2.5 star, YA

ARC Review: Wishtress by Nadine Brandes

She didn’t ask to be the Wishtress.

Myrthe was born with the ability to turn her tears into wishes. It’s a big secret to keep. When a granted wish goes wrong, a curse is placed on her: the next tear she sheds will kill her. She needs to journey to the Well and break the curse before it claims her life–and before the king’s militairen track her down. But in order to survive the journey, she must harden her heart to keep herself from crying even a single tear.

He can stop time with a snap of his fingers.

Bastiaan’s powerful–and rare–Talent came in handy when he kidnapped the old king. Now the new king has a job for him: find and capture the Wishtress and deliver her to the schloss. But Bastiaan needs a wish of his own. When he locates Myrthe, he agrees to take her to the Well in exchange for a wish. Once she’s fulfilled her end of the deal, he’ll turn her in. As long as his growing feelings for the girl with a stone heart don’t compromise his job.

They are on a journey that can only end one way: with her death.

Everyone seems to need a wish–the king, Myrthe’s cousin, the boy she thinks she loves. And they’re ready to bully, beg, and even betray her for it. No one knows that to grant even one of them, Myrthe would have to die. And if she tells them about her curse . . . they’ll just kill her anyway.

**Wishtress comes out September 13, 2022**

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

An interesting premise with lots of potential, Wishtress presents itself as a wonderful allegory in the battle between the light and the darkness in each of us, but ultimately didn’t develop the idea beyond its basic principles.

I will have to first say that I really like Nadine Brandes as a person. I love what she stands for and the grace she exhibits in everything she says or does. However, this isn’t a review about her but about her work, and sometimes there really is a distinction present.

If I had to sum up this book with one word, it’d be slow. Everything took its time. Myrthe is the Wishtress but due to a curse, her next tear will kill her. We all know that from the synopsis, but it takes a decent number of chapters to get to her cursing and the information prior really wasn’t all that interesting or altogether necessary.

The quest for the Well of Talents to help Myrthe with her curse (and also for the whole kingdom) was supposedly going to be interesting. There are Trials that judge an individual’s worth to reach the Well and thus be granted a Talent, some sort of powerful ability. Given that all maps to the Well itself were destroyed long ago, even finding the Trials wouldn’t be easy. However, it felt like the journey was hardly an issue and the Trials itself seemed inconsequential as Myrthe looked for loopholes rather than being truly tested. Everything I thought would make this book great was just mediocre.

From a character perspective, Myrthe and her love interest, Bastiaan, should have been interesting considering the amount of time given to each. This story is most definitely a character-driven one instead of plot. However, I couldn’t fathom their love for one another with their limited interactions. Does she like him because her family members barely treated her like a person instead of an object to dole out wishes for profit? Does he like her because she was once kind to him for no reason? Either way, it never made sense to me how their attraction grew. I felt no chemistry, and the rhythm of their relationship was too instant. Don’t tell me you love each other, show me.

Their individual growth arc and personal battle between choosing what’s good or right (the Talent Well water) and what’s self-serving and power-hungry (the Nightwell water that gives powers called Banes) was okay. I can’t think of a better word. I can see where Nadine is going with the idea and I appreciate the sentiment, but overall I don’t think it was executed the best. Many stories feature this trope, the fight between good and evil and the choice one can make between the two, but it was too simple here. Even when a character was tempted and chose wrong, the realness of the struggle was made too…easy? Like they could’ve easily switched back over to the better choice and it was almost like they never chose wrong in the first place.

I wanted to really love this one but it took me forever to finish and probably placed me in the reading slump I was in for the last month. The ending was actually the only piece I really enjoyed. It surprised me, the only thing that didn’t feel predictable or too easy. I loved that it was kept open-ended – really open-ended – but it felt like it was fitting. I don’t believe this is anything beyond a standalone so I applaud that bold choice for ending it there. It’s an ending filled with hope and a sense of continuation which works for a book that otherwise didn’t make me feel much of anything.

Overall Recommendation:

Wishtress had the potential to be an epic adventure for the powerful Well of Talents that squandered the plot for a character-driven story about the battle between good and evil. That’s not a bad idea to focus on, but its execution was a little too clean and perfect without the grittiness of real struggles people go through. While this may not be a fast-paced read for YA, perhaps its simplistic view of good versus evil would provide a better reading source for younger audiences. Its ending may be a little surprising to some, but personally I found it offered a hopeful note that made the story overall better.

4 star, YA

Review: Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

Series: Once Upon a Broken Heart #1

How far would you go for happily ever after?

For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings . . . until she learns that the love of her life will marry another.

Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic but wicked Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing.

But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game—and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after or the most exquisite tragedy. . . .

Before I dive into my thoughts about this book, I had the pleasure of buddy reading this book with Leslie @ Books are the New Black. You can find her lovely review of this book here.

Whimsical and full of the magic that has propelled Stephanie Garber as a must-read author for many, this new companion series featuring a certain villain we all love and a girl who believes in happy fairy tale endings was everything I could’ve asked for. And I had pretty high expectations.

Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber”
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.