On This Unworthy Scaffold by Heidi Heilig

Summary:
Jetta’s home is spiraling into civil war.
Le Trépas—the deadly necromancer—has used his blood magic to wrest control of the country, and Jetta has been without treatment for her malheur for weeks. Meanwhile, Jetta’s love interest, brother, and friend are intent on infiltrating the palace to stop the Boy King and find Le Trépas to put an end to the unleashed chaos.
The sweeping conclusion to Heidi Heilig’s ambitious trilogy takes us to new continents, introduces us to new gods, flings us into the middle of palace riots and political intrigue, and asks searching questions about power and corruption. As in the first two books, the story is partly told in ephemera, including original songs, myths, play scripts, and various forms of communication.

On This Unworthy Scaffold (Shadow Players, #3)

Review:
I want to start by saying a huge thank you to Heilig’s publicity team that reached out to me to see if I was interested in reading an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. On This Unworthy Scaffold is one of my most anticipated releases in 2021 and I literally screamed a little when I got the email asking if I was interested.
On This Unworthy Scaffold is the third and final book in the Shadow Players series. I won’t go too much into a summary of the book because there is a summary above and also this is the third book in a series. If you haven’t read the first two books you can read my reviews for For a Muse of Fire and A Kingdom for a Stage. This series follows Jetta, her family, and the friends she makes along the way. I’ve come to really love all of the side characters that make up the main group. Jetta and the rebels have a plan. But as things usually go, nothing goes according to plan. The plot of this story was really compelling. Jetta and Theodora go off on one mission. With this we finally get to see Aquitan. I liked this part of the story. We get to see Jetta think on her feet. She’s still often worried that her malheur. I liked that there was talk of her taking the elixir, a version of modern-day medication. I liked that she was aware of it and questioned herself sometimes to wonder if she was making good choices or not. I also really liked Jetta’s problem solving. She’s not afraid to stand up to those in power. I thought it was really clever the way that she brought things full circle when she finally performed in Aquitan. I just genuinely enjoyed seeing her in her own element, making choices on the fly to get herself out of the situation that she found herself in. I also loved Theodora. She’s an engineer/inventor. I feel like I didn’t get to see as much of her as I would have liked, but I still liked what we did see. She’s smart and unafraid to say what she thinks. Jetta and Theodora working together was really fun to read.
The other team is the Tiger, Leo, Akra, Cheeky, and Tia. Cheeky and Tia are absolutely the comedic relief of the story. But they bring good conversations to the table. They are sex workers and it’s always talked about in a positive way, never with any shame. I also still love Akra. He and Jetta have their ups and downs that come from her bringing him back from the dead, but I loved their relationship. And my dear sweet Leo. I hate the way his story ended. No, I don’t hate it. I hate how fitting it was for his part of this story to end that way. Leo has tried so hard to do good and be loved. He faces his own challenges through this series, but he never lets anything get him down for long. His love for Jetta is so clear. Jetta and Leo lift one another up and I couldn’t help but root for them.
Overall, this was a beautiful and heartbreaking finale to a series that I will reread and love for years to come. I love these characters. I love this story. It includes a lot of important things, like colonialism and bipolar. It’s filled with diverse and queer characters. It’s also written in a unique format, with sheet music, play scripts, myths, and prose. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blood Sworn by Scott Reintgen

Summary:
Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.
The Races are over. War has begun.
Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.
Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.
Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?

Blood Sworn (Ashlords, #2)

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Blood Sworn is the sequel to Ashlord (which I reviewed here.) In this book, we follow the same three characters, Pippa, Adrian, and Imelda. The way the first book ended left me wanting to know more. I wanted to know so much more about this world, the gods, and where the story is going. I got everything that I wanted from this book. Once again, the story is told in first person for Imelda and Adrian, but Pippa’s story is told in second person. I think Pippa’s story being told in this way was such a creative choice and it really does something to the story.
Pippa’s chapters were absolutely my favorite parts of this book. She has the most growth and change in this series. She starts off so loyal to her people, the Ashlords, but slowly she realizes that everything isn’t as it seems. She finally learns the truth from one of the gods and that’s where this story gets really interesting. I think Pippa is so incredibly smart. I am awed by the plans that her brain manages to create. I think she’s an incredible character and I loved her. I also really enjoyed the way that Pippa’s relationship with Adrian changed over time.
Adrian was an interesting character as well. But I feel like he sort of just went along with Pippa’s plans. I know this isn’t the case, but we didn’t actually see Adrian and Pippa make their plans so, it’s not hard to assume that Pippa (the master strategist) is the one that came up with the majority of their plans. I liked that Adrian did his part to show the Longhands that things could be different if everyone worked together to make a change.
Finally, Imelda. I wanted more phoenix horse stuff, but we got enough that I wasn’t terribly upset about it. I like that Imelda is also super smart, but in different ways than what we see from Pippa. I think Imelda’s part of the story was interesting because the Dividian’s are the underrepresented group of the story, despite having a large population. I liked following Imelda because with Pippa and Adrian working together, their stories were similar, but Imelda’s path is so different from the others. She stumbles into something she doesn’t totally understand, but manages to find herself working toward the same goals as Pippa and Adrian.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. I loved this duology. I will recommend this series forever. Phoenix horses, political drama, characters that are complex and loveable, and a fascinating world and interesting gods, there is everything you could possibly want in a fantasy story.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

Summary:
Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds.
Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together — in order to save them all, Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her.
Rose Szabo’s thrilling debut is a dark and thrilling novel about a teen girl who returns home to her strange, wild family after years of estrangement, perfect for fans of Wilder Girls.

