Mini-Review: The Third Eye by Lois Duncan


Rating: ★★★☆☆ – liked it

Another solid 3-star novel from Lois Duncan. As is often the case in Duncan’s novels, there are some parts that are done perfectly and others that feel a little rushed, but in the end it’s a quick, easy read of decent quality.

Content Warning:  Animal Death & Child Death – There are some mentions of a dead girl (not vivid) and the protag has a nightmare about some missing infants being dead (not vivid). The cop shoots a dog that tries to attack him. You don’t see the dog die, but you see it’s body after and it is described in detail (~2 sentences).


Review: Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan

What started as a harmless fortune-telling gimmick leads to new-in-town Sarah being labeled a witch by her religious, conservative schoolmates. And now she’s dreaming of the Salem Witch Trials. Something sinister is brewing in Pine Crest!

Rating:  ★★★☆☆ – liked it
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya horror, ya thriller, ya paranormal mystery
Pros:  fairly realistic characters, interesting premise, easy read
Cons:  slightly rushed in some parts


I think this book is best described as “thriller-lite”. It would be a decent starter book for people wanting to try out the Thriller or Paranormal Mystery genres with something that won’t be too scary or confusing.

Some of the paranormal explanations felt a bit rushed and info dump-y; aside from that it wasn’t a bad story. I wouldn’t say it’s Duncan’s best novel, but it’s a decent easy read.

As fantastical as some of this book was, the part that stood out to me was the realistic portrayal of the insular, religious small town full of conservative bigots. At first glance, these characters might seem over-the-top, but I could almost mistake some of them for actual people I knew from my childhood.

I didn’t enjoy the use of the g*psy slur or the negative stereotypes about Romani people that were voiced by one of the characters. It’s actually a part of characterization not some preachy narration, so it wasn’t too bad, but if that is a thing which upsets you, skip this one.

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Mini-Review: Live Through This by Mindi Scott


Rating:  ★★★★☆ – really liked it

Trigger Warning:  Sexual Abuse

I won’t call this an easy read by any means, but it was so good I read through it all in one sitting, unable to put it down. I really like the way Mindi Scott chose to represent the story. Coley doesn’t act how most people might expect someone in her situation to act, but that’s why it’s so important that this book is out there: because there is no “way to act” in this situation and people in Coley’s place are still victims. The subject matter is sensitive, but I definitely recommend this book to everyone, whether they are YA fans or not.

I will say, don’t go into this expecting an uplifting narrative about a girl getting help and healing from her abuse, because this book isn’t about that part of Coley’s story. Spoiler: [start] In fact, Scott ends the book right as Coley is about to tell her mom what’s been happening, so we have no idea what happens after that. [end]

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Review: Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

Note:  This book has also been published under the name The Tale of Gwyn.

Everyone grows up with tales of Jackaroo, who rides on behalf of the people in times of greatest need, but everyone knows they’re just stories… As the innkeeper’s daughter, Gwyn is certain of her place in the world, but being stranded during a blizzard leads to a startling discovery and Gwyn begins to see the Kingdom in a new way. When Jackaroo rides out of legends to aid the people, he will change Gwyn’s life forever.

Rating:  ★★★★★ – it was amazing
Genre:  young adult fiction, young adult fantasy, non-magical fantasy
Pros:  well written, good character development, beautiful descriptive language
Cons:  needs POC


Jackaroo is the first in the loosely-connected Tales of the Kingdom series. Because they are “loosely-connected” all of the Kingdom novels can be read as stand-alone books, though I’m not sure why you’d want to skip any of them. I like that this is the first book in the series though, because it’s a little lighter than the next three and therefore an easier read and the perfect introduction to the world of the Kingdom.

This book is simultaneously a fantasy adventure about a Robin Hood-esque highwayman who shows up in times of need to serve the people, and a coming-of-age story about a young girl discovering her place in the world.

As with a lot of Cynthia Voigt’s characters I really love the way Gwyn thinks about things. She’s a somewhat steady girl, hard-working and strong. In the beginning she has a tendency to be a bit scornful of those around her, but she grows into a more understanding and insightful person as the story goes on, which is just one example of the satisfying character development to be found in Jackaroo.

