Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Lock Every Door

Lock Every Door Cover

Title: Lock Every Door
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: July 2, 2019
Publisher: Dutton


Synopsis

Jules Larson is broke. She found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her the same day she lost her job, and now she is also homeless. So, she seeks out a new job as an apartment sitter so she’ll have a place to live while she job hunts. Little does she know that the apartment is in the Bartholomew, one of New York City’s oldest and most historical buildings, and the setting of her favourite novel. When she accepts the job, the rules she is required to follow seem a little strange, but they’re paying her so much money that she doesn’t ask any questions. That is, until she starts to wonder what has happened to the other apartment sitters…

Plot 

This novel has an intriguing premise. The plot is steady throughout, and as is very common in psychological thrillers these days, we’re introduced to two timelines. The present day, where Jules has awoken after a car accident in which she got into after “escaping” the Bartholomew. And one to a week or two earlier, when she first accepts the job as an apartment sitter, all bright eyed and filled with hope. While I understand that this type of storytelling is necessary for the lazy reader these days–I guess we don’t like reading something unless there’s action right away–I rarely enjoy this in novels. For Lock Every Door, most of the story is written about the events leading up to whatever frightened her so much that she didn’t obey the cardinal rule of looking both ways before crossing the street. While Sager may have been forced into this dual narrative, he does a fabulous job of not revealing too much in the present day timeline. He does this by keeping these chapters short and punchy, and they actually left me wanting more. 

The twist at the end of the novel wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting. There’s a development previous to this twist, introduced as a red herring to distract from the truth, and to be honest, I would have preferred if that were the twist. However, the story is just so darn compelling, and the execution of this twist was quite well done, so I don’t mind that it’s a little far-fetched.

Characters 

While the characters are engaging in this novel, I did find that they were generally quite stereotypical, and we didn’t really get that exciting moment of finding out that there’s more to someone than meets the eye (aside from the twist at the ending – being vague so I won’t spoil it for anyone!). There’s the rich former film star, the handsome, charming doctor, and the manic pixie dreamgirl, who actually gets called such in the novel. However, despite the rather two-dimensional side characters, I found that I genuinely connected with the protagonist.  She was a compelling and relatable person who was just a normal woman trying to get by after losing her job, her boyfriend, and her home.  

Setting 

Like any good thriller set in a location of relevance to the plot, the setting is its own character. The Bartholomew has a sordid history that is gradually revealed.  

Language

The prose in Sager’s writing is often what makes the book such a fantastic read. While the plot in this story wasn’t as unique as The Last Time I Lied, the writing was so beautiful that I didn’t care. I can’t wait for Sager’s next book!

Lock Every Door

 

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to read a psychological thriller with a Gothic feel, a relatable protagonist, and isn’t afraid to suspend their disbelief.

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*Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for the e-copy for review*

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Book Review: The Whisper Man by Alex North

The Whisper Man

The Whisper Man Book cover

Title: The Whisper Man
Author: Alex North
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: August 20, 2019
Publisher: Celadon Books


Synopsis

After the sudden death of Tom’s wife, he moves himself and his son, Jake, to the dreamy town of Featherbank to start over. Little does he know that a little boy was recently kidnapped and killed, in a way that is oddly reminiscent of the Whisper Man, a serial killer that haunted Featherbank twenty years earlier. A serial killer that is supposedly behind bars. Tom’s fresh start might be over before it begins, as the Whisper Man puts Jake in his cross hairs.

Plot

“If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken”.

Chills!

The Whisper Man is one of the spookier thrillers I’ve read in a while. Fast-paced and atmospheric, I finished this book in just a couple of sleepless nights.

The book itself has a relatively common premise – a serial killer from years ago may have had a partner who has struck again. But this book introduces unique elements–The Whisper Man with his nursery rhyme, the multiple perspectives, including one of the father of a potential future victim. The story is gripping, and Alex North has a phenomenal way of taking this trope and running with it.

There are quite a few good twists in the book, and the first one actually had me reeling. I did not see it coming. I had to reread that page of that reveal a few times, because the knowledge would not stick!

Characters

One of the highlights of this book is the touching relationship between Tom and his son, Jake. Even though they haven’t had an easy time since Tom’s wife died, they love each other dearly, and it comes across in the writing. They fight, as many fathers and sons do, but everything is laced with the pain of losing someone so close to them.  There are fatherhood themes throughout the novel tie in together quite nicely to make this book more than just a thriller about a serial killer.

