REVIEW: Grey

Grey by Christi J. Whitney

Sebastian wants to be apprenticed to his tattoo artist brother, Hugo, when a whole lot of weirdness steps into his life. Sebastian finds out that his brother is a part of the Corsi gypsy clan, and he’s made an honorary member. This is around the time the Romany clan and their performing circus comes back into town with the alluring Josephine, who Sebastian feels a strange urge to protect.

This is a story that was, for me personally, was a bizarre read. This isn’t because the book was bad, but because it did several things that ultimately make it difficult for me to judge a book (more on those below). By about ~25% of the way through a book, I ask myself what I’d rate the book. At about ~2/3 of the way through the book, I check back in and ask myself if that rating still holds. For most books, it does, and to me, the ending is usually inconsequential if the set-up works. (An ending has to be horrendous for me to rage-quit a book.) However, I knew whether I loved this book or found it ‘meh’ would hang solely on the ending. I vacillated between finding this book tedious and being unable to put it down within the same freaking chapter.

The voice of Sebastian is engaging. Sebastian’s personality isn’t particularly original in YA, but it kept me hooked. The ‘I-want-a-normal-life’ plot works because it’s obvious this story is careening into crazy, and the horror of Sebastian’s transformation drives this aspect of the story. I felt bad for Sebastian for 100% of this story, but some people might find aspects of his self-depreciating personality grating.

The secretive element of the gypsy clans are played up early in the novel, and that slows it down. However, I didn’t want to stop reading this piece because I hoped those secrets would pay off. The risk of  using secrets is that they can make/break an ending. I’m not sure all of these secrets paid off, specifically in the case of Josephine and her past, but the ending didn’t end up relying on the gypsy clan secrets to make it work. This was a massive relief for me because the ‘we can’t talk about this now’ moments early on made me wary that there was going to be a half-baked plot drop at the end. There’s not! It’s more of a straight-forward action climax with a surprise, low-key coda ending, which paid off the main, emotional plot elements well, ignoring the vaguely defined gypsy mysteries that could’ve bogged down this ending.

This story reminded me of Horns, but in a good way, in that it kept the focus on Sebastian and his struggles.  Josephine is underdeveloped as a love interest, but this doesn’t destroy the story because it’s apparent that this relationship is designed to be unrequited and one-sided. This means that Sebastian’s longing for Josephine doesn’t rely on her being developed or returning his affections. Most of Sebastian’s friends didn’t get a lot of novel time, but Katie stood out as a solid choice for a best-friend. Katie didn’t feel like a stereotype. None of these characters did, which is refreshing in YA, and this novel never descends into high school cliche verses high school cliche.

Didn’t particularly care for the gargoyle characters. They could’ve been fleshed out more. They seemed out of place, which was weird, considering the rest of the cast felt like they fit into the story well. They’re basically there to serve as mooks at the end, but being that this is the first book in a trilogy, I’m sure their leader, Augustine, is going to play a major part in the next part(s) of this series.

Notes:

  • Liked the tattoo parlor. It’s an original setting, and it grounds Sebastian and gives him goals in this story.
  • All the teasing about Sebastian’s changes worked to propel the story, but damn it if they weren’t slow, too. This might ruin the novel for you, but the tense pacing kept me reading, and the ending paid it off.
  • I hated most of the chapter titles, so I pretended they didn’t exist after about chapter 10.
  • This is one where the ending determined how I viewed the entire book. I didn’t love it all the way through, but boy, that ending rested on the right elements of the story and pushed the weaker points into the background.
  • I wanted more of the scenes between Hugo and Sebastian. That part of the ending was heart-wrenching and heart-warming.

Rating: 5 stars

I kind of wanted to give this 4 stars for questionable pacing, but I ended up loving this story. It’s a unique entry into YA fantasy and paranormal, and it ultimately focused on the strongest elements in the story. I’m excited–and a little bit afraid–of how the series is going to continue, but if you can get 1/3 of the way through this book, it’s worth it and pays off all the right emotional moments.

