The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris #bookreview #contemporary #supernatural

Dear Martin meets They Both Die at the End in this gripping, evocative novel about a Black teen who has the power to see into the future, whose life turns upside down when he foresees his younger brother’s imminent death, from the acclaimed author of SLAY.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short.

It’s hard to for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life.

And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes.

With Alex now in a race against time, death, and circumstances, he and Isaiah must grapple with their past, their future, and what it means to be a young Black man in America in the present. 

This is the second book I’ve read by this author, and she can count me as a confirmed fan.

Alex and his younger brother, Isaiah, were orphaned four year ago after the family was involved in a car accident. Since then, they’ve been raised by their aunt. Sixteen-year-old Alex is trying to be all things for everyone he knows – his employer, his girlfriend, his brother, and even his deceased parents. He also suffers from panic attacks. Since the car accident, every time he touches someone or something, he sees the future of that person or object. After seeing Isaiah’s death, he’s determined to repair their relationship and close the distance between them that developed after their parents’ passing.

Much of this book is spent in Alex’s head with his swirling thoughts, fears, and visions. The author does an incredible job at making the reader feel the grief, anxieties, and pressures Alex experiences nearly every minute of every day. It’s far too much for someone his age to have to carry. And then there are the racial issues. The brothers live in a predominantly white, upper class, gated community. Neighbors who claim not to be racists very clearly are, but fail to see it.

This book is heartbreaking in so many ways and will absolutely wreck you. But it’s also a powerful story that includes joyous bonding moments between Alex and Isaiah. The vivid supporting characters seem to rise from the pages. Talia, Alex’s girlfriend, is a delight, and Aunt Mackie is a strong, successful woman who loves her nephews unconditionally. Although I dreaded what was coming, you couldn’t have pried this book from my hands over the last thirty percent. It’s bittersweet, but also hopeful and so very timely and important. I can’t wait to see what this author 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 Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore #1) by Amanda Foody #bookreview #MG #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods.

The last thing Barclay Thorne ever wanted was an adventure.

Thankfully, as an apprentice to the town’s mushroom farmer, Barclay need only work hard and follow the rules to one day become the head mushroom farmer himself. No danger required. But then Barclay accidentally breaks his town’s most sacred rule: never ever EVER stray into the Woods, for within the Woods lurk vicious magical Beasts.

To Barclay’s horror, he faces a fate far worse than being eaten: he unwittingly bonds with a Beast and is run out of town by an angry mob. Determined to break this bond and return home, Barclay journeys to find the mysterious town of Lore Keepers, people who have also bonded with Beasts and share their powers.

But after making new friends, entering a dangerous apprenticeship exam, and even facing the legendary Beast of the Woods, Barclay must make a difficult choice: return to the home and rules he’s always known, or embrace the adventure awaiting him.

I don’t read many middle grade books, but I make an exception when it’s written by one of my favorite authors.

Barclay Thorne carries the weight of many worries. He was orphaned after a beast killed his parents and now has to work as an apprentice to a mushroom farmer for meals and shelter. He worries about making his deceased parents proud of him. Dullshire (his village) regularly posts new rules he has to remember (sneezing is prohibited in the town square). And then there are all the creatures in the Woods that could potentially eat him. He’s also very determined not to have anything to do with Lore (magic), which is outlawed in Dullshire. When he accidentally bonds with a Beast in the Woods and is barred from his village, his worries become nearly overpowering.

Worldbuilding is richly detailed and full of whimsical appeal. The author has constructed a magical world full of creatively named creatures, plants, etc. The classes of beasts and their powers is clever and easy to understand, and a guide listing all of them is included at the end. I especially enjoyed that the author’s cat inspired one of the creatures (Mitzi is adorable!).

This is an absolutely delightful first book in a series I plan to continue. Barclay is a very relatable MC, and the supporting characters (especially Viola) are fun and well-developed. With plenty of humor, unlikely friendships, a thrilling adventure, and some heartwarming moments, this book is about discovering what truly makes you happy and finding where you belong.

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

Wasteland (Operation Galton #2) by Terry Tyler #bookreview #dystopian #scifi

‘Those who escape ‘the system’ are left to survive outside society. The fortunate find places in off-grid communities; the others disappear into the wasteland.’

The year is 2061, and in the new UK megacities, the government watches every move you make. Speech is no longer free—an ‘offensive’ word reaching the wrong ear means a social demerit and a hefty fine. One too many demerits? Job loss and eviction, with free transport to your nearest community for the homeless: the Hope Villages.

Rae Farrer is a megacity girl through and through, proud of her educational and career achievements, until a shocking discovery about her birth forces her to question every aspect of life in UK Megacity 12.

On the other side of the supposedly safe megacity walls, a few wastelanders suspect that their freedom cannot last forever…

Wasteland is the stand-alone sequel to Hope, and is the second and final book in the Operation Galton series.

The first book in this series, Hope, captivated me, but also left me feeling unnerved because the concept isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility.  I was thrilled when I learned the author continued the story.

Wasteland is set over thirty years after the first book with an entirely new cast of characters for the most part.  I was excited to see what had become of a couple of my favorites from Hope.  This world is just plain scary.  The government is always watching and controls nearly every aspect of life for its citizens.  Have one drink too many, speak unkindly about someone, eat too many sweets, or do or say something outside the dictated parameters of your job, and you’re slapped with social demerits which can result in entire lifestyle changes.  And they’re not pleasant.  Forget thinking for yourself or making your own decisions – it’s all done for you.

A twist I absolutely didn’t see coming after the halfway point made me see things in a whole new light.  I even went back a few pages to see if what I thought happened actually did.  Love surprises like that!  I enjoyed meeting these new characters (especially Ace!), but after reading several books by this author, I’ve learned not to get too attached to some of them.  They don’t always get their happily ever after, and that’s also the case in this story.

The ending is tense and will give readers an adrenaline rush so be prepared.  Fans of dystopia and sci-fi will enjoy this thought-provoking and sometimes disturbing series.  Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but I’d recommend reading them in order.

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

Bones of a Saint by Grant Farley #bookreview #YA #ComingofAge #TuesdayBookBlog

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his dead-end hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks still rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone…until now.

When the Blackjacks come knocking, they want RJ to prey upon an old loner. But RJ is at his breaking point. It’s not just about the gang who rules the town. It’s about Charley, his younger brother, who is disabled. It’s about Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach. It’s about the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. If RJ is to resist, he must fight to free Arcangel of its past.

It’s the cover that first caught my attention, then the blurb sealed the deal with its 70s setting in Northern California.

RJ hasn’t had the easiest life. His father committed suicide when RJ was just a child, his single mother works long hours leaving him to care for his five younger sibllings, and his family isn’t exactly rolling in cash. RJ also has a knack for getting in trouble with his actions and smart mouth. In some aspects he’s wise beyond his years, but still a mischievous teenager. Despite his antics, he manages to maintain a pretty strong moral compass. He’s also a storyteller. His tales reminded me of Gordie’s in the movie Stand By Me, and the overall tone of this book is similar to that movie.

Although the Blackjacks play a prominent role, don’t go into this novel expecting lots of action and gang wars – it’s not that kind of book. It’s very much a teenager’s journey to facing the realities of life and learning there’s more than one path into the future. The writing is vivid and descriptive, but also humorous – teen boys are absolutely funny and weird at times. RJ’s friendship with Manny and relationship with his family are among my favorite parts of this story. I also enjoyed the references to 70s songs and fashion (bell bottom jeans!).

It’s not exactly what I’d expected, but Bones of a Saint is an engaging read. A couple of twists pop up, but this is a leisurely paced story that’s more about the journey than the destination.

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

Virtually Gone by Jacquie Biggar #bookreview #thriller #crimefiction

From USA Today Bestselling Author, Jacquie Biggar, comes a gripping techno-thriller, part of a multi-author series tied together by an interlocking cast of characters, all centered around the fantastic new promise of high technology and the endless possibilities for crime that technology offers, in a world where getting away with murder can be not only plausible, but easy…if you just know how.

Investigative reporter Julie Crenshaw stumbles upon the case of a lifetime–one that could cost her everything.

When Julie is called on to investigate a string of sexual abuse cases, she doesn’t expect to land in the crosshairs of a serial rapist. Soon she’s in a race to find the facts before a killer makes her the headline.

Detective Matthew Roy is frustrated with his inability to track a rapist terrorizing his city. Added to that, his partner’s reporter girlfriend is dogging his every step and won’t heed his warnings. Time is ticking with the perpetrator escalating his crime to murder. Matt needs to find the killer soon, or chance losing someone he cares for- the question is, how?

Virtually Gone is part of a multi-author series (this is number six of eight), but can easily be read as a standalone.

Although a quick read, the author provides just enough backstory to introduce the characters without bogging down the pace of the novel. I immediately cared about Julie, a widow who’s tentatively allowing herself to love again. There’s potential for conflict as she’s an ambitious journalist and her boyfriend is a detective – who’s also working the case she’s investigating. Detective Matthew Roy is frustrated a rapist is still running free, but not just from a professional standpoint. He also has a personal interest in the case.

The villain’s arrogance is maddening. He has a seriously skewed vision of himself as someone whose superior intelligence will prevent him from ever being caught. You just really want this guy to get what he deserves for all the despicable things he’s done. As a science geek, the DNA phenotyping used to help track him down fascinated me and was an element I especially enjoyed.

This is a tightly plotted, well-paced thriller that can easily be read in a couple hours and one I’d happily recommend to fans of the genre.

Namesake (Fable #2) by Adrienne Young #bookreview #YA #fantasy #pirates #TuesdayBookBlog

Trader. Fighter. Survivor.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception she learns that her mother was keeping secrets, and those secrets are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them then she must risk everything, including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found.

Filled with action, emotion, and lyrical writing, New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with Namesake, the final book in the captivating Fable duology. 

Fable, the first book in this duology, was one of my favorite reads last year, and I kept my fingers crossed that Namesake wouldn’t let me down. It didn’t.

Again, I have to mention both stunning covers in this series. The designer deserves a commendation. As with Fable, much of this book is also spent on the high seas, and I’m wondering why I haven’t read more books with that setting. I could just imagine the smell of the salt air and feel the wind in my face along with Fable. During the course of this story she’s proven herself a cunning, resourceful survivor several times over, but I have to admit she started to annoy me a bit in this book. The stakes are high, she learns a shocking secret about her family, and is forced into some difficult situations, but comes across as selfish at times and forgets about how her actions affect others. She’s not the only one with something to lose. I was happy to see a couple of characters call her on it and get her to see the bigger picture. West surprised me. He holds his cards close to the vest and has a dark side he’s not proud of, but he has some profound moments of honesty that don’t come easy for him. Made me like him even more. Saint also has some unanticipated but much needed moments.

I adore Fable’s found family of the crew of the Marigold and was happy to learn more about Paj’s and Auster’s backstory. I also like the way the author cleverly weaves it into the story and turns it into an important part of the plot. A character I didn’t expect to see again makes it back for a quasi-redemption story and turns out to be a nice addition to the crew.

The final scenes are nailbiters and tension-filled. Intricately layered plans are built upon the word of pirates – but can you really trust them? With several surprises that blindsided me, I was worried about how things would play out until the very end. When all was said and done, Namesake is a fitting end for these characters that I’m sad to say goodbye to.

High seas adventure, gem mages, pirates, secrets, backstabbing – this is a thrilling YA fantasy series and one of my favorites I’ve come across recently. I’m now a confirmed pirate fan.

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

Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora #bookreview #YA #dystopian #LGBTQ

Sixteen-year-old Nate is a GEM—Genetically Engineered Medi-tissue created by the scientists of Gathos City as a cure for the elite from the fatal lung rot ravaging the population. As a child, he was smuggled out of the laboratory where he was held captive and into the Withers—a quarantined, lawless region. Nate manages to survive by using his engineering skills to become a Tinker, fixing broken tech in exchange for food or a safe place to sleep. When he meets Reed, a kind and fiercely protective boy that makes his heart race, and his misfit gang of scavengers, Nate finds the family he’s always longed for—even if he can’t risk telling them what he is.

But Gathos created a genetic failsafe in their GEMs—a flaw that causes their health to rapidly deteriorate as they age unless they are regularly dosed with medication controlled by Gathos City. As Nate’s health declines, his hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy. Violence erupts across the Withers, his illegal supply of medicine is cut off, and a vicious attack on Reed threatens to expose his secret. With time running out, Nate is left with only two options: work for a shadowy terrorist organization that has the means to keep him alive, or stay — and die — with the boy he loves. 

This is a fabulous debut novel with so many elements to love. At the mention of Genetically Engineered Medi-Tissue, this science nerd’s heart sped up. I immediately wanted to know more about Nate and his world – and it’s not pretty. Every day is a struggle to survive – food and safe housing are scarce in the Withers, and Nate’s gang scavenges for everything they have. And his gang? Found family is one of my favorite tropes, and this band of scavengers grabs your heart early on and doesn’t let go. They’re also taking care of a Pixel, a young girl, and each of them would sacrifice their own life to keep her safe. Her relationship with Nate is one of my favorite aspects of this story.

Stakes are sky high with this group. Nate is dying a slow, painful death due to lack of Remedy, the drug that keeps GEMs alive. Alden, his supplier, is unable to obtain anymore. Their relationship is a complex one, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about Alden, but I think his heart is in the right place most of the time. Nate is withholding secrets that could end his freedom from his gang, but also make his friends’ lives easier. Violence is spreading throughout the Withers, and no one is safe. With seriously limited options, decisions are made that put all their lives in jeopardy. At one point, I thought there might be a sequel to this novel but was happy to discover it’s a standalone, and plot threads are resolved by the end. It wouldn’t have been a patient wait for the next book.

As a dystopian fan, I’ve read several novels in the genre. Something I missed in this book was more information about the conflict between Gathos City and the Withers. It’s touched on, but not really fleshed out. I initially thought it would be a primary source of conflict, but that’s not the case.

Fragile Remedy offers outstanding LGBTQ representation, a main character who’s an adorable cinnamon roll, a sweet, tentative first love relationship, and thought-provoking scientific elements. It’s also about sacrifices, making hard decisions, and fighting for your family no matter what.

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

Bridge of Souls (Cassidy Blake #3) by Victoria Schwab #bookreview #MG #supernatural #TuesdayBookBlog

Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows … unless it’s the other way around?

Cass thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while travelling for her parents’ TV show.

But nothing can prepare Cass for New Orleans, which wears all of its hauntings on its sleeve. In a city of ghost tours and tombs, raucous music and all kinds of magic, Cass could get lost in all the colourful, grisly local legends. And the city’s biggest surprise is a foe Cass never expected to face: a servant of Death itself.

Cass takes on her most dangerous challenge yet… 

I don’t usually read middle grade books, but when one of my favorite authors writes a MG series, you can be sure I’ll make an exception.

I listened to the first two books in this series, and it took only moments for Cassidy and her ghost best friend Jacob to charm me. Her parents are The Inspecters, a ghost-hunting team venturing to various haunted locations, but Cass’s mother is a believer and her father a skeptic. Being enchanted with the city of New Orleans, I was thrilled one of the most haunted cities in America is the setting for this novel. While touring the city with her parents and guide and experiencing music at Jackson Square, beignets at Cafe Du Monde, tarot card readings, and old cemeteries, it becomes apparent something has found Cass and is determined to take her beyond the veil permanently. Enter Lara, a new friend Cass and Jacob met in Paris in the previous book. She’s a Ravenclaw, an old soul, and a no nonsense type of girl who occasionally butts heads with Jacob. Soon the three of them are facing their greatest challenge, and the stakes have never been higher.

Schwab did a wonderful job at capturing the essence of NOLA and bringing it to life in the novel. I felt as if I revisited the city (sure wish I could have eaten a beignet while reading). If your MG (or young at heart) readers are interested in supernatural stories involving charismatic characters, a little bit of history, and a lazy black cat, this is a series I highly recommend.

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

Phoenix Flame (Havenfall #2) by Sara Holland #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Bestselling author Sara Holland continues her blockbuster contemporary fantasy series about the Inn at Havenfall with this unforgettable sequel.

Maddie thought her problems were over. She saved the Inn at Havenfall—a sanctuary between magical worlds—from the evil Silver Prince. Her uncle the Innkeeper is recovering from a mysterious spell that left him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks of summer left to spend with her more-than-friend Brekken.

But there’s more work to be done to protect the Inn—Maddie must put an end to the black-market trading of magical objects and open the Inn’s doors to the once feared land of shapeshifters.

As she tries to accomplish both seemingly impossible tasks, Maddie uncovers secrets that could change everything. What if saving everyone means destroying the only home she’s known?

This next breathtaking fantasy from the bestselling author of Everless is perfect for fans of Melissa Albert and Holly Black.

This duology has two of the most stunning covers I’ve come across in the past couple years. Both of them deserve extra scrutiny because they convey images you may not initially notice.

The premise of Havenfall is intriguing – a neutral territory that hosts annual summits for citizens of different magical worlds. It reminds me a little of The Continental Hotel from the John Wick movies. I looked forward to being back in that setting and continuing the adventure with these very likeable characters. After finishing the first book I had mixed feelings, but had an idea where the sequel might go and wanted to continue with it. When it headed in the direction I’d hoped – exploration of one of the other magical worlds – I was excited. For maybe fifteen minutes. Because that’s about the length of time spent there.

Phoenix Flame is a relatively short novel, coming in under three hundred pages, and that’s probably why the story feels so rushed. Without revealing spoilers, I’ll say a few relatively important plot points are glossed over and barely touched on. Surprising developments are dealt with and dismissed in a few paragraphs or pages. I was left with lots of questions, but had to shrug and move on. When I finished the book, I honestly thought there must be a third in the series because a major plot thread was left dangling in the wind. After checking on Goodreads, I learned that wasn’t the case.

This series held my interest and contains fascinating world-building and diverse characters I enjoyed spending time with, but left me with too many questions at the conclusion. If both books, or even the second book, had been longer or the series expanded to a third novel, I think it would have offered a more complete story.

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

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a vintner’s daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.

When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love.

With so many series on the market, trying to keep up with when the next book’s release while lamenting the length of time between the heart-stopping cliffhanger and the next novel, the thought of reading a standalone really appealed to me and was one of the reasons I requested this book.

I’m a reader that enjoys a fairly consistent pace. Description is necessary in a story to give a sense of place and imagery, but several pages of details will bog down my reading experience, and I tend to skip over them. That wasn’t the case with this novel. This author manages to give vivid descriptions and provide character depth with a minimal amount of words – it’s a real talent and a high priority if you’re writing a standalone fantasy novel.

Mara is a young woman ahead of her time who speaks her mind, possesses a strong moral compass, and doesn’t shy away from hard truths. She’s able to set aside her own wants and needs to see the big picture. If you’re trying to seize the throne, these qualities check off some important boxes. Alac is the second son of a king – the spare heir. He doesn’t feel loved or seen by his father, and his relationship with his brother, the heir to the throne, isn’t oozing brotherly love. Having other dreams for himself, Alac has no interest in taking the throne or getting caught up in the dark magic that comes along with it. When Mara and Alac meet up, it’s a bit of insta-love at first, but they’re not immediately caught up in the throes of passion – which is a relief. They enjoy a tentative friendship while harboring deeper feelings for each other, but then run into some serious roadblocks in their relationship. There’s some major conflict here.

As a wine lover, I enjoyed the mention of the vineyards and Mara’s and Alac’s interest in growing grapes and possibly forming a cooperative for smaller vineyards in the area. It also provided them common ground and something to bond over. It’s not a topic I’ve come across in other YA books.

Plenty of YA novels featuring the lost-king/queen-seeking-to-reclaim-the-throne trope are out there, and I was hoping this novel wouldn’t follow a familiar path – it didn’t. Instead, I met two level-headed, mature MCs who are thrown into life and death circumstances, but put the needs of others ahead of their own. I honestly didn’t know how they’d manage to get out of some of their situations, so expect some twists and surprises. Forgiveness in many forms is a prominent theme, as well as doing what truly makes you happy in life (and it’s not always sitting on a throne). The Stolen Kingdom is a novel I enjoyed and would recommend to fantasy fans looking for a standalone, well-paced story.

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