Book Review · From the Vault

From the Vault – The Madness Project by J. Leigh Bralick

I’m so excited to bring this review back from the vault! J. Leigh Bralick became one of my favorite authors when I read Down a Lost Road (Amazon link) a few years back. Fast forward to this past year and I’ve finished out that trilogy, read The Madness Project (Amazon), and even beta-read A Dark So Deep (Amazon), which releases tomorrow! It truly is dark and twisted, but those are things for another day (like tomorrow, THE RELEASE DAY, perhaps). The Madness Project, the first book in The Madness Method series, left me desperate to know what will happen next. Y’all have certainly not finished hearing all about this series from me!

This review originally appeared here.

Cavnal has been at peace for nearly a century. Magic, once revered, is now the object of contempt. And anyone unfortunate enough to be born with its powers has been banned from the nobility and pushed to the fringes of society.

All his life, Prince Tarik has known that if the world discovered his secret—that he was born a mage—he would lose everything. But when a wave of violence in the city points back to an underground society of mages, everything changes. Only Tarik has the power to infiltrate their ranks. Only he can learn the truth about a plot that could destroy everything he loves.

But nothing can prepare him for the life of lies he will have to live to win a place in that society. Or for Hayli, a shape-shifter mage who is unlike any girl he has ever met. She might be the one to destroy all his plans…or she may be the only one who can save him from himself.

Together they face a dangerous web of sedition, crime and violent ambition, where nothing is as simple as either of them believed. And what they discover will challenge everything they thought they knew about loyalty and betrayal, love and honor.(Goodreads)

This fantasy steampunk world is filled with politics and magic.

Prince Tarik has, since the age of 5, been hiding the secret of being a mage. Now that he is 17, his father, King Trabin, has asked him to utilize the magery Trabin despises so much. Tarik has no idea what he’s getting into, and finds out that not everything is as it seems.

Hayli is a young mage, struggling with feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere and learning how to control her shape-shifting ability.

Tarik and Hayli have several run-ins before Tarik is given his mission, and little do they know how large her role will be in its execution.

This story touches on topics of identity, race, and peer family, for sure, as well as disparity between the poor and the rich. It is written in first-person, alternating between Tarik and Hayli, which makes for an interesting read (and also forces you to read the chapter header to know who “I” is). Each of the characters were unique and distinguishable from the others.

So, a break-down:


  • Good pacing with a great storyline that kept me wanting to read on
  • Believable/unique characters
  • Interesting setting (I don’t think I’ve read anything steampunk before…)
  • Magic system explained enough to make sense but remain magical, and there is definitely more to learn in the upcoming books
  • Depth of thought put into Tarik’s magic, especially, to be able to accomplish his mission
  • Cavnish slang
  • Touches on topics related to issues in today’s world such as race, poverty, and politics
  • There is a line shared between Zagger and Hayli which (to me) was fairly powerful
  • Slow-burn romance
  • Adventurous and emotional


  • I don’t have any complaints about this book


  • I want to know the rest of the story, but the other three book aren’t out yet


So, there you have it, I would definitely recommend checking out this book if you are looking for an adventure you won’t soon forget!


From the Vault

From the Vault – Double Life & Alliances by S. Usher Evans

This week’s From the Vault is a double dose! In honor of Conviction’s release next week, I thought I’d bring back my reviews for the first two books in The Razia Series by the lovely S. Usher Evans. You can bet on seeing some more on Conviction next week! These reviews first appeared here and here. Wow, you can really see the changes in my reviewing style from my when I first began and now!

Piracy is a game. How much are you worth?

Since she was a little girl, everyone – from her father to the Great Creator himself – told Lyssa Peate the same thing: she’s worthless. But when she becomes the pirate bounty hunter Razia, she can see the price tag on her own head. Employed by one of the four pirate syndicates, she uses bank transactions and her considerable wits to capture rival members. At least, she would be if Razia’s boss ever gave her a chance. It’s a man’s world, and all she’s allowed to hunt are purse snatchers while she languishes on probation.

To pay the bills, she’s stuck in her old life as Lyssa, discovering and analyzing distant planets and selling them for cash. She’s doing just enough to stay out of trouble, pretending to be continuing her father’s mysterious research while away for long periods of time. Her slimy boss is always asking questions and even assigns one of her younger brothers, Vel, to intern with her. Already struggling to keep the balance between her double lives, she tries everything to rid herself of the kid…

…until the universal police mistake Lyssa’s intern for Razia’s hostage. (Goodreads)

The two identities of Lyssa/Razia show her struggle with who she is and her search for acceptance from the pirate community and herself. Evans does a wonderful job of setting up the internal motivations and the external forces working on Razia and bringing her face-to-face with her problems. Lyssa’s struggles and emotions are palpable and compel you to keep going, especially as her plans for pirate domination keep getting a wrench thrown into them. There was never a dull moment. The banter between characters is witty and realistic; and while Razia is trying to figure out what in the world she is going to do, she didn’t come across as the whiny-needy female characters that have made their way to the main stage in recent years.

