Book Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani


Thorn, a sprawling, rich fairytale re-telling from author Intisar Khanani, is not the first novel to retell the lesser-known fairytale of “The Goose Girl”, but it certainly does the story justice, and breathes new life into it with a beautifully complex, yet inherently good heroine, something that is no longer so common in novels published at any level higher than middle-grade.

Perhaps I’m biased because I love the Goose Girl tale. I’ve loved it since I first read Shannon Hale’s middle grade take on it, a novel by the name of — you guessed it — The Goose Girl. In Thorn, all of the key elements of the story remain: a princess travels to meet a prince of a far-away land, one she has been betrothed to via arranged marriage. A wrench, thrown in her journey by a traveling companion who is a usurping imposter, and cruelly takes the place of the princess, banishing her to a life as a servant. The princess’s new life in the shadow of the royal palace, working as a goose shepherd. A close companion in the form of a horse, named Falada, that the princess in disguise can understand.

In Khanani’s retelling, all of the bones in the original tale’s skeleton remain. However, she adds new depth to the tale by the freedom she takes to create her own characters within that framework. The heroine, Alyrra, particularly shines, as she should, given that she is the narrator of the novel. As the novel begins, it plods along somewhat, primarily because we know little of our heroine at the outset, and the inciting moment — the body-snatching that occurs between her and her spiteful, ambitious lady-in-waiting, Valka — does not occur for a while. But as the novel continues, we get to know Alyrra more, and care more about the plot because of it.

At the outset, Alyrra is quiet, submissive, and more or less just wants to disappear. In the family home of her small kingdom, she is neglected by her mother, and abused by her brother; only the servants show her attention and affection, as well as her friend, the Wind, which she speaks to when she is out in the fields and forests. When her mother agrees to marry her off to Prince Kestrin of the neighboring kingdom of Menaiya, a boy that Alyrra has never met, she puts up no argument, as she assumes it can’t be much worse of a position than she’s already in. When Alyrra’s body is swapped with Valka’s by a sorceress who has granted Valka the ability to become an imposter princess in exchange for Valka’s promise to eventually betray the prince, Alyrra is understandably disturbed, but later comes to view the switch as an opportunity for her to have an ordinary life, one as a working girl, independent and anonymous, happy earning her honest, if small, living. However, the only thing keeping Alyrra from abandoning the king’s city completely is duty: she feels a sense of obligation to warn the prince of the betrayal she knows is waiting for him in the shadows.

Because of her reluctant desire to stay and warn the prince, she takes up the position of goose girl, spending her days tending to the palace’s herd of geese and living in the stables amongst the horses. There, she finds friends in the other stable workers, and especially in the white horse, Falada, with whom she can speak. For the first time, she finds herself truly content with her life, taking comfort in the menial work she does and the unpretentious kindness she finds in the other stable servants. However, she cannot detach so easily from her past life: not only does she need to warn the prince of the imposter Valka and her plan to betray him, but she is cursed from telling anyone, and must find a way to explain what has happened without being able to actually explain what has happened.

Following Alyrra, who is known in her servant’s position as Thorn, through her journey of discovering her own self-confidence and power is a satisfying one. You see, what’s great about Alyrra is that she’s not good at everything. She doesn’t know how to fight. She has little talent for manipulation or spying. While not plain, her beauty is rarely mentioned. Instead, the power of her character is allowed to shine through instead via her own understated, unique strengths. She is observant, kindhearted, and as honest as she is able to be under the curse that has been cast upon her. She wants to do the right thing, and often does, even if her fear hinders her. She is good, yet she is flawed; but she is not flawed in a way that makes the reader feel alienated from her. The entire time reading, one can’t help but root for her, to hope with every turn of the page that someone realizes what has been done for her, and fights in her corner.

Another strong element of this retellings is the characterization of the princess’s intended, the prince. In the novel, Prince Kestrin is given much more dimension than is often afforded the love interests in fairytales. There is a mystery about him; he seems abrupt, sometimes prideful, but there is a reason behind it that the reader yearns to know. And despite this, he is kind, and desperately wishes for someone he can trust. My only complaint surrounding Prince Kestrin is that we did not get more of him! He is not the narrator, it is not his story to tell; however, he was a lovingly-painted character, and every scene he shared with Alyrra jumped off the page, always leaving me wishing for more, even after I turned the final page of the book.

