A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin // Book Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin // Book Review

I’m seriously going to write this review with my head and not my heart. Because my head noticed a few little things that I wanted more clarity on, but my heart just wants to give it five stars. I might just split the difference and call this 4.5 stars, but that always rounds up.

Here’s more about A Magic Steeped in Poison

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

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My thoughts

I think the star of this book is the tea. I mean, you have to consider the fact that the book uses metaphor as a title, the main character is a tea-making apprentice, and she’s on her way to a tea competition to be the royal tea master. Tea plays a vital role in this story and the culture of this story expertly combining with real world tradition including the use of medicinal herbs is just fantastic. There were moments throughout the story where I worried that this tea business would take a backseat to the rest of the plot, but it didn’t. It was prominent and it was bold like a really well brewed cup.

But the story is about young Ning, a physician’s assistant who’s sister is summoned to the palace and win a coveted position as the princess’s “shennong-shi”. This isn’t some simpleton position making tea everyday of your life, but you’re a wielder of magic and using that magic not only for its medicinal purposes, but also to guide the hand of the kingdom. I mean, this position is important and comes with the ear of the princess at your beckon call. However, Ning has her reasons for going in her sister’s stead; her sister has been poisoned by tea and she needs the help of the princess to save her.

What Ning doesn’t know is that there’s some bigger problems brewing (pardon my pun) within the kingdom. There’s word of a rebellion and an old banished prince who wants to claim the throne for his own. And as Ning spends weeks in the capital city earning her place as the Shennong-shi, she learns that there is much more at stake for the entire kingdom.

Ning was my kind of main character. She doesn’t have it completely together and easily able to insult the leaders of the country by accidentally reciting the wrong poem, but she’s smart. She may stumble and perhaps make the wrong deduction from time to time, but that’s what I love about her. And what I love about the writing in this story. Judy Lin is able to really lay the character out for you through her almost poetic tone. I felt like I knew Ning and following along with her as she finds out more truths within the palace. I loved that I was seeing what was happening rather than being told or worse, being left behind while the characters go off to carry out some truth the reader doesn’t even see.

The royal and political drama was palatable and I really loved the pacing here. The competition stages weren’t rushed, but you also get an idea of what’s happening beyond that. I found it so difficult to see where Ning’s loyalties lie, which is great because that level of mystery kept me reading. Is it with the princess? Is it with the mysterious boy, Kang, who’s somehow captured her heart? Is it with her sister and ensuring that she can save her life? A lot is held back and even as I approached the final pages of the story, I found more of it unfolding in front of me. Judy Lin holds a lot close to the chest only revealing enough for you to know who really is behind the mysterious deaths throughout the kingdom, but doesn’t give you the resolution you crave.

Because this is a duology and the cliffhanger is nasty. The second book hasn’t come out yet, but oh yes, I’ve already requested it.

I think the only things I found issue with is the magic and world-building. Probably like every other review I write on here, I’m looking for that well-developed magical system that doesn’t leave me with a bunch of questions. This did leave with a few questions especially with how the magic worked. It was a bit…confusing. At one point, I thought I understood it; the shennong-shi are magical people who imbue their powers in the cups of tea they brewed. But then it got confusing when Ning started Shifting and drinking cups of tea I thought were brewed for other people. It was difficult for me to really get my head around, but I think I got it through context.

Overall, this book captured me and after a month of pretty meh reads, I’m so glad to finally have a five-star read again. I can’t wait to see what happens at the end.

Gallant by VE Schwab // Book Review

Gallant by VE Schwab // Book Review

Is it a YA? Is it a middle grade? Or is it for everyone? I’ve already heard so many stories on who this book is marketed to, but one thing I know for a fact is that it’s spooky, it’s good, and it’s very Schwab-ian.

Here’s more about Gallant

Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

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My thoughts

The story starts off with young Olivia. She’s left at a Preparatory school that her mother leaves her when she was very young. All she has is a journal her mother kept with strange entries, inky illustrations, and a warning for Olivia never to go to Gallant.

