The House in the Pines by Ana Reyes #bookreview #psychologicalthriller #suspense

Armed with only hazy memories, a woman who long ago witnessed her friend’s sudden, mysterious death, and has since spent her life trying to forget, sets out to track down answers. What she uncovers, deep in the woods, is hardly to be believed….

Maya was a high school senior when her best friend, Aubrey, mysteriously dropped dead in front of the enigmatic man named Frank whom they’d been spending time with all summer.

Seven years later, Maya lives in Boston with a loving boyfriend and is kicking the secret addiction that has allowed her to cope with what happened years ago, the gaps in her memories, and the lost time that she can’t account for. But her past comes rushing back when she comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman suddenly keels over and dies in a diner while sitting across from none other than Frank. Plunged into the trauma that has defined her life, Maya heads to her Berkshires hometown to relive that fateful summer–the influence Frank once had on her and the obsessive jealousy that nearly destroyed her friendship with Aubrey.

At her mother’s house, she excavates fragments of her past and notices hidden messages in her deceased Guatemalan father’s book that didn’t stand out to her earlier. To save herself, she must understand a story written before she was born, but time keeps running out, and soon, all roads are leading back to Frank’s cabin….

The mysterious key on the cover, something deep in the woods, hazy memories, and a sudden death. If books had tentacles, these reached out and drew me in.

It’s been seven years since Maya’s best friend dropped dead, and Maya’s still struggling. No longer able to get the sleeping medication her doctor prescribed several years ago, she’s also suffering from withdrawal and hiding it from her boyfriend. With a history of mental illness in her family, everything she’s dealing with, and the occasional tone of the story, I even questioned if Maya is an unreliable narrator. Are her memories real?

The chapters rotate seamlessly between the summer Maya meets Frank and the present when she’s determined to discover what really happened. Although she’s not always likeable, I understood her burning need to learn the truth. It’s just the way she goes about it is pretty selfish sometimes. Her memories feel off kilter from that summer, and it’s a slow burn until the final reveal. My suspicions were partly correct and while fascinating, they’re pretty chilling.

Pacing is a little uneven, but fans of psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators will spend an enjoyable few hours with this novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.



The Haunting of Chatham Hollow by Mae Clair and Staci Troilo #bookreview #supernatural #mystery

One founding father.
One deathbed curse.
A town haunted for generations.

Ward Chatham, founder of Chatham Hollow, is infamous for two things—hidden treasure and a curse upon anyone bold enough to seek it. Since his passing in 1793, no one has discovered his riches, though his legend has only grown stronger.

In 1888, charlatan Benedict Fletcher holds a séance to determine the location of Chatham’s fortune. It’s all a hoax so he can search for the gold, but he doesn’t count on two things—Victor Rowe, a true spiritualist who sees through his ruse, and Chatham’s ghost wreaking havoc on the town.

More than a century later, the citizens of the Hollow gather for the annual Founder’s Day celebration. A paranormal research team intends to film a special at Chatham Manor, where the original séance will be reenacted. Reporter and skeptic Aiden Hale resents being assigned the story, but even he can’t deny the sudden outbreak of strange happenings. When he sets out to discover who or what is threatening the Hollow—supernatural or not— his investigation uncovers decades-old conflicts, bitter rivalries, and ruthless murders.

This time, solving the mystery isn’t about meeting his deadline. It’s about not ending up dead.

Hauntings, mediums, ghosts, séances – it’s like the authors wrote this book just for me. And that cover is everything.

Having read several of Claire’s and Troilo’s books, I’m a big fan of both authors. When I learned they’d co-written a book together, there was no doubt I’d jump at the chance to read it. I didn’t even need to know what it was about.

This story is told in a dual timeline that flows seamlessly. Alexa read this book to me, and I was never confused about which time period I was in. Money is a powerful motivator, and Ward Chatham’s fortune has been a source of greed for over a century. In 1888, Benedict Fletcher is certain he’ll be able to locate the gold after holding a fake séance. What he doesn’t count on is true medium Victor Rowe in attendance and Chatham’s ghost actually making an appearance. And he’s not a spirit you want to mess with. Cue the chaos.

