March Book Madness! Days 26-31 My favorite new reads from this month

After the Ball by Ramon Casas

Confession time. These past two weeks I’ve been helping my family move cross country from New York to New Mexico. Needless to say, writing daily posts became almost impossible. Mostly because I was SUPER exhausted.

So to make up for these last few days of inactivity, today is a special dedication to my favorite books form this crazy month of reading! Though I won’t be doing daily posts on books in April, I will do Book Tags and reviews every once in awhile.

Let’s get started!

Victoria Schwab‘s The Near Witch

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger-a boy who seems to fade like smoke-appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know-about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

Goodreads Overview

The Near Witch is definitely not Schwab’s best book, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless. Even if some of the character and world building felt a little hollow, Schwab’s writing was still beautiful and wonderful to fall into. I especially enjoyed reading this book while walking outside.

Julia Nobel‘s The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane 4/5

Emmy’s dad disappeared years ago, and with her mother too busy to parent, she’s shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England. But right before she leaves, a mysterious box arrives full of medallions and a note reading: These belonged to your father.

Just as she’s settling into life at Wellsworth, Emmy begins to find the strange symbols from the medallions etched into the walls and stumbles upon the school’s super-secret society, The Order of Black Hollow Lane. As Emmy and her friends delve deeper into the mysteries of The Order, she can’t help but wonder—did this secret society have something to do with her dad’s disappearance?

Goodreads Overview

I don’t think this story is a never before seen phenomenon. The story of a girl looking for a lost parent and encountering a mystery at her new school has been done before. However, that doesn’t mean this book is not enjoyable. Nobel is a fantastic writer. I practically ate this book up because her story and characters were so well written. I look forward to the next book!

E.D. Baker‘s The Wide-Awake Princess 5/5

In this new stand-alone fairy tale, Princess Annie is the younger sister to Gwen, the princess destined to be Sleeping Beauty. When Gwennie pricks her finger and the whole castle falls asleep, only Annie is awake, and only Annie-blessed (or cursed?) with being impervious to magic-can venture out beyond the rose-covered hedge for help. She must find Gwen’s true love to kiss her awake.

But who is her true love? The irritating Digby? The happy-go-lucky Prince Andreas, who is holding a contest to find his bride? The conniving Clarence, whose sinister motives couldn’t possibly spell true love? Joined by one of her father’s guards, Liam, who happened to be out of the castle when the sleeping spell struck, Annie travels through a fairy tale land populated with characters both familiar and new as she tries to fix her sister and her family . . . and perhaps even find a true love of her own.

Goodreads Overview

The Wide-Awake Princess is such a fun story! Of all the books I’ve read this month, Baker’s quirky fairytale made me the happiest. I enjoyed following Princess Annie on her quest to save her sister and put up with stupid princes. I liked this book’s message of living authentically and not relying on magic to determine one’s worth. I also really like Liam. Thank goodness he was one of the few young men without fairy dust-induced good looks and fickle interests and opinions. 

Marie Lu‘s The Kingdom of Back 5/5

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish: to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in eighteenth-century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age—her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

As Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true—but his help may cost her everything.

Goodreads Overview

I have a special affinity for stories centered on music or art. Nannerl’s world is one I can identify with, not just because I am a woman. I understood her hesitation and fear for her future, her passion for music, and her desire to be remembered. What makes this story especially special is its fantastical elements, rooted in old Germanic Fairy Tales. I have a particularly strong German soul so this beautiful story about music, belonging, and individuality sang to me.

Piers Torday‘sThe Last Wild 5/5

In a world where animals no longer exist, twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes sometimes feels like he hardly exists either. Locked away in a home for troubled children, he’s told there’s something wrong with him. So when he meets a flock of talking pigeons and a bossy cockroach, Kester thinks he’s finally gone crazy.

But the animals have something to say. And they need him. The pigeons fly Kester to a wild place where the last creatures in the land have survived. A wise stag needs Kester’s help, and together they must embark on a great journey, joined along the way by an overenthusiastic wolf cub, a military-trained cockroach, a mouse with a ritual for everything, and a stubborn girl named Polly. The animals saved Kester Jaynes. But can Kester save the animals?

Goodreads Overview

I think I connected so well to this story because of the protagonist Kester and the book’s message on honoring animals and the earth. Kester was endearing because his conflict felt real. Kester’s quest to save the wild intertwined with his journey to find his voice again, whether it was in his mind or verbally.

Usually, I feel overburdened by environmental messages in books and movies. However, in The Last Wild, I became invested in Kester and the animals’ quest. The world Kester lived in felt less like a world created by man’s bad choices and more like a world abandoned by man because of fear. 

