About The Stars Who Gaze Back

Here you will find all things related to books, books, and books–from regular book reviews and hauls, monthly TBRs and wrap-ups, to popular book tags and even book recommendations.

The name of this blog comes from a quote found in Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass:

“Still, the image haunted his dreams throughout the night: a lovely girl gazing at the stars, and the stars who gazed back.”

For some reason, this quote really stuck with me, and I think about it almost daily, so it seemed an appropriate title. (It also reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, which I adore.)

Thanks for checking out my blog! I hope to post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I also post on Mondays over at Reviews Cubed. Keep scrolling to see my most recent posts, and feel free to follow this blog or comment somewhere, so I know who you are! I’d love to follow your blog as well. 🙂

Heartless by Marissa Meyer: Book Review

Title: Heartless

Author: Marissa Meyer

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillian)

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

“Now mine eyes see the heart that once we did search for, and I fear this heart shall be mended, nevermore.”

As someone who has not yet read Meyer’s other series–The Lunar Chronicles–I should probably explain why I chose to read Heartless first:

  1. I heard you didn’t have to read TLC before it.
  2. It’s a standalone, so I would be able to sample Meyer’s writing without potentially abandoning a series.
  3. It’s the Queen of Heart’s backstory. That’s right, from Alice in Wonderland. Which also means the main character ends up a villain–and I live for my villains.
  4. And, okay, let’s be real here. The hardcover. With the dust jacket and, especially, without, it’s stunning.

“‘These things do not happen in dreams, dear girl,’ he said, vanishing up to his neck. ‘They happen only in nightmares.’”

In the land of Hearts, Lady Catherine Pinkerton–Cath–is seventeen years old and has a passion for baking that easily rivals Cookie Monster’s love for cookies–although, she does love those too (any dessert, really). She dreams to one day co-own a bakery with her business-savvy best friend Mary Ann–currently her family’s maid–and to share her masterpieces with all of Hearts.

“This was why she enjoyed baking. A good dessert could make her feel like she’d created joy at the tips of her fingers. Suddenly, the people around the table were no longer strangers. They were friends and confidantes, and she was sharing with them her magic.”

But as heir to the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, how dare she set such low expectations for her life? Her mother strongly disapproves of Cath’s “hobby,” deeming it “a job fit for servants.” The King of Hearts, however, just so happens to adore her creations, and it is for that sole reason that her mother continues to tolerate it. The King–get this–is unmarried and–big surprise–has his heart set on Catherine to be his bride and the future Queen of Hearts.

But Cath does not wish to be queen–after all, how would her bakery dream be possible as a queen? Queens must always appear elegant and polished; they certainly do not walk around caked in flour and sugar like she does.

Cath also has zero interest in the King. At least 15 years her senior, and several inches shorter, His Majesty is a decidedly simple man. Although he is exceedingly kind and generous, Cath has no romantic feelings for this King that more closely resembles a golden retriever puppy.

“A heart, once stolen, can never be taken back.”

Caught between wanting to please her mother and wanting to pursue her confectionery dreams, yet another variable enters the equation when Catherine finds herself gravitating towards the charming new court joker, Jest. The night before they meet, she dreams of his disarming yellow eyes and has the distinct feeling he has taken something that belongs to her.

“‘It is a dangerous thing to unbelieve something only because it frightens you.’”

In addition to Cath’s internal conflict over her future, Hearts is riddled with a massive–pun intended–problem. The mythical creature known as the Jabberwocky is wreaking havoc, stealing and devouring its citizens. Hearts desperately needs a hero(ine?) to put an end to it.

Riddles and rhymes, absurd characters and disappearing cats, tea parties and flamingo croquet, magical foods and hats, romance and vengeance–this book has it all. 

Through her writing that flowed like magic and the unique, lovable characters that came with it, Meyer was able to perfectly capture the nonsensical atmosphere found in Lewis Carroll’s enchanting world.

I also think this book was a strong backstory for the Queen of Hearts. Like Regina from Once Upon a Time, we see that she wasn’t born evil; she was a kind, ambitious young woman who was deeply wronged, and the events that take place in this book forever change her. And that’s what makes a good villain–a good backstory.

“‘Fascinating, isn’t it, how often heroic and foolish turn out to be one and the same.’”

All in all, I enjoyed Heartless. It’s hard and strange to read a book that you know is ultimately going to end up a certain way–badly, in this case–but, nonetheless, I still appreciated the ride, the colorful characters, and the enchanting world Meyer gave us. I will soon, hopefully, be reading The Lunar Chronicles.

So, by now I actually have read the first two books in The Lunar Chronicles, as I am re-posting this review from my other blog, Reviews Cubed. I had mixed feelings about both of them, but plan on finishing the series. Maybe I’ll do an Unpopular Opinion post on it. 😉

If you’re interested in buying it, you can always use my Book Depository affiliate link at the right side of my blog! All commissions I earn will go towards giveaways!

Leave a comment if you’ve read Heartless! I’d love to discuss it, and I’d especially love to know what people who read TLC first thought of it!

– Taylor

Unpopular Opinion: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Welcome to my first entry in my “Unpopular Opinion” series, wherein I discuss, well… my unpopular opinions.

Since the ACOTAR trilogy is coming to an end in early May–well, at least it’s only the end of this arc, thank goodness–I think it’s only fitting that I start with this series.

So, my Unpopular Opinion: I did not like A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Hear me out before you go grabbing those pitchforks though! I loved, loved, loved its sequel A Court of Mist and Fury.

