The Hawthorne Legacy (2021)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9780241480748
Publication: September 7, 2021
Series: The Inheritance Games #2

**Proceed with caution. There may be spoilers for The Inheritance Games.**

At the end of The Inheritance Games and even at the beginning of The Hawthorne Legacy, I kept wondering how there were supposed to be news clues. Tobias is dead, so who created this next round? The new game managed to surprise me and was cleverly incorporated. Tobias Hawthorne was very clever when he put the games together. As Xander tells Avery in the first book, “even if you thought that you’d manipulated our grandfather into this, I guarantee that he’d be the one manipulating you.” 

The experience of the first book provides the framework for this second one resulting in a mystery and search for clues that no longer feel as novel. Of course, that didn’t mean I wasn’t going on the adventures; I still wanted to find the answers to this game. I was hoping this one would allow Xander a chance to shine and even provide greater insight into Alisa and Nash. Unfortunately, I didn’t get either.

I was disappointed because Xander kept getting left behind. Are there any Ouran High School Host Club fans out there? Xander reminds me a lot of Honey-senpai. He’s smart and often underestimated because of his generally cheery nature, but he’s actually a force to be reckoned with if given the opportunity. As with the first book, he’s not given a chance even though he tries hard to be part of the game. Don’t worry, Xander, I completely adore you!

As much as I like the sort of triangle between Libby, Nash, and Alisa, I really like Alisa for some reason–please don’t break my heart Alisa–and want better closure between her and Nash relationship. I don’t know if I will get it. I’m dying to know what happened, and there have been hints throughout both books. Can’t Alisa and Nash work things out even though they annoy the hell out of each other? There’s so much Barnes is purposely not saying that it is frustrating.

With regard to the main triangle, Avery had me smacking my head on my desk because she still has mixed feelings. It doesn’t help that Max, her best friend, doesn’t see a problem and encourages some things too. Despite Avery learning information about the boys from the first book, she doesn’t learn from it. I was not very happy about it. Again, I get it. She’s still young, and anyone can make mistakes or fight their feelings, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The themes remain the same, emphasizing the importance of family and how money can corrupt, but the stakes are a lot higher for nearly everyone involved. The Hawthorne Legacy was nearly as engaging and fast-paced as The Inheritance Games, although the games themselves lose their luster just a bit. I was somewhat conflicted at some of the events and revelations at the end. It wasn’t seamlessly concluded and even felt a bit from left field compared to the ending in The Inheritance Games. 

If you enjoyed the first book, the second book is a must-read, especially if you want to know more about Avery and are looking for some closure. But, there is a third book, so I’m not sure how much closure may mean here…dun Dun DUN!!!! (heh…)

The Inheritance Games (2020)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368052405
Publication: September 1, 2020
Series: The Inheritance Games #1

After her mother dies, Avery is left under the care of her half-sister. She discovers her financial struggles are solved when she unexpectedly becomes the heir to billions of dollars despite not knowing the man who left it to her. With a disinherited family that calls foul on her new position, the biggest questions become what is the link between Avery and the Hawthornes and what game has Tobias Hawthorne forced them into.

The book is fast-paced and kept me engaged the entire time. I couldn’t stop reading it. While the main plot is about trying to solve the clues left behind by Tobias Hawthorne, multiple subplots helped to make the book interesting, including the dangers that come with being the heir to billions and navigating a new school and relationships. The book invokes the importance of family as well as the influence of money on behavior. Both themes are prominent throughout the book and manifests itself in different ways, but especially through Avery’s relationships with her sister and the Hawthorne boys.

I was immediately intrigued by Avery with her willingness to help those around her, despite her current means, and her personality. Avery is smart, loves puzzles, and wants to be a statisician. I liked her as soon as I read that–I’m a nerd who also loves data and stats. Avery has to learn to adjust to her new life including a new school, having a security detail, and living with the Hawthornes. While her integration into this new world isn’t without its problems, she tries to remain grounded. She doesn’t give up and tries not to let the money corrupt her. One of the curious pieces of this entire puzzle is that her mind works scarily similarly to that of the Hawthorne boys, especially Jameson and Grayson, even though she has no idea of her connection to Tobias or the entire Hawthorne family. Barnes skillfully injects clues here and there to make the reader question what they think they know.