Thank you for reading! See you on my next month long quest!

March Book Madness! Day 25, Do you love books more than people?

Feel free to donate! Anything is appreciated.

March Book Madness! Day 21, Piers Torday’s The Last Wild 5/5

Book Details

In a world where animals no longer exist, twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes sometimes feels like he hardly exists either. Locked away in a home for troubled children, he’s told there’s something wrong with him. So when he meets a flock of talking pigeons and a bossy cockroach, Kester thinks he’s finally gone crazy.

But the animals have something to say. And they need him. The pigeons fly Kester to a wild place where the last creatures in the land have survived. A wise stag needs Kester’s help, and together they must embark on a great journey, joined along the way by an overenthusiastic wolf cub, a military-trained cockroach, a mouse with a ritual for everything, and a stubborn girl named Polly.

The animals saved Kester Jaynes. But can Kester save the animals?

Goodreads Overview

Ethereal, Wondrous, and With a Bright Confidence in the Future

Piers Torday wove a fantastic adventure set in a bleak, fearful future. What struck me most as I read through this story was how it challenged absolute despair. I think the decision to believe in a better future despite negativity and tyranny is a powerful thing.

The characters felt so real to me. Kester with his inability to speak, Polly with her wavering optimism, and all the animals on the brink of extinction had my full attention and support.

I recommend this book for fans of books like Colin Meloy‘s Wildwood Chronicles or Kate Milford‘s Greenglass House series.

March Book Madness! Day 20, The Spring Cleaning Book Tag

March Book Madness! Day 22, A Book For Each of My Initials

Feel free to donate! Anything is appreciated.

March Book Madness! Day 14, Ben Behunin’s Authentically Ruby 5/5

Book Details


In the middle of the Pennsylvania hinterlands lies a peculiar farm that s played host to lonely souls each summer for more than three hundred years. Genevieve Patterson has been dispatched by her magazine to interview Ruby Swarovski, the illustrious matchmaker of Niederbipp, for the November issue.

But it quickly becomes clear that the interview she was promised, and which would finally give her the renown she deserves, is not going to go the way she expected. With more than five hundred successful matches in her fifty-six-year career, Ruby along with her husband, Lorenzo have invited six lucky women, and six even luckier men, to spend the summer working the land in exchange for a little help in the love department. The first in a series, Authentically Ruby is a fun, thoughtful, and delightful read for anyone who is interested in strengthening the most important relationships we form in life.

Goodreads Overview

Meaningful, Thought-Provoking, and Genuine

Ben Behunin is not an author by trade but a potter. About ten years ago, my sister-in-law showed me his first Potter of Neiderbipp series. I fell in love with the wise Neiderbipp potter Isaac and his quiet little town disconnected from the world. Last summer, I learned Behunin had started a new series based on a matchmaker Ruby, who lives outside of Neiderbipp. This new series matched my current life situation and struggles.

Picture of Ben Behunin with his pottery

The Narration

Over the last ten years, Behunin has really refined his writing style. Even before he started his Potter of Neiderbipp, he kept feeling he needed to write books. This confused Behunin because he had no real background in writing. So, he put these feelings and book ideas aside to focus on his career in artistic pottery. Due to various injuries on his hands, he couldn’t make pottery the way he used to. With too much empty time, he gave in and started a tentative career as an author. 

I’m grateful he did. Behunin’s writing doesn’t have the polish of well-seasoned authors like Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson, but it is heartfelt. His unique voice, attention to important spiritual truths, and compassionate characters make his stories shine. Beautiful stories don’t need to scream about how great they are.

That said, Authentically Ruby has become one of my favorite reads of 2020. I don’t know how Behunin knew there would be people like me who need advice on developing good relationships. But after reading this book and its sequel, I felt like a great weight lifted off my chest because he addressed many of my fears and insecurities and reaffirmed important truths I hold dear about marriage and God. As for the writing style, it flowed really well because it felt like the characters had unstaged conversations and genuine life-like experiences.

For a better look at his pottery, check out his website!

The Characters

The characters didn’t talk like characters in a story or play. They spoke like real people, at least that was how it seemed to me. They change because they participate in wholesome activities and build sincere relationships with each other. Genevieve does start as a somewhat spoiled, rude young woman and she does have problems living on a farm disconnected from the internet and the outside world. However, I liked seeing her gradually change and open up to others. The character I felt I resembled the most was Matt. (We both overthink things). As for Ruby, I would love to meet her.

Who is this for?

