring a deaf main character! I feel like if I let myself talk about it too much I would take up the entire post but I’ll just say that while communication and school and everything surrounding that is up for individual families to decide it is incredibly important for deaf children to be able to communicate. ASL has its own structure and grammar but it is a language and it opens the world up so much more than relying on lip reading and speaking.

Song For A Whale was emotional. Iris feels misunderstood and often floats through life feeling like an outsider. At school she has to rely on an interpreter and with interactions with Deaf (uppercase D means individuals who identify with the larger Deaf community) people she feels like she’s getting left behind because she isn’t around fluent signers all the time. My heart hurt for her because she had so much passion that I wanted everyone else in her life to see that too. So when she begins to create a song for Blue 55 after learning about the whale in science class I couldn’t help but cheer her on as she began to make unlikely friends along her journey. I think that this book is a perfect one to help young readers begin to step into the shoes of those that have different abilities to their own. Being deaf does not define a person and I really enjoyed that Kelly fully made Iris her own person because that will help readers understand that too.

One of my favorite things about this book was that not only was it a story of belonging but it was also one of healing. Before the events of this story took place, Iris lost her grandfather. So on top of everything she was navigating her grief for one of the few people that fully accepted her as she was. Her grandmother was grieving the loss of her husband and life long companion and I loved seeing the support and hope she had for Iris. She stepped up for her granddaughter and ended up beginning to move with her grief as well. As they both opened up to each other and the outside world I was really proud of both characters for being so strong.

This is a very character driven book. Interspersed between a few of Iris’s chapters were some written from the perspective of Blue 55. They were moving and brought me hope that the two would be able to interact in some way before the story ended. I loved how Kelly tied the passion Iris felt for radios to this mission to create a song for a whale. It was unique and I think it added so much to the importance for everyone to be able to communicate with those around them. I also thought that it was cool to find so many educational tidbits sprinkled throughout about whales and whale song. It was well worth the read and whether you’re hearing or deaf I couldn’t recommend this book more.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (to find a local indie to shop through!)

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. I’ll talk to you all in my next post!

You can also connect with me more by following the blog or at the following:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Readerly: @/sideofespresso

You can add me as a friend or follow my reviews on Goodreads here.

For review inquiries, etc. you can email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

If you’d like to support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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Books nonfiction

A Memoir For a Quarter Life Crisis: Reviewing Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

I’m always thankful for books that manage to find their way to me at the perfect time. I’ve been an avid reader since I first learned and the universe never seems to fail me when I need a story to find its way to me. At 24, I’ve spent most of my life shifting between crisis mode and terrifying periods of time where things feel okay which obviously means that everything is about to fall apart. Right now I’m battling with another terrifying period of time because I’m taking major steps forward but am waiting for the little bad things to take over my life once more.

Living with and learning to cope with the effects of trauma is overwhelming. It takes a lot of work and oftentimes it can make you feel completely hopeless. When your life gets turned upside down and you spend your entire existence simply finding a way to survive to see another day by the time you’re back to a point where you could even attempt to find “normalcy” it may feel impossible. Between Two Kingdoms is a heart wrenching look into this exact type of journey.

At 22, Suleika Jaouad’s world turned upside down after being diagnosed with leukemia. Over the years she used her writing to cope with her battle with cancer as well as her battle to find a way to understand where her life had taken her when she went into remission and no longer has to spend all of her time focusing on survival. The memoir that she crafted about her journey was not only beautifully written but also heartbreakingly honest and relatable. Though our experiences with trauma are quite different I felt like Suleika had pulled things from my own thoughts and journals as she relayed her own.

Suleika has a powerful voice and it was clear to me that she poured her emotions into the pages of Between Two Kingdoms. Trauma is a beast and reading about how she fell apart and slowly began putting herself back together was incredibly relatable. The inspiration for the title comes from how the world seemed to be split between the kingdom of the “sick” and the kingdom of the “well”. Despite ending up in remission, Suleika struggled with making her way back to the kingdom of the well which is what ultimately sent her on her road trip to try and heal.

She was marooned between these two kingdoms because she was grieving both the life she would never live as well as the people she lost along the way. While it was heartbreaking to see her become aware of how her illness effected everyone in her life I appreciated the self awareness throughout the latter portion of the book. When we are suffering it’s hard to understand that our illnesses be they physical or mental have consequences. Personally I’m still trying to cope with how my struggles over the years have changed every aspect of my life.

Overall I couldn’t recommend this memoir more. Through a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of healing Suleika gave readers a message of hope. We currently exist in a world where too many people have experienced trauma, grief, and illness. Especially now as we all still navigate what has happened with COVID I think this book could be a benefit to many. Now more than ever it’s important to realize that we are not suffering alone. Our lives have changed and if you’re still in a period of just making sure you survive another day know I’m proud of you for fighting.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy of Between Two Kingdoms you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Or find a local indie shop at IndieBound

Other places you can find me:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

Add me on Goodreads here

Email for review requests: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

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Books Reviews

Oh Look, Another Dual Timeline Historical Fiction Book: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner Review

Portions of this review do contain spoilers but there will be warnings ahead of those sections if you want to skip them.