In 2022, the gold still hasn’t been found after a little over a century. With a Founder’s Day celebration on the calendar, a paranormal research team wants to reenact the séance that raised Chatham’s spirit and resulted in several deaths that may or may not have been coincidental.

Both authors have a gift for creating loveable characters, and this novel is no different. With his feelings on spiritualism, ability to sniff out charlatans, and calm demeanor, Victor is my favorite character. I was delighted with the way his story plays out. Aiden is also a favorite, but it’s his grandmother Julia who always has the last word and his dog Levi who steals his scenes.

I generally listen to books while doing chores around the house, but when it came time for the final séance I had to sit down and give it my full attention. I couldn’t wait to see what happened and even caught myself holding my breath at times. And what a scene! Atmospheric, exciting, unexpected – and that’s all I’ll say about that. No spoilers here.

Fans of both authors and readers of supernatural mysteries alike will enjoy this novel. Now I want to know when the next co-authored book is releasing.

Song of Silver, Flame Like Night (Song of the Last Kingdom #1) by Amélie Wen Zhao #bookreview #fantasy #myths #TuesdayBookBlog

In a fallen kingdom, one girl carries the key to discovering the secrets of her nation’s past—and unleashing the demons that sleep at its heart. An epic fantasy series inspired by the mythology and folklore of ancient China.

Once, Lan had a different name. Now she goes by the one the Elantian colonizers gave her when they invaded her kingdom, killed her mother, and outlawed her people’s magic. She spends her nights as a songgirl in Haak’gong, a city transformed by the conquerors, and her days scavenging for what she can find of the past. Anything to understand the strange mark burned into her arm by her mother in her last act before she died.

The mark is mysterious—an untranslatable Hin character—and no one but Lan can see it. Until the night a boy appears at her teahouse and saves her life.

Zen is a practitioner—one of the fabled magicians of the Last Kingdom. Their magic was rumored to have been drawn from the demons they communed with. Magic believed to be long lost. Now it must be hidden from the Elantians at all costs.

When Zen comes across Lan, he recognizes what she is: a practitioner with a powerful ability hidden in the mark on her arm. He’s never seen anything like it—but he knows that if there are answers, they lie deep in the pine forests and misty mountains of the Last Kingdom, with an order of practitioning masters planning to overthrow the Elantian regime.

Both Lan and Zen have secrets buried deep within—secrets they must hide from others, and secrets that they themselves have yet to discover. Fate has connected them, but their destiny remains unwritten. Both hold the power to liberate their land. And both hold the power to destroy the world.

Now the battle for the Last Kingdom begins.

I’ve read another series by this author (technically, I haven’t completed it yet) and was ecstatic to learn this is the first book in a new series.

Another author described this book as “devastatingly gorgeous”. She nailed it. With lyrical writing, rich world-building, and fully developed, complex characters, this tale will awe epic fantasy fans. It’s inspired by the mythology and folklore of ancient China, and I was completely enthralled.

Lan’s kingdom was invaded, her people’s magic outlawed, and she witnessed the horrifying death of her mother. As she was dying, her mother burned a strange mark on Lan’s arm, and several years later she still has no idea what it means. Zen is a practitioner, a fabled magician of the Last Kingdom. Upon meeting Lan, he knows she possesses a powerful hidden ability in the mark on her arm. Her best hope of understanding and developing it lies with an order of practitioning masters. Getting her there is dangerous and challenging – Zen’s and Lan’s personalities are like oil and water. He’s more the strong, disciplined, silent type and she’s… not. I laughed over some of their interactions and felt Zen’s exasperation with her. Lan’s first meeting with Dilaya, another strong personality and wonderful supporting character, is one of my favorite scenes. Let’s just say it didn’t go well and leave it at that.

