[The Dream Protocol: Descent] Adara Quick

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What would a world be like if dreams were controlled by the government and your place in life determined at age 15? What would a world be like if nightmares were weaponized and you could be punished for anything they determined were wrong? In The Dream Protocol, your life is lived in a grey world and your only escape is the dreams that you can afford. Then at age 35, you’re no longer wanted and you take your Descent. Deirdre is no longer content with living this way. As her mother’s Descent creeps steadily closer, she begins to rebel against the norm. When who she loves is threatened, she discovers that she will do anything to protect them–even if it means putting herself in danger.

So I will begin by saying that I’ve never had a novel length story published. But I have written and read a lot of stories, particularly young adult ones, in the last year and a half or so, so I know what I like to see in novels such as these. The Dream Protocol has everything that I like to see in a dystopian novel, but sadly, they all never go beyond the idea. I felt that this novel was built around the bare-bones of a plot, but was never fully fleshed out. As it’s the first novel in a series, perhaps this is explored in the next novels. However,  because it’s a first novel, the fact that it’s full of big ideas that aren’t fleshed out kind of damns it.

There are so many interesting things that are introduced in The Dream Protocol but never pan out into something more. There’s a prophecy, but we’re never shown how it’s connected to Deirdre and her family. We’re teased with hints of what the Dream Protocol truly is as we’re given accounts and reactions periodically throughout the novel, but this never expands into something more. One of my big disappointments was that I wish it had been described more. Instead, we’re given small details that don’t really flesh out the world. Everyone wore grey, the walls were grey, there was no sky…grey overwhelmingly describes the blandness of the book.

I also didn’t understand why the action was only in the last 25% of the book, especially when the bulk of the book didn’t do a good job at creating setting. It ended up making the book seem poorly plotted and unfinished, almost as if Quick only sent in half of her manuscript or someone made the decision to divide a longer manuscript into two in order to make a series. I would have been more interested in the book if the climax had happened in the middle and I then was able to see the consequences of that. The cliffhanger of the novel is roughly cut off in the middle and is really jarring.

Considering that the book is supposed to be about dreams I found it strangely lacking in details on them. A special dream is introduced in the text, but the elements of it are not further explored. They weren’t focused on them too much other than to show that dreams could easily be turned into nightmares for the dreaded ‘Mare weapon. I wanted to see more of people’s dependence on the dreams–after all, they can only dream what the government wants them to see and with a dependence on the government for dreams, they can easily control the populace. But it wasn’t explored. It was one of the loose threads that I was surprised about, considering the heavy focus on dreams in the summary.

Ultimately, this book gave me a really weird way to reflect on it. You know that feeling when you’re not really hungry, but you do the motions of eating because you rationally realize that you should eat, even if you don’t enjoy it at all and it’s purely for fuel, not pleasure? That’s exactly how I felt while reading this book. I read it just to read, just to pass a couple of hours to wile away the boring hours at my desk. There wasn’t really anything that got me really excited about it, which was a disappointment considering the idea behind the novel. I wanted to like it.

With the way the novel ends, it’s obvious that this is a projected series, although I’m unsure of the number of books planned. I did some research while writing this review, and while I’m given a short preview of The Dream Protocol: Selection at the end of my ebook, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of information online about this book (i.e., not on Amazon, goodreads, or other such sites), even though there’s a cover on Quick’s website and a “date” of projected publication set as Winter 2016 (according to my ARC). I was further confused when the news portion of her site said that a book three cover reveal will be coming soon (although this may be a typo, to be honest). I feel that there should be more information on the next book in the series, even just a basic page on them because when readers are interested in a series and there isn’t that information, they may turn away from your series out of frustration.

While The Dream Protocol: Descent was chock full of interesting ideas, the lack of expansion on them made me disappointed and affected my enjoyment of the novel. I will likely not continue the series because of that and the lack of information on the next novel. It makes me worried that I’ve invested time in a series that will not continue. Many others have enjoyed this book but it’s just not for me.

2 stars.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. The Dream Protocol: Descent was published on April 20th, 2016.

