Book Review: The Toll of Neal Shusterman

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 625
Source: Library
Rating: ★★★★★


It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver.

In this pulse-pounding conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.

Goodreads Synopsis

I’m going to admit, I was a bit confused when this book first started. I didn’t realize there was a time gap because I hadn’t read the blurb. I’d figured they’d have immediately started trying to salvage Endura, but clearly not.

I’m going to admit this right now, I can’t stand Goddard. He’s egotistical, he’s power hungry, and he’s a grade-A jackass. Yes, I said it. He’s a jackass. The way he treats people makes me want to reach through the pages and punch him. I can see why everyone hates him.

Greyson Tolliver’s character becomes much clearer in this book – he’s more defined than in Thunderhead and his reason for being in the story makes a lot more sense now than it did when I read Thunderhead. He’s not a particularly likeable character for me – he’s more just there because he needs to be, not because I’m intended to like him.

Sycthe Anastasia and Rowan are back, still like Anastasia better than Rowan and have no idea why those two are so much in love with each other, because there really isn’t much of a romantic arc to this story at all. But there you have it, they’re in love, for whatever reason.

I rather liked the Thunderhead and its scheming to save humanity. I understand totally why it was creating the different iterations of itself and how Cirrus came to be. I also understand that quite frankly, humans can destroy anything, even a perfect world. It’s our nature to destroy what is good and perfect.

I do wish for one thing though. Even if it’s just a novella, I want to see the aftermath. Both on earth and in space. I want to know what groups made it, which ones didn’t. I want to know of their lives after they made it to their new homes. I’m sitting here with burning questions and no answers.

This one was fast paced, even though it took me a bit to read it because I paused to read Blood Heir. When I was working on The Toll, I didn’t want to put it down. It’s a definite must read if you’ve already read the first two books.

Book Review: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Title: Blood Heir
Series: Blood Heir Trilogy
Author: Amélie Wen Zhao
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: November 19, 2019
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 455
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: ★★★★★

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.


In case you didn’t know, this book is basically a retelling of Anastasia with magic and fantasy built in. Let me tell you, it works.

I love the concept of the Affinites and their affinities. I love that it isn’t just your basic elements, but that Affinites could have any number of things for their affinities. We see marble affinities, flesh affinities, blood affinities, grain affinities, as well as the basic elements. So the concept of having an affinity for a particular element has been taken much further than normal, which is awesome.

Ana is a great character. She’s tough, but she loves with all her heart. She loves her empire and she loves her people. And yes, she is naive when it comes to some things because she did spend the majority of her life living behind the Salskoff Palace walls. So there are things that she doesn’t know regarding the empire she loves.

I also liked Ramson’s character. He’s no stranger to tragedy and he knows exactly what goes on with the Affinites and how they are treated. He gives Ana a rude awakening to how things really are in her empire, which helps to move the story along very well.

As for the story, again, it’s a retelling of Anastasia and it’s very well done. I found no issues with the writing style as it was easy to read and the plot made me want to keep reading the book.

Now, to address the controversy that surrounded this book. You can read an explanation of the controversy here. There are some things that I can see – such as people feeling that the author took things from other books. There’s a sentence that is the same as in a Tolkien novel, as well some “copying” from The Hunger Games. I don’t think it’s actually enough for people to accuse her of plagiarism, because let’s face it, some of these things are found in multiple books, but it gave people something to gripe about.

The other issue was that the book was seen as anti-black. Part of this is due to May, a character that started off as a slave, and ended up as Ana’s companion. May is a little girl who came to the Cyrilian Empire with her mother – both were Affinites – and her mother was contracted to a different employer than May was. Ana was trying to help May find her mother.

At one point in the book, May does something that causes her death while attempting to save Ana. This is construed as a black girl being killed to allow a white girl to live. Ok, first, descriptions of May have her as “tan” skinned and “ocean blue” or “aquamarine” eyes. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t see too many black people who are just “tan” and have “ocean blue” eyes. I also don’t get where they get that Ana is “white” because she is described multiple times as having olive colored skin – which is a trait that several Middle Eastern and Asian cultures would be described as having.

I also heard some things on social media about how insensitive she was when she portrayed slavery. Well, slavery isn’t something that you can portray sensitively, and frankly, she portrayed it in a way that was very common at one point – indentured servitude. An employer would “buy” someone and that person would have to work to pay off their employment contract and gain their freedom. It wasn’t right in real life, it isn’t right in a book. And just like in real life, people didn’t like that it was going on and wanted to change it.

The controversy surrounding the book caused the author to delay the release of the book. She considered editing the book to fix what people said was wrong and ultimately decided to release the book as originally written. I’m sure people “cancelled” her because that’s what social media does – they cancel everything and everyone they think is wrong or they don’t like. But I’m glad she didn’t change her story. Because if she had, it wouldn’t be the amazing book it is.

Book Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

SPOILER ALERT: There are a couple of spoilers given in this review. I apologize, but I found it very hard to talk about the book without giving anything away.