Aside from Avery, everything is a mystery, and I enjoyed unraveling the clues alongside her. The estate immediately reminded me of the Winchester House in San Jose, CA with the many mysteries and secrets within the Hawthorne House. Of course, the Hawthorne boys are also one of the biggest mysteries in the book. I couldn’t tell whether they were genuine about helping her or if they wanted to depose of Avery in a roundabout way. When Avery’s paranoia began to set in, I thought it was smartly written because even I started to question everyone around her, especially the boys. I did have a soft spot for Xander, the youngest of the boys, and kept hoping he had nothing to do with the danger lurking in every corner.

There is a budding romance, or should I say romances, although it’s not the main focus. As someone who abhors love triangles, I feel it is my duty to report that a love triangle is brewing. Avery’s indecisiveness contributes to it and I hated that. I get it, she’s still just in high school and trying to navigate a nearly nonexistent social life with the mystery of the inheritance so I’m sorry…but also not sorry. It had to be said. I didn’t like her confusing actions.

After finishing it, I completely understand the hype around the book when it first came out. Individuals who like a good mystery and scavenger hunt will enjoy The Inheritance Games. The book ends on a cliffhanger, which I had somewhat expected, so with The Hawthorne Legacy already on hand….Let the games continue!

Fall Bucket List Book Tag

I’ve been trying to catch up with tags. I’m so sorry if I haven’t completed some of them. Sometimes WP doesn’t show me if I have any pingbacks so I’ve been trying to search through what I can. I was tagged by Francesca Lucy from Rarely in Reality. The Fall Bucket List book tag was created by Read With Tiffany. It’s perfect for the season!

Light a Scented Candle – A Book That’s Lighthearted

Wow. This one was a hard one! I think Blade of Secrets fits this pretty well because Levenseller infuses the story with a lot of humor. At one point three of the characters loudly discuss the other and what his intentions might be while he pretty much just tells them, “I can year you all.” I’m definitely looking forward to the second book. There’s magic. There’s adventure. There’s romance. (My Review)

Drink Pumpkin Spiced Lattes – A Book That Has a Lot of Hype

Don’t kill me, ya’ll! I must confess that I’m not the biggest fan of anything pumpkin-flavored. I’ve never actually had a pumpkin spiced latte, although I hear it’s all the rage. Iron Widow was a book I was excited about. While there were things I didn’t like about it, Zetian is such a kickass protagonist. (My Review)

Go Apple Picking – A Book That Has Fun Friendships

The Bone Shard Daughter has one of my favorite friendships. Jovis is a smuggler and he ends up saving a creature from the ocean, Mephi. What is it exactly? I’m not sure, but Mephi steals the show, and their friendship is one of the highlights of the book. At first Jovis doesn’t want to keep Mephi but they slowly become inseparable. Mephi is all sorts of adorable. (My Review)

Wear a Cozy Sweater – A Book That Warms Your Heart

When I think of autumn reads, especially one that is warm like a sweater, the first book I think of is A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. I read it in November and now I associate it with the season, not only because of the warm tones of the cover but the sweaters Lila wears. It also gives Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” vibes. Read this with a cup of tea. (My Review)

Bake Cinnamon Rolls – A Character Who’s a Talented Chef

This one is a short story that I recently read. I’m working my way through the entire Love All Year 2021 multicultural anthology but “Yes, Chef” is about a lawyer who enlists the help of a sous chef to teach him to cook when he tells his mom he will cook Lunar New Year dinner. It’s short and sweet. If only all short stories could be like this one. (My Review)

Jump Into a Pile of Leaves – A Book That Made You Jump For Joy

I jumped for joy when I was approved for The Bone Shard Emperor. I couldn’t keep my excitement down. I pushed pause on everything and read the book in one sitting. If you enjoyed The Bone Shard Daughter, you will love it’s sequel. It’s possibly even better than the first book. Yes, there’s a lot of Mephi! I’m still working on a review for this. (Review from Under the Radar SFF Books)

Thanks for tagging me, Francesca Lucy! I TAG:

The Last Graduate (2021)

by Naomi Novik
ASIN/ISBN: 9780593128862
Publication: September 28, 2021
Series: The Scholomance #2

**Please proceed with caution. There may be spoilers for A Deadly Education.**

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.