Jaw-dropping twists, shocking choices, and life-threatening situations (so, so many) kept me glued to the pages. Do I really need to say I’ll be at the edge of my seat waiting for the next book? Highly recommend to fantasy, folklore, and mythology fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

They’re Watching You by Chelsea Ichaso #bookreview #YA #suspense

When a secret society has you in their sights, it can lead to power, privilege… or death.

It’s been two weeks since Polly St. James went missing. The police, the headmistress of Torrey-Wells Academy, and even her parents have ruled her a runaway. But not Maren, her best friend and roommate. She knows Polly had a secret that she was about to share with Maren before she disappeared― something to do with the elite, ultra-rich crowd at Torrey-Wells.

Then Maren finds an envelope hidden among Polly’s things: an invitation to the Gamemaster’s Society. Do not tell anyone, it says. Maren is certain her classmates in the Society know the truth about what happened to Polly, though it’s no easy feat to join. Once Maren’s made it through the treacherous initiation, she discovers a world she never knew existed within her school, where Society members compete in high-stakes games for unheard-of rewards―Ivy League connections, privileges, favors.

But Maren’s been drawn into a different game: for every win, she’ll receive a clue about Polly. And as Maren keeps winning, she begins to see just how powerful the Society’s game is―bigger and deadlier than she ever imagined. They see, they know, they control. And they kill.

Maren’s roommate went missing two weeks ago and has been declared a runaway by the powers that be. But Maren doesn’t believe it. Sure Polly had been acting a little strangely, but Maren believes there’s more to her disappearance. After she finds an invitation to the Gamemaster’s Society among Polly’s things, Maren forms a plan to infiltrate the group and discover the truth about what happened to her friend.

The missing person angle and high-stakes games grabbed my attention, and I’ve enjoyed several other dark academia novels. It didn’t take long for the story to take off, and I liked that. It’s a pretty quick read that moves along briskly for the most part. To uncover the fate of her friend and play the games, Maren has to become a person she doesn’t like, but she has no other choice if she wants to receive clues about Polly. Her friendships with two other society members, Remington and Gavin, quickly turn into a weird kind of love triangle. Neither characters seem trustworthy, and she flip flops several times on who she can turn to. The identity of the Gamemaster also kept me guessing. It’s one of the people I suspected, but the author does a pretty good job of keeping it hidden.

The games, their consequences, and some of the acts these students perform are extreme at times, especially for high school students. Suspension of disbelief is a requirement for much of the story. If you can set that aside, it’s a twisty, enjoyable thriller I finished in a couple of sittings.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff #bookreview #crimefiction #darkhumor #TuesdayBookBlog

Geeta’s no-good husband disappeared five years ago. She didn’t kill him, but everyone thinks she did–no matter how much she protests. But she soon discovers that being known as a “self-made” widow has some surprising perks. No one messes with her, no one threatens her, and no one tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for her business; no one wants to risk getting on her bad side by not buying her jewelry.

Freedom must look good on Geeta, because other women in the village have started asking for her help to get rid of their own no-good husbands…but not all of them are asking nicely.

Now that Geeta’s fearsome reputation has become a double-edged sword, she must decide how far to go to protect it, along with the life she’s built. Because even the best-laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry. 

I was undecided about downloading this book when I received a NetGalley widget, but the description was so appealing and original I couldn’t resist.

If you’re a fan of dark humor (I’m a devoted one), The Bandit Queens will give you plenty to snicker about. The banter between these women and their comments to others are hilarious at times. That being said, also prepare yourself for the horrific parts of the story – the physical and emotional abuse of women and their treatment as second class citizens. I wanted to crawl through the pages and strangle some of the men myself.