Despite how the title might make it sound, I’m a sucker for dual timeline historical fiction books. I enjoy the mystery and intrigue that revolves around the story that plays out in the past because of something another character has found in the present. They’re usually quick reads and I’ll probably continue to pick them up even with the issues that I do tend to have with them.

I find when it comes to these dual timeline books that the main character in the present day timeline is used to give some sort of conclusion to the character(s) from the past. The present day character tends to use this investigation into the past as some sort of distraction from events that are taking place in their own life. I don’t necessarily mind this but at times it can be jarring to be thrown from one perspective to another, especially because it also involves a time jump. When it comes to historical fiction I usually prefer books that take place entirely in the past without needing to time jump in order to learn the fate of the characters.

I wrote a review back in 2019 about the book A Fire Sparkling by Julianne Maclean which is written in a similar way and has more of my thoughts on books like this. Now let’s jump into the review for The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.

First off, this cover is GORGEOUS which was a big reason as to why I picked it up. Definitely an impulse buy but the synopsis was intriguing too.

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Besides the murder aspect of this I would also like to add trigger warnings for miscarriage, suicide, sexual assault, vomiting, and blood.

The Lost Apothecary, while containing darker themes, was a light read so as expected I flew through it. Another reason to this was the fact that I didn’t really enjoy the present day chapters that followed Caroline so I kept reading in order to get back to the chapters that followed Eliza and Nella in the past. I’m not a fan of plot lines that center around infidelity and while I understood why the author chose this to be part of Caroline’s story I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like Caroline was an awkward character in the way she was written and I don’t think she was as dynamic as Eliza and Nella were. Though I will admit that I didn’t particularly find any of them to be truly dynamic or unique characters. Nella had such a fascinating backstory and yet she was given a hardened personality that seemed to leave her unable to share her inner thoughts with even herself. I also found myself wanting so much more from Eliza because while I loved her determination she would go back and forth between being so obviously “young” to all of a sudden behaving in a way that contradicted this.

Just a heads up there will be spoilers in this next paragraph so if you’d like to continue with my spoiler free thoughts feel free to skip it!

The more I thought about Eliza the more I wondered how the story may have been written if she was aged up slightly, even just to 15 (she is 12 when the book begins). An aspect of this book was that Eliza gets her first period after her employer’s husband is poisoned and subsequently dies. She thinks that she has been possessed by his ghost and this is why she’s bleeding. It takes a majority of the book before she ever gets an explanation and while it broke my heart to see how scared she was I also felt that this was an odd plot line considering she otherwise acted so much older than she was. It didn’t even seem like just a difference of the times, Eliza was just oddly written. It was as if she needed to be a heroic character who could still be naive and romanticize the world since Nella was such a pessimist.

Despite not loving the present day chapters, the past chapters were really intriguing and I think the fact that the author is a historian played into the enjoyment that I felt when reading those portions of the book. At the end there is a section from the author about the historical aspects of the story. She gave context to some of the choices she made and I really enjoyed this! Whenever I read a historical fiction I tend to enjoy it even more when authors include resources or context because it allows people who are passionate about history to have a starting place to look into the real world inspiration for the book.

In terms of the plot, again I was intrigued from the moment I read the synopsis. However this was a shorter book and I thought that the balance of events was off. Both storylines took forever to develop to some sort of climax and then the ending felt rushed. It was as if the author had been planning on writing a book that was longer but had to fit it into a specific page count and instead of editing the beginning portion, she just cut chunks out of the ending in order to get to the conclusion in time. And as I had mentioned at the beginning of this post the ending of Nella and Eliza’s story completely hinged on what Caroline could discover in her own quest. I don’t want to completely talk down on this because I do find enjoyment out of reading books like this but it often just feels like a way to avoid writing a book that entirely takes place in the past.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for Caroline’s storyline so if you want to continue a spoiler free review skip to the next section!

As I’d mentioned earlier when discussing Caroline as a character I thought she was awkwardly written and I didn’t really enjoy her story. It focused heavily on infidelity and wanting children as well as regrets over life choices. I feel bad for talking down about these types of stories because I know that there’s an audience for them but it’s just not for me. And the more I think about the way her storyline ended the more I realize how weird the timing was. Her husband ingests an essential oil and ends up in the ICU during which time Caroline is accused of trying to murder him because her notes about Nella were discovered. The entire situation felt poorly handled by all parties and in the end Caroline’s husband who was just in the ICU is casually just going to hop on an international flight and leave. SIR???? IS THAT ACTUALLY A GOOD IDEA??? By the end of this whole ordeal Caroline also reveals that she is going to grad school in order to begin to live for herself again. I was just really confused by the timing because as someone who is also going back to school (granted not abroad and I’m just going to be finishing my undergrad) everything seemed so definite and in the end it was. It just felt like no matter what decision Caroline made she wasn’t going to fail in order to give her some sort of happy ending.

