Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett #bookreview #fantasy #folklore #TuesdayBookBlog

A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

I had a love/I don’t get it kind of relationship with this book. I’ve seen it described as a cozy fantasy, and I’d agree. I can count on one hand how many cozies I’ve read and although the style of writing is enjoyable, this started very slowly for me. Many other reviewers had wonderful things to say about this novel, so I stuck with it. Before long, it felt like I was visiting with old friends.

Emily is a die-hard introvert, preferring her books, research, and dog to people. I can respect that. Small talk makes her nervous, she’s socially awkward, and has very few friends (if any). Wendell is the opposite. He prefers to be around people, but mostly so he can be the center of attention. Initially he comes off as a narcissist/diva, but over the course of the story his layers fall away and underneath the facade lies a good heart. Although academic rivals, one of my favorite things is the camaraderie and banter between Emily and Wendell.

Emily meets both new and familiar types of faeries and finds herself in some dangerous predicaments. Not all faeries are friendly. Between her research, determination to rid a family of a changeling, and quest to find two missing women, Emily begins to realize maybe she enjoys the company of the townfolk more than she’d thought. Maybe it’s a place where she fits.

It might have taken me a while to really get behind this novel, but before long I couldn’t put it down. I was thrilled to learn this is the first in a series, and I’ll be looking forward to spending more time with Emily and Wendell.

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

A Ruinous Fate (Heartless Fates #1) by Kaylie Smith #bookreview #YA #fantasy #magic #LGBTQ

Fate does not choose the weak. Fate chooses the ready.

Calliope Rosewood is a witch with a long streak of bad luck. Like all witches in Illustros, her fate is directly tied to Witch’s Dice—powerful artifacts that have blessed her kind with limitless magic but also set them on a path toward destruction. Cursed with unspeakable powers that terrify even the most dangerous witches and fae, Calla deserted her coven four years ago and has been in hiding with her two best friends since. But Calla is also hiding a grave secret: She is only three Rolls away from becoming the last Blood Warrior and starting the Final War that will decimate her people and eradicate their magic.

After a betrayal from her ex leads her one step closer to fulfilling that age-old prophecy, Calla is desperate to do whatever it takes to reset her fate . . . even if that means journeying into the deadly Neverending Forest with said ex and his enticing, yet enigmatic older brother to find the one being who can help her forge her own path. As Calla ventures farther into the enchanted woods, she finds her heart torn between her past desires and the alluring new possibilities of her future and learns that choosing your own destiny may come with deadly consequences.

Can you outrun your fate? Calla sure hopes so. That’s what she’s been doing for the past four years to avoid becoming the last Blood Warrior, a person prophesied to start the Final War that will decimate her people and eradicate their magic. Through a series of unfortunate events that nearly results in her being sold at auction, Calla and her two best friends find themselves on a quest with her ex, his brother, and a couple of soldiers. In hopes of changing her fate as well as that of another character, the group enter the deadly Neverending Forest. Here, nothing is as it seems, and the forest is filled with dangerous creatures – and you don’t want to get on their wrong side if you value your life.

These characters. They’re messy, chaotic, competitive, overprotective – and I adored them. Even though only two are actually related, they all act like a large, dysfunctional family who have love/hate relationships with each other. You also may need a flowchart to keep up with their love lives – many are interconnected. Talk about weird dynamics. Despite all that, the bonds between them are strong even though some have only know each other a few days.

Illustros is a vibrant, colorful world inhabited by diverse people and magical beings that engaged me immediately. The plot is complex and full of action, surprising revelations, heartache, and humor. This is a remarkable debut, and the sequel is high on my list of anticipated reads.

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

This Cursed Crown (These Feathered Flames #2) by Alexandra Overy #bookreview #YA #fantasy #magic

Awakening to find herself trapped in a strange tower, Izaveta knows she must find her way back to the Tóurensi palace and claim the throne. But even with an unexpected ally’s help, she worries she might not be able to get news of her survival to her sister and escape this frozen land.

