Blog Tour: Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles

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I’m excited to present my stop on the Where Dreams Descend blog tour! 

Where Dreams Descend_Cover

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headlinerof the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

My Thoughts

Where Dreams Descend sets some lofty goals for itself- comparing it to The Night Circus and Phantom of the Opera. I’m pleased to say it meets those expectations fairly well. I loved the atmosphere and Angeles’s writing makes for an almost cinematic experience. It was easy to picture the old world glitz and glamor of glittering chandeliers and extravagant halls, as well as the more whimsical, playful scenes of the Conquering Circus, the dramatics of the performers’ clothing. The setting easily sweeps the reader away.

But I have to say I think the best parts of this book are the female empowerment. Kallia is a refreshing main character. She consistently defies expectations, relishing in it even, making room for herself where the men would rather exclude her. And while there is usually a man nearby to catch her when she swoons, she is by no means relying on them to sweep in and save the day. Several other female characters were strong and independent as well- Ira the seamstress holding her own at the card tables, and Canary, who was a very minor character but was a delight to read anyway, and the rest of the circus performers are a ragtag group of rough-around-the-edges women that I really adored.

This book is heavy on the romance and the mystery and ends on a huge cliffhanger. Hopefully the next book won’t keep readers waiting long as there is still a lot to uncover!

Where Dreams Descend released on August 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon. Thank you to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Have you read Where Dreams Descend or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments below!

About the Author

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

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Book Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Rating:  ★★★

Before I start this I just wanted to say I’m sorry for the lack of Sci Fi and Fantasy Reviews on my SFF blog… Still kind of recovering from the reading slump I guess.  On the other hand I hope these reviews of totally-unrelated-genre books help you guys find something you might enjoy too? I know most of us read pretty diversely.

Anyway- I read Hillier’s Little Secrets earlier this year (which Maddalena @ Space & Sorcery reviewed Friday and nailed it- so check her review out too) and thought I’d check out Hillier’s Jar of Hearts, which is also highly rated.

According to the blurb, this is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

We first meet Geo – short for Georgina – as she is about to testify against her old highschool boyfriend for the murder of her high school best friend.  The twist? Geo helped cover it up, and she’s about to go to prison too. When Geo is finally released, she learns that her old boyfriend, Calvin James, escaped prison not long after his trial, and the Sweet Bay Strangler is back at it again.

The story is pretty straightforward. We see two timelines- Geo in highschool, how she met Calvin and the events that lead up to her friend, Angela’s murder, and everything that happens after Geo’s arrest.  I did figure out what was going on about 30 minutes before the characters did (I listened to this on audio), but otherwise I didn’t see anything coming.

I liked the characters- Geo is super interesting because she really is an awful person, but at the same time she’s sympathetic.  This seems to be Hillier’s shtick. She’s not as sympathetic as say, Marin, from Little Secrets, but the feeling is still there.  Kai is a typical good guy, knight in shining armor type.  And Calvin James is as evil a villain as you can expect to see.

Which is why it pains me to say that the ending was over the top to the point of being silly.  I actually laughed at how dumb, cartoonish, and cliche it all was.  It could have just been the mood I was in, because most readers seemed to enjoy this.

This also has content warnings for literally everything so I wouldn’t recommend it if that’s something you try to avoid (or if, like me, your just not in the right headspace for it).  I realize some of this comes with the territroy but there was a point where it just became excessive.

I listened on audio and January LaVoy’s narration is growing on me, despite some of the weird male voices.  Anyway- it’s not bad, most of it is a solid four star read.  Jar of Hearts can be found on GoodReads if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Book Review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Rating:  ★★★★

The Escape Room is about a team of four investment bankers, who receive a mysterious email from HR, and are sent to an elevator at an empty construction site on a Friday night as a team building exercise, an escape room.