As mentioned earlier, the book is told in multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Tom, has chapters that are written in first person. We also get scenes from the points of view of Jake, as well as investigators Pete and Amanda, but these chapters are all in third person. Jake’s chapters were particularly engaging. They’re well-written, but you can easily tell they’re from the viewpoint of a child, with that wide-eyed innocence shining through in the author’s writing.

The Whisper Man

I recommend this book to those who want to read a serial killer thriller that is fast-paced, engaging, and not quite like the rest of them.

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*Thank you to Netgalley and Celadon Books for the arc to review*

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Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the dark

I'll be gone in the dark book cover

Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
Author: Michelle McNamara
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
Date of Publication: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Harper


~Synopsis~

Michelle McNamara was a true crime writer who coined the name “The Golden State Killer”.  She was instrumental in connecting his crimes across California.  This book, which is a perfect blend of true crime and memoir, was published posthumously.  The editors pieced together finished chapters with Michelle’s notes and articles about the Golden State Killer that she’d written over the years.

~My Thoughts~

This book isn’t about the Golden State Killer. Well, I suppose it is, but not directly. To me, this book is about the woman who was compelled to catch him.  I think this is important to distinguish, because many true crime books focus on the killers, on the horrible deeds they did, and barely touch the surface of the people who fought for justice.  I strongly believe that this shift in focus from the killer to the investigator is one of the reasons why this book became a bestseller.  Michelle McNamara was a truly special woman, and her ambition, drive, and hard work was instrumental in catching the Golden State Killer.

This important perspective is represented in the way that Michelle tells the story.  She talks about herself as well as others who investigated the crimes.  She talks about how her “obsession” (her word, not mine–it’s in the title!) affected her personal life. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, was a well-known actor, and she provided anecdotes, such as one where she was accompanying him to red carpet event, but all she could think about was the latest break she’d made in the case.

Continue reading “Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara”

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood

the hazel wood book cover

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books


Synopsis:

Alice has never met her grandmother, infamous fairy-tale writer Althea Prosperine.  Althea earned her fame decades ago by penning a single collection of fairy tales about a strange place called the Hinterland.  Afterwards, she isolated herself in her enormous estate, the Hazel Wood, cutting herself off from the rest of the world.  Alice has spent her seventeen years of life on the road; her mother moves them from place to place as mysterious bad luck seems to follow them wherever they go.  But when Althea dies, Alice’s mother is happy. Ecstatic, even. She says they can finally settle down and place roots in New York. But this decision might have been a tad too hasty.  Alice’s mother is kidnapped by someone who claims to be from the Hinterland.  Now Alice must team up with a fellow classmate–Ellery Finch–who just so happens to be an expert on the stories that her grandmother wrote. Together they will go to the Hazel Wood and uncover the truth about the Hinterland

Plot 

The Hazel Wood reads like a fairy tale, but set in a gritty, modern world with iPhones, baristas, and high school classes.  Melissa Albert writes with a beautiful, lyrical style that is quite unique. Because of this, I was able to get into the head of the protagonist, Alice, quite quickly. I found myself understanding her and her predicament almost immediately.   

The plot and pacing of this book is phenomenal.  Albert lays out clues like bread bread crumbs, but I still didn’t know where they were leading until the twist smacked me in the face. That twist. Omg. Now I know why people were raving about this book last year. I’m doubly embarrassed for not reading this sooner. But how are you supposed to know what books are ‘must-reads’ until after they’ve already been out for a bit? 

Continue reading “Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert”

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows Book Cover

Six of Crows Book Cover

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy 
Date of Publication: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company


Synopsis

Six teenage criminal outcasts in the bustling city of Ketterdam come together to pull off an impossible heist. The result could change the world they live in forever. But do they all want the same thing?

World-Building

I never read the Grisha series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this new book set in that same world. It was easy to jump into this elaborately created world.  Bardugo provides just enough information about the world for readers to understand how it works, but not so much that it feels like an info-dump. She interweaves this information into the plot, revealing what we need to know as we need to know it.  Perfectly done!

Plot and Characters

There are a lot of critical characters in this book, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. For any other book, this would bog down the pace, making the story unnecessarily complicated and hard to follow.  Yet somehow Bardugo manages to propel the plot line forward while delving deep into every single character. She even integrates flashbacks to provide such depth to these characters. There isn’t a single two-dimensional, uninteresting character in the bunch. Even Wylan, who, at the beginning, I thought might be the one dud, has an interesting character-development, and I absolutely loved his interactions with Jesper.  

