Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy #magic #TuesdayBookBlog

Caraval meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this deliciously dark young adult fantasy about a girl who makes a deal with a magical secret society to enter a potentially deadly competition for the chance to avenge her mother’s death.

Ever since a vampire murdered her mother, Ava has been determined to get revenge. This all-encompassing drive has given her the fuel she needed to survive foster home after foster home.

But it’s been ten years since anyone’s seen a vampire, and Ava has lost hope that she’ll ever find one…until she stumbles across a hidden magic show where she witnesses impossible illusions. The magicians may not be the bloodsuckers she’s hunting, but Ava is convinced something supernatural is at play, so she sneaks backstage and catches them in acts they can’t explain.

But they’ve been waiting for her.

The magicians reveal they’re part of an ancient secret society with true magic, and Ava has the same power in her blood that they do. If she joins them, they promise to teach her the skills she needs to hunt vampires and avenge her mother. But there’s a catch: if she wants to keep the power they offer, she needs to prove she’s worthy of it. And to do so, she must put on the performance of her life in a sinister and dangerous competition where illusion and reality blur, and the stakes are deadly.

Vampires and magicians. Why did it take this long for someone to write a book featuring both of them?

My heart immediately went out to Ava. She and her brother are orphaned after losing their father to a mugging and their mother to a vampire attack. They’ve been shuffled around in the foster system since then, but seem to have finally found a stable home where her brother is very happy. But that doesn’t convince Ava to let down her guard or allow herself to feel anything for her foster family. She’s learned not to care for anyone other than herself and her brother.

Both of her parents were magicians when they were alive, and Ava feels like it’s in her blood – she has a talent for minor illusions. After watching a magic show that seems to be more than just an illusion, she learns the troupe is part of a secret society possessing true magic – the magic that also courses through her veins. When they invite her to join them as an apprentice, Ava believes she might have found a family where she belongs. In addition, they’ll also teach her the skills she needs to kill vampires so she can avenge her mother’s death. But she’s also required to compete in a highly dangerous competition.

This magic system isn’t something I’ve come across. Magicians consider all vampires to be evil, and some of them are vamp hunters. Killing them increases a magician’s power. But are all vampires bad? Beliefs Ava’s held since her mother’s death are challenged. She also has to up her game because the apprentice competition doesn’t require pulling rabbits out of hats or endless scarves out of sleeves. It’s dark, brutal, and bloody, and the imagery is fantastic. I could easily picture the scenes playing out.

I’m generally not a fan of love triangles, but this is one I didn’t mind so much. Ava’s flip-flopping annoyed me a little, but it didn’t last long – she had a lot more on her mind. Her relationship with her brother is done well, and one of my favorite things about the novel along with the ending.

This dark fantasy is filled with betrayal, secrets, and blood, but it also features strong themes of found family and allowing yourself to accept love. It’s a hefty standalone novel at a little over five hundred pages, but you have to allow for the world-building. I sure wouldn’t mind seeing what happens to these characters in the future.

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

The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1) by Susan Dennard #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

I tried this author’s Witchland series, but it just wasn’t for me. But this book? I couldn’t wait for its release. Everything about its description called my name.

Although set in the modern world, Hemlock Falls is kind of its own world. They’re a pretty closed society, and outsiders have to be vetted before their admittance. Why? Because the town is protected by Luminaries (hunters) from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest every night. You’ve got your garden variety creatures (basilisks, werewolves, kelpies) plus others the author created. It’s a highly dangerous job, and not everyone makes it to retirement. Winnie comes from a long line of hunters and has wanted to continue the tradition as long as she can remember. After it’s discovered her father is a traitor, Winnie, her mother, and brother are shunned and lose their standing in the community for ten years. Winnie thinks her dream is lost until she finds a loophole that allows her to still compete in the Luminary hunter trials. All she wants is acceptance for her family and for things to be the way they were.

Winnie is such an easy character to root for. She’s plucky, brave, and family is her top priority. She’s determined to show everyone they aren’t responsible for her father’s mistakes. Luckily, she has the support of a few friends who stuck by her over the past few years, unlike Jay, her former best friend and now one of the society’s best hunters. Jay piqued my curiosity. There’s something going on there, and he’s definitely holding onto secrets. I’m anxious to learn more about him in the next book.