Something that particularly bolsters this retelling is the strength of setting. I’ve noticed that, too often lately, YA fantasies seem fairly unconcerned with their settings, and spend little time developing them or describing them. Thankfully, this is not so with Thorn. The kingdom of Menaiya is easily pictured as one reads along, and the king’s city is described to the extent that there is certainly room for more novels to be written in this world, if the author so wishes it (and I hope that she does!). The names and elements of language introduced all feel organic and thoughtfully chosen; they fit well with the world that they are populating. I also appreciate the pacing and length of the novel. I often find that, with fantasy, pacing can be a particularly tricky balance. While the plot in some areas of the novel goes along at a faster clip than it does in others, everything feels as if it’s in its right place, and I enjoy the passages that the reader is allowed to traverse at a more leisurely pace, as they afford a more detailed picture of the characters and the world that they live in.

This is one of the best YA fantasies that I have read in quite some time, and I desperately want to give it a full five stars. However, just a few things hold me back from giving it that perfect rating. My primary issue with the novel is that, in some places, the conflict of the plot feels too flimsy. There are times when you wonder why some of the characters don’t just do what they keep saying they will do — there is no concrete reason for delay when it comes to some of their actions, and if the reasons are examined with any kind of scrutiny, they easily fall apart. My other issue, however, is far more subjective, and is heavily tied to my own personal preferences. While the romance between the two central characters is a delicious and truly slow burn, I did want more scenes between the two of them. I personally believe that the best romances are always the ones where the love story is not the main plot of the novel (with some exceptions, of course. I’m ride-or-die for Jane Austen), and the relationship between Alyrra and Kestrin was a great example of this method working well for a novel. There were some reveals surrounding their story that were so delicious, I had to put down the book and grin, hand clutched to my heart, for a moment or two. Khanani is clearly excellent at writing chemistry and building affection and respect between two characters, so of course I wanted more! Alyrra spends most of the novel mistrusting Prince Kestrin — far longer than he spends mistrusting her, by any count — and I feel like it would have been nice as a reader to have gotten more time between the two of them that was in a place of mutual trust, especially given the length of the novel. That being said, the book is listed on Goodreads as being the first in a series, so I really do hope that we get more of Alyrra and Kestrin, as well as the kingdom of Menaiya in general.

This book got me out of a reading slump, and really scratched my YA fantasy fairytale retelling itch, and for that, I will be forever grateful. If you love any of those things, as well as lush world-building and richly-drawn characters, I absolutely recommend this book. It was like sipping a warm, sweet cup of tea after a cold winter day outside.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


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Book Review: Lovely War by Julie Berry

“He closed his eyes tightly. ‘What I’ve done, and what I’ve seen, will always be with me.’

This was the last time she would make this plea. ‘Let me, too, always be with you.'”

This book is one of those that you come across every once in a while that feels almost impossible to review. It’s somehow both what you expected, and not what you expected at all. It wasn’t good enough to be one you’ll keep thinking about for days after finishing, but it’s certainly good enough to recommend to other readers. And boy, does it have some absolutely stunning one-liners, including the quote I opened this review with.

But let’s not dwell on the rating just yet. Hopefully I’ll know what it is by the time I’m finished writing this review.

One thing that Lovely War, Julie Berry’s most recent novel, absolutely deserves praise for its its delicious premise, particularly the framing device it uses for story-telling. The two love stories we are presented with throughout the majority of the novel, which takes place near the end of World War I, are told to us by four of the major figures from Greek mythology: Aphrodite, the goddess of love, Ares, the god of war, Apollo, the god of music, and Hades, the god of death. At the opening of the novel, we are shown Aphrodite and Ares in 1942 — in the midst of World War II — caught in a tryst by Hephaestus, Aphrodite’s husband, who is the god of forges, and very insecure about his lack of beauty compared to the other gods. Hephaestus, heartbroken that his wife has been unfaithful, arranges a trial in an attempt to discover if Aphrodite ever loved him. As a defense, she convinces him to allow her to tell two love stories, affectionately crafted by her own self, in order to demonstrate that she knows more about matters of the heart than the rest of them.

When it comes down to it, the premise of the trial feels a bit shaky, and easy to poke holes in. However, it allows for the stories we are about to hear to be presented in a wonderfully unique way: while most of the stories are told through the perspective of love, from Aphrodite herself, she calls the other gods as witnesses to fill in the gaps. Ares steps in to explain the happenings of battle, Hades, to account for the lives lost, and Apollo shares powerful moments of music, as three out of the four protagonists are talented musicians.

Each chapter features a heading detailing which god is speaking. This convention becomes particularly powerful when the reader sees the name of Hades at the top of the page, as it creates suspense and fear for the characters. Which of them will he claim? Death is a matter of how and when, not if, when Hades takes his turn to speak.