Back at home, Asya enlists Nikov’s help to prove Izaveta is still alive, even as she finds herself forced to navigate the political world she always sought to avoid to save her queendom, her loved ones, and herself.

But as the sisters work independently to reunite, a dangerous force lies in wait, trying to regain power in order to overthrow the monarchy…

With a doozy of a cliffhanger at the end of the first book, I was anxious to see what was next for these twin sisters/princesses.

Asya believes her sister Izaveta is dead, and she’s floundering without her. Izaveta understands court politics and manipulates people like a master chess player, but Asya is entirely out of her depth. As the Firebird, she’s required to collect payment from magic casters to maintain balance in the realm – the rules are clear-cut and something she understands. But because of her actions at the end of the first book, she’s now cast as a criminal, and the girl she loves is missing. With Izaveta presumed dead, the throne sits empty, and someone must be crowned. Among power struggles, betrayals, lies, imprisonments, and dark magic, it’s unclear who will succeed.

I honestly didn’t know how these two would find their way back to each other, reclaim the throne, or even survive, and their circumstances look grim for most of the story. Selfish decisions and mistakes are made, and every time they gain ground, the twins are outsmarted by a very clever villain. When long-kept secrets are revealed, their paths become very murky.

I’m a fan of morally gray characters, but I had a love/hate relationship with Iza and Asya on and off throughout the book. Each makes unpopular choices at certain points, but there’s also admirable character growth in both of them throughout the course of the story. When the chips are down, their sister/twin bond only grows stronger, and they’ll always choose each other over everyone else.

These books are based on the Russian folktale The Firebird, so fans of fairy tales or folklore may find the series appealing. This Cursed Crown is a satisfying conclusion to an exciting duology filled with magic, power quests, and deception.

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

Last of the Talons (Talon #1) by Sophie Kim #bookreview #YA #fantasy #Koreanmythology

After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…

Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.

Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina’s swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister…all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.

Because one way or another, she’ll take Rui’s heart.

Even if it means giving up her own.

This stunning cover and the game of life and death between Lina and Rui made this book irresistible. The description left no doubt I’d enjoy it – I just didn’t realize how much.

Lina may be young, but she’s experienced more tragedy and loss than most people. She lost her parents at a young age, she blames herself for the deaths of her gang/found family, and she’s now starved, beaten, and forced to work for the man responsible for killing the other Talons. If she doesn’t, he’ll kill her little sister, the one good thing in her life. Lina will sacrifice anything to ensure her safety.

The author has created a unique world filled with Korean mythology, magic, and vivid, breathtaking imagery. The dynamic between Rui and Lina is unusual and magnetic, and I was all in from their first scene together. The game is simple – she has fourteen days to kill him, or he’ll kill her. So much planning and plotting going on. And yet they’re civil to each other – he invites her to dinner, a ball, and shows her his favorite places in his kingdom. Lina is a clever and skilled assassin, but she underestimates how cunning Rui is. It’s hard to put anything over on this guy.

There’s so much to like about this novel. A protagonist who doesn’t give up and willingly sacrifices for those she loves, plot twists and unexpected paths, incredibly high stakes, and a supposedly cruel Emperor who might just possess a bigger heart than anyone realizes. I’m more than ready for the second book!

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

Bone Weaver by Aden Polydoros #bookreview #fantasy #supernatural #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

A haunting fantasy following Toma, adopted daughter of the benevolent undead, making her way across a civil war-torn continent to save her younger sister as she discovers she might possess magical powers herself.

The Kosa empire roils in tension, on the verge of being torn apart by a proletarian revolution between magic-endowed elites and the superstitious lower class, but seventeen-year-old Toma lives blissfully disconnected from the conflict in the empire with her adoptive family of benevolent undead.