I knew this was something I’d eventually want to discuss, so while reading both I wrote these fun, silly lists that basically summed up my thoughts at the time of what I liked and what I disliked about each book:

**potential spoilers from here on out**

A Court of Thorns and Roses |My Rating: 2/5 stars



  • Feyre’s trials–Under the Mountain–through the end of the book (that cliffhanger though o.o)
  • Low-key interested in Lucien and his past
  • Did I mention RHYSAND


  • Boring romance that seems largely based on attraction/lust/sexual desire
  • Tamlin is no “beast”–there is nothing really keeping Feyre from loving him (see my post linked at the bottom for more)
  • Everything before Under the Mountain *sighs* so boring
  • Calanmai (ew, never been so uncomfortable in my life) and the way Feyre just will not listen to anything anyone ever says

A Court of Mist and Fury |My Rating: 4.5/5 stars



  • Feyre’s “abilities” and is actually  interesting for once–her personal growth
  • Important messages on love (like harmful/abusive relationships)
  • Expansion on Feyre’s sisters Nesta and Elain (we get to see them as three-dimensional characters who aren’t just hateful and awful for no reason)
  • More in-depth world-building
  • Oh and I can’t forget RHYS RHYS RHYS
  • That ending though


  • That ending though (yes, it’s both a pro and a con–My. Heart. Sarah.) Okay maybe it’s not really a con 😄
  • As someone who was never his biggest fan–or even a fan–of him, I think Tamlin is made out to be more of a villain than he really is (SJM’s writing seemed to manipulate things and left him feeling a tad out-of-character)
  • A bit of lagging in some places (like info dumps)
  • Wanted to see more of Lucien 

(Side note: I have plenty to talk about with Sarah’s books, but I just wanted to get this out there first before ACOWAR comes out in May. Who knows, maybe ACOWAR will once again change my mind–although I highly doubt it. Fingers crossed!)

After reading Sarah’s Throne of Glass and being so pleasantly surprised by how she could make me love characters I’d normally hate–as well as discovering her writing talents in the wonderful rise in character development, plot, and intricate world-building found within each new installment–I could not contain my excitement when I heard she was writing a new series. Based upon the classic “Beauty and the Beast,” I thought nothing could go wrong, but ended up sorely disappointed.

(To see some of my issues with ACOTAR more fully explained, you can read my post Who Wrote It Better: Rosamund Hodge vs. Sarah J. Maas,” which mainly focuses on where I thought ACOTAR failed and Cruel Beauty succeeded in being a worthy “Beauty and the Beast” re-telling.)

Basically, what it comes down to is this: 

I could not connect with Feyre on any level. I could not connect with most of the characters, for that matter–the ones that most interested me held the smallest roles. And when it’s impossible for me to connect with a character, I turn to the plot for a thrilling story that makes the not-so-interesting characters worthwhile. But again, there was very little plot up until the very end. Feyre’s weak personality and the slow-pacing of the novel ultimately just failed to captivate me the way that ToG‘s Celaena was able to.

Near the very end, when Feyre goes “Under the Mountain,” was the first time I felt my interest peak; I thought to myself, “yes, here we go now,” because I was so not ready to give up on Sarah and this series. It is because of this ending, in which we finally get to see Feyre shine and become the strong heroine I wished to see all along, that I felt forced–no, ordered–to read the sequel. (Okay, and maaaybe Rhysand. Him, too. 😄 )

All this being said, I still hold this very unpopular opinion about not having enjoyed ACOTAR. Hopefully, I’ve cleared up why I felt the way I did, and maybe even will spark a discussion in those of you who did love ACOTAR.

**If you saw my last post, you’ll know that I am now a Book Depository affiliate! (Yay!) If you have not yet read this wonderful series or Sarah’s other works, I strongly urge you to go buy them here!**

Comment below if you want! I’d love to hear your opinions and turn this into a discussion! 🙂

– Taylor

Exciting Update: I am now a Book Depository Affiliate!

Ahhh! This is so exciting! I actually first found out about Book Depository through booktube a couple years back, and it’s become one of my favorite places to buy books! 

Let’s face it. The UK editions of almost every book are stunning, and Book Depository is by far the best place I’ve found to buy them! In addition to foreign editions, they usually have pretty great deals on pre-orders. (All of the pre-orders I’ve made this year have come through them.) They also usually include cute little bookmarks that you can color and make your own. Great books for great prices + FREE INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING. If you’ve never heard of them, you definitely need to check them out!

Okay, okay, enough of me talking them up. (But seriously they are amazing.) I’m just super excited they approved my application to become an affiliate. 

This now means if you use the link on the side of my blog to make a purchase (or any other links I have provided throughout my blog to bookdepository.com), I will earn a small commission. This means more money for me to start hosting giveaways! I’d call that a win-win situation! 😉

April 2017: TBR Update!

We’re a little over halfway through the month of April right now, so I thought I’d explain a bit on where I am with my TBR–what I’ve read, what I’ve added to it, and what I now truly hope to finish by the end of April. (How anyone can make a TBR for the whole month and actually complete it truly impresses me! I change my mind at least a million times just writing mine up, so actually sticking to it? Practically impossible for me.)

If you haven’t yet seen my April TBR, click here!

That all being said, I am pretty proud of how I’ve done so far this month. Yes, I only gave myself seven books, but so far I’ve read two on that list (THUG + ADBH–the former was AMAZING and I’m currently writing my review👍, and the latter was somewhat of a letdown which you can read about in my review here). I’m also almost done with Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (I plan on finishing tomorrow!) and have read a fair bit of two other books (which I will mention below).

It may not seem like a lot, but with how busy I was, I’m impressed with myself–especially because I know this last half of the month is going to be much more calm, so I should easily be able to read many more books. Fingers crossed! 🤞

So, now, after finishing Wintersong, I plan on finishing Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor–it finally arrived from BookDepository! (I LITERALLY CRIED WHEN I OPENED IT AND AGAIN AFTER READING JUST THE PROLOGUE. Man, I’ve missed Laini’s storytelling so much. This book is now most definitely the most beautiful thing I own–inside and out.😍)

I am also currently reading another book that randomly caught my interest–We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, and I plan on alternating between it and Strange in order to make Strange last longer. 😉

But the BIGGEST NEWS I have is that I got my hands on an ARC for Now I Rise by Kiersten White! So, of course, that HAS to be read ASAP. I loooved And I Darken, so I’m ecstatic about reading this sequel!

