ARC REVIEW: THE KISS CURSE BY ERIN STERLING

the book cover for The Kiss Curse by Erin Sterling
  • STAR RATING:  4.5 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 320 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: September 20th 2022
  • PUBLISHER: Avon Books
    CONTENT WARNINGS: Sexual content, violence, kidnapping
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Thank you to Netgalley and Avon Books for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

Welcome to Spooky Season!! The follow-up to Erin Sterling’s New York Times bestselling hit The Ex Hex features fan favorite Gwyn and the spine-tinglingly handsome Wells Penhallow as they battle a new band of witches and their own magical chemistry.

Gwyn Jones is perfectly happy with her life in Graves Glen. She, her mom, and her cousin have formed a new and powerful coven; she’s running a successful witchcraft shop, Something Wicked; and she’s started mentoring some of the younger witches in town. As Halloween approaches, there’s only one problem—Llewellyn “Wells” Penhallow.

Wells has come to Graves Glen to re-establish his family’s connection to the town they founded as well as to make a new life for himself after years of being the dutiful son in Wales. When he opens up a shop of his own, Penhallow’s, just across the street from Something Wicked, he quickly learns he’s gotten more than he bargained for in going up against Gwyn.

When their professional competition leads to a very personal—and very hot—kiss, both Wells and Gwyn are determined to stay away from each other, convinced the kiss was just a magical fluke. But when a mysterious new coven of witches come to town and Gwyn’s powers begin fading, she and Wells must work together to figure out just what these new witches want and how to restore Gwyn’s magic before it’s too late. 

Oh, this was just a lot of fun! If you’re anything like me, sometimes you can sit down and just inhale a romance book. If I didn’t have a toddler, that would have been me with The Kiss Curse. Despite having a toddler, this book went very quickly.

The Kiss Curse brings us back to the delightful witchy town of Graves Glen, and to the absolutely hilarious Jones family. Well — really just Gwyn, and very tiny glimpses of Vivi, the heroine from the first book, The Ex Hex. Vivi and her new husband, Rhys, go away on a honeymoon, and leave Gwyn alone to run their shop. I did miss their presence on page, but as they already had their book, this was probably the best decision possible. This really gave Gwyn and Wells a chance to shine, and dang did their personalities just jump off the page.

Gwyn is a hilarious, very powerful witch, and I loved her so much. Wells is a little more stick-in-the-mud traditionalist when it comes to magic, but he very quickly loosens up. To be honest, Gwyn all but forces him to let go a little. Together, their chemistry was basically fire. They hate each other at the start of the book, but by the middle, they’re basically climbing each other. It’s fantastic. Not to mention the one real sex scene was incredibly steamy, so thumbs up to Erin Sterling, there.

The background plot of the book was interesting, but not as interesting as Gwyn and Wells together. To sum it up very simply: something is causing Gwyn’s magic to go haywire, and no one is quite sure what it is. It’s incredibly similar to the plot of the first book without being an exact copy. I wish their had been a little more variation, but whatever. I wasn’t really here for that. I wanted more Gwyn and Wells.

Oh and — Sir Purrcival is definitely still on page, and he’s definitely still talking, so I was extremely happy.

Four and half stars for pure enjoyment’s sake.

THE KISS CURSE comes out SEPTEMBER 20, 2022.

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ARC REVIEW: NONA THE NINTH BY TAMSYN MUIR

  • STAR RATING:  Four and a half stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 496 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: September 13th 2022
  • PUBLISHER: Tor.com
    WHAT SERIES? The Locked Tomb
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Gideon the Ninth
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 4
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Gore, body horror, death, child death
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  The only thing that’s maybe sort of kind of similar, if you squint, would be The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, for the tone of the writing, but for more necromancy, check out The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix

Thank you to Netgalley and Tordotcom for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

Her city is under siege.

The zombies are coming back.

And all Nona wants is a birthday party.

In many ways, Nona is like other people. She lives with her family, has a job at her local school, and loves walks on the beach and meeting new dogs. But Nona’s not like other people. Six months ago she woke up in a stranger’s body, and she’s afraid she might have to give it back.