Besides Jay’s secrets, something’s also afoot in the forest – something that has even the regular monsters running. Winnie saw it (she’s still not sure exactly what it is), but no one believes her, and town leaders reassure the citizens that everything’s under control. It’s not.

I loved the author’s note about the origin of this story – it began as a choose your own adventure Twitter serial. How cool is that? Dark fantasy is one of my preferred genres, and my head was buried in this book from beginning to end. I was annoyed when I had to put it down. I’m anxious to learn the secrets this forest and a certain character are hiding, so the second book can’t get here soon enough.

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

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #witches

THE SUBURBS, RIGHT NOW . . .

Seventeen-year-old Ivy’s summer break kicks off with an accident, a punishment, and a mystery: a stranger whose appearance in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, heralds a string of increasingly unsettling events. As the days pass, Ivy grapples with eerie offerings, corroded memories, and a secret she’s always known—that there’s more to her mother than meets the eye.

THE CITY, BACK THEN . . .

Dana has always been perceptive. And the summer she turns sixteen, with the help of her best friend and an ambitious older girl, her gifts bloom into a heady fling with the supernatural, set in a city of magical possibilities and secret mystics. As the trio’s aspirations darken, they find themselves speeding toward a violent breaking point.

Years after it began, Ivy and Dana’s shared story will come down to a reckoning among a daughter, a mother, and the dark forces they never should’ve messed with. 

This story sounded deliciously dark, and the description of “a heady fling with the supernatural” made it irresistible.

The story is told in dual timeline POVs by Ivy in present day and her mother, Dana, about twenty years earlier. Weird things are happening in Ivy’s life. She and her boyfriend (soon to be ex) nearly run over a strange girl in the middle of the road. Then she finds a dead rabbit in her driveway the next day. Some of her memories don’t seem to align with those of other people around her. Even worse, it looks like her mother may be involved.

Already possessing magical talent, a teenage Dana and a couple friends begin experimenting with dark magic – which never comes without consequences. She never dreamed her actions would have an effect on her daughter years later.

At the heart of this dark story is a mother-daughter relationship and all the highs, lows, and complications that come with it. Do parents always know what’s best for their children? Maybe, maybe not. Will a parent’s actions taint the way their child sees them? It’s very possible.

I listened to the audiobook from NetGalley, and the different narrators did an admirable job. I always knew whose POV and time we were in. This is a slow-burn tale with a gradual reveal involving blood magic, and there are animal sacrifices (rabbits) that may disturb some readers. I even fast forwarded through a couple parts. Keeping that in mind, if you’re a fan of dark paranormal stories, this is one that would also appeal to adults.

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

The City of Dusk (The Dark Gods #1) by Tara Sim #bookreview #darkfantasy #LGBTQIA #TuesdayBookBlog

Set in a gorgeous world of bone and shadow magic, of vengeful gods and defiant chosen ones, The City of Dusk is the first in a dark epic fantasy trilogy that follows the four heirs of four noble houses—each gifted with a divine power—as they form a tenuous alliance to keep their kingdom from descending into a realm-shattering war.

The Four Realms—Life, Death, Light, and Darkness—all converge on the city of dusk. For each realm there is a god, and for each god there is an heir.

But the gods have withdrawn their favor from the once vibrant and thriving city. And without it, all the realms are dying.

Unwilling to stand by and watch the destruction, the four heirs—Risha, a necromancer struggling to keep the peace; Angelica, an elementalist with her eyes set on the throne; Taesia, a shadow-wielding rogue with rebellion in her heart; and Nik, a soldier who struggles to see the light— will sacrifice everything to save the city.

But their defiance will cost them dearly.

After reading another novel by this author that hooked me from page one, I was thrilled to see this first book in her dark epic fantasy trilogy on NetGalley.

Four realms, each with a god, each with an heir possessing a divine power – and one king without an heir. The world-building is immersive, complex, and well-explained. The cultures, magic system, politics, dynamics between realms – I was never confused. What I missed was a map, which would have been very helpful, but I had an ARC, although it looks like a map will be included in the final copy.

