The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris #bookreview #contemporary #supernatural

Dear Martin meets They Both Die at the End in this gripping, evocative novel about a Black teen who has the power to see into the future, whose life turns upside down when he foresees his younger brother’s imminent death, from the acclaimed author of SLAY.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short.

It’s hard to for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life.

And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes.

With Alex now in a race against time, death, and circumstances, he and Isaiah must grapple with their past, their future, and what it means to be a young Black man in America in the present. 

This is the second book I’ve read by this author, and she can count me as a confirmed fan.

Alex and his younger brother, Isaiah, were orphaned four year ago after the family was involved in a car accident. Since then, they’ve been raised by their aunt. Sixteen-year-old Alex is trying to be all things for everyone he knows – his employer, his girlfriend, his brother, and even his deceased parents. He also suffers from panic attacks. Since the car accident, every time he touches someone or something, he sees the future of that person or object. After seeing Isaiah’s death, he’s determined to repair their relationship and close the distance between them that developed after their parents’ passing.

Much of this book is spent in Alex’s head with his swirling thoughts, fears, and visions. The author does an incredible job at making the reader feel the grief, anxieties, and pressures Alex experiences nearly every minute of every day. It’s far too much for someone his age to have to carry. And then there are the racial issues. The brothers live in a predominantly white, upper class, gated community. Neighbors who claim not to be racists very clearly are, but fail to see it.

This book is heartbreaking in so many ways and will absolutely wreck you. But it’s also a powerful story that includes joyous bonding moments between Alex and Isaiah. The vivid supporting characters seem to rise from the pages. Talia, Alex’s girlfriend, is a delight, and Aunt Mackie is a strong, successful woman who loves her nephews unconditionally. Although I dreaded what was coming, you couldn’t have pried this book from my hands over the last thirty percent. It’s bittersweet, but also hopeful and so very timely and important. I can’t wait to see what this author does next.

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

#BlogTour Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry @algonquinyr #YA #supernatural #TigersNotDaughters

I originally reviewed this YA supernatural novel in March 2020, but the paperback was recently released. If you’d like to read my review, click HERE. At less than 300 pages, it’s a quick read I finished on a two hour flight.

The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.
 
In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

samantha was born four days before the death of john lennon. she grew up in dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.

in college at southern methodist university, she majored in english literature, minored in spanish, and studied latin and classics. after that, she went on to receive a master’s degree in english from boston college.

these days, she teaches at a community college and spends as much time as possible in the west texas desert.

Bones of a Saint by Grant Farley #bookreview #YA #ComingofAge #TuesdayBookBlog

Set in Northern California in the late ’70s, this timeless coming-of-age story examines the nature of evil, the art of storytelling, and the possibility of redemption.

Fifteen-year-old RJ Armante has never known a life outside his dead-end hometown of Arcangel, CA. The Blackjacks still rule as they have for generations, luring the poorest kids into their monopoly on petty crime. For years, they’ve left RJ alone…until now.

When the Blackjacks come knocking, they want RJ to prey upon an old loner. But RJ is at his breaking point. It’s not just about the gang who rules the town. It’s about Charley, his younger brother, who is disabled. It’s about Roxanne, the girl he can’t reach. It’s about the kids in his crew who have nothing to live for. If RJ is to resist, he must fight to free Arcangel of its past.

It’s the cover that first caught my attention, then the blurb sealed the deal with its 70s setting in Northern California.

RJ hasn’t had the easiest life. His father committed suicide when RJ was just a child, his single mother works long hours leaving him to care for his five younger sibllings, and his family isn’t exactly rolling in cash. RJ also has a knack for getting in trouble with his actions and smart mouth. In some aspects he’s wise beyond his years, but still a mischievous teenager. Despite his antics, he manages to maintain a pretty strong moral compass. He’s also a storyteller. His tales reminded me of Gordie’s in the movie Stand By Me, and the overall tone of this book is similar to that movie.

Although the Blackjacks play a prominent role, don’t go into this novel expecting lots of action and gang wars – it’s not that kind of book. It’s very much a teenager’s journey to facing the realities of life and learning there’s more than one path into the future. The writing is vivid and descriptive, but also humorous – teen boys are absolutely funny and weird at times. RJ’s friendship with Manny and relationship with his family are among my favorite parts of this story. I also enjoyed the references to 70s songs and fashion (bell bottom jeans!).

It’s not exactly what I’d expected, but Bones of a Saint is an engaging read. A couple of twists pop up, but this is a leisurely paced story that’s more about the journey than the destination.

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.

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft #bookreview #fantasy #YA

He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night.

Love makes monsters of us all.

With an atmospheric, beautiful cover and a description giving me all kinds of gothic vibes, I was anxious to settle in with this story on a dreary night.