[amazon asin=0008120455&template=add to cart]

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REVIEW: Crown of Ice

Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil

Thyra Winter is the Snow Queen, her powers gifted to her by Mael Voss. Her fate is bound to his task of assembling a magic mirror before she turns eighteen or else she’ll become one of the disembodied wraiths that haunt her frozen castle. Thyra suppresses her emotions to deal with the oppressive nature of living with Voss and with the seeming impossibility of her task. The premise is interesting, but the focus veers away from all of that and delves into Thyra immediately trying to recruit a local yet somehow brilliant boy, Kai, to help her construct the mirror. This is a problem because Thyra’s struggle with Voss and his old mentor, Sephia, could’ve made an interesting story if it would’ve been the focus.

Spoiler: it wasn’t. Instead of this more interesting book, we get Thyra chasing a boy, Kai, and adopting a puppy, Luki. I ended up enjoying Luki as an animal companion, but the fact that the dog is the most interesting character in the story says something for how shallow the remaining characters are. Thyra’s character veers into Frozen fanfic territory. No, really, it’s Frozen fanfic. She uses the phrase ‘Let it go’ too many times for this to be a coincidence. This served to limit Thyra as a character for me, and she doesn’t step beyond being a shadow of Elsa’s (more vibrant and fleshed out) personality.

We get a lot of Thyra chasing after Kai and not so much of Thyra trying to build the mirror puzzle early on. There’s a lot of talk about equations and math involved in sovling the mirror, but this is never fleshed out; it’s poor world building and lacks convincing details. There’s a bit of burying the conflict early in story, which could’ve been helped if the setting and world buliding aspects stepped up to fill them in, but they don’t. For example, a scene with Mael Voss transforming the reindeer would’ve done a lot to make him scarier. The earlier portion of this book, up until Sephia’s addition, probably shouldn’t have involved any of the weaker characters like Kai or Gretta at all. I would’ve been completely okay exploring Thyra and her limited world; it would’ve made her seem more lonely instead of fixated on some boy.

 

This story was boring. The writing isn’t bad, but I kept asking myself why I was so freaking bored reading this. A large part of it, I think, has to do with the setting. Thyra’s setting–the uniqueness of her world and situation–should’ve been explored in depth. Instead, there’s a fixation on Kai, who adds nothing to this story. Thyra and Kai had no chemistry, and the story hangs so much on that element. I found myself hoping that this wasn’t a romance because it lacked romantic tension or any type of special spark between the characters.

There are other characters, but there’s always something lacking in them. Everything feels one-dimensional, and this snowballs throughout the story. By the time Thyra hunts for the shard, I was bored for so long that even the mid-book climactic moments couldn’t save this book for me. This story has one note, and it’s not an exciting one. If you like the first two chapters and can tolerate Kai, this might work for you, but the fairy tale retelling aspect wasn’t enough to hook me.

 

Notes:

  • There’s nothing wrong with fanfiction or taking story ideas from it, but without the fleshed out world of the movie, the Elsa expy characterization falls flat here.
  • Bae the reindeer is great. I liked all the animals in the novel, which adds to the fairy tale feel, and I’m a sucker for animal companions. They were the best characters.
  • Was that the most boring ball in the history of paranormal fantasy? TVD wants a word with you.
  • Greda is supposed to love Kai. If I felt anything about these two other than cardboard cutouts, I might care.
  • Kai beats Bea. I have a feeling for him now: dislike.
  • Kai likes math, but all we get is ‘equations’. It’s hard to convey a love of math and make it part of the world when it’s so vague. This might be a sci-fi bias speaking, though.
  • The real relationship in this novel is the one between Thyra and Luki, the wolf pup. It might’ve been a better story with just the two of them.

Rating: 2 stars

There’s so much in this premise for a unique retelling, but very little of it delivers. Something in this story needed to be stronger (characters or setting) to elevate the basic plot into something special and exciting. Still: magic animals.

