The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited by Griffin, Justin, Travis, and Clint McElroy, Illustrated by Carey Pietsch – Review

In the second Adventure Zone graphic novel (adapted from the McElroy family’s wildly popular D&D podcast), we rejoin hero-adjacent sort-of-comrades-in-arms Taako, Magnus, and Merle on a wild careen through a D&D railroad murder mystery. This installment has a little of everything: a genius child detective, an axe-wielding professional wrestler, a surly wizard, cursed magical artifacts, and a pair of meat monsters.

You know, the usual things you find on a train.

Hot on the heels of “The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins”, the smash hit graphic novel that launched the series, “Murder on the Rockport Limited” picks up the saga where volume 1 left off. Both books are based on “The Adventure Zone,” a tabletop RPG comedy podcast with downloads numbering in the tens of millions and an army of passionately devoted fans. With art and co-adaptation from Carey Pietsch, the McElroys are once again turning their raucous freewheeling D&D campaign into some damn fine comics.

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Another stellar adaptation of my favorite podcast! I’m so glad that the McElroys got to continue these graphic novels because as they pull away from the actual copywrited DnD content and go into Griffin’s original arcs that there is going to be so much more room to play! This one lent itself so well to the comic format, and it was so nice to see all of these iconic characters that I’ve only ever been able to form in my head!

I love how easily they were able to slip DM Griffin in, and how they used Railsplitter, the Extreme Teen Bible, and the Umbrastaff to showcase who was speaking out of Magnus, Merle, and Taako (respectively) if we weren’t looking directly at them. Angus was everything I needed him to be and more, and I loved seeing more of Lucretia. There was a moment with just her with no dialogue that took my breath away, because it was something that couldn’t be included in an audio medium but worked so well for the moment it was in and will hit so hard for devoted listeners of the show as a whole.

I cannot wait for Petals to the Metal to come out, as it is probably my second favorite arc, and the subject matter will be even more exciting than this one was to see actually play out on the page! I think the McElroys and Carey are doing such a wonderful job staying true to the podcast but also breathing new life into it for lovers of the show AND newbies to the Good Good Word of our McElBoys alike! I recommend this series and the show it’s based on to anyone who will listen to me.

5/5 stars

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The Weight of a Soul by Elizabeth Tammi – Review

When Lena’s younger sister Fressa is found dead, their whole Viking clan mourns—but it is Lena alone who never recovers. Fressa is the sister that should’ve lived, and Lena cannot rest until she knows exactly what killed Fressa and why—and how to bring her back. She strikes a dark deal with Hela, the Norse goddess of death, and begins a new double life to save her sister.

But as Lena gets closer to bringing Fressa back, she dredges up dangerous discoveries about her own family, and finds herself in the middle of a devastating plan to spur Ragnarök –a deadly chain of events leading to total world destruction. 

Still, with her sister’s life in the balance, Lena is willing to risk it all. She’s willing to kill. How far will she go before the darkness consumes her?

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Thank you so much to NetGalley for the ARC of this book filled to the brim with lore and heart! I love a novel that takes mythology and makes it their own, and that’s exactly what Elizabeth has done here. We see familiar faces like Hela and hear names we know by heart like Loki and Odin, but it’s in a way you’ve never seen them before. 

We follow Lena, the daughter of a chief of a Viking settlement. They are awaiting her father’s return from a raid to ask his permission for her sister, Fressa, to marry the boy she loves, Amal. When he does return, he comes bearing gifts and hands a sword to Fressa, the village’s strongest fighter. It lights up with runes in her hands but the strangeness of the weapon is forgotten as their father reveals that Amal has been promised to Lena from childhood since she is the elder sibling and will be chieftess someday.

At this news, Fressa runs off, only to be discovered by Lena minutes later on the floor of the forest, dead. Thus begins Lena’s journey into Helheim, where she strikes a deal with Hela to bring her sister back if she can find a soul equal to that of what she has lost. Lena loses herself in the drive to get her sister back, and ends up with blood on her hands, but no one she encounters is good enough for the goddess. Time behind to run out as the signs of Ragnarok draw near, and Lena finds out things about her village that stop her in her tracks.