Having this many three-dimensional characters should result in a less-interesting plot. That’s not the case. The heist they plan and pull off is intense and compelling at every corner.  

I did find that the characters weren’t quite like teenagers. This is one thing I enjoy about books like these. The characters are mature beyond their years because of the situations they’ve had to survive, yet they still have some small resemblances to the teenagers that they actually are. There might be a hint of naivety or a touch of teenage narcissism. But this gives each character some growing to do, even though it already seems like they’re grown up.

Language

This is touched on in the plot and characters section.  How can you develop such intriguing characters and a compelling plot without being an expert at the English language? Bardugo selects every word carefully. There’s no extraneous paragraphs that should have been cut at the chopping block. Everything she writes has its purpose and is elegantly written. I suspect this is another reason why this book is so dang popular.  

Six of Crows Book Cover

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good high fantasy novel, even if they’re not necessarily interested in young adult fiction.  This is a perfect gateway book into the young adult and fantasy genres, as it’s strong in all four major appeal elements of reading – setting, language, fictions, characters, and plot.  There are some surprisingly gory scenes, which is why I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers.

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Book Review: The Hiding Place by C. J. Tudor

The Hiding Place book photo

The Hiding Place book cover

Title: The Hiding Place
Author: C. J. Tudor
Genre: Non-fiction
Date of Publication: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Crown Publishing


Synopsis

Joe Thorne never thought he’d return to Arnhill, the little northern England town where he grew up, but he finds himself taking a job as a teacher at the local school.  But he doesn’t take the job because he’s desperate for an income, or even because he’s driven to help the students.  Something terrible happened in this town when he was a child, and he thinks that it might be happening again.

Plot

I was enthralled by The Hiding Place from cover to cover.  This is one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a while.  Giving it 5 stars was a no-brainer.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes that feel of Gothic horror without it being too terrifying to be able to sleep afterwards.

While insanely atmospheric, C. J. Tudor keeps the plot moving forward.  There are numerous extended flashbacks to Joe’s schoolboy days, slowly revealing what really happened twenty years ago.  The book is incredibly creepy, but I wouldn’t quite classify this book as a horror, although towards the end things definitely turn… horrific.

There are quite a few twists in this story. A few of them I saw coming a mile away, but I didn’t mind.  The tumultuous journey towards these twists was so damn appealing.  

Characters

While I’m beginning to tire of the trope of the main character being incredibly flawed and unlikeable, this book is an exception. Joe Thorne is a liar. He’s a coward.  He’s a tad narcissistic.  He even has a limp and a gambling addiction which contribute to the myriad of problems he faces in the book.  But he still has a spark of likeability, and I think it’s because of a combination of two things. He’s got a great sense of humour—that dry sarcasm that I greatly appreciate in a protagonist. He also feels terribly about how he handled things when he was child, and he’s hoping to make up for his mistakes.  All these characteristics make for a dynamic and fascinating main character.

Language

This book wouldn’t be so mind-blowing if it weren’t impeccably written.  C. J. Tudor has a gift for language, and she had more than a handful of lines that gave me chills. That said, occasionally the book bordered on pretentious.  Joe Thorne has a lot of observations about the world, and occasionally I would cringe at how ostentatious he was coming across.  That said, I really didn’t notice this too much until towards the end, and by then I was so invested that it would have taken a sledgehammer of prose to get me to quit reading.

The Hiding Place book photo

While this book has supernatural elements, it shares a lot in common with the typical psychological thriller that it would appeal to everyone, except for people who detest anything remotely fantastical with every ounce of their bones. I recommend this who wants to read a spooky story set in a small town that’s rife with a dark history, muddy present, and unclear future.

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*Thank you to Crown Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Wicked Saints book display

Wicked saints book cover

Title: Wicked Saints
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series:
Something Dark and Holy #1
Date of Publication: April 2, 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

The countries of Tranavia and Kalyazi have been at war for over a century.  Kalyazi is the land of the divine, and Tranavia is the land of heretics.  Nadya is a cleric, one who has been hidden away in a monastery for her entire life because of her ability to commune with and channel the power of the gods.  But when Tranavians invade the monastery, killing everyone with their heretical blood magic, Nadya learns that her safe haven is no more. She must run if she’s to survive.  But she encounters some strangers in her travels, and they show her that she can’t run forever. She will have to fight if she wants to end the war and save her land from ruin.