[Dreamwielder] Garrett Calcaterra

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreamwielder started in the middle of the action, set in a world that had already been conquered and one where magic is outlawed. I love that that it started in the middle, because we’re thrown into a world that is dealing with the aftermath of this–dealing with the aftermath of wars, usurpations, and failed rebellions–but that is not the entire focus of the novel. We meet Makarria, a girl who has strange power in her dreams, as one of the people trying to eke out a life with her family. Far from the Emperor’s realm, Makarria believes that life is only about the small farmstead by the sea. Forbidden to dream by her parents, Makarria does her best to obey. When her dreams create something that put her on the Emperor’s map, she flees and begins to understand that her life is not as simple as she had thought. With a well-written cast of characters, Dreamwielder surpassed my expectations of what sort of fantasy novel this was.

I was really impressed with the characters in this. Divided between several characters of different backgrounds, Garrett Calcaterra blended each of their stories and lives into a cohesive narrative that I loved. It was a little slow at first because of the world-building, but as the world and characters built, I eventually couldn’t wait to see what Calcaterra came up with next. The cast was diverse in age, so that meant that their experiences were all different. I wasn’t treated to a book with characters that were so similar they may as well have been one. One of them was a prince who was a hostage–my particular favorite because he had no magic in this world of magic. I liked reading how he coped with having a sister who had visions and dealt with being a protector who had no powers other than his own fighting talent. On the opposite side of that was Makarria, a girl who had lost her family and was slowly discovering just what her talents could do. All of the characters were strong, and I appreciated that the female characters didn’t wait around to be rescued. I liked that they surprised the male characters with their actions.

I also enjoyed that there were secrets surrounding the characters and they were often unaware of these secrets themselves. I like when the author treats the reader to a little more information than what the characters know, because it’s fun to read how they’re revealed to the characters. Reading as their paths got closer together made for some exciting reading.

Although Dreamwielder has the potential to be entirely full of clichés, it’s well-written enough that you hardly notice there are even clichés. Dreamwielder begins with an idea of a series of kingdoms under siege and in a hostage situation. A ruler has come in and conquered these kingdoms but allows them to still have agency in their own cities, provided they send an heir to be held hostage at another location. There’s a focus on the political and the tensions that come with that, but that focus is also wrapped up in magic. Originally, the kingdoms were full of sorcerers who wielded magic for the good of their kingdoms. When the conqueror came in, he killed many of those who had magic and others went into hiding. It’s kind of like a young adult Game of Thrones, but done in a way where you don’t have the potential to mix up the vast cast of characters.

My favorite aspect of this novel was how magic was pitted against the mechanical. Magic is in the past and is viewed by the Emperor and his supporters as something that stands in the way of progress. By vilifying it, the Emperor maintains his control over the world. The repercussions of having it or protecting it are so severe that people are willing to turn in their neighbors in order to protect themselves. It’s entirely a way to keep people from rebelling. The Emperor’s home city is vastly different than that of the formerly magical cities. I really liked reading the industrial parts of it, because it was so different.

The world created in Dreamwielder is similar to other fantasy stories, but because of the strong characters and clear writing, it ended up being more than just another young adult fantasy novel. I wasn’t disappointed in how the book was divided between several characters because all of their smaller stories made up the whole.  I was really interested in dreaming as a power and am interested in seeing how Makarria grows in the next novel. I recommend it for readers who like fantasy, magic, and the threat of overlords.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Dreamwielder from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Dreamwielder was published September 29th, 2015.

Slipping into Autumn: My September Books

This month is going to be a little light on the reading and reviewing. I’m visiting home, so while I have a good chunk of travel time to read, I won’t have a lot of time to sit down and write my reviews. I do have a few new releases that are coming out in October that I have reviews for. I’m excited that I finally get to share them because I read them in early to mid-August.

I think the best part about going home is that I can buy books in person! I’ve bought books online here, but they tend to be expensive and they also take forever to arrive. I have some series that I’m planning to finish out and I’ll probably buy some more books as well, because I have absolutely no self-control when it comes to books.

*・゜I’m excited to get my hands on these!*・゜

I read A Darker Shade of Magic ages ago and I've been trying to get this one ever since. I want my covers to match, so I NEED this one. Desperately.