Voigt’s world-building is subtle and immersive in a way one rarely finds in a fantasy novel. She lays out the Kingdom at the perfect pace, so that one never has too much information to keep track of, and always enough to understand what is going on in the story. Between that and her excellent use of descriptive language, the reader is swept up into the story and world with ease.

My only complaint about these books is the lack of POC. The closest it comes is having one character mentioned with “olive skin”, which is…disappointing. It’s not super surprising that a white author doesn’t think to put people of color in their story, especially in 1985 when this story was first published, but I can still wish it was different. It’s really the only thing I can think of that would improve this beautiful story.

I recommend this book, and it’s sequels, to literally everyone — but most especially to people who like fantasy, ya fiction, and coming-of-age novels, or anyone who is trying to read more backlist books.

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Mini-Review: Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

Rating:  ★★☆☆☆ – it was okay
Genre:  autobiography, celebrity autobiography, memoir, celebrity memoir
Pros:  conversational, unpretentious, sometimes funny
Cons:  sometimes boring, sometimes aimless

30253864It could have been a more enjoyable read, but somewhere around the halfway mark it just got rambling and aimless and…. I hate to say boring, but I was bored. I found myself almost skipping chunks and having to force myself back to read it completely. I’m someone who loves an autobiography, so I’ve got no problem reading little details about people’s lives and thoughts, but this just stopped holding my attention. I think if there had been a little more guiding or coaxing from the publisher to make sure there was interesting material throughout (or perhaps a shorter book), it would have been 3 stars.


Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Xifeng has always been told of her great destiny, but she doesn’t know if she believes in it. When she travels to the Imperial City she will have to choose between warring urges. Will she marry Wei and live a simple life or embrace the darkness that draws her and chase a powerful destiny?

Rating:  ★★★★★ – it was amazing
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya fantasy, fairytale retelling
Pros:  #OwnVoices, beautifully written, excellent spin on an old story
Cons:  somewhat slow beginning (but this is barely a con, and I’ll explain why)


An Own Voices novel and a fairy tale retelling, what could be better? Well, it could be beautifully written, as Forest of a Thousand Lanterns most certainly is.

The most interesting thing to me is how Dao had me completely forgetting that this was the story of the evil queen! I was rooting for Xifeng the entire time, constantly hoping she would find ways to outsmart her enemies and get more powerful. It wasn’t until the very end that I started to remember I was cheering on someone who is technically the villain of the story! And even once I did I found it impossible to dislike her.

This is not the first time I’ve read a book about this fairytale character’s origin, but never have I found myself rooting for her or liking her, or even feeling all that sorry for her for that matter. But with FOTL I knew from the beginning who Xifeng was, and I still didn’t think about it until almost the end of the novel because I cared about her the whole time.

There was a short time at the beginning of the book (basically, the parts leading up to Xifeng’s arrival in the Imperial City) where I felt like things were moving kind of slowly. It wasn’t unenjoyable to read or anything; I never felt like I was forcing myself to keep reading. I just found myself wondering if some of the stuff I was reading even needed to be there.

However, I don’t actually think it was a real problem, because later on I came to believe those things did need to be in the story. I think all the stuff in the beginning which made it seem a bit long before the action really began may be what helped to build that great empathy I felt for Xifeng that let me forget she was supposed to turn into a villain.

I honestly never expected to get so excited over a retelling of Snow White, since it’s a really well known and oft retold tale, but Julie C. Dao did an amazing job. The new setting and the dark fantasy aspect really made this story better than any others I’ve found.

Another great thing was the descriptive language the author uses. It painted such a vivid picture that I never had trouble staying in the story and I often found myself stopping to reread a line or two because it was just so beautifully written.

I pretty much recommend this book to everyone, but specifically fans of fairytale retellings & YA Fantasy, or anyone wanting to read more books with non-white characters/authors. Because the only real drawback to this book is having to wait to read the sequel!

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Completed: The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson

The Swan MaidenThe Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Raised as a chastelaine-in-training unlike her sisters who are learning the arts of sorcery, Doucette discovers when she is sixteen years old that she too has magic in her blood, and she must brave her mother’s wrath–and the loss of the man she loves–in order to follow her birthright.