If there is anyone who wants a deeper connection to God, the earth, and themselves. I would recommend this book to you. There were several times I felt chastened because of my expectations and thoughts on marriage and relationships. But I also felt a lot of love and hope.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!

March Book Madness! Day 13, 21 Books I could not finish for the life of me

March Book Madness! Day 15, Have you seen these beautiful book covers?

March Book Madness! Day 11, Eva Ibbotson’s Which Witch (1979) 5/5

Not the cover I’m used to, but it will do.

Book Details

Children’s Fantasy

Arriman the Awful, feared Wizard of the North, has decided to marry. But his wife must be a witch of the darkest powers . . .

A sorcery competition is held to discover which witch is the most potent and fiendish, and glamorous Madame Olympia conjures up a thousand plague-bearing rats Belladonna, the white witch, desperately wants to be a wicked enchantress, but her magic produces flowers instead of snakes. How can she become more devilish than all the other witches? 

Goodreads Overview

Witty, Funny, and Altogether Charming

Which Witch is another one of my childhood favorites! While I was going through my Harry Potter phase (which I haven’t quite grown out of. 🙂 ), I needed other books to fill my time. My mother insisted. I might have read the first four Harry Potter books ten or more times each. I found Ibbotson’s quirky, witch romance when I was eleven or so, and I’ve loved it ever since! 

The Narrative

Ibbotson has a similar writing style to Diana Wynne Jones, but without as much sass. The whole premise of Which Witch is Arriman needs to marry to keep the balance of evil. But he doesn’t want to marry a witch. . . because they are ugly and have weird habits. His somewhat arrogant personality, mixed in with brilliant prose and sarcastic banter makes this book just as charming for adults as it does for children.

Ibbotson has a magical way of writing children’s stories. When I was young, Ibbotson’s quirky characters happily danced along every page of the book. The tone in this story feels somewhat like Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl, where horrible things happen but they’re brushed off with dry, British humor. 

The Characters

All the characters, except for Belladonna, are wonderfully strange and awful. Each witch has too much ambition for their own good and is ugly enough to make Arriman regret being talked into marrying anyone. Some of my favorite moments in the book were between Arriman and his butler Lester because Lester acts more like a lamentable teenager’s nanny than part of his staff.

I have nothing bad to say about any of the characters. They fit well within this delightfully, snarky Beauty Pageant esque love story. (Except the beauty contestants are ugly contestants.) I do like the good witch Belladonna and I’m glad she got her happy ending along with Terence.

Who is this book for?

Lovers of Roald Dahl’s many charming children’s books, Diana Wynne Jones’ book Howl’s Moving Castle, or Philip Ardagh‘s Eddie Dickens Trilogy will really enjoy this book’s delightfully disgusting witches and reluctant, whiney groom.

Favorite Quotes

Arriman could not see Belladonna, who was hidden behind a thorn tree, but he could see Mabel Wrack, whose sea slug had fallen over one eye, and Ethel Feedbag, a burnt jackdaw feather sticking to her chin. He cuold see Mother Bloodwort and he could see the Shouter twins, and when he’d seen them he turned and tried to scramble down the rock.

Belladonna: ‘Tell me, is he really . . . as marvelous as he looks?’

Mr. Leadbetter thought. Pictures came to mind. Arriman shrieking with rage when he lost his suspenders. Arriman filling the bath with electric eels and giggling. Arriman ordering twelve stinking emus for the zoo and leaving his secretary to unpack them . . .

Arriman was as happy as a lark. Whatever else happened, he wouldn’t have to marry the with with the Wellies. all through supper he laughed and joked until he went upstairs, heard the steady drip-drip of water, and found that the kraken had climbed onto his bed.

March Book Madness! Day 10, Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon (2014) 3.5/5

March Book Madness! Day 12, My Top 20 Favorite Books/Series

March Book Madness! Day 10, Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon (2014) 3.5/5

Book Details

Young Adult Fantasy

Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar’s army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg — a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena’s age. When the two girls’ lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and — in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured — Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.

Goodreads Overview

Nostalgic, Fun, and Refreshingly Russian

I lived in Russia for 1.5 years so whenever I find books on Russian fairytales I snatch them up as fast as I can! Я люблю Россию! Despite my love for all things Russian, I don’t have too much to say about this story. I feel somewhat. . . sad about this. That isn’t to say Gregory Maguire didn’t write a fascinating story! Egg & Spoon was simply a little underwhelming for me.