When the school receives a letter from a mysterious uncle having her return to Gallant, she’s immediately sent off only to find that she’s not wanted. But Olivia is determined to make this work especially since the two people who work at Gallant knew her mother. And as the days go by for Olivia, she finds out more and more about the house, her family, and what lies beyond the walls.

Seriously, the spook factor in this book is prevalent right from the beginning. The atmospheric writing puts you right into the story. It also helps that Olivia can see ghosts and not friendly ghosts like Casper. These are “ghouls” with missing body parts, skin sloughing off, and bones bare. They also don’t seem like friendly ghosts given that most of them just stare at Olivia and Olivia can’t look at them directly without scaring them off. There’s even these illustrations throughout the story that I could swear were looking into my soul.

From the start, I was scared. The atmosphere, the spooky ghosts, the haunted house, and the mysteries beyond the wall in their garden truly made me paranoid by the things in the corner of my eye. And knowing that it’s targeted towards young adult readers and even middle grade, well, that just makes me look like a giant baby. But if you’re a fan of horror or paranormal stories, then maybe you won’t be as spooked as I was.

Olivia was my favorite character in this whole story. I loved following along with her as she finds out about her mother, her family lineage, and even see her drum up the courage to face something no child should ever face. She has this naivete about her that really brings out the youthfulness of this story. Maybe she’s what makes this story feel MG. But then you bring on these massively mature challenges: facing family she’s never met, entering a home she’s never seen, being unable to communicate with her cousin (she’s non-verbal), and her cousin hiding this big secret from her. All this and then ghosts, demons, a world that wants her dead. You can see how you want to reach into the book and help her out.

The plot itself was also thick with mystery. As you read, it starts to unravel giving you pieces of the story and just enough to make you keep reading. I always love how closely VE Schwab keeps things to the chest that you don’t see the big reveals right away. They always keep you guessing, which is something I’ve always loved about their books.

While I truly loved this book, I will say it wasn’t my favorite Schwab book. I’m still more partial to the Darker Shade of Magic series and Vicious, but I think this book has merits in its own way. You have a main character you want to root for. You have a plot that’s weird and keeps you reading. You have these twists and turns and big reveals that surprise you throughout the read. There’s a lot to go on!

But if I could complain about anything, it was the ending. While the entire book felt lush with story and surprises, I was a bit disappointed with its end. It felt quick and quite simple. I hate using language like that because I know that writing an ending that satisfies the story and its readers isn’t easy, but this ending did feel just too easy for everyone. Bittersweet, but easy.

Overall, it’s another good one from VE Schwab and if you’re a fan of their work, then you’ll enjoy this one in your repertoire.

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye // Book Review

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye // Book Review

I love when I’m reading a book and I know I’m near the end, but I’m still surprised when the ending comes. I found myself staring at the Acknowledgements pages asking “that’s it?! I NEED MORE!” That’s a good thing. It means that I really loved it. Thanks to Epic Reads and Booksparks for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Blood Scion

This is what they deserve. They wanted me to be a monster. I will be the worst monster they ever created.

Fifteen-year-old Sloane can incinerate an enemy at will—she is a Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods.

Under the Lucis’ brutal rule, her identity means her death if her powers are discovered. But when she is forcibly conscripted into the Lucis army on her fifteenth birthday, Sloane sees a new opportunity: to overcome the bloody challenges of Lucis training, and destroy them from within.

Sloane rises through the ranks and gains strength but, in doing so, risks something greater: losing herself entirely, and becoming the very monster that she ahbors.

Following one girl’s journey of magic, injustice, power, and revenge, this deeply felt and emotionally charged debut from Deborah Falaye, inspired by Yoruba-Nigerian mythology, is a magnetic combination of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin and Daughter of Smoke and Bone that will utterly thrill and capture readers.

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My thoughts

This is the most adult YA book I’ve ever read and honestly, I love the book because of that. And while I picked this up because I wanted to read something more fun and fast, I’m actually enjoying the slower pace. The deeper world building and the character development really brings a sense that this is an epic story and not some flash in the pan that I get with many recent YA fantasy books. I was truly enamored from this story and will try my best not to gush entirely in this book.

