Gouda Friends: A Ponto Beach Book

Gouda Friends by Cathy Yardley

A Five-Star Book

Do you have favorite fictional couples, whether from books, TV, or movies? For me, Jim and Pam from The Office (U.S.) are so sweet because they started as friends and complement each other so well.

Liking that friends-to-lovers trope from The Office was probably one of the reasons why I loved Gouda Friends by Cathy Yardley so much.

Now that they’re in their late twenties, Tam has distanced herself from bestie Josh and her other SoCal friends (the Ponto Beach Nerd Herd) as she’s across the country in New York City dealing with a critical boyfriend, a demanding (and unfulfilling) job, and a general feeling of being lost. When things go further sideways, she reaches out to Josh, using code word “goldfish” to let her bestie know she needs help. Josh will walk through fire and glass to get Tam a sandwich, especially one filled with her favorite cheese, so he steps up to help her design her life. But what happens when these two friends start to feel the pull of a romantic relationship?

What I loved as much as I love cheese:

  • The relationship. I was rooting for Josh and Tam from the start, and I liked that Yardley kept their relationship arc realistic, keeping them out of contrived situations.
  • Josh. He’s sweet and almost too good, but he’s determined to ensure that Tam designs a life that makes her happy.
  • The Nerd Herd. This is the second book in Yardley’s Ponto Beach series, so we get to revisit and learn more about the crew. They’re fierce, successful, and funny.

This was a 5-star read for me, and I can’t wait for the next Ponto Beach book. I can see this series going so far with all the different storylines!

A Special Place for Women

A Special Place for Women

By Laura Hankin

Jillian is lost. Her mother recently died, her writing job is over, and her crush (and former boss) is married. She’s searching for answers while dealing with her grief, and she’s coming up empty.

Enter the women of Nevertheless. They’re shiny and mysterious, rich and accomplished, and Jillian sees a story, a chance to reboot her career and fulfill her promise to her mother that she’ll use her journalism skills to do good. Little does Jillian know that joining this illusive club of well-to-do women who cloak themselves as do-gooders but have their own motives.

I enjoyed A Special Place for Women by Laura Hankin. This is a fast-paced read with well-developed characters and a plot that surprised me. With a satisfying ending, this was definitely a good read for me.

The Woman with the Blue Star

Book Review

The Woman with the Blue Star

By Pam Jenoff

Historical fiction about World War 2, strong female characters, and tragic circumstances were all indicators that I should have loved this book, but The Woman with the Blue Star just didn’t meet the “love” mark for me. I am happy to have read it, yet something just didn’t connect for me.

Sadie and her parents have been interned at a Jewish ghetto in Poland. Their lives are fraught with daily fears of being taken by the Nazis to another most unimaginably horrific location: Auschwitz. When that night comes, they escape into the sewers of Krakow and begin a fight to survive in their new underground hiding spot.

Ella is lives a bland existence with her stepmother in Krakow. She mourns the absences of her missing father, her brother who has escaped to Paris, and her boyfriend, Krys, who broke off their relationship before he went to fight for the Polish army. Her stepmother has started entertaining German SS officers, and Ella’s world is getting even smaller.

One day, Ella sees Sadie looking through the sewer gate, and both young women form a careful friendship that pushes them to face the boundaries of war-torn Poland and their own fears of how tenuous life has become.

I liked the plot of this book and the friendship between Sadie and Ella. But something about the writing didn’t make me love it. It’s solidly written, but with a lot of “telling” more than “showing” and a bit removed for my tastes.

What is most important to you when reading a book? Plot development, character development, or writing style?

The Fastest Way to Fall

A Five-Star Book Review

The Fastest Way to Fall

by Denise Williams

Do you have a positive relationship with your body? I’ll admit that I don’t. I’ve always felt like I take up too much space and have battled cycles disordered eating and low self esteem for decades. Right now I’m at a low point in that cycle, TBH.

I think that’s why The Fastest Way to Fall resonated with me so deeply. Britta dreams of being a writer at BestLife, and when she gets the opportunity to compete in a column challenge in the hopes of being promoted. Tasked with reviewing the FitMi app and sharing her journey to reach her goals: “to look and feel good naked” and “to meet the weight limit to jump out of a plane,” she signs up with the app, gets a trainer, and starts on a course that she didn’t know she needed.