The Narrative

One of my favorite series is Katherine Arden’s The Winternight Trilogy. Ever since I read her books, my opinion of other novels based on Russian history or folktales is a little biased. If Arden’s Trilogy is the three-course meal of books, Egg & Spoon is like a burger from Five Guys, better than fast food but not the best I’ve ever read. 

Maguire’s story had somewhat haphazard pacing, but that fits in well with Baba Yaga’s crazy chicken leg house and skull fence. The only thing that threw me off while reading was the lack of logical conversations and decisions at times. Maguire pointed out common problems certain characters faced because of poverty or loneliness. But these issues never had a lot of impact because his narrator lacked true empathy.

What I did love was his colorful descriptions of St. Petersburg and other settings. He descriptions of such beautiful places kept me reading till the book’s end.

The Characters

Hum hum hum. I didn’t understand most of the character’s personalities. Elena was understandably driven by desperation because of her family’s situation, but I never felt like I got to know her as a person. Her personality seemed locked away, almost numb. Then again, hunger has a way of driving people’s personalities away.

My favorite character was either Baba Yaga or Ekaterina. Baba Yaga just made me laugh because she talked crazy all the time but took the world by storm. Ekaterina, more than any other character, had the most individuality. I also liked the looney horse doctor because of his kindness and optimism.

Who is this book for?

This would be the perfect introduction to Russian Fairytales for kids. Its creative, has colorful writing, and interesting characters.

Favorite Quotes

A Firebird flying across Russia in the strength of a noonday sun does indeed cast a shadow. Nothing that is spiritual can fail to shine. Of course we can’t see it directly, because the shadow it casts is just another kind of light. You have to look sideways to see it, but once you see it, you can never un-see it.

It is the light you see in the faces of children.

Something too few of us know while we are alive, he told her. We are all crowned with glory. Peasants no less than kings.

March Book Madness! Day 9, Tag Tuesday: Top 5 Books I Wish I Had Read When I Was Younger

March Book Madness! Day 11, Eva Ibbotson’s Which Witch (1979) 5/5

March Book Madness! Day 7, Charlie N. Holmberg’s Followed By Frost (2015) 4/5

Book Details

Young Adult Fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Smitha has the wealth, status, and beauty that make her the envy of her town—until she rejects a strange man’s marriage proposal and disastrous consequences follow. Smitha becomes cursed, and frost begins to encompass everything she touches. Banished to the hills, hunted by villagers, and chilled to the very core of her soul, she finds companionship with Death, who longs to coax her into his isolated world. But Smitha’s desire for life proves stronger than despair, and a newfound purpose gives her renewed hope. Will regrets over the past and an unexpected desire for a man she cannot touch be enough to warm Smitha’s heart, or will Death forever still it? 

Goodreads Overview

Philosophical, Thoughtful, and Encouraging

Charlie Holmberg’s writing is constantly evolving. I’ve read a number of her books including The Paper Magician and The Fifth Doll and I think her ideas are fresh and thought-provoking. So many times I’ve been hooked by her creative book descriptions alone! Since her style is constantly improving and evolving, her earlier works aren’t quite as refined as they could be.

Of all her books, Followed By Frost seems the most fleshed out. Reading it the first time, I felt great empathy for Smitha’s plight and paid great attention to her interactions with Death and her internal battles.

The Narrative

Holmberg’s idea for this book is brilliant. It brings new meaning to old fairytales like The Snow Queen, whose characters also suffered because of cold magic. Holmberg is admirable at establishing her characters and story through worldbuilding. Her only issue is fleshing out her ideas. Sometimes her writing is so concise she fails to fully flesh out important moments in the story.

That aside, I don’t want to be too hard on Holmberg. Because she is concise, reading her story was refreshing and eady. I enjoyed following Smitha through her internal battles. She and other characters don’t make nonsensical decisions, which I also appreciate.

The Characters

Several characters like Smitha, Lo, and Death had ample personality and relevance to the story. A lot of others didn’t get enough page time to pop out for me. But I didn’t mind very much because the most interesting and relevant interactions happen between the three characters I mentioned above.

Smitha’s curse was such a burden but her attitude towards it and its spell caster Morgan shifted as she matured. Followed By Frost is one of those books that illustrate how though some curses can twist their victims till they give up their humanity, there is always a way to overcome them and grow because of them. Smitha evolved and overcame her curse because she grew to care for others and cast aside her selfishness.

What I especially like in this story was the love story between Smitha and Lo. As I pondered their growing relationship, I thought about the nature of love and marriage. I also wondered how much I would be willing to sacrifice for another person with special circumstances.