Book Review: How To Date Dead Guys

How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How to Date Dead Guys is about Emma, a nerdy college girl who has problems fitting in because she’s always had a connection to spirits. When her crush drowns, Emma is over come with guilt, and she’ll do anything to get him back, including summoning him from beyond the grave. However, it’s not Mike that comes back, but Sam, a boy who killed himself the semester before. The story gets more complex, yet remains fun, as more people come back from the dead. Emma has to find a way to put them to rest while overcoming her own guilt over Mike’s death.

The call kidnaps Emma and Chrissy gives her a makeover. If you like Ghost World (the movie), you’ll love the tone and feel of this book. Early on, we meet a pioneer spirit girl and a chem TA who dropped in the river by the local college. The river becomes a major set piece in the novel, and it works unusual elements of horror into the story.

Let’s talk about Emma. She’s a complicated person, and she can often come off as an ice queen. However, you understand the emotional turmoil she deals with in her life, which humanizes her. Also, Emma is a biology and math major, which is comp bio, and it’s a great major. I personally related to Emma’s realization that she didn’t want to be a doctor, too. There’s so much humanness to Emma, and it pulls you into the story. This is necessary because the story lacked a solid villain, but the emotional conflicts between characters drove the plot well.

There are plenty of fun scenes in this story, which adds to the complexity of the world. Emma has 100% less fun than I did at house parties in college, where she meets her crush, Mike. The early part of this novel focuses on Emma and her relationship to her roommate, Chrissy, and a pair of brothers, Mike and Kevin. Mike is the guy whom Emma likes, and she attends his 21st birthday party, where Mike gets predictably shit-faced, and he wants to go for a swim in the river.

The story takes a turn for the dark here. Mike drowns in the river, kicking off the main plot of the novel. Through coincidence, Emma finds a grimoire, and her guilt drives her to attempt to bring Mike back to life. Emma becomes a de facto villain during this part of the story, and that’s kind of amazing.

Things don’t go as Emma planned, and Sam, the chem TA comes back from the river instead. There’s a murder mystery plot that begins to exist here, and Emma learns that loads of other people have drowned in this river. The book continues to veer into dark plot themes, and we find that Sam killed himself. Emma now has to help Sam deal with the baggage of his previous life with getting into med school, leaving his mom, and getting rejected by the girl he was obsessed with. Sam is a quintessential NiceGuy in some ways, but my strong dislike for automatically slotting ‘popular, pretty’ characters in as default villains vexed me. The characters are still strong, and we get introduced to Abby, a young woman who’s pregnant. I expected Abby’s baby daddy plot to factor into the story, and boy, does it ever, but the twist in that plot line is natural.

Sam is taken back to the river, and we get introduced to Jake next. Emma becomes a necromancer version of Touched By an Angel, and she has to help Jake with his personal struggles, too. The section with Jake starts weak, but it became my favorite part of the book. Jake and Emma’s relationship became a major emotional set piece, and it pays off by climaxing in a mid-book Christmas arc. (“It’s Christmas” will always get you drunker than you’d think.)

Setting anything around Christmas automatically makes it a hundred percent sadder, and the story hammers an emotional moment per page during this section. Jake visits his family, and the tension between Emma and Jake reaches a breaking point. Then, the magic yanks Jake away, and Mike returns, but not alone. Two other spirits return with Mike, and the remainder of the novel follows the same format of Emma unraveling their own pains and secret pasts. The story resolves most of its plot lines, and even though it’s the first in the series, the plots resolve themselves.

Random Notes:

  • Every guy who plays Frisbee is named Mike.
  • Some of get As and have belly rings. Just saying.
  • When your bf, here Chrissy, tells your crush how rich your family is, you need to find a new best friend.
  • The novels don’t mention abortion as an option when it totally is. This is my only real complaint with Abby’s story line is that this option is completely ignored. Maybe the author didn’t want to go there, but when a young woman doesn’t have a baby and getting rid of the baby isn’t seriously discussed, it’s an irksome oversight in plot to me. In this story, where every character has emotionally driven motives, Abby never considering abortion or at least objecting to it for an emotional reason stands out as a strange oversight.
  • The dead men shed an ectoplasm skin, which is a great piece of horror.
  • Emma, the NiceGuy apologetic, rears her head several times.
  • There’s an 80s movie prank montage! I’m a bit picky about Nostalgia because it usually says more about the author than the characters, but it works here.

