Welcome to Monday Minis, Switzerland edition. I’m finishing up writing these as I am on the train from one end of the country to the other. I’m on a bit of a recuperation trip seeing friends and family until the middle of next week, so who knows how much I’ll be posting. Sadly, this week’s books are all ones that I didn’t get on great with even if I was really excited for all of them – keep reading to see why. Many thanks to all the publishers for sending me eARCs via NetGalley.
What is it with sequels not living up to the potential of the first book recently? I feel like The Monarchs by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige is the latest in a series of second books following up on great initial novels that just left me wanting more. I read The Ravens, the first book, a couple times, both before it released for my review and after it came out and loved the characters, setting and approach to magic. But this second book felt very generic and lost a lot of the magic that sucked me into the first one to begin with. The plot takes a long time to get going – the main arc doesn’t really start until about halfway through – and much of what happens is basically petty drama. Honestly, I just ended up not being emotionally invested in this and constantly thinking of more interesting directions that the book could have taken. I think as a whole it is fine, and it ends up in a mostly satisfying ending to the duology, but it could have been so much better. While The Monarchs really focuses on just Vivi and Scarlett – and shows much less of their fellow Ravens – it seems to do so superficially, and not really explore their dynamic, which for me was one of the most interesting parts of the first book. So a solid three stars from me.
The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl has such an interesting concept which is total Fab catnip – it made it onto my October hype post even. But, I struggled to even finish it. It ended up being more of a rage read than anything else. The story follows four girls at an elite boarding school after the death of one of their own as they slowly figure out that they’re actually set to repeat fairy tale tropes and their destinies are set. The concept is great, but that is pretty much the only thing the book has going for itself. The writing isn’t great – and in a crowded YA fantasy market, clunky writing is really something that does put me off. The characters were bland and because they fell into stock tropes, not characterised deeply enough. I didn’t feel like I got a proper sense of any single one. And while the book as a whole had a sense of casual queerness, I was rather upset to realise that the Beauty and the Beast insert characters included casting the only trans character in the book as the “Beast”… which is certainly a choice. I was quite excited when I realised that the book was set in Switzerland – and quite close to where I grew up too – but that soon turned to dismay when I realised that the setting was not well crafted, but relied on stereotypes and a lack of basic research. All in all, this is a book that I found underperformed in all aspects and would not recommend, as tempting as the premise is.
The Ice Whisperers by Helenka Stachera is a middle grade fantasy that takes readers back to the Ice Age. The framing narrative is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, and the story then transports readers and characters into a dream-world close to the Ice Age. It centres Bela, who was raised as something of an orphan by extended relatives and never truly felt like she belonged, as she discovers that there is more to her parentage as she ever suspected. There is a lot to this story that is sweet, and I can see many young readers enjoying Bela’s adventures. But it is also not one that stands out enough in terms of writing and characters for me to recommend this over some of the other middle grades I’ve been reading. I think this is an author to watch, even if this particular book isn’t quite a standout success yet.