Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian (Spoiler Free)

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

Laura Sebastian, Penguin Random House

My Review

I will pick up anything to do with Arthurian legend, but I really enjoyed this take on our Once and Future King. This story plays out in three times, the past when they (Arthur, Guinevere, Morgana, Lancelot, and Elaine) come together on on Avalon, the present when they reach Albion and step into their respective roles, and the future when the tale and tragedy of King Arthur plays out. I really liked this as it turned the conflict into characters versus plot , as Elaine tries to circumvent the tragedy we have come to know so well in Western cannon.

As a retelling, I thought it was particularly strong. There was the thread of the Arthurian legend, especially in the future line from the novel. However, bolstered some of the same stories in new ways like the twists in the intention, word play, and expanding context. Some examples are Arthur and Lancelot’s respective tourneys, Merlin and Nimue’s conflict, and combining some of the Elaine’s (in my opinion: Shalott, Corbenic, and Garlot). You can tell there is a deep familiarity with the story and love for these characters. I did wish that there was a clearer or longer ending and that the past timelines were brought into the story a little more. I do wonder if this was avoided because it was the part that deviated most from accepted cannon.

4.75 Stars

Publication Date: July 2021

Read other reviews and potential content warnings here.

Learn more about the Author here.

Definitive Bridgerton Ranking

I recently completed the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn after fully boarding the Bridgeton train after watching Season one of the adaptation on Netflix. The Bridgeton series is a historical romance series where each book functions independent. They are connected as each protagonist is the member of the same family, it follows 8 siblings and their respective relationships.

I thought that this was a generally good romance series. I thought there was a good variety in the couples and each relationship was unique. In general I enjoyed this series but most of the books averaged out to about 3.75 stars. Of course, I am not including the main outlier in that of The Duke and I, which in general I didn’t enjoy due to the relative blandness but the blatant rape that occurs put me over the end. I do not recommend reading that installment, but I would recommend the rest of the series. For any additional content warnings I recommend checking out the series on Storygraph starting with the Duke and I here,

My favorite of the series was The Viscount Who Loved Me, but when talking about the series I found I had to make distinctions between the relationships I liked and the stories I like. If you have read the Bridgerton books, which one did you enjoy best?

By Plot

The books were ranked on the following criteria was the book well-paced, was it engaging, and did things happen.

  1. The Duke and I
  2. Romancing Mister Bridgerton
  3. An Offer From a Gentleman
  4. On the Way to the Wedding
  5. It’s In His Kiss
  6. The Viscount Who Love Me
  7. When He was Wicked
  8. To Sir Phillip with Love

By Relationship

The books were ranked on the based on the main relationship in terms of: chemistry, spice, and healthiness.

  1. Daphne and Simon (The Duke and I)
  2. Benedict and Sophie (An Offer From a Gentleman)
  3. Eloise and Phillip (To Sir Phillip, with Love)
  4. Gregory and Lucy (On the Way to the Wedding)
  5. Hyacinth and Gareth (It’s In His Kiss)
  6. Colin and Penelope (Romancing Mister Bridgerton)
  7. Francesca and Michael (When He was Wicked)
  8. Anthony and Kate (The Viscount Who Loved Me)

Overall Ranking

  1. The Duke and I
  2. An Offer From a Gentleman
  3. On the Way to the Wedding
  4. It’s In His Kiss
  5. Romancing Mister Bridgerton
  6. To Sir Phillip, With Love
  7. When He was Wicked
  8. The Viscount Who Love Me

Series Review: Beyond the Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

Can you tell I have been hyper fixating on this author? This is the sequel series to The Four Kingdoms that following some of our familiar characters to explore new lands and expand relationships beyond the Four Kingdoms after a storm clears to reveal a pass into a heavily populated continent. The books are a companion series of fantasy retellings. Similar to the prequel series, we rotate through the kingdoms and young royalty as they go through their individual tale.

My Review: This series is highly magical and the fairy tales are much more quest based with romance thrown in to the stories. Still enjoyable, but a very different reading experience, especially by book 2. I think that the retellings were more inventive but I really missed how much relationship building and politics were present in the first series. This series was very romantic with high stakes. Personally, this was less my taste than the original series. On average this series was about 3.8 stars! If you have read this series, let me know what you thought!

Genre: Fantasy Romance that all focus on a general quest or curse.