This is a pretty good fairytale retelling, but there’s just something about the writing — the pacing I think? or the flow? — that keeps it from being a 4 or 5 star book. That said, I definitely recommend it to fans of the genre.

(I may do a fuller review later on.)

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Review: Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy, book 2)

As Kami Glass and her friends continue to battle the sorcerers of the Lynburn family in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, friendships and families are torn apart.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ – really liked it
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya mystery, paranormal fantasy
Pros:  queer rep, more banter!, funny
Cons:  love triangle (ish), occasionally choppy narrative


A lot of the things I would talk about in a review for Untold are things I already talked about in my review of the first book, Unspoken. To avoid being repetitive I will skip those and advise you to read that review, then move on to Untold-specific things:

Untold is one of the better sequels I’ve read in a while. It didn’t fall into the traps a lot of “middle of a trilogy” books fall into.

We get more insight into the personalities of several characters that we didn’t get in the first book. This is done through a ton of POV switching (Unspoken switched between Jared & Kami, Untold goes much farther than that). This can sometimes make the narrative feel a little choppy, but overall I think it’s good for the story.

Almost everyone got a little character development. Kami has to learn to cope with things on her own, Holly must learn to accept who she is, Jared learns to care about other people and let them in, just to list a few. Even the adults got some moments of development.

I’ve never read a book with such a strong ensemble of characters, and I’m not sure how I can go back to reading books where background characters are 2-dimensional plot devices now that I’ve found Sarah Rees Brennan’s novels.

I want to take a minute to talk about the queer representation in the novel, because something happened that you so rarely see. We already have the character whose sexuality we discovered in the first book, and that gets developed a bit. Turns out she knew and accepted that she was a lesbian, but wasn’t quite ready for other people to know. Then we get another character who is unsure of her own sexual identity because she knows she likes boys and now is shocked to discover an attraction to another girl. She discusses this with another character and this is where I braced myself for the inevitable “you can just like people, not labels” or some other such copout. But instead he openly discusses bisexuality with her. He even says the word “bisexual”! For some people this probably seems like a small thing to be so excited about, but being bisexual myself, and constantly seeing media refuse to acknowledge it even when they have bisexual characters, this scene was very important to me and utterly refreshing.

The plot feels a little slower paced than the first book, but I think this is mostly due to the fact that there is less suspense and mystery. Instead of finding bodies and trying to figure out who the bad guys are, the group are preparing for a showdown. There is still some mystery and there’s a big confrontation at the end like the first novel, but most of the book is about planning and preparing. Luckily, the book is well-written and there is enough going on the keep the reader interested despite the somewhat slower plot.

On the whole, Untold is an excellent bridge between the first novel and the third. The reader ends up just as invested in the main plot arc as in the first novel and more invested in the characters, which is exactly what a second book needs to do to move a trilogy along. It’s an easy read with enough substance not to be considered fluff.

In addition to those who enjoyed the first novel, Unspoken, I recommend Untold to fans of ya romance, paranormal fantasy, and novels with strong characterization.

Spoiler Zone

I mentioned in my review of Unspoken that there was something about the first book that left me angry and that I hoped would be resolved in the sequel. It was! If you are someone who found yourself angry at Jared’s character in the end of the first book and you aren’t sure if you want to read Untold because of that, this spoiler is for you!
[start] We learn that Jared lashed out at Kami because of what she said before she broke the link and his belief that she wanted nothing to do with him. Her avoiding him afterwards (because she believed what he said) confirmed for Jared that she must hate him so he tried to maintain a distance from her, partially because of his hurt feelings and partially because he believed it’s what she wanted. [end]

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Review: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy, book 1)

Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of things no one wants to talk about: the secretive Lynburn family, ritual killings, and a history of magic. But Kami Glass is no stranger to mysterious things. Since childhood she has had a boy in her head that no one believes is real. With the danger mounting, Kami is determined to unravel the mysteries of her little town.

Rating:  ★★★★☆ – really liked it
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya mystery, paranormal fantasy
Pros:  funny, unique premise, Banter!
Cons:  love triangle (ish), occasionally choppy narrative


Prior to Unspoken I had never heard of a young adult gothic novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the unique premise drew me. I have to say, I’m glad I gave it a chance!

