Immortality: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz #bookreview #YA #historicalfantasy and Ending Eleven (Eleven Trilogy #3) by Jerri Chisholm #dystopian #TuesdayBookBlog

Hazel Sinnett is alone and half-convinced the events of the year before—the immortality, Beecham’s vial—were a figment of her imagination. She doesn’t even know whether Jack is alive or dead. All she can really do now is treat patients and maintain Hawthornden Castle as it starts to decay around her.

When saving a life leads to her arrest, Hazel seems doomed to rot in prison until a message intervenes: She has been specifically requested to be the personal physician of Princess Charlotte, the sickly daughter of King George IV. Soon Hazel is dragged into the glamor and romance of a court where everyone has something to hide, especially the enigmatic, brilliant members of a social club known as the Companions to the Death.

As Hazel’s work entangles her more and more with the British court, she realizes that her own future as a surgeon isn’t the only thing at stake. Malicious forces are at work in the monarchy, and Hazel may be the only one capable of setting things right.

The first book in this duology held me spellbound, and I finished it in one sitting. When I learned another book was coming, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

I missed Hazel. Highly intelligent, determined, ambitious, independent – she’s on my list of favorite female protagonists. In 1817 Edinburgh, Hazel is a surgeon, something unheard of for women in that time period. But she’s never been one to bow to society’s expectations of her. This story begins immediately after the events of Anatomy, and she’s unsure of what happened to Jack and doesn’t even know if he’s alive or dead. Being practical and focused on her work, Hazel continues to treat her patients and write her book. And treating one of her patients gets her thrown into jail. Luckily for her, she’s soon summoned to treat the granddaughter of King George IV of England and is released from prison.

No spoilers here, so I’ll say this novel is just as compelling as the first. A lot is going on at court, not all of it good, and members of a social club Hazel is invited to join may not be what they seem. She also meets Dr. Simon Ferris, who’s treating the king for a mysterious illness. I liked Simon and the way he interacts with Hazel – he respects her as a colleague and her abilities as a surgeon. Her patients come first, and she goes to extreme lengths in this story to prove it.

I can’t go without mentioning both covers in this duology – they’re truly works of art. If you enjoy strong, intelligent female protagonists, historical fantasy, and mysteries, I can’t recommend this series enough.

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

My name is Eve Hamilton.
Everyone in Compound Eleven thinks I was killed. But they’re dead wrong…

I spent my entire life in Compound Eleven as a fighter. Surviving in an underground city filled with violence, oppression, and tyranny. We were told the world above was scorched, an immediate death sentence. I should have died never knowing the truth. Instead, when I fought Wren—a boy from the top floor, a Preme—I fell for him. And eventually learned that my reality was an insidious lie.

Escaping Compound Eleven nearly killed me and Wren. Now we’re aboveground, where the world is anything but a toxic, burning wasteland. It’s green and lush, filled with sunshine, fresh water… and hope. All of which tastes bitter when I see what it’s cost me. Because something in Wren has changed. He’s broken—along with whatever it was between us.

Now the tides of violence in Compound Eleven are rising, threatening to spill out and shatter this peaceful place with brutality, corruption, and death.

But do I stop them… or join them?

I’ve been captivated by this series from the first book, and I’m sorry to see it end. I have to give a shoutout to the cover designer – all three covers are so vibrant and well done.

This book begins where the other left off. Eve and Wren are critically injured, but make it back to Michael’s camp. Wren’s injuries are worse, and he’s unconscious for a few days while Eve settles into healing, camp life, and chores. When Wren wakes, he’s not quite the same. Blank spots riddle his memory, and he’s withdrawn for the most part. I was frustrated with Eve for not being there for him, but also annoyed with Wren’s actions/inactions even after he improves. Other than camp life, miscommunications, and incorrect assumptions, not much happens in the first several chapters. I started to worry about pacing.

And then everything takes off at warp speed. So much happens – strategic planning, rebellions, betrayals, revelations, reunions. Some characters get what’s coming to them, other deaths are mourned. Plenty of action, violence, blood – everything that tends to go hand in hand with rebellions.

