book review

Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy

I have recently, to my shock and horror, gotten back into the world of Shadowhunters. I read Lady Midnight and felt as though I had somehow missed out on certain bits of information between City of Heavenly Fire and this new series. The internet told me that information was provided in Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy, a short story collection chronicling Simon’s time at the Academy. I decided to read this, and give a short review of each of the stories below. To be completely honest, the characters from TMI have always been my least favorite (to the point of actually low key hating certain people), so I wasn’t terribly excited about spending more time with them. However, I told myself it was worth it to get more backstories on the Herondales and Blackthorns and others. I was…well, I was wrong.

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tales from shadhowhunter“Simon Lewis has been a human and a vampire, and now he is becoming a Shadowhunter. The events of City of Heavenly Fire left him stripped of his memories, and Simon isn’t sure who he is anymore. So when the Shadowhunter Academy reopens, Simon throws himself into this new world of demon-hunting, determined to find himself again. Whomever this new Simon might be.

But the Academy is a Shadowhunter institution, which means it has some problems. Like the fact that non-Shadowhunter students have to live in the basement. At least Simon’s trained in weaponry—even if it’s only from hours of playing D&D.

Join Simon on his journey to become a Shadowhunter, and learn about the Academy’s illustrious history along the way, through guest lecturers such as Jace Herondale, Tessa Gray, and Magnus Bane. Written by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman, these moving and hilarious short stories are perfect for the fan who just can’t get enough of the Shadowhunters.”

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Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy (Clare & Brennan): Simon’s arrival at Shadowhunter Academy is less than impressive, both for Simon and myself. The point of this is world building and creating a foundation for this whole overall story, and it was a rather unexciting way to kick off the collection. While I quickly fell in love with George Lovelace, the rest of this was just fine. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

The Lost Herondale (Clare & Wasserman): This story really represented how messed up The Clave is, and how ridiculous Shadowhunter law can be. Sed lex, dura lex indeed. Like pretty much everyone else, I have a soft spot for the Herondales, and this story broke my heart a bit. I loved Catarina’s part in this most of all. ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars.

The Whitechapel Fiend (Clare & Johnson): WILL AND TESSA AT IT AGAIN Y’ALL. I’ll probably never get over the fact that Will uses any excuse possible to get Brother Zachariah/Uncle Jem to the London Institute. But in all seriousness, I really enjoyed this story about Tessa, Will, and co. as adults doing their Shadowhunter thing to defeat “Jack the Ripper.” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Nothing But Shadows (Clare & Brennan): Easily my favorite story in this collection, in which we follow James Herondale during his time at the Academy. I honestly had no interest in the upcoming The Last Hours trilogy, which chronicles Tessa and Will’s kids’ adventures. This story, however, changed that completely. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars.

The Evil We Love (Clare & Wasserman): I was so intrigued by this one, because it’s about Robert Lightwood being in The Circle with Valentine, Jocelyn, and the others. However, it was by far my least favorite story in this collection. The combination of Izzy/Simon angst and Robert being a total asshole both as a person and to his parabatai completely put me off this story. I swear to god, these Lightwoods y’all. ⭐️⭐️ stars.

Pale Kings and Princes (Clare & Wasserman): This should have been an amazing story about the injustice done to Helen Blackthorn, and her father’s time in Faerie. Instead, this was nearly ruined by the unending Izzy/Simon angst. Look, I have never really shipped these two because their relationship dynamic has always driven me up a freaking wall. This story, and the previous one, reminded my why I literally do not give a shit about them. I know this collection is about Simon, but AT WHAT COST. My sanity, clearly. ⭐️⭐️.5 stars.

Bitter of Tongue (Clare & Brennan): Ok, this one was about Mark Blackthorn and how the Clave abandoned him, and I loved that aspect. Hearing Mark talk about his experiences with the Wild Hunt and his family was heartbreaking. The Academy portion of this story was, as expected, underwhelming and thus dragged down the overall reading experience. ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars.