~My Thoughts~

Wicked Saints is a non-stop thrill ride right from the very first pages. We are barely introduced to the main character, Nadya, before a battle erupts at the monastery she’s called home for her entire life.  

The novel also follows Serefin, the High Prince of Tranavia, who is a blood mage and a warrior.  While Nadya believes him to be a ruthless killer, he is revealed to be much more complicated than that.  

This novel has incessant action, which makes the worldbuilding even more impressive. Duncan weaves the intricate details of how the different types of magic work into the story just as the reader needs to know it. It never feels like an information dump. The plot plunges onwards far too quickly for me to feel like I was being bombarded with too much information.

Both types of magic–the power of the gods and the blood mages–are unique and fascinatingly executed.  Blood mages carry a book of spells, ripping out pages and activating them with their own blood. As a cleric, Nadya calls upon the favour of the gods, hoping that they will assist her when she needs their help the most.  

There is a fascinating recurring theme of faith throughout the novel, as Nadya grapples with her beliefs and what she’s coming to learn of the world she lives in.  

Nadya is a relatable, loveable main character. She wants to help those she cares about, she wants to protect her country, and she wants revenge against the mad king of Tranavia for all that she has lost.  Upon escaping the monastery, she meets several strangers, including a Tranavian. She wants to hate him just for what he is, but there’s something undeniably alluring about him. I won’t reveal more in fear of spoiling any twists, but their burgeoning relationship is a highlight of this book.  It isn’t overdone, by far it isn’t the focus of the story, but it is a compelling romance that kept me turning the pages.

 

Wicked Saints book display

Just like the advertisements say: This book is recommended to anyone looking for a blood-drenched young adult, high fantasy fairy tale. It’s not for the faint of heart, or for those who think that they can just put this book down and pick it up again a few days later. Nope, this is a consume-in-one-bite type of novel.

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*Thank you to Wednesday Books and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Killing November by Adriana Mather

Killing November

Killing November book cover

Title: Killing November
Author: Adriana Mather
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Date of Publication: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers


~Synopsis~

When November Addley’s father sends her away to boarding school because it’s too dangerous back home, she doesn’t know what to expect. But she definitely doesn’t expect to be sent to a school that’s completely off the grid–with no access to the internet or even electricity. Classes range from poison to dagger-throwing, and November starts to question who her father really is. But she doesn’t have much time to worry about that.  Someone’s killing the students in the school, and November might be next…

~Plot~

This book is fast-paced and intriguing.  There’s a lot of mind-games being played by the teachers and the students, and it’s all explained in detail and incredibly interesting.  It’s definitely a major appeal that sets this book apart from the rest.  The book has quite a few twists along the road, and Mather effectively instills a sense of distrust in every one of the characters, despite the fact that the main character is an optimist.

There are a few tropes present in this story, none of which that I can go into depth over without spoiling major plot points.  However, despite these tropes, the plot is well executed (pun intended 😉 ) and not at all derivative of recurring themes you tend to see in young adult novels these days.  

Like any young adult book, this one has a little romance thrown into the mix, but it isn’t the main focus of the story (no the main focus is training in the art of deception and murder and whatnot).  The romance is cute and moves the story forward, rather than detracting from it.

~Characters~

It’s nice to read a young adult book where the main character is an extrovert. A lot of bookworms can relate to the introverted bookish protagonist, but it can get old pretty quickly.  Killing November is a refreshing take on the student-training-to-be-an-assassin trope. (She’s a friendly extrovert who loves people!? Not exactly what you’d expect from an expert knife thrower.)

Because November is at a school where everyone is hiding their true selves, Mather employs an interesting writing technique to help us get a better sense of who November is.  She frequently refers to her best friend Emily in her inner dialogue. The way that she talks about Emily and the things that Emily would say to her is very informative about November’s personality and past.
Killing November

I recommend this book to those looking for a quick read about people training in the arts of poison and deception. There’s a lot of politics and deceit, and it’s nothing like your typical high school drama.  I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment in this series!

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*Thank you to Knopf Books for Young Readers and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room

the escape room book cover

Title: The Escape Room 
Author: Megan Goldin
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: July 30, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Synopsis

Four Wall Street finance hot shots are invited by their company to an escape room.  How bad can it be? The rules are simple: Solve the puzzles to escape. They quickly discover that this escape room is unlike any other: it’s in a cramped elevator.  The puzzles are also different from typical escape rooms. The questions are personal… and the stakes are high. There’s also one puzzle that’s up for the reader to solve. Which one of them is a killer?