I also enjoyed meeting new characters at the camp and admired how they were slowly rebuilding society. It wasn’t perfect, but no society is. And what a satisfying ending to this exciting trilogy. It was promising, hopeful, and gave a glimpse into the future of these characters. If you’re a dystopian fan, this is a series to add to your list.

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

Seven Faceless Saints by M.K. Lobb #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy

In the city of Ombrazia, saints and their disciples rule with terrifying and unjust power, playing favorites while the unfavored struggle to survive.

After her father’s murder at the hands of the Ombrazian military, Rossana Lacertosa is willing to do whatever it takes to dismantle the corrupt system—tapping into her powers as a disciple of Patience, joining the rebellion, and facing the boy who broke her heart. As the youngest captain in the history of Palazzo security, Damian Venturi is expected to be ruthless and strong, and to serve the saints with unquestioning devotion. But three years spent fighting in a never-ending war have left him with deeper scars than he wants to admit… and a fear of confronting the girl he left behind.

Now a murderer stalks Ombrazia’s citizens. As the body count climbs, the Palazzo is all too happy to look the other way—that is, until a disciple becomes the newest victim. With every lead turning into a dead end, Damian and Roz must team up to find the killer, even if it means digging up buried emotions. As they dive into the underbelly of Ombrazia, the pair will discover something more sinister—and far less holy. With darkness closing in and time running out, will they be able to save the city from an evil so powerful that it threatens to destroy everything in its path?

In this war-torn world, its citizens are descended from seven saints. Some are born with magic or may develop it later in life. These people become disciples and enjoy many privileges and luxuries. Those without magic, the unfavored, are at the bottom of the food chain and struggle with poverty. They’re also considered expendable and sent to war to fight for a country who gives them practically nothing.

As children and into their teens, Damian and Roz were best friends who fell in love. Both were unfavored until Roz developed magic as an early teen. Being a disciple isn’t something she wanted – she doesn’t believe in the saints or the society they built. It’s an unfair world. Damian was sent to war for three years and is still emotionally scarred from his experiences there. Fortunately, his father holds a powerful position in government and is able to secure Damian the position of captain of Palazzo security upon his return. Damian broke Roz’s heart while he was away by cutting off communication with her even after her father was brutally killed when she needed Damian most. Now she can’t stand the sight of him (but not really), and he can’t stop thinking about her. After several murders, the two of them team up to find the killer. It should be mentioned that the first couple of murder victims were unfavored – and no one cared. When a disciple is killed, finding the culprit becomes a priority.

In between the snippy quips, apologies, angst, declarations of love, and everything that comes with the romantic drama between prickly Roz and guilt-ridden Damian, I enjoyed the mystery. I had my suspicions, but the identity of the killer came as a surprise to me. There’s a mountain of conflict between Roz and Damian – she works with the rebels and he’s a cop, his father was responsible for her father’s death – and they have pretty big hurdles to overcome.

Reviews have been mixed for this novel, but with a mystery that keeps you guessing, likeable characters, complex world-building, and brisk pace, it gets a thumbs up from me. I’ll definitely be looking out for the next book in the series.

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

A Voice in the Silence by D.L. Finn #bookreview #scifi #thriller #paranormal

Drea Burr has experienced more than her share of loss when a stray dog, cat, and rat enter her life. Although the animals start to mend her broken heart, there is something very unusual about them. During a snowstorm, Drea discovers a chilling set of footprints leading to her front window. Both the police and a ghostly messenger warn her about a killer stalking widows. Help comes from her late husband’s best friend, Adam Hale. As the two try to discover answers, more questions arise— about a killer, ghosts, and animals experimented on in a lab.

Can Drea and Adam survive the threats coming from so many directions and save themselves and the animals they’ve grown to love? Or will more tragedy destroy her second chance at happiness? Find out in this thrilling, cozy paranormal adventure. 

As an animal lover, any book that includes pets just makes the story better in my opinion – and this one gets serious bonus points. The skillful blend of genres – mystery, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi – also thrilled me. So many of my favorites!

Drea is going through a rough time in her life after the loss of her husband and beloved pets. Her relationship with her son has also been distant and strained lately, and she misses him. She’s alone, grieving, and considering taking drastic measures. Until a stray dog, cat, and rat show up and change her life forever. They aren’t your normal pets – they talk (something I’ve always wished my pets could do!). Even better – they can communicate with spirits.

