ARC REVIEW: QUEENS OF THE WYRD BY TIMANDRA WHITECASTLE

  • STAR RATING:  3 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 414 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: November 21, 2019
  • PUBLISHER: Self-published on Kindle Unlimited
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, violence
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Kings of the Wyld by Nicolas Eames

SYNOPSIS

Raise your shield. Defend your sisters. Prepare for battle.

Half-giant Lovis and her Shieldmaiden warband were once among the fiercest warriors in Midgard. But those days are long past and now Lovis just wants to provide a safe home for herself and her daughter – that is, until her former shield-sister Solveig shows up on her doorstep with shattering news.

Solveig’s warrior daughter is trapped on the Plains of Vigrid in a siege gone ugly. Desperate to rescue her, Sol is trying to get the old warband back together again. But their glory days are a distant memory. The Shieldmaidens are Shieldmothers now, entangled in domestic obligations and ancient rivalries.

But family is everything, and Lovis was never more at home than at her shield-sisters’ side. Their road won’t be easy: old debts must be paid, wrongs must be righted, and the Nornir are always pulling on loose threads, leaving the Shieldmaidens facing the end of all Nine Realms. Ragnarok is coming, and if the Shieldmaidens can’t stop it, Lovis will lose everyone she loves…

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bith ful araed.

If the synopsis and title of this book remind you very closely of Kings of the Wyld, that is entirely on purpose. The author has noted that she wrote Queens of the Wyrd after being heavily inspired by Nicolas Eames’s book. And while she succeeded in many aspects of that, Queens of the Wyrd just doesn’t quite live up to the greatness of Eames’s original book. Queens of the Wyrd is a self published book, and while that doesn’t normally detract stars from books, it didn’t exactly help this particular novel.

Queens of the Wyrd is a heavily researched fantasy novel borrowing many aspects of the Norse mythology. You can tell the author loves these myths, and you can tell she put her all into this. She references gods, creatures, and pulls all sorts of things directly from known Norse mythology. I think, however, this book would have really shone even more if it had gotten another pass or two by an editor. Whitecastle was very clearly going for the humor of Kings of the Wyld, but many times she pulled jokes straight from modern day media. (One of the characters makes an almost word-for-word Frozen joke.) I laughed a little, but it did pull me out of the seriousness of that particular moment — they were mid-end-of-the-world-battle, here! Not really the time for a Let-it-Go joke! Many of the quips just didn’t work for me — relying too heavily on popular media just yanks you out of a Norse world. The characters also talk like people from the modern world, and most of the time it didn’t bother me, but there were more than a few instances where it just felt off.

When it comes to the characters, I did love Lovis, our main shield-maiden. I loved her absolute dedication to her daughter. I loved how unsure she was of herself, but she still soldiered onward anyway. (What else was she supposed to do? She had people depending on her!) The other shield-maidens were fantastic, too, but Lovis stole the spotlight for me. I wish we had gotten to see more of her past, and more of how she had grown up, but what we did see was good. I loved Lovis’s daughter, Birke, a little spitfire if there ever was one. (Anyone else think her dad is Loki???) Solveig, another shield-maiden, was frequently irritating, but she was doing everything she could to rescue her daughter.

Overall, I can see very clearly what the author was trying to do, but ultimately this book fell short of that goal. The writing itself needed some serious polishing before it was published. Queens of the Wyrd feels disjointed, and unsure of what it wants to be — humorous take on a fantasy novel, or a serious look at sacrifices of motherhood. I wanted to like this one much more than I actually ended up doing. Three stars.

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ARC REVIEW: THE MAGICIAN’S DAUGHTER BY HG PARRY

the cover for The Magician's Daughter by HG Parry
  • STAR RATING:  4.5 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 384 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: February 28, 2023
  • PUBLISHER: Redhook
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Body horror, Torture, sexism
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones

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

SYNOPSIS

It is 1912, and for the last seventy years magic has all but disappeared from the world. Yet magic is all Biddy has ever known.

Orphaned in a shipwreck as a baby, Biddy grew up on Hy-Brasil, a legendary island off the coast of Ireland hidden by magic and glimpsed by rare travelers who return with stories of wild black rabbits and a lone magician in a castle. To Biddy, the island is her home, a place of ancient trees and sea-salt air and mysteries, and the magician, Rowan, is her guardian. She loves both, but as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she is stifled by her solitude and frustrated by Rowan’s refusal to let her leave. He himself leaves almost every night, transforming into a raven and flying to the mainland, and never tells her where or why he goes.