The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. Blood of Eden forces have surrounded the last Cohort facility and wait for the Emperor Undying to come calling. Their leaders want Nona to be the weapon that will save them from the Nine Houses. Nona would prefer to live an ordinary life with the people she loves, with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes, but she also knows that nothing lasts forever.

And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face…

Woof.

I’d wax poetic some more about how hard The Locked Tomb series is to review, but I fear that you’re probably tired of hearing that. (Once you pick these books up, you’ll see what I mean. I PROMISE.) So, we continue onwards. I had the profound luck to be granted access to an e-ARC of Nona the Ninth — Thank you, Tor.com. I love you forever. I had absolutely no idea what or where we were headed in this book. Way back when, Muir had announced (between Harrow and Nona) that The Locked Tomb was moving from a trilogy to a four book series. No one knew why, but I figured she had her reasons and I trusted her (and still do) to do what she needed to do to make this series as phenomenal as possible.

In terms of the series as a whole, Nona the Ninth is a bit of a side-quest, if you will. The main plot is present in this book, but it’s told in backflashes, dreams, and hinted at in whispers and behind closed doors by side characters. I have to be so careful about what I say as I do not and absolutely refuse to spoil what happens in this book. Muir once again knocks it out of the park with Nona the Ninth. You’ll be confused, but you’ll like it. And you will love Nona herself. She is an enormous cinnamon roll of a sweetheart wrapped up in innocence itself. As for characters from past books — they’re still present here, but a lot of them are presented in new ways. That’s all I can say there.

Nona the Ninth is a lot easier to follow than Harrow, but it’s not simple. Nothing about The Locked Tomb is simple, and I hope it never will be. This is a series you dive into and swim around in for awhile. This is a series that you’ll look up theories for online, and hope that maybe you’ve figured it out. This is a series that you’ll maybe need notes for, or a wiki up on another tab. It’s complicated, delicious, and so satisfying. Yes, you’ll have even more questions at the end of Nona, but oh what questions they’ll be. And, don’t worry, you’ll get answers. So, so many answers for the questions asked in Harrow and Gideon.

The ending of Nona is like if there was a train carrying fireworks going super super fast, and then it crashed in this huge spectacular crash, and absolutely none of the fireworks went off. (You’ll be standing there, watching the burning wreck, wondering shouldn’t they go off? Should I intervene, maybe? Should I call someone?) The ending of Nona will leave you questioning everything. Muir is a genius. A master at her craft. An author that will probably forever be an auto-buy author for me.

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ARC REVIEW: A DOWRY OF BLOOD BY ST GIBSON

the book cover for A Dowry of Blood by St Gibson
  • STAR RATING:  5 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 250 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: October 4, 2022
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit Books
    CONTENT WARNINGS: Emotional abuse, blood, toxic relationship, sexual content, physical abuse
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab for the dark, sumptuous feeling

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit Books for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death. 

[Note: I wrote this review at the end of July.]

I really meant to save this book until closer to October for spooky season reasons, but uh, I’ve been desperately waiting for the opportunity to read it that it just sort of…opened itself on my Kindle. And before I knew it, I was like…50% of the way through it, and well, why stop now when it’s so good? And it is, it really, really is. A Dowry of Blood is a dark, sumptuous retelling of Dracula’s wives, and how their lives fully revolve around a monster of a man. It’s not a very long book, but by the end of it, you are fully rooting for the wives.

Despite not mentioning Dracula by name, there is no way this book is about anyone other than him. He is the vampire, so who else could it possibly be? The whole of the book is told in first person by Constanta, in a sort of diary/letter format. Constanta tells the story of her life with Dracula, and how it started out wonderful, and gradually (or not so gradually) it turned into a nightmare. Magdalena, Alexi, and Constanta are Dracula’s wives (and husband). All four of them are in a poly relationship with one another. It was lovely, reading about how much they cared for one another. As time passes (and oh it does, hundreds and hundreds of years), Magdalena, Alexi, and Constanta all come to realize they are no longer in a relationship, but a dictatorship.

And then, things change. Suddenly, everything is bitter, and they find it hard to live their lives without showing their resentment for Dracula. It’s hard not to resent him, as a reader. He keeps them locked away, not allowed to mingle with humans, not allowed to participate in the world. How could anyone live like that? Especially people who have been around for hundreds and thousands of years.