El has survived her first three years in the Scholomance and has just one final year to go. With graduation looming, survival training is also around the corner because graduation isn’t walking across the stage to pomp and circumstance but a fight for your life against mals that are ready to pounce and devour you. With an alliance in place and friends standing by her side, El might have a real chance at freedom.

The Last Graduate continues El’s journey to subvert the prophecy that has dictated her life and the expectations of those around her. While there are changes to El’s life and her character, her growth since A Deadly Education and during The Last Graduate doesn’t turn her into a completely different person. Thank goodness because I love her just as she is. In this book, the layers are peeled back further to reveal El’s true nature, the one she’s tried so hard to hide underneath her prickly attitude and sarcasm. Her actions in the book and her vulnerability felt true to her character.

El learning to navigate her new relationships is a highlight of the novel.  Her friendships with Liu and Aadhya, which always felt tentative to her before, are strengthened and reaffirmed. Of course, her fight or flight response continues to rear its head when conflicts arise that may affect her new relationships, but she’s learning to understand what it means to have friends. They don’t up and leave at the first sign of trouble; they stick with you, especially when times get hard. They stick with you even when you give them an out. Finding friends and realizing she is no longer alone has also led to weight being lifted off her shoulders. She can smile and laugh, imagine life beyond graduation, and even want to change the world. These changes underscore how lonely she was in the first book even though she refused to admit it. El is such a complex character, and I completely adore her.

Orion’s appearances are sparser here, but he remains a thorn in El’s side, albeit one that doesn’t hurt as much anymore. She continues to be his advocate, and I love her for seeing him and treating him like the person he is rather than the oddity his family, his enclave, and mostly everyone else thinks he is. See? She’s all prickly and sarcastic, but it’s just to hide her big, bleeding heart.

The writing remains the same as in A Deadly Education with El explaining origins and context before she gets to what is going on. Because there was a learning curve to understanding the Scholomance, I didn’t mind it in the first book, but there were a few moments in The Last Graduate where I wanted to skip forward. The amount of information provided can be overwhelming–there is so much. I just wanted to know what was going to happen rather than what led to the moment she was in. However, skipping also meant potentially missing the connection between whatever she was talking about and her current predicament, so wanting to skip never turned into actually skipping. 

The Last Graduate is not as fast-paced as the first book, but it is nearly as engaging. Attacks by mals are expected, and people trying to kill you are just a normal part of the day. These aren’t as surprising anymore. I finished it quickly, but I needed to take a break to process the damn ending. To be honest, I’m still processing it. I haven’t been able to reach out for a new book because my brain is still asking myself why I didn’t see this being the particular ending when it was one of the alternate endings I had come up with. (Any else like to think up the many possible endings to a book?) I’m giving fair warning that it is a cliffhanger. I sort of wish I waited for the last book to binge the entire trilogy, but I didn’t have any self-control. Now, I have to wait a year to know what happened. If you enjoyed A Deadly Education, you’ll enjoy The Last Graduate. A year will feel like an eternity as I wait for the final book.

**Some remaining thoughts I wanted to put out there.**

One of the reasons why I like The Scholomance Trilogy is how it illustrates the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma happens when rational individuals pursue their self-interest, refusing to cooperate, and so end up with an outcome that is not as ideal as the one they would have received if they worked together. In the book, individuals must fight for their survival and learn to increase their chances of making it out alive by becoming part of a collective. With El’s focus on reciprocation–ensuring those who might ally with her know she always pays back favors to those she receives them from–she works toward securing an alliance that can help increase her odds of living through graduation. The Last Graduate gives a glimpse of how the prisoner’s dilemma can be solved, how building trust between individuals can be the difference between life and death. Yeah, I’m nerdy like that.