Besides adjusting to this shocking turn of events, Drea finds herself a target of a killer stalking widows. Footsteps leading to her front window are far too close for comfort. Her newfound family of pets are escapees of a lab where they were subjects of experiments – and someone is still looking for them. Saying Drea has a lot on her plate is an understatement. I loved how strong she is and how she refuses to let herself be a victim.

Just when I thought she and the pets were safe and I could breathe again, the story took another path. Unpredictable storylines make me a happy reader. There’s also a sweet romance brewing between Drea and her late husband’s best friend, Adam, that may be her second chance at love.

There are plenty of tense moments to keep you on the edge of your seat, but at its heart this story is primarily about family. One of my favorite themes is found family, and that’s certainly prevalent in this novel. I also appreciated the glimpse into the future of these characters at the end. It left me smiling.

Always the Almost by Edward Underhill #bookreview #YA #LGBTQ #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.

Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.

So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself? 

This vibrant cover first caught my attention. Then I discovered the MC plays piano (I played years ago), and when I read it was blurbed by Phil Stamper (just finished his Golden Boys duology), I knew I needed to read this novel.

Miles is a trans-boy who’s recently come out, and he has two goals – win back his ex-boyfriend (a school jock who dumped him) and beat his arch nemesis (Miles has lost to him every year) at a classical piano competition. Miles is also experiencing struggles at school – teachers referring to him with the wrong pronouns/name, bathroom dilemmas, and piano competitions – trolls making horrible comments on message boards. Luckily he has some very protective friends to help him out. Every spare moment he has is spent practicing piano, usually in the school auditorium. And that’s where he meets new student Eric who’s working on his comic series.

Eric is laid-back, adorable, and he sees Miles – it’s easy to understand why Miles is attracted to him. I enjoyed seeing their friendship develop and turn into something more. Eric’s scenes with his younger sister are heartwarming and funny and allow the reader to see another side of him.

As for Miles – I wanted to wring his neck at certain points. Initially he’s pretty selfish and ignores what’s happening with his friends. Because of some of his actions, he’s forced to take a closer look at himself and how he’s treated others. It’s a wonderful character arc. I loved Miles’s piano teacher. She’s tough, talented, and nudges him (not gently) into thinking about who he is and why he plays.

This is a heart-warming, joyful novel with messy, flawed characters and an incredible debut. This author is definitely on my watchlist, and I’m anxious to see what he does next.

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

The Twisted Dead (Gravekeeper #3) by Darcy Coates #paranormal #bookreview #suspense

Keira is ready for her life to return to normal. Though, to be fair, normal is a tall ask when your ability to see ghosts has landed you the job of groundskeeper in a small town’s cemetery.

When Keira receives an invitation to dinner at Dane Crispin’s crumbling ancestral estate, she knows she can’t refuse. The last living descendant of the Crispin family is reclusive. Keira only met him once…on the night he tried to kill her.

The mansion is steeped in history that is equal parts complicated and bloody. Keira senses the presence of restless spirits the moment she steps through its door. And Dane, waiting for her inside, wants to ask for her help. 

Although I missed the first book (I read book two and this is the third) in this series, that hasn’t prevented me from keeping up with what went on. The author does a good job of including details that bring the reader up to speed.

I recently read that Coates’s books can be categorized as cozy horror/paranormal. To me, cozies are those mysteries with adorable covers (especially when cats are included) and clever titles. When I read the reasoning behind it being classified that way, it made sense. There’s a mystery, a paranormal element, humor (seriously, Zoe should moonlight as a comedian), and no gore. I think even non-horror fans could appreciate this series.

A lot of things are happening in this novel. There’s progress in the ongoing story arc of who Keira actually is. She learns more about Artec and why she’s on the run from them. Mason’s reason for leaving medical school in his last year is revealed. And Dane Crispin may not be the baddie he seems – he may just be misunderstood. Considering he tried to kill Keira the last time they met, she takes a leap of faith in accepting his dinner invitation and helping him.

The slow burn romance, I’m talking glacier pace here, between Mason and Keira continues. Apparently they need to be hit over the head (maybe by Zoe, who has no filter) to realize how the other feels, because it seems obvious to everyone else. Harry, a very…eccentric character, also gets more page time, and I adore his dry humor.