Some of the most poignant conversations happen between Smitha and Death. I appreciated how Holmberg pointed out Smitha always had the choice to give in to Death. He could never take her will or force her to give in to him. Because Smitha knew Death’s face, she matured and understood more about life than she did before. She also obtained a better understanding of her self-worth and valued human beings better.

Who is this book for?

If you’ve read Holmberg’s books before but have never had the chance to read Followed By Frost, I would definitely recommend it. It has a few heavier themes, but overall it is an insightful book about overcoming selfishness, sacrifice and believing in our self-worth despite past mistakes. 

Favorite Quotes

“At first I felt angry with the bid fate had made for me, angry at the injustice of it all. Then shame swept over me for thinking such selfish thoughts. Finally came clarity, and with clarity came a sorrow that spun itself like wool around me.”

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!

March Book Madness! Day 6, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s Echo North (2019) 5/5

March Book Madness! Day 8, The Bhagavad Gita, Translated By Eknath Easwaran

March Book Madness! Day 6, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s Echo North (2019) 5/5

Original Book Cover

Book Details

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: If she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear, and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up, otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever.

Goodreads Overview

Resonant, Enchanting, and Altogether Inspiring

As I said in my review for Uprooted, I love fairytale-like stories that take place in an enchanted wood. I also have a soft spot for books that create new and beautiful possible ways to read books. Luckily, Echo North has both of these things and more! I picked this book up by accident while perusing a locally owned bookstore in Salt Lake City. I read it twice in a row so I could inhale as much of its magic as I possibly could.  

This story is based on the Nordic fairytale East of the Sun West of the Moon. It has some similarities to other tales like Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Psyche but varies mid-story from saving a beast in a castle to the main girl embarking on a redemptive quest. Joanna Ruth Meyer gave special credit to Edith Patou’s novel East as one of her inspirations for writing her retelling of this famous Nordic tale. As I read Echo North, I noticed reverberating themes from the original fairytale, but Meyer surprised me with her creativity and beautiful innovations.

The Narrative

Meyer’s writing style is simply beautiful. Echo North sucked me in from the first sentence. To keep balance between interlocking plot twists and settings, she anchored her story on reoccurring imagery and themes. It felt like every sentence and conversation served a purpose to the story’s mystery and resolution. The story also flowed so well. I never felt bogged down by unnecessary dialogue or drama.

It was the kind of story which lifted me on its shoulders and carried me on a magical and touching journey. The scenery Meyer illustrated throughout her story, from the forest, woven house, and in the North, set my imagination aflame. The library of mirror books alone made me want to step into the story! I will say, I have never thought of a forest being so sinister until this book.

Another side note, I also loved how Meyer wove in music and playing the piano into the narrative.

The Characters

I loved all the characters down to the main villain of the story. Echo had so much love and compassion. I admired her integrity and desire to help those she loved. It is ironic because rather than being a character fated to be loved by everyone, people bullied and mocked her because of her facial deformity. It took a long time for her to see beyond her scars and accept her family’s love and confidence.

I can’t say too much about the characters because it will ruin the overall experience. I will say, I appreciated how the man Echo comes to love and marry was someone with flaws. Forgiveness and compassion also play an important part in their relationship and growth. All the characters also had understandable motivations and reactions. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve read plenty of fairytale retellings whose characters make strangely nonsensical decisions.

Who is this book for?

Fans of novels like Edith Patou’s East, Sally Gardner’s I, Coriander, or Beauty and the Beast retellings will most likely connect to this book the best. Music and book lovers will also love how Meyer included richer ways to experience these arts. (I now want to experience a book mirror. Someone smart should make that happen for me).

Favorite Quotes

Light streamed in through the window; dust motes swirled. The wolf leaned his head against my knee. ‘I do not deserve you. Your kindness. Your goodness. Your beauty.’

‘Wolf, I’m not beautiful.’

He lifted his head and peered straight into my eyes. ‘You are wrong, Echo. You are the most beautiful person I have ever seen.’

Something inside me cracked. Tears leaked from my eyes.

The wolf tugged gently on my skirt and I knelt on the floor and wrapped my arms around his neck. ‘Do not cry. My beautiful beautiful girl. Please do not cry.’

I held him like the world had spun away beneath me, and I was left to dance with the stars, not mortal any longer but a creature made of moonlight and magic.

No one had ever called me beautiful before.

‘It isn’t about deserving, (Blank Name). It never was.’ I long to pull him close. I ache for him. ‘The old magic is stronger than guilt or betrayal. Stronger than everything she did to you, and to me. It’s stronger than time.’

‘Is it . . . is it strong enough to mend us?’ His eyes pierce through me.