Rating: 4 stars

The story had light-hearted dialogue, but it veers into dark territory. There’s a lot of emotional angst here, but the characters stay grounded. This is a great start to a unique paranormal YA fantasy.

Book Review: Fall

Fall (The Ragnarok Prophesies #2) by A.K. Morgen

Fall picks up about a month after Fade ends, and Arionna is recovering in the hospital from Skröll and Hati’s attack. Arionna is now plagued by nightmares of Fenrir and the twin demon wolves; she’s also starting to understand the darker side of Dace’s nature. Dace is willing to sacrifice anything and everyone to keep her from being attacked again, and Arionna fears this is going to turn him into a literal monster, so she leaves Bebee to go in search of answers to stop the apocalypse.

The story starts out stronger than Fade does, and there’s an urgency to Arionna’s problems in this book that there wasn’t in the first one. Her relationship to Dace is sorely tested, too, and there are good moments where Dace gives off the vibe that he could potentially become abusive. Arionna is smart enough to realize that, if she doesn’t figure this thing out for herself, Dace’s need to protect her is going to lead him to further manipulate her, controlling every aspect of her life. This is a challenge most heroines with alpha male boyfriends face, and Arionna is wise enough to know what the starter kit for an abusive relationship looks like; in a nice twist, she leaves Dace instead of him fleeing to protect her from himself.

The other characters that benefit from spending more time with them in the sequel are Chelle, who I didn’t have much of a sense of as an individual before, and Ronan, who was the surprise not-an-actual-bad-guy in Fade. The story also nicely sidesteps conflicts with love triangles by having Arionna struggle with herself and Dace, which eliminates the need to use Ronan as a love interest. If you want relationship conflict, a brooding bad boy, but hate love triangles, this sequel is going to make you very happy. I found myself liking Ronan, but I’m a corvid/avian fan, so that’s not a hard sell. Not going to lie, I hope the sequel includes the potential of a new love interest for Ronan because I appreciate romances where the characters come into it with a lot of baggage and no illusions about True Love, only with the feeling that they need each other or are better together than apart. Ronan could benefit from this, but I’m not sure he’ll get it. Arionna and Dace’s relationship is more of the cosmic love variety, and the story does a good job at layering it with conflict despite this fact.

My big time beef with this book is, while I enjoyed the characters a lot more, the ending left the story feeling incomplete, but not in a good way. This book is trying to set up for the big conclusion, but ends up offering very few climactic moments or pay offs of its own, and I went into the ending prepared for a big twist and a surprise via the big mythology mysteries the story teases. There is plenty of new mythology layered into the story, and Fade used its mythology to create a surprising yet satisfying ending, but Fall, well, falls flat on that front. I expected either the visit to the professor or the interrogation of the flower shop lady (it makes sense in story) to result in a major twist or two, but they turned into more frustrating dead ends. The climactic ending happens off page, and it suffers from the fact that, because some of these characters are literal wolves, they don’t always have the same emotional impact as the human characters. There was a moment when I thought something happened to Chelle, and I thought that might be the real twist at the end, but it wasn’t. Instead, Mandy, a character who’s been mostly in the background, goes missing, but this fails to resonate. The big ending moment of the novel could’ve still happened (it’s teased throughout the story and isn’t terribly surprising), but there needed to be something more, action wise, to this ending. This ending is an example of how to write a strong story, deepen the mythology for the final sequel act, but then fail to actually build on anything at the end of this story itself; this wouldn’t be the first second act book to fall flat because it fails to grasp what the middle part of a story could and should do. When it came to Dace’s character and Arionna’s relationship with him, the stakes are raised for sure, but there needed to be more plot outside of this.

Random Thoughts:

  • Arionna cries a lot early on. Fair warning.
  • I can’t overstate how much I appreciated a character like Ronan in this story. It needed the levity of the Debbie Downer, and he delivered. Also, corvids are rad.
  • Like, seriously, guys, Ronan saves a bird, and it’s the sweetest scene in the book.
  • Did you ever want to read a story where flowers invoke horror? This is for you.
  • I personally support ketchup with scrambled eggs; if I lose all my followers/readers over this, then so be it.