I also am waiting on my copy of the Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli from Book Depository, and Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer I plan to borrow from my library. So provided I have finished all of those above, I hope to pick one of these two up next!

I have put The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons on hold for now because of all of these recent developments, but hopefully will finish it next month. There’s nothing wrong about it so far; the writing is wonderful, but for now I just have to make time for my higher priority reads. 😉

Thanks for reading, and let me know how you’re doing with your TBR! My next update will of course be in my April 2017: Wrap-Up post. 😉

– Taylor

Who Wrote It Better: Rosamund Hodge vs. Sarah J. Maas

Similar to the popular magazine “Who Wore It Better?” columns, “Who Wrote It Better?” is where I compare two books or series that share a similar plot, setting, background, or subject matter.

First up in the “Who Wrote It Better” saga (*click the titles for their Goodreads links*):

Rosamund Hodge‘s Cruel Beauty vs. Sarah J. MaasA Court of Thorns and Roses

My Rating: 4/5 stars
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars










By my ratings, I think you can tell which I enjoyed more, but here in this post I will explain why. You can also consider this a recommendation; if you enjoyed one, you may enjoy the other. 😉

Cruel Beauty‘s Goodreads Description:

Graceling meets “Beauty and the Beast” in this sweeping fantasy about one girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

A Court of Thorns and Roses‘ Goodreads Description:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

The Main Similarities:

  • Both authors draw on the classic “Beauty and the Beast” tale to outline the basic plot of their books as well as build their characters.
  • They also both contain allusions to the famous “Tam Lin” ballad.
  • Both stories take place in a fantastical, made-up world.
  • Each contain a protagonist who has been mistreated by their family.
  • The two protagonists are both forced to go live with an enemy--the “beast” factor–for different reasons.
  • Both are initially resentful and hateful towards their “captors” until they spend more time with them, and ultimately discover they are not the monsters they appear to be.
  • (For those who care about aesthetic, oddly enough, even both covers appear similar, with their mixtures of red and black.)

Comparison of the two, split up by category:

Round One–Setting/World-Building:

I have to say it must be a tie between the two on the world-building. Since the larger part of both books take place in one massive house, both authors easily could have taken the easy way out and chosen to give very little information on the outside world.

Instead, both Hodge and Maas choose to give us an in-depth explanation of how each world operates.

In ACOTAR, you’ve got the world of Prythian which is divided into two by a wall that separates the mortals/humans from the immortals/Fae. Much more vast and widespread than the human realm, the Fae are split up into seven different courts: four of which are named after the seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) and the other three are related to time of day (Dawn, Day, and Night). Feyre is taken to the Spring Court. We also get glimpses of a strained relationship between Prythian and another country called Hybern. As this is only the first book in a series, we aren’t told too much, but just enough that we can infer a war may be brewing between the two countries.

In Cruel Beauty, I cannot say too much on the background, as you must find out some of the information along with Nyx. (It’s part of the intrigue and final mystery that Nyx must solve.) It’s also been quite a while since I read it, but what I can remember is that Hodge not only created a strong, well thought-out setting in which the characters live, but also built her own unique mythology that serves as a basis for the characters–religions they worship, daily rituals, holidays, etc.

Therefore, again, it must be a tie between the two for setting/world-building.

Round Two–The Plot:

During the first 75% or so of ACOTAR I was immensely bored with the slow-pacing and gradually grew more and more tired of the plot and characters. However, the last 25% is exactly what I had hoped for–Feyre finally got off her butt and used her brain, taking both her life and destiny into her own hands. It was this final 25% that prompted me to read the sequel in hopes that Feyre could only continue to evolve (and that we might get to see more of a specific character whose name happens to start with an R 😉 ).

With Cruel Beauty, I was entertained and entranced the entire time by Hodge’s the mystery that was the Gentle Lord and–not whether or not–but how Nyx would put an end to the cruel Gentle Lord. Would she end up his murderer or his savior? I was totally invested in Nyx uncovering what exactly it was that Ignifex was hiding, and found myself tearing through the pages. I was more than content with all aspects of the plot. The exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion–all were equally well-done, in addition to the pacing of the book.

That all being said, Cruel Beauty wins round two.

Round Two–The Characters:

Right off the bat, I have to say that though I had issues with both protagonists, I’d have to go with CB’s Nyx as the one I liked and enjoyed more.

My issues with her mostly stemmed from her initial behavior towards Ignifex–the “beast” in this case. One minute she was terrified by him and the next ridiculously trying to put up a front and acting stubborn with him, with small doses of her being entranced by him thrown in as well. It was just inconsistent and immature. However, I’ll allow her that, as I probably would have the same reactions to someone as disarming as him. Plus, as implied by initial, her behavior does mature and eventually allowed me to enjoy her more and more.

Compared to that, ACOTAR‘s heroine, Feyre, was just so bland and aggravating. As mentioned above, I did not enjoy her character at all until the very end of the book, where it seems she finally blossoms into the strong character I had expected of the fierce huntress I met at the very beginning of the book. She just seemed so angry for no reason other than blind hatred, and I’m sorry but that just doesn’t work for me. Feyre also had a terrible habit of being utterly incapable of listening when others repeatedly warned her of danger. I absolutely could not fathom it. I mean, if you were in an enemy territory and at the mercy of said powerful enemies, how could you not listen?

Cruel Beauty, for the most part, contains a limited number of characters, but they are well-written and the small cast is vital for us to get the full effect of the solitude Nyx must endure. I also loved how honestly Nyx’s relationship with her sister was portrayed. It wasn’t pretty and Hodge didn’t dare refrain in the envy and contempt Nyx felt towards her sister. But that’s what made her easy to sympathize with and so refreshing.

