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.

#BlogTour You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith #YA #contemporary

YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAY by Eric Smith

On sale: November 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1335405685

Inkyard Press

Teen & Young Adult; Romance

$18.99 / $23.99 CAN

336 Pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

A sweetly charming love story that leaves the reader with a lasting sense of hope.” —Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything and The Sun Is Also a Star

“The perfect novel to snuggle up with.” —Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read

No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?


Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.

Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. Her boyfriend dumped her. Her friends seem to have changed overnight. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.

But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/You-Can-Your-Own-Way/dp/1335405682 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/you-can-go-your-own-way-eric-smith/1138256191 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/9781335405685?AID=10747236&PID=7651142&cjevent=c39c9d3b5dee11eb83ba01ab0a240614 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405685 

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/you-can-go-your-own-way/9781335405685 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/you-can-go-your-own-way/id1540270939 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Eric_Smith_You_Can_Go_Your_Own_Way?id=9soIEAAAQBAJ 

MY REVIEW

Contemporary fiction isn’t my first choice when it comes to genres, but if it’s written by this author, I don’t even need to read the description. I’ll grab it immediately.

Adam and Whitney are dealing with some heavy issues. Adam is still grieving the loss of his father, who passed away just before Adam started high school. He keeps him close by wearing his vintage concert t-shirts and REM jacket and working on a pinball machine designed by his father. He and his mother are struggling to keep their pinball arcade afloat, and Adam is determined to hang onto the business his dad started. Whitney is still adjusting to her parents’ divorce and spends hours every day handling social media for her father’s company. Although her heart lies with the plants at her mom’s shop, she believes working for her dad is the only way to spend time with him. Despite her efforts, he’s laser-focused on his business and unaware of what’s going on in her life. Adam and Whitney were childhood best friends, but grew apart the summer before high school when Adam lost his father and Whitney found new friends. Their dynamic now is combative at best, but their mothers push for them to patch up their relationship.

Smith’s characters generally fall into the nerd category, something that’s made me a confirmed fan. He mentions several bands I’ve seen in concert, and although many of them wouldn’t be recognized by teens this age, Adam’s dad introduced him to their music – as any cool parent would. In their small slice of Philadephia, I adored the strong community among the small businesses surrounding the pinball arcade and how they supported each other. Their comedic social media comments gave me plenty of laughs. I was delighted when two characters from Don’t Read the Comments (Smith’s previous book) made an appearance.

Because at the end of the day, it isn’t about the place. It’s about who you shared it with.

The above quote is something that stuck with me, and it’s perfectly suited for this story about dealing with loss, learning to heal, and rekindling relationships. If you’re a fan of well-developed characters, offbeat plots, heartfelt moments, and YA books without the typical high school drama, I can’t recommend this author enough.

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ERIC SMITH is an author and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey. When he isn’t working on other people’s books, sometimes he tries to write his own. He enjoys pop punk, video games, and crying during every movie. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Nena, and their son, Langston. WWW.ERICSMITHROCKS.COM

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.ericsmithrocks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ericsmithrocks

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/ericsmithrocks 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/55920774-you-can-go-your-own-way 

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood #bookreview #YA #horror #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire. 

It’s been quite a while since I read Jane Eyre, and I honestly don’t remember much about it. It was the mention of Andromeda being an exorcist that hooked my horror-loving heart and made me request this book.

I’m thrilled this story is set in Ethiopia and incorporates some of the traditional food and dress. It’s nice to find a YA book not set in the US or UK. Gothic overtones are apparent the minute Andi crosses the theshold of Magnus’s home, and she’s informed of the house rules almost immediately. The most important is to be in your locked bedroom by 10pm (that’s when the Waking begins) if you want to live to see the next day. Over the past three years, nearly a dozen debteras have tried and failed to cleanse the household, and it seems like Andi is the last hope. Homeless before this position, she’s determined to succeed and also gain Magnus’s patronage when the job is completed.

Andi is a no nonsense kind of gal who’s learned to survive the hardships of life. Sold by her parents at the age of five, she was taken in by a well-known debtera who probably had no business raising a child. But he taught her some valuable lessons. I didn’t know what to think of Magnus at first. He comes across as gruff, spoiled, and a tad clueless, but once the secrets of the house are revealed, his moods make sense. He’s also a scene stealer with some lines that are laugh out loud funny. It’s not hard to predict a romance between these two is on the horizon, but Andi’s mood swings from one sentence to the next during their conversations nearly gave me whiplash. Since I’m not much of a romance reader, that could just be me.

The magic system isn’t something I’ve come across before. Debtera create amulets from silver and other materials, each being unique to the manifestation. Amulets can both protect the exorcist and also drive away the Evil Eye and everything connected to it. The ghost in the library who throws books at intruders is my favorite – she probably just wanted to read undisturbed. I get it.

With no major twists or surprises, the ending is predictable, but that didn’t hinder me from enjoying this story. It’s an impressive debut novel, and I’ll absolutely keep tabs on this author and look for her future releases.

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

#BlogTour The Keeper of the Night by Kylie Lee Baker #bookreview #YA #fantasy #darkfantasy

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

With the mention of a Reaper who collects souls and the Japanese underworld, my interest was immediately piqued. I had no idea what I was in for with this book – I totally underestimated it.

As a half British Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami, Ren has never been accepted by her British peers, who bully her on a regular basis. Her own father and stepmother offer the basics of food and shelter – love and concern don’t figure into the equation. Neven, her half brother and also a Reaper, is the only person who cares for her. Your heart immediately goes out to Ren. After losing control of her abilities, she and Neven quickly depart to Japan, where Ren has two goals: one, serve the Goddess of Death as a Shinigami and finally gain acceptance, and two, find her mother.

I’ve always been a fan of morally gray characters, so it was a wicked kind of delight to see Ren gradually cross the boundaries of what she’d previously considered acceptable. The author puts her into situations requiring impossible choices. The relationship between Ren and Neven is an interesting one. Reapers aren’t supposed to be capable of feeling love, but these two are loyal to each other. Neven even chooses to abandon his parents and country to go with Ren so she won’t be alone. Early on it’s clear Ren is thicker-skinned and actually enjoys her job, whereas Neven takes in stray cats and dreads reaping souls. Character development is a strong point.

The Japanese underworld isn’t a place you’d want to vacation. It’s dark (literally) and full of dangerous creatures, so Ren and Neven are fortunate to come across Hiro. He assists in navigating the underworld, and then travels with them to help complete the tasks assigned by the Goddess of Death. Hiro is persona non grata with the goddess and hopes his assistance will get him back into her good graces. I’m not a fan of insta-love, but the spark between Ren and Hiro ignites almost immediately. Then their relationship goes to places I never saw coming and becomes a key plot point.

If you’re a fan of dark fantasy, morally gray characters, and Japanese folklore, jump on this one. After that jaw-dropping cliffhanger, I’ll be one of the first in line for the sequel.

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

About the Author

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her writing is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, and Irish), as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Spanish from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she watches horror movies, plays the cello, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Excerpt – Chapter Two

At the far edge of London, somewhere between nightmares and formless dreams, the Reapers slept by daylight.

The only way to enter our home was through the catacombs of the Highgate Cemetery, through a door that no longer existed. It had been built there long ago, when the Britons first came to our land and Ankou carved a hole in their world so that Death could enter. But humans had sealed it shut with layers of wood, then stone, then brick and mortar, all in the hopes of keeping Death out.

By the nineteenth century, humans had mostly forgotten about the Door and what it meant. Then, when the London churchyards began to overflow with bones, the humans had searched for a place just outside of London to bury their dead. By chance or fate, they’d built their new cemetery right on top of the Door. It turned out that Death drew all of us close, even if we weren’t aware of it.

No streetlights lit the path through Highgate at night, but I didn’t need them to find my way home. Before I’d even passed through the main gate, Death pulled me closer. All Reapers were drawn to him, our bones magnetized to the place of our forefather. As soon as I entered the cemetery, a humming began just under my skin, like a train’s engine beginning to whir. My blood flushed faster through my veins as I brushed aside the branches of winter-barren lime trees and low-hanging elms. My boots crunched shattering steps into the frosted pathways as I ran.

I stumbled through jagged rows of ice-cracked tombstones on uneven ground and through a village of mausoleums, finally reaching the gothic arched doorway of the catacomb entrance. The pull had grown unbearable, dragging me along in a dizzy trance as I descended the stairs into the cool quietness of damp bricks and darkness. The labyrinth would have been unnavigable if not for the fervent pull.

At last, my hands came out to touch the wall where the Door used to be, but now there were only damp bricks and an inscription on the arch overhead that read When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty in rigid script. I dug one hand into my pocket and clutched my clock, pressed my other hand to the bricks, then closed my eyes and turned time all the way back to the beginning.

Time flowed through the silver-and-gold gears, up into my bloodstream and through my fingertips, dispersing into the brick wall. Centuries crumbled away, the mortar growing wet and bricks falling loose. One by one, they leaped out of their positions in the wall and aligned themselves in dry stacks on the ground, waiting once again for construction. Objects were easy to manipulate with time, for I could draw from their own intrinsic energy rather than siphoning off my own. Rather than paying in years of my own life, I could borrow years before the bricks crumbled and quickly repay the debt when I put them back.

I stepped through the doorway and the pull released me all at once. I breathed in a deep gasp of the wet night air, then turned around and sealed the door behind me. The bricks jumped back to their positions in the wall, caked together by layers of mortar that dried instantly, the time debt repaid.

The catacombs beyond the threshold spanned infinitely forward, appropriated as resting places for Reapers rather than corpses. Mounted lanterns cast a faint light onto the dirt floors and gray bricks. It was almost Last Toll, so only the last Reapers returning from the night shift still milled around, their silver capes catching the dim light of the tunnels, but most had retreated to their private quarters for the morning.

I turned right and hurried down the block. The low ceilings gave way to high-arched doorways and finally opened up to a hall of echoing marble floors and rows of dark wood desks. Luckily, there was no line for Collections this close to Last Toll.

I hurried to the first Collector and all but slammed my vials into the tray, jolting him awake in his seat. He was a younger Reaper and seemed perplexed at having been awoken so unceremoniously. When his gaze landed on me, he frowned and sat up straight.

“Ren Scarborough,” I said, pushing the tray closer to him.

“I know who you are,” he said, picking up my first vial and uncapping it with deliberate slowness. Of course, everyone knew who I was.

He took a wholly unnecessary sniff of the vial before holding it up to the light to examine the color, checking its authenticity. The Collectors recorded every night’s soul intake before sending the vials off to Processing, where they finally released the souls into Beyond. He picked up a pen from his glass jar of roughly thirty identical pens, tapped it against the desk a few times, then withdrew a leather-bound ledger from a drawer. He dropped it in front of him, opened the creaky cover, and began flipping through the pages, one by one, until he reached a fresh one.

I resisted the urge to slam my face against the desk in impatience.

I really didn’t have time to waste, but Collections was a necessary step. I didn’t consider myself benevolent in times of crisis, but even I was above leaving souls to expire in glass tubes instead of releasing them to their final resting place, wherever that was. And besides, a blank space next to my name in the Collections ledger meant a Collector would pay a visit to my private quarters to reprimand me. The last thing I needed was someone realizing that I’d left before Ivy could even report me.

But when the Collector uncorked my fourth vial and held it up to the lamp, swirling it in the light for ten excruciating seconds, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.

The bells of Last Toll reverberated through the bricks all around us, humming through the marble floors. In this hazy hour between night and day, the church grims came out in search of Reaper bones to gnaw on. Night collections had to be turned in by then, while day collections had to be processed by the First Toll at dusk.

The Collector sighed as he picked up my fifth vial. “I’m afraid I’ll have to mark your collections as late.”

My jaw clenched. “Why.”

“It’s past Last Toll, of course,” he said.

My fingers twitched. The lamp on the Collector’s desk flickered with my impatience, but I took a steadying breath.

“I was here before Last Toll,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.

“According to my ledger, your collections still have not been processed,” he said, spinning my fifth vial in his left hand.

I sighed and closed my eyes. Of course, I knew what he was doing. Chastising a “latecomer” would earn praise from higher management. It was the easiest way for him to climb the ranks—to exert his power over the half-breed. He would be praised for his steadfastness and gain a reputation as a strict and immovable Collector, while I could do nothing to complain. I could explode his lamp and send glass shards into his eyes, but that wouldn’t make him process my vials any faster. The fastest way to get out of there was subservience.

“Forgive me, Reaper,” I said, bowing my head and dropping my shoulders. I let my voice sound timid and afraid. “I apologize for being late.”

The Collector blinked at me for a moment, as if surprised that I’d given in so quickly. But he looked young and power-hungry and not particularly perceptive, so I wasn’t too afraid that he’d see through my tactic. As expected, he sneered as if I truly had offended him, finally beginning to process the fifth vial.

“It’s a great inconvenience to both Collections and Processing,” he said, “though I wouldn’t expect a half-breed to understand the workings of the educated Reapers.”

The only believable response to his goading was humiliated silence, so I hung my head even further and tried to make myself as small and pathetic as possible. It wasn’t hard, because the memory of the night’s events was still wringing my heart out like a wet rag and my skin prickled with nerves so fiercely that I wanted to claw it all off and escape before Ivy could find me, yet here I was, brought to my knees before a glorified teller. I imagined being a High Reaper, being able to reach over and smash his face into his blotter and shatter his owlish glasses into his eyes for delaying and insulting me.

His lamp flickered more violently and he paused to smack it before finally finishing with my last vial. He placed all seven in a tray and pressed a button that started the conveyor belt, sending the souls down to Processing. The moment he put a black check next to my name in the ledger, I stood up straight and turned to leave.

His hand twisted into my sleeve, yanking me back.

I shot him a look that could have melted glass, but he only pulled me closer.

“There’s the matter of your sanction,” he said.

“My sanction,” I said, glancing around the office to see how many people would notice if I simply twisted the Collector’s neck. Too many.

“For your tardiness, of course,” he said, smirking sourly. From his position stretched across the desk, the lamplight caught in his glasses and turned them into two beaming white moons.

The standard punishment for failing to make curfew was a night on the pillory, hands and feet nailed to the wood and head locked in a hole that was just slightly too tight, letting you breathe but not speak. The other Reapers could pull your hair or pour mead over your head or call you a thousand names when you couldn’t talk back. But the worst part wasn’t the nails or the insults. It was the Reapers who did nothing but look at you and sneer like you were nothing but an ugly piece of wall art, like they were so perfect that they couldn’t fathom being in your place. And far worse than that was my own father and stepmother walking past me and pretending not to see.

“Come back at First Toll,” the Collector said. “We’ll find a nice place to hang you up by the Door.”

It took every ounce of restraint I had left to keep my expression calm. This was the part where I was supposed to say, Yes, Reaper, and bow, but he was lucky that I hadn’t smashed his glasses into his face with my fist.

As if he could smell my defiance, he pulled me closer. His glasses fell out of the lamplight, revealing a deep frown.

“Scrub that look from your face,” he said. “Remember that I’ll handle your collections in the future.”

The future, I thought.

Luckily, I didn’t have a future.

The light bulb flashed with a sudden surge of power, then burst. Glass shards rained down over the desk, forcing the man to release me as hot glass scored his hands. Some of his paperwork caught fire, and he frantically patted out the flames with hands full of shards.

“Yes, Reaper,” I said, bowing deeply so he wouldn’t see my smirk as he sputtered about “bloody light bulbs, I knew we should have kept the gas lamps.”

Then I turned and rushed off to the West Catacombs.

Excerpted from The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker, Copyright © 2021 by Kylie Lee Baker. Published by Inkyard Press.