Geeta’s abusive husband disappeared five years ago, and that’s just fine with her. She’s doing fine without him and enjoys the single life. The village gossip doesn’t really bother her, and since she doesn’t care for children all that much, their comments about her being a witch roll right off. She’s busy running her jewelry business, attending loan group meetings, and saving for a refrigerator. She even adopts Bandit, a dog who’s an astute judge of character. Maybe she’s occasionally lonely and is basically estranged from her childhood best friend, but she’s content with her life. And then everything is upended when she’s asked to help kill the husband of a woman in her loan group.

Blackmail, murder, animal rescue, threatened poisoning, plans gone awry, gourd gifting, lizard stalking – it’s all here. There’s also female empowerment, reclaimed friendships, and well-deserved doses of karma. Even though I didn’t understand all the references, I enjoyed learning more about the culture and small village life, and I’m so glad I read this book. You’ll find yourself cheering for these remarkable women throughout the novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

#BlogTour A Tale of Two Princes by Eric Geron #bookreview #romcom #LGBTQ

Will these long-lost twin princes be able to take on high school, coming out, and coronations together—or will this royal reunion quickly become a royal mess?
 
Edward Dinnissen, Crown Prince of Canada, loves getting the royal treatment at his exclusive Manhattan private school and living in a fancy mansion on Park Avenue. But despite living a royal life of luxury, Edward is unsure how to tell his parents, his expectant country, and his adoring fans that he’s gay.

Billy Boone couldn’t be happier: he loves small-town life and his family’s Montana ranch, and his boyfriend is the cutest guy at Little Timber High. But this out-and-proud cowboy is finally admitting to himself that he feels destined for more . . .

When Edward and Billy meet by chance in New York City and discover that they are long-lost twins, their lives are forever changed. Will the twin princes—“twinces”— be able to take on high school, coming out, and coronations together? Or will this royal reunion quickly become a royal disaster? 

This description sounded like a blend of Red, White, and Royal Blue (a pure delight) and The Parent Trap. Royal twins separated at birth? A Canadian monarchy? I was intrigued.

Raised since birth to become King of Canada, Edward lives a life of luxury, attends private school, and is accustomed to the royal treatment. Billy enjoys a more rugged lifestyle. He lives and works on a ranch in rural Montana, has been out-and-proud for years, and plans to stay on the ranch after high school graduation. When the two of them accidentally meet in NYC, worlds collide and lives are forever changed. As the older twin by one minute, Billy is the rightful crown prince. He’s pulled in different directions and struggles to meet the expectations placed on him. Edward is bitter about losing the crown and schemes with friends to undermine Billy so the crown will once again be his. Honestly, Edward was hard to like for a large part of the book, but he was all but pushed to the sidelines by his parents.

If you can suspend your disbelief over the situation and not ask detailed questions about how Canada came to have a monarchy, this is a fun and occasionally touching read. Billy is truly a fish out of water in Canada, and the news reports about his unfortunate antics with related headlines between chapters are pretty amusing. Pax is loyal, over the top, and completely fabulous as a supporting character, and Billy’s little sister Mack is a joy.

With themes of strong friendships, supportive families, and being your true self, this is a novel I’d recommend for the younger end of the YA spectrum.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

On Sale Date: January 10, 2023

9781335425928

Hardcover

$18.99 USD

Ages 13 And Up

448 pages

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Geron (pronounced: jur-ON) is the New York Times bestselling author of The Hocus Pocus Spell BookPoultrygeist, and Bye Bye, Binary, along with numerous other titles, including the New York Times bestselling Descendants novelization under the name Rico Green. He earned his creative writing degree from the University of Miami and spent many years at Disney as an editor of New York Times bestselling books. He currently resides in New York City. You can find him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @EricGeron and on his website at ericgeron.com.