The writing in A Dowry of Blood reminds me of the darkest, deepest chocolate. Delicious, bitter, and sweet all at once. It is gorgeous, dripping from the pages like the blood the vampires must survive on. This book will leave you wanting more, so much more, but it ends on a perfect, perfect note. Five stars. Highly, highly recommend this one, especially if you love vampires at their best, and most classic form.

A DOWRY OF BLOOD comes out OCTOBER 4, 2022.

Add to your Goodreads, or preorder at at the following links:

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ARC REVIEW: SMALL ANGELS BY LAUREN OWEN

the book cover for Small Angels by Lauren Owen
  • STAR RATING:  3.5 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 400 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: August 2nd 2022 
  • PUBLISHER: Random House
    CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, murder
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  ??

Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

A wedding in a small English village attracts a malicious spirit, forcing deep secrets to surface–a hypnotic tale of sisterhood, first love, and hauntings.

As a teenager, Kate found a safe harbor from her parents’ constant fighting in the company of the four Gonne sisters, who lived with their strict grandparents next to Small Angels, a church on the edge of dense green woods. The first outsider to ever get close to the sisters, Kate eventually learned the family’s secret: The woods are home to a capricious, menacing ghost whom generations of Gonnes had been charged with stopping from venturing into the village itself. But as the sisters grew older, braver, and more independent, bucking against the family’s burden, the bulwark began to crack, culminating in a horrifying act of violence that drove a terrible wedge between the sisters and Kate.

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church in the village where her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to hear unsettling stories about Small Angels–and worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real.

Now Kate is returning home for the first time in years, for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are coming alive again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, the most troubled of the sisters and her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward–this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare.

Small Angels is a slow, creeping horror story of a novel. You aren’t quite sure where the author is trying to take you, until all the sudden — you’re there, right at the heart of it. It’s a spooky tale at the heart of this book, but it’s not particularly scary. I thoroughly enjoyed Lauren Owen’s debut, The Quick, back when I read it years ago. With Small Angels, though, I found myself wanting more. Just a tiny bit more of something.

At the heart of this story is Mockbeggar — a slightly sentient forest. It wants to feel loved, it wants stories and to be a part of something. Two hundred years before the book starts, Mockbeggar falls in love with a young boy named Harry Child. Harry has, to put it simply, an awful life. He comes to a horribly tragic end, and Mockbeggar basically keeps him as part of itself. Harry haunts the woods. (I love the idea of a haunted forest, but there wasn’t enough here to really do it for me. I wanted something extra, another entity, something else in the forest.) Harry becomes our story’s villain.

And to start, you feel bad for him, but as the book goes on and on…you start to resent him. You resent him badly. Because as a part of his haunting, he has held the Gonne family captive for hundreds of years. They live their entire lives around his happiness, making Harry-the-ghost pleased or content with their misery. It’s the Gonne family that are the other main characters of this story. Lucia, in particular, is one of the stars of the story.

It’s Lucia that I did not understand. She’s told time and time again not to mess with Mockbeggar, not to go looking for trouble, or playing with Harry. So what does she do, time and time again? It was so frustrating as a reader to sit and have to read about her completely ignoring people who told her what not to do. It is Lucia that brings about everything that happens in this book.

Small Angels is very well written, but the end of the book really left me wanting more. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way the end is written feels very much like a cop-out. It all ends way, way too neatly for me. Despite that, Small Angels is atmospheric, spooky, and haunting. A perfect read for someone who doesn’t like being frightened, but wants something at least somewhat Halloween-y when the season comes about.

Thank you to Becky for buddy-reading this with me!!

SMALL ANGELS was published on AUGUST 2, 2022.

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ARC REVIEW: TEN THOUSAND STITCHES BY OLIVIA ATWATER

the book cover for Ten Thousand Stitches by Olivia Atwater
  • STAR RATING:  3.5 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 288 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: July 19th 2022
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit 
    WHAT SERIES?  The Regency Faerie Tales series
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Half A Soul
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Domestic abuse, emotional abuse, misogyny
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit Books for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

Regency housemaid Euphemia Reeves has acquired a faerie godfather. Unfortunately, he has no idea what he’s doing.

