Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

When you have twenty-nine books to review, you cry uncle and resort to short reviews. Plus, after all this time, I’m not certain I remember enough about any of them to write a full-length review. We will be breaking these into five parts. This is part eight. Thankfully, the end is in sight. There may be some spoilers within these short reviews; readers, consider this your warning.

Into the Dying Light by Katy Rose Pool
I loved the first two books in the series, but Katy Rose Pool’s series finale, Into the Dying Light, left me feeling flat. The semblance of Hollywood ending struck the wrong chord with me. In general, the ending is too happy for a story during which the author had no problems killing off characters. While I am all for happily-ever-after endings, they have to fit the rest of the story. To me, this is one example where the ending does not fit.

Plus, I never could get behind the relationship of two of the main characters. To me, this relationship is nothing but desperation and hero-worship masked as love and affection. If the relationship were heteronormative, we would say how dangerous such a relationship is, so I struggle to accept it for a homosexual one.

Into the Dying Light strikes me as very anticlimactic given the overall story’s grandiosity. It is too neat and tidy for a story that was epic and messy and complex. One of the things I loved about the rest of the series is the fact that it was so complex and messy. It brings a level of realism to a story steeped in fantasy. The way Ms. Pool chose to end her series undoes all of that to give any character of importance a happy ending, and that seemingly ruined the story for me.

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake
While All These Bodies by Kendare Blake appears to be about vampires, the fact is that the story is so open-ended as to be about nothing more than a serial killer and his accomplices. In a break from her previous novels, Ms. Blake skates around any supernatural elements, neither confirming nor denying them. The truth, in this case, is up to the individual reader, and while I can appreciate it, I did not love it.

What I did love about All These Bodies is the idea that it is at heart a commentary on our legal system and how we profess innocence until proven guilty but rarely achieve that in the media. Even though the story occurs during the 1950s, the media is no different today, seeking scandal and assigning guilt before a case ever gets near a courtroom. In this instance, we see the damage such attention causes on those close to the case, regardless of what side the person is on. This aspect of the story, more than the whodunit, grabbed my sympathies and kept my interest.

While All These Bodies is different and has some great moments of terror and intrigue, I like my murder mysteries to have a few more concrete answers. I appreciate the fact that Ms. Blake lets the reader choose their own answers, and I particularly like that she includes a vampire as one of those answers. Yet, the ambiguity did not pique my interest. I like my vampires to be more in your face, and I want answers to my mysteries. There is a reason I avoided “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid, and All These Bodies simply reiterates my ongoing dislike of such stories.

Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune
Under the Whispering Door, the latest by T. J. Klune is going to go down as one of my favorite books of 2021. I simply love Mr. Klune’s storytelling and his characters. He makes you feel so much for characters you shouldn’t like. Plus, he handles very sensitive topics with care.

In fact, in Under the Whispering Door, Mr. Klune takes a topic that is my number one cause of panic attacks and makes it so beautiful and so peaceful that I felt my body physically relax while reading. Mortality (and what happens after) is a subject with which all humans struggle. Yet, Mr. Klune’s idea of mortality and the afterlife is nothing but a gift.

The icing on the delightful cake that is Under the Whispering Door is his characters. Wallace, Hugo, Mei, Nelson, and Apollo are everything you want them to be. Quirky, endearing, and yet flawed in a way that makes them real, they capture your heart. At the same time, their relationships with each other make you feel hope for humanity, as they are a fantastic reminder of what healthy relationships can be.

Under the Whispering Door brings so much to the table. Not only is it funny and adorable, but it also provides you with moments of peace and clarity about a topic no one really wants to discuss. This is one book that will make my permanent library, the highest compliment I can give any book.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber
I wasn’t certain what to expect with Stephanie Garber’s Once Upon a Broken Heart. I loved the Caraval series and was happy with how she ended that story. So I didn’t know if I wanted to read more about any of the characters. Still, what I got more than exceeded my expectations.

Steamy and twisty, Once Upon a Broken Heart is everything I loved about the Caraval world and more. This time, we get to learn more about everyone’s favorite heartbreaker, Jacks. His origin story is one of the more tragic within Caraval, so I was looking forward to learning more about him and see him interact with more than just the sisters.

In one of the only issues I have with the story, Once Upon a Broken Heart spends more focus on a new heroine than on Jacks. While Evangaline is a perfectly fine heroine, she is a little too nice. In fact, I received clear Cinderella vibes with her nasty stepmother, dead father, the questionable stepsister, and the many, many sacrifices Evangaline makes for her family. Personally, I would like to see Evangaline driven by more than a need for love, but I still enjoyed her story.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want more Jacks. If this is Jacks’ story, as Ms. Garber said on social media, then I want more of him. His scenes were so much fun. Mysterious, sexy, alluring – they were everything I hoped they would be. Because of that, I cannot wait to see how his story ends.

Steelstriker by Marie Lu
Steelstriker by Marie Lu is a great ending to a great duology. The entire series appeals to my not-so-inner goth girl, but the finale ups the ante in that regard. The first book was dark and full of danger, but this time around, we get a story full of trauma and PTSD which makes the story even darker. Plus, Ms. Lu takes the time to explore the idea of nature versus nurture, what motivates us, and how much our childhood influences our later actions.

In Steelstriker, Ms. Lu takes her characters to places I never expected, but I loved the unexpectedness of it all. While I can see it as a triggering story for some readers, personally, I thought it was fabulous and am eager to see what Ms. Lu writes next.

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