The story follows Sloane, a young person who at the age of 15 was recruited into the Lucis army. The only caveat; she’s a Scion with magical powers and Lucis has been systematically killing every single Scion they come across. But from the advice of her grandfather, she joins the army in hopes of finding out the truth behind her mother’s disappearance.

While she’s there, she spends a month in the intensive training program, forced to kill or be killed despite not wanting to cause anyone harm. The brutality of this book was visceral. If you thought Sabaa Tahir is brutal in the Ember in the Ashes series, then you will be surprised by what Deborah Falaye is able to do.

The first impression I had was this felt like The Hunger Games; young children forced into an army and defend people who you don’t even care about while they extort your resources and force your people to live in hiding, poverty, and/or be killed. It has a bit of that hopeless feeling to it and it gets even deeper as you read what Sloane endures in the army.

I was so taken by the magic as well and learning how it works. I think the most fascinating part was reading that the gods of the past were connected to the Scion through their magic and how that manifests in the characters. It was so richly built and it’s always that X-factor that makes me more intrigued with the story.

I also absolutely love the inclusion of so much reality into this story as well. For Sloane, being a Yoruba born with Scion powers meant hiding a lot of herself in order to avoid being killed. There’s the Lucis who came to Nagea only to take over, kill the natives, and claim power over a land that doesn’t belong to them. I don’t know about you, but that sounds extremely relevant and something that is blatantly obvious from the writing. I love how it’s so obvious throughout the story. You can understand Sloane’s frustration with it. You can see barefaced how contradictory it was and how it must feel for those who have to endure it.

The second half of the book moved much faster than the first half for sure. But I loved the first half and the overall pacing of the book. It took its time to dive into the world and really presented a character with flaws and extremely relatable. I loved that nothing came easy for Sloane and the brutality she faces felt so obvious for the world that she lived in. It really brought the character to life and really made me root for her even harder. The ending was probably the most surprising component of the book as it all finally comes together. I honestly didn’t expect to read what I read. If I could find a flaw in any of this, it would be that some things were a bit repetitive and mentioned a few times. It didn’t bother me, but it was enough to be present in my mind.

Overall, I’ll probably be hyping this book up for a while because it was so good. I can’t wait for the next one mostly because this one left you wanting a bit more. It’s a story unique on its own and while you can get caught up in how it reads like one story or another, I think that Deborah Falaye’s written something special here and I can’t wait to read the next one.

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker // Book Review

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker // Book Review

You know, sometimes the descriptions of books can be super deceiving. I picked up a copy of The Keeper of Night out of my own curiosity and the funny part is that it became another favorite read of 2022. I needed to take my time reading this one because my mental health hasn’t been the greatest lately, but this book helped me escape my brain for a little while and that’s always a plus.

Here’s more about The Keeper of Night

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

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My thoughts

I was honestly surprised by how much I loved this book. I thought it was going to be your average YA fantasy novel with a Japanese twist, but the details of Japanese folklore/mythology, the usage of “reapers” and “shinigami” and the morality of taking someone’s life, it all came together to create an incredible story deeply rich with themes of morality, empathy, and understanding what is the “good” thing to do and what is the “right” thing to do.

I love the complexity of the characters. Learning that Ren is half-English/half-Japanese and her struggle to fit into either world is something that I resonate deeply with. While I’m not biracial, I’ve had a different experience growing up in the US with a more American mother and a very Korean father. The experience left me straddled between two worlds that I haven’t yet found comfort in. And reading Ren’s story made me feel like I’m not the only person who is struggling with this. I can only imagine how that makes folks who do identify as biracial will feel.

Neven is also an incredible character that while did get in the way of Ren’s plans every now and again, his morality and his strength to stand up for himself despite being a bit shy and nervous about being a reaper just felt so poignant next to Ren. I hope I’m describing this well, but I saw Neven as more than just that annoying brother that gets in the way of things. I saw him as Ren’s better half who always made sure to keep her in check.