The story is told from several different POVs, but primarily the four heirs who are all well-crafted and distinctive. Taesha is morally gray (my favorite kind of character) and rebellious, but cares deeply for people. Risha is analytical, family-oriented, and agrees to meet a potential husband for an arranged marriage. Nikolas is kind, still grieving the death of his brother, and constantly trying to prove his worth to his father. Angelica is ambitious and powerful, but lacks control. The relationships between these characters is complicated. Sometimes they’re friends or occasionally more, but they’ve been raised to compete against each other, their parents believing one of them will be chosen as a successor to the crown since the king is without an heir.

At over five hundred pages, this is a hefty read, but that’s something to be expected in the fantasy genre, especially the first in a series. There’s plenty of action with vivid fight scenes, but also lots of downtime, and I felt the pacing was a little inconsistent.

Make no mistake – this is a very dark fantasy, and scenes can be graphic and gory. Some characters want what’s best for their people. Others desire power. But that’s part of the reason it’s such a compelling read, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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

What We Harvest by Ann Fraistat #bookreview #YA #suspense #darkfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

For fans of Wilder Girls comes a nightmarish debut guaranteed to keep you up through the night, about an idyllic small town poisoned by its past, and one girl who must fight the strange disease that’s slowly claiming everyone she loves.

Wren owes everything she has to her home, Hollow’s End, a centuries-old, picture perfect American town. Tourists travel miles to marvel at its miracle crops, including the shimmering, iridescent wheat of Wren’s family farm. Until five months ago.

That’s when the quicksilver mercury blight first surfaced, poisoning the farms of Hollow’s End one by one. It began by consuming the crops–thick, silver sludge bleeding from the earth. Next were the animals. Infected livestock and wild creatures alike staggered off into the woods by day—only to return at night, their eyes, fogged white, leering from the trees.

Then, the blight came for the neighbors.

Wren is among the last locals standing. And the blight has finally come for her, too. Now, the only one she can turn to is the last person she wants to call: her ex, Derek. They haven’t spoken in months, but Wren and Derek still have one thing in common—Hollow’s End means everything to them. Only there’s much they don’t know about their hometown and its renowned miracle crops. And they’re about to discover that miracles aren’t free.

Their ancestors have an awful lot to pay for, and Wren and Derek are the only ones left to settle old debts. 

I’ll start this review by saying this is an incredible debut, and I’ll follow this author anywhere she wants to take me in her next book.

Hollow’s End is a small town that draws hoards of tourists for its wildly successful, centuries-old farms. Without these farms, the town would die. And that’s exactly what happens when a quicksilver mercury blight poisons the crops, then the livestock, and moves on to the townsfolk. If you’re thinking zombies, you’re not exactly wrong. The animals and people crave flesh, but disappear into the forest at night – which is lucky for the noninfected folks. Wren and Derek are members of two of the four founding families and are frantically trying to save their loved ones, farms, and town. Time is of the essence since Wren is now infected and showing symptoms.

I loved the pacing of this story. There’s no slow unfolding of details – the reader is immediately thrown into the action and feels Wren’s desperation. I initially didn’t like her much. She makes some selfish demands of others and plenty of mistakes, but to her credit she owns it later on. The buildup oozes tension. She and Derek start to make headway in finding a solution only to be slapped down by one obstacle after another. Death is only inches away in several scenes. Stakes are tremendous, and they discover dark secrets abound in these founding families.

What We Harvest is a fantastic blend of horror, thriller, and dark fantasy with a little alchemy to give it some added flavor. I devoured (in a non-zombie-like way) this book in less than twenty-four hours. This is an author to watch, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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.

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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. 

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig #bookreview #YA #darkfantasy #thriller #TuesdayBookBlog

Ellerie Downing lives in the quiet town of Amity Falls in the Blackspire Mountain range–five narrow peaks stretching into the sky like a grasping hand, bordered by a nearly impenetrable forest from which the early townsfolk fought off the devils in the woods. To this day, visitors are few and rare. But when a supply party goes missing, some worry that the monsters that once stalked the region have returned.