The puzzles begin and tensions rise as each coworker has their own reasons for needing to get out as soon as possible. Vincent is worried they are about to be fired, but lusts equally after a big promotion.  Sam is broke because of his wife’s excessive spending. Jules is broke because of his alimony.  Sylvie has a boyfriend who told her if she cancelled on him again, he was done.  Only a few puzzles in and things start to go horribly wrong in the elevator.

Alongside the story of the escape room, we are told the story of Sarah Hall. An old coworker, set a few years earlier.  Her desperation in joining Stanhope & Sons, all the hard work and endless hours she put into the team.

I liked both parts of the story equally- Sarah was a character you wanted to root for. The investment bankers are the sort of horrible people the vulture in me just loves to watch turn on eachother.

I think regular mystery/thriller readers will see what’s happening fairly early on, which is the only real fault I can find with the book. The author throws a few red herrings at you, but ultimately, parts of this are fairly predictable.  I listened to this on audio and two different narrators were used, each fantastic (January LaVoy and Ramon de Ocampo).  They kept me hooked into the story despite all that- it was a great way to experience the book.

The ending sort of fizzled out for me. It’s hard to say why without major spoilers, but I was looking for a little more perspective on the events that took place in the elevator from the characters.  You know what happened, I just wanted to know what they thought about it.

Otherwise this is a quick read that I very much enjoyed.  I loved the dual narration format and hope more audiobooks will explore it in the future.  The Escape Room can be found on GoodReads  if you’d like to check it out!

Have you read The Escape Room?  What did you think?

Book Haul

Even though I wasn’t reading this summer- it didn’t stop me from buying books. What can I say? I have a problem. Barnes & Noble had a great sale a couple weeks ago so I picked up a few things.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes

In a world where most of the men are dead (after an event known as Manfall) a mother and son flee across the country in search of a safer place, encountering anarchist communes and crazed cults. I’ve read a couple books by Beukes now and while they each left something to be desired – the blurb on this one is too good to ignore.

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Historical Fiction has always kind of been my first love, especially anything relating to Greeks, Romans and Vikings. So of course, when this was released a couple years ago, it caught my attention. This is a different look at one of Rome’s most famous Emperors, that one that fiddled while Rome burned.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

I’ve already seen the movie- but this seemed perfect to keep away one of my longest reading slumps. It’s relatively short, the chapters are quick and suspenseful. Malerman has a sequel out to this now called Malorie that I’d also like to read, but I knew I couldn’t pick it up until I’d actually read this one.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key is about a nanny who takes a job in a smart home in the Scottish Highlands. What she doesn’t know is the children are a nightmare, the parents are absent, and the “smart” home has it’s own ideas about how to operate. This was another book that seemed perfect for my current reading mood so I picked it up on a whim.

That was it for this haul- but I’m excited to share some of my other summer purchases too! I’ve already made it through two of these books and loved them. Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

On a side note- this is my first time using WordPress’s new Block Editor. It’s okay but also kind of weird? So I apologize if the formatting is wonky. Might take some getting used to.

Book Review: Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Rating:  ★★★★

This was a pretty awesome read. I’m glad I took a chance on it. I was worried it would upset me (abducted children is the main plotline, and not something I really want to cope with). While it is a central theme, there was nothing too graphic in regards to the abducted children. Other content warnings: attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts, drug overdose, and self harm.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  Marin is out shopping one day with her son in a busy market.  She stops to take a phone call and by the time she turns around her son is gone.  The police don’t have any leads and one year later he is still missing.  Marin hires a private investigator to continue searching for him, since the police have given up.

The book wastes no time getting to the story. I was sucked in from the moment I started and finished it in less than 24 hours. I could not stop turning the pages. The prose isn’t overly flowery or descriptive.

Marin is mostly a compelling character. I will say it’s hard to relate to a millionaire and sometimes I was frustrated with how much focus there was on Marin’s stuff or keeping her status. (Of course she can’t divorce her husband, he’s so much richer than her and what would that leave her with? Three successful celebrity hair salons? Pfft.) There is another POV character- Kenzie, who is supposed to be struggling, but I honestly didn’t understand how.. and it made me wonder more than once if the author was a little out of touch with us mere mortals but I digress.

