#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. 

#BadMoonRising Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts (Minstrels of Skaythe #2) by Deby Fredericks #fantasy #paranormal

It’s hump day here at Bad Moon Rising, so I’m hoping today’s interview will give you that extra boost you need to make it through the week. Most of these authors have had strong opinions on candy apples or candy corn, but not this one. Don’t make her choose. Welcome, Deby Fredericks!

Have you ever had a tarot reading?

 Yes, at one time I did them myself. I found that the cards “told” me things I didn’t want to hear, so I trusted them. These days, I’m not as worried about my future, so I haven’t read for a while.

Candy apple or candy corn?           

Yes please. Oh, I was supposed to choose one? Then with the candy apples I could kid myself that I was eating something nutritious along with the delicious-but-sticky caramel.

Do you ever see figures in your peripheral vision?

Sort of. There’s a window where I sit to read, and a fence post just outside. I often think there’s a person standing there, but when I look, it’s just the fence post. So I know it’s an optical illusion caused by the window screen.

If you decided to write a spin-off of a side character, who would you choose?           

In my Minstrels of Skaythe series, there is a group of mages who each feature in their own volume, so in a way, the whole thing is a spin-off. However, if I had to do a completely separate side project, it would probably feature Cylass and some of his adventures before he had to be rescued by Tisha.

How do you celebrate when you finish writing a book?

My routine is that I have to get some writing done before I can play video games, so when I’ve finished a project, I get more time to play video games! This lasts maybe two days, and then it’s back to revision, submitting, social media, etc.

What are you working on now?

I have an ongoing novella series, Minstrels of Skaythe. Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts is part of it. There’s one more volume to go, so that’s what I’m focused on.

“He’s dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Mortally wounded, Cylass is abandoned on the battlefield by comrades who would just as soon have him out of the way. But as he waits for death, a strange savior appears. The dancer, Tisha, heals him with her forbidden magic, but also draws the wrath of his cruel former lord.

Soon guardsman and renegade mage are on the run. Will Cylass help Tisha, as she helped him? Or will he do the smart thing, and turn her over to the vicious Count Ar-Dayne?

Purchase Links

ISBNs

Epub    978-0-9977807-9-6

D2D:  https://draft2digital.com/book/496360

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZXLHC62

Mobi   978-1-7339227-2-2

About the Author

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 14 books in all. Her latest is The Minstrels of Skaythe. Her short work has been published in Andromeda Spaceways and selected anthologies.

In addition, she writes for children as Lucy D. Ford. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Babybug, Ladybug, and a few anthologies. In the past, she served as Regional Advisor for the Inland Northwest Region of the Society of  Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, International  (SCBWI).

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Blog:                           https://wyrmflight.wordpress.com

Facebook:                   https://www.facebook.com/AuthorDebyFredericks

Twitter:                       https://twitter.com/DebyFredericks

#BadMoonRising The Hat by C.S. Boyack #paranormal #supernatural #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

This is what readers have to say about today’s featured book – “fun banter”, “vividly imagined”, “hilarious paranormal suspense”, “enchanting characters”. Having read the first three books in this series, I couldn’t agree more. Being a fan of snarky characters, Lizzie and the hat are among my favorites. As a special treat from the author, no tricks (I feel you cringing, but I couldn’t resist), The Hat is FREE today, so make sure to click the link below! Welcome C.S. Boyack!

Thanks for inviting me back, Teri. I love Bad Moon and look forward to it every year. I have a bit of promo to do, but want to attempt a brief participation according to the rules. Let’s get to some of that first.

Would you rather dunk for apples or carve a Jack o’ Lantern?

Huh! Neither of these particularly bother me. I skipped the candy apple question with my beard. I’ve carved many a pumpkin in my day, and enjoy figuring out all the cool 100% vegetable ways of dressing them up. Did you know a red bell pepper makes an awesome tongue, that an eggplant can be a fun nose, or that corn silk makes for awesome eyebrows?

If you watch horror movies, are you the person who yells at the characters, covers your eyes, or falls asleep?

I’m the guy who yells at the characters. Why can’t they seem to figure out shooting first is a viable option? Getting out of the scary environment is another viable option? Sheesh.

How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?

I have a lot of books, but I’m going to focus on the series being promoted here today. This series is all about having fun. I have readers across a broad swath, but I think all of them are looking to poke a little fun at standard tropes, have a laugh or two, and still get to wipe a little blood off their hands.

What are you working on now?

That’s a loaded question for me. I’m writing this in August, and I typically have two projects going at once. At the time of this writing, I have the final volume of The Lanternfish Trilogy in the editing phase, and the next book in The Hat Series in the same status. I’m also working on a nameless space opera that I think will be fun.

About that promo… I’m touring The Hat Series around this October, and this is the first stop. To kick things off, I have the first volume, The Hat, free for a few days. While you can always read my books for free with Kindle Unlimited, now you can get your very own copy for free.

The Hat is the origin story for the whole series. It shows Lizzie and the hat coming together for the first time to deal with a group of baby snatchers. There’s no reason humans can’t be evil, and it’s a little simpler to walk our new monster hunter into the role without dealing with supernatural beasts. It’s highly thought of and the reviews are positive.

I’ve included a universal series link instead of the solo book this time. http://mybook.to/The-Hat-Series I also wrote a series blurb for this promo.

Blurb: The Hat Series is my opportunity to have a little fun, and readers seem to be enjoying themselves, too. The series fits into a variety of pigeonholes as all stories do. If you’re looking for supernatural, paranormal, or urban fantasy, with a dose of dark humor, this might be the series you’re looking for.

Lizzie St. Laurent is a hard working twenty-something. She’s struggling with the issues of being a young adult, but also dealing with the supernatural world. After her grandmother died, she tried to get a memento from the estate. Her greedy uncle refused to share, so in desperation, she stole a box from the moving van.

Her treasure turned out to be an old hat that belonged to her grandfather. Not exactly the knickknack she was hoping for. This isn’t any ordinary hat. He’s actually a being from another dimension who was brought here by witchcraft. He has a few magical skills, but also some more ordinary ones. He can transport her to a cabin, deep in the forest, among other things. A bit more ordinary is his ability to play the upright bass, but only if he has a human host to manipulate. He’s also a shapeshifter, but limited to always being a hat of some kind.

The hat has been in Lizzie’s family for centuries, and all of his partners have been monster hunters. Their symbiotic relationship also created an additional income stream for Lizzie. They formed a small cover band, which tends gets them out at night when monster hunting is more productive.

I put all kinds of strange things into these stories to make them fun. My section breaks have all been replaced with a series of bass clefs. I also include silly graphics in various locations to enhance the tales. You’ll find tons of snark mixed in with your blood and adventure.

These are short novels, designed for a single afternoon. While it is a series, they can be read as stand-alone tales. If one of the other volumes is your entry-point, I don’t think you’ll feel lost.

If this sounds like something to make your October complete, I’d appreciate you checking it out.

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She Who Rides the Storm by Caitlin Sangster #bookreview #YA #fantasy

In this atmospheric YA fantasy that is Wicked Saints meets There Will Come a Darkness, four teens are drawn into a high-stakes heist in the perilous tomb of an ancient shapeshifter king.

Long ago, shapeshifting monsters ruled the Commonwealth using blasphemous magic that fed on the souls of their subjects. Now, hundreds of years later, a new tomb has been uncovered, and despite the legends that disturbing a shapeshifter’s final resting place will wake them once again, the Warlord is determined to dig it up.

But it isn’t just the Warlord who means to brave the traps and pitfalls guarding the crypt.

A healer obsessed with tracking down the man who murdered her twin brother.

A runaway member of the Warlord’s Devoted order, haunted by his sister’s ghost.

A snotty archaeologist bent on finding the cure to his magical wasting disease.

A girl desperate to escape the cloistered life she didn’t choose.

All four are out to steal the same cursed sword rumored to be at the very bottom of the tomb. But of course, some treasures should never see the light of day, and some secrets are best left buried…

I read a title from this author’s backlist a few years ago and was excited to see she’s releasing a new series. The fact that it’s a heist story made it even more appealing.

Talk about lack of trust. Each of these characters has valid reasons for not placing theirs in just anyone after being betrayed in various ways. They’ve also suffered incredible losses – Anwei her parents and twin brother, Knox his sister and best friend, Lia her family when she was ripped away from them, and Mateo his parents and possibly his life if he doesn’t find a cure for the wasting disease. I liked each of these characters and quickly grew to care about them. Mateo also injected some humor into his scenes that I especially enjoyed. Anwei and Knox have been partners in crime – literally – for a year, and before long all four of their lives become entwined. Stories that bring together a group of misfits are among my favorites, and this one also offered a couple of sly, crafty supporting characters who add to the plot.

Romance wise I was skeptical when it became evident these four would be paired off into relationships, but both are vastly different. Two of them have harbored slow burn feelings for quite a while, but the other two are in a quasi-kind of fake courtship that results in some light-hearted, comedic moments. They each work well within the scope of the story.

World-building is a big thing for me and this being a fantasy, it’s incredibly important to the plot. It’s clear the author developed a complex world with some original elements, but I never felt like I had a good grasp on it. Looking at other reviews, this wasn’t mentioned so it could have just been me being distracted at the wrong times. The pacing is a bit slow for my taste, but like a carrot on a stick, hints were dangled throughout to keep me going. I admit to being thunderstruck over the twists at the end – a perfect setup for the sequel.

With hints of Indiana Jones, a dangerous heist, and easy to love characters, this novel is sure to appeal to fantasy fans. I’ll be watching 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.

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell #bookreview #YA #contemporaryfantasy

When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls.

Derry and her eight siblings live in an isolated house by the lake, separated from the rest of the world by an eerie and menacing forest. Frank, the man who raised them after their families abandoned them, says it’s for their own good. After all, the world isn’t safe for people with magic. And Derry feels safe—most of the time.

Until the night her eldest sister disappears. Jane and Derry swore to each other that they’d never go into the forest, not after their last trip ended in blood, but Derry is sure she saw Jane walk into the trees. When another sibling goes missing and Frank’s true colors start to show, feeling safe is no longer an option. Derry will risk anything to protect the family she has left. Even if that means returning to the forest that has started calling to Derry in her missing siblings’ voices.

As Derry spends more time amidst the trees, her magic grows more powerful . . . and so does the darkness inside her, the viciousness she wants to pretend doesn’t exist. But saving her siblings from the forest and from Frank might mean embracing the darkness. And that just might be the most dangerous thing of all. 

A dark thing living in a forest, siblings going missing, magic – who wouldn’t want to know about the nefarious goings on in those trees?

Derry and her siblings have lived in a secluded house with their guardian, Frank, since their parents abandoned them due to difficulties with their magic. They don’t share the same parents (except for two sets of twins), but have been raised together and formed very close bonds as a result of their circumstances. Although most of the siblings fear Frank a little and dislike him, he takes care of them and offers protection from the nearby townfolk (they call the siblings witches), but they never leave the grounds and have no connection with the outside world. Each of the siblings possess different types of magic, and Frank teaches them not only how to enhance their abilities, but also how to control them.

The author provides a wonderfully diverse and inclusive cast with representation of different sexualities, body types, and races. The relationships between these siblings are one of my favorite aspects of the novel – they’re ride or die for each other – although I have to admit the introduction of so many characters in the first few pages is a little overwhelming. Even so, you’ll settle in and find it easy to empathize with them. Something seems off with Frank and his methods, and you can’t help but root for them to find a better living situation.

Although the end is a whirlwind of action, pacing was a little uneven for me in the middle. Derry is forced to make some difficult choices and cross into morally gray areas, but it all seems justified and I had no trouble going along with her decisions. Once the whirlwind is over, I appreciated that the author gives the reader a glimpse of what’s in store for these characters in the future.

This standalone novel offers an exceptionally inclusive cast of characters and provides a nice blend of mystery, a touch of horror, and magic for an enjoyable read.

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

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik #bookreview #YA #fantasy #magic #TuesdayBookBlog

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . . 

Friends in my bookclub highly recommend this series, so when I saw the second book for request on NetGalley, I quickly requested it. Then I had to hustle to read the first (I listened to an audiobook) before diving in.

This school, The Scholomance, is a nonstop Hunger Games kind of place. Students’ lives are constantly threatened by hidden creatures, alliances are made and broken – and that’s just to get downstairs to the cafeteria where food often runs short. Graduations are traditionally a bloodbath, with students required to fight their way out a monster-filled pit. Even making it to senior year is nothing short of a miracle. Definitely a survival of the fittest scenario.

If you’re as big a fan of snark and sarcasm as I am, you’ll immediately fall for main character El. She doesn’t hold back her feelings – unless it comes to chosen one and her maybe boyfriend (she keeps denying it) Orion. The conversations and interactions between the two of them are sometimes awkward, occasionally combative, and always entertaining. Initially a loner, El now has friends and allies and is determined they all survive their final year. She and Orion may be the only people capable of ensuring that happens.

This story is told from El’s POV and while I love her voice, there’s very little dialogue throughout the novel. It’s a writing style I haven’t come across often, and I admit to veering off the path of the story while El’s thoughts ramble before making their way back to the original point. Pacing in the first half of the novel isn’t as brisk as I’d expected, but around the 75% mark, the action really takes off like a rocket. And that ending! For some reason I thought this was a duology, but clearly there will be a third book – there better be – and I’m almost scared to see the direction it takes.

If you’re looking for a darker magic academy type of story with incredibly dangerous and life-threatening stakes, this is a series 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.

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune #bookreview #fantasy #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

After reading The House in the Cerulean Sea, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this author’s newest release. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Once again, this author has left me awestruck. It’s hard to convey how much I loved this book and the feelings it evoked in me, but I’ll give it a shot.

Wallace is not a nice person. At all. He’s a workaholic who cares very little for the employees at his law office. After he dies of a sudden heart attack in his 40s, all he leaves behind is a failed marriage and his firm – no family or friends, not even a pet. At his sparsely-attended funeral not one person has a kind word to say about him. There, he meets a feisty reaper who escorts him to a peculiar tea shop to meet the ferryman. The tea shop is a kind of layover for the recently deceased until they’re ready to move on. Here, Wallace experiences the five stages of grief – anger is a big one for him – and eventually has some earth-shattering moments of self-realization. He may have been alive, but he never really lived.

Besides the ferryman and reaper, there are a couple other characters at the tea house, and I fell in love with all of them. They felt like family by the end of the story. As with The House in the Cerulean Sea, humor is still prevalent along with plenty of heartfelt moments. I’m not a person who cries easily over books or movies, but I’m batting a thousand with Klune.

This novel is about love, grief, friendship, family, a wide variety of teas, and truly living. It’s also about death and what might come after, but it’s dealt with in a light-hearted, thought-provoking, moving, and beautiful way. As with The House in the Cerulean Sea, it’s a book I’ll recommend to everyone I know, reader or not.

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

The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley #bookreview #YA #fantasy

As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…​

She cannot die.

Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.

To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.

If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten. 

I always enjoy a Victorian London setting, and the description of the Tournament of Freaks sounded like a mashup of The Hunger Games and X-Men. There’s no way I could resist requesting this book from NetGalley.

After the macabre opening scene of this book, I was all in. Adam comes across as a cunning assassin with plenty of closely held secrets. I wanted to know exactly what they were and what his connection to Iris was. While I understood Iris’s need to discover her identity and origin, her character didn’t appeal to me as much – but three of the male characters are completely enamored of her. The love triangle – square? – pops up early in the story, but the competition between her suitors grows tiresome pretty quickly. I’ve never been a fan of that trope, but that’s just me.

I was anxious to get to the Tournament, but it doesn’t make an appearance until around the halfway mark and isn’t as much of a plot element as I’d expected. The clues send the teams on life-endangering searches all over London, and the rules state the winner will be the player still alive within the team left standing. Love the high stakes. And there’s no shortage of creepy characters on these teams. I liked the fact that Iris and her team had plenty of stiff competition, but the disadvantage of that was the sheer number of characters to keep straight. Many times I came across someone I couldn’t remember.

While the world-building and plot are unique and well thought out, the story features a strong female MC, and there are several plot threads to follow, I struggled with the pacing (nearly 500 pages) and skimmed through some sections. Reviews are split on this, and many readers enjoyed the longer length of the novel – it just comes down to personal perference.

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

The Ferryman and the Sea Witch by D. Wallace Peach #bookreview #mermaids #fantasy #paranormal #TuesdayBookBlog

The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.

The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.

Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.

Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.

And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.

Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.

With the author posting an occasional teaser from this book on her blog, I’ve been anticipating it for quite a while. It was absolutely worth the wait.

Having read several other books by this author, I knew it would be a treat to immerse myself in the world of the merrows and kingdoms of Brid Clarion and Haf Killick. Her lavish descriptions always make me feel like I’m experiencing everything right alongside the characters – the salt spray across my face while sailing the high seas, the rolling of the ship as it crosses the Deep, and the graceful beauty of the merrow. In spite of Callum’s attempt to save the life of the Sea Witch’s daughter, she dies. After killing the rest of the crew responsible for her death, the Sea Witch spares his life for his kindness. It’s a bargain he can’t refuse but considering what he’s forced to do, Callum may wish he perished with the crew. My heart went out to him immediately after he’s put in an incredibly difficult position. He has no choice other than to take a human life every time he crosses the Deep and spend his life caught between two warring nations unless he sacrifices royal blood.

The characters are wonderfully flawed and well-drawn. Some I had a love/hate relationship with, not knowing where their loyalties fell until nearly the end. They kept me guessing – which I totally enjoy.

Warring nations, deceit, lies – it’s impossible to trust either nation, but it soon becomes evident Callum has something precious worth saving and fighting for. Don’t assume you’ll accurately predict the path of this plot. Alexa read this to me from my Kindle, and I had to stop and immediately rewind (more than once!) to make sure I’d heard correctly when some astonishing twists spun the story in a different direction.

Exciting battles, long held secrets, treachery, and deadly bargains – this novel engaged me from the first page. The ending was everything I’d hoped for these characters. I can’t go without mentioning the incredibly beautiful cover. Easily five stars!

The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith #bookreview #YA #historical #fantasy

The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined? 

The comparison to The Last Magician is what made me request this book from NetGalley, plus I seem to be on a witch reading binge this summer.

I don’t read a ton of historical fiction, but when I do this seems to be a popular time period for me. After her mother is taken to an insane asylum and her brother is murdered, Frances is on her own in NYC. After she’s attacked by her boss, who somehow winds up dead with her scissors in his neck, Frances learns she possesses magic. She’s taken to Haxahaven Academy, a school for witches disguised as a tuberculosis sanitarium. While she’s thrilled to learn more about her powers and meet more young girls like herself, she’d hoped to do more with her magic. Haxahaven teaches girls how to control their magic – a good thing – but to primarily use it to ease the burden of household chores – not so exciting. Frances isn’t having it, and she wants more. When her brother’s friend Finn reaches out (he’s a dreamwalker), he teaches her more about magic than she’s learned at Haxahaven. After more bodies of young men turn up, Frances is convinced their deaths are connected to her brother’s, and she and Finn find themselves in the midst of a mystery.

While I liked the 1911 setting, it really doesn’t play a large part in this story. Most scenes take place at the school, brotherhood, or in the forest. The magic system is interesting – males and females have different types of powers and abilities with varying degrees of talent. Frances’s popularity level waxed and waned on my scale. She has very little at the beginning of the story, and her situation is dire, but soon after arriving at the school and making new friends she thinks nothing of asking them to take risks for her without considering the consequences for them or herself. Needing to know the identity of the murderer kept me turning the pages, but I’d guessed who was involved pretty early. The last 20% of the book takes an unexpected direction – dark and kinda creepy to say the least – but fans of morally gray characters will probably cheer. Even with the different path, the ending was a whirlwind and felt rushed to me.

This novel has wonderful diversity and representation (especially with Lena and her backstory) and also deals with topics of feminism, racism, and sexual assault (trigger warning). I’m not sure if it’s a standalone, but the ending sure felt like a second book is in the works. It had some highs and lows for me, but if you’re looking for a witchy historical fantasy that leans more on the fantasy than the history, this is a book 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.