On the other hand, A Court of Thorns and Roses contains a more extensive cast–which may largely be due to the fact that it’s a series and characters have to be introduced in order to revisit them at a later time–but I found only a small fraction of them to be intriguing and worth reading. I adored Rhysand, who it seemed should have been the beast instead of Tamlin–he just so obviously was hiding under a “mask.” The only difference was his just wasn’t quite as literal as Tamlin’s. This brings me to my next category.

Round Four–Finding Love with “The Beast”:

In “Beauty and the Beast,” the main focus of the story is, of course, the romance between the two. Therefore, I think his portrayal is pretty integral in any re-telling.

One more similarity not mentioned above is that both CB and ACOTAR contain love-triangles… well… sort of. Cruel Beauty employs a unique twist on the classic love-triangle trope, and although a love-triangle does not come into play in ACOTAR, there are strong hints of one that do come into play in its sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. Again, initially I was slightly annoyed by Nyx’s wish-washy personality–especially the way it affected the love triangle (with her feelings towards the both of the love interests constantly changing). But as the book progresses and you learn more–as Nyx’s path becomes more clear–I was able to overlook it. (Can’t say too much here without spoilers.)

But we’re focusing on the beast aspect here.

The Beast and his backstory are just as essential as the romance. The beast needs to be terrifying and easy to hate and misunderstand. That’s the main part of the attraction to the story’s romance–Beauty being able to look past the Beast’s outside appearance or countenance and seeing the true person underneath so wholly and completely.

In ACOTAR, although Tamlin may have been able to physically transform himself into a “beast,” he acted nothing like one and Feyre had no reason to hold such contempt for him other than the stigma tied to the Fae. And that’s fine, as long as we get to see a closed-minded character like Feyre open up, but for me it never seemed like she made any progress. Most of the “romance” between Feyre and Tamlin seemed to simply be lust–purely sexual. Tamlin also looks nothing like a beast; though he may wear a mask that permanently conceals his face, Feyre gets the impression that from what she can see, he’s gorgeous. There’s no struggle here to love him (although, unlike Feyre, I could not).

So when you compare Tamlin to Cruel Beauty‘s Ignifex, it’s clear who comes across as more of a beast. Ignifex, the Gentle Lord, is in no way gentle or kind. (Or at least it seems that way.) He’s cruel and conniving. He deals in dirty bargains, preying on the wishes of gullible people, giving them whatever they desire but also punishing them in just an equally terrible way as whatever brought them to him in the first place. (This is how Nyx became entangled with him–her father made a bargain many years ago and she was the price he had to pay.) In addition to his malicious nature, his appearance is quite horrifying as well, with his blood-red, cat-like eyes that are bound to terrify anyone.

Ignifex fulfills both parts of the requirements for this round, so I again have to give it to Cruel Beauty.

The Winner:

Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty. It almost isn’t fair to compare these two with the huge gap in my enjoyment level for each, but that’s kind of the point. I really wanted to explain my feelings towards ACOTAR–why I felt CB was much better and why it was a much more worthy re-telling in my mind.

I seem to be one of the few people who did not enjoy ACOTAR. I went into it expecting to love it the way I did Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, but unfortunately had many, many problems with it. (**The good news is, for those wondering, I did love its sequel ACOMAF! You can expect a fun, short post explaining why coming soon. 😉 **)

Compared to Cruel Beauty, ACOTAR just pales in comparison for me. I hope this helped explain why. Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think? Tell me below! I’d love to discuss.

(Also, if you’re looking to buy any of these, you can use my Book Depository affiliate link at the side of my blog! Any commissions I earn will go towards me hosting giveaways! 😉 )

– Taylor

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: Book Review

The Piper's Son

Title: The Piper’s Son

Author: Melina Marchetta

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Rating: 4.9/5 stars

The Piper’s Son is the sequel to Melina Marchetta’s wonderful Saving Francesca, but can also be read on its own if you don’t mind spoilers. I highly, highly, recommend checking out SF before diving into this one–seriously, no book will ever have the same impact on me as it did, ever again–but SF may not be for everyone. Though both books may begin dark and depressing, I feel that the journeys through each of them are quite worth it. But not everyone can or wants to handle it, so it’s up to you to decide for yourself.

**From here on out, there may be small spoilers for Saving Francesca**

“Maybe she’d always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.”

THIS. BOOK. This. Book. You. Guys.

After reading Saving Francesca and it quickly becoming one of my favorites–if not favorite contemporary book–I was beyond excited to find out there was a sequel following Tom’s perspective. He was, by far, my favorite secondary character, so to know I’d get to learn more about him and his life was wonderful.

For those in the know, The Piper’s Son picks up five years after SF. Our lovely, tight-knit, group of misfits is now spread out all over the world, with the exception of Tom, Francesca, and Justine who are still hanging around. Siobhan is enjoying life in London, Tara’s in East Timor trying to make the world a better place, Will is hard at work with his Engineer buddies, and no one has seen Jimmy Hailer since he took off about a year ago.

A lot can happen in five years though, and in Tom’s world there have definitely been some life-altering events.

Two years ago, everything changed for Tom. Two years ago, Tom’s uncle died a sudden tragic death, re-opening old wounds for the Finches and Mackees as they, for the second time in their lives, must bury an empty coffin.

The crippling loss of his kind and charismatic Uncle Joe, who was incredibly understanding and always gave the perfect advice, has isolated Tom from those he cared for the most. His mother and sister have moved away while his father gets himself together. (Tom stayed, refusing to leave him behind.) But soon Dominic, his father, took off out of the blue, leaving Tom feeling stranded literally and figuratively.

As you may be able to tell, this book is similar to its predecessor in terms of tone and atmosphere. A lot of dark that you have to push through, but when the light shines and there are happy moments, it’s quite worth it.

This time around, Tom is the one who needs saving. But the one who is most qualified for the job is none other than the “psycho Tara Finke” who is all the way in another country. And even if she were there, Tara has no desire whatsoever to help him after their infamous “one and a half night stand” two years ago.

And so it is up to Tom to save his family and himself.

