City of Ghosts & Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Genre: Middle grade horror
Secondary genre: fantasy/paranormal
Format: hard back, audio
Series: Cassidy Blake vol. 1 & 2
CW: child death
Rep: mixed race
Ratings: 5/5 & 4/5

Cassidy stand in between the living and the dead. When she was eleven, she nearly drowned and was saved by a ghost. Now, a year later, the ghost is her best friend and she continually finds herself facing situations and people that shouldn’t exist–at least not in this time, on this plane.

Just to make things better, her parents are paranormal investigators. When they are offered a chance to film an international show about hauntings, they decide to take Cassidy–and by extension, the ghostly Jacob–with them. Now the Blake family is traveling the world in search of it’s most haunted locations.

Book one is set in Edinburgh, where Cassidy meets Laura, a half-Indian girl who is also stuck “in between.” Laura teaches Cassidy more about her powers and how to use them–both the good and the bad. But Laura’s help might not even be enough when Edinburgh’s most dangerous spirit sets her sights of Cassidy.

All I can really tell you about book two is that it deals with the catacombs of Paris, and involves an extremely powerful poltergeist.

I really liked this series. I love Cassidy and her quirky family. Jacob is a sweetheart who tries so hard to keep Cass on the straight and narrow, but it doesn’t usually work. She’s a clever girl who keeps getting herself into dangerous situations, but she’s always trying to help people, and she’s very brave.

I loved these books and really look forward to a third book in the series.

If you love history and a good ghost story, you’ll probably love these books, too.

Shadow’s Bane by Karen Chance

Genre: fantasy
Secondary Genre: romance
CW: violence
Rep: PTSD, mental health
Series: Dorina Basarab vol 4
Format: audiobook
Rating: planchet-4

I’m not positive, but I think this is the last Dorina book. Either way, it’s the 4th book in a series, so I can’t go too in depth with the plot without spoiling the other books. 

I think what Karen Chance does best are beginnings and endings. She’s very good at dropping you straight into the action, and then tying up all the loose ends. That middle part though…there are frequently so many plates in the air that it’s hard to follow the plot. I’m always amazed when she manages to wrap everything up at the end.

The first third of this book was just Dory running from one fight to another, which is how most of Karen Chance’s books go. Honestly, I’m just about done with that formula. So while I did really enjoy this book, I am glad that it appears to wrap up the series (It does leave an opening for a sequel series, but I’m kind of hoping she leaves it as is).


Strange and Ever After by Susan Denard

Genre: YA fantasy/sci-fi
Secondary genre: historical romance
Format: audio
Series: Something Strange and Deadly vol. 3
CW: violence
Rep: Chinese, mixed race/Creole
Rating: planchet-3

As much as I loved the first book, I found that the sequels were a little disappointing on several fronts, no only in some of the attempts at representation, but just in general terms of enjoying the story. I disliked the way the characters behaved in some aspects, and how they were unwilling to bend or show understanding for each other. I was angry at a specific character died, even though I saw it coming, and the end of the book felt…off. In a way it was too tidy, but in another way it just didn’t fit and almost seemed to leave lose ends.

The greatest problem I had, however, was the pacing. The book begins with a fair amount of action, to the point that I was shocked to look at my phone and see I was only a third of the way through the book, as the sequence felt more like a climax than part of the rising action.

It’s a shame, because I was completely obsessed with the first book, and series finale just kind of let me down. I don’t want to call it a bad book, because it isn’t. It just left me feeling a bit…unmoved, through most of it. The last quarter of the book was, by far, the best part of it, but it still didn’t match the emotional impact of Something Strange and Deadly.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Genre: YA fantasy
Format read: audiobook and ebook
Rating: DNF

This book has been on my Overdrive wishlist…pretty much since I first signed up for Overdrive, so I was really disappointed once I actually got around to reading it.

This series follows the citizens of 3 countries as they prepare to go to war. The characters range from a princess to a peasant.

Other than that, I can’t tell you much about Falling Kingdoms. I made it to about the 10% mark before I gave up. Listening on audio, it was hard to follow due to constant head hopping. The prologue is from one character’s perspective–who then dies–and then the subsequent four chapters are all from a different POV, occasionally re-hashing events that happened in the previous chapter.

In addition, the narrator for the audiobook did a really obnoxious voice for most of the characters, a sort of pseudo-British accent that sounded extremely fake and didn’t mesh at all with the setting, which seemed to be more closely related to a fantastical version of Italy than England.

I was having such a hard time following the story that I checked out the ebook and tried reading it concurrently with the audiobook. While that did help clear up some things (for example, there were bits where it was hard to tell what was dialogue and what was the internal thoughts of the characters), but there were too many other problems with the book for me to want to continue. There was a huge amount of info-dumping in the first few chapters, including some that was redundant, and one of the POV characters had a chapter that did absolutely nothing to further the story–it was a combination of backstory on the world and rehashing what had happened in the previous chapter.