Read if: You liked the first book and trust the author is going to deliver on all the delicious mythology she’s setting up. It kind of reminds me of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus in that way; you like the story, even if the ending of the book is anti-climactic and pissed you off.

Beware if: You want pay-off on the mystery front. This is not the book in this series that’s going to do that for you.

Rating: I can’t state enough how I wanted to like this book more, but the ending killed it for me. Something else needed to happen; it was too much set-up and too little pay off. This isn’t the first series I’ve read that’s done this, and it ticks me off every time. Sequels are hard, I know, but book two is where the ugly, miserable parts of your characters and weird, complex world-building can really shine. I am going to finish this series, but 3 stars for dropping the ball on the climax.

Book review: Catch Me When I Fall

Catch Me When I Fall by Vicki Leigh

Daniel is a 200 year old Protector, people who spend their afterlife protecting humans from Nightmares, which are creatures who invade people’s minds and make them go insane. Daniel’s job is a Catcher, someone who stops the Nightmares, and he partners with other Catchers and at least one Weaver, whose job it is to bring humans dreams. When Daniel is assigned to protect Kayla, a sixteen year-old girl in a mental institution, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him—and this goes double when, during his first night on duty, Kayla is attacked by six Nightmares at once. The race is one to find out why Kayla is a special target, but the more Daniel digs into Kayla’s history, the more he finds himself attracted to her.

For the most part, I really liked Daniel’s character, and he was the right choice as the focus on this story. His personality and the world-building is established immediately, and there’s a lot of history between Daniel, Seth, Sam, and Tabbi that is hinted at; I got the impression that these were people who’d been friends for a long time. They shared stories, had that easy lingo that exists among friends, and it simply made them human. These characters are also funny, which is a huge plus for me in a paranormal book. Some of the older characters like Giovanni, Bartholomew, and Trishna aren’t as fleshed out, but they don’t have to be; they serve their given roles well.

But if you don’t like Kayla, this book might not work for you because the stakes of the story are tied up in Kayla, her past, and her budding relationship with Daniel. I personally found Daniel and Kayla’s relationship to be freaking cute, and they share a lot or realistic couple moments. Kayla is the catalyst that raises Daniel’s mission from ‘everyday business’ into ‘life-threatening weirdness.’ Kayla, as a character, worked best for me early on the in the novel when she was institutionalized. After she leaves the hospital, I never felt she grew much as a character, even as her relationship with Daniel progressed. In the end, Kayla was supposed to have a connection to the antagonist that felt hollow for me, which is a shame because it did weaken the finale of the story.

This gets to the larger plot issue in this book: the ending didn’t feel like it had the emotional weight it needed to have. Maybe it happens too quickly or the bonds between various characters never materialized, but the villains ended up feeling weak. There should seriously be an emotionally strong reaction to the climax of this story, but it just rang a bit hollow for me. The ideas are there, and the protagonists are fleshed out, but there’s never a moment when I believed Kayla would go ‘dark side’; it just wasn’t a plot that was set up, and nothing in her character up until that point indicated it would be. Daniel’s battle with the surprise villain of the story also should’ve carried more weight, but there was never a moment where I felt Daniel cared for this character as a person, so the betrayal at the end didn’t register anything more than a superficial reaction.

That said, there are some great twists and battles building up until the finale that are satisfying; Daniel and Kayla face off against a wraith, which really gets the plot rolling. There’s a great feud between Daniel, Seth, and Ivan early on in the novel as well that establishes that everything might not be sing-alongs and hand-holding circles in Protector manor; they’re the good guys, sure, but not all of them are good people. There are copious fights against Nightmares and the witches and warlocks use powerful magic throughout the story, too. Kayla’s flashback showing how she was put in the mental institution is intensely real, and I loathed the way her mother treated her after the incident; that entire scenario felt so real to me.