However, as I ventured through the first half or so of the novel, I found that the framing device which made it so fantastically unique occasionally became its fatal flaw when it came to connecting with our four main characters.

As Aphrodite and her fellow gods tell the story of the main characters — James and Hazel, and Aubrey and Colette — the distance between mortal and immortal is easily felt. Aphrodite particularly is a very present narrator, and reminders of her voice can often make it feel like the main characters are being kept at arm’s length from the reader. We run into the problem of “telling” instead of “showing” because that is literally what is happening: Aphrodite is narrating the thread of each story, and we are not being shown what happens. To me, this causes a disconnect between myself as a reader and the emotions of the characters in question. We are told that a character feels fear, grief, or joy, but we don’t always quite feel that alongside them, as we might have with a more invisible third person omniscient narration, or perhaps alternating first person perspectives. This disconnect feels less prominent toward the latter half of the novel, as we’ve had a few hundred pages to get to know the characters a little more, but it still remains, as if it’s a membrane of some sort, letting us see and hear the characters’ experiences, but never quite feeling what they’re feeling by proxy as a reader.

All things considered, however, I did still enjoy the stories we were presented with. Usually, if I don’t know how I feel about a book, a surefire sign that deep down, I don’t enjoy it, is if I take days and days and possibly even weeks to finish it. I finished this book in 3-4 sittings, in about as many days. I did care about the characters we were presented with, and wanted to find out what happened to them, even if I think one pair had a narrative advantage over the other, and an imbalance felt present amongst the four characters.

Aphrodite’s story begins with Hazel, a young pianist aspiring to go to a music conservatory in London, and James, a building apprentice who dreams of being a compassionately-minded architect. The two of them meet at a dance hall just days before James is scheduled to leave for army training, and it’s pretty much love at first sight. While I certainly was rooting for them throughout the novel, the aspect of insta-love pretty significantly impacted my investment in their relationship for the first half, or possibly even two-thirds of the novel. There wasn’t very much build-up; they just very quickly came together, and quite frankly, we never really see them spend much time together. In fact, though they’re said to be “in love” with each other, for the majority of the book, they only have maybe a week total of face-to-face interaction, and, quite frankly, that’s just not enough for me. Anyone who knows my taste in fiction knows that I am, perhaps above all else, a huge fan of the “slow burn” trope in relationships. I want to see the development, feel the growing attachment, understand the deepening connection. The lack of this in the first two-thirds of the novel is probably the biggest reason why Lovely War felt a bit disappointing for me as a read.

I’m not sure if the author intended it this way or not, but the second romantic pairing in the novel almost felt like the “B pairing” of the story. The two characters involved — Aubrey, a black Jazz pianist from Harlem, and Colette, an orphaned singer from a small village in Belgium — aren’t introduced until much later in the novel. By the time we meet them, Hazel and James have an advantage, as we’ve already been following their story for a good 50 pages or so. Consequently, the two are even harder to invest in when it comes to their love story; whereas James and Hazel only spent a week together in person, Colette and Aubrey only interacted maybe three times at most before their relationship is largely neglected for a considerable portion of the novel. I was rooting for them, of course, but only in a passive, lazy way. I ultimately cared more about them simply surviving, and thought little of their romance. It is a story of war, after all.

War, which brings me to my next point: the setting of this novel was perhaps one of the biggest pulls for me. For some reason, there is an absolute abundance of WWII historical fiction on the shelves right now (and all of the covers look the same, to boot, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms that I don’t want to dissect right now). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy WWII fiction quite a bit (read: I’ll eat that shit up). However, I’ve always been fascinated by WWI, and always been disappointed at how much harder it is to find historical fiction set during that time period. I’m not sure why that is, exactly. Could it be that, even though it was only two decades or so prior to WWII, the first world war took place in a society that looked far more different than our own in present day, and is therefore more difficult to write? Could it be a result of American authors taking little interest in the period, as the Americans themselves were hardly in that particular war? I’m not sure, but as someone who’s always loved the era of Titanic, women’s suffrage, and the first few seasons of Downton Abbey, I’ve always been intrigued by that period in history, and I’m always seeking out more fiction about it. When I realized that Lovely War was largely set during that time, of course I jumped at the opportunity, and I thank Julie Berry for investing in the research. This novel has recently become quite popular with the book-related social media crowd, and I would love to see that popularity translate into more popular historical fiction about The Great War.