I touch his face where the oil burned him, where a tiny half-moon scar shows white against his skin. ‘Yes.’ My throat catches. ‘It is. It is.’

March Book Madness! Day 5 Louis L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods (1984) 5/5

March Book Madness! Day 7, Charlie N. Holmberg’s Followed By Frost (2015) 4/5

March Book Madness! Day 5 Louis L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods (1984) 5/5

Paperback Edition Cover

Book Details

Western Historical Fiction

“I am Johannes Verne, and I am not afraid.”

This was the boy’s mantra as he plodded through the desert alone, left to die by his vengeful grandfather. Johannes Verne was soon to be rescued by outlaws, but no one could save him from the lasting memory of his grandfather’s eyes, full of impenetrable hatred. Raised in part by Indians, then befriended by a mysterious woman, Johannes grew up to become a rugged adventurer and an educated man. But even now, strengthened by the love of a golden-haired girl and well on his way to making a fortune in bustling early-day Los Angeles, the past may rise up to threaten his future once more. And this time only the ancient gods of the desert can save him.

Goodreads Overview

Insightful, Inspiring, and Mesmerizing

Storytime: Sometimes, I judge a book without ever reading it. For The Lonesome Gods my reasoning was simple. I don’t like Westerns that much, probably because I have lived in the West for most of my life, and its history and culture don’t interest me. Because of this weird bias, I never read any of Louis L’Amour’s books. My Dad LOVES L’Amour novels, whether he reads a physical copy or listens to prerecorded audiobooks. 

When my Dad got out a L’Amour CD for a seven-hour car ride six or so years ago, I plugged in my headphones and tuned out. After a good thirty minutes, I lost my phone signal and couldn’t read the book I brought, so I gave up and listened to David Strathairn narrate The Lonesome Gods. I fell in love with it.

The Narration

Louis L’Amour is an author who can paint for his audience a story’s look and feel with only words. The style reminds me of old epic films like Lawrence of Arabia or Ben Hur. He does not rely on dialogue to illustrate how his characters fit into their environment. Rather, he gives a detailed description of his character’s actions and interactions with the environment and people. The effect this writing style has is staggering. For me, it felt almost as if I could see, feel, and live with the characters, especially when listening to the audiobook.

Louis L’Amour was a well-traveled historian. Any of the places he wrote about he personally went to, cataloged, and researched. Since this book took place almost primarily in California, L’Amour made sure to do his research on its settling and exploration. I learned so much about Los Angeles’s history as a trade city, immigrants from Russia, China, Spain, and Japan who came to settle there, and even the Native American tribes who lived in the mountains of Northern California.

The Characters

The Lonesome Gods is Johannes Verne’s coming of age story and a tribute to his father, Zachery Verne, who spent his last days teaching Johannes how to study and learn from others. Johannes’s journey was one I couldn’t forget. It could have become a revenge story like L’Amour’s Comstock Lode or a seafaring adventure like Sackett’s Land. Instead, it evolved into a Californian Western about a young man who took his father’s teachings and developed connections with good, intelligent people. It also showed his relationship and respect for the land in which he dwells and travels. 

If the narration wasn’t enough to suck me in, the characters definitely were. L’Amour knows how to write relevant and resourceful characters. They feel like people. L’Amour always goes out of his way to establish characters who possess great intelligence, moral character, and integrity. Through his novels, he emphasizes understanding and honoring one’s family history, being self-reliant, and acquiring many types of skills. All the characters in The Lonesome Gods feel needed and natural to L’Amour’s story. 

Who is this book for?

It’s a shame I didn’t pick up this book sooner because I love studying and writing about history. This book will suck you in with its fascinating prose and dynamic setting, but it will do it in a subtle, quiet way. Sometimes there are gunfights or other intense scenes. However, the most powerful moments in The Lonesome Gods and L’Amour’s other books are when characters stop and ponder their journey and teach each other. 

I recommend this book to lovers of American history, historical fiction, or Westerns. Honestly, though, I can picture anyone enjoying this book if they take the time to sit down and drink in its story. It is a novel for “those who prefer the solitude of a good story” (Amazon Reviewer).

Favorite Quotes

‘Much of what I say may be nonsense, but a few things I have learned, and the most important is that he who ceases to learn is already a half-dead man. And do not be like an oyster who rests on the sea bottom waiting for the good things to come by. Search for them, find them.

But read. There are books here, read them, all of them. Find others. Many a man has done well with no more of an education than what he can have by reading.’