Wes, her trainer, has his own hills to climb. He’s the restless CEO at FitMi, worries constantly about his addict mom and absent sister, and feels like something is missing.

What happens when the two pair up? This is a romance, so you can guess! But what I loved even more about the book:

  • Britta is confident about herself before her health competition. She doesn’t know her full worth at the beginning of the book, but she knows who she is and embraces her life.
  • I feel most romances I read ignore a lot of male characters’ backstories. This book didn’t! We is a flawed but human character with a huge heart and sense of responsibility.
  • The workout scenes were precious and realistic. FitMi is a fictional brand that focuses on non-scale victories, and we need more of that in real-life. Britta’s claims of “I hate you” when Wes pushes her to try just a bit harder felt real, just like I would want in a personal trainer. (I’m married, so none of that romance spark, of course.)

In short, I loved this book and it as what I needed to read right now. Will I start a 5K training program tomorrow because of it? Who knows. But if a fictional story can make me think about personal changes, then it’s a great read.

Bookish Goals for 2022

It’s that time of year when everything is fresh and new (and cold here in Indiana!), the beginning of a *hopefully* better year than what we’ve all experienced in the past.

So what’s a reader to do at the beginning of January? Why, set her bookish goals for 2022, of course!

  1. Read 100 books
  2. Clear my Book of the Month backlist
  3. Listen to all Three Pines books
  4. Finish the 2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
  5. Write more book reviews

1. Read 100 Books

I read 160 books in 2021, surpassing my goal of 100 by 60%. But, I like to be rational about my book goal at the start of a new year, and 100 books feels like a good number.

2. Clear My Book of the Month Backlist

I have a problem. It’s called Book of the Month, and I don’t limit myself to just one book every month. As of January 2, I have 11 books on my backlist for this awesome subscription service, and I need to finish them! Because I’m a realist (most of the time), I know I’ll get more BOTM books this year, but I want to clear this current backlist by the end of March 2022:

  1. A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
  2. Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian
  3. Happy and You Know It by Laura Hankin
  4. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
  5. Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena
  6. Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
  7. The Family by Naomi Krupitsky
  8. The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
  9. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
  10. The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
  11. We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz

3. Listen to All Three Pines Books

It’s no secret that I love Louise Penny’s Three Pines series. I’ve read all 17 of the full-length books and have The Hangman, a novella, to read as well. I have heard rave reviews of the audiobooks, and I feel like it’s time to revisit my beloved Three Pines, the genius Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, and all of my favorite characters. These are long books and I can never remember the order of those in the middle, so I made a graphic to keep me on track!

4. Finish the 2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

2021 was my first year for a reading endeavor like the POPSUGAR challenge. I completed the “regular” version last year, and I loved it because I went out of my comfort zone to finish some of the prompts, reading books that I most likely wouldn’t have chosen on my own. This year’s plan is a tough one, but I’m committed to making it through the regular 2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge. Some of my favorite prompts for this year include

  • A book about or set in a nonpatriarchal society
  • A book by a Latinx author
  • A book with a protagonist who uses a mobility aid
  • A book set in the 1980s
  • A book by a Pacific Islander author
  • A book set in Victorian times
  • An “Own Voices” SFF (science fiction and fantasy) book

5. Write More Book Reviews

I will admit that I am not the most consistent in writing reviews for the books I have read. It’s easy to write a review about a book I love, but I struggle if the book wasn’t a 5-star win for me. So, I’ve set the goal of being consistent about reviewing books and practicing my *tactful* writing skills when I don’t love a book. I know two ways to help me with this is to keep better notes while reading and then write a book review immediately after finishing the book.

Have you set bookish goals for 2022? If so, what are they?

A Dark and Twisty Turnout

The Turnout by Megan Abbott

A 4⭐️ Book Review

The Turnout by Megan Abbott s a dark, twisted look at two sisters, Dara and Marie, who run their mother’s ballet studio, the Durant School of Dance, with Dara’s husband, Charlie, who was once the star pupil at the school.