There’s a lot of good character work with the protagonists in this novel. They’re funny, they’re grounded in an interesting world, and the main protagonists feel unique. The initial plot and premise was very interesting, and it kept me wanting more. However, the plot did fall apart near the end, and the emotional stakes between protagonist and antagonist didn’t quite reach the level they needed to for this story to deliver on its strengths.

Random Thoughts:

  • “Lasso my heart” was a very beautiful line—one of the best ways I’ve seen a budding romance described recently
  • I would read a novella about Seth’s antics with the Pope.
  • The Veronica Mars dream would’ve been so worth having nightmares for.
  • Daniel’s crack about girls liking to shop made me dislike him for a while. Seriously, dude? You’ve been a live 200 years, and that’s what you take away from your time watching women? It’s a joke, but still—UGH.
  • I wanted more Ivan and Nolan because they’re both sardonic a-holes, which are my types of characters.

Read if: You want a paranormal romance with a strong, male romantic lead who doesn’t read poetry or swoon. The relationship in this story is seriously cute but not sappy.

Beware if: You want a story with interesting villains. This story doesn’t have one, unfortunately, even though it has plenty of supernatural monsters.

My rating: 4 stars because Daniel was the main character and the world building is strong, but the villians let me down.

Book review: My Sister’s Reaper

My Sister’s Reaper (Reaper’s Rite #1) by Dorothy Dreyer

Goodread’s Review

Zadie’s sister Mara was hit by a bus and is in a coma, and Zadie is feeling guilty about chasing a boy, Gavin, while her sister is on the brink of death. Zadie’s guilt isn’t misplaced because she has magic powers, and she thinks she might be able to bring her sister back to life. The novel starts slow and gains traction, and the initial focus is on Zadie and her BFF, Naomi, who are both obsessed with getting a double date with the afore mentioned Gavin and his cute friend, Danny. But this story builds from Sweet Valley High to haunted house, and that’s where its strength is.

The action is more ghost story than slasher flick, which works well for the nebulous mythology woven around Vila and Reapers. The magic in this book works best when it’s left vague, and it feels like a cope out when the ‘control the four elements’ plot is added; that aspect of Zadie’s training feels like filler for something that should’ve been more interesting. The heist plot was also the most underwhelming heist scene I’ve ever read, too, and additionally felt like filler.

The highschool humor felt real, and this serves to elevate the characters above the difficult plot moments. I could see some of my high school friends reacting the way the characters did to many of the circumstances in the novel (even when the events themselves feel bland, the characters don’t). Zadie and Naomi have the most developed relationship in the novel, and I genuinely liked Naomi; Zadie’s character suffers a bit from having to shoulder the emotion burdens of the story, but I bet she’d be more fun in happier circumstances. Mara isn’t very well fleshed out (there’s a good reason for it), but I never got a solid idea of what Zadie and Mara’s relationship had previously been like before the accident. Zadie and Naomi felt more like sisters than Zadie and Mara did. It took longer for Gavin and Chase to feel real to me, but their characters get there.

The high school tropes abounded in this novel, too, and they worked for the sweet romance that developed between Gavin and Zadie; it’s a genuinely cute romance with all the hallmarks of first love done in a non-cliché way. However, I’m a little weary of the popular, alpha bitch character being used as the stock bad guy in every novel featuring a nerdy, plain girl as the protagonist. It just feels lazy to me, but maybe that experience of thinking of all popular/pretty girls as Plastics is something I never experienced so it doesn’t resonate with me. I understand that teens can be terrible to each other, but some of that bled into lazy characterization.

Dreyer’s writing voice is completely comfortable linking together the disparate parts of this novel, and that’s what ultimately saves it. The dialogue is sharp and authentic, and Zadie’s experience really captures the turmoil of juggling high school stress, relationships, and taking on a bigger role in life.

Random Thoughts:

  • Cation: this is an example of how you use science terms correctly in a paranormal fantasy novel. It’s a sharp insight, and I liked it.
  • The ugly floats thing rang true for me. Don’t pretend you didn’t paint/make some ugly floats or set pieces for a play in high school.
  • Is it ever a good idea to let your friend dye your hair?
  • I’m 90% sure I knew a Gavin in high school, and if Gavin said his favorite band was the Black Keys, I would have to email Dreyer and ask her if that’s a pen name because that characterization was uncanny.