The Children of Camelot (2021)

by Amy Bartelloni
ASIN/ISBN: B0923Q8J82
Publication: June 15, 2021
Series: The Children of Camelot #1

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

At night on the island of Avalon, Arynn and Malik look toward the mainland, trying to guess the meaning of the colored fires. Unable to leave because of the ongoing war on the mainland, it’s all they can do. When Malik finds a way off the island, he asks Arynn to leave with him. Despite her concerns, Arynn agrees to go, and together they discover that they haven’t been told the entire truth about the war.

I was initially hesitant to read The Children of Camelot because while I love the magic and intrigue of the Arthurian legend, I dislike the love triangle. Bartelloni puts a twist I liked on the story and focuses on the children of Camelot. The story is told from Arynn’s point of view. She is somewhat shy and cautious, always trying to adhere to rules as best as she can. With magic forbidden and talk of other creatures not allowed, she hides her connection to dragons from everyone except her best friend Malik. Malik is Arynn’s opposite with his ability to easily charm people. He is constantly looking for adventure, willing to bend or even break the rules. Because of their close friendship, he knows Arynn will follow him if asked. Their friendship is an aspect of the story I liked, but it changed into something else too quickly and without much warning.  I wished their friendship had been better explored, building up to any hint of romance. When the romantic feeling bits do pop up, they sometimes feel out of place.

The book retains many familiar elements, including the round table and King Arthur, but it also introduces new characters along with an enchanting world. I enjoyed the world-building the most with its details and abundance of magical creatures.  It’s been so long since I’ve read a full-length book with dragons that as soon as I met Nissa and her kin, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Along with dragons, there are additional magical creatures such as fairies, dwarves, and elves. The vivid descriptions contribute to a new imagining of a familiar world.

While I liked the story, I sometimes felt like I was missing pieces of information that led up to statements being made or events occurring. The characters would jump three steps ahead, and I would be left wondering what just happened. I was also frustrated with the secrets surrounding the missing king because the secret could have been disclosed sooner. I was also curious about the magical system, which seemed unclear to me.

I generally enjoyed the retelling. As the first book in the trilogy, there is no big battle or confrontation, but it sets up what appears to be an impending fight for Camelot. I am curious to see how it all ends, so I already have the next two books lined up and ready to go. Fans of medieval fantasy and those interested in a new spin on the Arthurian legend will likely enjoy The Children of Camelot.

Iron Widow (2021)

by Xiran Jay Zhao
ASIN/ISBN: 9780735269934
Publication: September 21, 2021
Series: Iron Widow #1

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own**

Zetian is a force to be reckoned with when she has her mind set on conquering an empire. She is determined to avenge her big sister by destroying the pilot who killed her, and she is willing to sacrifice herself along with her family to do it. Zetian’s desire for justice is not only fueled by love for her older sister but also anger that women are considered disposable. Enraged with her inability to dictate the choices in her life and the senseless sacrifices of women as concubine-pilots, she aims to bring down the patriarchy in any way possible. I was immediately drawn to Zetian and her struggle for agency. 

As much as I liked Zetian, it was difficult to fully support her in her one-track endeavor, and this is where the character growth comes in, however incremental it is. With few exceptions, she doesn’t believe men deviate from wanting to maintain control over women. While she aims to grab power and free women, she begins to realize that changing the status quo is difficult to do alone and that everything is not necessarily black and white. While initially resistant to most things that challenge her views, she is not immune to change, willing to broaden her views when she can see with her own eyes or someone pushes her to see the bigger picture. She wants a better world for women, and I was all for it. I understood her anger and cheered her fight against the patriarchy.