Effie has most inconveniently fallen in love with the dashing Mr Benedict Ashbrooke. There’s only one problem; Effie is a housemaid, and a housemaid cannot marry a gentleman. It seems that Effie is out of luck until she stumbles into the faerie realm of Lord Blackthorn, who is only too eager to help Effie win Mr Ashbrooke’s heart. All he asks in return is that Effie sew ten thousand stitches onto his favourite jacket.

Effie has heard rumours about what happens to those who accept help from faeries, but life as a maid at Hartfield is so awful that she is willing to risk even her immortal soul for a chance at something better. Now, she has one hundred days – and ten thousand stitches – to make Mr Ashbrooke fall in love and propose. . . if Lord Blackthorn doesn’t wreck things by accident, that is. For Effie’s greatest obstacle might well prove to be Lord Blackthorn’s overwhelmingly good intentions.

Ten Thousand Stitches is just as cute as Half a Soul, though I think I enjoyed it just a tad bit less. (Like almost miniscule amounts less.) To put it simply, I enjoyed Elias Wilder as a hero more than Lord Blackthorn. While I do love a gooey cinnamon roll of a hero, for some reason Lord Blackthorn read as more childish to me, than just pure innocence. Either way, I loved both books.

I thoroughly enjoyed that Atwater’s version of Cinderella actually starred a maid, and not a noblewoman forced down into servitude by horrible happenstance. I also very much enjoyed that Effie was well and truly angry about her position. It is so rare to see or have a historical romance heroine who sees the injustice in her own life, and is PISSED about it. I loved it. I loved her anger, and I loved that she ended up being able to use it to better everyone else’s (and her) life.

Though I had a slightly harder time with the romance in this one, I still very much enjoyed watching Effie and Lord Blackthorn fall in love. Especially since neither one of them appeared to realize that it was happening. I especially adored the scene when they were in faerie, and they were dancing the day away. It was incredibly romantic, and I loved the atmosphere that Atwater wrote in this particular scene. Though, now that I think back on it some more, I’m not even sure Lord Blackthorn and Effie even kiss once? I need more spice than that.

Ten Thousand Stitches is a good entry into the Regency Faerie Tale series, and I can’t wait to jump right into the next one.

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ARC REVIEW: HALF A SOUL BY OLIVIA ATWATER

the book cover for Half A Soul by Olivia Atwater
  • STAR RATING:  4 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 304 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: April 5th 2022 
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit 
    WHAT SERIES?  The Regency Faerie Tales series
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Half A Soul
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Emotional abuse, ableism, child abuse, blood
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit Books for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

It’s difficult to find a husband in Regency England when you’re a young lady with only half a soul.

Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.

If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.

Bridgerton meets Howl’s Moving Castle in this enchanting historical fantasy, where the only thing more meddlesome than faeries is a marriage-minded mother.

Half a Soul pushed so many of my buttons in the best way. I love a good historical romance, and when you throw any element of fantasy romance in a book, too? You have my attention. Half a Soul had been recommended to me about a million times recently, by fantastic reviews written by other bloggers, to people just basically shoving the book in my face going, YOU WOULD REALLY LIKE THIS, I PROMISE. Well, you were right, people.

You were right.

I thoroughly enjoyed Half a Soul, and have plans to continue right along on to the next book in the series. How could I not, when this one was so good? I adored Dora, and her practicality, and complete disregard for the societal rules. She did what she wanted to, and rarely let anyone else make her feel bad about it. (I guess that’s a pro to having half a soul? You don’t really care what anyone else thinks.) Vanessa, Dora’s cousin, bothered me a bit as she was so very concerned about fixing Dora, instead of loving her for who she was. But it was Elias that I loved most of all.

Elias is the Lord Sorcier, a young man who was so very Angry with a capital A at society. I loved him. He was uncouth, he was mean, a tiny bit cruel, and well, he was so different than any other romantic hero I’d ever read before. And beneath all that rough, gruff exterior, well, Elias was spending his time trying to help the poorest, most unfortunate children. He is not a bad man, the complete opposite, in fact.

I loved watching these two navigate their blossoming relationship. Neither one of them really let the other get away with anything, which I really liked. Elias and Dora were perfect for each other. Four stars because there was just a little something missing. I’m not sure what, but there you go.

