4 star, YA

ARC Review: This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede

Series: The Last Finestra #1

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?



**This Vicious Grace comes out June 28, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

It’s no wonder This Vicious Grace is one of the most highly anticipated books of the year. A remarkable fantasy that follows a lonely heroine who seems to kill everyone with her touch, this tale is one meant to be savoured.

If you’ve read the synopsis, the plot itself isn’t all that dramatic or complex. The end of the world is coming (again, kind of) and a new heroine called the Finestra – apparently it means literally “window”? – has risen to once again fight off a horde of demons in the shape of giant beetles. Oh, and this is because the gods are feuding and one believes mankind is worth saving but only if they prove themselves in such battles.

Seems familiar enough right? It’s The Chosen One archetype who saves the world. Or at least, has the weight of the world on her shoulders. What makes this more exciting then?

Personally, I admire Thiede’s writing as this is her debut. Lush and filled with quotes I wanted to highlight, it truly drew me into the world and the story. What made it more outstanding, though, is the characterization of our protagonist, Alessa.

For the most part, this book is stuck with Alessa. She’s isolated with very few interactions as, well, her touch clearly kills people. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to her at a funeral of her third dead partner (in the battle sense but still) and helplessness is an understatement here. The progression she makes from this frustrated and guilt-ridden girl who carried the weight of the people on her island to someone who believed in herself and her ability to fight for them was truly the highlight. It’s why I love YA because there’s nothing quite like it elsewhere in literature that does this characterization as well.

But of course, what’s equally great – if not even better – about this book is the wonderful love interest. Ah, Dante. Can we just take a moment and admire how wonderfully crafted he was? I think I need a fan.

Everyone wants the brooding bad boy with a soft, gooey heart deep, deep inside as the love interest. Well, I’m happy to say he fits that bill perfectly. Dante reluctantly gets dragged into protecting Alessa as he has no agendas about her role as saviour for their island. He had his own troubles to deal with to care. While he fits the stereotype we all want to read about in a love interest, I liked that he still had surprises in him. Like his penchant for proverbs, including the really obscure ones. Go figure. He has the brawn and the brains.

Often I find in books that the authors want us to believe in the love that forms in their characters simply by telling us they feel these things. But there’s not enough substance to really believe it as the reader who hasn’t spent much time around these characters and is limited to what we see on the page.

This is so far from that and I’m so happy to say I felt the love grow between Alessa and Dante. This tale may focus on self-growth and learning to love yourself even when all the other voices tell you how you’ve messed up, but it’s also a ridiculously beautiful love story between two people who are quite different on the surface but perhaps are the two loneliest people who really needed one another. Isn’t that already so exciting to see on its own to drive you to pick this book up?

I wanted to give this book full rating for most of my read through. Without giving anything away, I will say the climax was a little disappointing to me. It built up so much throughout as Alessa prepared to face the battle she knows is coming, but I guess the resolution felt a little too predictable and neatly wrapped. I kept wondering how there would be a book two but it does leave us with threads for what’s to come.

Perhaps I’m just being picky. This book really was a fun dive into the world of Saverio and I can’t wait to see where we go next from here.

Overall Recommendation:

This Vicious Grace showcases the way to go for an astounding fantasy that doesn’t require a super complex world or plot yet still packs a mean punch to the heart. If you love the bodyguard romance, go no further because Dante is set to steal your heart from all the rest with his stoic and brooding exterior that hides a heart of gold. The Chosen One archetype is strong in this one but it carries enough differences to give the oomph factor that is uniquely its own. Emily Thiede’s debut was unputdownable and you should grab it when it comes out.

4 star, YA

ARC Review: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

THE SUBURBS, RIGHT NOW . . .

Seventeen-year-old Ivy’s summer break kicks off with an accident, a punishment, and a mystery: a stranger whose appearance in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, heralds a string of increasingly unsettling events. As the days pass, Ivy grapples with eerie offerings, corroded memories, and a secret she’s always known—that there’s more to her mother than meets the eye.

THE CITY, BACK THEN . . .

Dana has always been perceptive. And the summer she turns sixteen, with the help of her best friend and an ambitious older girl, her gifts bloom into a heady fling with the supernatural, set in a city of magical possibilities and secret mystics. As the trio’s aspirations darken, they find themselves speeding toward a violent breaking point.

Years after it began, Ivy and Dana’s shared story will come down to a reckoning among a daughter, a mother, and the dark forces they never should’ve messed with.



**Our Crooked Hearts comes out June 28, 2022**

Thank you Flatiron Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Chilling, gripping and full of familial drama, Our Crooked Hearts blew through all my expectations and I couldn’t put it down.

At the heart of this story is the bond between Ivy and her mother. Which isn’t a very good one as Ivy knows Dana is keeping something big from her (and the rest of the family). Although the synopsis suggests it’s evenly split between Ivy and the flashbacks to Dana’s childhood, it doesn’t really start off that way.

We get a lot of chapters about Ivy’s current life in the suburbs. All is well…that is, until she encounters a strange woman in the middle of the road late at night who may have more than a passing curiosity about Ivy. The story dives into this really quick, which I thoroughly appreciate, and sets the tone for the following strange events to come.

Once Dana’s flashbacks start coming, it provides great context to us, the omniscient reader, about what she’s hiding from the family – and perhaps how this stranger in the present day is related to what once happened. I’m normally not the biggest fan of two alternative POVs in different timelines as one is normally stronger than the other and I would much prefer to stick with the one I like. However, I found myself not begrudgingly reading Dana’s POV but also coming to like those chapters too. They filled in gaps we’re still piecing together, but the anticipation for figuring out how everything related was oddly satisfying.