The Fiery Trial (Clare & Johnson): I did not understand this story. I understood the point, but not why the authors chose to go about it this way. I’m always up for more Blackthorns, but wasn’t into the Lake Lyn-induced “are we drift compatible?” acid trip that Simon and Clary went on (against their will, I have to point out). This was just kind of dumb and underwhelming. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Born to Endless Night (Clare & Brennan): Look, was this abandoned warlock baby story completely out of nowhere and absurd and out of place within the overall collection? Yep. Did I love it anyway because of Malec being happy? YES.  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Angels Twice Descending (Clare & Wasserman): The final story in this collection was predictable and underwhelming. I wasn’t surprised by what happened, because the entire collection had pretty blatantly been leading up to this. It was still heartbreaking, but didn’t really resonate. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Overall, I have to rate Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy between 3 and 3.5 stars (I guess 3.25, but quarter stars are just silly). This entire collection was a bit underwhelming, even though it provided some great backstories and information that will surely be important in future novels. I don’t think you have to read this before Lady Midnight, but it certainly provides context for the characters and conflicts in The Dark Artifices trilogy.

Have you read Tales From the Shadowhunter Academy? Let me know your thoughts!

book review

ARC Review: Goodbye Days

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Title: Goodbye Days
Author: Jeff Zentner
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Crown Books | Penguin Random House
Format: eARC*

“Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation.

Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.

Soon the other families are asking for their own goodbye day with Carver—but he’s unsure of their motives. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will these goodbye days bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or—even worse—prison?”

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It must be said right off the bat – Goodbye Days is sad af, y’all. But really, how could a book about a boy who loses his best friends be anything other than heartbreaking? Jeff Zentner manages this with a deft hand, and gives Carver (and the reader) enough hope and support to keep going.

Goodbye Days features two things that do not get enough representation, especially in YA: positive, supportive male friendships and actually present parental figures. The group dynamic between the “Sauce Crew” – Carver, Mars, Blake, and Eli – is beautifully portrayed, and something I cannot remember coming across before. They’re teenage boys, so there are plenty of fart jokes, but there’s also an undeniable closeness between them. These boys are open and honest with each other, and it’s so refreshing to see close male friendships in YA.

Often in YA, parents are either nonexistent or uninvolved, which is an even greater indication of fiction than love triangles, in my opinion. An unexpectedly wonderful part of Goodbye Days is that there are cases of parental figures that are involved in their children’s lives and present in their grief. Not only do we have Carver’s parents who are desperate to protect their son from potential criminal charges, but the parents (and Nana, in Blake’s case) of Carver’s friends spend their “goodbye days” with Carver. Through those parents, the reader experiences many different types of grief, and sees how loss affects everyone differently. While I certainly enjoyed certain parental figures more than others (hello Nana, peace out Eli’s dad), I appreciated that we had so many parents in this book. YA authors, take note.

There is amazing representation not only of the painful mix of grief and guilt Carver experiences, but also therapy and anxiety. I loved that we see Carver seek help for his panic attacks, and that he seeks out a therapist and medication combination that helps him. The scenes in which Carver has a panic attack were so powerful, because I have been there before and thought I am going to die I cannot possibly survive this. Zentner doesn’t shy away from the harder aspects of grief, and I liked that Carver is still a flawed human being and isn’t beatified through his suffering.

There were a few moments where I thought Goodbye Days stumbled. While I loved Jesmyn as a character, I think the story could have done without a romantic subplot. I would have preferred to see a strong male/female friendship without any romance. Zentner manages to maintain a balance that keeps Goodbye Days from being unbearably sad, but there are times when it almost strays into tragedy porn territory. I think it’s because there are three different goodbye days, with Carver’s own experience, and Jesmyn’s, and then an overarching theme of grief. It was just a bit much at times, for me. Carver sounds a bit too adult and wise for his seventeen years, traumatic events aside, and there’s a propensity for him to wax philosophically in order to end a chapter on some profound note. Even though Carver is a writer, this felt a bit heavy handed.

In terms of inclusivity, the majority of the cast of characters is white. Jesmyn is Filipino, and Mars and his dad are black. One character self-identifies as gay (although his coming out is the extent of that representation, full disclosure), but the rest are implied/assumed to be cishet.

Rating: 4 stars

*I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

book review

ARC Review: Done Dirt Cheap

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Title: Done Dirt Cheap
Author: Sarah Nicole Lemon
Publisher: Amulet/Abrams
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Format: eARC*

“Tourmaline Harris’s life hit pause at fifteen, when her mom went to prison because of Tourmaline’s unintentionally damning testimony. But at eighteen, her home life is stable, and she has a strong relationship with her father, the president of a local biker club known as the Wardens. Virginia Campbell’s life hit fast-forward at fifteen, when her mom “sold” her into the services of Hazard, a powerful attorney: a man for whom the law is merely a suggestion. When Hazard sets his sights on dismantling the Wardens, he sends in Virginia, who has every intention of selling out the club—and Tourmaline. But the two girls are stronger than the circumstances that brought them together, and their resilience defines the friendship at the heart of this powerful debut novel.”