SOCIAL LINKS: 

Author Website: http://www.ericgeron.com/

Twitter: @ericgeron

Instagram: @ericgeron

BUY LINKS: 

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/a-tale-of-two-princes-eric-geron/17303731?ean=9781335425928

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335425928

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-tale-of-two-princes-eric-geron/1139818443?ean=9781335425928

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Tale-Two-Princes-Eric-Geron/dp/1335425926/ref=sr_1_1?crid=UZDE2OJQW6AF&keywords=a+tale+of+two+princes&qid=1672864767&sprefix=a+tale+of+two+princes%2Caps%2C98&sr=8-1

#BlogTour Waking Fire by Jean Louise #bookreview #YA #fantasy

This incendiary YA fantasy debut follows a girl who will stop at nothing to save her village after it’s discovered by a dangerous warlord and his army of undead monsters.

Naira Khoum has only known life in Lagusa, a quiet village at the desert’s end. But to the rest of the world, Lagusa is a myth, its location shrouded in secrecy. While war rages to the north led by power-hungry Sothpike and his army of undead monsters called Dambi, Naira’s people live in peace.

Until the impossible happens—Lagusa is attacked by a Mistress sent to do Sothpike’s bidding with a hoard of Dambi under her control. The Mistress is looking for something, and she’s willing to let her Dambi destroy Lagusa to get it.

Desperate to protect her home, Naira convinces her twin brother Nez and handsome refugee Kal to join the newly formed resistance with her. Together, they’ll have to figure out what the Mistress wants—before there’s nothing left of Lagusa to save.

Undead monsters and a desert setting? Like music to this fantasy fan’s ears.

The cover immediately catches the eye and depicts Naira’s arid world. It’s clear the author put a lot of time and effort into the world-building, and it’s easy to visualize the settings and terrifying Dambi. The sibling relationship between twins Naira and Nez is a strong point, and he steals the show more than once. He’s also more logical, mature, and realistic than Naira, whose actions gave me the impression she was a much younger character. With the situations they’re thrust into and losses they’re dealt, at least they had each other to rely on.

The way Naira and her family welcome Kal after the loss of his father is admirable and heartwarming. He hasn’t had an easy life. I liked him as a character, but there’s a case of serious insta-love between him and Naira that happens over a couple pages. It’s not my favorite trope, but I know plenty of readers are fans of it.

If not for some language and graphic violence and deaths, I could easily see this being an upper MG book because the characters read more like lower YA. If you’re a fantasy fan seeking remarkable world-building, Waking Fire certainly provides it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

On Sale Date: January 10, 2023

9781335428578

Hardcover

$18.99 USD

Ages 13 And Up

384 pages

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jean Louise currently lives in Queens, New York, with her cat Martha. When she’s not writing, she can be found with her nose buried in a graphic novel or taking down bad guys in her favorite video games. She received an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. This is her debut novel.

@WriteJeanLouise

SOCIAL LINKS: 

Author Website: https://jeanlouisewrites.com/

Twitter: @writejeanlouise

Instagram: @writejeanlouise

BUY LINKS: 

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/waking-fire-jean-louise/18423456?ean=9781335428578

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/search/book?keys=Waking+Fire

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/waking%20fire

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Waking-Fire-1/dp/1335428577/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1K7FQU83CBGSM&keywords=waking+fire&qid=1672868937&sprefix=waking+fire%2Caps%2C76&sr=8-2

#BlogTour The Wrong Kind of Weird by James Ramos #bookreview #YA #romcom #TuesdayBookBlog

Cameron Carson has a secret. A secret with the power to break apart his friend group.

Cameron Carson, member of the Geeks and Nerds United (GANU) club, has been secretly hooking up with student council president, cheerleader, theater enthusiast, and all-around queen bee Karla Ortega since the summer. The one problem—what was meant to be a summer fling between coffee shop coworkers has now evolved into a clandestine senior-year entanglement, where Karla isn’t intending on blending their friend groups anytime soon, or at all.

Enter Mackenzie Briggs, who isn’t afraid to be herself or wear her heart on her sleeve. When Cameron finds himself unexpectedly bonding with Mackenzie and repeatedly snubbed in public by Karla, he starts to wonder who he can truly consider a friend and who might have the potential to become more…

I got as far as Geeks and Nerds United (GANU) club before requesting this book on NetGalley. That’s all I needed to know.