The book begins with Tom getting kicked out of his flat and moving in with his pregnant Aunt Georgie, who is our other protagonist. With Georgie comes a whole bunch of new characters, like her and Tom’s family, her friends and their families, and her ex-boyfriend, Sam, who just so happens to be the father of her unborn child. Yeah, there’s a lot to process.

Although Georgie is struggling with the loss of her younger brother, the most apparent problem she has is her inability to announce and celebrate her pregnancy. Enough time has passed that it is obvious and her family and friends voice their hurt and confusion as to why she will not acknowledge something that should be a happy occasion.

At first, I wanted nothing to do with Georgie–as far as I was concerned she was taking away pages that could have focused on Tom. But I became attached to her very early on. She provoked many questions from me. I wanted to know what the lovable Sam had done to destroy all that they had together. I wanted to know why she couldn’t talk about her baby–was she ashamed of revealing that she could still be with Sam even after whatever it was he did? Was she just not ready to be a mother? Why couldn’t she confide in her friends? I needed to know more about all of her strained relationships.

(Side note: It hit me so hard when she finally did reveal why.)

At one point in the story, I think I even looked forward to Georgie’s chapters more than Tom’s, but then I’d start reading Tom’s and never want to stop until, of course, I read the first page of the next Georgie-chapter.

But this, naturally, I should have expected in a Melina Marchetta novel. Her strong suit is in creating complex, lovable, three-dimensional characters. Each character is just as important as the last.

Also, Georgie kind of gives us a break from the heaviness you feel with Tom. I mean it definitely wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows with her (not by a long shot), but Tom it seemed was just falling deeper and deeper into this invisible oblivion, and no one could stop him.

“I can do oblivion, you know. I can do it better than him. I’d like to see how he likes it if I just disappear from his life without a word. It was okay for him to keep in contact with Georgie and my mum, but not once did he pick up the phone or write to me. Like I was fucking nothing to him. Like I’m nothing to no one.”

Pretty heavy stuff.

“But grieving people are selfish. They won’t let you comfort them and they say you don’t understand and they make you feel useless when all your life you’ve been functional to them.”

It’s also interesting to see the parallels between both Georgie and Tom, in the ways that they decide to deal (or, rather, not deal) with their grief and their problems. They both have friends they have known for years and would do anything to help them, but it’s hard to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped and is just so, so mean to the people around him.

All in all, I recommend this for those who loved Saving Francesca or the book Where She Went. Saving Francesca is closer to my heart due to its subject matter I could closely identify with, but its sequel isn’t far behind (hence the 4.9-star rating). And even though Where She Went was great, I must say The Piper’s Son is a thousand times better.

Again, this book is pretty heavy, so keep in that in mind before picking it up, but I truly do believe it is all worth it for those who love profound, character-driven stories.

Hope you enjoyed this review of this book written by one of my favorite authors! You can check out my original post of it over on Reviews Cubed, and feel free to leave a comment! 🙂

Book Depository affiliate link to Melina’s works is here, and all commissions I make will go towards hosting giveaways!

– Taylor


Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: Book Review

Norse Mythology

Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman 

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

My Rating: 5/5 stars

As much as I love mythology, I actually know nothing about Norse mythology. I haven’t even seen Marvel’s recent Thor movies–not that they count; I’m just trying to explain how truly little I know–so when I heard one of my favorite authors was putting together a collection of Norse mythology, I knew just where I was going to start. Thank you, Almighty Neil Gaiman.

“The Norse myths are the myths of a chilly place, with long, long winter nights and endless summer days, myths of a people who did not entirely trust or even like their gods, although they respected and feared them.”

It’s easy to see why Gaiman loves and chose to write about the Norse myths. Unlike Greek mythology–which I feel has been overdone, and in which, almost all of the stories center on the consequences that stem from Zeus’ reckless inability to keep it in his pants (haha)–Norse mythology seems much more mature and developed. Well, the world does, anyway; it’s riddled with so many layers, and contains such a rich history and expansive world. The gods, however, are crafty and thrive on trickery. I read one comment in which a reader compared them to frat boys, and I’d have to agree. They often find themselves in many ridiculous, yet humorous, situations. (See below.)

From Freya’s Unusual Wedding:

Thor may be a bit of a meathead, but at least he is an entertaining one. 😄

The world: I’m not going to go into too much detail on the world, as Gaiman easily walks you through it in the beginning–better than I ever could–but here are the basics:

  • The Norse gods are split up into the Vanir and the Aesir. The gods of the Vanir seem to correlate more with nature, but are equally as formidable and dangerous as the powerful Aesir. Some time ago, there was a war between the two, but eventually they came to a truce. Now, some of the Vanir choose to live in Asgard, in harmony with the Aesir.
  • There are a total of nine worlds:
    • Asgard is where the Aesir–and some Vanir–choose to make their home.
    • Alfheim is the beautiful and majestic home of the light elves.
    • Nidavellir, or Svartalfheim, is the place in which the dwarfs forge their extraordinary creations.
    • Midgard is the realm of women and men, in which us mortals live.
    • Jotunheim is the home of the frost giants and contains the great well of wisdom. (You will read about in the first story.)
    • Vanaheim is where the Vanir make their home.
    • Niflheim is the underworld, or dark mist world.
    • Muspell, the world of flame, is where Sutr–the fire giant–waits for Ragnarok to be unleashed and end to the world with his flaming sword.
    • Hel, named after its ruler, is where those who die from any situation other than bravely fighting in combat go.
  • Ragnarok is the twilight of the gods–the end of their time–in which all will be destroyed and come to an end, as the cycle of rebirth continues.

The gods: These are just a handful of the gods you will meet, but they’re probably the most important.