Zachary Verne

Men need stories to lead them to create, to build, to conquer, even to survive, and without them the human race would have vanished long ago. Men strive for peace, but it is their enemies that give them strength, and I think if man no longer had enemies, he would have to invent them, for his strength only grows from struggle.

Zachary Verne

Long ago, before the Indians who live here now, there were other people. Perhaps they went away, or maybe they died or were driven out by these Indians’ ancestors, but they are gone. yet sometimes I am not sure they are gone. I think sometimes their spirits are still around, in the land they loved.

Each people has its gods, or the spirits in which they believe. It may be their god is the same as ours, only clothed in different stories, different ideas, but a god can only be strong, Hannes, if he is worshipped, and the gods of those ancient people are lonesome gods now.

They are out there in the desert and mountains, and perhaps their strength has waned because nobody lights fires on their altars anymore. but they are there, Hannes, and sometimes I think they know me and remember me.

It is a foolish little idea of my own, but in my own way I pay them respect.

Sometimes, when crossing a pass in the mountains, one will see a pile of loose stones, even several piles. Foolish people have dug into them, thinking treasure is buried there. It is a stupid idea, to think a treasure would be marked so obviously.

It is an old custom of these people to pick up a stone and toss it on the pile. Perhaps it is a symbolical lightening of the load they carry, perhaps a small offering to the gods of the trails. I never fail to toss a stone on the pile, Hannes. In my own way, it is a small offering to those lonesome gods. A man told me they do the same thing in Tibet, and some of our ancient people may have come from there, or near there. Regardless of that, I like to think those ancient gods are out there waiting, and that they are, because of my offerings, a little less lonely.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.

March Book Madness! Day 4, Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows (2019) 3.5/5

March Book Madness! Day 6, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s Echo North (2019) 5/5

March Book Madness! Day 4, Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows (2019) 3.5/5

Original 2019 Cover

Book Cover

Young Adult Fairy Tale Retelling

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next. 

Google Overview

Somber, Shocking, and Reminiscent of Greek Mythology

My first thought when I saw this book was, “Wow! This cover is beautiful.” As I read the story’s premise I got excited because I love fairytale retellings. As an added bonus, Erin Craig had changed up the setting and back story for “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, which is one of my favorites. So, I bought the book and skipped on home for a nice afternoon of reading.

Craig was an amazing world builder and created an interesting mystery. I was genuinely shocked when I discovered who was behind all the deaths. However, this was not my kind of story.


Craig’s prose throughout House of Salt and Shadows was very engaging and I never felt bored. That wasn’t my problem. It. Was. Just. Too. Sad! I have six siblings and watching the invisible killer tear Annaleigh’s family apart horrified me. I kept imagining if that happened in my family and by the end of the book I cried.

This is just my personal experience. I kept waiting for a silver lining after all the crazy suicides, house burning, and crying was over but it never came. I can handle tragedy and trauma in a story. However, I need a sound resolution for the characters. Perhaps I need to go back and read this book again so I can more fully appreciate how well written it is.

The Characters

Annaleigh was a good heroine. I have no qualms against her. She actively strove to find solutions and save her family. She is my type of gal! Her love interest Cassius seemed wooden though. His personality never fully manifested in the story beyond being a love interest. However, I did like Cassius and Annaleigh’s scenes together. He has some pleasantly romantic lines. I also like how he strove to be there and help her sisters.

The one character I was the most disappointed in was their father, the king. Though there are other major villains, his choices led his family to destruction. All of the anguish this family suffered was rooted in his infidelity and treatment of others.

I do wish I could have known Annaleigh’s other sisters better.

Who is this book for?

If you like darker fairytale retellings like Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Johanna Ruth Meyer’s novel Echo North or Francis Harding’s Deeplight you might enjoy House of Salt and Sorrows.

Favorite Quotes

Nights like this were meant to be shared, remembered, and talked about for years. Skies like this were meant to be kissed under.

All the dreamers are castle-bound. At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind, Revealing fantasies soft or unkind. Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams. Come not as you are but as you wish to be seen.

“Oh my darling Annaleigh, remember when you let the turtles go? Some things can’t be kept.” He cupped my cheek, and my tears trickled down his fingers. “Be brave. Be strong. You’ll always have my whole heart.

Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow!

March Book Madness! Day 3, Heidi Kimball’s Where the Stars Meet the Sea (2020) 3/5

March Book Madness! Day 5 Louis L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods (1984) 5/5

March Book Madness! Day 3, Heidi Kimball’s Where the Stars Meet the Sea (2020) 3/5

Original 2020 Cover

Book Details

Historical Romance

A broken man. A fiery young woman. Neither one’s heart will come away unscathed.