One night, Rowan fails to come home from his mysterious travels. When Biddy ventures into his nightmares to rescue him, she learns not only where he goes every night, but the terrible things that happened in the last days of magic that caused Rowan to flee to Hy-Brasil. Rowan has powerful enemies who threaten the safety of the island. Biddy’s determination to protect her home and her guardian takes her away from the safety of Hy-Brasil, to the poorhouses of Whitechapel, a secret castle beneath London streets, the ruins of an ancient civilization, and finally to a desperate chance to restore lost magic. But the closer she comes to answers, the more she comes to question everything she has ever believed about Rowan, her origins, and the cost of bringing magic back into the world.

I wasn’t sure what this book really was going to feel like when I originally requested it from Netgalley. I really enjoyed HG Parry’s first novel, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, but wasn’t really a fan of her next book, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians. It was a toss up if I’d enjoy The Magician’s Daughter, and some early reviews from other bloggers had me a little worried. But, all the worry was for naught, as I really did enjoy this one.

So to start, I don’t really think this book has any business being labeled an adult novel. The main character is sixteen, just about to turn seventeen, and for most of the novel, she acts much younger. However, this makes sense within the confines of the story — Biddy was raised on a remote island in the middle of nowhere with only an eccentric magician and his familiar as her adult role models. How would she know how to act in society if she’s literally never been around more than one person at a time? In my opinion, The Magician’s Daughter reads much more like a YA novel. In fact, reminds me of one of my favorites, Howl’s Moving Castle. Basically, The Magician’s Daughter is if Howl Pendragon adopted a young girl and had to raise her by himself with a little help from Calcifer. The comparison isn’t perfect — Hutchincroft is much more anxious than Calcifer, but overall, the books are similar in really lovely ways.

The setting of the book bounces around a lot, so you see a great deal of London in the 1910’s. At one point, Biddy is placed into a poorhouse as a teacher for orphaned girls. Parry does an excellent job of showing how bleak these places were, and you’re left feeling like you need to do something. (Biddy felt this way too, of course!) I know these places were true to life, and my heart just shattered when she was taking care of the tiny babies. When it comes to the actual villains of the story, they are appropriately horrifying and terrifying in equal measures. I won’t give away any details, but there’s a moment in the book where you are scared that everyone has failed and that the bad guys win. Of course, this isn’t the case, but oh for that few chapters you are so, so worried.

I really enjoyed The Magician’s Daughter, but had just a few tiny things that bothered me. Overall, I’d grant this one four and a half stars! Please do pick it up, and enjoy the story of Biddy and her family trying to bring magic back into the world!

THE MAGICIAN’S DAUGHTER comes out FEBRUARY 28, 2023.

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ARC REVIEW: ARCA BY G.R. MACALLISTER

  • STAR RATING:  4 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 544 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: March 7, 2023
  • PUBLISHER: Saga Press
  • WHAT SERIES? The Five Queendoms
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Scorpica
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? Unknown, but my guess is 5.
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, Blood, Pregnancy
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Vaguely, The Stardust Thief, but other than that, I’m not sure

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

SYNOPSIS

Return to the Five Queendoms in the sequel to Scorpica, a sweeping epic fantasy that Rebecca Roanhorse called “ambitious and engaging,” in which a centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born.

The Drought of Girls has ended, but the rift it broke open between the Queendoms is not so easily healed. Political tensions roil the senate of Paxim, where Queen Heliane vows to make her son Paulus the nation’s first ruling King or die trying. Scorpican troops amass on the border of Arca, ready to attack. And within Arca itself, its young, unready queen finds her court a nest of vipers and her dreams besieged by a mysterious figure with unknown intentions.

As iron and magic clash on the battlefield and powerful women scheme behind the scenes, danger and violence abound. Can anyone stop chaos from ripping the Queendoms apart?

Immediately upon finishing Scorpica, I dived into my ARC of Arca. While I enjoyed the first book, there were parts of it that really frustrated me. (Namely, the treatment of men. Yes, men get to be the carriers of most fantasy books and have all the power normally, but STILL. It bothered me that the one male character we got more of did not last long.) Some of those concerns were still present in this book, but overall, I enjoyed Arca much more than the first book in the series.