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

Review:
Generally, I start my reviews with a bit of a summary of the story in my own words. Well, I can’t do that with this review because I honestly have no idea what just happened. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narrator. I felt like the story itself wasn’t super fast-paced (until the end anyway) but it still felt like I flew through the story. I think part of this is because I was so confused and filled with questions that I just needed to keep going so I could get some answers.
I gave this book 4 stars, but honestly, I’m still so confused. The story follows Eleanor after she flees her boarding school and returns home to a family she hasn’t seen in almost ten years. Her family is filled with monsters and she is missing quite a few important pieces of her memory. The things that Eleanor couldn’t remember was one of the more frustrating aspects of this book because it clear that her family remembers more than she does, but because she’s been gone so long with no communication from anyone aside from her grandmother, there’s a lot of distrust between all of them. Eleanor’s grandfather, sister, father, and cousin are werewolves (they’re never called that because their origin is a whole other thing. But they’re basically werewolves). Her paternal grandmother (the one that sent her away in the first place) is a witch of some sort and her mother is hinted to be something, but it’s never really addressed. Now, with all of this, it was easy to assume that Eleanor was also something, but we didn’t know what exactly that was. This was one of the big plot lines of the book. What is Eleanor? Well, we learn that what she is played a big part of everything that’s happened to her.
So, the things that I liked about this story were many. Despite being confused as heck for most of this story, I was interested. The setting was atmospheric and vivid. The author did an excellent job with stunning imagery. I liked seeing Eleanor uncomfortable. I think this was because I didn’t really like Eleanor. She doesn’t make good choices (her grandmother gives her advice on her death bed and Eleanor basically never thinks about it again even though following that advice would have saved her from literally everything in this book). But what compelled me to continue on in this story was that I couldn’t help but understand why Eleanor did the things she did. It wasn’t hard to sympathize with her even though I didn’t really like her. There were some things that were so clear to the reader that Eleanor didn’t want to see them, so she didn’t. But with her backstory, it was easy to understand why she was this way. I loved all of the fantasy/horror elements. The monsters and the magic, the stories that we heard the family tell, it was all so creepy in the best way. I also really loved Margaret. She’s Eleanor’s aunt. I liked the slow development of the relationship from actively disliking one another to finding themselves on the same side and working together. Margaret doesn’t speak and doesn’t like to be spoken to, so we get some fun charades scenes.
I would have liked to have gotten a bit more from some of the other characters though. We got a lot of Arthur (a family friend) because he is a love interest. I think the ‘romance’ was absolutely not needed for this story to work. Romance is in quotes because there was a sort of happily ever after that I didn’t really care for. I would have totally been okay with all the other bits of the ‘romance’ if they hadn’t gotten that HEA moment, especially after learning all the details of Arthur’s backstory. We didn’t get much from Eleanor’s cousin and sister other than the fact that they were spoiled adults that acted like children because they’d been given or had taken anything they had ever wanted or needed.
Overall, this was a wild ride that was spooky, creepy, scary, and a whole bunch of other things. I think it was written well. But sometimes there was just a bit too much going on. I loved all the monsters and magic and mayhem. I will definitely be reading more work by Szabo.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Summary:
With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her parent’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.
In New York, she’s able to ignore all the constant questions about her future plans and falls hard for her creative and beautiful wife, Yuki Yamamoto. But when reality comes crashing in, Grace must face what she’s been running from all along—the fears that make us human, the family scars that need to heal and the longing for connection, especially when navigating the messiness of adulthood.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Review:
Going into Honey Girl, I was expecting a fun and humorous romance between two women. That’s not what this story is, for those that, like me, thought this was a romance novel. Don’t get me wrong, there is a romantic relationship (that I would die for) in this book, but at its heart, this is a story about the main character feeling lost after her life plan has come to an end. This is a story about lonely creatures wondering what comes next and of feeling lost underneath all of the expectations of others.
Honey Girl follows Grace Porter as she’s trying to find her way into the career field of astronomy. She’s just graduated with her PhD in astronomy and her first interview was so bad that she walked out on the interviewers. Grace is black and a lesbian, so she not only faces the struggle of being a woman in this scientific field, but also those that come with being black and queer. Grace and her two best friends, Ximena and Agnes, take a vacation to Las Vegas to blow off some steam now that Grace has finished her degree. Grace wakes up the next morning with hazy memories of a girl who smells of sea-salt. With a picture, and a quickly written note, and her memories, Grace realizes she got married the night before to someone whose name she can’t even remember. After returning home, she receives rejection after rejection from jobs she’s interviewed for. She feels lost, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. Her whole life she’s had a plan and she’s followed that plan. But what is she supposed to do when there isn’t a plan to follow any longer?