When she meets Vanya, a charming commoner branded as a witch by his own neighbors, and the dethroned Tsar Mikhail himself, the unlikely trio bonds over trying to restore Mikhail’s magic and protect the empire from the revolutionary leader, Koschei, whose forces have stolen the castle. Vanya has his magic, and Mikhail has his title, but if Toma can’t dig deep and find her power in time, all of their lives will be at Koschei’s mercy. 

I think I’ve read all of this author’s books, and I can always count on incredible world-building. His previous novel, The City Beautiful, is set in Chicago during the World’s Fair and features a Jewish main character possessed by a dybbuk. The setting of Bone Weaver is very similar to Imperial Russia, and its monsters come from Slavic folklore.

Toma remembers little from her early life, other than her mother’s death after telling her to run. She does know they were running from someone, and it was extremely important that she not lose her mother’s rushnyk (an embroidered tapestry), which seems to have some magical properties. Fortunately, Toma was taken in by a family of upyri (undead, but they’re nice). When her six-year-old upyri sister (her age when she died) is captured by soldiers, Toma travels across a war-ravaged continent to find her. Along the way she teams up with Vanya, who possesses magical powers, and Mikhail, the dethroned tsar whose magic was stolen. It’s an adjustment for Toma as her home is very secluded, and she hasn’t lived among humans for many years.

Vanya is a prankster at times, but he’s also outraged at how commoners are treated. Those who possess magic are branded as witches and killed since magic should only belong to the elite. While trying to regain his throne, Mikhail has the rare opportunity to experience the reality of what’s going on in his country and vows to change things. With very different personalities, Mikhail and Vanya tend to clash at times, and I especially enjoyed their banter.

Soldiers aren’t their only threat. These three encounter dangerous creatures at nearly every turn and have to fight for their lives more than once. Learning about Slavic folklore was both enthralling and horrifying. Once a person is killed in this world, there’s a chance they may return as upyri. To prevent that, they’re dismembered, their body parts scattered, and their mouths filled with dirt and moss. Not all upyri are like Toma’s family – some are prone to feasting on flesh.

This story deals with difficult topics of war and religious and cultural persecution. But it also features strong found family vibes, friendships, and discovering where you belong. This is a quote from the book that struck a chord with me. “And wherever you go from here, always remember – all that you love will return to you.”

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

All of Our Demise (All of Us Villains #2) by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

The epic conclusion to Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman’s New York Times bestselling All of Us Villains duology that’s The Hunger Games with magic.

“I feel like I should warn you: this is going to be absolutely brutal.”

For the first time in this ancient, bloodstained story, the tournament is breaking. The boundaries between the city of Ilvernath and the arena have fallen. Reporters swarm the historic battlegrounds. A dead boy now lives again. And a new champion has entered the fray, one who seeks to break the curse for good… no matter how many lives are sacrificed in the process.

As the curse teeters closer and closer to collapse, the surviving champions each face a choice: dismantle the tournament piece by piece, or fight to the death as this story was always intended.

Long-held alliances will be severed. Hearts will break. Lives will end. Because a tale as wicked as this one was never destined for happily ever after.

With every protagonist morally gray and some close to black, All of Us Villains blew me away. This sequel was absolutely one of my most anticipated reads this year.

This is one of those reviews where I can’t reveal too much without giving away spoilers. I’ll start by saying Alistair remains my favorite character, and my heart ached for him. He’s been told his whole life he’s a monster, raised to know he’ll have to kill people, and told bedtime stories about his relatives and the heinous acts they committed. Someone he trusted, and you can count on one hand how many people attained that status in his life, betrayed him in the last book. As you can expect, this isn’t something he’ll let slide. Still, I only wanted good things for him.

If I thought the first book contained shocking twists, it had nothing on this one. Some I had an inkling of, others not a clue. Alliances are formed and expected, which is pretty much the only way to survive the tournament. Then came a hint of a surprise pairing – and I nearly jumped with joy. I was totally on board with this relationship, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the book. But my lips are sealed.