The three live in a very insular, rigid world of dance and family, and just as they are prepping for the start of Nutcracker season, an accident occurs. Then a stranger arrives at the studio claiming that he will fix their studio and their lives. But like a fatal misstep on the dance floor, the Durant family starts to spin out of control.

I love dark books like this one, and I love ballet, though I’m definitely not a dancer. Black Swan is one of my favorite movies, and The Nutcracker is a classic. I enjoy reading this one because of the dark, fantastical world of ballet and the twists between the characters.

This was a good, solid read to add to my December 2021 list!

A Year in Books, Part 2

As 2022 is close upon us, here is my final wrap-up of the best books I read this year. To be honest, I could have featured so many more tomes that impacted me on some level, but I tried to be a bit ruthless in my list.

July: The Guncle

The Guncle by Steven Rowley is a delightful, true 5-star read. When Patrick O’Hara’s best friend and sister-in-law dies, he must care for his niece and nephew while his brother Greg deals with his own health issues. What is a Golden Globe-winning actor supposed to do with two kids under 10 who are grieving for their mother?

The answer comes in the form of funny shenanigans, pool floats, and a grumpy Aunt Clara, along with a new dog Marlene and a pink Christmas tree in July. Maisie and Grant help GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick) heal his own losses as much as he does theirs. One of my absolute favorite reads of 2021!

Read The Guncle if you love exceptional protagonists who pepper the pages with wit and spot-on voices.

August: The House in the Cerulean Sea

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is a gift of love and color and adventure and magic. It is a book about being comfortable in your own skin, questioning your preconceived notions, and finding where you belong.

Linus Baker is a caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He lives a grey existence and follows the RULES AND REGULATIONS to the letter as he investigates orphanages housing magical children. He does not sway from his life as an observer. Until Extremely Upper Management sends him on a month-long Classified Level Four assignment on Marsyas Island. As Linus gets to know – and love – the brood of characters on the island, he shifts from being an observer to an active participant in life.

Read The House in the Cerulean Sea if you love found families, magic, and endearing child-like characters.

September: The Madness of Crowds

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny was one of my most anticipated reads for 2021, and it did not disappoint!

This is the seventeenth installment of the much-loved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Penny. The beloved Three Pines characters, led by Gamache, are cautiously tiptoeing out into a post-COVID-19 world. There is fear and trepidation and a keen desire for a return to “normal,” despite a question of whether normal will ever exist again.

This book is gorgeous and haunting and a little too real. I savored every page but also rushed to read the ending. Reading a story about a post-pandemic reality was difficult for me as it felt too real at times, but Penny is a master storyteller who has created characters and settings that move me.

Read The Madness of Crowds if you love a mystery that ties together multiple voices and plotlines. But – if you haven’t read any of the series yet, start with Still Life and enjoy the ride!

October: A Torch Against the Night

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir continues the story of Laia and Elias, two strong-willed protagonists who are bound together by a sense of right and duty. This book is the second installment of one of my new favorite series, An Ember in the Ashes, a story of high-fantasy, Rome-like intrigue, and magical jinn while holding on to the power of family, honor, and love.

While Laia and Elias continue the search for her brother, Darin, we also get to better know Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike and Elias’s oldest friend. I liked reading Helene’s point of view as she battles two unbearable choices: to follow the Emperor’s orders and kill her best friend or to deny her role as Blood Shrike and see her family slaughtered. With magical secrets attached to each of these characters, this book is driven by their wants and needs, as well as an action-packed plot.

Read A Torch Against the Night if you like high fantasy, action, and magic – but of course, start with An Ember in the Ashes first. I think you’ll be hooked on the series within the first 100 pages!

November: Ace of Spades

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is amazing, and I was shocked to learn that this is the author’s debut novel. It’s smart, socially aware, and engaging. With race, sexuality, social status, and money factoring into all parts of this story, Àbíké-Íyímídé has created a world where you don’t know who to trust or what to believe, and then she brings it all home to an incredibly satisfying ending.