After Wren is suspended from the Queen’s Guard, she ducks out of her next assignment and heads to Colwick Hall in an attempt to get back into the good graces of her aunt, the queen. Although Wren’s last living relative, the queen has never shown her any affection and barely tolerates her. Once Wren realizes the patient she’s been hired to care for at the hall is an enemy of her kingdom (Hal’s killed hundreds of people), the story really began for me. The crumbling mansion surrounded by acres of snow is the perfect setting for her to unravel the mystery of Hal’s illness and uncover the person responsible for the disappearance of several soldiers from her kingdom.

Wren is a compassionate person, an important trait for a healer, but she trusts too easily, and it comes back to bite her more than once. As the Reaper, Hal has a dark, violent past, but I wanted to know more about his transformation from the Reaper to the person Wren meets. Several blank spaces kept me from really knowing both of these characters. Their slow burn romance is sweet and gooey, but as I’m not much of a romance fan, it got a little repetitive – but that’s just me. Other reviewers were big fans of their relationship.

The story offers plenty of tense, action-packed moments and a few graphic medical scenes that may cause some readers to cringe. It’s not exactly the novel I’d expected, but still an enjoyable read with a satisfying ending.

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 Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth #bookreview #urbanfantasy #YA

The Cruel Prince meets City of Bones in this thrilling urban fantasy set in the magical underworld of Toronto that follows a queer cast of characters racing to stop a serial killer whose crimes could expose the hidden world of faeries to humans.

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.
A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.
The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

One of the biggest reasons I requested this book from NetGalley was the diverse cast of queer characters. And I wasn’t disappointed – the representation is outstanding.

I haven’t read many books involving the fae, so I always appreciate when the author doesn’t assume readers know all the ‘rules’. I can’t say I’ve ever read a fantasy novel set in Canada (Toronto), so it was a very welcome change. With this being urban fantasy, the teen fae come across as genuine, mentioning pop culture, hanging out at coffee houses, texting each other, and generally getting into trouble with their parents. I have to commend the author for getting me to see and understand so much about these characters in just a few sentences. Other authors I’ve come across have written paragraphs of description, and I’d still feel like I didn’t know the characters even close to this level.

At the beginning of the story, most of the main characters are in different locations, and I enjoyed getting to know each of them (Arlo, Nausicaa, Vehan, and Aurelian) and their personalities through their different POVs before they joined together later in the story. All the POVs are very distinct and when I set the book down and came back to it later, I immediately knew who was speaking. The author also gives a POV of the villain – it was interesting being in his head and getting glimpses of what was going on with the murders of iron-born teens.

Snarky characters capture my heart every time, so Nausicaa was an immediate favorite for me. She’s dark and dangerous, but there’s a good heart inside – buried waaayyy down deep, but it’s there. Celadon, who gave me plenty of laughs, is also at the top of my list, and I would have loved more of him.

External conflict abounds – murders, a brewing war, secrets about Arlo and her magic – but a good bit of internal conflict with each character also contributes to a richly layered plot. It’s not really a secret who the villains are in this novel, but there’s a reveal at the end that isn’t that shocking. This person is rotten to the core, and I hope very bad and painful things happen to them in the next book. Just sayin’.

The popular comp titles are very appropriate, so fans of both The Cruel Prince and City of Bones should enjoy this series. I’d highly recommend it to fantasy fans looking for more diverse reads.

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

Blood Sworn (Ashlords #2) by Scott Reintgen #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #YA #fantasy

Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.

The Races are over. War has begun.

Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.

Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.

Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?

The first book in this series bowled me over with its inventive world-building, Hunger Games-ish race, and three characters that were so easy to root for, so requesting an ARC of the second book in this duology was a no-brainer.

In Ashlords, war, rebellion, and unrest were stirring, and this sequel is set several months later after the war has started. Where Ashlords primarily focused on the race, Bloodsworn is all about the battle and delves deeply into the seven gods and how they’ve affected society. The three main characters are now back with their own people and on opposite sides of the feud. Pacing is a bit slow at the beginning, but it gave me time to regain my footing in this world and catch up with Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda and learn the new roles they now played in the war. As with the first book, it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite among them. Adrian and Pippa were both used as pawns in different ways, but are now strong enough to forge their own path. Imelda, once considered an underdog, proves it’s a mistake to underestimate her. They all show tremendous growth over the span of the series, and their arcs do justice to these engaging characters.

With the three MCs having separate storylines, I wondered how and when they’d intertwine. A couple of game-changing plot twists soon answered my question, but the author also holds back some suprises until nearly the end. Tense, fast-paced battle scenes kept me glued to the pages, and the slivers of romance among all the fighting are actually kind of sweet and don’t overshadow the main plot.

This is an exciting, complex, original series sure to engage both YA and adult readers. Although the story was complete and the ending satisfying, I’d have loved another book. Just a hint to the author!

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