As fall turns to winter, more strange activities plague the town. They point to a tribe of devilish and mystical creatures who promise to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand and impossible, for just a small favor. But their true intentions are much more sinister, and Ellerie finds herself in a race against time before all of Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves go up in flames.

This is the second book I’ve read by this author, and I’ll be waiting in line for her third no matter what it is.

Don’t be deceived by the calming, flower-filled cover. Inside is a chilling, dark fantasy that will make you hesitate before entering the woods ever again. I count the movie The Village directed by M. Night Shyamalan as one of my favorites, and this book shares many similarities with it – a small, tightly knit community, strange activities in the town, deadly creatures in the forest, and a MC who’s determined she and her family will survive. There are also shades of Stephen King’s Needful Things with some of the townfolks’ deepest desires being fulfilled.

The first few chapters introduce readers to a simpler kind of life and allow them to become acquainted with the isolated town, its residents, and their daily activities. Ellerie’s idyllic life of learning beekeeping from her father, cooking with her mother, and playing with her little sister begins sliding away a piece at a time after a supply party goes missing. Visitors, a rare event, show up in town, and one is especially intriguing to her. Whitaker’s motivations were a mystery to me throughout the story, and I wasn’t sure if I should trust him. Soon the town is plagued with deformed animals, strange bouts of weather, and a lack of food before neighbors turn against each other in vengeance and hatred. I’m talking a serious spiraling of events, folks. Some of these scenes aren’t for the faint of heart.

This slow burn dark fantasy pulls you in a page at a time, and before long you’ll notice the book is super glued to your hands. It felt like 350 pages instead of nearly 500 to me. Fans of The Village, Needful Things, and dark fantasy will spend several engrossing hours reading Small Favors and shutting out the world around them. Just be careful when you go into the woods.

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

Guns of Perdition (Armageddon Showdown #1) by Jessica Bakkers #bookreview #darkfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

IT TAKES GRACE TO HUNT WHEN IT’S DARKSOME

Jessie expects he’ll be forever cleaning up after the cowpokes of the Bad Hoss Saloon. That’s until the day a drifter strides through the doors, and blows away a blood-sucking demon, along with Jessie’s belief in an everyday world. Jessie is captivated by the enigmatic Grace, with her pearl-handled revolvers, and wolf companion. He throws in his normal life and follows her across the Wild West, as she hunts down and slays the evil creatures that roam the frontier.

Along the way, they seek the aid of a Native American warrior, cross paths with a Cajun Queen, and encounter a small-town tycoon with a deadly hunger for gold. Animosity and distrust plague Grace and Jessie, and their strange group of allies, but they must put their differences behind them if they’re to have any hope of finding and defeating the frontier’s true evil, the Darksome Gunman.

The Armageddon Showdown is a dark-fantasy, weird western series of epic proportions, focusing on the age-old battle between good and evil, though in the Wild West, it’s not always clear just who is good and who is evil.

Join Grace Dyer and her band of miscreants as they battle demons and demi-gods, in the frontier’s deadliest conflict…the Armageddon Showdown. 

I haven’t read many westerns – to my knowledge this book makes a sum total of two. It’s not one of my favorite genres, but toss in Armageddon, dark fantasy, and a battle between good and evil and I’ll snatch it right up regardless of the genre.

The genre blend of western, dark fantasy, and horror is done so well and will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Some parts are a bit graphic, so heed the warning if that’s something you prefer to steer clear of (or just skim over those parts). It’s clear the author did her research for this time period, and I really enjoyed the western vernacular.

Morally gray characters are my favorite and these characters? Shades of gray dripping on nearly every page. Jessie had no idea what he was getting into the day Grace walked into the saloon where he worked or how much his life would change after leaving town with her. His character arc from young and naive to weathered and jaded is fascinating, but also kind of heartbreaking at his loss of innocence. It’s one of the things I enjoyed most. And Grace? She’s badass, hardened, lethal and ruthless, but I loved how the author also allowed her softer side and undying loyalty to her friends to shine through.

Vile creatures, unsavory characters, shocking twists, somber moments – my emotions were all over the place. Alexa read this to me from my Kindle and I had to rewind her more than once because I let some curses slip out over suprising plot developments. The author absolutely didn’t pull her punches from the first page to the last.

