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.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

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.

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard // Book Review

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard // Book Review

Tomorrow, Realm Breaker will be out in the world for everyone to read! Gah, it’s always so exciting to be writing a review for a book months in advance. I feel like it’s been forever since I read an up-and-coming novel that has a lot of highly-anticipated readers with a huge dedicated following from her previous book series. I think the last was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue last year. I guess this is my yearly “getting-on-the-train-early-and-waiting-for-it-to-take-off” and I’m glad to be on board. While I haven’t read Victoria Aveyard’s first fantasy series, Red Queen, I think this new one from her will be more my style especially as an epic YA fantasy.

Here’s More About Realm Breaker

A strange darkness grows in Allward.

Even Corayne an-Amarat can feel it, tucked away in her small town at the edge of the sea.

She soon discovers the truth: She is the last of an ancient lineage—and the last hope to save the world from destruction. But she won’t be alone. Even as darkness falls, she is joined by a band of unlikely companions:

A squire, forced to choose between home and honor.
An immortal, avenging a broken promise.
An assassin, exiled and bloodthirsty.
An ancient sorceress, whose riddles hide an eerie foresight.
A forger with a secret past.
A bounty hunter with a score to settle.

Together they stand against a vicious opponent, invincible and determined to burn all kingdoms to ash, and an army unlike anything the realm has ever witnessed.

My thoughts

It’s been a while since a book’s lived rent-free inside my head. I spent my weekend thinking about Andry, Dom, Corayne, and Sorasa and the adventures they get into throughout Realm Breaker. It was a pretty easy read in comparison to some bigger named epic fantasy titles and the multiple POV provides excellent detail on a specific scene from multiple angles. I really loved this world and the strange magic within it.

I love that this is a group of random strangers all somehow related to the royal world they live in. Their worlds are all different, but they all have skin in the game of taking down the royalty. Corayne is the daughter of an infamous pirate and a very famous mortal who’s blood and sword can open realms called “Spindles.” It felt a little like alternate universes with people from a specific bloodline having the ability to open them. Dom is an immortal who’s worked alongside Corayne’s father. Andry is a squire who watched as Corayne’s father was killed. Sorasa is an assassin, but working closely with Dom and therefore becomes a part of the group.

This book was action packed! Either they were traveling through some wild parts of the map or they were faced with giant sea creatures, there weren’t many moments where you weren’t entertained. Even the characters themselves turned out to be intriguing and you wanted to know more about them. They were all flawed as well and this is what I really enjoyed about the novel; nothing came easy. Plans got messed up or something big and twisted happens to keep you pushing for the heroes to win. I love a good battle where people think they have everything under control, but everything turns out like trash regardless.

I’m also a huge fan of “royalty gone wrong” stories where the corruption within the royalty is what sets off this group of randoms to fight against it. And they are sinister. I was surprised because there are sections where the Queen has her own POV, but when the twists started for her side of the story, I was floored by where Victoria Aveyard took it. It made sense with the story, but it surprised me nonetheless.

The only other thing I wanted more of was the relationships between these characters. At first, I thought Andry, Dom, Corayne, and Sorasa were going to be the main characters in the group. They had a rapport especially with each other and I can see hints of possible romantic connections in future books. I can also see some more natural friendships developing, but overall, I wanted there to be some more moments of downtime where the group can get to know each other rather than moving onto the next task.

But as the story moved along, more characters were introduced and became very integral for the movement of the plot. I wish they were introduced much earlier (they were introduced pretty much in the middle of the book), so that we can follow along with them. Also, there were characters that had their own POV, but I wasn’t completely sure its relevance to the story. You get hints here and there, but it felt weird to be reading components that didn’t really fit with the rest of the book. I’m assuming they’ll be introduced in subsequent books, but I kept these character POVs in mind in case they came up later in the story. I don’t think they really do.

Overall, this was a great start to a brand new YA fantasy series. I’ll probably be following along as Victoria Aveyard publishes the rest of the titles for this series and rereading this one again in the future. I look forward to seeing what happens next!

