Saturday, July 20, 2024

Review: The Spellshop by Sarah Beth Durst

by Sarah Beth Durst
Release Date: July 9, 2024
2024 Tor
Ebook ARC; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1035042326
Audiobook: B0CL1DF783
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars 

Kiela and her assistant, Caz, a sentient spider plant, have spent most of the last eleven years sequestered among the empire’s precious spellbooks, protecting the magic for the city’s elite. But a revolution is brewing and when the library goes up in flames, she and Caz steal whatever books they can and flee to the faraway island where she grew up.

The empire with its magic spellbooks has slowly been draining power from the island, something that Kiela is indirectly responsible for, and now she’s determined to find a way to make things right. Opening up a spell shop comes with its own risks—the consequence of sharing magic with commoners is death. And as Kiela comes to make a place for herself among the quirky townspeople, she realizes that in order to make a life for herself, she must break down the walls she has kept so high.
My Thoughts
The Spellshop is one of those books I needed at this time; it was light, had very low drama, focused on friendships and self-discovery, and interesting magic. After having read some grimdark fantasy, I needed something light, fantastical, fun, and this one ticked off all the boxes.  I personally thought this one did what cozy fantasy was intended to do, create a fun, magical world that explored the development of the main character without really focusing too much on political issues or on the romance. 
Kiela is the main character of the story and at first, she is quite withdrawn having spent the past decade of her life in the great library protecting books and doing what she was told by the powers that be. Keeping to yourself and not creating trouble was the way to stay alive, but this also made her unaware of what was happening around her, and she became very isolated as a result. Upon escaping, realizing she needed others in order to keep herself alive, Kiela had to come out of her shell and go into the village and try to come up with ways to feed herself and stay alive. And this is where I really thought her character started to develop and became much more interesting. At first, she was sort of annoying, thinking she could stay hidden for the rest of her life just to protect her books, but realizing she couldn't do it on her own, making friends and responding to others in the village was the highlight of this book. I loved the secondary characters as they were so unique and interesting. And Caz, my favourite character in this book. How do you not love a talking spider plant who is afraid of water?   

The overall story is based on the found-family trope and I thought it was well done.  The book is somewhat slow at times, but I didn't mind at all as the world-building and the characters were very well developed. The story is brimming with all kinds of magic, everything from sentient plants to flying cats to mer-horses. While it could be a bit repetitive, this didn't bother me in the slightest; I adored the magical creatures that abounded in this book and found the way Kiela made a life for herself to be quite interesting. To be honest, I would like to purchase a place on this island and live there.  Personally, I am glad the main conflict didn't last long as it would have taken that cozy feel away from the story; I thought the author did the right thing with that story line. This is a book meant to be on the lighter side, without all the political stuff and fighting.

The Spellshop was a lot of fun to read and a perfect break from those grimdark books I had been reading. It was light, fantastical, with a host of magical creatures, and even a light romance.  And while the story may have felt somewhat repetitive at times, it was whimsical enough to not bother me in the slightest. If you are looking for something sweet and wholesome, with found family tropes, then this book is definitely for you.


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Review: Herrick's End by T.M. Blanchet

by T.M. Blanchet
Release Date: May 10, 2022
2022 Tiny Fox Press LLC
Ebook Edition; 312 Pages
ISBN: 978-1946501417
ASIN: B09D8N276Q
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

Ollie's only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he's frantic to find her. But he doesn't have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
"Still looking for your friend? I know where she is." Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he'd ever expect.
Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone--or something--was expecting him.

Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he's going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can't get some help. Fast.

My Thoughts
Herrick's End had a really interesting premise, and I really loved the secret, dark underworld in which Ollie found himself, a world that exists under our own modern world, with secret entrances spread throughout the world. As a kid, I've always been fascinated by this idea ever since reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, so I am always drawn to these types of books as I have always wanted to just open a secret compartment and enter a fantasy world.  However, the world in this book is no Narnia, one that is dangerous for Ollie, one that holds a lot of secrets for him.  The story was pretty fast-paced, the world-building was great, and I loved the story of the witches and how the world was formed. My biggest issue was Ollie himself.