I gave Double Life five stars!

Piracy is a game. Whom do you trust?

Lyssa Peate has found a tenuous balance between her double lives – the planet-discovering scientist and space pirate bounty hunter named Razia. No longer on probation, Razia still struggles to be thought of as more than a chocolate-fetching joke, and Lyssa can’t be truthful to those closest to her. But both lives are turned upside-down when feisty government investigator Lizbeth Carter shows up to capture the same pirate Razia is after.

Lizbeth’s not interested in taking Razia’s thunder; rather, she convinces the caustic bounty hunter to help solve a mystery. Somebody’s hiring pirates to target government ships, and there’s a money trail that doesn’t make any sense. From the desert planet of D-882 to the capital city on S-864, the investigation leads them deeper into a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of the Universal Government – and to one of the most painful chapters in Lyssa’s past.

Alliances is the highly anticipated sequel to Double Life, Book 1 in the Razia Series.(Goodreads)

We catch up with Razia about a year after the ending of Double Life. No longer on pirate probation, she’s been doing a commendable job bounty-hunting, but getting none of the commendations. She is just as stubborn and unwilling to hear anyone out when they are saying anything she doesn’t want to hear. When another female shows up in her territory, it’s ON! Despite the unlikelihood of Razia joining forces with anyone, her and Lizbeth begin uncovering an operation much larger than either of them expected, and what they find will send them for a loop.


  • Duo of strong women characters with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, as well as readily-equipped with witty banter.
  • Idea that being feminine doesn’t equal being a whore. (Evans talks about this on her blog, too.)
  • Along those same lines, it’s nice to have a story whose main character is female and her main interest/concern/motivation is not romance.
  • It’s a fun/tense adventure!
  • Said fun/tense adventure is not without an emotional journey of self-discovery and brutal truth-slaps.
  • Nice comic relief.
  • I like that we get the results of Razia’s searches in tables, it makes it more immersive (probably even more effective when not read on a phone…).


  • I didn’t really have any “cons” about this book, but to each their own. 🙂


  • There are times you want to reach out and slap Razia and tell her to listen.
  • (Putting this here until I can test out my theory that this is device-specific) some of the tables used so that we can see what Razia sees were too wide for the page, not really a con, and not enough to really affect the experience.
  • There is a geeky part of me who wishes to delve [even] further into the naming system for the planets, how the time system works, the science of the space travel, and other science-y things. This is good, because that means the story is interesting enough that I want to know more.

I gave Alliances five stars!

From the Vault

From the Vault – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

It’s another From the Vault entry! A review of a previously-read book! This one I’d reviewed once already, some I have not.

I listened to an audiobook version of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell over the summer. I fell in love immediately. An unexpected pleasure was that there were two very good narrators, a female for Eleanor’s sections and a male for Park’s. I admit that I really enjoyed this because sometimes I’m a speedy reader, especially if I’m reading solely for enjoyment, and I am no stranger to missed visual cues, so they saved me that trouble.

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.


The story is set in 1986, and Eleanor is the new girl at school. Park lets her sit with him on the bus that first day, and over time they develop a relationship that is unlike anything either of them have ever known. It starts by them sharing the bus seat. Then Park realizes Eleanor is reading his comics. Then they start to share music, and things continue to build from there. Eleanor is scared to let Park know just how bad things are at home, but she comes to rely on him, on the memory of him, to get her through the nights filled with the cries of her mother and days filled with bullying at school.
What I loved:
  • Both Eleanor and Park had a unique voice, their own lens with which they viewed the world. This made for interesting moments when the view switched back and forth quickly, to see what they were thinking or how they were feeling, and what was different between the two. This also made it very distinct who was thinking what. I also just absolutely loved them both!
  • Their wit!
  • The story felt so genuine, I was sucked in immediately and it was hard to come back from.
  • The supporting characters felt just as real as Eleanor and Park did.
  • Eleanor’s reference to Dicey Tillerman (Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt).
  • THE FEELS! This was quite an emotional book for me to listen to.
What I didn’t like:
  • I can’t think of anything that I didn’t really like. There were elements of the story that I wish weren’t a part of this world in general, but they are, and they were presented really well.
  • While the language didn’t bother me, a family member is a middle school librarian, so I keep that in mind when reading YA. Probably not acceptable for a middle-school library, in case you were wondering.
  • I think that someone who was a teenager in this time would probably like the references to the music, but I have to admit that I’m a failure in terms of pop-culture, so I had to take them at the value presented in the book.
Should you read this? Yes, but you need a certain amount of “emotional bandwidth” (as S. would say) available.
I give this book 5 stars! Additionally, it’s a book I’d recommend reading for a study in how an author can give each character a unique voice.
 **This review originally appeared on my first blog, here.
Book Review · From the Vault