Plot

The Escape Room is gripping from its very first page.  The writing is fast-paced and engaging.  While characters are fleshed out quite nicely and there is a lot of description and introspection, the plot never lags. Every word serves a special purpose, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the pages.

There are two timelines in the novel. There’s the one with the escape room. Sylvie, Jules, Sam, and Vincent all work on the same team at Stanhope, a top-tier finance company.  The company has lost some big clients in the last quarter, and all four of them are worried about losing their jobs. And when they receive a strange invitation to an escape room, how can they to refuse?  

The second timeline follows Sara Hall as she gets her first job out of her MBA at Stanhope. She had wanted to become a doctor, but her parents are sick, and she needed a job that would pay right away so that she could cover their medical bills.  Once she arrives at Stanhope, she’s assigned to work closely with Sylvie, Jules, Sam, and Vincent…

Both timelines are engaging and fit seamlessly together. There are many little cliffhangers at the end of chapters that left me reading way past my bedtime.  The novel also has a lot of commentary on sexism in the workplace.  The world of finance is a particularly bad culprit for this.

My only complaint is that the escape room clues are a little on the nose. I found it a little unrealistic that these high-flying finance geniuses couldn’t solve the puzzles with a quick glance.  The first puzzle made sense–they wouldn’t expect it to be personal.  But after that?  One of the clues was a riddle that I heard and thought was clever in elementary school. The fact that it was a clue for adults made me chuckle.

Setting

As mentioned before, the novel is set at a top-tier finance firm on Wall Street.  Everything that Goldin writes emphasizes this. She does a lot of designer brand name dropping, which accentuates this quite nicely. She also does something that a lot of books don’t do–by putting price tags on everything.  Salaries, the cost of designer suits, etc. is all spelled out for the reader. For the average person like me, the cost of things was slightly stressful, which I think was the author’s purpose. Sara doesn’t have much money, and a lot of what she’s making has to go back to pay her parents’ medical bills and their rent, this writing technique instills the anxiety that Sara Hall feels about money into the reader.  Also, it made me think that maybe I should go back to school for an MBA.  

Characters

Sara Hall gets the first-person POV scenes.  She’s clearly the main character. She has quite a bit of character development, and she is a likeable and relatable protagonist.  Goldin shows the deterioration of her relationship with her family as Sara becomes more and more caught up in the world of finance.  The four people trapped in the elevator, on the other hand, are not at all likeable, which is clearly the point that the author was trying to make.  Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie are each loathsome in a unique way that has nothing to do with the fact that they’re money-grubbing and ambitious to a fault. This should have made each of the characters interchangeable (aren’t all Wall Street types the same?), but Goldin distinguishes them quite nicely in their flaws, with their complicated pasts, intriguing presents and uncertain futures.

The Escape Room

I recommend this book to anyone looking for an intense and quick read.  If you’re a slower reader, you shouldn’t pick this up too close to bedtime, or you’ll never get to sleep.

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*Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

Crown of Feathers book photo

Crown of Feathers book cover

Title: Crown of Feathers
Author: Nicki Pau Preto
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Crown of Feathers book 1

Date of Publication: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse


Synopsis

Veronyka is a war orphan who was raised by her deceased grandmother and her older sister, Val. Veronyka and her sister are “animages”, and have the ability to communicate with animals.  This is not uncommon in the world they live in, but ever since the war their kind have been persecuted.  Val and Veronyka want nothing more than to become Phoenix Riders, like the heroes who fought during the war.

After a terrible betrayal, Veronyka flees from her sister and finds a sanctuary for her kind, a place where apprentices are being trained as Phoenix Riders. The only catch? If she wants to become a Phoenix Rider–to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become the hero she’s always dreamt of being—she’s going to have to pretend to be a boy.

Characters and Plot

It’s difficult to separate out characters and plot for this book, since there are several point of view characters, and each of their plotlines are heavily influenced by who they are.

We primarily follow three characters in this book. All three of them have fascinating story arcs.  All three of them overcome their fears over the span of the first novel in this trilogy and begin the journey of accepting who they truly are.

First off, there’s Veronyka, the protagonist, who escapes from her (let’s face it—abusive) sister to join the Phoenix Riders while masquerading as a boy.  Her storyline is perhaps the most engaging, as it is the main focus of the story.  I absolutely love her unadulterated adulation of phoenixes and her sheer will to do whatever it takes to become a Phoenix Rider.

Continue reading “Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto”