Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier #bookreview #YA #fantasy

The past never forgets…

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprentice on a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over the land, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’ title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a merciless sickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer… one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret—one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war. 

With Cas returning home after being imprisoned and presumed dead for so many years, this description gave me The Count of Monte Cristo vibes. I also liked that it’s a standalone.

This book sneaked up and put a bear hug on me. With characters I loved, others I loved to hate, and the mystery of who was behind the attacks, I wanted to plow through it in one sitting. After three years of prison beatings and torture, surviving the plague, and witnessing so much death, Cas has a dark side to him. He’s not the person who disappeared three years ago, and his struggle to control that part of him is a challenge. I immediately liked Lena. She’s disguised as a royal messenger and steals Cas’s horse the first time they meet. She loves books and isn’t a fan of the rule requiring her to be in the company of male escorts/chaperones most of the time. I’m always a fond of rebellious characters.

The mystery of the assassin is full of red herrings and plot twists that lead Cas and Lena on a perplexing journey. It kept me guessing, but by the big reveal (and it’s a good one), I’d guessed the culprit. There’s a paranormal element I didn’t expect, but it adds a nice angle to the story. The supporting cast is also strong, but Bittor is a standout for me with his humorous lines and big heart.

Although the story is complete without it, I’d hoped for an epilogue set five years in the future, but I won’t go into detail about that date – no spoilers. With compelling characters, a gripping mystery, paranormal flair, and a sprinkling of humor, Year of the Reaper enthralled me from beginning to end.

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

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen #bookreview #YA #fantasy #AfricanMythology #TuesdayBookBlog

An unforgettable fantasy debut inspired by West African mythology, this is Children of Blood and Bone meets The Little Mermaid, in which a mermaid takes on the gods themselves.

A way to survive.
A way to serve.
A way to save.

Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata–a mermaid–collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable–she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it.

To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But something is amiss. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail. . . .

Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

The comp titles for this book intrigued me. Children of Blood and Bone has magnificent world-building, and who doesn’t like The Little Mermaid? Any mermaid who takes on the gods sounded like someone I wanted to meet.

Once a human, Simi is now a Mami Wata (mermaid) whose responsibility is to collect the souls of those claimed by the sea and bless their journeys back home. When the body of a teen boy is thrown overboard, she’s shocked to discover he’s still alive, and instead chooses to save him. Her act of mercy puts the lives of all Mami Wata in danger, and to save them she must find the Supreme Creator and seek forgiveness. Although Simi appreciates the importance and significance of her duties, she also misses aspects of her human life, which she can’t entirely remember. When her journey begins on land (her tail transforms into legs), memories and flashbacks from her human life become more prominent, and she’s reminded of what she lost.

Simi is feisty and courageous, two qualities desperately needed to take on Esu, messenger to their Creator. He’s power hungry and a threat to both the Mami Wata and Kola’s village. Esu is described as a trickster, which immediately made me think of Loki from Marvel Comics. They certainly share some similar qualities, and not the admirable ones.

It’s clear from nearly the moment they meet that Simi and Kola have feelings for each other, but I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between them. It comes across as very “insta-love”, and until somewhere around the middle of the book, very little is known about Kola. Revealing his backstory earlier would have distinguished him as more than just the guy Simi saved and a traveling companion.

This is an outstanding debut filled with lush descriptions, immersive world-building, and fascinating African mythology. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the slave trade during that time period, but also doesn’t go into extensive detail. The ending leaves a strong possibility for a sequel, but I haven’t seen anything on Goodreads to suggest one is coming. If that’s the case, I’d be disappointed with the way things wrapped up – keeping my fingers crossed!

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

Unraveling Eleven (Eleven Trilogy #2) by Jerri Chisholm #bookreview #YA #dystopian

In Compound Eleven, freedom from tyranny is impossible.

My name is Eve Hamilton, and I’ve managed the impossible.

I am free.

Until just like that, it is wrenched from my grasp. And this time, the corridors of the dark underground city are even more dangerous than ever before. But my brief taste of freedom has left me with something useful, something powerful, something that terrifies the leaders of Compound Eleven.

And now I have a monster inside.

One I’ll need to learn to control, and fast, or I’ll lose everything and everyone I hold dear. Starting with Wren Edelman. The one boy who has taught me that anything is possible if we stick together.

But will that matter if I become the very thing he fears the most? 

After the cliffhanger ending in Escaping Eleven, I was ecstatic to see book two available so soon and jumped to request it from NetGalley.

This book picks up immediately where the first left off. Eve and Wren have escaped Compound Eleven without detection and are truly free for the first time in their lives. They’re breathing fresh air, have real dirt beneath their feet, and encounter plants and animals they’ve never seen. The above ground world is theirs for the taking – very briefly. They soon realize they’re not equipped to survive in this world. Half-starved, dehydrated, and recovering from food poisoning, they limp back to Compound Eleven and resume their lives. But many questions remain, the biggest being why the governing body hasn’t let the citizens know above ground is once again safe. Eve and Wren are determined to discover the answer.

There’s no doubt Eve is a strong protagonist, but I quickly grew annoyed with her drama queen act in the first half of the book. Everything is about her, and she lacks the ability to see the broader picture, something that’s more of a strength for Wren, and he challenges her to be better. Eve’s mouth and fists get her in trouble several times, and it becomes tiresome. Luckily, she comes to her senses in the second half of the book and makes significant strides. That’s where the story took off for me. Startling and unnerving discoveries come to light, especially for Wren, which lead them to a life-threatening point of no return. Seriously, book three can’t get here fast enough. Some new characters make a significant impact on the story, but I’m not so sure they’re trustworthy. They should figure prominently in the next book.

Expect a roller coaster of emotions with this one and extensive character development with our flawed MCs. Also expect satisfaction when some characters get what’s coming to them. I still have questions about aspects of Wren’s background that were hinted at in the first book, but it’s something that may come into play in the next. If you’re a dystopian fan, I recommend checking out this series.

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

Our Violent Ends (These Violent Delights #2) by Chloe Gong #bookreview #YA #historicalfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.

After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.

Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.

Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.

It’s not often I can say this, but the second book in this series easily tops the first. I could barely pry my fingers away the Kindle.

In this Romeo and Juliet retelling, the struggle for power is alive and well and continues in Shanghai. With Roma’s White Flowers, Juliette’s Scarlets, the Communists, and Nationalists all battling for control, bloodshed, backstabbing (sometimes literally), and manipulation abound in the streets of the city. The terrorizing monster plot line in the first novel didn’t sit well with me and, although it’s still a part of the story, it’s not as prevalent.

Hot-headed and impulsive, Juliette didn’t win me over in book one, but she’s made progress toward becoming a more strategic player. I also didn’t feel the connection between her and Roma the first time around. Actually, I was more invested in the budding romance between Benedikt and Marshall (who have a beautiful story of their own), but Roma and Juliette’s relationship came across much stronger to me in this sequel. Taking into consideration what’s occuring around them, it’s messy, angry (with the occasional murder attempt), tense, and sometimes volatile, but more believable, and I was anxious to learn their outcome. As with many retellings, don’t assume it aligns with the original version.

With a bigger focus on politics and the men who pull the strings instead of a supernatural monster, more even pacing (it sure didn’t feel like five hundred pages), and phenomenal character development in both MCs and supporting characters, readers will be thrilled with this sequel. Although some may not agree, I thought the ending was perfect and closed the book with a smile on my face.

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

All of Us Villains (All of Us Villains #1) by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman #bookreview #fantasy #YA

The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.

The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world–one thought long depleted.

This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly: a choice – accept their fate or rewrite their story.

But this is a story that must be penned in blood. 

Having read books by both of these authors, I was ecstatic when I heard they were teaming up to write a series together. That the main characters are villains? I could barely contain my excitement – morally gray characters are my favorites.

Monsters couldn’t harm you if you were a monster, too.

This quote represents the philosophy of some of these families when it comes to bestowing beliefs upon their children. Talk about your twisted parenting styles. From a young age, a few of these seven characters knew they were the chosen champions of their family. If that title was up for grabs, some of them even campaigned for it. They were extensively trained in spells and magic, knowing that they may eventually face their friends, boyfriends, or girlfriends from the other families in the tournament and have to kill them.

Control of high magick is what they’re fighting for, and I liked that no one completely understands how it works or the consequences of every spell. Throughout the story the characters learn maybe everything isn’t as they were taught, and there’s a complex puzzle to be solved. A way they don’t all have to die.

Seven participants in the tournament and four POVs are a lot to keep up with, but each of these characters is distinct and well-crafted. I have to say Alistair, the predicted champion, and Gavin, the underdog, are my favorites. Alistair’s story is especially tragic, and I just wanted to hug him. Gavin wants to show his family and the rest of the town he’s not a loser and makes some bold choices to prove it. Just when I thought I knew these characters, game-changing twists had my head spinning. Considering they’re all villains, I should have known better than to make assumptions.

