Category Archives: Book Reviews

Brooke Reviews: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

I was in the mood for a murder mystery – so I turned to Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious, a YA mystery about a true crime enthusiast and wannabe detective named Stevie who dreams of solving a famous kidnapping. But there are strange things afoot in the present day – a fellow student is murdered.

I read Truly Devious a few years ago, but picked it up again recently so I could read the trilogy all the way through. And I read all 3 books in a matter of days (book 3, in just one day!). In some ways, this is a review for the trilogy as a whole – but no spoilers, I promise! Any details I’ve shared pertain only to Book 1. 😉 

There were so many things to love about these books:

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Brooke Reviews: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

This review is going to be quite a pleasure to write – Seraphina is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m excited to share my thoughts. And then, of course, to persuade you to read the book. 😉

First of all, I’d like to admire the beautiful prose of Rachel Hartman. She’s a wordsmith. My reading experience was enjoyable largely thanks to Hartman’s lyrical writing style. And maybe the lyrical style is due in part to Seraphina’s musical talent and the impact of music upon the story? Anyhow, the book flows seamlessly – one scene into the next. I couldn’t put it down because it was so fluid.

Seraphina is a very distinctive narrator and I loved her unique voice. She’s very literal and dry but also hilarious. She’s very relatable, and I know that’s a cliche thing to say, but I think it’s true. She’s struggling because she doesn’t fit in, and this is something many readers will understand and also sympathize with. But Seraphina isn’t whiny or self-pitying, and that’s what I loved best about her. She does what needs doing and nothing will stand in her way.

Enter Princess Glisselda and Prince Lucian Kiggs, who have also found places in my heart. At first glance, Selda seems to be the spoiled, stereotypical princess. I’ll give you a hint: she’s not. And Kiggs is absolutely endearing and adorable. The sparks between Seraphina and Kiggs gave my stomach butterflies. Also, Orma, who shares a special bond with Seraphina. I couldn’t be happier with the development of that bond.

Hartman has created an incredibly intricate story world. It practically leaps off the page. The history and the relationship between the humans and the dragons is rife with tension. The humans fear the dragons, and the dragons condescend to the humans. The dragons look down on the humans for succumbing to their emotions. So there’s the underlying theme of love – something the dragons adamantly avoid but are seeking to understand.

And as far as plot goes, it’s intriguing. There’s a murder and a mystery. Seraphina and Kiggs are detectives hot on the trail. So there’s the whole whodunnit? element, but also a good bit of politics. And it wasn’t predictable.

I’m super excited to get my hands on book 2. I’m totally invested in Seraphina’s story and her story world. Read it, read it, read it! Dragons, mystery, romance, humor, what more do I need to say?!



Brooke Reviews: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

This was a highly anticipated read for me, because I’d heard so many good things and the response to this book was breaking all my social media. I was so excited to see what all the fuss was about. Immediate reaction upon finishing the book: That was great. Also extraordinarily frustrating. (And now I’ll attempt to explain…)

The premise is intriguing. I liked the whole spy thing and the reluctant soldier thing. It’s a bit slow in the beginning – the book opens with the murder of Laia’s grandparents and Laia’s subsequent separation from her brother. Laia is a sympathetic character – I felt for her not only because her family has been ripped apart but also because she’s struggling with the guilt of leaving her brother behind to save herself. She wishes she were more brave, more courageous. She’s disappointed with herself, but rather than wallowing in self-pity she seeks out the rebels, who may be the only people who can help rescue her brother.

I’m not always a fan of alternating perspectives, but Tahir pulled this off really well. Both Laia and Elias are strong narrators. It becomes especially interesting when their stories intertwine at the military academy. Although honestly, I’d have to say I liked Elias more than I liked Laia. Her emotional struggle endeared me at the beginning, but she became too bold too fast, and this was a little unrealistic.