It’s such a lovely story of sisterhood and love, and I especially like how the women in this novel are portrayed as strong, cunning, and a valuable part of this society. Fressa’s loss is deeply felt throughout the community, and seeing Amal trying to grieve his lost love while preparing to marry her own sister is absolutely devastating. The ending here made me audibly gasp, and I really hope there’s a sequel in the works! I recommend this to fans of myths and thrillers alike!

5/5 stars

Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley – Review

This moving debut novel in verse about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of an accident that nearly takes her brother’s life is a stunning exploration of grief and the power of forgiveness.

The reminder is always there—a dent on the right side of Jonah’s forehead. The spot you’d press when you felt a headache coming on. The bullet tore away bone, the way dynamite blasts rock—leaving a soft crater.

Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv seems to be the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.

With Liv’s mom suing Clay’s family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she’s not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she refuses to turn away from him—just like she refuses to give up on Jonah. 

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Thank you so much to Edelwiess for this ARC! I think I’ve mentioned this in a review before but it couldn’t hurt repeating; I absolutely love novels written in verse. There’s just something about the medium that feels so incredibly personal and emotional, and I find it so direct and to the point because you don’t have to wade through a lot of extra words to get to the heart of the thing. That’s all this novel is; heart. We see the world through Liv’s eyes as she attempts to adjust to life after the accident.

Liv’s brother, Jonah, was a daredevil. Never once did he consider his own mortality; instead he lived each moment to the fullest and pulled his best friend, Clay, along for the ride. This lead to tragedy as the two boys discovered a gun in Clay’s attic, and Jonah picked it up for a laugh. Not believing Clay’s dad would leave a loaded firearm where anyone could grab it, Jonah brought it to his own head with a smile and pulled the trigger. The rest happens in a blur. Jonah lives, but has irreparable brain damage, and has caused a rift between the two families. Liv’s mother sues Clay’s father, and battle lines are drawn.

Liv is torn. Clay is her friend too, and she can see how much their family is suffering. She is also by her brother’s side almost 24/7, caring for him more than their own mother. She strikes up a friendship with Jonah’s nurses and doctors, and gives nicknames to all the various machines working hard to keep him alive. She’s there to hear him speak her name and to feel the warmth of life still radiating from who her brother has become. She is his protector and advocate, and as such, the rest of her life, like school and friends, start to fall to the wayside.

This book handles grief in such a beautiful way, and shows the importance of a healthy support system. I can’t say that I’ve experienced anything close to this kind of tragedy, so I can only imagine how alone and angry someone must feel. Liv is such a strong individual, and she wears the mask of Normal very well, but when she is found out, the people in her life rally around her to make sure she remembers that she is alive and has permission to be happy. I also love how this experience teaches her so much about herself. As she cares for her brother a spark is ignited within her that tells her she might be meant to be a nurse or even a doctor.

Liv even bridges the gap between the warring families, and finds a grieving mother outside of her own household. She brings joy to everyone she can, not really saving any for herself. She finds love, and reconnects with her friends. She actually sees the person her mother is, removing the woman’s own mask that has obstructed her own pain from view. She is a stubborn and dedicated girl, and I love her so completely for knowing the struggles and faults of those around her and loving them anyway. Her heart is so big, and you can’t help but be swallowed up by it.

I loved hearing Liv’s story in her own, poetic words. Betty Culley did such an amazing job at creating her and the rest of these characters, and making us care about each one as Liv does. I applaud the message for the need for gun safety, which is something that sorely needs to be discussed in the time that we live in now. I cried at multiple points throughout, and even though it was a very devastating novel, it was also full of hope. There are endings, but also new beginnings, and a whole slew of adventures in between. It’s a lovely debut, and I really hope she does more works in verse in the future.

5/5 stars

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – Review

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…
 

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. 