Readers of westerns, horror, and dark fantasy will be delighted with this gruesome, gritty tale and after this book, I’ll have to retract my statement about not being a western fan. It’s a powerful debut, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

#BadMoonRising The Tower in the Mist by Deby Fredericks #darkfantasy #thriller

Happy Saturday! Hope you’re having a relaxing weekend. Grab a cup of coffee if that’s your beverage of choice (it’s a stiff cup of hot chocolate for me), sit back and enjoy the interview with today’s author. She’s a repeat visitor to Bad Moon Rising and may surprise you with her answer to the movie that kept her up at night. Welcome Deby Fredericks!

Has a movie or book scared you so much that you couldn‛t sleep? Which one?

The Chuck Norris movie, Silent Rage. A mentally unstable man is experimented on and effectively can‛t be killed, but he‛s an insane killer now. Good job, mad scientist! That one kept me up at night.

If you were in a horror movie, would you rather have a loaded gun or a car that wouldn‛t break down?

My priority would be to get out of that whole situation, so I‛d take the car. Assuming I could get there…

Would you rather put your hand in a box and feel something slimy or furry?

Furry. Even if it bit me right away. No slime for me, thanks! 

Do you write to music?

Yes, I have a couple of Pandora playlists. One has exciting music from movies and games to keep me in the mood. The other has quiet piano tunes for when I‛m feeling stressed about my progress.

Which comes first for you — plot or character?

For me, I have to know what the story is ‟about‟ in order to get started. I often come up with the character and the situation simultaneously. ‟This kind of character has this kind of problem.‟ Then I start to explore the world they‛re in and last I begin to build the plot. I‛ll typically have a short string of two or three plot events planned before I begin writing.

What are you working on now?

I‛ve published three novellas in my dark fantasy series, Minstrels of Skaythe. The next step is to collect those in one paperback, which I hope to have ready by this Christmas.

Zathi’s job is to capture renegade mages, but Keilos isn’t like any other mage she’s dealt with. Her drive to bring him in only leads them deeper into a cursed forest. Together, warrior and mage will face deadly beasts and grapple with decisions that compromise every principle. Until they stumble upon a place of ancient, forgotten magic. Zathi must choose — allow Keilos to claim it, or kill him once and for all.

Purchase:

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QL476BJ

Draft2Digital: https://books2read.com/u/3nK1Mo

Author Bio

Deby Fredericks has been a writer all her life, but thought of it as just a fun hobby until the late 1990s. She made her first sale, a children’s poem, in 2000. 

Fredericks has six fantasy novels out through two small presses. More recently, she self-publishes her fantasy novellas and novelettes, bringing her to 15 books in all. Her latest is The The Ice Witch of Fang Marsh. Her short work has been published in Andromeda Spaceways and selected anthologies.

Social Links

website:  http://www.debyfredericks.com

blog:  http://wyrmflight.wordpress.com twitter: http://www.twitter.com/debyfredericks

#BadMoonRising: One If (Virago Fantasy #1) by Carol B. Allen #darkfantasy #indieauthor

Today’s author is also making her first appearance at Bad Moon Rising.  I had the pleasure of reading her dark fantasy a couple months ago, and her science nerd main character stole my heart.  If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to skip the first question below – I struggled to breathe.  Welcome Carol B. Allen!

Would you rather sleep in a coffin for one night or spend the night in a haunted house?

Here’s what happens to me when buried in a shallow grave. Barely breathing, I attempt to move my legs and arms a mere few inches. My fingers tap the top of the make-shift coffin in a Morse code sequence. Will anyone hear? A flimsy breathing tube emits a trickle of light and air. But how long can I count on the dim glow of day before ink fills the sky? I’ve been left alive and promised release in the morning. Spindly, hairy spider legs crawl up my bare legs and arms. They don’t bite, but the sensation is unbearable.  Anxiety will kill me before anything else. Need I say I unequivocally choose the haunted house. I won’t be questioning that my feet will take me where I need to go when day breaks.

If you could time travel, where would you go and what year would it be?