This isn’t the last book, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one. If you’re a fan of eerie, atmospheric books with a mystery, you can’t go wrong with this series.

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

Ring of Solomon by Aden Polydoros #bookreview #MG #fantasy #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

This exciting and adventurous start to a middle-grade trilogy follows a queer boy and his family as they try to halt the chaotic effects of a mysterious ring, drawing upon Jewish mythology to navigate magic, mayhem and the search for pride in one’s identity.

The little beachside town of San Pancras is not known for anything exciting, but when Zach Darlington buys a mysterious ring at the local flea market, his quiet little hometown is turned topsy-turvy by monsters straight from Jewish folklore and a nefarious secret society focused on upholding an apocalyptic prophecy.

Zach discovers that the ring grants him strange powers, and he’s intrigued; maybe he can use the ring’s strengths to halt the slew of anti-Semitic and homophobic bullying he’s experiencing at school. But soon the ring brings unexpected visitors—Ashmedai, King of Demons, in the guise of a preteen boy named Ash, and the local chapter of the Knights of the Apocalypse, a secret society intent on completing a creepy prophecy that will bring three monsters to Earth to start the events of the end of times.

Now responsible for the ring and its consequences, will Zach and his friends, with the help of Ash, be able to stop the Apocalypse and save the world?

I think I’ve read everything Aden Polydoros has written (I also have an ARC of his next release – woohoo!), and when he decided to play in the middle grade sandbox, I was excited to see what he came up with.

In the author’s note before the story begins, he mentions that he comes from an interfaith family and discovered his love of horror movies at a young age. Other than a few passing references in a popular MG series, he never came across books with Jewish main characters and struggled to see himself in stories. A few of his novels contain queer Jewish main characters, and it’s wonderful to see that representation available to YA and MG readers today.

The book begins with Zach and his younger sister buying a mysterious ring for their mother’s birthday at a flea market. Little does he know the adventure that awaits him because of that simple transaction. First, he can hear animals talk and converse with them – which is pretty cool. Then the King of Demons (who discovers a strong passion for pizza) appears in Zach’s bedroom, and soon he’s in over his head dealing with a nutty kind of cult and three monsters predicted to start the end times.

Knowing little to nothing about Jewish mythology, I enjoyed learning more about it, and it’s one of my favorite things about this book. The author does a wonderful job of portraying tweens – their interactions, the bottomless stomachs of tween boys (which gave me several laughs), and relationships with their parents and siblings. Zach is also the target of bullying by one student in particular in his class, which sadly is still a reality in our schools, and it’s handled well in the story.

Ring of Solomon is full of action with plenty of humor, and several reviewers have recommended it to fans of Percy Jackson. I was delighted to learn this will be a trilogy, and I’m excited to spend more time with these characters.

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

My Dear Henry: A Jekyll & Hyde Remix by Kalynn Bayron #YA #retelling #classics

In this gothic YA remix of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, a teen boy tries to discover the reason behind his best friend’s disappearance—and the arrival of a mysterious and magnetic stranger—in misty Victorian London.

London, 1885. Gabriel Utterson, a 17-year-old law clerk, has returned to London for the first time since his life— and that of his dearest friend, Henry Jekyll—was derailed by a scandal that led to his and Henry’s expulsion from the London Medical School. Whispers about the true nature of Gabriel and Henry’s relationship have followed the boys for two years, and now Gabriel has a chance to start again.

But Gabriel doesn’t want to move on, not without Henry. His friend has become distant and cold since the disastrous events of the prior spring, and now his letters have stopped altogether. Desperate to discover what’s become of him, Gabriel takes to watching the Jekyll house.

In doing so, Gabriel meets Hyde, a a strangely familiar young man with white hair and a magnetic charisma. He claims to be friends with Henry, and Gabriel can’t help but begin to grow jealous at their apparent closeness, especially as Henry continues to act like Gabriel means nothing to him.

But the secret behind Henry’s apathy is only the first part of a deeper mystery that has begun to coalesce. Monsters of all kinds prowl within the London fog—and not all of them are out for blood…

I’ve read the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so I was curious about this retelling. I’m a fan of Bayron’s, so that made me even more eager to read it.

Dark alleys, an ominous science lab, foggy streets – atmosphere certainly isn’t lacking in this novel. Henry and Gabriel are young, gay Black men studying to become doctors, a goal not easily accomplished in Victorian England. Homophobia and racism are prevalent, but considering the setting is 1885 that’s not surprising. I liked that the author didn’t shy away from those issues, and her MCs had to deal with them on an ongoing basis throughout the story. They way they’re treated angered me, but is consistent with the times.

When Henry suddenly becomes distant and cold and practically a recluse inside his home, Gabriel is desperate to learn the reason. He’s even more perplexed and jealous when Hyde shows up and has unlimited access to the Jekyll household. There’s something familiar about him Gabriel can’t put his finger on, and he cares too much about Henry to let the situation rest.

For me, Henry and Gabriel’s relationship seemed to develop over the span of a few pages. Another reviewer mentioned a year passes between chapters, but I listened to the audiobook and didn’t immediately pick up on that. My impression was they meet in one chapter, write several letters to each other, and are in a serious relationship by the next chapter. Don’t get me wrong, they’re adorable and take a chance even being together, but it was initially difficult to be invested. It’s a short novel, the primary focus of the story is on Henry’s transformation to Hyde and the monsters (literal and figurative) he’s forced to deal with, and that’s what I’d hoped.

This is the second remix I’ve read in this series, and I’ve enjoyed both retellings (the endings are better than the originals!). I’m looking forward to reading more.

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

The Spite House by Johnny Compton #paranormal #horror #TuesdayBookBlog

Eric Ross is on the run from a mysterious past with his two daughters in tow. Having left his wife, his house, his whole life behind in Maryland, he’s desperate for money–it’s not easy to find safe work when you can’t provide references, you can’t stay in one place for long, and you’re paranoid that your past is creeping back up on you.

When he comes across the strange ad for the Masson House in Degener, Texas, Eric thinks they may have finally caught a lucky break. The Masson property, notorious for being one of the most haunted places in Texas, needs a caretaker of sorts. The owner is looking for proof of paranormal activity. All they need to do is stay in the house and keep a detailed record of everything that happens there. Provided the house’s horrors don’t drive them all mad, like the caretakers before them.

The job calls to Eric, not just because there’s a huge payout if they can make it through, but because he wants to explore the secrets of the spite house. If it is indeed haunted, maybe it’ll help him understand the uncanny power that clings to his family, driving them from town to town, making them afraid to stop running. A terrifying Gothic thriller about grief and death and the depths of a father’s love, Johnny Compton’s The Spite House is a stunning debut by a horror master in the making.

I have a weakness for haunted house stories – especially atmospheric Gothic ones. When I was sent the NetGalley widget for this novel, I immediately downloaded it.

Unemployed Eric Ross and his daughters, eighteen-year-old Dess and seven-year-old Stacy, are on the run. For the past year, they’ve lived in cheap hotels and moved around every few days. Eric picks up odd jobs here and there where no one asks questions. Looking over their shoulder and being paranoid are now habits. Even young Stacy has been trained on an escape plan. When Eric receives an offer to stay in the Masson House, supposedly one of the most haunted places in the state, and keep a record of paranormal activity, he accepts the job. The money is almost too good to be true and will relieve their financial stress. Now he and his family just have to survive.

I didn’t get a strong Gothic vibe from this story, but it sure provides unnerving, atmospheric scenes. Shadows in corners, disembodied voices, possible spirit possessions, creepy ghost children, doors opening and closing on their own – all good things for horror/paranormal fans. Even though Eric is frightened, he puts his family first and is determined to stick it out and earn the small fortune promised if he completes the job. He’s a pretty stubborn guy and very protective of his daughters. Stacy’s ability to see and communicate with some of the spirits will send tingles down your spine.

While reading, I kept wondering what happened to send this family on the run, and when the reason is casually mentioned in a sentence, I immediately halted and said “Wait – what?????” It’s a shocker, folks. I’d also never heard of a spite house, but it’s a building constructed or modified solely to annoy the neighbors. I did a Google search, and there are several across the country.

This is an impressive debut, and an author to watch for horror/paranormal fans. I’m excited to see what Compton does next.