Things began to go downhill for me a little over halfway. And that had nothing to do with the plot, which was still fast-paced and engaging. It had everything to do with the not-so-subtle hints Tahir was dropping about a possible romance between the narrators. And this bothered me because I realized I might be shipping the wrong ship. Elias and Helene are adorable, OKAY? It’s obvious he deeply cares about her, and then Laia shows up and suddenly he thinks he’s into her. This just didn’t work for me, and it really spoiled the tone of the rest of the book. And maybe the author is doing this purposefully…? Maybe the unpredictability is a good thing…? But I don’t think so because the book was originally supposed to be a standalone. (Does anyone else have trouble believing this??)

Anyhow, it’s difficult for me to get my feelings across because even though I really enjoyed it, there were several things that skewed my satisfaction. A review I read by a fellow blogger also pointed out the lack of world building. I actually hadn’t thought much about this, because I’d been so engaged. But there’s very little backstory/explanation/history provided for the Martial Empire. I walked away with more questions than answers.

I sound a bit negative, but this is just one of those books that gives you equal parts enjoyment and frustration. I’d still highly recommend it simply because it’s an engaging read. But I wanted to be honest with you about the drawbacks.



Brooke Reviews: The Iron Trial by Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

I don’t typically read much middle grade, but I’m a huge fan of Cassandra Clare and the premise of The Iron Trial totally intrigued me. A book about a boy who purposefully tries to FAIL the entrance exam into magic school? I’m sold. I started reading, and the very first chapter completely hooked me. Not only does it introduce the story world and the major conflict quite spectacularly, but it’s also an ingenious bit of foreshadowing. So major props to Clare and Black.

Just as we’re told in the summary, Callum Hunt fails at failing, and he’s admitted to the Magisterium. His dad didn’t want him to go. Call doesn’t want to go. But as the story progresses, Call comes to appreciate his training and also his new friends. I have such a soft spot for Call. He’s sort of bitter and sarcastic, but he’s not mean. He’s actually quite funny. And he has a crippled leg, which definitely presents unique challenges for Call and sets him apart from other stereotypical MG and YA characters I’ve read.

I love the strong friendship between the three apprentices, Call, Aaron, and Tamara. The plot is interesting and engaging and hints at exciting revelations in the following books of the series. The plot twist at the end of Book 1 (which I sort of guessed!) is absolutely FANTASTIC. Prior to reading the book, I read a review which pointed out similarities to Harry Potter. And so when I read The Iron Trial, these similarities really jumped out at me. That said, it didn’t affect my reading experience or my opinion of the book much at all.

Got my hands on an ARC of The Copper Gauntlet, which was very exciting because I was still reading Iron Trial at the time and couldn’t believe my luck. Not sure how much I can say, as I should probably wait until closer to it’s release date, but it has all the features of Book 1 I loved – magic, adventure, tension, intrigue. Call is hiding something big from his friends and so he’s facing questions of trust and loyalty. Another enjoyable read!




Brooke Reviews: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

This is an incredibly emotional and beautiful book. Warning: do not begin reading until you’ve cleared your schedule. Must read uninterrupted.

First of all, this book is beautifully written. Seriously, Renee Ahdieh has a way with words – her prose is so, so beautiful. So even if the plot had not been as great as it was, I would have continued reading anyway for the sake of each breathtaking sentence.

Second of all, it’s a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you might know that I’m a huge fan of retellings (when they’re done right). Ahdieh does a spectacular job of bringing the story world to life and giving the story a fresh twist. Her version provides an explanation for the seemingly unnecessary murders of the Caliph’s innocent brides.

Shahrzad is a strong female protagonist. She’s brave and selfless and sharp. Basically, she’s volunteered to sacrifice her life. Shazi believes she’ll be the first to survive. (And she’s right, of course.) She struts around the palace and wields her new title like a weapon and it’s awesome. But she’s also cautious and clever, and so her attempts to extract information from characters like Captain al-Khoury, Jalal, and Despina make the book infinitely more interesting.

Shazi hates her new husband, Khalid, and plots to kill him – that is, until she begins to fall for him. And then she realizes the better course of action would be to discover the reason behind the deaths so she can put a stop to the murders. Through the alternate perspectives and Shazi’s own discoveries, it’s fairly easy to piece together the mystery behind the murders of the innocent brides.