I am heading to 19th century Paris. I am on a mission as I wander the boulevards blending with idle strollers. Paris is alive with the laughter of people of all ages and colors. In a trance-like state, I observe cultures blend and lines blur. Yet as a female writer, I am well aware barriers exist for me. Somehow, I arrive at the ornate Parisian home of George Sand. I need to know why was she compelled to write with a male pseudonym? My question is absurd—even females in the 21st century pound their chests to let their voices be heard. How much have things changed? I am invisible to George. I observe her write and silently whisper in her ear, “Why is it that when we choose to live by our pens, we provoke outright rejection?” Her face brightens. Her thoughts drift. She notes to her secretary, Emile Aucante, and encourages him to open a literary agency that will serve as an intermediary between writers and publishers. Have I inspired her mission?

If you were in a horror movie, would you rather have a loaded gun or a car that wouldn’t break down?

If you insist I choose, I’ll opt for the car that refuses to break down. My horror movie features ghosts, aliens, and random evil spirits. The ghosts dance on the hood of my car. Skeleton faces smirk and taunt me—their bony feet patter on my roof. The aliens use their telepathic mind to control me. I may cock the gun, and release bullets—but they don’t stop those who pursue me. The choice is clear. For me, freedom comes with the ability to keep moving. Stay alive. A car that won’t break down leads to the path of safety. I hope.

What was the hardest scene to write in your featured book?

My lead character, Parker, an introverted science nerd, has been abducted to save a dying planet from climate change. At a pivotal point in my book, she must overcome her innate shyness and build consensus with the other teens who have also been selected to foster a healthy ecosystem. As Parker’s emotions and values are revealed to the reader, only one choice remains for her.  I’ll admit I had a difficult time making that choice for Parker. And I can’t tell you what she decides, you have to read One If to find out.

What are you working on now?

Readers of One If will be relieved to learn I am wrapping up my sequel. One If closed with a thrilling cliffhanger. Readers email me daily desperate to know what happens. The good news is —by the time, Bad Moon Rising publishes this blog, my sequel, Two If will be near release.  I will be offering readers of Bad Moon Rising a special offer on the duology —two books for the price of one.

Which comes first for you—plot or characters?

For me, the story comes first—the foundation of why we write. I believe all good books have a story to tell that people want to hear. And then, strong, fully developed characters move the story forward. Neither can be weak—both must be rich in message and emotion to be successful. But without a compelling story entwined with memorable characters, a book isn’t going to hook a reader.

When Parker Kittridge, a quirky science student from New York City, is lured to her terrace by a frisky hummingbird, she slips and plunges 18 stories to the street and awakens in Spyridon, a planet destroyed by climate change and locked in civil war. Parker quickly discovers she is not alone. Two other teens have also been kidnapped and they must join forces to save the planet if they have any chance to return to Earth.

The teens’ struggle for survival is fierce: murders, deceptions, power plays, love triangles and magical fantasy elements make this a high-stakes, coming-of-age adventure pitted against a race with time.

A Note from the Author

The Virago Fantasies are meant for everyone interested in the thrill of an adventure and our planet’s sustainability. As technology evolves and career opportunities change, I hope my books enhance interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and inspire the advancement of women in STEM. A percentage of the sales of my books will be donated to organizations that benefit these interests.

Purchase Links

Author Bio

Carol B. Allen is an author and international, award-winning creative professional. She has held leadership positions in firms that believe in strengthening community across the New York Tri State Area. She plays an active role in supporting opportunities to enhance young women’s interest in the STEM fields as well as advancing causes that protect the environment.

She serves on the Advisory Committee for Advancing Women in Science and Medicine (AWSM), part of Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Additionally, she has participated in an advisory capacity for the Girl Scouts STEM program.

A University of Michigan graduate, Carol received high honors and the prestigious Student of Distinction recognition.

Carol resides in Westchester County and is an active member of the Pound Ridge Authors Society. When she isn’t writing, Carol enjoys the city life and the country life, balancing her time with her family, exploring the cultural offerings of Manhattan as well as the great outdoors of the Northeast woodlands.

Social Media

Instagram: @carol.b.allen