Devon and Chiamaka are seniors at Niveus Private Academy. They both have high hopes for their futures, but Aces wants to dash all those dreams to the side. This anonymous bully knows their secrets, and isn’t afraid to tell. Devon, a quiet musician who is determined to fulfill his mother’s wishes of going to college, and Chiamaka, an overachieving It Girl who considers popularity as important as her college applications, are desperate to confront Aces, so these polar opposites join together to bring the masked texter down.

Read Ace of Spades if you like YA fiction that addresses social justice issues and thrilling mind-twists.

December: State of Terror

State of Terror by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny sat on my to-be-read shelf for far too long. Although I’m not much of a political thriller girl, this book blew my mind. I loved the insights into politics, and this fast-paced book kept my mind turning. This book was full of tension and alluded to so many real events/potential events that it felt like I was reading nonfiction at times.

The relationships between the characters, especially Secretary of State Ellen Adams and her best friend and counselor Betsy Jameson, were so strong and well-designed. Also, there were a few treats along the way as Three Pines (Louise Penny’s masterpiece of a small village in Canada) and its characters made brief cameos. Finally, I love that this book was written by two intelligent, strong women!

Read State of Terror if you like political thrillers, smart female protagonists, and a fast-paced novel.

December: The Love Hypothesis

I couldn’t keep myself from highlighting more than one book for December. The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood has been getting rave reviews across Bookstagram, and there’s good reason for that! I’m not a die-hard romcom fan, but this one was a definite hit.

The Love Hypothesis utilizes the classic fake dating trope to bring its love interests, Olive and Adam, together, but it works on so many more levels. While I wasn’t a STEM student in grad school, I could completely relate to the pressures of graduate research and finally getting my doctorate. That stress is real, folks! Olive and Adam are a great pair, and I’ve already pre-ordered Ms. Hazelwood’s three novellas that are due out in 2022.

Read The Love Hypothesis if you like a great romcom with excellent character development.

And that’s a wrap on my 2021 favorite books! I can’t wait to see what 2022 brings for my love of reading.

A Year in Books – Part 1

As 2021 comes to a close, I’ve been taking a look back at my favorite reads for the year. This was a fun exercise to reflect on what I consider to be the best of the best for my year of reading.

January: A Woman is No Man

There are some books that manage to rip your heart out, filling you with grief for the characters, and then they give you hope for the future at their conclusion. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum is a story of three generations of Palestinian-American woman, and it explores fate, choices, culture, and traditions. It is a book about suppression and violence, but also about faith and personal strength. I loved it so much!

Read A Woman is No Man if you want to explore the depths of female relationships and cultural expectations.

February: A Court of Silver Flames

Sarah J. Maas took the Prythian world to the next level with her much-anticipated novel of Nesta and Cassian. With new mythology, new creatures, and new steam, A Court of Silver Flames is a great story of fierce action, heat, and love, all the things the Maasdom has come to expect.

What I loved most is that Ms. Maas went even further with this book. In taking us back to the Night Court and sharing Nesta and Cassian with us, Ms. Maas managed to build a fantasy that also addresses mental health, self worth, and the Me Too movement. The struggles and desire for empowerment may be cloaked in Fae magic here, but they’re relatable to us humans as well.

Read A Court of Silver Flames if you want a steamy book that makes your heart ache for an unlikeable protagonist (Nesta) while diving deep into a fantasy world that is well-designed and intricate.

February: The Four Winds

I couldn’t pick just one book for February, so here is my second favorite book from the shortest month of the year: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. Ms. Hannah is an author whose books I pick up knowing that my heart is going to be ripped out, and her newest novel did not disappoint!

I could feel the despair and heartache that these characters experienced in the Dust Bowl of 1930s Texas and in the neverending circle of poverty when Elsa, our heroine, moves her children to California in search of a better life. From the touching relationships between Elsa, her in-laws, her children, and her friends, and the emotive descriptions of the landscape during the Great Depression, Ms. Hannah has created a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Read The Four Winds if you love historical fiction and deep-rooted familial love alongside a lot of conflict.

February: Concrete Rose

And another favorite from February is Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, a book full of Ms. Thomas’s beautiful prose, vivid imagery, and glorious characters. I truly hope she continues to tell stories about Garden Heights because each novel gets better and better.