Shazi and Khalid’s romance is slow and sweet. It’s intense. It’s steamy. And there’s built-in tension, because Shazi fears for her life each dawn. Every time she made a witty or biting remark, I applauded but also cringed. Would Khalid be angered or amused by her disrespect? Their mutual stubbornness presented challenges, and also their unwillingness to share their vulnerabilities.

The ending is especially interesting. The cliffhanger (I probably shouldn’t have expected anything less) made me especially anxious for book 2. Can I have it now? Pretty-please?


Brooke Reviews: The Heir by Kiera Cass

The Heir is the continuation of The Selection series, but from the perspective of the next generation. Princess Eadlyn is the only daughter of King Maxon and Queen America, and she’s also the first female heir to the throne of Illea. She’s spoiled and conceited and sometimes selfish, and she’s fiercely independent. That’s why she’s completely uncomfortable with her parents’ idea of a Selection, even when it’s for the good of her country. Her parents hope the princess’ search for a husband will distract the kingdom from it’s displeasure over the elimination of the caste system.

I liked Eadyn. She could be especially annoying (like her mother! ugh, America!), but I appreciated her acknowledgement of her own flaws and shortcomings. I empathized with her, because she has enormous responsibility and pressure placed upon her as the first female heir. Her struggle with the Selection stems from her fierce independence, and that’s understandable. I understood that Eadlyn only wished to prove she could be a competent ruler without a male partner. She seems to think that dependence on another is a sign of weakness, and that she should only ever be strong and confident and fierce. (She has definite feminist leanings!)

Of course, because Eadlyn thinks she has everything under control, nothing goes according to plan. She undergoes a lot of growth throughout the novel, especially when it comes to accepting her vulnerabilities and learning to open up to both friends and family. She’s so guarded, and she’s scared of letting others in. She’s scared of possibly developing feelings for any of the boys. But she recognizes this, and she wants to change.

I also enjoyed the heavy dose of familial love – Eadlyn has loving, supportive parents, and three sweet, protective brothers. (She’s a twin!) I loved her relationship with her siblings. As for the boys of the Selection, they’re quirky and endearing. It was interesting to read from the perspective of the selector rather than the selected. So far the plot isn’t predictable – the cliffhanger ending took me by surprise. Above all, the book is incredibly entertaining. Very quick read!




Brooke Reviews: The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Be sure to enter my giveaway for a signed ARC!

I really enjoyed this extremely refreshing and original debut novel. I was intrigued by the unique premise, and hooked from page 1. I appreciated the aspects of the historical time period as well as Boecker’s blend of fantasy and magic. She’s crafted a vivid story world, and the book would not be the same without it.

I loved the irony of the main conflict – a witch hunter being accused of practicing witchcraft. For our protagonist Elizabeth Grey, who is one of the best, this is a terrible accusation. She’ll be burned at the stake, a sentence she was more accustomed to doling out herself. But when she’s rescued from this horrible fate by Nicholas, a powerful wizard (the most wanted criminal in the kingdom), her ideals and beliefs are challenged.

Elizabeth is a strong female lead. It was easy to sympathize with her and to root for her to succeed. She’s strong and capable (seriously, she could kill you), but she’s also vulnerable. This, in my opinion, is a realistic and believable character. At first, she held tightly to what she’d been raised to believe about witchcraft, so it was interesting to see her slowly let it go. When Elizabeth comes to realize she’s a major player in a prophecy, she has to embrace it and place her trust in her new friends in order to uncover the truth about the evil in her kingdom.

This book is a page-turner – high stakes, high tension, not so predictable. There’s adventure and mystery and romance (but no insta-love!). Also humor and plenty of magic. Definitely an enjoyable read!




Brooke Reviews: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors. She has this incredible talent for writing stories that never fail to move me. I really enjoyed Saint Anything, as it featured all of Dessen’s trademark elements (“Hate Spinnerbait!”). 🙂 Maybe not my absolute #1 of Dessen’s books, but definitely a great read.