Alrighty, now that I’m done with that mini rant I will say that I did overall enjoy The Lost Apothecary. If you’re looking for a quick dual timeline historical fiction book I would definitely recommend giving this a go. However, if you’re not a fan of historical books that do have a larger focus on the life drama of characters instead of the actual historical context and events I would probably pass this book. This is Sarah Penner’s debut novel and I have to say that despite the issues that I did have with her work I will most likely pick up any future books she writes because I’d love to see what else she might come up with.

If you’re interested in picking up The Lost Apothecary you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Indie Bound (for local indie stores) // Bookshop // Target

And with that, I hope you all have a great day and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

Categories
Books Reviews

Book Review: We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

*** ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for honest review ***

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years it’s that relationships end. Romances, friendships, even acquaintances will fizzle, fade, or sometimes unluckily go out with an explosion.

Click the cover to head to the Goodreads page!

I’m not great with relationships of any kind and when I first read the synopsis for We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding my heart hurt. It follows James and Kat, a best friend duo that met in kindergarten, as their friendship changes (and fizzles) over the course of their senior year of high school.

The pair are personality opposites but they’ve made it work. They’ve navigated life changes and growing up together and it seems like nothing could have broken them apart. The book opens with a chapter from James as she leaves for college and then the story unfolds in alternating chapters and storylines. James narrates her senior year from end to beginning and Kat from beginning to end. If you’ve ever seen the movie or musical The Last Five Years this book has the same sort of format!!

This was an easy five stars for me and I genuinely wish I had this story back in high school. It was extremely cathartic and had me reflecting quite a bit about a friendship that I had back in high school that reminded me a bit of Kat and James. I felt broken at times while reading this but I honestly appreciated being able to read a story from two perspectives because it reminded me that no friendship is one-sided and an ending friendship doesn’t necessarily stem from solely the faults of one person.

As a high schooler, especially a senior, you can feel on top of the world. Your future is bright and everything seems possible. Being a teenager is one of the easiest and hardest things to be because you can have your whole life laid out ahead of you and be none the wiser to all the changes that are going to occur. Growing up is intense and navigating the transition between high school and college can throw many obstacles in one’s path. James is a planner and thought nothing would change her 15 year plan and unexpected events in her family end up throwing her into a new mindset that she’s never had to deal with before. As her life falls apart she turns inward and begins to catastrophize the choices that she’s made and wants to make. In contrast, Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, especially in regards to the people in her own life. She’s hesitant and anxious when it comes to changes but in the end all she wants is the best for anyone.

Despite being inexplicably linked, Kat and James were quite unique. Their approaches to navigating obstacles and changes were not only realistic but helped to illustrate how easy it is to allow differences to get in the way of friendships. Over the course of the book, Kat sees things falling together while James sees things in her life falling apart. The choices and events occurring in each of their lives caused a schism and the pair grew apart as neither girl truly acknowledged that they were both changing. Growing up is different for everyone and without realizing it, you can find yourself growing quickly apart from those “best friends for life”.

Kat and James are a bit of personality opposites, similar enough to make it work but when outside circumstances begin to come in between them it begins to cause a schism that ultimately changes their relationship entirely. Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, using this to compete with anxiety about changes she experiences. James, on the other hand, experiences unexpected changes and ends up catastrophizing the events which leads to even more unexpected changes. As a teenager it’s easy to wish the best for life and to think that you have everything figured out. Being a senior can give you that invincible high on life feeling and having to accept the open endedness of the future is a struggle. It doesn’t help that high schoolers are immature, even those seniors that think they have it all figured out! When you begin to get caught up in your own issues, you can lose sight of what’s going on around you, often to the point of neglecting things you shouldn’t. I could see how people might look at Kat and James and see two immature girls and a very mismatched pair but friendship when you’re young is as easy as spending all your time together. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of effort if you’re lucky enough to go to the same school or live nearby. But being mismatched is what ended up leading to issues and that’s something that happens in many high school friendships.

Having a friendship end at any age is hard but when you’re in high school when things change with a “best friend for life” it can be absolutely heartbreaking. One of my favorite things about We Used to Be Friends was how open ended so many aspects of it were. Reminiscent of life itself it drove home for me the fact that there are no guarantees and there is always a chance for things to change. We want happy endings, we want things to turn out perfect, we want all of our plans to work out but that’s not something that we’re promised. This was a touching and realistic novel about growing up. It navigates those relationship changes and allows the reader to reflect on the choices that each character made. Friendships are a two way street and when you accumulate so many years with someone it’s easy to assume that nothing will ever get in the way of many more years. We might not all get the chance to reconcile or have the ability to make different choices. To put it frankly, losing friends SUCKS and this book illustrated an almost grieving process between a best friend duo. This is one of my new favorites and an easy five star rating at that. A highly cathartic read for anyone who has found themselves in a changing friendship I couldn’t recommend this more!