  • Odin, the all-father, is the highest and oldest of all the gods. He has many names and is all-knowing and all-seeing. He is Thor’s father and Loki’s half-brother.
  • Thor, the bearer of the magical hammer Mjollnir, may not be as wise as his father, Odin, or as cunning as his uncle, Loki, but what he lacks in smarts, he makes up for in strength. He is the defender of both Asgard and Midgard.
  • Odin’s half-brother, Loki, is one complex character. He has the ability to shape-shift. Like Zeus from the Greek myths, Loki is pretty much to blame for any and all problems in the Norse world. He’s cunning, drinks far too much, and is prone to trouble. Therefore, anytime a problem arises, the gods either a.) (rightfully) blame Loki or b.) enlist his conniving ways to set things right.
  • Twins Frey and Freya, of the Vanir, live in Asgard with the Aesir. Freya, the most beautiful of all the gods, often finds herself a bargaining chip in most of the stories. Her alluring beauty compels many men into attempting outrageous tasks in order for her hand in marriage. Frey, on the other hand, is the mightiest of all the Vanir. He lives in the magnificent Alfheim, the home of the light elves, and is loved and revered for his creation of the seasons, and the fertile land it provides.

Gaiman mentions at the beginning of the book that we have lost most of the Norse tales through the ages, so I can’t even imagine what stories we are missing out on–it’s a tragedy.

“It is perhaps, as if the only tales of the gods and demigods of Greece and Rome that had survived were of the deeds of Theseus and Hercules.”

That being said, this book was still so much fun. I deeply enjoyed the stories Gaiman provided, and the way they were told. I’ll never get over the talent he has for storytelling; he will never cease to amaze me. For those who are already familiar with the Norse myths, hopefully he brings something new to the table in this collection of stories he has reinterpreted.

I feel glad that this book was my first glance into Norse mythology. The strong personalities that Gaiman provided all of the characters/gods with will forever shape the way I view them.

**As a completely and totally off-topic side-note that you may or may not choose to disregard: The entire time I was reading, I repeatedly noticed themes and sayings that heavily reminded me of ASOIAF. After a quick search, I discovered that many believe George R. R. Martin has based several elements of ASOIAF off of the Norse myths. (I’m keeping this spoiler-free, but you can easily search “ASOIAF Norse mythology.”) This book, therefore, has furthered my love for ASOIAF even more than I would have thought possible.**

Again, although I cannot compare it to any other collections of Norse mythology, I truly feel that this book was a perfect introduction to the Norse world. I will definitely be checking out more books about it in the future, and will probably re-read this one several times throughout my life. Infinite thank-yous to Neil Gaiman for giving me a week of brilliant reading material and a new interest.

I really feel like this review should be longer, but somehow I don’t have much to say other than gushing over Gaiman’s storytelling abilities. (Maybe consider this more a book recommendation than a review.) I hate to end it here, but all I can say now is that I hope you go pick up the book!

What is your favorite type of mythology? Let me know below! Mine would have to be the most recent one I’ve become invested in–Celtic, although this book may end up changing that. 🙂

(If you’re interested in buying Norse Mythology–or any of Gaiman’s works–you can use this link, and I will earn a small commission. All commissions go towards me hosting giveaways!)

Music Recommendation: It seems only fitting that I recommend the Stardust soundtrack for this one.

Thanks for reading,

– Taylor

Drown by Esther Dalseno: Book Review


Title: Drown: A Twisted Take on a Classic Fairy Tale

Author: Esther Dalseno

Publisher: Three Little Birds Books

My Rating: 5/5 stars

“Seven emotionless princesses.
Three ghostly sirens.
A beautiful, malicious witch haunted by memories.
A handsome, self-mutilating prince.”

And with that quote right there, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. I found Drown in my Goodreads recommendations and although it normally takes a trusted reviewer for me to pick up a book, I decided to take a chance on this one. And, oh boy, am I glad I did. Somehow it only has a hundred or so reviews on Goodreads, and that really needs to change. So here I am.

Drown is a dark re-telling of The Little Mermaid, but not the Disney version. No, you won’t find any talking flounder or composing crabs here.

The Disney movie deviates quite a lot from Hans Christian Andersen’s original story, with the only real similarities being the main plot of a mermaid falling in love with the human world and its prince and consequently surrendering both her voice and tail to join them. If you’ve read the original, you’ll know that there is a lot more to it than that. The original is, in fact, already a tad bit darker and not as light-hearted with its bittersweet conclusion and underlying messages concerning religion.

Drown challenges everything we thought we ever knew about mermaids. Here, they aren’t sweet, gentle souls who love singing and brushing their hair. Instead, they are emotionless, eerie creatures with a cruel fixation on beauty. Their society literally operates through it:

“Thus the little mermaid learned her world’s greatest paradox: that their currency was beauty, and their coin was body parts.”

Our charming protagonist, the little mermaid, is the youngest of all eight mermaid princesses. Everything about the eighth princess is different. Unlike her sisters and fellow merfolk, she has a natural curiosity and questions everything–nothing can be taken at face value for her. She draws her own conclusions and forms her own opinions–opinions that tend to oppose the rest of the mermaid population’s collective opinion. Naturally, she perplexes everyone around her. They don’t understand her strange thoughts or the foreign emotions she experiences; in fact, she almost seems… human.

When she comes of age, it is time for her to surface as a rite of passage. Straightaway, she finds the human world fascinating–especially its prince and the beautiful music he creates. Quickly becoming obsessed and engrossed with it all, she decides she must join them and seeks out the dreaded sea witch who can make her dream come true. In exchange for her voice and the stipulation that with every step she takes will follow excruciating pain, she gets her wish. (Sounds like a pretty rotten deal to me.)

From there on, we follow and learn through her eyes:

“Everybody made faces around here. Human beings, she discovered, could not maintain the stony, frozen expressions of the merfolk, not for an instant. There was not a moment where their faces remained blank. There was always a light in their eye, and the light, like red wind, would flare into a raging fire without notice.”