I received a copy of this book from Epic Reads for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

I’ve Outgrown Sarah J Maas

I’ve Outgrown Sarah J Maas

No, this isn’t some salacious post about Sarah J Maas or the ACOTAR series. I’m just over her books and wanted to come on here and talk about why. This post isn’t a drag. This is just a reader who’s grown out of Sarah J Maas and her work.

If you’re new to the fantasy genre, Sarah J Maas is one of those authors people pick up in hopes of finding love in the genre. For the most part, people pick up SJM and gush over the characters, especially the male characters. They love the bad ass females set in these Fae worlds. And for a really long time, I also really loved Sarah J Maas for the same things.

Over the holidays, the cover for A Court of Silver Flames was revealed and while at that point I was really excited about the book, I wasn’t too excited for the cover. It didn’t match the covers of the past three books, but matches the new covers set out for them. So I could get a copy of this book, but would probably have to buy the rest of the series in the new covers to match. You know the bookshelf aesthetic; every book in a series must match.

But truthfully, it doesn’t matter what the cover looks like because we get a new book in the series, right? And while I was waiting for the newest story, I read Crescent City as well as numerous other fantasy novels over the course of 2020. I thought Crescent City was wildly entertaining filled with characters you’ll love and a story that keeps moving for all 800 pages of that chonker. But there was a waning feeling; a sense that perhaps SJM doesn’t speak to me as much as she used to.

And I love seeing folks picking up her books for the first time. I love seeing people who don’t normally read fantasy books find something of interest in her books. But something happened to me between finishing Crescent City, seeing the cover for A Court of Silver Flames, and everything in between. My love for SJM wanes a little everyday and my interest in her new book isn’t as much as it used to be.

At this point in my life, I’ve read some great fantasy books that I would much rather read than SJM’s books. Perhaps what I’m feeling is that I’m growing up and some of the books that I loved when I was younger will be fondly remembered, but no longer followed closely. I’ll most definitely appreciate SJM for writing some great stories that thrust me into the YA fantasy world. I appreciate the fact that she’s written something digestible with characters worth investing your time and energy into and keeping me on my toes from book to book to book. But it’s time to finally put her away, read other books, and find other worlds beyond this one. Because like many parts of our lives, our reading lives are ever evolving journeys between worlds. We grow tired of one and then move onto the next one with great respect for the books that got us here. You can say I’m setting off into the sherbert-colored sunset tipping my hat to the author who started off my love for fantasy.

Again, I’m not hating on SJM and the folks who absolutely love this series and her books. I encourage everyone to pick up this book, but what I’ve concluded after writing this post is that I’ve outgrown her work. I’ve moved beyond Sarah J Maas to other authors that I want to put my effort into.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn // Book Review

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn // Book Review

When Instagram raves about a book, it’s hard not to give into the hype. Influence is strong over there and when people are telling you to read a specific book because it was incredible, it’s hard to ignore. This goes double when friends who don’t have a bookstagram account are telling you to read the book as well.

To be honest, I have a vague understanding of Arthurian legends. I know about King Arthur and the Round Table, Merlin, the Guinevere and Lancelot debacle, and Excalibur, but I don’t remember much else. But you don’t need to remember everything because this book turned those stories on its head. And it gets a definite twist.

Here’s More About the Book

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed this one. I felt like Tracy Deonn really took her time to write this story and putting together this beautiful world that exists within the real world. It’s obvious from the way it’s written that a lot of research went into it. Everything from how King Arthur made his way to the Americas to even Bree’s family lineage all the way back to enslavement were well executed and breathed a real feeling into it. While King Arthur might be legend, this story really brings that legend to life.

The real world components of being a young Black girl living in the American South and going to UNC – Chapel Hill felt very realistic, which is really nice because sometimes with urban fantasies, it’s like the characters live in some sort of vacuum. I loved that the real world was still very much real despite the Arthurian legends coming true. Bree had to face scrutiny and discrimination because of the color of her skin and her background. You can see that she has her guard up for some people, but when she takes her guard down, she’s loyal and sensitive and the fact that she’s struggling with her mom’s death really hit me in the heart gut.