To get readers to cheer for a bunch of villains says something about the talent of these authors. Character development is outstanding and one of the strongest aspects of this duology. Be prepared – not everyone survives, but that’s something to be expected in a tournament based on death. I’m sorry to see this series end, but I count it as one of my favorites in the YA fantasy genre.

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

#BlogTour The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach #fantasy #dragons #magic

I’m so excited to participate in the blog tour for Diana’s new release, and it’s always a pleasure to host her. Make sure to read my review of The Necromancer’s Daughter at the bottom of the post.

A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.

Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade.

While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose.

Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.

A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

Diana’s Bio:

A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.

In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography.

Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Dwallacepeach

Purchase Links:

US: https://www.amazon.com/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach/dp/B0B9FY6YZJ

IN: https://www.amazon.in/Necromancers-Daughter-D-Wallace-Peach-ebook/dp/B0B92G7QZX

My Review:

This isn’t my first rodeo with this author’s books. I know to expect writing that reads like prose, beautiful imagery, and top-notch world-building. My expectations were exceeded.

Diana’s done it again. She’s created wonderfully flawed characters who wormed their way into my heart. I cheered for them, nearly cried (seriously, I was close to needing a tissue), and sincerely hoped Teko found a good woman to make strange or magical babies with (you need to read the book to understand, but I promise you’d wish the same for him). It began with Barus, a disfigured orphan taken in by a healer, and then he held the door open for the rest of them (Aster, Joreh, and Teko especially) as they entered my heart. The father/daughter relationship and incredibly strong bond between Barus and Aster is one of my favorite things about this novel. The author certainly knows how to place her characters between a rock and a hard place, and she forces them to make gut-wrenching decisions. Each had their share of difficulties, but I felt Joreh in particular grappled with his beliefs.

There’s no shortage of deadly battle scenes between warring countries and tribes and a bloody struggle for power after the king is assassinated. And dragons! Somehow I missed in the description that they’d be a part of the story, but as a dragon lover I was thrilled and intrigued by Aster’s unique connection with them and how that factored into her identity.

The Necromancer’s Daughter is an exciting adventure filled with magic, epic battles, strong friendships, warring kingdoms, and a bit of romance. Find yourself a comfy chair to curl up in, make sure you’re not interrupted, and then fully immerse yourself in this world.

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye, and Sandhya Menon #bookreview #romcom #YA

New York Times bestselling authors Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye, and Sandhya Menon craft a spellbinding novel about discovering the magic of true love on one fateful, magical night in Three Kisses, One Midnight.

The town of Moon Ridge was founded 400 years ago and everyone born and raised there knows the legend of the young woman who perished at the stroke of twelve that very same night, losing the life she was set to embark on with her dearest love. Every century since, one day a year, the Lady of Moon Ridge descends from the stars to walk among the townsfolk, conjuring an aura upon those willing to follow their hearts’ desires.

“To summon joy and love in another’s soul
For a connection that makes two people whole
For laughter and a smile that one can never miss
Sealed before midnight with a truehearted kiss.”

This year at Moon Ridge High, a group of friends known as The Coven will weave art, science, and magic during a masquerade ball unlike any other. Onny, True, and Ash believe everything is in alignment to bring them the affection, acceptance, and healing that can only come from romance—with a little help from Onny’s grandmother’s love potion.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. And as midnight approaches, The Coven learn that it will take more than a spell to recognize those who offer their love and to embrace all the magic that follows.

I don’t read a ton of books in this genre, but I’m a fan of Chokshi’s Gilded Wolves series, and her name on the cover immediately caught my attention.

Bring on the pumpkin spice! With much of the story taking place at a Halloween party, it’s full of autumn vibes. I loved the descriptions of the quaint town that goes all out for Halloween and the legend of The Lady of Moon Ridge who helps people follow their heart’s desires.