I read A Darker Shade of Magic ages ago and I’ve been trying to get this one ever since. I want my covers to match, so I NEED this one. Desperately.

Everyone says that the second and third of this series makes it, so I'm hoping that they're right.

Everyone says that the second and third of this series makes it, so I’m hoping that they’re right.

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I feel like everyone in the young adult book community finished this years ago.

*・゜I have a reading theme!*・゜

So apparently I’ve put off reading books that all deal with dreams!

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I'm pretty interested in getting into this one. We'll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

Dreaming is magic in this one, and magic is forbidden. It seems like it will be an exciting mix of magic v. mechanical, so I’m pretty interested in getting into this one. We’ll see if this first book makes me want to continue with the series.

The cover is so pretty and old-fashioned looking! In this book, no one can dream! Dreams are manufactured, which is a really cool dystopian slant. And for whatever reason, once you turn 35, you're sent to live beneath the city? I'm very intrigued. I have high hopes for this one, so I really hope it's good! It just came out this year in April.

The cover is so pretty and old-fashioned looking! In this book, no one can dream! Dreams are manufactured, which is a really cool dystopian slant. And for whatever reason, once you turn 35, you’re sent to live beneath the city? I’m very intrigued. I have high hopes for this one, so I really hope it’s good! It just came out this year in April.

*・゜Upcoming Reviews*・゜

I hope that people like these upcoming October releases! I enjoyed some more than others as is usual, but all will likely find an appreciative audience.

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Released October 4th, 2016.

Released October 11th, 2016.

Released October 11th, 2016.

Released October 15th, 2016.

That’s all for now! A have some more advance reading copies that I’m very excited to check out, but they’re 2017 releases. I don’t want to read them too early. Have a great reading month!

 

[Monstress 1: Awakening] Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

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Monstress was a beautiful and deadly introduction to the world that Marjorie M. Liu created and Sana Takeda illustrated. After an apocalyptic event, lines were drawn between the Humans and the Arcanics. We follow Maika Halfwolf and her companions as they try to find what exactly happened on that day and how Maika is connected to it. Maika has secrets of her own and sometimes it’s best that they remain hidden.

For the most part, I couldn’t get enough of Monstress. There were moments when the story was a bit slow because the author needed to introduce concepts or characters to the reader, but as a whole, it started immediately in the action and didn’t stop. We learn that there are the Arcanics, who look different from the humans (often appearing half animal) and who are not considered human ever since the events of the war. Treating them badly is commonplace, although not every human is like that. The Cumaea, a sort of witch-nun, are after Arcanics for their Lilium, a substance that they can harvest from Arcanics they’ve captured. They’re powerful enough that they can do what they want, and no one can stop them. This is a world that had steam-punk influences, but also maintained that it was a fantasy world where gods exist.

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One of my absolute favorite parts of Monstress was the fact that nearly all of the characters–the protagonist, one of the companions, the villains–were female. There were men, but the story was not driven by them. I love that the protagonist, Maika, was harsh and didn’t want to step into the shoes of a heroine when others pressured her toward that direction. She remained firmly rooted in her own motivations. She wasn’t unwilling to change, however. One of my favorite things to read were her actions with Kippa and Ren, because it really showed how traveling with them was changing her from this tough, prickly person to someone who was still tough and prickly, but she was willing to extend her drive to survive to protecting them. Maika is an unlikely caretaker, but nothing is more natural than her slipping into that role for Kippa. The characters in this are also extremely diverse. Because there was an apocalyptic event in this world, it seems like everyone who survived came together and built what they could. There’s not any room for prejudices, unless you’re an Arcanic.

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unnamedLiu has a knack for pacing her story out for her readers. We start in the action, so there’s a lot of things that we’re unaware of at first. The backstory of this world and of Maika’s place in it is given to us in bits and pieces. It allows for slow world-building that ultimately really pays off, particularly in the motivations of the potential villains of the series. I say potential because although we’re given their motivations, Liu has already proven in each part of Monstress that what you expect is not always what is true. By the time I finished Monstress, I was more aware of what was going on in the world but there’s still so much more going on that we haven’t been told yet. We know that some people are keeping secrets from other people. As readers, we’re lucky to be in the know. I’m really looking forward to what will happen when those secrets become common knowledge to the people it’s being kept from, because it will make for some intense moments and illustrations.