It also dealt with grief, which as a young person asks a lot of questions. I love that Bree mentioned her “before” and “after” version and how after-Bree can sometimes lash out or cry while thinking about her mom. It felt like her mother was very much a part of the story despite her not actually being there. I can only imagine trying to go through this by herself. She has her dad and her best friend, Alice, there by her side, but I completely understand that there are some things you have to go through alone. I wanted to just hold her hand and be there for her as she did it.

But let’s talk about the actual Arthurian tale. I liked how Tracy Deonn created this magical lineage for the Knights of the Round Table. And I loved the whole secret society component. I’m a huge fan of secret societies in schools, so when I read this one had one, I was totally in love with the book! It then blew me away by having a competition for squire positions and scions! I love complex magic systems and while it does take me a second to figure it out, once I figure it out I love it. It always surprises me when YA Fantasy books don’t go deeper into the magic worlds or the world building, but I felt like Tracy Deonn put a lot of care and work into the magic as much as the rest of the story.

For most of the story, I couldn’t figure out how the legend connects with Bree’s magic. One’s this really old tale from Western Europe that made its way to America through the colonies while the other was created in America while through the struggles of enslavement. Even the mention of root magic vs. aether made me think that maybe they’re not connected. That was until they were and that reveal probably made the most sense. OMG! When it finally comes together (and it will. Trust me), it just made sense.

There were some YA tropes that I wasn’t a huge fan of. Things like how Bree just accepted this Arthurian world existing below the grounds of her university. I also wasn’t a fan of the weird love triangle vibes between her, Nick, and Sel, but I also figure this is a nod to the original love triangle in the story despite the fact that there was no Guinevere bloodline. And the pacing was a bit off for me. However, these tiny little things are really me nitpicking because the story makes up for all of it.

This story was emotional and beautiful. While it reads like a YA story, it didn’t lack in heart and beauty. I absolutely loved the characters in the story, how inclusive it was, and the big surprises waiting for you at the end. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Arthurian tales, secret societies in school, the chosen one, competitions, and coming-of-age.

You can find Legendborn on Bookshop.org

Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer // Book Review

Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer // Book Review

It feels like ages since I’ve written book reviews for the blog, but this year I decided to make my blog a place where I can store all of them. I’m still using Goodreads, but I much prefer having my own system of collecting my book reviews digitally and I want that to live on my site. That being said, I’m welcoming book reviews back to my blog with one for Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer.

I’ll be honest, I went into this book with very little knowledge about what it’s about. Yeah, I read the synopsis, but it never gives you a full feeling on what you’re about to read. But as I was reading, I most definitely was hooked.

Here’s More About the Book

The forest is a dangerous place, where siren song lures men and women to their deaths. For centuries, a witch has harvested souls to feed the heartless tree, using its power to grow her domain.

When Owen Merrick is lured into the witch’s wood, one of her tree-siren daughters, Seren, saves his life instead of ending it. Every night, he climbs over the garden wall to see her, and every night her longing to become human deepens. But a shift in the stars foretells a dangerous curse, and Seren’s quest to become human will lead them into an ancient war raging between the witch and the king who is trying to stop her.

Epic, heartbreaking, and darkly atmospheric, Into the Heartless Wood is the story of impossible love between a monstrous tree siren and a boy who lives at the edge of her wood.

My Thoughts

When I first started reading, I thought this would be an interesting fantasy story about two people who become unlikely friends. I didn’t imagine there to be a romantic element, but it was so well executed. The relationship between Owen and Seren felt so natural despite being natural enemies. I loved how they started off as fearful of each other, but they kept their minds opened and fell in love with each other over the course of the story. It was really nice to see their relationship grow as the story did as well.

Of course, there was a little bit of animosity especially with the people surrounding Owen and Seren, but I loved that they went against the wishes of their minders and went after each other anyway. Their love definitely had that innocence factor to it and there wasn’t anything beyond a few stolen kisses throughout the story. I felt like the main focus of this book was these two characters. While there was conflict to be had, it felt almost secondary to knowing these characters and the decisions they make to save each other.

The story itself felt like a fairy tale. I’m surprised it didn’t start off with “Once upon a time,” because the atmosphere really conveys that fairy tale-esque dreaminess. It’s also pretty dark with a lot of gore, blood, and death. I loved that it had this dark element to it despite feeling like a light read. It was poetic especially in Seren’s chapters that are written in what looks like a rhythmic meter. I really loved using a specific writing style to convey Seren’s chapters. As a tree person, it definitely showed you how she’s not wholly human, but as you continue to read you see how that really changes with the style. I liked that touch a lot.