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

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I loved this book more than I ever thought I could! I read it for the July pick of the All Grown Up Book Club, and I hadn’t heard anything about it before then. I don’t really read a lot of romance or new adult, and the book club is really opening my horizons in beautiful ways. I am head over heels for this novel, and I’ll tell you a few reasons why.

The main characters were such a joy to read about. I actually read the audiobook, which is full of enchanting accents AND they make distinctions between phones calls and in person chats, which I thought was an amazing audio choice. It felt more engaging to listen to, and made things less confusing as you had to keep up with who was talking with whom, but it wasn’t ever a struggle. Tiffy is beautifully upbeat and quirky, and I love everything about her. She is damaged by her ex and fearfully trying to find her way in a world without him. When she finds the flatshare with Leon, it’s a dream come true. Speaking of my golden boy, I think Leon tops the list of fictional men right now for me. He is unlike any character I have ever read before. He is an introvert and has a way of leaving prepositions out when he speaks, so the cadence of his voice became comforting and felt like home. He is incredibly kind and understanding, and is just as broken as Tiffy is, but he is dealing with the fact that his brother is, he hopes, falsely imprisoned.

The two strike up a friendship despite never seeing each other. We see their bond grow through Post-Its and leftovers, and when they do meet, a knot of tension melted away from my chest in a huge FINALLY moment. There are so many little nuances in their relationship that make my heart soar, and they just get each other in a way that is unexpected because of how different they are. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that they fall for each other, and the way that their romance develops is just, for lack of better word, *chef’s kiss*. I was yelling back at the audiobook at times because I was just THAT into the story, and I will admit that even though we were supposed to stay on a schedule with our reading times cut up into sections, I got to a point at the end where I just couldn’t stop. The ending made me burst out into tears, and it has become one of my favorite reads of 2019.

I love how therapy-positive this novel is, and also what an amazing support system that Tiffy has. It deals with trauma in such a truthful way, and we are also given a love interest who understands this in Tiffy, and who asks for verbal consent before everything. Leon also gives her space to make her own decisions and to be who she is. He lifts her up instead of bringing her down, and in turn, Tiffy shares her huge heart with his brother, Richie, hearing his story, getting him help, and most of all, believing his story. It seems like such a little thing, but to Leon, it’s everything.

This book was funny, sad, romantic, stressful, and GREAT. I want to shout its praises from the rooftops. It has so many wonderful little references, like a nod to the Twilight series that had me ROLLING. Beth O’ Leary has a new fan in me, and I’m highly considering a re-read already. I’m not quite prepared to leave this world. Can I just stay in the flat awhile longer? I’m afraid I can’t get out of the paisley beanbag.

5/5 stars

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold – Review

You are alone in the woods, seen only by the unblinking yellow moon. Your hands are empty. You are nearly naked.

And the wolf is angry.

Since her grandmother became her caretaker when she was four years old, Bisou Martel has lived a quiet life in a little house in Seattle. She’s kept mostly to herself. She’s been good. But then comes the night of homecoming, when she finds herself running for her life over roots and between trees, a fury of claws and teeth behind her. A wolf attacks. Bisou fights back. A new moon rises. And with it, questions. About the blood in Bisou’s past and on her hands as she stumbles home. About broken boys and vicious wolves. About girls lost in the woods—frightened, but not alone.

Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and author of the Printz Honor book Damsel, returns with a dark, engrossing, blood-drenched tale of the familiar threats to female power—and one girl’s journey to regain it.

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Thank you so much to Edelwiess for this eARC! I saw the cover and the title and was automatically drawn in, expecting a Red Riding Hood retelling. There are bits and pieces of that story here, but it is a beast all its own. What I found inside these pages was one of the most empowering stories I’ve had the pleasure to read, and it was so different than many things I’ve encountered as it was mostly told in second person. This alone made it unique and created a deeper connection with the story and its characters. The author means for you to find yourself in Bisou, and to know that her strength is your strength.