Maverick Carter is 17 and dealing with a lot: his dad is in prison, he’s dealing drugs outside of his gang’s operation, and he just found out he’s a father. That’s just the start of the challenges that Maverick faces in Concrete Rose, and every bit of his journey brings all the emotions. With plenty of Easter eggs from The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, this book takes us back to the Garden Heights in the 1990s. It’s a powerful, emotional book that deserves all the Sevens, all the roses, and all the stars.

Read Concrete Rose if you want a brutal, beautiful story of a young man who has to grow up suddenly and to see how his choices make an impact on everyone’s future.

March: People Like Her

People Like Her by husband-wife writing team Ellery Lloyd is a cautionary tale about social media, motherhood, and appearances not being what they seem. Told from three points of view, the story is fast-paced and nuanced. We get an inside look at the world of Instamums, their hangers-on, and what happens behind the little squares of our favorite social platform.

I loved the relationship between Emmy and Dan, the power couple of the story. They love each other, but also they want to pay their bills and achieve greatness. As their priorities conflict, their husband-and-wife relationship becomes more convoluted, ending in a climax that shocks you.

Read People Like Her if you like fast-paced novels that make you question all your expectations of the characters and if you want to see a behind-the-curtain view of social media influencers.

April: The Last Story of Mina Lee

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a beautiful read! Ms. Kim crafted a gorgeous story about family, loss, language, and tragedy. I loved the dual timelines that told the story of Mina Lee and her daughter, Margot. With differences in culture, understanding, and desires, this mother-daughter relationship is complex but realistic, and I felt empathy for both characters.

The book shares the immigrant experience in a vulnerable, often brutal way, while honoring the stories of each character. As her debut novel, Ms. Kim has set the bar high and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Read The Last Story of Mina Lee if you like books about mother-daughter relationships and the complexities of the immigrant experience.

May: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

I know there have been comparisons to Daisy Jones & the Six, but The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton goes so far beyond a journalism-style review of a 1970s rock group. Ms. Walton addresses racism and bigotry in the U.S., weaving a story that shows that we really haven’t done that far since the 1970s. She illustrates how women’s voices – especially those voices of BIPOC women – were silenced then and now. She brings together music and fashion to demonstrate how art can take so many forms for so many people.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev that spans 40 years but is timely for today. It is a book that is about much more than music and a failed rock band. It’s about the choices each character has made themselves and the demands that society places on them because of their appearances and their backgrounds.

Read The Final Revival of Opal & Nev if you love it when an author combines historical fiction, music, and social justice to craft a great story that sticks with you.

June: Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Different than most of my heavy picks for the first half of 2021, Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano is a wild romp of a novel that pits a woman who’s life is falling apart against her ex-husband’s fiancé.

This book was funny and fresh with a touch of murder-for-hire thrown in. Finlay is a nuanced protagonist who makes a lot of bad decisions but remains plucky and endearing at the same time. I enjoyed this one at lot more than anticipated, so it was a pleasantly surprising read. My only complaint was I wanted more backstory for Vero, Finlay’s nanny-accountant-accomplice.

Read Finlay Donovan is Killing It if you like protagonists who make bad decisions but keep a deadpan sense of humor about them. Pick it up before the sequel, Finlay Donovan Knocks Em Dead, drops in February 2022!

What’s Next?

I’m wrapping up the last half of 2021 this week and still haven’t found my favorite book for December! Stay tuned for what I choose! Happy reading, friends!

Fairy Tales for the Modern Reader

A Recap of the Amazon Faraway Collection

Did you like fairy tales as a child? I loved them! I fully bought into the Disney universe of princesses and their knights in shining armor when I was a kid. I remember my parents taking me to see Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, and I loved every minute. I think I loved these movies so much because I was fascinated with the perfect endings – when everything comes together, the prince kisses the girl, and all is well beyond those final credits.

My love for fairy tales isn’t dead, even though I know that a fairy-tale ending is never going to happen. But, I get a lot of enjoyment from reading retellings so I can relive that euphoric feeling and also discover the twists that a new author will add to a story. My favorite of all, A Court of Thorns and Roses, is a series that starts out as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast but morphs into so much more than that. The series is a gorgeous tribute to love and magic and finding yourself. If you haven’t read it yet, please check it out soon!