Title: Thunderhead
Series: Arc of a Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Utopia
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 9, 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 504
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: ★★★★★

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?


If you’re looking for a second novel in a trilogy or series to frustrate the crap out of you, this one will do nicely. I’m not even kidding.

In this second book, we see that Citra is getting along fairly well as a Scythe and the Rowan is playing a bad-guy-who-is-actually-a-good-guy role. I kind of figured that would end up happening, but that’s isn’t the frustrating thing.

We also see the return of Scythe Rand and Scythe Goddard. No, I won’t tell you more than that. You have to read the book to understand. But trust me, when it happens you’ll be frustrated, annoyed, and a bit awestruck as it is a big on the ingenious side.

Thunderhead has a plot that takes no time to get going and honestly, this book was the fastest read of the three so far. I read this book in just over 24 hours – it took me over a month to read Scythe and finish it because I just wasn’t invested in the story (and because I was in a reading slump). Now? I’m invested. Holy cow am I invested.

It’s hard to review Thunderhead without giving everything away, because pretty much everything I could talk about would be a spoiler and I’ve already given a couple of those out. So all I’m going to say is, it will frustrate you. You will get pissed off about the ending. And you’ll definitely want to read The Toll after it’s over to find out what happens next.

This one is fast-paced and edge-of-your-seat good, which is why I gave it 5 stars. Let’s hope The Toll is too.

Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe
Series: Arc of a Scythe
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopia, Utopia, Science Fiction
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 22, 2016
Format: Paperback
Pages: 435
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: ★★★★★

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.


When this was chosen as the book for the Barnes & Noble YA Book Club for December, I was a bit disappointed. Up until December, all of the books had been new releases, so it didn’t make sense to me for them to choose Scythe. Then I figured maybe they’d do all three from December through February, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I’m glad they did choose it though, because I wouldn’t have ever picked it up otherwise.

For me, the book was hard to get into. It just seemed like it was very boring and slow to get going. Once it did get going, it was a great book. But wow, the book was just slow to get going. I get why it was slow to get going – after all, we had to have some sort of reason why Scythe Faraday would choose Citra and Rowan as his apprentices, but I wish it would have moved a touch faster.

Once it picks up though, it picks up. It’s hard to put it down after a certain point in the book because now you’re invested and honestly – you need to know what the heck is going on around that place. I don’t want to give anything away but – yeah, you’re not going to expect plot twist number one – and plot twist number one sets the stage for the rest of the book.

As for characters, I liked Citra a lot, didn’t care much for Rowan. I found him to be rather a pain in the butt and wasn’t all that fond of him. I liked Scythe Faraday a lot, loved Sycthe Curie, and would cheerfully have yeeted Sycthe Goddard right out of the story if I could have. I also actually kind of liked Sycthe Volta. The rest of Goddard’s flunkies needed to be yeeted with Goddard. And finally, High Blade Xenocrates needs a spine… I’m just saying.

The plot twists in this book are what make it so great. You get several and each time, it’s hard to telegraph what’s going to happen next. One of them shocked the heck out of me because I thought I’d figured it out and then BOOM – completely different! Holy cow. And let us not forget the ending – that is one heck of an ending to a book.

I just started Thunderhead, so you can expect a review for that one soon.

Book Review: Reverie by Ryan La Sala

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Title: Reverie
Author: Ryan La Sala
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: December 3, 2019
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: ★★★★☆
Amazon / Book Depository

Inception meets The Magicians in the most imaginative YA debut of the year!

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.


When the Barnes & Noble book club chose this book for the January book club, I was a little leary. I actually had this book from NetGalley and just couldn’t get into it. I tried for months to get into the book and just couldn’t do it. But, I hate to miss a book club, so I bought the book, hoping getting it in a physical copy would help. It did, but so did finally just sticking to it and getting through the first portion of the book.

I’m going to say this now – the only character I actually like is Ursula. The main character, Kane, is so annoying I want to reach through and just smack the daylights out of him. His thing of nothing being able to remember anything about his accident or who he was/what he was like before the accident, asking people what he was like or who he was before the accident, and then not believing them drove me bonkers.

Adeline’s attitude of seeming to be better than everyone is also annoying, Sophia’s overprotective character makes me cringe, and Elliott spends most of his time trying to impress Ursula. Poesy is a whole other ball of wax… let me tell you. I still don’t know if Poesy is biologically male and a drag queen, biologically female and dressed as a man for Kane and Poesy’s first meeting, or if Poesy is simply supposed to be unknown in gender – Poesy is referred to as “he” once or twice, “they/them” at other times, and “she” at other times. It’s a bit confusing and seriously easy to mis-gender Poesy because it’s hard to keep track of gender on that character.

The writing is done very well. The editing not so much. There are several places were words are misspelled, the wrong words are used, and where words are missing, but that’s a double edged issue – writing and editing. I mean, honestly, you’d think the editors would have noticed.

The story in and of itself is very creative. It gives a whole new perspective on “our own little worlds” and what could happen if those worlds managed to escape into reality. If you’re looking for a YA fantasy with major LGBTQ+ rep, I suggest you read this book. If there’s a sequel, I’m definitely going to read it.