Keeping most of the elements that the Disney movie abandoned, while also providing her own unique twists, Dalseno’s Drown is a much more faithful and developed adaptation. The history on how the mermaids came to be is compelling and well thought-out. Like any solid foundation for a story, it allows us readers to understand the present in which the story takes place–specifically, the culture that has formed and why the mermaid society operates with as little humanity in it as possible.

In addition to the depth Dalseno gives Andersen’s original characters, she also throws her own wonderful characters into the mix. None of which are given names and are referred to only by their position in life or easy identifiers, like “the little mermaid.” There’s also one whom I absolutely, tragically adored. I think you’ll know who I’m referring to once you’ve finished the book. 😉

Lastly, Dalseno’s writing was just magical. I almost want to say maybe even on par with Laini Taylor? Considering how much I worship Laini, I think this says a lot! I feel speechless. I guess, Dalseno just has a natural gift for storytelling.

That’s all I’m going to say for now. I know I didn’t go too much into detail, but I think it’s best to go into this one not knowing what to expect–I did, and it went swimmingly for me. (Haha, okay honestly I had so many puns I wanted to include so please allow me this one. 😄 Sadly, puns just don’t fit the tone of this book.) I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates when an author can take a familiar story or idea and reshape it into something completely their own, or to those who loved the movie Pan’s Labyrinth–both are twisted fairy tales that share similar themes and a similar atmosphere. If you love engaging characters, fairy tales, and/or mermaids, that’s an added bonus. 🙂

I really loved this debut, and can’t wait to read Dalseno’s most recent release, Gabriel and the Swallows.

I’ll leave you with this last quote:

“I brought you here to tell you this: sometimes what we are searching for does not exist. We may sacrifice for it, even bleed for it, but it was never meant to be ours.”

You know it’s a good book when the characters still occupy your thoughts from time to time after finishing it, and you still don’t even know their names.

This is one of the few reviews that I am re-posting from Reviews Cubed (link here), but I’ve also revamped it a bit, since I’ve had more experience writing reviews by now. Hope you enjoyed this review! 🙂

(If you’re interested in buying this amazing book, you can use my Book Depository affiliate link here and I will earn a small commission! I think it’s actually the cheapest place to buy it. 😉 Also any commissions I make, I plan on using for giveaways!)

Try “Stretch Your Eyes” by Agnes Obel or maybe the Pan’s Labyrinth soundtrack while reading.

– Taylor

A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith: Book Review

A Darkly Beating Heart

Title: A Darkly Beating Heart

Author: Lindsay Smith

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillian)

My Rating: 2.25/5 stars

Disclaimer: This is a review of an ARC I recently got from a friend, so there may be minor differences from the final print copies.

From the back of the book:


You can just feel the hatred radiating off of Japanese-American teenager, Reiko. She is consumed by her desperate need to get revenge. On her brother, Hideki, on her ex-girlfriend, Chloe–on basically everyone she knows and anyone dumb enough to get caught in the crossfire.

(Trigger warning: Reiko does mention self-harm and suicide a few times, graphically.)

After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents are at a complete loss. They don’t know how to even begin to deal with her after everything that just went down with her brother. So when she convinces them that a temporary stay in Japan is the perfect remedy for her to heal herself and sort things out, they ship eighteen-year-old Rei off to live with her uncle in Tokyo. Shinjuku, to be precise.

But with Uncle Satori comes her shallow, entitled cousin, Akiko, who is obsessed with achieving popularity. Together, they work for her father’s business, Satori Graphics, in a small team that creates items such as menus, signs, websites, etc. for businesses. But mostly, the employees do Akiko’s bidding; she basically uses her co-workers as a means to further her career in the “idol” world.

When she lands a job at a cultural festival in the historical town of Kuragami (which doesn’t actually exist), Akiko forces her “minions” to tag along and assist in promoting her brand.

While hiking in Kuragami, Reiko stumbles across an ancient, hidden shrine. There she finds a strange rock that is somehow tied to a young woman named Miyu, who is currently living in 1862-Kuragami. With it, Reiko soon discovers that she can slip into Miyu’s life–into 1862–at will, and quickly becomes obsessed with her. After all, Miyu’s life eerily reminds Reiko of her own, and she loves the thrill in playing the part of someone who seems just as eager to take revenge on those who have wronged her.

So, I have a loooot of feelings about this one, as you can probably tell by my unwillingness to assign a rating. I guess I’ll start with what most attracted my attention to this book in the first place: the setting. Japan.

Over the years, I’ve tried and failed to find a decent book set in Japan. In most of the books I found, it seems the authors relied too heavily on getting pop-culture references in there, and then completely missed the mark on what Japanese culture is actually like. It’s like they’re so worried about trying to convince you that they know what Japan is like that they take the time to make sure the book is overflowing with as many stereotypes as possible, but completely abandon the process of building an engaging plot and characters of substance.

On the positive side, as both a bibliophile and a Japanophile, I can say with confidence that Smith is the first to do an above-and-beyond job in accurately capturing all of the essential parts of Japanese culture. I could sense while reading that she had actually been to Japan or at least done extensive research–maybe even both. (Which was confirmed when I read her author’s note at the end.)

It’s been a dream of mine to one day visit Japan–to hopefully study abroad there–for almost seven years now. My love for Japan started, like most people, with anime, manga, and video games, but over time the language and culture has become my main point of interest.

As someone who has only been able to experience Japan through pictures and videos over the years, this book was the first to make me feel as if I were actually there with Reiko, surrounded by the bustling crowds of the arguably too-polite, and definitely too-hardworking people of Japan.

My familiarity with Japanese history only goes so far, though. In the two Japanese classes I’ve taken throughout my life, more emphasis was placed on modern culture, so my only history experiences come from random bits of my regular history classes, and that “history of japan” video–yes that video. (All you tumblr users know what I’m talking about and if you don’t, please watch here. You are in for quite a treat. 😄 )

All that being said, I do believe Smith was able to depict the 1800’s in an accurate way, but I can’t say with absolute certainty. And though Kuragami may be an imaginary historical town, there are places like it in Japan, and I can say that Smith did a valid job in authentically representing them. (Smith mentions in her author’s note that she and her husband visited the historical town Tsumago during her honeymoon, so that was her basis for Kuragami.)