Ollie is the main character or the book and I really, really wanted to love him.  He is supposed to come across the pages as this big, loveable guy who has confidence issues because he is overweight. Ok, that is fine. But when you blame everything that happens to him on this fact it becomes annoying and tedious after a while.  Personally, I loved the weight-issue thing, that he wasn't this hero who looked like a god, who had faults as that is a breath of fresh air in YA books.  I just felt his self-confidence issues and his phobia issues weren't addressed as well as they could have been in this book, but relied more on being a handicap for why he doesn't act in certain scenarios or why he got himself into certain situations. Not really convincing.  But you will never convince me that he's a great guy when he doesn't necessarily help others in need and allows things to happen to him, and when bad things happen to other people, he only acts when it becomes harmful to him.  When he was called out for it in one part of the book, I think you were supposed to feel sympathy for Ollie, but I actually thought the woman was right. He did grow and develop throughout the book, but blaming his weight didn't stop. Enough already. And not a fan of the hero complex thing either. 

The other characters in this book were great however, and I enjoyed them quite a bit, to the point where I want their stories, the reasons for why they are in this world, especially Tera and Leonard.  

The highlight for me was the world-building. I really loved this underground world and what it represented, and the twists and turns actually caught me by surprise. I thought they were great fun, and I enjoyed the fast-paced action of the story. Because this is the first book of a trilogy, I was not expecting the whole world to be developed, and I am definitely looking forward to what other surprises the author has in store for us.  Beware however, what I thought was going to be a lighter book actually turned quite dark, with themes of domestic abuse being quite prevalent throughout the story as well as consequences for other types of abuse. I am also expecting these themes to be explored more thoroughly in the next two books.  While I appreciate the theme running through the book, I am still unsure what the actual message is in this book as I don't feel it is clear. 

Herrick's End was definitely not what I thought it was going to be, going from a fairly light read to one with very serious dark undertones, but I really enjoyed the world-building and except for Ollie, thought  the characters were intriguing. I did think some of the themes and messages needed to be developed a bit more, and I wasn't a fan of the main character because he just doesn't listen to others, basing his actions off his own insecurities rather than for altruistic reasons.  I did find the story interesting enough that I will be finishing the trilogy as I am curious as to certain elements and threads that have been started in this book.  And while the book has some sort of conclusion, it does leave certain plot threads loose that will hopefully be continued in the next book.   

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Review: The Silverblood Promise by James Logan

by James Logan
Release Date: May 7, 2024
2024 Tor
Ebook ARC: 528 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250345806
Audiobook: B0CKM37DBK
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Lukan Gardova is a cardsharp, academy dropout, and―thanks to a duel that ended badly―the disgraced heir to an ancient noble house. His days consist of cheap wine, rigged card games, and wondering how he might win back the life he threw away.

When Lukan discovers that his estranged father has been murdered in strange circumstances, he finds fresh purpose. Deprived of his chance to make amends for his mistakes, he vows to unravel the mystery behind his father's death.

His search for answers leads him to Saphrona, fabled city of merchant princes, where anything can be bought if one has the coin. Lukan only seeks the truth, but instead he finds danger and secrets in every shadow. For in Saphrona, everything has a price―and the price of truth is the deadliest of all.
My Thoughts
The Silverblood Promise was exactly what I needed at the moment, something light, fun, with the promise of deadly politics and lots of adventure.  To be honest, I was looking for something along more traditional lines, including the tropes, and this delivered. It was entertaining and although Lukan annoyed me at times as he could be somewhat immature, there was enough adventure, murder, secrecy, political intrigue, and mysteries to keep me interested and intrigued. 

Lukan Gardova is the main character and he could be a bit annoying a times, but in a good way. Having got himself into a spot of trouble, he had been on the run for several years until he discovered his father had been murdered. Angry because he was estranged from his father and had not been able to mend his relationship, he took it upon himself to discover why an academic would be the target of murderers. Lukan was a fun character to follow, but he was immature, given to drink whenever things got tough, and that happened a lot in this book.  I believe the author's intention is to make you feel frustrated with Lukan as he is a bit spoiled despite his adventures, and needs to learn to listen and shut his mouth when necessary. And while he does show a lot of character development, there is still a lot of room to grow in the next book, something that I really liked as he didn't suddenly become this superhero. In fact, an eleven-year-old had to rescue him, twice, from certain death because he was foolish. Despite all of this, his heart is in the right place and his intentions are good even if he blunders and makes loads of mistakes.  I thoroughly enjoyed the humour and sarcasm throughout though, as it lessened the tension of what is essentially a darker novel as its roots.