The Books:

A Dance of Silver and Shadow (Twelve Dancing Princess)

A Tale of Beast and Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

A Crown of Snow and Ice (Ice Queen)

A Dream of Ebony and White (Snow White)

A Captive of Wing and Feather (Swan Lake)

A Princess of Wind and Wave (Little Mermaid)

Favorite Retelling: One thing that I think was a bonus about this series was how inventive the retellings got. My personal favorite was Snow White or a Dream of Ebony and White. I don’t think I had ever experience a Snow White tale get this deep or political before. I liked how Snow White had to become a real political threat to the throne and a ruler in her own right. This was also the only retelling I have ever read that held the King accountable for some of the catastrophe that comes to kingdom and it was weirdly satisfying. The found family was a happy bonus.

Favorite Couple: Teddy and Isla (A Princess of Wind and Wave). This is my favorite version of a Little Mermaid couple I have experience so far. I like that they actively had to fall out of love with idea of each other and in love with the person they got to know. This was the couple that grew the most together throughout their story. Close second is Lily and Jonathan (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). They are so similar and dutiful. It lead to a fun back and forth of admiration and angst.

Favorite Kingdom: Eldon. I liked the more rigid and traditional kingdom more than I expected. Even though it ended up getting them more trapped in their curse than anything else I found the shift to be a nice change of pace.

Favorite Family: The Duchy of Marin (A Dance of Silver and Shadow). We didn’t spend as much time with them but the three sisters competed (and deserve a short story of their own) and the brother, Jonathan, is the featured love interest. The family is heavily featured as they are the ones who invited the Princesses from the Four Kingdoms to the new land. They are so sweet together and genuinely try to levy their roles as diplomat in every scene they are in.

Favorite Book: A Tale of Beast and Beauty. I think there was a great balance of the relationship and understanding the curse that was on the Kingdom of Palinar. There was a lot of misunderstanding when it came to the Beast (Dominic) and Sophie, but I loved how the relationship developed and that you got to see the type of rulers they would both be. Second place, A Dance of Silver and Shadow. I have loved Twelve Dancing Princess retellings since the Barbie Movie, but I thought the competition was a great introduction. I loved the balance between competition, getting to know a new land and new characters, and an incredibly tense romance.

Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro (Review)

Summary:

Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

Tor Teen, Mark Oshiro

Review:

This was a really ethereal and weird read about connection, religion, and freedom. I have always found Oshiro’s writing to be very visual and visceral. The characters were flawed, confused, and doing the best they could even when it wasn’t best for everyone. It was really easy to get attached and want the best for everyone , including the characters that only briefly share their stories.

Now, I loved the back stories they made the world feel full and the culture complete. However, they were all previous stories that were just for the world and not for the current plot as outside observers (ala The Sun is Also a Star and Lalani of the Distant Sea). This sometimes lead it feeling hard to back into the plot and readjusting to the different moods back and forth.

On a personal note, as a monoglot (I only speak English) I was really intimidated by the amount of Spanish in the book when I started. I was put at ease about 20% through when I realized that everything was either common words (hola, etc.) or were translated either directly or indirectly.

I gave this book a 4/4.25 stars. If you have read it let me know what you thought or if you are thinking about picking it up.

Publication Date: September 2020

Publisher: Tor Teen

Read more reviews and content warnings here.

Read more about the author here.

Spring Wrap Up

I didn’t make it to everything from my Spring TBR (approx. 40%). My workload drastically changes plus I got COVID which sucked, and lead me down a few different roads reading wise. Specifically, I read a lot more middle grade and significantly shorter novels than I have previously leaned towards. I read 54 books this spring and enjoyed most of them! Definitely diversified my reading more than normal into different genres and was pleasantly surprised. The average rating of the season was 3.89 stars. What was your favorite book you read this spring?

Genre Breakdown:

Age Breakdown:

Age Range# of Books
Children4
Middle Grade15
Young Adult17
Adult18

Most Read Author: Mellanie Cellier (7 books across the Beyond the 4 Kingdoms series and the Return to the 4 Kingdoms series)

Standouts:

Anna K by Jenny Lee

Eva Evagreen: Semi-Magical List by Julie Abe

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Beartown by Fredrik Bachman

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Pride Reads – Recommendations

Happy pride month! For this month I wanted to highlight some of my favorite books and series that feature LGBTQIA+ characters and stories. Let me know what you are reading to celebrate Pride!

Fantasy

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. Lukens

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Science Fiction

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Pet by Awaeke Emezi

This Is How You Lose a Time War by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Contemporary

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

George by Alex Gino

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Graphic Novel

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Middle Grade Recommendations 2.0

If you are still looking for something to read for Middle Grade May, I just want to throw some of my favorite suggestions in the ring. I really enjoy reading middle grade because it tends to be very thematic, whimsical, and makes me feel better about humanity. If none of the following suggestions strike your fancy, you can check out my recommendation list from last year here.