The other part that I truly loved about this book was the Japanese folklore. While their time in England was brief (and I’m actually wondering if we will ever go back to that part of the book), the world in Japan was filled with dark creatures, monsters, and demons that if you’re a fan of horror, you’ll actually really enjoy. I loved seeing the different mythologies play out in this book and the plot was very linear, so you can easily follow along with Ren as she completed her task to become a full-fledge shinigami.

I think the most intriguing part of this whole story is how Ren manages her insecurities as a reaper and a shinigami, her internal struggle with being “evil,” her brother, Neven, who acts more like her morality, and the massive divide any person may feel when thrown into two cultures you’re not wholly a part of, but really want to be. Ren reminded me in more ways than one like Doctor Who. While she isn’t an alien from another planet, her sense of morality is really thrown off and it’s people like her brother that always need to remind her about empathy and seeing beyond the task at hand at the humanity of a person. It was interesting to see Ren battle these two sides of her morality and this is one of the biggest aspects I’m looking forward to reading more about in her next book.

I will admit that I was very surprised by the ending, but after some reflection, I kind of see where the author is going as well. Some of the ending I definitely guessed, but the rest was just a shock to me. But thinking about it, I realize that Kylie Lee Baker is playing around with a bigger question of power and acceptance. I honestly can’t wait for the next book because I have this feeling it will reveal much more about Ren that we didn’t know before, see her down to her truest sense, and I wonder what will happen with her brother.

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen // Book Review

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen // Book Review

I’m a huge fan of mermaids, so when I heard that there was a book out there that combines The Little Mermaid with Children of Blood and Bone, I knew I had to check this out. I’m so glad I did because I found myself a new favorite. Thanks to Get Underlined for a gifted copy of the book.

Here’s more about Skin of the Sea

Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata–a mermaid–collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable–she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it.

To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But something is amiss. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail. . . .

Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

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My thoughts

The story follows Simidele, a young Mami Wata, or mermaid, who’s only job is to bless the souls passed at sea. However, being a newly minted mermaid, she’s been having a tough time coming to terms with her new life glimpsing at memories of her life as a human for clues to who she used to be. When she accidentally saves a boy, that’s when the story really starts to begin because as a Mami Wata, your only job is to bless the souls. Because she wanted to save a life, Simi sets off on a quest to speak with the Supreme Creator in hopes of remedying the situation.

And let tell you that the adventure is so much fun. From pirates who took over an enslavement slave ship to save other enslaved Africans to meeting mythical creatures to entertaining a riddle-filled trap of an island to save two children, this story just keeps moving from this point on.

I loved Simi and Kola so much. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the romantic elements going on, I loved their dynamic. Simi is this intelligent person with strength that surprised me to read. I loved that she uses her knowledge to help Kola get back his twin siblings. I also love Kola because of how much a leader he is. At first, I thought he was just a teenager who liked to get in trouble, but the moment he gets back to his village, he’s transformed into this man with a plan to get back his siblings and fight against Esu, the orisa who stole them.

The story itself is wrapped in so many layers. You have Simi who’s looking for some remnants of her past. You have Kola who must get back to his village to protect his siblings. But then they go on this adventure meeting mythical creatures, friendly allies, scary creatures, and the gods of this West African tale. And on top of that, you have these orisa making visits, secret deals being made, and so many faces that appear throughout the story. Honestly, you’re in for a ride that doesn’t let go not even at the end!

I mentioned this a second ago, but the only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the romance. It was fine, but a little forced and I much rather would see Simi and Kola be allies as they fought against Esu. However, I also know that this story is loosely based on The Little Mermaid, so there needs to be that romantic element to keep that basis still true. The only other thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the bits and pieces that kind of fell off. I was intrigued by Yemoja, Simi’s creator, and her abilities. I’m hoping that the second book will dive further into these, especially since the ending left you wanting the second book right away!

Overall, this was such a good story that combines so many mythical creatures, legends, gods, and people into a beautiful narrative. The characters are so interesting and you want to find out about them and you’ll fall in love with them (even the side characters!). I truly loved this one and can’t wait for book 2.