While I really loved this story, there were a couple of things I couldn’t overlook. The first thing was that there’s very little information about the villains. Both the Soul Eater and the witch had a backstory that put them in the positions they are in now, but not a lot of it was fleshed out. I don’t think it was very important for the rest of the story, but I feel like it would have brought a level of depth to it. I wanted it to be one of those “don’t make the same mistakes I did” story, but that didn’t happen.

Also, I’m not a fan of convenient plots and some of those components were obviously convenient. Knowledge on how to defeat someone before even looking into it doesn’t really compel me to keep reading. But again, it didn’t seem that important in the context of the story because the story was so focused on Owen and Seren.

Overall, I loved this story. I loved the characters and the little romance between them. Honestly, this story read like a novella, but when I realized it was over 350 pages long, I was surprised. Perhaps it’s a nod to how compulsive this read was and how it kept me entertained and within the story. But I really wish there was more to it.

I would highly recommend this book to folks who love a love story filled with drama and suspense. It’s a heavy read with the level of gore and death, but at the same time enjoyable while I read it.

Thanks Netgalley and Page Street YA for this gifted e-ARC. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Find Into the Heartless Wood on Bookshop.org

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir // Book Review

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir // Book Review

The third book in the Ember in the Ashes series! With every book I read, I approach the ending of this series and I don’t know if I’m ready to let this one go. It’s been a long time since I’ve been enamored with an entire series (the last one being Throne of Glass, which didn’t work for me). I’ll be sad when the series is finally over, but I’m so ready for its exciting and twisty conclusion!

Here’s More About A Reaper at the Gates

Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister’s life and the lives of everyone in the Empire. Yet danger lurks on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalizes on the Emperor’s volatility to grow her own power—regardless of the carnage she leaves in her path.

Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows that the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. During the hunt to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would help her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.

And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. However, in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that demands his complete surrender—even if that means abandoning the woman he loves.

My Thoughts

Once again, I’m just so impressed by Sabaa Tahir and this world she’s created. It’s a nonstop action-packed story that moves. I was worried with this one being the third book in a four-book series that it would be a filler between the second and the fourth book. However, there was so much happening in this one that I didn’t even imagine could take place.

In many ways, it is a filler. There’s the downfall of a major city that The Blood Shrike, Elias, and Laia are all working towards. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg for what will happen next. So you can say that this book fills the space between the second and the fourth novel, but it does it in a way that will entertain you and digs deeper into the world and the characters. I’ve read so many books in the middle of the series where it pushes you nowhere until the very last 50 pages and then it moves like fire.

I’m so glad Sabaa Tahir’s got that ability to tease and taunt you throughout the novel, make you keep reading her book, and then surprise you. She’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve in this one and they didn’t disappoint.

I know many folks had issues with Laia and her involvement in the story, but at the same time it makes sense to her character. She doesn’t know how to fight. She’s not strong like Helene or Elias, but she has that will. I think her will to find her brother and her will to stop the Nightbringer is what really makes her interesting to me. I also love the fact that this doesn’t come easy for her. She’s losing friends left and right. Her plans never go perfectly. She tries her best, but I find I’d rather see a character fail and get back up then succeed at every attempt. She’s definitely no Mary Sue (thank God), but I love that despite her shortcomings she’s still able to keep her head up and use what she has available to her. She’s a very interesting character despite her not doing much.

And the surprises keep rolling out. Seriously, I feel like I’m watching a soap opera and every single turn there’s some bigger twist that shocks me to the point where I’m yelling at imaginary characters. They weren’t just devices to keep you guessing or surprise you, but really made the world much more complex.

I could not get enough Nightbringer. While he didn’t get a dedicated narration during the book, I absolutely loved how he popped up everywhere. It almost felt like this book showed you the dance the Nightbringer has been dancing for thousands of years. Knowing how important the story is with his specific story line made me keep a close eye on him. I think the final book will definitely have more Nightbringer and I think it’ll be really fudging good.