I will say I had the whodunnit pegged fairly early. I actually didn’t mind that so much because I was so curious to see how we’d arrive at that conclusion. If everything else in the book is entertaining (and it was) I don’t mind when I guess parts of the plot. I did not know how it would end.

The other thing that frustrated me was the girl on girl hate, so if that’s something that bothers you steer clear. Overall I enjoyed it and will definitely look for more from Hillier in the future.

Little Secrets releases on April 21, 2020 from Minotaur Books, and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon. Thank you to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Waters

Rating:  ★★★★

The Dead Girls Club is a supernatural thriller full of nostalgia. It flashes back and forth between the present moment with Heather, as her past catches up with her, and flashbacks to moments shared with her best friends when she was 12. It brings back memories of sleep overs and sneaking out after dark, telling ghost stories in the dark, and playing games like Bloody Mary or Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.

The author nailed the character of 12 year old girls, the fights, the love between them, the back and forth chatter. She had me remembering things I hadn’t thought of in ages. Overall I liked most of the characters and felt they were pretty fleshed out. I did grow frustrated at times with Heather’s inability to communicate with her husband and friends, as well as her increasingly erratic behavior, but it makes sense in the context.

The writing style felt very heavily stream of consciousness, which isn’t always my thing and grew a little tiresome here from time to time. Otherwise the writing and dialogue were fine.

The pacing never feels slow, (I’d actually describe it as quick) but the actual action doesn’t really ramp up until the very end. It’s more of a slow burn, strange things happening throughout, each becoming more brazen and mysterious. I often found it hard to put it down, no matter which storyline I was following. The spooky parts are sufficiently creepy, but it doesn’t veer too far into horror territory.

The ending is not predictable (I sure didn’t guess it, I don’t think anyone else will either) but it also isn’t surprising, I don’t want to say it’s been done before, but I feel like things like it have been done before. There was no definitive OMG I can’t believe it! Moment.

Overall a solid entry into the thriller genre with mass appeal. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an electronic copy for review.

The Dead Girls Club releases on December 10, 2019 and can be found GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Book Review: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

Rating:  ★★★★1/2

I requested Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts on a complete whim, and it turned out to be one of the best surprises I’ve had this year.  Nothing about this novel is what I typically read, not the genre (which I am still having trouble naming) and not the tone (light/feel good).

But it was so much fun!  The beginning of the book has a lot of fun 90s references.  At times it reminded me of Ready Player One’s penchant for the 80s, but better, because it was the 90s.  I also loved the setting, Boston, MA, which is one of my favorite cities and not too far from where I live.

Mostly though, I loved Tuesday.  It’s rare that I see myself in any fictional representation of someone.  She’s an introvert, and never has a wide group of friends, doesn’t really date, and prefers it that way.  She likes to solve puzzles and mysteries, and has a small fascination with all things occult.

The plot of the book is this: eccentric billionaire dies, and leaves behind a treasure hunt for anyone who cares to join.  The prize is a piece of his fortune.  Of course, Tuesday wastes no time getting started.  Joining her is the mysterious Archie, an heir to another wealthy family, her best friend Dex (who absolutely steals all his scenes) and her young neighbor friend Dorry.

But there is a lot more to the story than this.  Each character harbors their own secrets and has their own struggles. The plot twists and turns, layering small reveals on throughout the ending half.  I never once guessed any of them.  Some of them were shocking but they didn’t feel too outlandish (maybe sometimes).

Either way, I had a blast with this book and I thought the ending was fantastic.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts released on October 8, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Rating:  ★★★★

Salvation Day starts with a bang, with a small group of outlaws abducting a passenger transport vehicle that is delivering students to their internships on the moon.  Their goal is to use the students as hostages to buy them time to hack their way past the security net of a derelict ship called House of Wisdom, steal the ship, and sail off into the galaxy to find a new home where the Council’s rule does not reach.