As much as I supported Zetian’s agenda, I found the story lacking in some areas. Zetian’s struggle takes place within the larger context of a war between humans and aliens called Hundans. Humans utilize mechas, or Chrysalis as they’re called here, that are powered by two individuals–a pilot (usually male) and a concubine-pilot (usually female). The mechas can take on multiple forms, which is often dependent on the connection and strength of the pilots. Despite the amount of information and description of the mechas and how they operated with chi, I wanted to know more beyond the insulated world of mechas and pilots. The context and the environment appeared hazy to me as I tried to figure out how this war began and where the Hundans came from. I was curious about the external environment. I was unsure about the government system in place, something I try to understand especially when someone is trying to topple systems and regimes. These were some points of confusion for me, and I would have liked it fleshed out better. I was also not generally fond of the writing style. Although I appreciated some of the more descriptive passages, it was difficult for me to settle into the writing but it became less of a hindrance once I became engrossed in Zetian’s story.

As fun as the mechas are, Zetian shines here with her ruthlessness and hunger for power. I loved the themes that arose as Zetian tried to dictate her life while fighting against the subjugation of women. It was enough to overcome what I found lacking in the story, things I hope will receive greater focus in the next book. I’ll be continuing with the series because, for the most part, I like Zetian and want to see her succeed. Fans of strong female protagonists and those who enjoyed Pacific Rim, which I loved, will enjoy the novel. 

Red Tigress (2021)

by Amélie Wen Zhao
ASIN/ISBN: 9780525707851
Publication: March 2, 2021
Series: Blood Heir Trilogy #2


Warning: There may be spoilers for Blood Heir. There are some elements from Blood Heir I couldn’t help but to comment on as well. Sorry. Please proceed with caution.

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Red Tigress picks up right after the events of Blood Heir. With a new ruler on the Cyrilian throne, Affinites are seemingly safe, except the new ruler expects loyalty from everyone. Those who refuse to submit face execution. With her people and her country in peril, Ana must seek allies to take back her throne. With Ransom Quicktongue and new friends in tow, Ana heads across the ocean for help.

Like its predecessor, Red Tigress moves along at a fast pace. Before I realized it, I was already halfway through the book. Along with the pace, I also particularly enjoyed the descriptive detail and the ending battle. Zhao’s writing is evocative, and I savored a lot of the imagery. I especially loved the descriptions of Linn taking flight and Ramson’s dip in the pool. The final conflict is detailed, a real nail-biter as the main characters fight for their lives. The ending of the book is a different story. I am not a fan of how the book concluded, and it’s made me eager to read the final book with the hope that the ending will be better.

Ana remains ruled by her emotions, impulsive and only recalling the consequences after. This leads her into a few skirmishes early on that she manages to just barely escape. Despite all she’s been through, it bothered me that she endangered her plans by not thinking ahead. This is why Ramson is crucial. He is her opposite, thinking and planning before making a move. He gives her structure and stability. Other than being the true heir to the throne and having a desire to help her people, there isn’t much to demonstrate Ana’s ability to rule. From a practical point of view, it isn’t enough that she loves her empire and the people within it, although it’s a start. While I was able to overlook it in the first book, it was difficult to do that here with so much riding on her leadership abilities. She needs to undergo a fair amount of growth before she can prove herself fit to rule. I hope the next book provides character development in this area.  

The status of Ramson and Ana’s relationship was also something I was never fully on board with mostly due to how quickly it developed. I’m a hopeless romantic (albeit often cynical and yes, I know, a conundrum) and hoped for a dash of romance, but Ramson and Ana’s feelings felt more contrived than organic to the story. The switch from enemies to allies can be explained by their circumstances, but their attraction to each other felt sudden. In Red Tigress, their attraction to each other strengthens, and there’s a fair amount of tension between the them with the will they or won’t they moments. A few moments, especially one in particular, felt out of place. As much as the particular moment made me tingly, it halted the story at an inopportune moment.

