Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim #bookreview #YA #fantasy #fairytale

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

There’s no way I can skip commenting on this cover – it would be a disservice to the designer. It’s a work of art and perfect for the story.

Before learning this novel is based on a fairy tale I’m unfamiliar with, I was thinking how it reads just like a fairy tale. Shiori could easily be a future Disney princess. She’s strong, curious, loyal, and determined not to let anyone else define her. Having six older brothers, she easily holds her own with them and is probably the most mischevious of the bunch. She’s also hiding her forbidden magic. After learning her stepmother possesses dark magic of her own, Shiori is banished and her brothers turned into cranes. Even worse, if she speaks to anyone, one of her brothers will die for every word she utters. I needed to know how this princess would survive and overcome the odds.

The sibling bonds are strong in this story, and I liked how protective Shiori’s brothers are of her even though she doesn’t always need it. Takkan is honorable and astute from the beginning, and I loved that he crafts stories for his little sister (who’s pretty feisty herself). Encouraging people to look beyond appearances or misunderstood actions is an important theme this book brings to the forefront.

The first quarter of this book had me riveted. I was angry with Shiori’s stepmother and the people that treated Shiori so badly when she was only trying to survive and anxious for her to find her brothers. She knew her mission and was fixated on it. Then things took a turn. The next half of the book mainly focused on the romance, and Shiori’s urgency to undo the curse wasn’t the driving force I’d expected. Toward the end of the story I didn’t see how plot lines could fall into place for some kind of resolution, but over the span of a few pages, several reveals come to light. Some are easy to predict, but others come out of left field and left me scratching my head because of the lack of hints along the way.

I’m a reader who doesn’t mind romance in a book as long as it’s not the primary focus, but this novel spotlighted it more than I’d expected from the description. That’s just a personal preference and in reading other reviews, I’m definitely in the minority on this. Fans of fairy tales, magic, and romance will be thrilled with Six Crimson Cranes, and while I enjoyed the story, it wasn’t exactly what I’d anticipated.

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

HMS Lanternfish by C.S. Boyack #bookreview #fantasy #pirates #TuesdayBookBlog

The Lanternfish crew completed their original mission, but got exposed to a more global problem. An entire continent is at war, headed up by a head-strong young king with dreams of power, and pushed from behind by a mysterious religious order known as the Fulminites.

Rather than let their country fall under the iron boot of conquest, James and his crew set sail once more to see what kind of muscle Lanternfish can lend to the war effort. Acting precariously under an unofficial charter as a privateer, even his allies aren’t always his friends.

HMS Lanternfish explores new worlds on its way to war, and drifts considerably off course. It features an international crew of characters, and for fans of the first book, the root monsters are back, too. Tall ships, a few con games, martial arts, and everything you loved about the original book is all returning.

Hoist the colors and wheel out the guns. Lanternfish is taking to the high seas once more.

My favorite root monsters are back! I think there were some other characters in this story also?

I was anxious to get back on the high seas with this crew of characters – I’m just sorry it took me so long to read the book. James is called out of retirement and into the privateer business. That may not be a bad thing, because it seems he has no talent for wine making – he makes a much better pirate.

Boyack never fails to deliver a wildly imaginative story, and with this second book in the Lanternfish series, his record remains intact. James and his crew encounter new characters, epic battles, and exciting adventures. Serang remains a strong character, and I was happy to see her return to the crew after being rescued from a very precarious situation.

The comedic root monsters still remain my favorites, and if the author ever decides to offer merch featuring them, I’ll be his first customer. Those critters work hard, but they also party hard.

With one more book to come in this series, I’ll be excited for its release.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune #bookreview #fantasy #LGBT #TuesdayBookBlog

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

I’d seen so much hype about this book and really hoped I wouldn’t be let down when I read it. I wasn’t. It’s utter perfection. I’d give it one hundred stars if I could and doubt I can do it justice in this review.

Linus Baker leads a fairly uneventful, solitary life, residing with a cat with an attitude who basically adopted him and listening to the rants of his nosy neighbor. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMA), he’s grossly underappreciated, but kept busy making sure the children in orphanages are being properly cared for. It’s a job he takes very seriously, and he places the welfare of the children above all else. When he’s given a highly classified assignment, he’s ill-prepared for what awaits him on Marsyas Island. Little does he know it will be a profound, life-changing experience.

I fell in love with Linus, Arthur, and all of the children – they grabbed my heart and didn’t let go. Many of Linus’s interactions with Lucy (short for Lucifer, the Antichist) had me laughing out loud and were some of my favorite scenes. This is a beautifully told story about acceptance, found families, and opening yourself up to possibilities. I’ve already recommended it to several people and honestly feel like it should be required reading. Upon reaching the end, I wanted to start all over again and spend more time with these characters in their world. It’s heartwarming, endearing, delightful – I guarantee you’ll experience all the feels with this novel. It will always be one of my favorites.

Hullaba Lulu: A #DieselPunk Adventure by Teagan Riordain Geneviene #bookreview #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Hullaba Lulu, a Dieselpunk Adventure is a wild and wooly 1920s fantasy story. Lulu, the heroine is inspired by the song, “Don’t Bring Lulu,” from 1925 ― so are her pals, Pearl and Rose. My Lulu loves to dance, and freely indulges in giggle water. She snores and burps and says whatever she wants. Lulu is a snarky but good-hearted flapper. The song’s inspiration stops there, but the story is just beginning.Travel with Lulu and her friends on a magical, dieselpunk train that belongs to the smolderingly handsome and enigmatic man known only as Valentino. They get into all sorts of trouble, usually due to Lulu’s clumsiness. It’s an intense ride through a number of pos-i-lutely creepy settings, including “sideways” versions of Atlantic City and the Cotton Club. At every stop and in between, Lulu ends up creating chaos. There’s no telling where they’ll end up. No, Lulu! Don’t touch that! Lulu’s the kind of smarty, breaks up every party,Hullabaloo loo, don’t bring Lulu,I’ll bring her myself!

I’ve read steampunk before and loved the era, but diesel punk is new to me. Knowing how much I’ve enjoyed this author’s other books, I didn’t expect this one to be any different.

Snarky characters steal my heart every time, so I took to Lulu right away. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and is a bit unconventional for the 1920’s – which made me like her even more. Her love of giggle water may occasionally contribute to the chaos she seems to attract/cause. Using 20’s vernacular, which can be quite amusing, it’s clear the author did extensive research of that time period. She’s even published a another book about slang from the 20’s. Visiting “sideways” versions of different places is fascinating and made me think of the TV show Lost with their forward, backward, and sideways flashes.

This short novel is full of whimsical creations (some based on real inventions) – angelbots, a time traveling train, and futuristic technology – and features an appearance by Nikola Tesla. Lulu and her friends are delightful, and this is a fun tale filled with action and humor. Guess I’m now a diesel punk fan.

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity. 

This is my first time reading this author, and I requested this book from NetGalley because of the stunning cover and wonderful reviews of her backlist.

Nami’s life is just beginning. She graduated high school, college is on the horizon, and she’s at the beginning of a romantic relationship with her best friend of several years. Then she finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her life is cut short after a spontaneous act of bravery.

What an original spin on the afterlife. Ophelia, a virtual assistant used by many people, including Nami, is Queen of Infinity. Kind of makes you want to be nicer to Alexa and Siri when they can’t help you. There are also four territories, each ruled by a prince (Ophelia’s sons). Soon after dying and arriving in Infinity, Nami is taken in by a group of rebels fighting against Ophelia, and that’s when she started to annoy me. In spite of being a newcomer, she’s convinced she knows better than those who’ve been around much longer, and she jumps into situations headfirst before completely thinking things through. Many times. She has a strong moral compass and brings up thought-provoking questions about coexistence, forgiveness, and second chances, but the big picture eludes her at times. The supporting characters are well-drawn, and I especially enjoyed strong leader Annika and the mysterious Gil.

I wish I’d gotten to know a little more about Nami before her death – her interactions with family and friends, likes/dislikes, etc., but she’s thrown into the afterlife almost immediately. With heavy inner monologue, this is a lengthy read at nearly five hundred pages, and I found myself skimming over sections that were pretty similar. Just when Nami begins to understand what the rebels have been telling her, she’s blindsided. That ending? Didn’t see that twist coming – not even the shimmer of a hint. That alone upped my rating, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

With unique worldbuilding (who knew they had royal balls and wars in the afterlife?), political issues, and dystopian themes, The Infinity Courts will appeal to fantasy fans looking for a different landscape.

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

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore #1) by Amanda Foody #bookreview #MG #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

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

The last thing Barclay Thorne ever wanted was an adventure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trader. Fighter. Survivor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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