Overall, would I recommend this book to other readers? Absolutely, I would. The premise was fresh and interesting, and the story highlights an era of history that is currently a bit underrepresented in fiction, in my opinion. However, the issues I mentioned above, such as distance from the character’s emotions, and the trope of “insta-love” are what keeps this from being a new favorite of mine. I had a good time reading it, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been hoping for more. I’m a glutton for romance, and suffering for romance, but I want to feel it in my bones, and not merely read about it from a narrator that’s keeping it at arm’s length. On a more technical level, however, I will fully commit to praise for Berry’s use of language. There were some absolutely gorgeous, scrumptious little metaphors and descriptive bits, and in that sense, I feel Berry spoiled the reader. I sometimes feel that lately, there is a lack of truly luscious, beautiful prose: it always seems to fall into the category of either over-the-top, “purple” prose (a la The Night Circus), or prose that is quite plain, straightforward, and doesn’t take the time to describe anything with much detail or care. In this respect, Lovely War was quite the triumph. It was certainly enough to make me feel willing to give another one of Berry’s works a shot, if the opportunity ever arises.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


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Book Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

“They’ve never found the body of the first and only boy who broke my heart.”

Wow. What a zinger of an opening line, right?

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this book really fulfilled its promise of giving us a murderous, power-hungry protagonist the way that its opening implies. This was definitely one of those books that I enjoyed reading, more or less, but when it comes to rating it, I can’t help but give it a lukewarm verdict.

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the synopsis for this book, as listed on Goodreads:

“Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1. Woo the Shadow King.

2. Marry him.

3. Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?”

Despite being called a “cunning, villainous queen” on the back jacket, the main character, Alessandra Stathos, really loses sight of that after the first third or so of the novel. Yes, she begins as a slighted second daughter of a neglectful lord who will do anything to spite her family and seize control of the kingdom. However, once she begins to position herself to take that power, it feels as if she completely loses sight of that goal in favor of being occupied with palace life and the romantic intrigue between herself and the Shadow King, the man she intends to kill in order to take the throne. I never found myself fully convinced that she ever planned on killing him.

Another element of Alessandra’s villainy that makes it fall short is that her motive simply isn’t particularly believable or compelling. Alessandra’s desire to rule the kingdom is repeated often, but never quite explored. She certainly doesn’t want to take over the crown in order to create a better kingdom; in fact, her ruthlessness regarding the subjects of the kingdom and of other kingdoms often trends toward uncritically-examined cruelty. The protagonist here seems to fall victim to the “classic Disney villain” effect: the villain never achieves any kind of believability or audience investment because, quite frankly, a motive of “power for the sake of power” has never been that interesting. Sure, it’s fine that they want to rule the kingdom. But why? What personally led them to that goal? What motivates them to desire it so badly? What happened to them earlier in life that made them so hungry to achieve such power at any cost? With Alessandra, we never really find out why, and the novel suffers for it.

Something else I struggled with while reading The Shadows Between Us was the world-building. Look, I know this is a YA fantasy that leans heavily toward romance. I know world-building isn’t always the first priority in this genre, and I accept that. However, I do usually like to at least be able to somewhat visualize the setting that our characters are traversing. The world of Naxos never fully solidified before my eyes while I followed Alessandra’s journey. Given the naming trends the author took for the people and places of the novel, I think it’s supposed to be reminiscent of Ancient Greece; however, several elements of the castle, where the novel primarily takes place, as well as the fashion and customs seem to indicate Medieval England? This is further complicated by the fact that they also have semi-automatic weaponry and electricity. This mishmash made it quite difficult for me to visualize the world of Naxos.

One thing that I believe the novel gets very right is its central romance. The relationship between the main character, Alessandra, and the Shadow King, whose real name is Kallias, certainly starts off slow, but toward the middle of the novel and its latter half, the sexual tension trends toward a fever pitch, and the developing romance was absolutely delicious to read — borderline steamy, at parts. Coincidentally, as soon as the romance element begins to deepen, Alessandra’s entire plan to kill the king and take his throne seems to evaporate into thin air, thus undermining the novel’s premise of “mean girl plans to commit regicide just for the hell of it”. However, I can’t deny that I’m a sucker for a healthy dose of unresolved sexual tension and romantic pining, so I can’t say that I complained so very much about this direction of the plot.

After all is said and done, I think The Shadows Between Us is a solidly entertaining, if not quite groundbreaking, entry into the YA fantasy genre. I did appreciate the main character’s openness with her sexuality, as well as the fact that she did seem to have hobbies and interests outside of, you know, fluttering over a love interest. I was expecting murder to be one of those hobbies, but I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be.