If you like cults, found family, and DRAGONS, you may like…

Wings of Fire

If you like fairy tales, independence, and making the wrong choices, you may like…

Furthermore/Whichwood

If you like tea, kindness, and graphic novels, you make like

The Tea Dragons

If you like misconceptions, dismantling systems, and monsters, you may like…

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

If you like fairy tales, self-discovery, and a good quest, you may like…

Lalani of the Distant Sea

Series Review: The Twelve by Cindy Lin

The Twelve duology is an own-voices middle-grade fantasy series by Cindy Lin. In this world those born with Zodiac powers need to stay hidden in fear of death or being taken by the Dragonlord, a dictator that has torn apart the land. Personally, I think this is an older middle grade as there is significant brutality mentioned as well as both books are around 400 pages. We follow Usagi, born a wood rabbit, who after losing those closest to her must recognize her own power and realities of the her world. It is an adventurous story of community and rebellion.

The World: The magic that one is born with depends on the coinciding for the timing of ones birth in an element or a sign of the zodiac. We did get significantly more world building in terms of geography, species, and variation of powers in book two which I wish we could have seen more of in book one. Overall there was a lot of variety and it felt like a real country with history, economy, and culture. There are a magic bullet catch-alls called the “Treasures of the Twelve”; while these can magically save the day most are missing and our heroes don’t have access to them.

The Characters: There was a pretty large cast of characters, but we only followed one point of view, Usagi’s. Each character is traumatized from their world and still growing up. Our heroes all have reasonable character flaws and conflicts. While redemption arcs do happen they are not offered to every character that was ever liked during any point during the series. I found that nice to see especially in a middle grade series.

The Verdict: This is a darker middle-grade (TW: mass death, betrayal, neglect, indoctrination). I do think that it is worth it to read. The culture and characters are well developed and unique to a lot of other middle grade fantasies. In my opinion, there is a good split between nuance and good versus evil. It was a solid 4 star series and if there are ever any spin-offs in the world I will be first in line to read them.

My Spring TBR

Happy Spring! I hope you are all enjoying warmer weather and will have access to vaccines soon! I wanted to have a more targeted TBR for the season and make some progress in the books I own. These are all books I own that I just haven’t been making time for and want to get around to reading this spring. If you have read any, which should I get to first?

Fantasy

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger

Each of Us a Dessert by Mark Oshiro

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

Literary Fiction

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Punching the Air by by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Possessing of a Secret Joy by Alice Walker

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Mystery/Romance

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

Non-Fiction

Pooh and the Philosophers by John Tyerman Williams

Series Review: The Four Kingdoms by Melanie Cellier

This is a Young Adult (kinda) series that is centered around fairytale retellings. Each story is a different relationship and a new fairytale. The realm has four countries and we rotate through with each kingdom’s royal family and unique political problems. The stories focus around mystery and adventure with a touch of political intrigue. While they can be predictable, the stories were really fun and the romances were genuinely very sweet.

Genre: Light fantasy – There are a lot of magical references but none of our characters use magic. Young Adult – The romances are all fluff. The main characters tend to be late teens (at youngest 16) to early twenties, so it’s your call.

My review: The retelling elements are really clever and the references make me smile. The romances are based in trust and love. They also always involve members of the other’s family or their friends. Well the relationships tend to cross classes, there is consideration for class politics and identities before and during the romance. Because it is a series you can the political ramifications as well.

The Books

  1. The Princess Companion (Princess and the Pea)
  2. The Princess Fugitive (Red Riding Hood)
  3. Happily Ever Afters (Snow White and Rose Red – Novella)
  4. The Princess Pact (Rumpelstiltskin)
  5. A Midwinter’s Wedding (Princess and the Frog – Novella)
  6. he Princess Game (Sleeping Beauty)
  7. The Princess Search (The Ugly Duckling)

Favorite Retelling:

I thought The Princess Pact which was a Rumpelstiltskin retelling that actually made sense! Melanie Cellier flipped the deal Rumpelstiltskin made and it was so smart and made me really care about the families created.

Favorite Couple:

Ava and Hans from The Princess Fugitive. Honestly, princess and the guard is one of my favorite tropes, but I also love couples that make each other better.

Favorite Kingdom:

Lanover. This is a kingdom that the Princess Game and the Princess Search take place in. There is a huge variety of geographic location and culture that actually gets explored.

Favorite Family:

Arcadia (from The Princess Companion). I think we do spend the most time with this family but they are so genuinely welcoming and love spending time together. Lily and Sophia, twin princesses, are hilarious. The parents genuinely just care about Prince Max’s happiness.

Favorite Book:

The Princess Search. One I never expected an Ugly Duckling retelling to work so well or hit so hard. It was a great travel and mystery story. There is a lot of unpacking of past trauma and focus on valuing relationships and oneself. The romance was beautiful and such a slow burn.