Book Review: The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

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Title: The Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Format: Hardcover/Audiobook
Pages: 512
Source: Personal Collection/Scribd
Rating: ★★★★☆
Amazon / Book Depository

A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.


So I started reading this book and my eye started having issues, making it difficult to read. The book was interesting enough, I just couldn’t read for more than a couple pages at a time before my eye started hurting. So, I checked my library for the audiobook. They had it, but it was going to be six months before I’d get it. I needed to read the book by Thursday the 14th of November for YA Book Club, so I started checking around. One trial subscription to Scribd later, I was listening away to The Fountains of Silence. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book.

If you know me at all, you know I’m not a big historical fiction fan. For some reason I just don’t care for it that much. But The Fountains of Silence was the November 14th Barnes & Noble YA Book Club pick, so I decided I’d give it a shot. Like I said above, I was enjoying reading the book but my eye was making it difficult, so I got my mitts on a copy of the audiobook.

The narrator for the audiobook gave it an authentic feel as she had a Spanish accent. This helped a lot, especially to make the parts spoken in Spanish feel more authentic. I loved the narrator and her narration style. It made the audio experience all the more enticing.

I loved, loved, loved Ana and Daniel. I loved that Daniel didn’t just want to use the Spanish culture of the times to get a story, he truly wanted to understand what it was like. He wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to know how the people lived, how they felt. He wasn’t just there to see what was there and take it… unlike Laura Beth and her mother, who literally only what Spain would be able to provide them. I’m sincerely thankful we didn’t have to deal much with Laura Beth as I wasn’t impressed with her at all from the brief interaction we actual get from her.

Ana was beautiful, sweet, and dedicated to her family – and Daniel. I was impressed with the amount of research that had to have gone into the lives and culture of the people to bring Ana and her family to life in the way they were.

I have to say, this is my first Ruta Sepetys book. She has a way of bringing characters to life that I’m truly impressed with. The last chapter of the audiobook was an author’s note read by Ruta herself. She spoke of how she’d fallen in love with the history and culture of Spain when she toured there for her first book and how much research she’d done. She truly brought Spain in the 1950s to life and I can’t wait to read other books of hers.

If you love historical fiction, even if you’re not a young adult (which I most certainly am not), you really must read this book. It’s fascinating, beautifully written, and lively. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

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Title: Ninth House
Series: Alex Stern
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: October 8, 2019
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 458
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: ★★★★☆
Amazon / Book Depository

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo.


Ninth House was one of my most anticipated releases for October. I like Leigh Bardugo’s writing style. And I admit, I was curious to see if she can actually write adult fiction as well as she writes Young Adult fiction. The answer to that question is, she does.

I picked up Ninth House for the Barnes & Noble Book Club. It was November’s book of the month to read. It took me much longer to read the book because the episcleritis in my right eye made it painful to read – you never realize how much your eyes move until you try to read with an eye that hurts if it moves. In all honesty, I think that’s the only real reason it took so long to read this book.

As with most of Leigh Bardugo’s books, it does have a slightly slow, slightly confusing start. Where the prologue starts, you have no idea of what might be going on. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. You just have to be patient. Once you get into the story though, you’ll be sucked in. I read the last 200 pages or so in one sitting, my eye be damned. I didn’t want to put it down.

I liked Alex. She’s a tough kid but she’s also vulnerable. She comes from nothing, doesn’t feel like she belongs at Yale and from a standpoint of money, she really doesn’t. After all, she’s not rich. Her parents couldn’t pay her way in. She’s there because Lethe wants her. But she redeems herself well.

Dean Sandow is just plain a jerk. He’s one of those men who blames the victim. You’ll see what I mean, but honestly, he’s just a douche of a character that I really didn’t like at any point in the story. You might think he was doing Alex a favor by offering her a scholarship and a fresh start, but he’s only out for himself as you’ll see.

Darlington, an absent character that we get to know vicariously through what amounts to memories, is a mystery even after the fact. I think he’ll figure even more prominently in book 2, for reasons I won’t be disclosing.

Dawes – Pammie/Oculus – is an interesting character. She’s shy, she doesn’t know how to handle people. And she becomes very attached to the people that she cares for. She’s a fierce champion for her friends and those she loves and frankly, she is not to be trifled with.

Detective Turner is another one who is out for himself. He just wants to get ahead and make some money on the side by being Centurion for Lethe. He helps them investigate deaths or crimes that might be related to the Houses, but honestly, I didn’t care for him.

The book deals with some pretty deep situations such as frat parties that end in the rape of drugged girls, rape where the victim is believed to just be acting out instead of being a victim, and even victim blaming – although the victim blaming is in connection with a non-sexual attack. I, and the group of book club members who were mostly women, felt that Ms. Bardugo handled these things well, showing in a veiled way how society sees these types of things.

I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars because I felt it was awesome but could use some improvement. There were a couple of blatant editing errors. The ending of the book more than makes up for it, but not enough to give it a full five stars.