But ACOTAR isn’t the series I need to talk about today. I added Amazon’s Faraway Collection to my e-reader on a whim, thinking that the short stories would be quick palate cleansers as I plod my way through my backlist of to-be-read books. But, each of these stories caught me off guard for a variety of reasons and they’re lingering in my mind.

The Cleaners by Ken Liu

The Cleaners is a haunting retelling of The Princess and the Pea, a lesser known fairy tale of a very finnicky princess. In Ken Liu’s story, Gui is a professional cleaner who erases memories from objects. Clara seeks out his services while her sister Beatrice wants to remember. This story was unique and interesting.

The Prince and the Troll by Rainbow Rowell

The Prince meets a female troll under a bridge. He brings her Starbucks and falls in love. That’s the gist of Rainbow Rowell’s short story, and while I didn’t love it, I applaud the creativity.

Hazel and Gray by Nic Stone

Hazel and Gray was my favorite story in the Faraway Collection. Nic Stone has crafted a story that stands on its own, full of magic and mystery, while blending in the integral components from the beloved fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. It is a great, quick read that has stuck with me.

The Princess Game by Soman Chainani

What happens when someone starts killing all the It Girls at a prestigious high school and cloaks each murder scene with fairy tale memorabilia? Two cops – one a desk jockey and one a young recruit undercover – must find out in The Princess Game. This was a fun story because of the many fairy tale Easter eggs throughout. With so much murder, it’s not an easy read, but it’s still worth your time.

The Wickeds by Gayle Forman

When three wicked stepmothers make a connection during a spa visit, they decide to take back their power and rebuild their reputations. After all, their stepdaughters – Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel – are really to blame for these mothers’ pain, right? Again, so many Easter eggs in Forman’s story! I loved imagining the other side of the story with this one.

Do you like retellings? The five short stories were each unique and fun to read and good to break up my long reads for the winter.

A Beautiful Reaper at the Gates

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
A 5-Star Book Review

Warning: Spoilers for those who haven’t read the series!

Reading the third installment of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series was like coming home to a very complicated family situation. A Reaper at the Gates is a fantastic read full of fantasy, love, and jinn.

Laia of Serra continues to lead the story as she fights to save her people – the Scholars – and the world. Betrayed by the Nightbringer in Keenan’s form, she must rebuild her trust in others. Being reunited with her brother, Darin, helps give Laia strength, but she feels an urgency in everything and being torn from her true love: Elias doesn’t help our young protagonist. As Tahir continues Laia’s journey, we meet the somewhat-trustworthy magical character Musa, and we know that much more will happen to Laia before the end of this third book.

As Laia continues her fight, Elias is still amongst the ghosts and jinn in the Waiting Place. He has his own battles as he negotiates his role as the Soul Catcher; he questions his decision to barter with Shaeva and doubts his ability to give everything to Mauth, the source of all fey powers. Elias continues to show his strength as a Mask, despite his internal pain and his deep love for Laia.

And then there is the Blood Shrike. She has suffered unimaginable loss, having been witness to the execution of her father, mother, and sister. Now her only goal is to protect her other sister, Livia, who the Emperor Marcus has claimed as his wife. The Blood Shrike is no longer Helene of Aquilla in any way. She is a murderer, a commander, and a sister whose mission is to rid the world of Commandant Keris Veturia, the Blood Shrike’s former teacher and the mother of her now-banished best friend Elias.

Sound complex? Yes, A Reaper at the Gates is a complicated world full of betrayals and questioned loyalties elevated by ancient magic and the jinn who are determined to break free from their captivity in the Waiting Place. The Nightbringer, their leader, is bent on retribution against the Scholars and as he seeks their freedom, he is willing to destroy everything that Laia, Elias, and the Blood Shrike have known and loved.

This is a five-star book for me because of the world-building and deep connections that the characters feel. While the complicate plot and twists take some time to get used to, the book is magical, and I found myself rooting for all three of the main characters. I can’t wait to read the final installment, A Sky Beyond the Storm, in January!