The problem?  House of Wisdom is derelict because an unknown virus killed every last crew member 10 years ago.

Our two MCs are Zahra and Jas.  Zahra is a member of the outlaw group.  Jas is one of the hostages, and the only surviving member of the House of Wisdom incident.  I liked the contrast between the two characters and how the author tied them together.  They are on two opposing sides and yet have shared many of the same struggles and pains for many similar reasons.  I won’t spoil Zahra’s back story, but she has ties to House of Wisdom too, and while she is there to help her people, she has personal reasons for being there also.

The setting is very well done.  It reminded me a lot of The Last Astronaut, and the movie Sphere.  It’s not surprising at all, but it’s such an important element to stories like this.  It sets the tone for the whole book.  Imagine dark spaces, dead gardens, freezing cold, low-level red emergency lights.  Wallace doesn’t waste pages and paragraphs writing about it (the book is only about 300 pages long) but gives the reader just enough to take the image and run.

Despite the initial fast pace, I did feel like the pacing continuously winds down as we near the end of the book.  There came a point where I understood almost exactly how the book would end, and some of the tension was lost.  Compounding the problem, what you see is sort of what you get. There were some opportunities to layer in outside threats over the internal threat of the virus, and I never really had the sense of impending doom coming down on the MCs from all sides like I wanted.

That being said, I think Wallace’s characterization was very well done.  These aren’t the sort of characters I’ll look back on with fondness- I don’t feel any personal sort of connection to them.  Regardless of how innocent or guilty they were, I cared about them.  Their arcs were wonderful and each went through sufficient development, changing as the story progressed.  I do think it was the characters more than the action that drove me forward, which isn’t exactly what I’d expect from a sci-fi thriller.

I also sincerely appreciated how in that final chapter, Wallace managed to make the story so very relevant to today’s political climate.  Some of those final paragraphs really got me thinking about how, for all our progress, no matter how much things change, some things really just stay the same.  That level of thoughtfulness wasn’t what I expected in this type of book, and I loved it.

I did have one issue with the ending, and I’m going to choose my words very carefully here so as not to put others off.  It’s not vague and it’s not a non-ending, but I was really annoyed when the author posed a question in the last 20 pages that she then proceeded not to answer.

It wasn’t as if this particular question was overly complex.  It doesn’t seem a large enough question to be setting up a sequel.  I wouldn’t call this ending bad- it just felt lazy.  An epilogue could have fixed it, and in fairness to the book, the copy I read was an ARC (won in a giveaway, thank you Berkley!) so maybe the epilogue was added to the final version.  You know how most fairy tales close with a “And they all lived happily ever after”?  I don’t need all my books to end happily ever after, I just need them to end.  Wallace gave us enough food for thought to keep me thinking about the book after it ended without needing to leave me wondering about post-book events.

Overall, this is a quick little read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the genre.

 

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

This is my first experience with Lauren Beukes.  The blurbs on all of her books sound super exciting, but this particular book would not have been my first choice if my library had had some of her other books readily available (Moxyland is the one I really want to read).

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

I wanted to read this based on the time period (yes to all things Capone era Chicago) and the idea of Kirby stalking her killer back.  I was hoping for something more like Peppermint:

Jennifer Garner in Peppermint

I wanted a thrilling cat and mouse game.  What I got was:

Ace Ventura Detective Gif

Except Kirby is not really as entertaining as Ace Ventura.  When the blurb says “hunting him back,” what it means is, she ‘digs through cold case police files, interviews victim’s families, and tries to establish a pattern.’  She is not literally hunting him.

The format this book follows reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes.  The identity of the killer is known from page one.  The issue is Harper Curtis isn’t really as compelling a villain as Brady Hartsfield.  His chapters weren’t all that exciting.  You already know what his goal is.  He doesn’t do much to surprise you. There’s no mystery to solve.