Luminous by Mara Rutherford // Book Review

Luminous by Mara Rutherford // Book Review

What if you had the power of a star only to have it hidden away for a very long time? What if you finally understood how to use it only to know how precious it could be? And what if you knew if you used too much, you could do what stars do and burn out? Well, this story dives into a world where a young girl unleashes her star power only to understand both the pros and cons of the magic. Thanks to Inkyard Press for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Luminous

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos–and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.

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My thoughts

This was a super fast read with tons of action and adventure, romance, and big decisions for young people to make that wraps it all up within less than 400 pages. It’s got powerful mages, creepy monsters, the balance between good and evil, and big conversations about being a young person. It was so fast that I read this within a few days without stopping much to come up for air. There was so much packed between the two covers that I was surprised this was a standalone story.

And honestly, as much as I want to read more standalone fantasy books, I kind of wish this was longer and maybe spread itself out into a duology. There is so much that this book shares that if it had the space to get into it, I think it would have been even better. But because it was a standalone, I felt like much of it was skipped over or truncated to fit into the running time. I’m honestly disappointed that this is only a standalone because a bigger series, even a duology, would have answered all the questions more fully, given it room to really breathe, and make you truly fall in love with all the different characters. The potential is there and it really drove me to keep reading, but it needed the space to be fully actualized and be so much more robust.

Much of this story feels like it’s about Lorial removing the veil of ignorance from herself to understand her magical power, how it works, and how she’s been hidden away from what should be a natural thing for her. While there were components outside of this to draw readers into the book like the Lusiri, the magical abyss Margana creates, the fact that some of the royal family was woven into life, the abuse of the mages under Darius’s rule, and the political intrigue Darius is involved with, it all stems back to Lorial and what she’s going through and feeling. All these points were such a draw to the book as a bigger whole, but it all wrapped up so suddenly. It almost felt like the rest of the story was just a maguffin for the real story; a young girl who’s been sheltered her entire life finding out the truth behind her magic, her family, and taking hold of what she can do.

And in many ways, it makes the story more of a coming-of-age story amidst a fantasy book. Honestly, this could have been a contemporary YA roamnce story with the way it read. It was more focused on Evran and Lorial and I don’t have any problems with that, but I wanted the other parts to have the same kind of attention this couple got. I also really loved the other characters introduced in the story and would have loved to have them contributed more to the story. However, I didn’t think that it harmed the story that they weren’t as bigger parts.

A lot of the relationship between Lorial, Darius, and Evran felt so much like Alina, Mal, and The Darkling from Shadow and Bone. I know that will be a huge draw for folks who loved the show and the books and I really loved the romantic parts to the book, but again, I really wanted more. I was also confused by Darius’s motives. Earlier when I was reading, I thought that maybe he’s being manipulative to try and get what he wanted. This was also before I learned that this is a standalone series, so then when I finally learned Darius’s motives and how villainous he is, I was even more confused. I kept thinking that this was all some bigger plot, but it didn’t turn out that way. I just finished reading that part with a big “huh.”

The other part that I wasn’t a huge fan of is Lorial’s “Mary Sue” abilities. It didn’t take too much away from the story from me, but it’s truly hard to believe that someone who’s only learning about her powers has more abilities than someone who’s been training for over 100 years. It kind of makes you stop and think how possible that can be and that always ends up being what I think about over reading the story.

Overall, this was a good one and I really loved how quick of a book it was. I loved the usage of magic and the adventures Lorial goes on. I even loved the romance between her and Evran and seeing Lorial gain so much pride and confidence while she journeys to find herself. But there were too many flaws for me to overlook despite how much I loved the world and wanted to get into it more. It definitely had the potential to be great, but it just missed the mark for me.

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker // Book Review

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker // Book Review

This has got to be one of the best stories I’ve read in a really long time. It wasn’t perfect, but it still really blew me away with its storytelling, its world-building, the intrigue, the romance, and everything else it has to offer. I can’t wait to tell you about this one because despite it being a YA novel, it read very adult and quite extraordinary!

Here’s more about Forestborn

A young, orphaned shapeshifter in a world that fears magic must risk everything if she hopes to save her only friend in Elayne Audrey Becker’s Forestborn, first in a new fantasy series with a timeless feel.

TO BE BORN OF THE FOREST IS A GIFT AND A CURSE. Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness–and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble. When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up–and to which she swore never to return. But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.

My thoughts

Rora is a shifter who’s in the employ of the king. When the king’s son (her best friend) becomes ill with a magical disease, she sets out with her brother and the king’s other son to find the cure. While on their journey, they’re also to investigate what’s happening with the kingdom in the North of theirs. Because in this world, magic isn’t liked very much and one of the kings is trying to eradicate its existence from the very map.

While Rora, her brother Helos, and the king’s other son Weslyn travel through the world to find a magical cure, they’re met with some interesting magical creatures, fight some soldiers from the other side, and really see what’s happening with the kingdom in the North. I truly fell in love with this story, its magic, and the characters. Rora was such a relatable character. While I can’t shapeshift and I’m not a spy for the king, I loved that you read every waking thought she has in her brain. It was interesting to see how she thinks and how she plans her moves because when she shifts into the different animals or when she’s changing her face to disguise it, it really helps play out the scenes in your head. I loved that aspect the most.

The woods and nature were definitely a huge component of the book as you read Rora and company journey to find the magical cure. I loved seeing them getting lost in the woods, finding massive lakes, searching through caves, and being transported by magic. It was such an immersive world with all types of magical creatures. I thought it was clever Elayne Audrey Becker made you fall in love with these woods before she shared the bigger political plot taking place.

And the plot itself is such a twist! I loved finding out more about this world and what’s happening in it. Of course, I won’t spoil it for you but it was definitely surprising and one of the bits that really blew me away. I want to read the next book just to find out more on what happens with the bigger plot.

I think the only issue I had was that there were some really inopportune moments to go into backstory. Because you’re reading the book through Rora’s perspective, you read a lot of what Rora’s thinking, especially in the middle of a conversation. I found myself reading this sad backstory about Rora and her brother only to be clueless why someone gave a one-line answer. It turned out the question was a page and a half ago right before Rora went into this story about her life. It wasn’t the worst flaw, but it did still bug me enough to note it in my review.

Overall, this was such an adventure the likes of LOTR. I’m so glad I read it right after The Return of the King because I think I really love long journeys and adventure stories the most. The woods were definitely my favorite part and I can’t wait to return to them in the second book.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko // Book Review

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko // Book Review

I read this book on the suggestion of my friend at @deedireads. It’s been on my radar for quite some time, but we all know what that reader life is like. But I’m so glad that I actually took the time to read it because it is well worth the read! I’m honestly mad at myself for not reading this sooner. I definitely won’t hold off on reading Redemptor, which is out this week!

Here’s more about Raybearer

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11.

If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

My Thoughts

Wow, this book right off the bat is incredible. This is a beautiful and complex YA fantasy story filled with intrigue, mystery, political suspense, likeable characters, and so much more. I’m honestly surprised this is a YA book and a debut.

I love a book with great world building and this one delivers so much of it. I felt like Jordan Ifueko put in a lot of effort into this part because if the lore and world-building didn’t make sense, then the story wouldn’t make sense either. It’s always great to read YA fantasy books that have much more depth to it. The lore itself is also incredible. I was telling my husband how the systems of government worked with the 12 ruling parties, the sacrificial children to the Underworld, the political struggle to keep everyone happy, but everyone isn’t. And then on top of that, a massive overtaking of people’s culture and traditions all in the name of unifying the country. There’s so much that this book deals with and does it so expertly that I’m really shook by how this is just a debut!

I also really appreciated that the book had inclusive characters that came from all parts of the world. It made the story feel bigger than just a tiny speck of a world. Everyone’s character carried something important and you’ll want to make sure that every character gets to be happy at the end; even the prince! I honestly was worried that Dayo would be this egotistical little brat, but he turned out to be just a kind and loving human being that I would most definitely follow.