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ARC REVIEW: DEADBEAT DRUID BY DAVID R. SLAYTON

the book cover for Deadbeat Druid by David R. Slayton
  • STAR RATING:  3.5 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 350 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: October 18, 2022
  • PUBLISHER: Blackstone Publishing
    WHAT SERIES?  The Adam Binder series
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? White Trash Warlock
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3 as of right now
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Blood, murder, violence, suicidal thoughts
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, or The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

Thank you to Edelweiss and Blackstone Publishing for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

The living cannot be allowed to infect the dead.

Adam Binder has lost what matters most to him. Having finally learned the true identity of the warlock preying on his family, what was supposed to be a final confrontation with the fiend instead became a trap that sent Vic into the realm of the dead, where none living are meant to be. Bound by debt, oath, and love, Adam blazes his own trail into the underworld to get Vic back and to end the threat of the warlock once and for all.

But the road to hell is paved with more than good intentions. Demons are hungry and ghosts are relentless. What awaits Adam in the underworld is nothing he is prepared to face. If that weren’t enough, Adam has one more thing he must do if he and Vic are to return to world of the living: find the lost heart of Death herself.

Deadbeat Druid just didn’t hit it out of the ballpark for me the same way the first two books in this series did. White Trash Warlock and Trailer Park Trickster both made my best of the year list for last year. (This was before I had a blog!) I think my biggest problem with this book is the setting. The majority of this book takes place in the Underworld. This is a huge change from the last two books — both of which spend a great deal of time in our world. I missed seeing the characters interact with familiar things, instead everything was twisted or changed due to the setting. This is a paranormal book — and with that (for me) comes expectations that this will mostly be in the real world.

I love Adam Binder as a character — someone who feels real, someone who worries about the same things I do, but also someone with a decent amount of magic. His journey has been an extremly rough road, but it hasn’t turned him into a mean person. Actually, a lot of the characters in this series have lived out hard, hard lives. Its the nature of the Binder family, I think. Slayton does a fantastic job making you feel for these people, and wanting them to either face the consequences of their actions, or get what they need most.

I also love Adam and Vic together. This was another reason why this book didn’t work as well for me. Vic and Adam spent most of this book separated. Actually, the whole plot of the book was Adam trying to get to Vic, but still. I missed their interactions badly.

Despite my so-so rating of this one, I do highly recommend the series as a whole. This is a gay paranormal romance series, and as I mentioned before, the characters are fantastic. Three and a half stars.

DEADBEAT DRUID comes out oCTOBER 18, 2022.

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ARC REVIEW: DAY BOY BY TRENT JAMIESON

the book cover for Day Boy by Trent Jamieson
  • STAR RATING:  3 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 320 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: August 23, 2022.
  • PUBLISHER: Erewhon
    CONTENT WARNINGS: Blood, murder, violence, suicidal thoughts
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  ??

Thank you to Netgalley and Erewhon for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

They worship the Sun: the only god as cruel as they are.

The Masters, dreadful and severe, rule the Red City and the lands far beyond it. By night, they politic and feast, drinking from townsfolk resigned to their fates. By day, the Masters must rely on their human servants, their Day Boys, to fulfill their every need and carry out their will. 

Mark is a Day Boy, practically raised by his Master, Dain. It’s grueling, often dangerous work, but Mark neither knows nor wants any other life. And, if a Day Boy proves himself worthy, the nightmarish, all-seeing Council of Teeth may choose to offer him a rare gift: the opportunity to forsake his humanity for monstrous power and near-immortality, like the Masters transformed before him. 

But in the crackling heat of the Red City, widespread discontent among his fellow humans threatens to fracture Mark’s allegiances. As manhood draws near, so too does the end of Mark’s tenure as a Day Boy, and he cannot stay suspended between the worlds of man and Master for much longer.

With brilliantly evocative, hypnotic prose, Trent Jamieson crafts a fang-sharp and surprisingly tender coming-of-age story about a headstrong boy—and the monster who taught him to be a man.