The illustrations. Oh my gosh. I would love to have prints of some of the city and wilderness scenes. It is absolutely stunning. I love that there are moments where it looks brushed on the page.  I won’t lie, when the story dragged a bit the art is what drew me through the story. Takeda was able to illustrate facial expressions perfectly that even when there wasn’t text I was immediately able to understand what the characters were feeling. There were so many lovely wide-shots of the world that really let me take in what it was like. It was a way to introduce readers to the world without words, and it worked perfectly when there were large, detailed panels. I’m so glad that it’s in full color, because Takeda is incredibly talented. I would definitely buy an artbook for this series.

I love how it's cluttered but also open. Really shows the setting.

I love how it’s cluttered but also open. Really shows the setting.

The one thing that may deter readers is the violence. I didn’t find that it was excessive or anything like that, but it was there. I felt that it was necessary to the story. This isn’t a kind, post-war setting. Things that happened during the war have decided what the world will be like, such as who will be in power and who will not. I wasn’t too grossed out by any of it, as it was mostly blood or stylized in a way that didn’t make it gruesome.

I’m definitely a fan of the art and intrigued by the story that Liu presented in the first volume, so I want to check out the rest when I can. I’d definitely recommend it for readers who like fantasy with a bit of a dystopian feel.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Monstress from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I mean, the artist made me hungry for chocolate rats. That has to mean something for her illustration skills. (Note: I won’t actually ever eat any rats.)

 

 

[Dandelion on Fire: Greene Island Mystery I] Sherry Torgent

I recently became a reviewer for a small publishing company located in North Carolina called Blue Ink Press. Dandelion on Fire is the first novel I’ve received to review from them. Blue Ink Press was founded in 2015. Their aim is to represent and publish young adult authors, but they also represent local authors from their area. I’m very excited to work with them!

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Hardy only wants one thing: to make it through his senior year of high school unscathed so he can escape Greene Island for college on the mainland. Unfortunately for Hardy, things never go the way he plans. When a mistake lands him in community service with a strange new girl named Darcy, things begin to unravel. Darcy has a secret. And suddenly, that secret connects Hardy and Darcy in ways that begin to spiral out of control. Everyone says that Greene Island is cursed. Hardy is starting to believe it.

The plot of Dandelion on Fire was steady throughout the novel. Unfortunately, steady doesn’t always make for quick reading. I felt very relaxed while reading this, even during the moments that were meant to be fast-paced and nerve wracking. There was a calmness to the writing style. The plot did pick up toward the end of the novel, but because of the earlier meandering of the plot, it didn’t feel very balanced. All of the action was clustered at the end. As a result, I ended up being a little surprised at the conclusion because it seemed so sudden. I expected more pages.  The action at the end made me excited about what Sherry Torgent was doing with the story. It was just unfortunate that it hadn’t been included earlier.

Dandelion on Fire is a mystery with slow pacing. There weren’t enough moments where Hardy and Darcy discovered something that gave answers toward the larger mystery; instead, I felt that it focused on the mundane moments of Hardy’s day-to-day life too much. Something exciting would happen, and I would think “this is it, this is when we find out– –” but then it would seem to backtrack. Hardy would be concerned about a senior picnic instead of being worried about the murder that had taken place on the island. The book also  has a supernatural element to it. For some reason, the Curse of Viola has given certain individuals powers. Throughout the novel, these supernatural things are mentioned, but never really focused on. I hope that a more solid explanation is given to us in the next novel.  Like much of the action, the supernatural points of the novel were clustered at the end. Because of that, the ending seemed abrupt. There’s no return journey to “normality” with a greater understanding of what has happened to Hardy.  There were a lot of questions, both about the supernatural and the mystery, but few seemed to be answered. It’s a good start to a series because we’re not given the complete answers in this first book. It pushes readers to check out the next book in the series.