Tarisai was probably my favorite character (alongside her buddies Kirah and Sanjeet). She had that extra something, which was wild when I read the other characters felt like she had a little extra something going on. While she wasn’t the most fearless person, she did approach things in a pragmatic and detailed way rather than just diving right into danger. She has this background in being isolated and alone for most of her life dreaming of the day she would see the rest of the world and that’s just a feeling I deeply understand. Writing the story in her perspective allows you to really understand what kinds of thoughts she has and they are numerous. From trying to figure out the puzzle that is the political structure to finding out the truth behind the throne, it’s incredible to see it through Tarisai’s eyes.

There was no skimping on magic either. Not only was there there a complex magic system, it was so interesting to see how it worked. All the characters had a Hallow (extrasensory power) that helps them in some way. Some characters have the ability to change faces, others to heal, others to find weaknesses in others. On top of that, there’s the magic of the Council of Eleven which keep the Emperor and the Crown Prince from dying of the eleven different ways to die. Then there’s the magic of the Underworld, magical histories being told, and even the history of how all the magic came to be in this world. It truly is so complex and intricate that if you’re the kind of person who loves big puzzles with lots of pieces, this is for you.

The plot itself was so good as well. From studying at the Children’s Palace when they were kids to becoming Dayo’s council and even when Tarisai fights with everything she has to avoid killing the Crown Prince. I loved the journey Tarisai and her friends go on to help each other, the bigger plot of the kingdom trying to unify the country in the worst way possible, and how Tarisai plans on helping the Redemptors from losing more children to the Underworld.

When the truth is finally revealed, it was nothing like I imagined, but all the bits of story finally fit together like an intricate puzzle. You step back and you see how all of this is coming together and it truly is such a beautiful tapestry. Honestly, I 100% urge you to pick up this book if you haven’t. If you’re a fan of YA fantasy novels, then this is definitely a book you’ll enjoy as much as I did.

New to Me Series // The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

New to Me Series // The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Thanks Tor Teen for the gifted copy of these books.

I didn’t really get into Western stories until my husband and I watched a few together. I’ve never read Westerns before and when I think about it, it sounds like old white dudes riding on their horse with a cigarette pursed at their lips and a bad attitude. I know, I’m definitely being reductive here, but that’s what I thought. But then I recently heard of Charlotte Nicole Davis and her The Good Luck Girls series that combines westerns with more inclusive characters and a little bit of a dystopian/fantasy vibe. Oh yeah, I know this would be a series I will really enjoy. And with the sequel, The Sisters of Reckoning, out on August 10th, I figured it would be fun to share these books. I haven’t read these yet, but I will definitely adding them to a future TBR!

Here’s more about The Good Luck Girls

Aster, the protector
Violet, the favorite
Tansy, the medic
Mallow, the fighter
Clementine, the catalyst

THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls–they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe. It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Here’s more about The Sisters of Reckoning

The Good Luck Girls are free. Aster’s sister and friends have new lives across the border in Ferron, while Aster remains in Arketta, helping more girls escape. But news of a new welcome house opening fills Aster with a need to do more than just help individual girls. And an unexpected reunion gives her an idea of how to do it. From there, grows a wildly ambitious plan to free all dustbloods, who live as prisoners to Arketta’s landmasters and debt slavery.

When Clementine and the others return from Ferron, they become the heart of a vibrant group of fearless fighters, working to unite the various underclasses and convince them to join in the fight. Along the way, friendships will be forged, lives will be lost, and love will take root even in the harshest of circumstances, between the most unexpected of lovers.

But will Arketta’s dustbloods finally come into power and freedom, or will the resistance just open them up to a new sort of danger?

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

Mini Reviews // The Crier’s War duology by Nina Varela

Mini Reviews // The Crier’s War duology by Nina Varela

I finished last month with Crier’s War for book club. It was so good that I abandoned the rest of my TBR to read Iron Heart right after it. And let me tell you, it was worth abandoning it. Plus, there wasn’t really much time left to read anything else so I took advantage of my mood and just coasted through a great little fantasy series.