Grace keeps her marriage a secret until one night, she finally confides in her two best friends. Together the three of them listen to Yuki’s radio show about monsters. These monsters reflect humanity and loneliness. Grace works up the nerve to call Yuki, finding herself intrigued by this girl who smells of flowers and tells stories of monsters. With the pressure of her life and expectations from others, Grace escapes Portland and flees to New York, to Yuki.
I cannot say enough good things about this book. I have to start by talking about the writing. This story was written so beautifully. The words were lyrical, emotion-filled, and a tad whimsical. I highlighted so many lines from this story on my Kindle. There was no way I wasn’t going to get pulled into this story. To believe that these monsters Yuki talks about might just be real. Now, Grace, she’s really struggling but she doesn’t know how to talk about it or what to do about it. I really appreciated that because I honestly feel like that’s where I am currently. I finished my degree in 2020 and I know what I want to do next, but unlike Grace, I don’t know how to stick to the plans I make. I loved seeing Grace and Yuki fall in love. Following them as they got to know one another was an honor. They were both such fascinating characters that I couldn’t help but love them individually and together. I love that they got their happy ending.
There are several different kinds of love shown in this story. The obvious one, romantic love, between Yuki and Grace. But there’s also so many amazing friendships. The platonic love between Grace and her two best friends was a joy to read about. All three of them are imperfect humans, but getting to know these three was hard and wonderful. It reminded me of my relationship with Antonia (love you so much it hurts). There is also the love between siblings. Meera and Raj are Grace’s sister and brother by choice rather than by blood. I loved the three of them interact. But even more, I enjoyed seeing Grace’s relationship with them individually. Meera and Grace work together at Meera’s family’s tea shop. Meera knows what to say, when to say it, and when to say nothing at all. Then there’s Raj, Graces older brother. When they see each other in New York it was so hard to read, but their love for one another was so clear. Only those that love you know exactly what to say to hurt you. Finally, Grace’s parents divorced when she was young. She doesn’t have the best relationship with her mother and her father is a Colonel in the military and raised Grace like she was one of his soldiers. It’s his expectations that she’s trying and failing to live up to. I liked the development of Grace’s relationships with them. There’s progress by the end of the book, but everything isn’t suddenly ‘all better.’ This was realistic and I really liked it.
There are some really tough topics covered in this book, including but not limited to: racism, sexism, mental health, self-harm, and homophobia. I think these topics were discussed and included with thoughtfulness and care. (Though I’m not the authority on that for racism, but this is an own voices story.) I think this story was hard to read at times, but it’s such an important one that I hope many people read and love as much as I do. I think the discussion surrounding therapy was so good and so important. There are several characters that talk about going to therapy and talking to their therapists. It’s always discussed in a positive light and I really appreciated that. There’s even a scene of Grace finding the right therapist (meaning she goes to several before she finds one that is right for her).
Finally, the found families. Both Grace and Yuki have created their own families. We get to meet Grace’s while she’s still in Portland and we continue to see them throughout the story. I loved them almost as much as I loved Grace and Yuki. Once Grace gets to New York, we meet Yuki’s roommates, her found family. They are all hilarious and hardworking people. I loved them too.
Overall, Rogers has created a story that will linger in my mind long after I’ve finished reading it. The writing was nothing short of beautiful. The characters were diverse, well developed, so funny, and a genuine pleasure to read about. This is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, trying to find out what comes next, and I think it’s such an important story that will speak to so many people. I will be recommending this book until the end of time.

Quotes:

“She is in the stars, bold and bright and beautiful. She is strong and unwavering, and not filled with the sour taste of failure and the weight of unknowns.”

““Tonight, I want to talk about the sea,” she says. “Is that okay?” She pauses, as if waiting for someone, anyone, maybe even Grace, to answer. “Good. I want to talk about the sea and its dark depths and foaming, white tides and its swelling, hungry waves. The sea isn’t inherently supernatural, or even scary. But it holds many unknowns.” Her voice quiets. “Sometimes unknowns are the scariest things of all, aren’t they?””

“Here is the thing about the tar, the sludge, the inky black poison. Once it starts its ascent out of your body, there is nothing you can do to stop it. It tastes like volcano ash and fire, and you must taste it, and gag on it, and ultimately, you must spit it out. There comes a time when you cannot swallow it down any longer. Everything that is buried will be unburied. Everything that is pushed down will find its way out. It iis the way of the universe.”

“There is a small, hollow ache, somewhere deep inside her, but she is learning that she is made up of many small, hollow aches. She will continue the process of exploring them, one by one.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.