From the Vault – Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke

I’m going to kick off this “From the Vault” series with a book I read back in January, just after seeing the author at YAK Fest.

Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters’ story. Those girls don’t get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing.

Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.

When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.

While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.

And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.(Goodreads)

I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always really enjoy books in general. I know this isn’t true for some people, and for some there is a book that really started them reading. For them this book often holds a certain emotional value that I don’t really associate with any book; however, when I read Damsel Distressed, that changed. While I was already a reader, this book had an amazing impact on me, and I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think of it in some way.

When I read Damsel Distressed, I did so from a recently-arrived-at place where I knew that I had been, and still was, battling anxiety and depression. Imogen’s story resonated so strongly with me, and Macke’s descriptions through Imogen’s voice continue to give imagery to my emotional experiences.

So here’s my rating: 5 stars! – Review originally posted here.

First of all, the cover and title page are ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!

Imogen’s voice is immediately distinct. Influenced by her love for musicals, it is silly, snarky, and at times brutally honest. While Imogen is overweight, and that does play a part in the story, it is not the main concern, as Imogen is clinically depressed and fighting to find some kind of light. Just when she thought things were getting better, Carmella, “Ella,” her step-sister, moves in.


  • Imogen’s unique voice/view of the world. You can definitely see the influence of the theater.
  • Macke uses just enough dialect (fish-kick, for example) for the book.
  • All of the character’s were their own unique identity and had their own presence in the book.
  • Just enough comic relief.
  • Important issues treated with respect and care.
  • Super emotionally moving!
  • The perfect capturing of depression is what really turned the knob on my waterworks. For me it is Imogen’s idea of the pendulum swing that rings so true. The exhausting swinging back and forth, thinking you have come out just to plunge back in. Maybe it’s not a new idea, but it’s the first time that I have been exposed to it, and it is so perfect that it hurts to realize how accurate the swing of the pendulum of emotions is.
  • Part of my connection to Imogen is that I lost my mom at a similar age, so, bonus waterworks.
  • In my experience as an English major, one of the things I found repeated was the idea that “serious” literature was re-readable for the underlying themes, images, ideas, etc., that once the story is read there is still something to merit by reading it again. In my Young Adult Literature class, some of these things that we looked at and were often found in our texts were: non-traditional/broken homes, peer family, and identity (personal, social, cultural, etc.), among other things. Damsel Distressed addresses all of these things with such realistic voice and emotion that it grabs onto your heartstrings and doesn’t let go.
  • This book continues to come up in my daily thoughts and has become an intense favorite.


  • I honestly have nothing negative to say about this book.


  • I want to know the story of all the other characters.
  • Not a sunshine-happy read. (It is hopeful, though.)
Book Review · From the Vault · Resource Review

Reviews, Incoming!


*2017 update-this timeline is no longer in use*

Hello! Thanks for stopping by. Things are about to get shakin’ around here! In honor of that, I thought I’d create a nice little post with a “key” to the upcoming posts. I’ll update this list as posts are added for easy finding.

My ratings will be based on my enjoyment of the books on their own, not in comparison to one another. Here’s a key:
1-star: hated it!
2-star: didn’t like it.
3-star: it was ok.
4-star: really liked it.
5-star: loved it!

Tuesdays – Review of a book I’ve recently read. Simple, really. This will be a mixture of traditional- and self-published books. It may wind up leaning a little more one way and then another as my reading moods shift, but exclusivity for one or another is not my goal.

Alternating Thursdays – “From the Vault.” From the Vault is a series which features books that I read sometime in the past, but did not review. From the Vault may also feature reviews which I have previously written and posted to my first blog, The Midnight Hobbyist. For the most part, these are going to be books that I loved, since those which did not make a lasting impression are obviously not much for being remembered.

Alternating Fridays – “Resources!” This is a review of one of the resources listed on my Resource page. If I’m going to suggest a resource, certainly I should be able to tell you why, right?

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, crazy blog-o-sphere, and hope to see you around!


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From the Vault