Day Boy is unlike any other vampire book I have ever read. I’ll be honest — I requested an ARC simply because the cover was drop dead gorgeous. It has just the right amount of mystery to it, too. The cover is ultimately better than the book, unfortunately. Day Boy is truly a coming-of-age story set in a new world emerging after an ending. (This is perhaps badly phrased — it’s our world, just after a disaster/world war or something. The novel takes place in what’s left of Australia.) Jamieson alludes to some awful thing that has ended the world and brought upon the Masters (they are the vampires of the world. I really wish he had just come out and said what happened. Authors do this all the time with dystopian/post-apocalyptic books. Just tell me what happened!!!

Anyway, the main character is a young boy named Mark. We’re not really told how old he is, just that he’s been with his master for eight years, and this is his last year as a Day Boy. Day Boys are basically servants for their masters — doing whatever needs doing during the day while the vampires can’t come out. In turn, they get protection, a home, education, and care. Some Day Boys get the bite, and turn into masters as a reward once they’re done. I got the impression, though, that this was rare. Mark, as a character, is a little spitfire, and is constantly getting into trouble that would be easily avoided if he just listened to his master.

But he’s a young boy, so why would he do that?

We watch Mark as he makes bad decision after bad decision, and how he deals with the consequences of those decisions. Mark’s voice tells the story, and it’s through his eyes we see everything. Dain is Mark’s master, and he was frequently waffling between caring for him as a son, or terrifying him into behaving. He was an interesting vampire — bookish and seemingly weak compared to the others on page. The other masters in town were much more foreboding — especially the ones in the City Beneath the Mountain.

There’s no real plot, which normally doesn’t bother me all that much. However, when you do a vampire novel with no real plot…it begs the question what the book is really even about. Overall, I’d say Day Boy was an interesting way to say that life is what you make of it. There is no such thing as fate — you are in charge of what happens. The writing is well done, you really feel as if you’re there with Mark watching everything awful unfold.

A solid three stars. Two stars docked because I do wish more information had been given about certain things I don’t want to spoil. Another thing that bothered me that was never explained — why did that one Master hate Dain so much? What happened between them? Too many questions left unanswered.

DAY BOY comes out AUGUST 23, 2022.

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ARC REVIEW: NOTORIOUS SORCERER BY DAVINIA EVANS

the book cover for Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans
  • STAR RATING:  3.5 stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 400 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: September 13, 2022.
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit Books
    CONTENT WARNINGS: Violence, suicidal thoughts
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit Books for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

Since the city of Bezim was shaken half into the sea by a magical earthquake, the Inquisitors have policed alchemy with brutal efficiency. Nothing too powerful, too complicated, too much like real magic is allowed–and the careful science that’s left is kept too expensive for any but the rich and indolent to tinker with. Siyon Velo, a glorified errand boy scraping together lesson money from a little inter-planar fetch and carry, doesn’t qualify.

But when Siyon accidentally commits a public act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight. Except the limelight is a bad place to be when the planes themselves start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send the rest of the city into the sea.

Now Siyon, a dockside brat who clawed his way up and proved himself on rooftops with saber in hand, might be Bezim’s only hope. Because if they don’t fix the cascading failures of magic in their plane, the Powers and their armies in the other three will do it for them.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to understand what was going on in Notorious Sorcerer. I’m talking at least 30% of the way into the book. I was totally and completely lost all because there was little to no explanation of the world the story is set in. Right away, the author throws around terms like we’re supposed to know what they mean — I Googled and could find no real-world equivalent for a good many of them. Notorious Sorcerer desperately needs a glossary or index of character names and terms right at the beginning of the book. There’s no shame in one of these — I love learning tidbits of the world before diving in. If there had been some explanation for frequently used terms, I think I would have enjoyed this book a hell of a lot more.

The world Davinia Evans sets up in Notorious Sorcerer is fascinating and deeply rich. However, I couldn’t place what culture she was basing things off of. And I know, not every fantasy book is based off of something in real life. It’s entirely possible this was just all in her head. But regardless, the city of Bezim reminded me a lot of Istanbul and Venice all mashed together. Evans name-drops certain alcoholic drinks that exist in real life, and mentions specific instruments and clothing styles just muddied the waters further for me. There is also the question of the law — alchemy is strictly illegal, but almost everyone gets away with it? Until things go south and then the inquisitors arrive to arrest people. Another confusing piece of the confusing puzzle.