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Done Dirt Cheap is unlike anything on the young adult market right now. Billed as Sons of Anarchy meets Thelma and Louise, this tale about female friendship and biker gangs was completely unexpected.

What I loved about Done Dirt Cheap is that this book is fundamentally about the strength of female friendship. Tourmaline and Victoria have both received more than their fair share of hard knocks in life, and from the outset they’re just using each other to achieve their own ends. But watching the connection between them grow and be forged into something really powerful was probably my favorite part of the entire story.

Our two protagonists are superbly badass, and I loved reading about these two women who had no time for bullshit. Tourmaline is the Warden’s president’s daughter, and still harbors guilt over a mistake that sent her mother to prison. Victoria works as a dealer for a sketchy lawyer, and doesn’t see a path to freedom in her future. Both Tourmaline and Victoria felt so original and wonderful, and I appreciated how the author didn’t force them into instant best friends. Their relationship is fraught, and neither completely trusts each other, but by the end they become a truly fearsome duo.

Another major positive of Done Dirt Cheap is the way the biker club, the Wardens, is represented. While Tourmaline’s perception of her father’s club is challenged throughout the novel, Lemon does a good job of portraying them in a way that refutes some of the nastier stereotypes of bikers. As someone whose father rode motorcycles for my entire life, I really appreciated that. Done Dirt Cheap earns the Sons of Anarchy comparison because there is a biker club in the narrative, not because they sell drugs or steal firearms. (This is where I admit that I’ve never watched an episode of Sons of Anarchy, but I know that gang is much more violent and…illegal in its activities than the Wardens in Done Dirt Cheap.)

I did have some issues with this book, especially as it relates to one of the relationships that I found to be a bit too much for me. Tourmaline and Victoria are both eighteen, and form relationships with older men (one considerably older). One of the romances made me a bit uncomfortable, and I didn’t really love the whole idea that they /had/ to end up in relationships with men who “saved” them. Just not how I would have liked that to play out. In all honesty, going into this book I expected Tourmaline and Victoria to end up together. No such luck. While I liked that we get positive representation of an interracial romance, it must be said that this book has literally one person of color. That’s it. Obviously, I found this disappointing.

Done Dirt Cheap is a great example of upper-YA with characters who are of age, make adult choices, and have to deal with adult consequences. I do wish Tourmaline and Victoria would have been in college, maybe 20 or so, but that’s just my personal desire for more “age appropriate” character situations. I felt that eighteen was a little young for this novel, but all that being said, I did enjoy this. Done Dirt Cheap is an original, kickass tale about two fierce female protagonists.

Rating: 3.75 stars

*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

arc review · book review

ARC Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: jimmy patterson / James Patterson
Format: ARC*
Goodreads

“Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.”

I’ve never been a fan of murder mysteries, and reading suspenseful books usually causes me more anxiety than excitement. So when I picked up an ARC of Stalking Jack the Ripper at BEA, I had no idea what to expect. I nearly decided against reading this because I was so sure it would be too gory, too spooky for me. Thankfully I gave Stalking Jack the Ripper a chance, because this book blew me away.

Our protagonist Audrey Rose is a proper lady, but all the tea parties in the world can’t hold her attention when she’d rather be conducting an autopsy. Audrey spends her free time apprenticing under her uncle as a forensic scientist, and when one of the bodies she’s studying turns out to be the Jack the Ripper’s first victim, Audrey finds herself on the hunt for a killer.

My single favorite thing about this book is how powerfully feminist it is. Audrey pushes back against societal expectations placed upon her as a young woman, and is more concerned with determining cause of death than finding a husband. Audrey asserts herself and her aspirations, going so far as to attend her uncle’s lectures dressed as a boy. Female characters who are interested in STEM fields are still unfortunately uncommon in YA, so seeing Audrey’s passion for science before women were even largely allowed to study added to my appreciate for this book. Audrey has so much working against her, but she still fights for what’s important to her.

Weaving in the Ripper murders was an interesting premise, and I’m sure that readers who are better acquainted with Jack with get even more out of it than I did. Admittedly, I know very little about Jack the Ripper, so I wasn’t overly focused on those details. Maniscalco does play around with Jack the Ripper, and while it was told well, I didn’t love where she took that part of the story. The ending felt oddly detached from the rest of the story, and that lessened my overall enjoyment of the book.