So, if you’re looking for a good fantasy novel full of political intrigue, skip this one. Instead I’d like to point you toward The Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lacky, The Lunar Chronicles by Marrissa Meyer (okay, that one’s technically scifi. So sue me), The Daughter of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, or The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner. Or you could just pick up Game of Thrones. 

Wish by CLAMP

Genre: fantasy
Secondary genre: contemporary
Format: manga
Series: Wish (vol 1-4)
Content warnings: bullying, fat shaming
Series rating: planchet-4
Vol 1: planchet-3
Vol 2: planchet-4
Vol 3: planchet
Vol 4: planchet-4

Shuichiro is a normal, pediatric surgeon living in Tokyo. He has a nice house, a good job, and is pretty happy with life.

So when he accidentally saves a tiny, adorable creature claiming to be an angel, he declines her offer of a wish granted. What more could he want?

But Kohaku is insistent. She must repay his kindness. When he still can’t think of anything, she determines to stay hear him until he can come up with a wish. Thinking it only logical, he offers her a place to stay.

Unfortunately, the little angel, Kohaku (who can turn human sized when it’s daylight) came to Earth with a mission, and has a bad habit of bringing her work home with her. Soon, Shuichiro’s house guests also include an exiled angel and demon, as well as another demon and his two minions who stop by regularly to torment Kohaku.

Because this is a four volume series, I can’t go into two much detail about the individual books without giving away the plot. I will say that volume 1 is the set up, volume 2 is plot driven, while volume 3 focuses more on emotional development. The fourth and final book wraps everything up, with a plot twist that makes me cry no matter how many times I re-read this series.

This is one of my favorite manga series from when I was in college, and I don’t know how many times I’ve read it.

That being said, it does have some problematic elements.

For starters, while the book uses the terms “angel”, “demon”, “God,” and “Devil,” the actual mythology bears very little resemblance to Christian mythology–which, honestly, is pretty typical for Japanese media. Personally, it didn’t bother me, but I know it would bother some people.

Second, Koryu, a demon of roughly the same level as Kohaku, loves to bully her, and they are always arguing about who has the fatter chibi form in the first book. It was super irritating, especially since one of them was always in human form, and CLAMP is known for drawing very slender figures.

And lastly, the bullying itself. While it would be expected for a demon to give an angel a hard time, one line in volume 4 in particular was a hard pass from me: “Bullying is just another way to say ‘I love you.'” NO. Not okay.

One last little note: in book 2 we meet a white cat who changes personalities at night. In the book, he’s generally a sweet cat, though his night-time personality can be aggressive. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It didn’t bother me when I read it a few years ago, but now I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. I am not the person to decide if this is positive rep for personality disorders, so I will leave it up to you to decide.

Overall, I love this series, and I know I will read it again. But I also own that it has a lot of problematic bits that are endemic both to when it was written (the early 2000s), and where it was written (Japan in general has a lot of problems with racism, sexism, fatphobia, homophobia, etc). CLAMP is usually pretty good about avoiding racism and sexism (It’s an all female group) and if I remember correctly at least 2 members of the 4-person team are queer (I don’t know their specific identities, but CLAMP has always been very pro-LGBTQ). That doesn’t mean they get a pass on everything, however.

If, despite all that, you’re looking for a sweet, quirky romance that will tear your heart out but still give you an HEA, then consider checking out this series.


Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly

Genre: fantasy (middle grade)
Format read: hard copy
Rating: planchet-4

This lovely little story folds neatly into the plot of the 2017 live action Beauty and the Beast movie it is based on.

The store opens on the day Beast gives Belle his library. While cleaning up the neglected stacks, she happens upon a mysterious enchanted volume called Nevermore and is sucked inside–literally. She finds herself in a world where it is perpetually summer, where she wears fancy gowns, dances with scholars and interesting people, and is the adored guest of a countess.

It seems like a dream come true, especially when the countess offers to reunite her with her father.

But not everything in Nevermore is what it seems, and Belle is forced to choose between her friends and what might be the only chance she’ll have to see her father again.

I love Beauty and the Beast (I own 3 different versions of the movie, if that tells you anything), and I knew that with this being a novel based on a movie it would either make my little fangirl heart swoon, or it would make the reader/writer in me throw it against a wall.

As soon as I read the last page, I wanted to re-watch all the movies, starting with the one the book was inspired by.

I loved it so much. The characters are fairly true to their movie selves, but it’s in the new characters that Donnelly really shines. In Henri, a duke Belle meets in Nevermore, we have a charming, witty companion who can meet her blow for blow in a war of words–and he does so in such an irreverent way, it’s impossible not to like him.

On the other side, we have Lucanos and Aranae. Their allegiance appears questionable at first, and they are quite possibly the sassiest allies a girl could hope for.

If you were afraid that the book would change the core of the story, fear not. The princess still saves herself, but if you want to find out how you’ll have to read the book.