I had the privilege of hearing Melissa speak about the writing process for this book and I fully understand how the story needed to be told from both Ivy and Dana’s POVs. It might’ve started off as Ivy’s story, but humanizing Dana instead of making her the enemy in Ivy’s eyes shows the complexity of humans, not just the black and white we sometimes get depending on whose perspective you’re told.

This book is also full of magic. It’s not very specific to any witchcraft practiced in modern society but a little bit of everything. Melissa did her research and it showed. The end result was an eerie tale that highlighted the price one pays when they meddle with forces they do not understand.

The pacing was excellent and the time really flies by as you switch from Ivy to Dana and back again. The underlying mystery, the strange events occurring present day and the secrets unfolding were the perfect balance to drive momentum to the climax. The one thing I will add is that I had hoped for more resolution in Ivy and Dana’s relationship. While we get a lot of information about them separately in their individual POVs, there’s not a lot of interaction between them and I feel that could’ve been explored a little more.

If you’ve read any book by Melissa Albert before, you already should know she’s a masterful storyteller, but if you’re new, then you’re in for a treat. Our Crooked Hearts presents a perfect story in the dark with plenty of magic, mayhem and mystery. You should definitely grab this one when it comes out!

Overall Recommendation:

Our Crooked Hearts is a fast-paced tale with a supernatural mystery that may tie to a family’s past. Excellently told in two alternative timelines featuring mother and daughter, I found myself loving both POVs as they blend the perfect story together, each adding pivotal information as we race to solve the present day’s strange occurrences before something terrible happens. Melissa Albert’s latest novel is another showcase of her amazing storytelling. Trust me, it will grip you in its hold until the end.

4 star, YA

ARC Review: This Place is Still Beautiful by XiXi Tian

Two sisters. A shocking racist incident. The summer that will change both of their lives forever. 

Despite having had near-identical upbringings, sisters Annalie and Margaret agree on only one thing: that they have nothing in common. Nineteen-year-old Margaret is driven, ambitious, and keenly aware of social justice issues. She couldn’t wait to leave their oppressive small-town home and take flight in New York. Meanwhile sweet, popular, seventeen-year-old Annalie couldn’t think of anything worse – she loves their town, and feels safe coasting along in its confines.

That is, until she arrives home one day to find a gut-punching racial slur painted on their garage door.

Outraged, Margaret flies home, expecting to find her family up in arms. Instead, she’s amazed to hear they want to forget about it. Their mom is worried about what it might stir up, and Annalie just wants to have a ‘normal’ summer – which Margaret is determined to ruin, apparently.

Back under each other’s skins, things between Margaret and Annalie get steadily worse – and not even the distraction of first love (for Annalie), or lost love (for Margaret) can bring them together.

Until finally, a crushing secret threatens to tear them apart forever.



**This Place is Still Beautiful comes out June 7, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

There’s so much I can say about This Place is Still Beautiful but I’m not sure my rambling will do it justice. This is such a gorgeous story about sisterhood and dealing with racism in different ways as an Asian growing up in America.

Older sister Margaret and Annalie are half Chinese living in a town with very few visible minorities. Near the start of the story, we jump right into the heart of the plot: someone wrote a horrible racist slur on their home. That then brings the question that both sisters have to digest and wrestle with for the rest of the story – what would you do in the aftermath of such a brutal and directed attack from people who could be your neighbors, friends or coworkers?

The girls go about it in two different ways, which I very much appreciate the author taking the time to explore. Annalie wants to forget and move on from the whole incident, and I, as an Asian Canadian, feel that would be a big struggle for me too if this were to happen to me. Obviously one would want to seek justice and retribution for such a wrong done to them. But it’s another thing to be the face in the fight against racism.

And that’s exactly what Margaret does. She fights for what’s been done to their family, moving back home even though she had left town for college. While Annalie feels her sister is victimizing them, Margaret is taking control of a situation that wasn’t their choice to spread awareness and teach others this is NOT acceptable.

Reading this, it makes me reflect a lot too. Which sister would I be more like? I definitely liked Margaret’s side a lot more, especially when both Annalie and their mother wanted to pretend nothing happened and to not pursue more because no one would do anything about it. However, I understood why they would feel that way and it’s not such an easy answer if I were in their shoes.

While this aspect on racism I felt was fleshed out very well, there’s more to this story than just this. It’s really all about the sisterhood and family dynamic. Margaret and Annalie’s relationship is so fraught with tension and the inability to understand one another from their opposing viewpoints and personalities. To add to this dynamic is the typical Asian mother, but one who had to raise her daughters alone when her white husband walked out and left them all many years ago. The racism plot line surely takes up most of the story, but what connects it all is this deep exploration of family in an Asian household.

I also really loved the romance brewing in the background for Margaret and Annalie to kind of give some lighter reprieve around the heavier topics. Rajiv’s relationship with Margaret was my favourite. There was history there in this second chance love trope and I loved how it re-grew and matured in some way through the hardships she was facing.

I wasn’t sure going into this book how I’d feel reading about Asian hate and racism. It felt a little too close to home and personal, especially with the rise of anti-Asian views in the aftermath of the pandemic. But like XiXi mentioned in her author’s note, we may not intend to talk about it yet perhaps it’s exactly what we need to do instead of avoiding the very real problem at hand.

So that’s what I’m doing here. Please go read this book. It’s more than I anticipated and it’s worth reading regardless if you’re Asian or not.

Overall Recommendation:

This Place is Still Beautiful demonstrates how good storytelling can create such powerful messages that stays with readers. In the aftermath of an anti-Asian attack, sisters Annalie and Margaret explore what it means to be victims of racism as Asian women. I loved the honest struggle and reflection of what I’m sure Asians do feel and face unfortunately in today’s society at times. The interweaving of their specific family dynamic made the story all the more compelling as they individually and collectively grapple with the harm one action can leave behind. It’s a must read for sure.