When we meet Bisou, she is with her boyfriend James. Things are quickly getting serious between the two of them– until she unexpectedly gets her period. Embarrassed, she runs into the woods and encounters a wolf. The two tussle but Bisou comes out the victor, and she promptly escapes to the confines of her grandmother’s house, who she has been living with since birth. The next day, she learns that one of her classmates was found dead in the same woods she had been in the night before, and after some investigating put together that what she thought was a wolf had been a boy.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so in that vein I’ll just say that with help from her grandmother, female classmates, and James and his friends, Bisou navigates her way through becoming a woman and what that means for her because of her family history. She learns that not all wolves are boys, but all boys are wolves in their own way. She is taught what a powerful tool her menses is, and that it’s not something to be ashamed of. I would recommend this book for any female reader who needs a bit of a boost, because it is a constant reminder of how women are able to rise up against whatever obstacles they find in their way; even wolves. While it does speak the truth on the danger some men hold towards women, it also speaks to the powerful allies that some men can be. Bisou’s boyfriend James has her back at all times, but does not overshadow her in any way. He allows her to be her own person.

This book also deals with tradition and family. Bisou’s grandmother is a stunning maternal force, and the absence of a male presence in their lives may be felt, but it is not missed. We are also given two strong female friends who accompany Bisou on her journey, each who have had their own run in with a wolf. There are so many stories that are told here. Ones that have heavy roots planted in our own reality. It’s comforting to see these words down on a page, knowing that so many women are having their stories told and have a chance to be heard. It is a triggering and difficult read at times, but it is incredibly raw and real and gives us a Red Riding Hood to look up to. She never needed the woodsman to save her because she WAS the woodsman.

Anyway, I loved the supernatural feel of this read but applaud how the story managed to keep its feet firmly on the ground. I think Elana chose the perfect perspective to write in because seeing ‘you’ splattered across the page kept me thinking, kept me chained to the narrative. Sometimes it’s easy to forget your own power, and to succumb to the forces around you, begging you to give up so they can drink you down like they’re quicksand. It takes little reminders like this to wake you up, and give you hope. If you’re looking for a little light in this dark world, Elana K. Arnold is ready to give it to you.

5/5 stars

War by Laura Thalassa – Review

They came to earth—Pestilence, War, Famine, Death—four horsemen riding their screaming steeds, racing to the corners of the world. Four horsemen with the power to destroy all of humanity. They came to earth, and they came to end us all. 

The day Jerusalem falls, Miriam Elmahdy knows her life is over. Houses are burning, the streets run red with blood, and a traitorous army is massacring every last resident. There is no surviving this, especially not once Miriam catches the eye of War himself. But when the massive and terrifying horseman corners Miriam, he calls her his wife, and instead of killing her, he takes her back to his camp. 

Now Miriam faces a terrifying future, one where she watches her world burn town by town, and the one man responsible for it all is her seemingly indestructible “husband”. But there’s another side to him, one that’s gentle and loving and dead set on winning her over, and she might not be strong enough to resist. 

However, if there’s one thing Miriam has learned, it’s that love and war cannot coexist. And so she must make the ultimate choice: surrender to War and watch humankind fall, or sacrifice everything and stop him.

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Thank you so much to Laura Thalassa for providing me with an ARC of this incredible sequel! I have been anticipating this release since November of last year, and it was well worth the wait. I had expected a continuation of the story of Pestilence; perhaps he had to leave Sara to combat his brother. I was however pleasantly surprised to see that this was a story all its own, with a battle-tested, courageous woman at its center.

It has been 13 years since the appearance of the first Horseman. Since he stopped his terrible plague from spreading across the world, his brother has taken his place. War is relentless, sweeping across the East with a mighty sword and an unquenchable blood lust. Miriam, our protagonist, has heard of his horrible deeds, but thought she was far removed from them. Her world had been shattered already; her family was taken from her in one way or another during the first Horseman’s reign. She has had to learn to adjust to this post-apocalyptic world of destruction and ruin.