May is meant to signify hope and provide Ana a purpose, but I never thought her character in Blood Heir necessary in the first place. Some of their moments and some of the things May said made me cringe. In Red Tigress, Ana often thinks about May and the promises they made, which keep Ana moving forward. I believe Ana’s plight and experiences were more than enough to spur her into action without using May as a plot device. Unless I missed something crucial, I wasn’t sure whether Empress was aware that Ana was alive. It seems like she should know because of the fliers, but that would also mean that one of Ana’s allies should be dead and the ally is not. Maybe this will be better addressed in the last book.

Red Tigress was a slightly better than average read but I couldn’t help question many of the things the characters did or did not do. The final conflict is a highlight of the novel. I look forward to the final book.

Me (Moth) (2021)

by Amber McBride
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250780362
Publication: August 17, 2021

After losing her family in an accident, Moth switches schools to live with her Aunt Jack. It isn’t until she meets Sani that she finally feels seen and heard because he’s going through similar issues of his own, feeling alone and as though no one understands him. They decide to go on a road trip to better understand their heritage.

Written in verse, I was wrapped in the emotions and the images the book evoked. Not a single word is wasted or used to merely fill empty space. It forced me to feel every word. The words reached out and calmed my restlessness but also wound themselves deeper into the crevices of my thoughts as they pushed me to examine my present by embracing my own ancestral heritage alongside Moth and Sani.

My heart hurt. It hurt for Moth, for her survivor’s guilt, for believing her will to live was so great and she was too greedy to leave enough for the rest of her family to also survive. It hurt for Sani, for all he endured and was still currently enduring, for feeling like it was his fault, as though he was able to control the actions of those around him.

Me (Moth) is about self-acceptance, learning from the past and where we come from to understand who we are today. It’s about trying to find where home is and learning what it means to live again when it feels like those we love are all gone. But, even in death, those who love us never truly abandon us. As ancestors, they continue to guide us.

Me (Moth) is so many things, including one of my best reads this year.

The Other Side of Perfect (2021)

by Mariko Turk
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316703406
Publication: May 11, 2021

Alina’s dreams of one day joining the American Ballet Theatre are dashed when an accident leads to a shattered leg. She is forced to put away her pointe shoes and reassess her future. When she is finally able to venture outside her room, she auditions for musical theatre.

I was fully immersed in the book because Alina’s story was compelling. She tries to come to terms with her new reality while transitioning into a “normal” teenager, but it’s difficult. Her devastation was more than enough to tug at my heart, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with her even though it leads some decisions I didn’t like. I don’t think I’ve ever loved something the way Alina loves ballet, but Turk’s prose captures Alina’s grief and allowed me to experience Alina’s struggle alongside her.

Being permanently sidelined from what she thought was her future forces her to confront the racism within ballet and its traditions. It’s both difficult and satisfying to see Alina come to these realizations because it adds another layer to her current situation. Would she have eventually come to the same conclusion, taken similar actions had she not been forced to give up ballet? Maybe, but probably not nearly as soon as she should have. It’s not necessarily that Alina is completely unaware of the racism but she does have blinders on. She equates tradition with being “right” and those in authoritative roles as knowing best when it is not always the case. I found this to be an important reflection on life, especially because Alina’s sister has a different experience at her dance school. Authority figures play pivotal roles in our lives. They help shape our beliefs and values, and it can be difficult not to view ourselves through their eyes. In this case, Alina’s dance teacher was pivotal to her perception of ballet and her abilities, which helps explain some of Alina’s convictions about ballet. The trauma of forcibly giving up her dreams leads to transformative growth, allowing her to challenge her beliefs and accomplish what she couldn’t do before, speak up for herself and her friends. Although Alina hates the saying, there is some truth that “when life shatters your leg, it opens a window.”

With its emphasis on friendship, Alina meets new people and forms multiple relationships throughout the book. While her connection to each is slightly different, the most interesting one is her connection with Diya. Although Diya’s role is smaller, there are parallels between the two that are immediately apparent. The connection provides Alina with some eye-opening breakthroughs and was probably one of my favorite parts of the book to read. As with many of the elements in the book, Diya’s life provides Alina another glimpse of what it’s like on the other side.