The plot actually moved rather quickly from one scene to another with a few twists and turns.  While it has a more traditional feeling, something I loved, it was also unique and fun, focusing more on the mystery of Lukan father's death, but subtly weaving in the political intrigue that I love.  The city of Saphrona where most of the action takes place is a gritty city at its root, with the wealthy trying to consolidate their power and their wealth leaving the poor to struggle, creating a clear division of power. And the city is known for worshiping money and status. As Lukan searches for his father's murderers, he finds himself caught in a deadly web of intrigue in this city that will have major consequences for him and for the citizens. I loved how the author subtly wove all of this together, and how easily it was for Lukan to get caught up in all the intrigue.  Throughout all this grimness though, the author managed to really balance moments of relief with the darker moments, something I really appreciated. Don't get me wrong, I really love grimdark fantasy, but I wanted something that wasn't quite so dark and dreary and this fit the bill perfectly.

The Silverblood Promise was a fun, solid fantasy that I just devoured. The investigation was engaging, the dialogue was entertaining, the character development was solid, and the story line, while it will continue inthe second book, had a satisfying conclusion. While there were some parts that were a bit predictable, I didn't actually mind because the story was so likable and engaging, and the author's ability to draw you into the story with his writing skill was well done. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, and I can't wait until book two is released next year.


Monday, June 17, 2024

Review: Young Elizabeth: Elizabeth 1 and Her Perilous Path to the Crown by Nicola Tallis

by Nicola Tallis
Release Date: February 29, 2024
2024 Pegasus Books
Hardcover ARC; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-1639365845
Genre: Non-Fiction / History / Biography / Tudor
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The first definitive biography of the young Elizabeth I in over twenty years—drawing on a rich variety of primary sources—tracing her tumultuous path to the crown.

Queen Elizabeth I is renowned for her hugely successful reign that makes her, perhaps, the most celebrated monarch in English history. But what of the trials she faced in her challenging early life?
 Looking at Elizabeth as a human being rather than a political chess piece, her narrative explores the dangers and tragedies that plagued Elizabeth's early life, revealing the queen to be a young women who drew strength from her various plights as she navigated one of the most thrilling paths to the throne in the history of the monarchy.
My Thoughts
Young Elizabeth traces the life of Queen Elizabeth 1 from the time of her birth to the beginning of her reign as queen. And while I enjoyed this book quite a bit, it has to be quite something in order to stand out from the huge amount of work that already exists about her life. There is little question that the traumas of childhood will affect and shape your life and Elizabeth had survived quite a lot while growing up in the tumultuous reign of first Henry VIII, then through the shorter reigns of her brother and sister. Growing up motherless after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and dealing with the slurs that put on her birth and the questions of her legitimacy, enduring multiple stepmothers, having to deal with implications of plots against the crown and subsequent imprisonment and house arrests, mental health issues resulting from the political plotting, and the physical ailments from which she suffered, Elizabeth suffered through quite a bit while growing up, but managed to survive and achieve something very few people thought she would achieve, the crown. 

The book begins with a history of King Henry VIII and his courtship of Anne Boleyn, something that is necessary to include as it has a huge impact on what happens later in Elizabeth's life. While I don't feel that anything new was added, and have actually read more detailed accounts in other books, the author does draw a lot on academic facts and tries to keep an open mind with readers, to let them draw their own conclusions. While it was very readable, this type of writing continued into the next parts of the book as well. There was nothing wrong with the research or the writing style, but what it did was distance Elizabeth so that I didn't really feel a connection to her, her suffering, and what she was going through.  I enjoyed it on purely on an academic level, but not an emotional one. I did thoroughly enjoy the discussions around Thomas Seymour as well as the contrasting relationships with Edward and Mary. I thought the author did a tenable job portraying sources from people who did not see her in a favourable light as well as from those who spent the most time with her allowing the reader to form their own thoughts and opinions on the topics being discussed based on informed and valid sources. While I don't feel anything new was brought to the table, it was still interesting.  

What I did find fascinating were the author's thoughts on Elizabeth's health problems found in one of the appendices. Having consulted with professionals, she outlines her thoughts on the problems that Elizabeth suffered throughout her life. There were also her notes on the places mentioned in the book and what currently exists in today's modern world. I actually felt these were too short and would have liked to read a lot more on her thoughts. I also spent some times reading through the notes included within her primary and secondary sources, but that may just be the history geek in me. 

Young Elizabeth, while extremely readable, did not really add that much more to the bulk of work that currently exists on Elizabeth 1. If you are looking for a good recap of Elizabeth's life before she ascended the throne, of if you are new to the world of the Tudors and don't know where to start, this is a great book from which to do so as it doesn't overwhelm and the explanations are quite clear. I have always enjoyed this author's non-fiction work, and will continue to read future publications just because I find them so readable.


Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review: The Stolen Girls by Jez Pinfold

by Jez Pinfold
Release Date: April 30, 2024
2024 Joffe Books
Ebook ARC; 299 Pages
ISBN: 978-1835264867
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Eight years ago, three girls went missing. Only one was found. Dead. Her body dumped in the street. No drag marks, no blood.

It was Detective Bec Pope’s first case. And she has never given up hope of finding the others alive.

Now. A young woman stands in the doorway of the police station, silhouetted against the fierce sunlight.

‘Help me,’ she asks Bec. Her pale yellow dress is drenched in blood. But it isn’t hers.
My Thought
The Stolen Girls is the second book in the Detective Bec Pope mystery series and it was definitely an entertaining, quick read. The pacing was quite good, and there were enough twists and turns to keep you engaged and entertained. 
Bec Pope is the main character in the series and is the detective in charge of the case. And while I enjoyed the characters, I didn't feel there was much depth to them nor did I feel like there was much character development. In fact, Bec drove me somewhat crazy with some of the decisions she made and I kept waiting for someone to overrule her and tell her it wasn't safe, but everyone just went along with her decisions. Oh, some of he characters argued with her, but everyone eventually gave way, placing people in serious danger, hence the drop in my overall rating. I just couldn't fathom the Chief of Police agreeing to some of the things she wanted. She is haunted by an episode at the beginning of her career, something that is actually relevant to what is occurring in this book, but it doesn't excuse her actions. I did like how the author incorporates the difficulties her job has on her relationships as well as on her mental wellness though. 
The pacing is good in the story and I enjoyed the overall story, especially how the past can catch up to you and create problems in the present, a sort of karma, if you will.  There were some twists and turns, and even though I found them kind of predictable, it was still fun to see the characters' reactions as they discovered what was really going on. Because I found the character development lacking, I didn't really empathize with them too much; in fact, I grew annoyed with some of Bec's decisions and how she spoke to some of her co-workers, resulting in consequences that were tragic. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  Because this was the second book in the series, and events carried from the first book, there were quite a few things going on in this book, a lot of which were left hanging at the end of the book. I did feel there was some conclusion, but the author is definitely intending to continue some concepts in the future books.

The Stolen Girls was an entertaining and quick read, but I am not a fan of books where so many threads are going to continue in future books, especially in mystery books. I know it may just be a personal thing, but I feel like I should be able to pick up a book in a mystery series and be able to have some sense of what is happening, but in this one, while you could get away with it, having read the first book gives you a better understanding of what is happening here. The twists and turn were good, if predictable, and while I would like to see more character development, it was still a fun mystery. There were a lot of things that were left hanging however, things that will continue in future books, and I am not sure if I am crazy about that. However, I will definitely pick up the third book when it releases.


Saturday, June 1, 2024

Review: Kosa by John Durgin

by John Durgin
Release Date: May 17, 2024
2024 DarkLitPress
Ebook ARC; 333 Pages
ISBN: 978-1998851409
Audiobook: B0D4NKW6K7
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

In a secluded mansion hidden away from the outside world, young Kosa lives under the strict and overpowering rule of her enigmatic mother. For Kosa, the rules set by Mother are the guiding principles of her life, shaping her beliefs and actions. However, as Kosa grows older, she begins to question the reality she has been presented with. Doubts eat away at her, fueled by a deep-rooted curiosity and a burgeoning sense of independence.

But Kosa possesses a mysterious and powerful ability that Mother desperately needs to sustain her own existence. Mother, a figure shrouded in shadows and secrets, will stop at nothing to ensure that Kosa’s power remains potent and under her control. 
My Thoughts
Kosa was actually a pretty solid book full of twists and turns. While I enjoyed this twisted tale based on Rapuzel (although it also felt a lot of like Hanzel and Gretel), and was surprised at some of the events that occurred, I did feel the overall story lacked in both character and plot development relying mostly on attempted shock value to propel the story forward. And while the pacing was good, some of the dialogue actually pulled me out of the story and even had me rolling my eyes, at times.
I actually did enjoy the multiple characters as it gave the story a different perspective every time someone new was involved. Kosa's situation was the most interesting to me and I would have liked to have connected with her a bit more, to really understand her situation and her fears. I felt the author wrote her a bit superficially which made it hard to really empathize with her situation even though you got glimpses of how difficult her life must have been. Equally, Marta, the mother, was fascinating, and I think a bit more background would have made her character that much more sinister rather than just relying on her magic being the thing that was sinister. Only enough information was given to make me even more curious about her life and why she chose to do the things she did, but was never fully developed or fully explained satisfactorily. I think that foreboding element just wasn't there for me because of this lack of development. I wanted to sit on the edge of my seat in anticipation, but I didn't.;

While I actually didn't mind the pacing, there were parts that were a bit repetitive. However, while I do think parts could have been structured a bit better to enhance anticipation and fear, the author does write a compelling story nonetheless and I had trouble putting it down.  And although I enjoyed the cats as part of this story, I would have liked an explanation for them and their behaviour and how they came to be there. So, while the story was compelling, there were a few plot holes, things that weren't explained or hinted at, but were still quite interesting even if you knew they were there to add to the creepiness or eeriness of the setting.

Kosa was a fun read overall and I think I am more inclined to read twisted horror fairy tales than romance ones as I find them more interesting. I don't feel that horror necessarily has to have horrific things in it to be scary as hell, and this book would be great for someone who is looking to try the genre, but doesn't want anything too gory. This author is proof that you can write about something horrific without giving too many graphic details, but still maintain the horror element for a creepy story.


Thursday, May 30, 2024

Review: The Hungry Dark by Jen Williams

by Jen William
Release Date: April 9, 2024
2024 Crooked Lane Books
Hardcover ARC; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1639106172
Audiobook: B0CPTG92GN
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

As a child, Ashley Whitelam could often see odd things nobody else could: quiet, watchful figures she called the Heedful Ones kept a strange vigil wherever she went. As an adult, she keeps these visions to herself, but she’s turned her taste of the beyond into a career as a “psychic”­ – parting people from their money with a combination of psychology and internet research. When the Lake District is gripped by a series of grisly child murders, Ashley offers her services to the police for the free publicity. But as Ashley leads the police on a fruitless search around the small town of Green Beck, she catches a glimpse of those old ghosts of her childhood and, following them into the woods, she finds something she never expected: the corpse of the latest missing child.

My Thoughts
The Hungry Dark had a great premise and set in an area of stunning natural beauty, there was so much potential for this book. I tend to enjoy creepy stories where authors make a lot of use of the outdoor elements, especially where there were some amazing contrasting elements such as the natural beautiful elements with the darker side of the woods and the dangers that lurked within those woods, both natural and man-made.  I don't scare easily, but a hike in the woods at night can render me absolutely senseless, as they seem to take on this otherworldly and sinister vibe as soon as the sun sets. The author provides the reader with some spooky natural elements, making you question what you actually saw, blending the natural beauty with sinister in an amazing way that I enjoyed.

With that being said, I wasn't crazy about the main character, Ashley, and even though she grew on me as the book progressed, I felt like her character needed more development.  Actually, the whole family dynamic thing didn't work for me, coming across as very dysfunctional, but it didn't feel very authentic. A lot of their behaviour was baffling to me, not because it was dysfunctional, but because I felt the author was using this tactic as a way of trying to convince the reader why Ashley was still living at home in her thirties and why she had no control over her own life. She is often trapped, needs permission to drive her own vehicle, actually needed to sneak out to get driving lessons, has her father take her keys from her, sneaks out to meet people, and I felt like I was reading about someone who was sixteen, not thirty plus years old.  It just felt like the author couldn't come up with another reason as to why Ashley was living at home and why she continued to be the main support for her family.  Oh yes, my eyes were rolling quite often during their interactions as they just didn't seem authentic.

I did enjoy the parts that discussed the psychic world and the background information that made up that world, especially the fraudulent parts of it.  Ashley started to question her actions concerning what she was doing and whether fooling people was the right choice in her life.  She was feeling conflicted about taking advantage of those who were vulnerable and I liked the discussions around that area of the profession, and it definitely should open up discussions about how much of your life you should be sharing on FB, Insta, and TT. 

The plot had a lot of potential, but I felt it got bogged down on too many plot threads which made it seem more superficial and shallow. I enjoyed the overall story, but none of the threads were fleshed out enough to really draw you into what was happening nor were they explained very well. There was just enough information to keep you from screaming.  And because nothing was fleshed out enough, I didn't feel a connection between Ashley and the podcaster, so honestly the romance could stay or go.  

The Hungry Dark had a lot of potential, but lack of character development and very loose plot threads created a story that meandered and was a bit on the slow side. And while the setting was amazing, and I liked the contrast of beautiful and dark in nature, the actual supernatural aspect to this book verged on the minimal and I didn't find it creepy or all that suspenseful.  If you like mysteries with a touch of supernatural, this one is probably for you. 


Saturday, May 25, 2024

Review: Sweet Nightmare by Tracy Wolff

by Tracy Wolff
Release Date: May 7, 2024
2024 Entangled: Teen
Ebook ARC; 554 Pages
ISBN: 978-1649377012
Audiobook: B0D235PM7C
Genre: Fiction / YA / Fantasy / Paranormal

2.75 / 5 Stars 

The scariest school on earth
Is about to experience real fear…

Most schools are about being the best. This school? It’s about being the worst. Calder Academy is where the rogue paranormals go. The ones who break the rules or lose control. And when that happens for vamps, werewolves, witches, and dark fae? It gets pretty freaking scary.

But when a freak storm hits our isolated island, I'm stuck without a backup plan. The power is gone. The lights are out. And our worst nightmares are suddenly real―and out for blood.
Now the only way to survive is to align myself with one evil to avoid the other.

My Thoughts
Sweet Nightmare is the first book in The Calder Academy series and I did enjoy it quite a bit. However, there were pacing issues galore and the character development was almost non-existent. The premise of this book sounded quite interesting and I was looking forward to the journey and the reveals, but a lot of it felt rushed, included a lot of random stuff that may or may not be explained at a later time, and I just couldn't get into the romance as the backstory for their lust just wasn't explained all that well. 

To be fair, I did enjoy the characters but that's because I was fascinated by the monster aspect of their personalities and how quickly they could switch from being nice people to these terrifying monsters, especially since they couldn't control their powers when they switched or when their power came back to them.  But aside from this, the characters are not that developed at all. You have your typical FMC who does not get a break and needs to be rescued by the big, hulking, muscly, powerful MMC. Too many tropes there for me to unpack and not ones that I necessarily like either.  The relationship between Clementine and Jude is rushed and because the author doesn't give us a lot of backstory to explain their chemistry other than they were best friends for ten years, it's hard to really get the feels for their relationship.  Yes, there are some flashbacks and some explanations, but they are rushed and you don't really have a chance to absorb them because the action is non-stop and you are whirled into another problem. I rolled my eyes quite a few times.  I think I enjoyed the secondary characters more than the main characters. 

If you like plot-driven books, then this one should definitely be on your radar. The characters are thrown into one situation after another, with little time to breathe, and this gives little time for character development and leaves a lot of room for plot holes that are easily glossed over.  Personally, it didn't really flow all that well and felt quite chaotic. There were some aspects to the story I really enjoyed however, and I love secrets and mysteries of which there were plenty. 

What I did really love though, was the setting. The mysterious island, the academy, the secrets, the monsters, and the atmosphere are always things that I enjoy in novels and this one had it all. 

Sweet Nightmare had quite a bit of potential, but too much focus on the plot didn't allow much room for character development, and I need to feel something when I am reading. Characters die, there's a lot of fighting that happens, so I should have felt more than just...disappointment.  The author did manage to pick up some looser threads towards the last quarter of the book and weave them back into the story, and there were a few twists and turns I wasn't expecting, but there was still a lot of stuff that was glossed over and didn't make sense.  Overall, I did think the story was promising and I will be reading the next book when it releases next year.