The book focuses on Hardy and Darcy, with a few side characters that come in and out of the action. It’s a novel about them as much as it’s a mystery. Hardy was a straightforward, very simplistic character. He longed for a return to normality and often had to be dragged about by Darcy. Gradually this began to change, but as a result of his initial actions I felt that he was kind of boring. He didn’t want to take charge of his protagonist status. Contrasting him we have Darcy, who was far more interesting and engaging. It’s really too bad that she wasn’t the one telling the story. Darcy has a bit of a mystery surrounding her, and we weren’t given any answers about her. Not really. I hope that the next novel goes into more detail about her. She went headfirst into possibly dangerous situations because she was curious; that curiosity drove much of the story and plot for me. I liked how the friendship between Hardy and Darcy progressed. At first, the difference in their ages bothers Hardy. I remember feeling that way as a senior in high school when looking at the new faces of the freshmen. But then Hardy, like everyone at some point after they’ve graduated from high school, realizes that the age doesn’t matter. As soon as he decides that, their friendship really bloomed as they became more engaged with the mystery around them.

It may not have been as fast-paced as I would have liked, but I have to admire what Sherry Torgent did with Dandelion on Fire. Namely, the fact that it’s clean. Granted, that’s not something I’m overly concerned about because I tend to read a variety of young adult novels of varying content. It was interesting to read a novel that didn’t have sex as an underlying tension. Dandelion on Fire reminded me of a wholesome family movie: good for everyone. While it may not be something that older readers will scramble to read, I do think that it will be really good for the younger side of young adult readers. It’s interesting, has a mystery, romance, and supernatural elements, and ends in a way that is hopeful and moderately well-rounded (to the extent that you could maybe read it as a stand-alone novel). It’s possible that the mystery started in Dandelion on Fire is not quite concluded and will continue in the second book, but it’s also possible that an entirely new mystery will start.

3 stars.

I’d like to thank the publisher again for providing me with a copy of Dandelion on Fire in exchange for an honest review. Dandelion on Fire was first released on January 31st, 2015. A sequel, The Curse of Viola, was published March 13th, 2016.

[The Tower Must Fall] S.E. Bennett

 

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The Tower Must Fall is the story of what happens when fairy tales end. When humans are the majority and those who are Cryptid–the witches, faeries, the creatures of myth–live in fear. Marek Tobar dreams of the day when humans and Cryptid can live in harmony and no longer fear death at the hands of the Animus, a group of people who believe that Cryptids are the scourge of the earth. Tension has been growing for centuries, and Marek finds that he may be more important to the war than he originally thought. Along with Enyo, a reformed Animus, Marek must try to create a place in the world where coexistence is possible–but it may come at a cost too great to bear.

I wanted to like this book. The premise pulled me in and initial reviews praised it highly. And I did enjoy the first part of it. The writing and dialogue was intelligent and interesting, and I wanted to continue reading about this world. It seemed really unique. But at some point, that all dropped off. I needed to push myself through sections of text more and more. It dragged. Many times I questioned if I wanted to continue this book. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed the ending. At the same time, however, I’m not sure it was worth struggling through the huge middle section when I only truly enjoyed the first part and the end of the novel. I think the cause of this was the plotting. It was very odd. It was  almost like reading a book that had half of its pages torn out, because it jumps from moment to moment and doesn’t give us all the information for something that has just happened. In one chapter, we’re in one place and in the next it seems like months have passed.

Of course, there were things that really worked for this novel. As mentioned before, the writing style was really clever. I enjoyed S.E. Bennett’s descriptions of places and characters. The author took traditional fairy tales and twisted them. In this world, fairy tales as we know them are stories that are not remembered correctly. I liked that the author took the idea that history is told by the victors and made it work for fairy tales. Those that have been cast as the villains in the story are not happy about their roles. While humans view them as monsters, they view themselves as people. Sure, there have always been quarrels between different Cryptid tribes, but they only want the things that humans want: freedom and the ability to live in peace. Instead, they’ve been cast as second-class citizens, sometimes even being hunted down. They’re not recognized as anything but monsters, and some have decided to make that true. Others still hope for a future, and thus the rebellion was born. The opening of each chapter deals with how the sparks of this rebellion have resonated and continued to the present day of the novel. The stories were steadily shown to be all connected.