I did enjoy the romantic subplot, especially for its snappy banter and competitive nature. That being said, I wish he didn’t swoop in to save Audrey quite so much. As fierce and capable as she is, I would’ve liked to maybe see Audrey save him a couple times.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper and would definitely recommend picking it up if you’re intrigued!

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

*I received this ARC from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review.  

amulet books · arc review · book review · the graces

ARC Review: The Graces

Title: The Graces
Author: Laure Eve
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Source: eARC*
Goodreads

“When a glamorous family of teenage witches brings a mysterious new girl into their fold, they unwittingly nurture a powerful black magic that could destroy them all. This paranormal YA fantasy features intrigue, spells, and a devastating twist. In The Graces, the first rule of witchcraft states that if you want something badly enough, you can get it . . . no matter who has to pay.

Everyone loves the Graces. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are captivating, wealthy, and glamorous. They’ve managed to cast a spell over not just their high school but also their entire town—and they’re rumored to have powerful connections all over the world. If you’re not in love with one of them, you want to be them. Especially River: the loner, new girl at school. She’s different from her peers, who both revere and fear the Grace family. She wants to be a Grace more than anything. But what the Graces don’t know is that River’s presence in town is no accident.

This fabulously addictive fantasy combines sophisticated and haunting prose with a gut-punching twist that readers will be dying to discuss. Perfect for fans of We Were Liars as well as nostalgic classics like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the 1996 movie The Craft, The Graces marks the beginning of a new wave of teen witches.”

Ah, The Graces. I had such high book that this book would be the second coming of The Craft, that iconic cinematic marvel of ‘90s. I adored The Craft when I was younger – probably too much for someone my age, but no one will be surprised to hear that I was a weird kid. I digress.

All of the crucial ingredients are there: an untouchable group of suspected witches, an outsider desperate for their acceptance, and the distinct feeling that something wicked this way comes. Unfortunately, what Laure Eve delivers is something decidedly less spectacular.

I had some major issues with The Graces, chief among them that roughly the first 80% of this novel is just…boring. An unremarkable girl (who has a real name I’ve since forgotten because she insists on being called River) climbs the social ladder with such thinly veiled desperation that made me so uncomfortable at times I wished she’d failed. The Grace family is pulled from the pages of Twilight, from their unnatural beauty to the distance they maintain from the rest of the town. River, of course, falls in love with the eldest brother and uses her friendship with the youngest sibling Summer, as an excuse to get closer to him. This book also commits the incredibly problematic “kill your gays” trop and it, unsurprisingly, left me enraged.

The best part about this book is the ending. The last few pages, and what will presumably occur after them, are what I wish this entire book had been instead.

* EDIT * Ok so I just looked this book up on Goodreads, and apparently it’s the first in a series. While that explains why The Graces was so boring and felt unnecessary, that’s because it was, all for the sake of setting up a second book that will actually have an exciting story and/or some real action! I’m going to stop myself from going on a “unnecessary series” rant, but suffice it to say that I think this is silly.

Ultimately, there was little to nothing that I actually enjoyed about this book. Nearly everything from the characters to the pacing to the magic system managed to annoy or bore me, and I will not be continuing on in the series. Instead, I’m going to watch The Craft this weekend bask in its witchy glory. If you’re super into witches and don’t mind a lackluster first book, then give it a try. But otherwise I’d recommend a hard pass on this.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️

*I received an ARC from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a free & honest review. 

arc review · book review · wwii ya

ARC Review: Girl in the Blue Coat

Title: Girl in the Blue Coat
Author: Monica Hesse
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown
Format: ARC*

“Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person–a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.”

As an historian who did her high school distinction project and undergraduate thesis on WWII (specifically the political context of the invasion of North Africa), I am always excited to read WWII YA. Girl in the Blue Coat is the third WWII YA book published in 2016, and it is an impressive addition to the genre.

For many people, Anne Frank is the beginning and ending of what they know about the Netherlands during WWII. I personally knew very little about the role that the Netherlands played in the war, and this book really shed some light on that, especially in regards to the resistance.