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

Afterglow (Golden Boys #2) by Phil Stamper #bookreview #contemporary #LGBTQ

After a summer of life-changing, these four friends are finally ready for senior year.

Gabriel is thrilled to create his school’s first LGBTQ+ advocacy group, but his long-distance relationship is fading from summer love to something else…

Heath feels secure for the first time in years, but with his future riding on a baseball scholarship, each pitch triggers his anxiety…

Reese is set on pursuing a career in fashion design, but his creativity takes him in an unexpected direction he isn’t yet ready to share…

Sal wants to be in politics, specifically local politics. After a chat with his aunt, he is ready for an unlikely path…

As graduation nears and the boys prepare to enter the real world, it’s clear their friendship will never be the same. Can they find a way to stay connected and pursue their dreams?

When I saw this book up for request on NetGalley, I didn’t even read the description. I loved these boys so much from the first book in the duology that I had to see what happened to them.

First I have to comment on the cover. It’s perfect. Each graduation cap represents one of the characters and their interests. In Golden Boys, the characters were headed in different directions the summer before their senior year of high school and were worried about what the distance would do to their friendships. It was a life-changing summer for each of them, and they all grew and made decisions about their future. Now in their senior year, they have a laundry list of worries: Will we still see each other after graduation? What do I want to do with my life? How do I tell my mom I don’t want to go to college? Will I get my scholarship? Is our relationship strong enough to survive long distance? How will I afford college? Teens today experience more stress and anxiety that we think.

Each character has dreams for their future and, despite their individual plates full of problems, all are unconditionally supportive of each other. We all need friends like that. Reese and Heath are in a relationship together and, although they’re not sure what the future holds for them, neither wants the other to sacrifice their plans. A very mature outlook for high school seniors. Gabriel is busy with his LGBTQ+ advocacy group and getting to the bottom of why certain books have gone missing from the library shelves, while also trying to maintain a long distance relationship with the guy he met last summer. Sal’s mother has been planning for his college career since the day he was born – but he has to find a way to tell her he doesn’t want to attend college and has alternate life plans for himself.

I’d love to see what happens to these boys, but the author indicated this is a duology. I’ll sure miss them. A nostalgic, bittersweet, hopeful, and humorous read focused on the bonds of friendship and family.

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

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim #bookreview #YA #fantasy #magic

The first book in an epic fantasy series for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal and Elizabeth Lim, set in an Arabian-inspired land. Raised to protect her nation from the monsters lurking in the sands, seventeen-year-old Imani must fight to find her brother whose betrayal is now their greatest threat.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.

But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.

Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?

In this epic and action-packed fantasy, one young heroine navigates the treacherous road between protecting the ones you love and staying loyal to the place you call home.

I’m a fan of Arabian-inspired stories (I’m usually drooling over the food descriptions), and the beautiful cover and secret spice magic sealed the deal when requesting this novel from NetGalley.

Imani’s brother was presumed dead a year ago, and she and her family are still grieving the loss. When she and her sister uncover evidence he may still be alive, she’s sent by the Council to find him and bring him home. Their city’s location and magical spice are meant to be kept secret, and if he’s revealed that information, the consequences could be dire. Assigned to accompany her on this quest is the arrogant Taha and a couple of his friends, all of who really don’t care for Imani. Qayn, a djinni bound to Imani, is also along for the ride.

I wasn’t a fan of Imani. She’s selfish, privileged, and oblivious to things outside her bubble of perfection. During her journey revelations come to light, and she begins to question everything she’s been taught about Qalia, her home. Soon her perfect bubble bursts, and she undergoes some admirable character growth. Shoutout to Imani’s stubborn younger sister Amira. Don’t underestimate her – the girl’s got some tricks up her sleeve. I also snickered several times over Qayn’s humorous comments about Taha.

The world-building grew even more interesting for me as the story progressed, and I liked that there are limits on magic and consequences of using too much spice. The presence of a love triangle didn’t surprise me, but it’s definitely not my favorite trope. Action sequences are well-written, exciting, and pretty stressful at times. I was afraid not everyone would survive – but no spoilers here.

If you’re a fan of magic-inspired fantasies, shocking betrayals, occasional snark, and political maneuvering, this novel is for you. With two more books to come, this is a series I’ll continue.

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