And without there being a mystery to solve- there’s not much else to sell this story.  The House and the time travel pieces felt gimmicky.  *Possible mild spoiler* The Shining Girls are just normal girls.  They aren’t magic.  They aren’t destined to save the world.  Killing them is not prevent some all important wonderful thing from happening.  Without there being anything significant about them, the House just feels like a gimmick so that Beukes can dazzle us all with the circle she draws in the timeline.

Stephen Colbert Slow Clap Gif

Listen- the timeline thing is nifty.  Really, Beukes did a great job with it.  But when it didn’t serve any greater purpose in the story I was left asking myself what the point of it was.  Nothing about the House is really explained.  There are no rules.  Neither of the two (three?) MCs are particularly compelling.

Almost every other character was far more interesting.  The Shining Girls.  Kirby’s mother Rachel… I sighed with relief every time one of their chapters popped up.  I particularly adored Alice’s story, but they just weren’t enough.

I think I’d have appreciated this more as a science fiction mystery than a science fiction thriller.  I like it when books keep me guessing.  When Kirby starts discovering clues and putting the pieces together, I would have loved to have been kept guessing about these different clues.  How they fit together, what the answer is.  Have the House and the time travel aspect be some crazy weird twist that was revealed closer to the end than in the beginning.

It’s not a bad book by any means.  The writing was great.  And while Harper Curtis is not going to go down as one of my most memorable villains of all time, he’s pretty creepy.  There are a couple chapters that will make you cringe.  Sometimes genre benders work.  They feel fresh and new and exciting.  In this case the book waffled too much.  It wanted to be a thriller, it wanted to be time travel, it wanted to be an amateur detective story with the protagonist solving the clues, and the overall effect fell a little flat for me.

Anyway, I intend to try some of Beukes other work and hope for better results.  I can see that she’s smart, and technically a great writer, I just hope the rest of the blurbs aren’t as misleading as this one was.

The Shining Girls can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

 

Book Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Following the fantastic Sometimes I Lie, I was very excited to pick up The Couple Next Door.  I think I read them in the wrong order- because there was just no way The Couple Next Door was going to have as many twists and turns as Sometimes I Lie.

It was still pretty good though! Once again, I read it all within one 24 hour period.  I think the structure of thrillers works well for me.  A good thriller should move at a quick pace, and these two books in particular had short punchy chapters, which I love.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

The author wasted no time getting to the heart of the issue.  Anne and Marco’s babysitter cancels on them at the last minute.  They decide to go to the dinner party anyway, being that it’s right next door, and bring the baby monitor so they can listen for their daughter. Sometime between 12:30 AM and 1:30 AM their daughter is snatched from her crib.  Detective Rasbach immediately suspects that the couple is involved, because that’s how most of these cases go.

That’s as much as I’ll say because I don’t want to spoil anything.  I think a lot of the suspense was lost on me, because somewhere along the line, I read a spoiler for the book.  I thought it was on the book jacket, but looking back I see that it wasn’t.  I’m thinking it must have been in a review and I didn’t realize at the time it was a spoiler.

Anyway- as the secrets start to unravel, there are plenty of them, but I don’t feel like any of them were particularly shocking.  I don’t want to say this story has been told before, but if you’ve ever watched Law & Order you probably won’t have much trouble guessing where it was going.  I had the crux of it pegged early on (and not because I read the spoiler, which wasn’t unrelated, but had nothing to do with the whodunnit).

I did feel that Detective Rasbach’s POV was a little unnecessary.  He doesn’t reveal much that couldn’t have been relayed via dialogue with the other characters, and in fact, most of the relevant aspects of his POV are.  He’s largely absent from the middle of the book, and only makes a brief appearance again at the end.

The writing was fine.  It was a little clunky and awkward in a couple places but not enough to detract from my enjoyment from the book.  I also feel that the title is misleading.  The couple next door plays a very small role in the book, and they didn’t feel entirely relevant.

All in all- not a bad read at all if thrillers are your thing, but I’m also not chomping at the bit to recommend it to anyone.

The Couple Next Door can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.