Our protagonist Hanneke uses dead citizen’s ration cards for her black market work, stockpiling goodwill from her neighbors, until one day she is tasked to find something she can’t get with a ration card: Mirjam, a Jewish girl who’s gone missing. Mirjam is one of the countless onderduikers, the hidden Jews of Holland who spent their days hidden from Nazis by their Christian neighbors in secret rooms, tiny cupboards, or attics like Anne Frank and her family. The inclusion of onderduikers and that experience was one of my favorite aspects of the book. I really appreciated that we have Jewish characters in the book that the reader gets to know and is presented with the reality of their experience in a highly collaborationist country. Over 100,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands during the war, and Monica Hesse makes it a point to clearly show the reader how those deportations took place.

Hanneke herself was a real high point of the novel – she’s far from your perfect, good girl protag. Hanneke feels immense guilt over her boyfriend’s death, and she’s determined to work the system to her advantage. She isn’t interested in joining up with the resistance, but when she befriends a group of college students, she finds herself even more involved with the movement. The Girl in the Blue Coat is so multifaceted, and I appreciated that there was so much more to this than a search and rescue mission. There were so many surprises woven into the story that I was completely invested in Hanneke and her if she would succeed.

Girl in the Blue Coat was a fantastic read about a part of history with which I’m largely unfamiliar. I’ve been to Amsterdam before, so I recognized some of the locations mentioned in this book, which was a nice part of my personal reading experience. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, Girl in the Blue Coat needs to make its way onto your TBR list.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

*I received an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review. 

arc review · book review · netgalley · review

Review: Mad About the Hatter

Title: Mad About the Hatter
Author: Dakota Chase
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Publication Date: August 20, 2015
Source: eARC/Netgalley*
Goodreads | Book Depository

“This isn’t his sister’s Wonderland….

Henry never believed his older sister, Alice’s, fantastic tales about the world down the rabbit hole. When he’s whisked away to the bizarre land, his best chance for escape is to ally himself with the person called the Mad Hatter. Hatter―an odd but strangely attractive fellow―just wants to avoid execution. If that means delivering “Boy Alice” to the Queen of Hearts at her Red Castle, Hatter will do what he has to do to stay alive. It doesn’t matter if Henry and Hatter find each other intolerable. They’re stuck with each other. Along their journey, Henry and Hatter must confront what they’ve always accepted as truth. As dislike grows into tolerance and something like friendship, the young men see the chance for a closer relationship. But Wonderland is a dangerous place, and first they have to get away with their lives.”

The premise of Mad About the Hatter totally had me hooked. A LGBT story set in the world of Alice in Wonderland? Please and thank you. While I adore the original story, I was intrigued to see how successful a Wonderland story would be without the original Alice. Ultimately, Wonderland itself was my favorite element of this story.

Mad About the Hatter follows a dual perspective – on one hand we have Henry, Alice’s little brother who never believed in Wonderland until he woke up there, and the Mad Hatter, who will lose his head unless he brings “Boy Alice” to the Red Queen. From there, the two navigate Wonderland and despite their tense first meeting, become close. While I appreciated what the dual perspective intended to accomplish, there were chapters were it was difficult to tell their voices apart, and by the end it felt a bit unnecessary. The Mad Hatter was by far the most interesting character in this story, and it was fun to follow his thoughts and slippery language. Henry, on the other hand, often fell a bit flat, and I couldn’t really tell you about his personality. Their relationship was rather cute to follow, if a bit hasty.

Although this is Henry’s story instead of Alice’s, she is still present in Mad About the Hatter. Married with twins (named Louis and Carol, excuse me whilst I roll my eyes) at twenty-two, it’s hard to reconcile the Alice of lore with the domestic picture Chase presents. That connects directly into a bigger issue I had with this book: Henry and Alice live in the modern world. I understand why it was done, for many reasons, but it created an odd disconnect for me as a reader. It was almost impossible for me to accept that Henry’s Alice was the same girl in the original story, and I think that some of the magic got lost in the jump to 2015.

As I said earlier, Wonderland is truly the star of this book. The reader is treated to so much world building; all these parts of Wonderland that make it feel even richer. The thought behind these new areas of Wonderland fit in perfectly with what you’d expect from the original, and I eagerly anticipated the next stop in Henry and Hatter’s journey. I love the intricacies of Wonderland, and that came across really well in Mad About the Hatter.

Ultimately, this was a cute and enjoyable book, and if you want more Wonderland in your life, it’s definitely worth a read. The inclusion of a LGBT relationship in this world was great, and I would actually really like to know more about Henry and the Hatter’s story after this book ends.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.