It took much longer than it should have for me to get my legs steady in the world set up in this book. Once I did understand what was going on, I loved the story. The ending climax is fantastically well done. I really did love the characters as well — they all had very clear motivations, leaving few of them particularly flat or unexplored.

Siyon Velo is our main character. He is a supplier of alchemical ingredients. He is not an alchemist, but oh how he wishes he was. Siyon is poor, has no family, and does what he has to, to get by. He’s also extremely sassy. A brat, if you will. He reminded me of Locke Lamora in all good ways. But by the end of the novel, we’re really only given snippets of his past, leaving me (at least) wanting to know more about him. Zagiri and her sister, Anahid were extremely fun to read. They are complete opposites of one another, yet still care deeply for one another. Anahid, in particular, was my favorite. A high society woman finally figuring out she can get away with more than she thought. Izmirlian Hisarani, Siyon’s love interest, is left a little vague, but it mostly works. (I have some questions about what his arc is saying, honestly.) The various alchemists that dapple the pages are all equally entertaining and ridiculous.

Overall, my enjoyment of the book would have been vastly improved had I known what was going on sooner. If you’re willing to be lost for almost a quarter of the book, then you’re in for a wild ride.

PS: It bothers me that his coat is PUPRLE in the book, and very clearly bright red on the cover. 🤦🏻‍♀️

NOTORIOUS SORCERER comes out SEPTEMBER 13, 2022.

Add to your Goodreads, or preorder at at the following links:

GOODREADS | BOOKSHOP.ORG | AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

ARC REVIEW: THE UNDERTAKING OF HART AND MERCY BY MEGAN BANNEN

the book cover for The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen
  • STAR RATING:  5 enormously huge stars
    PAGE LENGTH: 336 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: August 23, 2022.
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit Books
    CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, sexual content, grief, cursing, violence, body horror
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones for the quirkiness

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit Books for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

How do I sum up what has to be one of the most unique books I’ve read in a long, long time? I have no idea. I know that The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is one part romance novel, one part zombie novel, one part mystery novel, and one part western novel. You mix all that up and you end up with an extremely quirky, loveable trip that’s about processing grief, and letting yourself live.

Hart Ralston is one of our main characters — he’s self-described as prickly, and when you first meet him, that is definitely the case. But as the novel wears on, it’s increasingly clear that Hart is not prickly at all. He is ooey-gooey marshmallow on the inside, and it’s adorable to see him realize it.

Mercy Birdsall is stubborn, proud, and unafraid to work hard. I loved Mercy, so, so much. She stands up for what she wants — to run the Undertaking business — and she holds her family together like glue. I wanted to shake her family for most of the book. Not one of them seemed to care what she wanted, despite saying that they knew what was best for her. Spoiler alert — they did not. But don’t read this thinking they’re an awful bunch. Quite the contrary. They are an adorable family who really do want the best for Mercy. They just don’t know what the best thing for her is. I loved the scenes with Mercy’s sister.

Put Hart and Mercy together and it was like watching an inferno. It takes a little bit for them to get together, but once they do they are…well. Really hot Together. I loved reading about how much they cared for one another, to put it mildly. There are at least two semi-explicit sex scenes, which fit rather perfectly within the novel.

The main plot of the book is that there are suddenly way more drudges (zombies) than there used to be, and they are venturing into populated areas and hurting people. The question is — where are they coming from, and why now? Megan Bannen does a fantastic job of weaving in the plot with the romance, and I didn’t see the answer to those questions until it was literally right in front of my face. I loved it. I loved this world. I loved the characters, and the relationships between them. I would read about eighty more novels set in this world.

If you like the original Hell Boy movies, I think you’d like this book. (Humor, dark themes, violence, anthropomorphized animals, and love.) The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is frequently laugh out loud, and full of scenes that will make you go “what exactly am I reading right now?” in the best way. But despite all of that, it’s rather dark, and there’s serious discussions of actual, horrible gut-wrenching grief. And the ending…oh my god the ending had me sobbing. I loved this book.

Thank you to Becky for buddy reading this with me. It was so much fun discussing the book with you as we went along!

THE UNDERTAKING OF HART AND MERCY comes out AUGUST 23, 2022.

Add to your Goodreads, or preorder at at the following links:

GOODREADS | BOOKSHOP.ORG | AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE