Book Reviews

Book Review: The Toll of Neal Shusterman

Title: The Toll Book Cover
Title: The Toll Series: Arc of a Scythe Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Utopian Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Format: Hardcover Pages: 625 Source: Library

It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver.

In this pulse-pounding conclusion to New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.


I’m going to admit, I was a bit confused when this book first started. I didn’t realize there was a time gap because I hadn’t read the blurb. I’d figured they’d have immediately started trying to salvage Endura, but clearly not.

I’m going to admit this right now, I can’t stand Goddard. He’s egotistical, he’s power hungry, and he’s a grade-A jackass. Yes, I said it. He’s a jackass. The way he treats people makes me want to reach through the pages and punch him. I can see why everyone hates him.

Greyson Tolliver’s character becomes much clearer in this book – he’s more defined than in Thunderhead and his reason for being in the story makes a lot more sense now than it did when I read Thunderhead. He’s not a particularly likeable character for me – he’s more just there because he needs to be, not because I’m intended to like him.

Sycthe Anastasia and Rowan are back, still like Anastasia better than Rowan and have no idea why those two are so much in love with each other, because there really isn’t much of a romantic arc to this story at all. But there you have it, they’re in love, for whatever reason.

I rather liked the Thunderhead and its scheming to save humanity. I understand totally why it was creating the different iterations of itself and how Cirrus came to be. I also understand that quite frankly, humans can destroy anything, even a perfect world. It’s our nature to destroy what is good and perfect.

I do wish for one thing though. Even if it’s just a novella, I want to see the aftermath. Both on earth and in space. I want to know what groups made it, which ones didn’t. I want to know of their lives after they made it to their new homes. I’m sitting here with burning questions and no answers.

This one was fast paced, even though it took me a bit to read it because I paused to read Blood Heir. When I was working on The Toll, I didn’t want to put it down. It’s a definite must read if you’ve already read the first two books.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Title: Blood Heir Book Cover
Title: Blood Heir Series: Blood Heir Trilogy Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings Publisher: Delacorte Press Format: Hardcover Pages: 455 Source: Personal Collection

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.


In case you didn’t know, this book is basically a retelling of Anastasia with magic and fantasy built in. Let me tell you, it works.

I love the concept of the Affinites and their affinities. I love that it isn’t just your basic elements, but that Affinites could have any number of things for their affinities. We see marble affinities, flesh affinities, blood affinities, grain affinities, as well as the basic elements. So the concept of having an affinity for a particular element has been taken much further than normal, which is awesome.

Ana is a great character. She’s tough, but she loves with all her heart. She loves her empire and she loves her people. And yes, she is naive when it comes to some things because she did spend the majority of her life living behind the Salskoff Palace walls. So there are things that she doesn’t know regarding the empire she loves.

I also liked Ramson’s character. He’s no stranger to tragedy and he knows exactly what goes on with the Affinites and how they are treated. He gives Ana a rude awakening to how things really are in her empire, which helps to move the story along very well.

As for the story, again, it’s a retelling of Anastasia and it’s very well done. I found no issues with the writing style as it was easy to read and the plot made me want to keep reading the book.

Now, to address the controversy that surrounded this book. You can read an explanation of the controversy here. There are some things that I can see – such as people feeling that the author took things from other books. There’s a sentence that is the same as in a Tolkien novel, as well some “copying” from The Hunger Games. I don’t think it’s actually enough for people to accuse her of plagiarism, because let’s face it, some of these things are found in multiple books, but it gave people something to gripe about.

The other issue was that the book was seen as anti-black. Part of this is due to May, a character that started off as a slave, and ended up as Ana’s companion. May is a little girl who came to the Cyrilian Empire with her mother – both were Affinites – and her mother was contracted to a different employer than May was. Ana was trying to help May find her mother.

At one point in the book, May does something that causes her death while attempting to save Ana. This is construed as a black girl being killed to allow a white girl to live. Ok, first, descriptions of May have her as “tan” skinned and “ocean blue” or “aquamarine” eyes. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t see too many black people who are just “tan” and have “ocean blue” eyes. I also don’t get where they get that Ana is “white” because she is described multiple times as having olive colored skin – which is a trait that several Middle Eastern and Asian cultures would be described as having.

I also heard some things on social media about how insensitive she was when she portrayed slavery. Well, slavery isn’t something that you can portray sensitively, and frankly, she portrayed it in a way that was very common at one point – indentured servitude. An employer would “buy” someone and that person would have to work to pay off their employment contract and gain their freedom. It wasn’t right in real life, it isn’t right in a book. And just like in real life, people didn’t like that it was going on and wanted to change it.

The controversy surrounding the book caused the author to delay the release of the book. She considered editing the book to fix what people said was wrong and ultimately decided to release the book as originally written. I’m sure people “cancelled” her because that’s what social media does – they cancel everything and everyone they think is wrong or they don’t like. But I’m glad she didn’t change her story. Because if she had, it wouldn’t be the amazing book it is.

Miscellaneous

My NetGalley is Out of Control

There, I’ve said it. My NetGalley is out of control. I have over 100 books (113 last I checked) to read and review. I need an intervention…

I think a big part of the problem is that they don’t limit how many books you can have pending review at any given time. Or if they do, I’ve never hit that limit. I’m beginning to think they need one. LOL

Another problem I have is that a few publishers have me on auto-approve. So if I see a book that looks good, I snag it. It isn’t that I plan to get the books and then not read them. In some cases, I forget I’ve got the books or I get busy and don’t manage to read the books. Usually it’s that I forget completely about the NetGalley books.

So I’ve decided to set a new goal. Except for books that are for my book clubs – Barnes & Noble YA Book Club and I’m now part of a book club on Instagram, I’m going to start reading my NetGalley books. They’re pretty much all chilling out in my Kindle app, so there’s no real reason to keep ignoring them. I’m not going to go by oldest to newest or anything, I’m just going to pick a book and start reading it.

Right now, I’m reading Belle Révolte, which I got back in November from NetGalley. I *will* have to read The Hazel Wood before I read The Night Country though, otherwise I just won’t get what’s going on. LOL

Am I the only one with an out of control NetGalley TBR? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

Book Reviews

Book Review: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

SPOILER ALERT: There are a couple of spoilers given in this review. I apologize, but I found it very hard to talk about the book without giving anything away.

Title: Thunderhead Book Cover
Title: Thunderhead Series: Arc of a Scythe Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Utopia Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Format: Paperback Pages: 504 Source: Personal Collection

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?


If you’re looking for a second novel in a trilogy or series to frustrate the crap out of you, this one will do nicely. I’m not even kidding.

In this second book, we see that Citra is getting along fairly well as a Scythe and the Rowan is playing a bad-guy-who-is-actually-a-good-guy role. I kind of figured that would end up happening, but that’s isn’t the frustrating thing.

We also see the return of Scythe Rand and Scythe Goddard. No, I won’t tell you more than that. You have to read the book to understand. But trust me, when it happens you’ll be frustrated, annoyed, and a bit awestruck as it is a big on the ingenious side.

Thunderhead has a plot that takes no time to get going and honestly, this book was the fastest read of the three so far. I read this book in just over 24 hours – it took me over a month to read Scythe and finish it because I just wasn’t invested in the story (and because I was in a reading slump). Now? I’m invested. Holy cow am I invested.

It’s hard to review Thunderhead without giving everything away, because pretty much everything I could talk about would be a spoiler and I’ve already given a couple of those out. So all I’m going to say is, it will frustrate you. You will get pissed off about the ending. And you’ll definitely want to read The Toll after it’s over to find out what happens next.

This one is fast-paced and edge-of-your-seat good, which is why I gave it 5 stars. Let’s hope The Toll is too.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe Book Cover
Title: Scythe Series: Arc of a Scythe Genre: Juvenile Fiction Publisher: Simon and Schuster Format: Paperback Pages: 433 Source: Personal Collection

In a world in which the only way to die is to be killed by a scythe, Citra and Rowan compete to earn a position as a scythe’s apprentice–a competition that will see the loser die by the hand of the winner.


When this was chosen as the book for the Barnes & Noble YA Book Club for December, I was a bit disappointed. Up until December, all of the books had been new releases, so it didn’t make sense to me for them to choose Scythe. Then I figured maybe they’d do all three from December through February, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I’m glad they did choose it though, because I wouldn’t have ever picked it up otherwise.

For me, the book was hard to get into. It just seemed like it was very boring and slow to get going. Once it did get going, it was a great book. But wow, the book was just slow to get going. I get why it was slow to get going – after all, we had to have some sort of reason why Scythe Faraday would choose Citra and Rowan as his apprentices, but I wish it would have moved a touch faster.

Once it picks up though, it picks up. It’s hard to put it down after a certain point in the book because now you’re invested and honestly – you need to know what the heck is going on around that place. I don’t want to give anything away but – yeah, you’re not going to expect plot twist number one – and plot twist number one sets the stage for the rest of the book.

As for characters, I liked Citra a lot, didn’t care much for Rowan. I found him to be rather a pain in the butt and wasn’t all that fond of him. I liked Scythe Faraday a lot, loved Sycthe Curie, and would cheerfully have yeeted Sycthe Goddard right out of the story if I could have. I also actually kind of liked Sycthe Volta. The rest of Goddard’s flunkies needed to be yeeted with Goddard. And finally, High Blade Xenocrates needs a spine… I’m just saying.

The plot twists in this book are what make it so great. You get several and each time, it’s hard to telegraph what’s going to happen next. One of them shocked the heck out of me because I thought I’d figured it out and then BOOM – completely different! Holy cow. And let us not forget the ending – that is one heck of an ending to a book.

I just started Thunderhead, so you can expect a review for that one soon.