Miriam has known death, and she has known murder. This new reality she lives in has made people return to their wild ways, and it is truly a kill or be killed society. She makes her own weapons and is a self-taught archer; a force to be reckoned with. That all changes when War and his army shows up in her town. She is unlucky enough to come face-to-face with the second Horseman, but instead of killing her, he starts spouting something in a dead language about her being his wife and God promising her to him, and so he takes her back to his camp.

What ensues is a battle of the greatest kind. Miriam wars with herself as the sees firsthand the towns that War brings to their knees, but because of her influence, she also sees his humanity that continues to grow every day. Hatred for this monster but love for the man underneath makes Miriam question everything, but she never loses sight of who she is. Despite War’s warnings, she continuously defies him to try and save people. She puts herself in harm’s way more than once, testing her new ‘husband’s’ patience.

I care for this pairing just as much as I did Sara and Pestilence. War is born out of the sins of men, and was made to judge the hearts of men and deal out justice as seen fit. His existence in itself is easy to hate, but War himself pulls at your heartstrings in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. Miriam is his perfect match, headstrong and resilient. She will not break or bend, no matter how hard War pushes. She is a brilliant light of hope for humanity, and she falls into her dire situation with a fiery passion for using her closeness to the Horseman to her advantage.

I love this series, and I think Laura did a great job continuing it and peppering in mentions to the previous work as to quench fan questions about the future of Sara and Pestilence while allowing this novel to be something completely different. I’m living for the teaser for Famine, and I think he is going to be a harder nut to crack than his brothers, just from the little glimpse we get of him. These are most definitely my favorite romance books.

5/5 stars

What Happened That Night by Deanna Cameron – Review

Golden boy Griffin Tomlin is found dead, floating in his pool, the morning after his family’s Labor Day party, and neighbor Emily Porterfield is arrested for his murder. No one knows why she killed him, except for her younger sister, Clara. The secrets behind What Happened That Night unravel in dual timelines:

In the present, Clara struggles with the aftermath of the murder―questions and distrust from her friends, denial from her parents, and visits to her sister in jail. And amidst all of that, another body is discovered that could be connected.

In flashback, the events that brought Clara, Griffin, and Emily together and that led to his death are revealed―events that involve a crush, an obsession, and a shocking twist.

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Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of this book! I was so hoping to read it, and I was previously denied on another site, so seeing it pop up on my Shelf was the highlight of my week. I finished it in one day because these are the kinds of stories I live for. Murder, mystery, and broken people putting themselves back together after tragedy strikes. There’s just something so beautiful in knowing that no matter what happens to you, no matter how an experience may mark you forever, that there is such strength lying dormant in humans as a species to overcome. 

Clara is someone well acquainted with pain. When we join her story, she is living in the aftermath of her sister going to jail for killing their next door neighbor. That next door neighbor was Griffin, Clara’s childhood crush. She has cut off everyone who was close to her, including her best friend, Bex, and doesn’t even go to the jail to visit Emily. She quit theatre at her high school, started hiding behind baggy clothes and a tight lip, and tries her hardest to just fade into the background.

All that changes when she meets Aniston, a perky journalist for her school’s paper who is interested in her sister’s story. Reluctantly, she joins forces with her and Griffin’s best friend Kolby to uncover the mysteries of what really happened that night. I don’t want to go into very much more detail, because there are so many intricate twists and turns in this novel that I really would hate to spoil. It’s such an emotional and heavy book, and it brings to light so many real horrors in this world that do not get enough coverage. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean, and I really recommend you do.

I commend the author for starting this book with a preface that if you need to put the book down, you most definitely should. There are experiences in this book that may be hard for some readers, but I think it is a worthwhile and necessary read. It is raw, but not unfeeling, and many scenes left me with a huge ache in my chest at this absolute devastation that I could never understand in full. The switches between past and present were so powerful and crushing, seeing the changes that time and devastation can make.

Deanna does a wonderful job creating characters that you can fall head over heels for, and the best part of it is that none of them are perfect. They are perfect examples of real human beings, and those same kind that I mentioned before who have shattered but by the end of the novel are on their way to placing the puzzle pieces of their identities back in place. The book is harrowing but heartening, and I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

5/5 stars