The absolute best part of the book is the banter between characters. I’m a sucker for quality banter. If you are too, then you’ll be hooked on Unspoken in just a few pages.

I really appreciated the female friendships in this book. Too often in YA female friends wind up in competition somehow, and at first I expected this book to go the same way. In fact, there was a point in the beginning where I expected this book to be just another Not-Like-Other-Girls-girl irrationally hates Popular-With-The-Boys-girl book, but instead we get some character growth instead and ended up with loyal, dedicated female friends.

It was also nice to see a family that mattered in a YA book. A lot of times, the protags family is mentioned, but barely and rarely. In Unspoken, we see that Kami has a loving family, still touched by the secrets of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and the family dynamic is mercifully believable.

I loved the connection between Kami and Jared, but I didn’t like the way it kept somehow being turned into some idea that they should be romantically involved. That never did make sense to me. And, as you may have guessed, I wasn’t at all interested in the love triangle the author kept trying to create. I mostly tuned out that aspect, if I’m being honest.

Kami is of mixed ancestry, with her paternal grandmother being Japanese, and it served the story well. Kami was seen by a lot of people as a partial-outsider, in the way that small towns full of mostly white people tend to see anyone whose entire family tree isn’t rooted right there in that very ground. And there were some bits of Japanese folklore thrown in as well. Not being Japanese myself, or well-versed in Japanese folklore, I can’t say if it was done accurately, but I do think it was good for the novel.

There was a bit at the end that I won’t say too much about, because of spoilers, but it seemed highly incongruous with previous characterization and I was as stunned as Kami over it. My shock quickly gave way to anger. However, because it happened at the very last moment, and because this is only the first book in the series, I have some hope it will be explained or justified in the second book.

The paranormal aspect wasn’t as scary as I would have expected based on the character’s reactions to it, but the rest of the mystery really was quite creepy. As the book went on I found myself in the same predicament as Kami, with a reason to suspect everyone, trusting no one. And yet, for all my suspicions I didn’t quite manage to predict that ending. (Note:  I don’t mean the part of the ending that I mentioned left me angry, that part is actually just one little moment, after the resolution of the mystery.)

I would recommend Unspoken to young adult fans of gothic novels or mysteries, and as previously mentioned, to anyone who is a total sucker for witty, funny banter between characters.

Spoiler Zone

One of the more disappointing things, for me, was a plot point, and mostly affects the story going forward, but due to it’s spoilery nature I’m going to hide it below:

[start] I really hate the loss of the connection between Kami and Jared. It was the most interesting part of the story and I don’t see how the next book will be quite as good without it… [end]

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Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

As their deep friendship turns to love, Latina teenager Miel, who grows roses from her wrist, and Italian-Pakistani Samir, a transgender boy, fear their secrets will be exposed by the beautiful Bonner girls, four sisters rumored to be witches.

Rating:  ★★★★★ – it was amazing
Genre:  young adult fiction, ya fantasy, magical realism
Pros:  chock-full of representation, lyrical prose, beautiful imagery
Cons:  occasionally dense


When the Moon Was Ours is a lovely story that I officially recommend to everyone.

The writing is beautiful and flows like a song. Even when things are happening in the story that are hard, the writing is so lyrical you don’t entirely hate to read it.

I’ve never described my favorite thing about a book as “the colors” before, and in any other context it would make no sense at all. But the imagery used by McLemore paints such vibrant pictures in the mind! Reading this book left me with a swirl of colors in my imagination.

There were a few times where the prose got a bit dense and I would find myself needing to reread a passage to figure out exactly what was occurring or impatient to get past the descriptive language to the action again. Luckily, these instances were few and far between. Overall the book was a joy to read.

The absolute best part of the book was the representation. Reading a book with so much racial diversity and LGBT+ representation right at the forefront — not shoved into a passing remark or a single character — was like a breath of fresh air. And what’s more, it was all handled with loving sensitivity.

If you are one of the many readers challenging themselves to read more #OwnVoices novels, a fan of the Magical Realism genre, or just a lover of well-told stories, you absolutely must get your hands on a copy of When the Moon Was Ours. It is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable tale of magic and romance.

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