Unfortunately, I think that the writing style is also what caused the novel to drag in the middle. I marked at around 45% in my ebook that it was dragging, and I know that it had been happening for a while before I decided to mark it. This continued until around the 80% mark, which in my opinion is too much. I got the sense while reading it that the action was slowed in order to make the book longer. By doing that, there wasn’t enough action to keep me engaged with the story. Another thing that didn’t work was the characters. Individually, I was really interested in them. I liked them. But because of the way the plot jumped around, when growing friendships and relationships were revealed they fell flat.

I’m disappointed that this book didn’t really turn out to be what was promised. I expected so much more. Going into this novel, I would have given it high marks. But now at the end, I find that it was only okay. I kept reading when the story dragged because I kept expecting something major to happen. I can’t really say I recommend it, but if you enjoy twisted fairy tales and the idea that the creatures in them want peace just as much as the humans, you may like it.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Tower Must Fall from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This book was released on April 25th, 2016.

[Gambit: The Prodigy Chronicles I] C.L. Denault

19314543Gambit is the first in a dystopian series by author C.L. Denault and is also her debut novel. Gambit follows Willow Kent, a girl who has fully embraced her life in the Outlying Lands far from the Core. Blending in and avoiding the gazes of the miners in her town is the worst threat that she has to deal with until a Core Commander comes calling. Searching for a traitor, Willow and her parents try to hide her from the man, fearful of him finding out that she doesn’t quite belong. When her identity is uncovered, Willow is forced to take the long trek to the Core. Along the way, she discovers that things aren’t always so black and white and how she adjusts and acts toward them may be the only way she can survive her new world.

I’ve let this book sit in my review queue for a few days because I’m not quite sure how to review it. I enjoyed the world that Denault built. It built up in a way that I Iove–in bits and pieces as they came to Willow’s attention. She didn’t know everything from the get-go, and as her world became larger, she adjusted her perspective of it accordingly. It wasn’t done in a way that was overwhelming or boring for the reader. I loved learning more about the people with the abilities and how they could range anywhere from sensing genetic matter to creating earthquakes. I can see why Gambit has been compared to books like The Hunger Games and other popular young adult dystopian novels. Although there are similarities, I felt that the concept and story was new enough for me to enjoy it.

I think that Denault also has a talent at breathing life into characters. I loved all of them. Willow went through a natural progression of growth both mentally and power wise. She was stubborn and her reasoning was flawed at times, but that didn’t stunt her. She changed. I wish that more time had been spent with her family and best friend Tem. The short time we spent with them was enough to make me like them. The characters from the Core were just as well done. Reece was delightfully horrible and I enjoyed most of their interactions. Watching as he went from this character she hated and didn’t trust at all to someone she considered a friend was really well done. But, that’s also where my problems lie.

I mentioned in a previous review that I am a fan of the aloof love interest thing. Probably because it doesn’t have the issues of instant-love that drives me up a wall. I get that we’re meant to see Willow as someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the Core. As such, her interactions with Reece are fraught with butting heads and moments where they both push each other too far. This is normal when they don’t know each other, but when they did know each other and these interactions kept occurring, it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Reece went from pulling her hair to prove his point to caressing her gently. There is a point when being aloof for the sake of safety passes over the line into outright cruelty. And then he’s giving her gifts the next moment. So it became an issue where I didn’t  understand why the heck Willow fell for him. A little bit of remoteness, I understand. But when it became cruelty, I just got the creeps. What was worse is that I didn’t feel that any of his actions were explained in a way that made sense. It was just “Oh, he doesn’t usually act this way, guess he likes you.” I’m very confused about how I feel about their relationship. On the one hand, I thought there were cute moments; on the other hand, I’m not sure that I can ignore the cruel moments, because they’re signs of an abusive relationship.

Overall, I did enjoy the characters and story enough that I am interested in reading the second book in this series. I hope that the issues I have with Reece and the romantic relationship will change and be addressed in the second novel. If they continue, I’m not sure that the good storytelling will be enough to keep me interested.

3.5 stars.

I received a copy of Gambit from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Gambit is available now.