[Review] House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)

image0Title: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; new adult; adult; romance; mystery; series
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.


Review
: 3 Stars

Spoiler content warning! Proceed with caution!

Like many others, I preordered this book and waited with bated breath. Then tore into it the moment it arrived. And then. I wasn’t dazzled? Like, it took over 100 pages for me to get into it and even then, the only reason I kept reading at all was because it was an SJM book. Here’s the good news— it got better over time!

While I never truly fell in love with any of her characters (maybe a few side characters) I did really enjoy the plot by the middle. I loved the bare bones of it: a murder mystery whodunit. I liked that SJM gave us little pieces that kept coming back up throughout the book (Bryce going to the Istros and seeing something creepy, Danika and Bryce getting caught up in something scary when Danika says she loves Bryce, Hunt’s backstory with Shahar, Jesiba’s whole character in general, Fury) that kept the plot moving.

There were a few plot twists that I definitely expected:

  • Micah — duh.
  • Hypaxia, obviously.
  • “What blinds an Oracle?” (471)

But I found that I didn’t care too much that I saw them coming because it kept the story going, just like the little clues. It was well done.

I really liked the world building in this book. SJM wrote unique and distinct subsets of Lunathion and it was brilliant.  SJM’s writing style changed depending on where we were in Crescent City. I really loved that. My heart raced when they were in the Meat Market. Sentences seemed shorter. When Bryce and Hunt were at the shooting range, there was a carefree feel to the writing that made me feel like the characters.  The energy and time put into this element of the book is clear. Moonwood, FiRo, the Gallery — each territory is its own space, and it’s so wonderfully done.

Another thing I love about SJM is how she goes about creating a new mythos in each book series. It’s clear she’s setting her readers up for a new series too. Before even jumping into the book, readers are given a preview on the “Houses of Midgard” so we’re aware that we’ll be diving right in. At the very bottom of this page, it says, “Sprites were kicked out of their House as a result of their participation in the Fall, and are now considered Lowers, though many of them refuse to accept this.” This preview lets us all know that we’re in for something bigger, but I for one, didn’t expect the amount of the Fall storyline that we got in this book too.

Overall, in terms of worldbuilding, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end — (literally every mythical beast will appear, any animal can be a shifter — can we talk about the magpie shifter at the market? omggg — every scary creature you’ve ever heard of is in there too, and angels, fae, and mermaids will be in here also) but I knew how to swim, so… I dealt with it.

That being said, her characters were not fun. Like. From Bryce to Hunt to all of them, it was tough to care about literally any of them. I get that SJM wanted to write an adult fantasy book but having her main heroine be the jaded party girl was not easy to read. I think I understood the intention — hide who you truly are and watch people show you their true colors — right?  But in my opinion, that went on too long. Bryce’s grief was palpable and parts of that felt so real and so raw, and I truly go that. Those pages were tense and hard to read for the right reasons. But so much of Bryce was hard to read for the wrong reasons.

And don’t get me started on Hunt. With his brooding “tortured soul” thing? It was just really rough to read for SO MANY pages.

Bryce is very anti- alphahole the whole book, but then, on a DIME, she turns around and attempts to give up everything for Hunt. Her entire character is built on this idea of not giving up herself for a man, and then she sells herself to Jesiba for him? Tries to sell herself to Sandriel for him? After everything he did to her — it’s like antithetical to her character. I still don’t understand it as a plot point.

Some of the other characters were also like… kind of like character cliché shells to me. Like Ruhn, Bryce’s overbearing-yet-essential-skill-having parents, the friends who just give up on her when everything with Danika goes down.

It was almost like the plot took all of SJM’s attention and then she just pulled character cards that she started working on but hadn’t finished yet. It’s almost like she plans on filling out the character traits in the subsequent books in the series.

At the end of the day, I still:

  • read all 800+ pages

still enjoyed:

  • the banter between Bryce and Tharion
  • Bryce telling off Ithan and the wolves
  • Hunt telling off Amelie
  • Bryce’s dynamic with Lehabah and Syrinx

still cried when:

  • “My friends are behind me, and I will protect them” (702) and “My friends are with me and I am not afraid” (703).
  • “I forgave him a long time ago… I just didn’t know how to tell him” (735).
  • “Light it up, Bryce” (764).

and will still buy the next one.