Juliet Graham fervently counts the days until her twenty-first birthday, when she can claim the inheritance that will grant her the freedom she has always craved and the guardianship of her younger brother. Until then, she is trapped under her aunt Agnes’s domineering will. When forced to accompany the family to a house party at Shaldorn Castle, Juliet’s only objective is to keep to herself. That is, until a chance encounter with a boorish stranger stirs up an unexpected whirlwind of emotions in her. Thrown off-balance, Juliet does the unthinkable: loses her temper and insults the man—who turns out to be her unwilling host, the Duke of Halstead. Fully expecting to be sent away, Juliet is surprised when the brusque and callous duke instead takes an interest in her.

Drawn to the duke in unguarded moments, Juliet finds herself more and more intrigued by the man who shuns Society’s rules as completely as she does, and over the next few weeks, their unlikely friendship deepens into a connection neither expected.

But even as Juliet comes to recognize her true feelings, her scheming aunt issues an ultimatum that threatens the future she was just beginning to hope for. Juliet must choose: either break the promise she made to herself years ago, or lose the man who has captured her heart and soul.

Goodreads Overview

Sweet, Fast Paced, and Solid

Every once in a while, I like to pick up and read Regency-style romance novels. I’m no Austenite by any means, but I do enjoy clearer love stories without confusing ideals and ambiguous morals. Thankfully, many like-minded individuals in this world also think this way.

This particular novel is one of many Regency themed books by Heidi Kimball. I enjoy revisiting this book every once in awhile partially because of the setting and pacing. It isn’t the best romance I’ve ever read, but it has a great setup and happy ending.

The Narrative

Where the Stars Meet the Sea develops really fast. The one criticism I have against Kimball’s writing style is she tells before she shows. Anthony Elhers described visual storytellng this way.

Visual storytelling helps you show and not tell.

If you can show the world of your characters, the story becomes relatable and you create empathy in the reader.

The story world that you have created becomes realistic and believable to the reader. Similes, metaphors, and other imagery can make the story less complex and more fascinating.

Anthony Ehlers, 10 Powerful Visual Storytelling Techniques for Writers

Many times throughout her book, Kimball struggled to portray pivotal emotional moments because her narrative lacked imagery in her writing. There are so many ways to show emotions in a story other than having the characters simply talk about them.

Other than this, I found this story very sweet and the romance emotionally mature.

The Characters

The heroine Juliet Graham’s story arc is a fairly familiar one. She is fiery, opinionated, and values honesty. There were times I didn’t quite understand her reasoning or reactions. Oftentimes, she expected too much of the Duke of Halstead emotionally, especially considering they had only known each other maybe two weeks. Her temper also got the better of her a few times and created unnecessary drama between her and the Duke. Then again, this just means she was human. Other than that, I think she is an interesting character.

I liked how Kimball also illustrated Juliet didn’t have to choose her cousin Robert just because he had romantic feelings for her. It didn’t mean he wasn’t important to her or he was a bad person. He was just not right for her. That is how it turns out in everyday life. Sometimes we fall in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate. Other times others have feelings for us, but we don’t feel the same.

The Duke was your typical male lead, physically and emotionally hurt in need of a strong push in the right direction. I did like how Kimball pointed out what physical pain and trauma are like. Sometimes needed healing doesn’t come for characters like Halstead. Several times he pointed out he was in constant emotional or physical pain in varying degrees. Because of this, he did not want to marry and burden another person with that kind of pain.

I am not a man, but I can understand why this must have been hard for Halstead. Opening up emotionally is especially hard for men sometimes because our culture promotes stoicism over sensitivity.

Who is this book for?

If you love Jane Austen classics like Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion, Sarah Eden‘s Regency Romances like Seeking Persephone and As You Are or Julianne Donaldson‘s books like Edenbrooke and Blackmore you will like this book! Its a nice, clean romance and easy to read.

Favorite Quotes

Juliet Graham: ‘Your Grandmother is right. The accident has taken enough from you. Why have you resigned yourself to being alone?’ A slight tremor shook my voice.

He gave me a hard look. ‘What woman would want to marry a man with such an injury? And why would I subject her to a life full of my pain, my limitations?’

. . . I swallowed against the ache forming in my throat. ‘Perhaps if the burden of pain were shared, it might ease.’

Heidi Kimball, Where the Stars Meet the Sea

Thinking about it, if I name any of my favorite quotes I’ll ruin the story. So that is it for today! See you tomorrow!

March Book Madness! Day 2, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (2015) 2/5

March Book Madness! Day 4, Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows (2019) 3.5/5