Here’s more about the books

Crier’s War

Impossible love between two girls —one human, one Made. A love that could birth a revolution.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, Designed to be the playthings of royals, took over the estates of their owners and bent the human race to their will.

Now, Ayla, a human servant rising the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging the death of her family… by killing the Sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier, who was Made to be beautiful, to be flawless. And to take over the work of her father.

Crier had been preparing to do just that—to inherit her father’s rule over the land. But that was before she was betrothed to Scyre Kinok, who seems to have a thousand secrets. That was before she discovered her father isn’t as benevolent as she thought. That was before she met Ayla.

Set in a richly-imagined fantasy world, Nina Varela’s debut novel is a sweepingly romantic tale of love, loss and revenge, that challenges what it really means to be human.

Iron Heart

Critically acclaimed author Nina Varela delivers a stunning sequel to the richly imagined queer epic fantasy Crier’s War, which SLJ called “perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass.”

For too long, Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing its human citizens. But the human revolution has risen, and at its heart is Ayla. Once a handmaiden, now a fugitive, Ayla narrowly escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl she would’ve killed if she hadn’t fallen in love first. 

Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, who can help accomplish the human rebellion’s ultimate goal: destroy the Iron Heart. Without its power, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction. Ayla wants to succeed, but can’t shake the strong feelings she’s developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among traveling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.

Even as their paths collide, nothing can prepare them for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.

My Thoughts

First off, I love a duology. Two books that can say everything it needs to say is enough for me. And when the story is so good that you want to pick up the book right after it, it’s so satisfying. I finished these books like I finished a really great meal. The wine was delicious. The flavors paired well together and I sighed that great big sigh.

Crier’s War blew me away. I wasn’t expecting anything in particular from the book, but when I started reading and seeing Ayla and Crier coming together and the tension between them both mentally and emotionally, it kept me reading. I loved the play of feelings here; there was the mental struggle to stay loyal to your cause, but then emotional struggle to not fall in love. Ayla’s feelings were so real and her push/pull from Crier really drove the story for me. That isn’t to say Crier didn’t do the same either. Her ignorance of growing up in a gilded cage and then meeting Ayla who questioned everything is literally what you want to see; someone strong enough to open your eyes to what’s around you and make you wonder why.

It’s stories like this one that really make me love reading; books that pursue passion and question yourself and make you wonder why you’ve been doing the same thing for so long. I also love that mental and emotional struggle to stay away from someone who you know is your enemy, but still finding common ground and accepting them as is as well.

Of course, there was also all the tropes you love about fantasy books. There’s political intrigue, female bad ass-ery, romance, and poor choices because hey, they’re young.

Iron Heart was the continuation of this story picking up right where Crier’s War left off. There wasn’t a strong cliffhanger at the end of Crier’s War, so you’re not left with clamoring to the next book because of it. However, there’s enough there to make you reach for book 2 right after book 1. The first part of the book was a little slow since it recaps the first book, but once it dives into it, then it starts to really pick up.

I did love seeing the role reversals between Crier and Ayla. Ayla gets to see what opulent living looks like while Crier tries her best not to starve. I also loved that each of them don’t miss the life they had before, accepting their circumstances, and moving forward than complaining that one has it rougher than the other.

The second book had a ton of twists and turns with surprising components that kept me reading. Certain people showed up at the wrong time and big secrets are revealed making it a much more interesting story. I’m so glad that they continued the same journey they were on in the first book and that all those pieces fit so well together as you approach the end. At some point, I was a bit confused by what the ultimate goal was for Ayla and Crier, but it did get an answer before the ending.

I will say I was a bit disappointed with how easy things were at the end of Iron Heart. There were a few instances where I had to stretch my disbelief a bit more than I usually would like, but I also remember this is a YA fantasy novel and sometimes those things get overlooked for much more important components.

Overall, this duology was such a stunner and I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. After a string of pretty meh books, I’m glad to have read something I really liked. I’ll definitely be adding Crier’s War to my favorites of the year.