High school senior Cameron makes better than average grades, works part time as a barrista, trades snarky comments with his sister, and has a deep, abiding love of Dragonball Z. His social circle isn’t wide, and that’s just fine with him. He shares many common interests with his two (sometimes three) friends in the GANU club. The usual crowd populates his school – cheerleaders, athletes, theater group, band geeks, etc. What no one knows, not even his closest friends, is that he’s been secretly seeing popular crowd member Karla for several months. Their summer fling carried over into the school year, and Cam is hoping to find a way to fit into her crowd and be accepted by her friends. As a reporter for the school newspaper, his new assignment is to cover the play, Pride and Prejudice. With Karla and her friends involved in it, Cam thinks it’s the perfect opportunity. The problem is that he can’t stop thinking about Mackenzie, the sometimes member of GANU and his sort-of friend.

This is a light, humorous read that I sped through in a little over a day. It’s built on themes of self-acceptance, acceptance of others, strong friendships, forgiveness, and looking outside of your own little world. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel, so I loved all the references to Elizabeth and Darcy. Cam’s sister attempting to explain the emotions Darcy’s “weird flex thing with his hand” conveyed in the movie is a favorite scene and had me chuckling. Cam’s devotion to Dragonball Z is understandable, but I admit to skimming several extensively detailed passages about it.

A sweet romance, awkward moments, charming, diverse characters, worlds colliding, and ride-or-die friendships make this an enjoyable read sure to appeal to fans of anime and Pride and Prejudice alike.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

On Sale Date: January 3, 2023

Ship Date: December 7, 2022

9781335428585

Hardcover

$18.99 USD

320 pages

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

James Ramos (he/they) is a nonbinary, unapologetically dorky Minnesota native who now calls Arizona home. Weaned on a steady diet of science-fiction, comic books, and classic literature, James wrote his first story at eight years old and hasn’t stopped writing them since. He counts Jane Austen and Frank Herbert as his biggest literary influences, and believes in the unifying power of the written word. James is passionate about storytelling, particularly stories that give voice to marginalized people, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. When he isn’t writing he can usually be found cosplaying with his friends or surrounded by his amazing family of cats.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Linktree: https://linktr.ee/thejamesramos 

Twitter & Instagram: @thejamesramos

BUY LINKS:

Changing Hands: https://www.changinghands.com/event/january2023/james-ramos 

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/the-wrong-kind-of-weird-james-ramos/18423457?ean=9781335428585 

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-wrong-kind-of-weird-james-ramos/1141358823?ean=9781335428585&st=AFF&2sid=Linktree%20Pty%20Ltd_100589976_NA&sourceId=AFFLinktree%20Pty%20Ltd 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/9781335428585?AID=32499&PID=100589976&cjevent=20f9ded7821611ed8187006e0a82b824&cjdata=MXxOfDB8WXww 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1335428585 

The Stranded (The Stranded #1) by Sarah Daniels #bookreview #dystopian #postapocalyptic #TuesdayBookBlog

Snowpiercer meets The Hunger Games in a gripping near-future dystopian.

Welcome to the Arcadia.

Once a luxurious cruise ship, it became a refugee camp after being driven from Europe by an apocalyptic war. Now it floats near the coastline of the Federated States – a leftover piece of a fractured USA.

For forty years, residents of the Arcadia have been prohibited from making landfall. It is a world of extreme haves and have nots, gangs and make-shift shelters.

Esther is a loyal citizen, working flat-out to have the rare chance to live a normal life as a medic on dry land. Nik is a rebel, planning something big to liberate the Arcadia once and for all.

When events throw them both together, their lives, and the lives of everyone on the ship, will change forever . . . 

I’m a fan of both the Snowpiercer movie and series, and The Hunger Games is always a favorite. A blend of these comp titles was like a dream come true.