I cannot end this without mentioning the multiple supporting characters I adored. I’ve never enjoyed so many characters popping in and out of a book before! They all contribute to making the book well-rounded.

  • Mom and Dad
    They’re professionals in their jobs but they’re loving and supportive parents who encourage Alina to keep moving forward. They’re “hip” and use words like “bae” just to get reactions from their teenage daughters. Alina’s parents only make small appearances but I loved their interactions with their daughters.
  • Laney and Ada
    These two are hilarious. Not only do they remind me of high school me but also adult me. Yes, my friends and I still play a version of what Laney and Ada refer to as Love Realism, making up a story about how your life plays out with your crush.
  • Jude
    As a potential love interest, Jude is positively swoony. He’s patient and understanding. He defies gender norms with his love of knitting and he doesn’t care who knows about it. He’s wonderful. Can there be an adult him who exists in real life?

Overall, The Other Side of Perfect was a deeply satisfying read. I meant to pick it up and read just a few chapters before bed, but I couldn’t sleep until I finished the whole thing.

Mark of the Wicked (2021)

by Georgia Bowers
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250773890
Publication: August 10, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I’m usually prepared for Christmas in July but not so much for Halloween in August. Mark of the Wicked certainly helped set the mood for the ghostly holiday. It’s an atmospheric read with a mix of growing up pains and unexplained paranormal occurrences. While I mostly enjoyed it, the storyline does drag a bit with some repetitiveness in the first half and continues longer than I wanted after it reaches the climax. The ending, however, makes up for it.

Matilda, the lead character, is introduced while attempting a spell sixteen days before Halloween. Despite the price of bringing harm to others, she is more than willing to do it because she can. What’s the use of having power if she can’t do what she wants with it? Her willingness to cause harm so recklessly is also the result of the ability to hide the personal consequences of her actions. She’s a morally grey character. Matilda is not an easy character to connect with. She has a lot of pent-up anger and resents her mom. These feelings fuel her decision making, pushing her to use magic on anyone who has made her life miserable. Despite her tough exterior, the insecurities and vulnerability that come with high school rise to the surface when she meets Oliver, a boy who finally likes her for who she is. In reconciling these different accounts of her character, it’s obvious she’s a little lost and lashing out. Her mother’s presence would have been helpful, but it’s her Nanna May’s presence that provides her comfort. While I was not fond of Matilda’s actions and just generally not too fond of Matilda (at least until the second half), I grew to understand her. Her world collapsed, and she closed herself off. Of course, it doesn’t excuse her behavior. She is not a good witch by any means but even as wicked as she is, she also claims she has boundaries she is unwilling to cross.

My least favorite character in the book is her mom, Lottie. I was disappointed in her a lot, but this is likely a product of the story being told from Matilda’s point of view–I just sympathized more with Matilda. Lottie acts more like she’s in a dispute with a younger sibling. From Matilda’s perspective, Lottie appears to be gallivanting to the beat of her own drum. I get it. Matilda isn’t the easiest person to get along with, but Lottie also isn’t present to help Matilda work through her frustrations. I also felt ambushed by Lottie’s reveals as she tries to soothe over their relationship. Like Matilda, I even started to resent Lottie. It’s highly problematic when your daughter suspects you are the culprit behind the dead animals and her blackouts.  

I enjoyed the plot and thought the price to pay for harming others was clever. It poses an interesting question: what choices are we willing to make if we could hide the consequences of our actions? The plot becomes repetitive (something happens, Matilda blacks out, something happens, Matilda blacks out again), which led being frustrated at trying to piece things together. Strange things are happening to animals and Matilda keeps blacking out. There is a connection somewhere, but it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly. I nearly stopped reading because the mystery kept building without any real payoff. When the pieces finally come together, it was a bit of a letdown, confirming my suspicions. On the other hand, the ending was great. It came together well, even if it was a bit too easy.  

Those ready for Halloween will enjoy the mystery presented by Mark of the Wicked. Additionally, fans of the cult classic The Craft are likely to enjoy it as well.