Red, White & Royal Blue Review

41150487._SY475_Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: romance; contemporary; LGBT; new adult; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads): What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Review: 4 Stars

Casey McQuiston’s 2019 romance was as funny as it was tender. It was sweet and kind but also witty and full of banter and sexy flirting from the millennial characters McQuiston created. It was so well done too. All of the millennial / gen z generation characters felt fully dimensional. In fact, the characters that fell flat for me were the older generation. The ones I didn’t really care about, even if they were the ones apparently leading the nation. *shrug*

Alex and Henry had me from Cakegate. Their energy was electric. From the moment Henry called Alex out and was like, “you’re the one always coming to seek me out, Alex,” I was hooked on them.

When McQuiston wrote in the banter from the people following them on internet, the newspaper, Twitter, on Buzzfeed, etc. I felt like it literally could have been me. Particularly the “OMG just make out already” comments after their first television filming.

But it’s not just about their snark and witty repartee. It’s also about their tender moments and their private email exchanges. I loved how they sent excerpts from actual letters in history. I loved how that began with Hamilton and John Laurens. It was a fun, and particularly pop culturally relevant way to start their love story.

The author was, in my opinion, particularly brilliant with how she allowed their love story to unfold. The clandestine meetings, their secret texts, their private emails, their innuendos, and the help of the seven people they trust. It just works. It helps build the suspense but also brings with it this reminder that it has to end. Logically, as a reader, I knew somehow they would get exposed, and from some of the repeated phrases, I guessed (SEE! I CAN GUESS THE ENDINGS!!! TAKE THAT LAST TWO BOOKS) correctly. It was a really volatile coming out for both of them and it felt like a real invasion of their privacy, but I really like how they all handled it.

I don’t have any experience with this, so I can’t speak to whether McQuiston handled this with grace and empathy, but I thought Alex and Henry were strong and brave AF. They stood up to the MF Queen of England for Christ’s sake.

The LGBT representation in this book was awesome. Nora and Alex pulling it out for the bi team, Amy for the trans community, Henry and Raf for the gay community, Cash for the pan community, and then all the other characters as strong allies. (I don’t think I missed anyone, but I’m writing this review without the book to skim through, so if I am, please comment below).

Getting back to the older generation for a second, they all seemed so flat. The only one that really gave me anything was Alex’s dad. When they were in Texas for their weekend away from the world, I really loved how the father just accepts Alex. He even teases him and calls himself the patron saint of genderless bathrooms in California I think.

But they have a good conversation about how it’s different when it’s your own kid, which I think is a good distinction to have. Oscar (dad) says it isn’t any different for him, and Alex is his kid and he loves him just the same— but it really is for some parents. I’ve heard parents say that they’re okay with it as long as it isn’t THEIR kid. (Gross, btw)

So for Oscar and Alex to have this conversation, it’s pretty cool.

POTUS has a moment of humanity when she kicked her staff out and asked if Alex was okay, but other than that, she was just a politician, through and through.

I think in general, the book is one written in response to what happened in the last election. It’s a HEA, and it’s FICTION, so it’s not this super realistic account of what could happen tomorrow. This was one of the concerns I read about when I got the book— “it’s too unrealistic, it would never happen” — in my opinion, that’s why it’s uh, FICTION? And that’s also why I like it. It’s the dream election for 2019, that’s what makes it good.

The POTUS is also a Democrat, so the politics mentioned in the book, naturally, swing left too, but that didn’t bother me either. I figured that would be the case so I didn’t get caught off guard by it.

Another criticism I read was about how Henry hates the monarchy while still benefitting from it. I lol’d at that. Henry’s character literally struggles with being part of an empire built on genocide and war the whole book, going so far as to never spend any of that money. I liked his character development. I don’t really understand the criticism I guess. *shrug*

Overall, this book is driven by more than just Henry and Alex. It’s also Nora and June and Pez and Amy and Cash and Bea and supported by the POTUS and a double agent (triple agent?) and a senator and two protective agents who care deeply, even if they pretend they don’t.

It was an idealistic HEA and I loved it. Pick it up today.