Now for the negatives. Like my complaints for the other books I’ve tried to read that were set in Japan, Smith just failed to flesh out her characters and plot for me.

As for Reiko, I was completely prepared for a story about a furious girl, shrouded in rage and bent on taking revenge, but Reiko. Was. Just. Too. Much. It felt like every few paragraphs, we got a reminder of her anger and utter hatred for everyone and everything. But we have no idea why this is.

Instead, we are thrown into the middle of the story with no solid explanations as to why Reiko feels this way. We get bits and pieces here and there of what happened, but it is not until the end that all is revealed. This, I think was a mistake. Reminding readers every few minutes of how angry a character is just doesn’t work if we don’t know why. How are we supposed to understand and sympathize with something we know nothing about?

(Plus, when all is revealed, Reiko just seemed like a complete lunatic to me.)

The other characters, like Reiko, were one-dimensional, and stereotypical. Akiko was nothing but the evil, self-absorbed villain. Kenji was the overly-nice guy who tries to help. Mariko was the girl who willingly throws others under the bus in order to be liked by the “queen bee.” We learn nothing about them other than these facts. Nothing new here.

When I first got the book, I had no idea it was so short. As soon as I saw it, I immediately grew wary. How were all of my expectations going to be met in less than 300 pages? Answer: they couldn’t possibly. The first fifty pages or so were great–the best I’ve encountered in a YA novel set in Japan–even with all of the angst, because I figured, “hey, we’ll find out why soon and she will come to terms with her feelings.” At this point, I thought this was going to be a four-star read.

But as soon as Akiko uprooted the characters to Kuragami, and Reiko became engrossed with Miyu’s life–for no apparent reason that I could understand–the book just. Got. So. Dang. Weird. It just seemed all over the place–how things all go down, how it all ends: so abruptly and nonsensically. Suddenly, as if a magic wand has been waved, Reiko has learned forgiveness, Akiko is nice, and Kenji isn’t the annoying “concerned friend.”

Everything just goes downhill after the first fifty pages.

Conclusion: I have no idea how to wrap-up my feelings on A Darkly Beating Heart. Ultimately, I think if Smith had spent a bit more time planning and editing the plot, this could have been a very enjoyable book. But, alas.

Smith did, however, accurately represent Japanese culture, and was the first book set in Japan to impress me, in regards to that. I guess, if you love Japanese culture, this is a good book to try, but just know Reiko is super angsty, and the story gets very strange, very quickly. (And I don’t mean it in a good way. I usually love strange things.)

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts! 🙂

(If you’re interested in buying this one, you can use my Book Depository affiliate link here and I will earn a small commission! Any commissions I make, I plan on using for giveaways!)

– Taylor

April 2017: TBR

April 2017 Releases:

Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it’s already April!

This month, I only have a few books releases I am anticipating, so it seems that I will mostly be reading the books I did not get to in March. I will talk about those after the April releases.

The Upside of Unrequited


1. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli | Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins

Why I’m interested: I have been highly looking forward to Albertalli’s next release ever since last year when I read and loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It seems like this one will (hopefully) also be brimming with nerd-culture references and have characters you cannot help but love. Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!


Spindle Fire

2. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer | Harper Collins

Why I’m interested: Again, I’m a sucker for any re-telling, and Sleeping Beauty was the only Disney movie I ever really liked growing up. (I liked obscure fantasy movies like The Secret of Nimh, The Black Cauldron, and The Last Unicorn.) But for some reason I really loved SB–I even read the original story because of it. After reading Neil Gaiman’s short, but beautiful, re-telling this one may fall short of my expectations, but I’m willing to take that chance. Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!

Other Books I Plan to Read in April:

With only two books on my radar, it seems I will mostly be focusing on reading the books I didn’t get to earlier this year. Here they are (in no particular order):

A Darkly Beating Heart


1. A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

Why I’m interested: JAPAN + TIME TRAVEL + VENGEANCE + LGBT MAIN CHARACTER–I mean, what could go wrong? *knocks on wood* Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!


The Deep End of the Sea


2. The Deep End of the Sea by Heather Lyons | Cerulean Books

Why I’m interested: MEDUSA RE-TELLING. Enough said. Currently reading this one, and I did not expect it to be set in a modern era, so although that was a bit weird, Lyons’ gorgeous writing drew me in. It’s very likely that I will post a review on this one. Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!



3. Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones | Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan)

Why I’m interested: “FOR FANS OF LABYRINTH AND BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.” Welp, that includes me, so sign me up! Just got this one from the library, and I am absolutely in love with the cover! Let’s hope it’s just as good on the inside. 🙂 Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!

The Hate U Give


4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas | Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins

Why I’m interested: Um, I think the question is “why wouldn’t I be?!” This book is taking the YA audience by storm, and I couldn’t be any happier, for it deals with the Black Lives Matter movement–a movement extremely relevant to our current society. I cannot wait to start this! Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!



5. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor | Hodder & Stoughton

Why I’m interested: TITLE + COVER + DESCRIPTION + (largely) AUTHOR. As soon as my copy arrives from bookdepository.com, I plan on dropping any and all other books in order to devour this one. Laini Taylor is one of my favorite authors, and she never fails to disappoint! Click the title to read its Goodreads summary!


These are just seven of the many, many, many books I hope to read this year–and, more specifically, that I am hoping to get to this month. Whether I get to all of them or not, we’ll see–the way I pick my next book is usually pretty random; I get a gut feeling. That being said, I still am highly excited to check all of these out! Let me know what you plan to read this month, or link me to your April TBRs!

(Also, if you’re looking to buy any of these, you can use my Book Depository affiliate link at the side of my blog! Any commissions I earn will go towards me hosting giveaways! 😉 )

– Taylor