Wicked, dark, and full of surprises, this is an addictive series, and I won’t rest easily until I get my hands on the next book. Highly recommend!

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

Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman #bookreview #YA #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

From the team that brought you the New York Times bestselling Dry comes a riveting new thriller that proves when gods play games, even love is a lie.

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you? 

Every book I’ve read by Neal Shusterman has held me spellbound, and this one was no exception. It’s unlike anything I’ve come across. Just be prepared to have your heart ripped from your chest and put through a meat grinder.

You know from the first few pages one of these two main characters isn’t going to live. During the course of the story I changed my mind countless times about which one it would be. The second chapter flashes back to two months earlier, and that’s where the story begins. Isaac seems to have his life together – good grades, plans for college and a career. His sister Ivy isn’t quite as organized. Because of untreated ADHD, she’s at risk of failing her senior year of high school and also has a history of trouble with drugs and alcohol. Both of these characters are extremely well-crafted and easy to connect with, and their paths to addiction are very plausible and relatable.

The conversations between Roxy (Oxycontin) and Addison (Adderall), as well as others (Al, Lucy, Molly, Crys, and Phineas to name a few – all types of drugs) are wildly imaginative, thought-provoking, and profound at times. But also sad. Bringing these two teens to “the Party” is only a game to them, and seeing Isaac’s and Ivy’s downward spirals makes for a gut-wrenching, difficult read.

Roxy is an incredibly dark, gritty novel that focuses on the devastating effects of addiction and how anyone can be susceptible to dependency. It will gut you, but is so well-worth the read.

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

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz #bookreview #contemporary #LGBTQ #YA

In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

With the highest recommendations from book club friends, I listened to the first book in this series over the summer, and then was ecstatic when I received an ARC of this highly anticipated sequel.

These boys grabbed my heart in the first book and didn’t let go – Ari, who would rather spend time with his dog than anyone else while pondering the meaning of life, and Dante, a born romantic who wears his heart on his sleeve. They squeezed my heart even tighter this time around and even shattered it at times. This novel is set in the eighties when the AIDS epidemic made headlines every day – when two teenage boys tragically had to hide their sexuality because it wasn’t safe for them to admit they were gay.

“My love for him is silent. There are a thousand things living in that silence.”

Fortunately, these two have a strong support system in their parents and a few select friends. That doesn’t mean they don’t have doubts about who they are. When Ari asks his mother if he’s a sin, it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Plenty of these heartfelt conversations may require tissues, so be prepared.

Ari finally steps out of his comfort zone and allows people who’ve had their hands extended in friendship for years in. He also discovers maybe he and one of his enemies have more in common that he believed. You can never be sure what people are dealing with in their lives.

“When you are standing all alone, the people who notice – those are the people who stand by your side. Those are the people who love you.”

Something I found amusing was how Ari comes to the realization his parents are actual people. After mending the relationship with his father, the two of them spend time together that will profoundly affect Ari for the rest of his life. He also sees the influence his mother has had on her students and the sacrifices she’s made along the way. How his parents met and fell in love.

This is a coming of age story that deals with love, loss, grief, homophobia, and racism, but also offers hope for a better future. As you can see from the above quotes, the writing is beautiful and inspirational, and the characters undergo tremendous growth. It’s a series I’ll continue to recommend.

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

When Night Breaks (Kingdom of Cards #2) by Janella Angeles #bookreview #fantasy #magicians #YA

The competition has come to a disastrous end, and Daron Demarco’s fall from grace is now front page news. But little matters to him beyond Kallia, the contestant he fell for who is now lost to this world and in the hands of a dangerous magician. Daron is willing to do whatever it takes to find her. Even if it means embarking on a dark and treacherous journey, risking more than just his life, with no promise of return.

After awaking in darkness, Kallia has never felt more lost. Especially with Jack by her side, the magician with who has the answers but cannot be trusted. Together, they must navigate a dazzling world where mirrors show memories and illusions shadow every corner, one ruled by a powerful game master who could all too easily destroy the world she left behind — and the boy she can’t seem to forget. With time running out, Kallia must embrace her role in a darker destiny, or lose everyone she loves, forever.

Stunning, gorgeous, enchanting – all descriptions of this cover. The first in the series is no different, and both set the tone for the story of magic and magicians inside.

This book immediately picks up where the first left off. Jack and Kallia find themselves in a darker, somewhat familiar world filled with danger, memories, and illusions. What’s real? What/who can they trust? Demarco and friends, left behind and struggling to understand what happened, desperately search for a way to reach Kallia.