I felt like there was a lot going on in this book, and maybe that’s why it didn’t quite capture me the way several of Dessen’s other books have (Just Listen, for example). Sydney is your average teenage girl, except her brother is in jail and she seems to be shouldering the guilt of what he’s done. Her parents are so preoccupied with her brother’s situation that Sydney feels invisible.

So there’s the whole brother-in-jail thing overshadowing everything in Sydney’s life, but she’s also dealing with the unwanted attentions of a much older (and creepy!) boy, a new school, and new friends. She doesn’t feel invisible around the Chatham family. And for the first time, she feels somewhat understood. The Chatham family is by no means perfect, but they’re super close and they truly care for each other. They teach Sydney about what it means to face her challenges and move on. Layla Chatham is hilarious. She brightens this book with all her quirks, including her OCD with french fries. And, of course, there’s Mac, who’s incredibly sweet and knows how to treat a girl.

I thought the romance really took a backseat in this book, but that was okay with me. A romantic relationship was not going to fix what Sydney was going through. Dessen always deals with very real issues in an incredibly insightful and sensitive way, and I really appreciate that.

Again, extremely enjoyable read. Glad to have this on my bookshelf.

Brooke Reviews: Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

So I know we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but I really think the awesome cover of this book is what grabbed me. And, of course, that it’s a Snow White retelling, because I’m a huge fan of retellings.

I enjoyed many aspects of this book – the futuristic story world, feisty protagonist (princess in hiding!), reluctant romance, similarities to the original fairy tale. The story takes place in space, and Essie is the only girl on the mining planet Thanda because she’s a mechanic. Her seven dwarfs are seven drones, the mining drones she programmed herself and who keep her company. The reader doesn’t know much in the beginning about why Essie is in hiding, but you know it has to be a good reason because Thanda isn’t particularly safe or comfortable.

When Dane crashes onto her planet, I thought the plot would be pretty predictable from then on out. But I give author R.C. Lewis major points for adding interesting twists that made the plot quite the opposite! Both Essie and Dane have interesting backstories. The romance is slow and sweet, and it’s rewarding in the end.

Essie’s lingo was a bit overwhelming – she has this entire vocabulary that takes a while to get used to. Believe me when I say I appreciate good world building, but this was a bit distracting.

I really liked this retelling of the classic Snow White. I think it accomplished what all good retellings should: capture the overall tone/essence of the fairy tale, while giving the original a unique spin.


Brooke Reviews: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas has done it again – completely swept me off my feet. ACOTAR is a beautiful, compelling, and steamy retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I absolutely loved it.

If you’ve also read Throne of Glass, I’d be willing to bet that you opened this book with high expectations. I certainly did. I thought it was great that ACOTAR features Maas’ distinct storytelling style, but has a completely different tone/feel than Throne of Glass. The book delves deeper into the realm of the Fae, and Maas has carefully crafted a unique story world and plot.

First of all, I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings. And I’m quite fond of Beauty and the Beast, simply because Belle is an avid reader. And also because it’s all about focusing on what’s on the inside rather than on outward appearance. I enjoyed following along with Feyre’s story and comparing it to Belle’s. Of course, while there are many similarities, Maas has given the beloved fairy tale a new twist and incredible depth.

And can we talk about Feyre’s absolutely steamy and swoon-y (is that a word?) romance?? There were several scenes (if you’ve read it, YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT) that made my heart pound and my cheeks flush. And THAT is a testament to Maas’ skills with pacing and character development.

I care so deeply for each and every character (even Rhysand!), and so when terrible things happened to them it felt like my heart was being ripped to shreds. (Because unfortunately terrible things happen to them. And it’s painful.) What I’m saying is, this book gives you ALL the feels.

The first half of the book is definitely slower-paced than the second half, but I never found myself to be disinterested or bored. I couldn’t put it down. The ending ties things up quite nicely, but there are a few loose ends that raise interesting questions for book 2. Excellent, excellent read. I enjoyed every minute of it (when I wasn’t having an emotional breakdown, that is).

Read the book. And I’ll give a quick shout-out to Throne of Glass, too. 😉