The main characters are a trio of best friends whose nights may not turn out exactly as expected. Onny is a true believer in magic and has a very specific love potion recipe bequeathed to her by her grandmother. True was recently burned by an unworthy boyfriend and only trusts scientific facts. Ash is an artist who’s loved someone for several years (she’s totally unaware) and takes an unexpected opportunity to create his own luck. The book is divided into three sections, with each character telling their own story. I enjoyed all of them, but my favorite is a tie between Onny’s and Ash’s. Science teacher Mr. Brightside and his husband, Mayor Grimjoy, are perfect supporting characters and add even more humor to the mix.

A black cat who interrupts a long-awaited kiss, zodiac signs, odd potion ingredients, awesome costumes, and the best Halloween decorations I’ve heard of – this is a light-hearted, magical read guaranteed to put you in the autumn mood.

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

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones #bookreview #fantasy #YA #LGBTQ #TuesdayBookBlog

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing… but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

Having enjoyed The Bone Houses (a unique take on zombies) by this author, I was excited to see this story is set in the same world.

As one of the few existing water diviners, Mer’s skills are coveted and her life has rarely been her own. After she’s forced to work for a power-hungry prince, he used her abilities to help kill hundreds of people. Since escaping, she’s constantly on the run and is seldom in the same place for more than a couple months. She longs for a home and people to call her own. When her old mentor offers her an opportunity at freedom, Mer jumps at the chance. The catch? It involves a dangerous heist. The two of them round up a team with diverse skills and make a plan. Among this team is Fane, a talented fighter with unusual abilities of his own who’s suffered tremendous losses. His furry companion is Trefor, a corgi and possible spy who stole my heart along with plenty of scenes.

Not all of the team survive the mission, and the plot throws in some unexpected twists along the way. Some of the characters’ actions surprised me, and I love it when that happens. I was determined not to like Mer’s ex-girlfriend and thief-extraordinare Ifanna because of a prior betrayal, but she steps up when it counts and won me over. The ending is absolutely perfect, exactly what I’d hoped, and left me with a big smile on my face.

With a magical well and an ambitious prince bent on toppling kingdoms, The Drowned Woods is very much a dark fairy tale that kept me flipping the pages. I finished it in a day. It’s a quiet, standalone novel that will thrill fantasy fans and corgi lovers alike.

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

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater and Café Con Lychee by Emery Lee #bookreview #YA #fairytale #LGBTQ

Merida goes on an all-new, life-changing adventure in this original YA novel set several years after the close of Brave!

What if you had one year to save everything you loved?

ONE PRINCESS. Merida of DunBroch needs a change. She loves her family—jovial King Fergus, proper Queen Elinor, the mischievous triplets— and her peaceful kingdom. But she’s frustrated by its sluggishness; each day, the same. Merida longs for adventure, purpose, challenge – maybe even, someday, love.

TWO GODS. But the fiery Princess never expects her disquiet to manifest by way of Feradach, an uncanny supernatural being tasked with rooting out rot and stagnation, who appears in DunBroch on Christmas Eve with the intent to demolish the realm – and everyone within. Only the intervention of the Cailleach, an ancient entity of creation, gives Merida a shred of hope: convince her family to change within the year – or suffer the eternal consequences.

THREE VOYAGES. Under the watchful eyes of the gods, Merida leads a series of epic journeys to kingdoms near and far in an attempt to inspire revolution within her family. But in her efforts to save those she loves from ruin, has Merida lost sight of the Clan member grown most stagnant of all – herself?

FOUR SEASONS TO SAVE DUNBROCH – OR SEE IT DESTROYED, FOREVER. 

If you’re wondering if this is Princess Merida from the Disney movie, you’d be correct. I requested this book from NetGalley because Stiefvater is one of my favorite authors – I’d never seen the movie Brave. Knowing I needed the gist of the story before starting the novel, I spent an entertaining couple of hours laughing and snorting my way through the movie. I adored these characters and couldn’t wait to dive into this new story.

