Wayward Children Books 1-3 by Seanan McGuire *Series Review* (SPOILER FREE)

My first introduction to Every Heart a Doorway didn’t go so well. I got about 15% into the audiobook before I was sure that I was going to hate it, so I DNFed and it slipped my mind for a couple years. I recently posted a Tiktok video in which I listed all of the books I’ve put down and never finished and I got so many responses from people urging me to give Every Heart a Doorway another try. So I checked to see if the audiobook was still available from Scribd, and it was, so I did. And now I really think I get it.

I have mentioned previously that this past year has been very difficult for me in terms of my health. I’m dealing with a difficult condition that insists on digging its heels in no matter how much treatment I go through and it has left me in a lot of pain, unable to do much but sit at home and try to muster up the motivation to read. It’s been hard and I’ve bounced off of rock bottom more than once in the past few weeks. These books finally reached me at the perfect time, when I really needed them.

Every Heart a Doorway is the entry point into the strange rabbit hole that is the Wayward Children books. It tells the story of a boarding school for kids that have lived in and been expelled from fantasy worlds, both logical and nonsensical. As you might imagine, it’s a rough transition from dragon slaying to algebra class. And so Eleanor West and her Home for Wayward Children offers a softer landing for these kids that have been forced back into the “real world.” This first book follows Nancy, a girl who has spent time in the Halls of the Dead learning the art of silence and stillness and eating pomegrantes. She didn’t want to leave and yet here she is, back on Earth and waiting for her Doorway to open back up. We meet a cast of colorful characters who have been uniquely affected by their time in equally diverse worlds, all trying to find their way back, or at least adjust to the normalcy of our world again.

When kids start showing up brutally murdered, Nancy and her friends must try to figure out who the killer is and how to stop them before more lives are snuffed out.

“You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.”

Despite this rather exciting premise, I found Every Heart a Doorway to be the weakest book in the series thus far. It’s very slow, the characters aren’t explored as deeply as I would have liked, and the tone is fairly inconsistent. Conceptually, I think it’s great. I gave it 3 stars and I feel very comfortable with its position directly in between books two and three.

Speaking of which, the sequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is an absolute masterpiece of a fairy tale. A dark one for sure, but that’s just how I like them. This book is a prequel to Every Heart and tells the origin story of the two characters we met previously, the twins Jacqueline and Jillian.

McGuire’s writing, to me, felt much more developed in this book and I loved it. It called to mind other authors I adore like Holly Black and Laini Taylor who write stories in such a way that they feel like fairy tales that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike. Sticks and Bones is really dark, and we get to see every facet of the two girls, how they grew up together and then split apart, leading to the events at the end of Every Heart (which actually made me like the first book more). I gave this one 5 stars and immediately went and ordered a physical copy for myself because I want to go back and revisit it over and over again.

“Someone with sharp enough eyes might see the instant where one wounded heart begins to rot while the other starts to heal.”

Book three, Beneath the Sugar Sky, takes us from Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children to the nonsensical world of Confection where just about everything is made of sugar. The main focus here is a mixed-up timeline that went screwy after one of the murders in the first book. We get to revisit characters we’ve met previously as well as get to know some fun new ones. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did but it was just… so sweet. I love how all of these kids come together to overcome their own issues to help one another. I gave it 4 stars.

“But children, ah, children. Children follow the foxes, and open the wardrobes, and peek beneath the bridge. Children climb the walls and fall down the wells and run the razor’s edge of possibility until sometimes, just sometimes, the possible surrenders and shows them the way to go home.”

Now, Scribd has basically put me on lockdown for about a month since I’ve been tearing through audiobooks like nobody’s business. Unfortunately that means I have to wait a while to hear the rest of the books that are out now. I’m hooked though! Here was a series that I never saw myself giving the time of day and now I’m already picturing myself taking them down from my bookshelf to self-soothe on a bad day or when I just want to revisit some strange lands and interesting characters. I guess it really was just a matter of waiting for my Door to open. But I’m so glad it did, and I’m so thankful for the solace and hope these books have given me when I really needed that.

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Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer *Book Review*

Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

Goodreads Rating: 3.62

My Rating: 4/5

Tongue and eye, hand and foot. Blood and bone, ash and soot.

E. Latimer combines modern witchcraft with Celtic folklore in this gripping story about two opposing covens who must come together in the deeply religious Irish town of Carman to stop a serial killer who is targeting witches.

At the beginning of the book, Dayna has just been outted as bisexual at her school against her will. On top of her training to become a full fledged witch, she must contend with her persistent ex-boyfriend, pastor father, and the return of her emotionally unstable mother from a suspicious bible camp that was intended to make her better. She finds solace with her friend Raegan and the other witches in her coven. That is, until a second coven of three strange witches shows up to combine their forces against an impending attack.

Meiner is also a witchling with a chip on her shoulder and an attitude problem. The leader of her coven is her grandmother King, who is equal parts abusive and reckless with her magic. And that is to say nothing of Cora, her ex-girlfriend, who is also a little too willing to bend the rules.

I loved the overall atmosphere of this book. It brings to mind scenes from The Raven Cycle’s 300 Fox Way and its diverse characters. I think the characters are easily the strongest thing going for Witches of Ash and Ruin. They have A LOT going on and it was very compelling to watch them struggle with each other and try to find middle ground in order to meet a common goal. The plot itself is super interesting and despite a slow section here and there, I wanted to push through them to see what would happen next.

I didn’t have any outright problems with this book but, to me, the most lackluster aspect was the writing style. It’s very direct which is good for getting its point across, but I am a fan of a little flowery language (to an extent) that I can return to and highlight. So that being said, this book isn’t very quotable but I can’t be too upset about it since I think everything else was done very well.

One thing I think is worth mentioning is the representation of OCD in this book. It is mentioned early on that one of the characters has been diagnosed and it’s something she struggles with, but it doesn’t really come up a whole lot after that. I’ve heard mixed reviews on how this was perceived. Some people liked that, and others didn’t. It’s not an illness I have any personal experience with so I can’t comment on it myself but maybe take that into consideration.

Some other trigger warnings you should be aware of: homophobia, implied conversion therapy, implied sexual assault, self harm, familial abuse, body horror, mental illness

As of 2021 I have revamped my rating system a little and it goes like this: I have a list of criteria I grade a book on (where applicable) and I give each of those a rating from 1 to 5. Then I take the average of them all, and that’s where my final rating comes from. So this is what my breakdown for Witches of Ash and Ruin looks like:

  • Plot- 4/5
  • Characters- 5/5
  • Pacing- 4/5
  • Writing Style- 3/5
  • Overall Enjoyment- 4/5
  • Insightfulness- 4/5
  • Ease of Reading- 5/5

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Chain Mail by Hiroshi Ishizaki *Book Review*

chain mail

Chain Mail by Hiroshi Ishizaki

Goodreads rating: 3.83

My rating: 4/5

Subject: would you like to create a fictional world?

Four young girls are brought together when a chain email gets sent around asking them to participate in a collaborative story. Sawako, Yukari, Mai, and Mayumi are all tired of the lives they’re living. So when the opportunity to get creative and share a secret hobby together arises, they all join in. The story has four parts and each girl can choose a perspective to write from: the female protagonist, her boyfriend, her stalker, and the detective. What begins as a fun and thrilling hobby, becomes more sinister as real life and fiction bleed together. 

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I did not expect to love this story as much as I did. The characters are given a lot of depth and they undergo significant change despite the book being just over 200 pages. The aesthetic of a group of teen girls typing out story chapters on their flip phones against the colorful backdrop of Tokyo was just (*chef’s kiss*) so enjoyable. It all brought me back to the time when I was their age and trying desperately to fit in despite drama with my friends and troubles at home. I think there’s something for everyone to relate to in this book. Hell, even the school bully gets a redemption arc. 

If you want a story that reads like a wholesome slice of life anime with some effectively creepy undertones then I’d highly recommend Chain Mail, though you’ll probably have to buy second hand to get a hold of it.

It’s been quite a while since I last posted so I appreciate you stopping by. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.


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