In the year 2094, decades after an apocalyptic war, several cruise ships are still at sea due to the possibility of the passengers spreading the virus to those on land. But after nearly 16,000 days at sea, the Arcadia has remained virus free for the majority of that time. The Federated States, most on the eastern seaboard, have split from the US and don’t want the ships to dock. They send supplies and very limited food rations, but life aboard still isn’t easy. The Arcadia consists of fourteen levels, the lowest controlled by gangs and the top tiers for the wealthy. With a couple generations never having set foot on land, most staterooms are passed down within families. Can I just say the world-building is well-crafted and fascinated me.

Opportunities for a future off the ship are almost nonexistent, but Esther and her sister May are both fortunate to have them – Esther as a medic and May as a soldier. Esther has kept her head down and worked hard so she and her boyfriend, also a medic, can leave the Arcadia and have a normal life. She just didn’t account for Nik and the rebel group. And then everything changes.

I certainly understood Esther’s motives, but I wasn’t her biggest fan at the beginning. She can’t see what’s right in front of her and pays the price for it. By the end, she redeems herself in my book. Nik is my favorite character, and he’s prepared to give his all for the resistance, but suffers a significant loss along the way. Chapters alternate between Esther, Nik, and Hadley’s (a despicable villain) POVs. Pacing is a little uneven, but the last twenty percent is thrilling and moves at warp speed, almost like a domino effect.

The Stranded is a phenomenal debut novel, and I’m anxious to see what happens in the conclusion of this duology. I’d highly recommend it to dystopia/postapocalyptic YA and adult fans.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Poison Season by Mara Rutherford #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Outsiders are always given a choice: the Forest or the lake. Either way, they’re never heard from again.

Leelo has spent her entire life on Endla, coexisting with the bloodthirsty Forest and respecting the poisonous lake that protects her island from outsiders who seek to destroy it. But as much as Leelo cares for her community, she struggles to accept that her younger brother will be exiled by his next birthday, unless he gains the magic of enchanted song so vital to Endla.

When Leelo sees a young outsider on the verge of drowning in the lake, she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do. But in a moment that will change everything, Leelo betrays her family, her best friend, and Endla by making an unthinkable choice.

Discovery could lead to devastating consequences for both Leelo and the outsider, Jaren, but as they grow closer, Leelo realizes that not all danger comes from beyond the lake—and they can only survive if Leelo is willing to question the very fabric of her society, her people, and herself. 

The island of Endla is protected by a poisonous lake and a magical forest that demands blood sacrifices. Spending her entire life there, Leelo has led a very sheltered life. Outsiders live on the mainland, and they’re responsible for driving Endlans to the island several generations ago because of their magic. Leelo grew up being taught that outsiders are evil, unaccepting, and intolerant of Endlans. Personally, I thought many of the Endlans were a cold-hearted bunch. If their children’s magic hasn’t emerged by the age of twelve, they’re exiled and sent across the poisonous lake to find their own way in the world, never allowed to return to their homes or families.

Leelo’s aunt and cousin, who she and her mother live with, are among those cold-hearted people and don’t seem at all sorry that her brother Tate is to be exiled. Leelo is a more tender-hearted person, so when she comes across Jaren, an injured outsider who accidentally winds up on the island, she betrays her family and community to hide and shelter him and nurse him back to health. Over the course of getting to know each other, Leelo questions everything she’s been taught about the outsiders. Are they really as evil as she’s been led to believe? Once Jaren is discovered, Leelo is forced to choose sides.

Although I enjoyed the spectacular world-building, the story leans more toward romance than I expected. I know plenty of other reviewers are thrilled by that aspect. The ending is exciting and moves pretty quickly. I liked that it’s hopeful, and people are forced to question their beliefs.

The Poison Season is a solid, atmospheric fantasy filled with important messages and some creepy elements that thrilled me. I would have preferred less emphasis on the romance, but that’s just me, and it certainly wouldn’t prevent me from reading more books by this author in the future. She sure knows how to create an eerie setting.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.