I’ve never been one for many fairy tales, but Merida is my kind of princess – mainly because she’s pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect from someone with that title. She can best nearly any opponent in archery, she informed her parents being married off and producing heirs isn’t something she’ll be forced into, and she’s constantly reminded of royal etiquette by her mother, the queen. How can you not love this girl? This story is set several years later when not much has changed – Merida is still adventurous and stubborn, the King Fergus boisterous, the Queen Elinor very royal, and the triplets still mischievous at ten years old.

Merida’s Christmas Eve doesn’t go as expected when she finds herself in the company of two gods – one of creation, Cailleach, and one of destruction, Feradach. The Kingdom of DunBroch has become sluggish and stagnant and is high on Feradach’s list of places to demolish. Naturally, Merida is distraught but, because she’s Merida and very clever, refuses to accept this. Instead, she makes a bargain with Cailleach – if she can get her family to change over the next year, DunBroch will be spared. If she fails, she’ll lose her home and family. Talk about high stakes and pressure.

Don’t expect this to be a cookie cutter Disney story. Bravely is darker and focuses on growth, survival, and reflection, along with epic journeys and and some grisly scenes. Merida learns life is about balance and realizes what’s most important – it’s a kind of coming of age story for her. Not everything is serious – I also laughed out loud several times over the antics of the triplets, Merida’s unfiltered comments, and the lively family dynamics.

After watching Brave, Merida immediately became my favorite Disney princess, and I fell in love with her family. Catching up with them in this novel set several years later was a real treat.

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

Sometimes bitter rivalries can brew something sweet.

Theo Mori wants to escape. Leaving Vermont for college means getting away from working at his parents’ Asian American café and dealing with their archrivals’ hopeless son Gabi who’s lost the soccer team more games than Theo can count.

Gabi Moreno is miserably stuck in the closet. Forced to play soccer to hide his love for dance and iced out by Theo, the only openly gay guy at school, Gabi’s only reprieve is his parents’ Puerto Rican bakery and his plans to take over after graduation.

But the town’s new fusion café changes everything. Between the Mori’s struggling shop and the Moreno’s plan to sell their bakery in the face of the competition, both boys find their dreams in jeopardy. Then Theo has an idea—sell photo-worthy food covertly at school to offset their losses. When he sprains his wrist and Gabi gets roped in to help, they realize they need to work together to save their parents’ shops but will the new feelings rising between them be enough to send their future plans up in smoke?

A light enemies to lovers story – but with scrumptious food. The description of competing restaurants – and boys – lured me in. And look at that cover!

The chapters alternate POVs between Theo and Gabi, both with very different and distinct personalities. Theo is openly gay, self confident, and a natural athlete. Gabi is closeted, lacks self esteeem, and is far more talented on the dance floor than a soccer field. Theo can’t stand to be near Gabi, and while Gabi admires Theo, he’s also a little intimidated by him. Their parents’ restaurants are long time competitors, which causes further conflict. When a new fusion café moves into town and steals customers, joining forces happens kind of accidentally and everything changes.

In the first several chapters, Theo isn’t very likeable. He carries anger around like a boulder weighing him down and lashes out at his family, Gabi, and anyone else who gets in his way. It soon becomes clear why, and his self realizations and the changes that result from them are admirable. Gabi has spent his life trying to make his parents proud of him and fulfill their expectations, all while hiding his love of dancing and his sexuality. His parents (especially his father) make several derogatory comments about being gay, and he’s terrified of what might happen if he comes out. His character arc is just as uplifting as Theo’s.

Every character in this novel is flawed, some more than others, and it’s an honest portrayal of just how messy humans and their relationships can be. There are also very poignant, honest conversations about difficult topics between some characters that are done so well, and I hope they inspire readers who might be dealing with similar issues in their lives.

Besides the serious moments, this story also contains plenty of humor, delicious descriptions of food, strong friendships, and a sweet enemies to lovers romance. The ending comes about a little quickly and wraps up loose ends in a tidy bow, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the novel.

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