While the first book contained tension-filled scenes between Kallia and Demarcos, elaborate competitions between the magicians, and mysterious secrets surrounding the town, this sequel has a different feel. Not bad, just – different. Kallia and Demarcos are separated for the majority of the story, the competitions are reduced to a couple brief duels, and most of the secrets are revealed early. I especially missed one of my favorite supporting characters and scene stealer, Aaros. He’s nearly MIA this time around.

The elusive Jack was a big draw for me in Where Dreams Descend, and I was anxious to see what would be revealed about him, if anything. I’ll just say his origin and power are explained, and he remains a mesmerizing character. His character arc may be my favorite part of this sequel. If you didn’t care for him before, you may change your mind.

While I enjoyed the addition of some new characters, a couple of unexpected plot twists, and the way the story wraps up, pacing was slow for me. For a nearly five hundred page novel, it contains several long stretches where not much happens. I read an ARC, so it’s something that may be tightened up in the final copy.

If fantasies set in a lavish, magical world filled with atmosphere and secrets pique your interest, this is a duology you should check out.

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

Lakesedge (World at Lake’s Edge #1) by Lyndall Clipstone #bookreview #YA #fantasy #LGBT #TuesdayBookBlog

A lush gothic fantasy about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake. Perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer.

There are monsters in the world.

When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

There are monsters in the woods.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn…

There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name.

Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under. 

I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere of the visually stunning movie Crimson Peak. It’s used as a comp title for this novel, and the cover really sets the tone for the story.

If you’re looking for an atmospheric read for this time of year, this is it. With a bleak manor, sinister woods, cursed black lake, and young, mysterious lord said to have drowned his family, it’s easy to immerse yourself in this world. You’ll want to learn its hidden secrets.

After losing their parents at a young age, Leta and her brother, Arien are taken in by a woman who was initially kind to them, but became cruel and abusive when Arien began showing signs of dark magic. Rowan Sylvanan, lord of Lakesedge estate, sees something in him and takes them in, but Leta isn’t sure if their situation is improved. Soon after settling in, it becomes clear Rowan isn’t the monster he’s rumored to be, but instead is cursed by a deal he made with the Lord Under as a child. The estate and lands surrounding it are slowly dying from a magical corruption, and Rowan needs Leta’s and Arien’s help in defeating it.

Leta is extremely overprotective of Arien and, although annoying at first, the reason becomes clear. I thought he was around eight-years-old, but was surprised he’s actually thirteen. For me, he reads much younger, although he seems more like a teen as the story progresses. With this gothic tale comes a budding romance between Rowan and Leta, but it doesn’t take center stage. The driving force of the story is about adapting and combining the characters’ magic to conquer the corruption. Leta also has a history with the Lord Under, and they share an unusual connection. It’s something I want to know more about.

I went into this book thinking it was a standalone (there was no mention of a series on NetGalley), but toward the end it quickly became clear things weren’t wrapping up. The sequel releases next fall, so now I’ll have an impatient wait to see what happens after that whopping cliffhanger. If you enjoy dark fantasy with a hint of horror and undercurrents of romance, this is an atmospheric novel I’d recommend.

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

Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo #bookreview #horror #LGBTQ

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.

I think I first became aware of this book in a weekly horror newsletter from Book Riot and immediately requested it from NetGalley. What a heavy, ominous ride it was – a fabulous debut novel.

Andrew shares a deep connection with his best friend Eddie and refuses to believe he committed suicide. He travels to Nashville for several reasons – to deal with Eddie’s estate and substantial inheritance left to him, prove Eddie was murdered, and attend grad school. Someone knows the truth behind the supposed suicide, and Andrew immerses himself into Eddie’s life to find answers. Soon, he’s drawn into late nights of fast cars, drugs, parties, and alcohol and learns Eddie hid plenty of secrets during their six months apart. Andrew is lost, drowning in his grief, and reaches for a lifeline wherever he can find one.

At its core, this story is about Andrew’s overwhelming grief and devastating loss of his best friend. It quickly becomes evident that their feelings for each other went beyond friendship, but Andrew hasn’t allowed himself to dig deeper and examine the true nature of their relationship. Several summers ago, they became trapped in a cave and went missing for a couple days. They weren’t alone in the darkness – something else was with them. It was a pivotal moment that significantly impacted their lives, but you won’t realize exactly how until late in the story.

Filled with eerie moments, regrets, questions of what if, and a family curse, Summer Sons is a dark, slow burn, Southern gothic horror story. Hauntings aren’t limited to places. This is an author I’m keeping an eye on.

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