So — if you like palace intrigue, romance with high stakes, and you’re looking for a quick, easy read, give this book a chance. It might be for you!


Rating: 3 out of 5.


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5 Ways to Find Books You Actually Want to Read

Ever feel like you’re just stuck in a reading rut? you may have a few shelves’ worth of unread books, yet none of them are calling to you. Not a single synopsis sounds like exactly what you want to read at this very moment. But how do you find something new to dive into? Bestseller lists don’t always help, and sometimes the popular books that are most talked about online aren’t really in the wheelhouse of what you’re in the mood for.

So what do you do? Surely there’s got to be a better way than trial and error, right? As someone who’s always searching for good new additions to my TBR list, here are some ways that I find my next great read.

1. Sign Up for BookBub Emails

No, this isn’t a sponsored post. I just really like my daily BookBub emails! All you have to do is sign up with an email address, take a short questionnaire, and from then on, you’ll get daily emails recommending books in your preferred genres that are discounted that day by e-book vendors online, like Amazon or Apple Books. You’ll also get emails once a week with a list of new releases in the genres you selected in your original questionnaire! I’ve been signed up for a couple of years, and I’ve definitely found some great, cheap reads this way.

Sign up for BookBub here.


Admittedly, Goodreads’ general recommendations features aren’t always particularly helpful. I usually don’t have much luck with the books listed on my home page or in the “recommendations” tab. However, I have had decent luck looking at the recommended titles on the page for individual books! I’ve found that the best way to go about this is to go to a goodreads page for a book you really love, then check out the “Readers Also Enjoyed” section on the right side of the page.

If you’re on Goodreads for mobile, this section should be near the bottom of the page instead. Just scroll through and check them out — you might find your next favorite title!


Look, I get it. BookTube can be hard to navigate sometimes. I myself often fall victim to the issue of getting into a BookTuber’s videos on YouTube, only to find out that, *gasp*, one of their favorite books of all time is one that I absolutely hated! How can I ever trust their opinions again, right? But the good thing is, it’s a community that’s always growing.

A lot of popular BookTubers focus on YA novels, and that’s perfectly okay; that being said, if that’s not a genre you enjoy, it can feel a bit alienating sometimes if you’re trying to get into the community. But don’t worry! There’s an ever-increasing variety of channels out there. For example, if you’re not really into YA, but love Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I definitely recommend checking out channels like Books With Emily Fox or Merphy Naphier, as they feature those genres quite a bit!

One way to find a BookTuber that matches your reading preferences is to just start picking channels, scroll through their videos to see if they have a “Favorite Books of All Time” video (they probably do), and watch a handful of those until you come across a channel that has similar taste to you! That way, you can watch their reviews with a little more confidence that you’ll find books that are for you, as opposed to just going in blind.


Signing up for emails straight from the publishing houses themselves can be a great way to learn about new releases, especially if you don’t visit a physical bookstore particularly often. While some of the bigger publishing houses publish in multiple genres and will have more general lists of new releases in their emails, there are some more niche publishing houses, such as Tor, that stick primarily to Sci-Fi and Fantasy, or Harlequin, if you prefer the romance genre.

Don’t feel like you have to open and read every email! Of course, that could get overwhelming. But if you’re in the need for something fresh to read, it’s nice to have them sitting in your inbox for easy perusal of new titles. Here is a list of publishing houses that have an email newsletter option:

Enjoy your new inbox full of discounts and reading recommendations!

Disclaimer: I do live in America, so I might have missed some international publishing houses. Feel free to search for more than the ones I’ve listed here!


I know, I know. This option seems a little obscure. However. I’ve found it’s a really, really great option for when you have a very specific and particular craving for your next read. For example, are you craving a European-set time-travel romance, but you don’t want to re-read Outlander for the third time? R/booksuggestions might lead you to the exact sort of thing you’re looking for. All you need to do is use the search bar within the subreddit. If no one has asked for what you’re looking for in a previous post, you can sign up for reddit quite easily and ask for a recommendation yourself. I’ve done this several times, and I’ve found some great books to add to my TBR list this way.

Find the subreddit here: r/booksuggestions


And that’s all I’ve got! Hopefully at least one of these suggestions will have you well on your way to a replenished reading list, and maybe even help you find your next 5-star read. Happy hunting!

Have any other tricks for finding new reads that I didn’t mention here? Leave a comment down below, or @ me on any of my social media handles that are linked on the top right corner of every blog page!