Read if: You want a paranormal book that feels more like a ghost story that turns ordinary events like taking a bath, going to a slumber party, or building a float into a supernatural occurrence. If you’re sick of vampires, werewolves, demons, or other supernatural creatures, this could be the paranormal book for you.

Beware if: You want a mystery. There is no mystery to this plot, and I kept expecting one, but what you see is what you get in this novel.

Rating: 3 stars — loved the writing style, but didn’t connect with some of the characters and didn’t enjoy parts of the plot

Book review: Fade (Book 1 of the Ragnarok Prophesies)

Fade (The Ragnarok Prophesies) By A.K. Morgen

Goodreads review

Fade (The Ragnarök Prophesies, #1)

A struggling young woman searching for meaning in her life, a tragic family event, a mysterious man…this story starts off with all the paranormal fantasy hallmarks. The main character Arionna reminded me of Elena from the first season of the Vampire Diaries when she was introduced; this is not a bad thing. Remember how you used to care about Elena? Back in the day when she had agency and choices? Me, too. If you liked that version of Elena, Arionna is the protagonist for you. Arionna cares a lot about her dad and friends. That said, Arionna falls into the trope of lost-little paranormal heroine once and a while; the bonus is she doesn’t need constant saving, so that’s a thing.

On her first day at school, Arionna meets Dace, a mysterious man with something dark inside him. It’s not love at first sight—more accurately lust at first sight. This is not a meet-cute; this isn’t going to be a sweet romance filled with sighing and love notes. These two want each other in a physical way. The romance element picks up quickly, so there’s no will-they-won’t-they time wasted. (Hint: they definitely will, but there are some trust issues in the way.)

The murder mystery mid-book was a pleasant surprise; it takes the story in a slightly different direction than I was expecting it to go in. The side characters (the triplets, Mandy, Ronan) didn’t annoy me, but the death of a character gives weight to their characters. There’s also a genuine question about why that particular character was murdered, and that event kicks of the major mythology plot of the book, which is a modern weaving of the Norse end-of-days.

The mythology about the Berserkers is interesting, and it’s fresh enough that it works, continuing to build and build until the climax. I wasn’t super crazy about Dace being an Alpha, but the saving grace of this book’s mythos is that it doesn’t dwell on anything too long for it to get annoying. Instead, more layers of myth are revealed. The story is set in a world where mythology kitchen sink exists; as an urban fantasy fan, bring it (love this trope). I was a bit disappointed at the mythology drop about Gage; I wish the reveal would’ve been, well, cooler. However, the author saves the best myth reveal for the end of the novel with Ronan.

A personal pet peeve did crop up in this story for me, which kept me from loving it. The characters comment on how weird or special they are. It’s not just with one or two characters, but every single character is ‘an unusual girl’ or ‘attracts weird things.’ That put me into auto-pilot through a chunk of this story. If the character is special, I should be able to tell that without every conversation being about how unique said character is. Dace is a Berserker; Arionna has a connection to the Berserkers that doesn’t become clear until later in the novel. However, the reveals themselves are satisfying. Both of these things didn’t need to be dressed up by having the characters waste time telling each other how different and unique they were.

Random thoughts:

  • Parents hiring professional bartenders. That made me laugh out loud. Does that happen at small colleges in the US? As far as I know, that’s never been a thing.
  • A large number of shout-outs in the naming of characters (Dace, Michealsons, Edwards, Jacobs…you get the idea).

Read if: it’s romance you want. This is the major focus of the book. Also, if you like NA (contemporary) reimaginings of mythology, this is a go, but it’s a darker reimagining and is definitely an NA book when Dace and Arionna’s relationship progresses. This book also has some twists in the mythology reveals that give the romance element a larger meaning.

Beware if: you don’t like the general set-up of paranormal books. My warning about characters goes double here, I think.

Rating: 3.5 – the beginning of the book is closer to a 3, but the mythology reveals elevates the later half to a 4.