I thoroughly enjoyed the new POV characters we received in this book. We get two or three new ones, and their voices add a lot to the story. Especially Ama’s — who I was completely wrong about in the first book. I thought that Azur of the Scorpicae was her but apparently I just read something inaccurately. Two totally different characters in actuality.

ANYWAY — Ama was my favorite, and I loved her journey but oh how my heart ached at one particular point. It wasn’t her fault at all, but her heart was broken in two. Just…shattered. Ugh. I also really love that we got more of Eminel, as well. She really comes into her own in this book and that was delightful to watch. Watching her boss other people around knowing she was the most powerful and in the right was just CHEF’S KISS. Azur and Tamura were frustrating characters — they were SUPPOSED TO BE — don’t get me wrong, but I really hated reading their POV sections as I do not vibe with who they are. They are very well written, though, and make sense within the book.

I am definitely interested to know where the story is going, and how many more books we’ll be getting in this series. The world is fascinating and unique, and held my attention well. Not to mention that Macalliter’s writing is top notch. Overall, I’d give Arca a solid four stars.

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ARC REVIEW: VAMPIRE WEEKEND BY MIKE CHEN

the book cover for Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen
  • STAR RATING:  3 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 368 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: January 31st 2023 
  • PUBLISHER: Harlequin Trade Publishing
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Cancer, blood, homophobia
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Possibly the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs

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

SYNOPSIS

Being a vampire is far from glamorous…but it can be pretty punk rock.

Everything you’ve heard about vampires is a lie. They can’t fly. No murders allowed (the community hates that). And turning into a bat? Completely ridiculous. In fact, vampire life is really just a lot of blood bags and night jobs. For Louise Chao, it’s also lonely, since she swore off family ages ago.

At least she’s gone to decades of punk rock shows. And if she can join a band of her own (while keeping her…situation under wraps), maybe she’ll finally feel like she belongs, too.

Then a long-lost teenage relative shows up at her door. Whether it’s Ian’s love of music or his bad attitude, for the first time in ages, Louise feels a connection.

But as Ian uncovers Louise’s true identity, things get dangerous–especially when he asks her for the ultimate favor. One that goes beyond just family…one that might just change everything vampires know about life and death forever.

I was given an ARC to Vampire Weekend all the way back in July. I kept putting it off, saying I was going to read it for spooky season in October. But then October came and I hit a slump hard. I think I read maybe two whole books that month, and none of them were what I needed to be reading — ARCs. But time marches onward, and here I am finally finished reading this book.

Vampire Weekend was really not at all like I thought it was going to be. The vampires in this book are neutered in a way that I wasn’t really a fan of at all. I like my vampires sexy, dangerous, and mysterious. The vampires in this book are…not…any…of that. Seriously, the fact that they were vampires almost didn’t really matter besides Louise needing to find way to eat. I’m still just a little baffled that someone would choose to write vampires this way. As boring. This book read more like a bad paranormal series entry than anything remotely like a vampire book that I’m used to. It was okay, but Vampire Weekend is probably not something I’ll be picking up again any time soon.

Louise Chao is a vampire. A punk rock vampire who spends her time working a hospital janitor and hanging out with her dog. Seriously, when we meet her she’s doing nothing remotely interesting. She’s got some serious issues with her family in her past, but I mean…that was it. There was not much else to her. Then we meet her distant nephew, and he’s more interesting but his entire story wraps around his mom who is dying of cancer. There’s a little mystery wrapped up in the general plot of the book, but overall I just wasn’t impressed with this one. It reads very easily, though, which is why I didn’t put it down. Three unimpressed stars.

VAMPIRE WEEKEND comes out JANUARY 31, 2023.

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ARC REVIEW: ONE DUKE DOWN BY ANNA BENNETT

the book cover for One Duke Down by Anna Bennett
  • STAR RATING:  4 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 352 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: January 24th, 2023 
  • PUBLISHER: St. Martin’s Press
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Parental death off screen, kidnapping,
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  The Wallflower Series by Lisa Kleypas

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS

A FISHERMAN’S DAUGHTER
Miss Poppy Summers is determined to keep her family’s fishing business afloat. Her poor widowed father has fallen ill, and her foolhardy brother has moved to London, leaving her precious little time to read or pursue her own dreams. But she’ll do anything for her family, so she cheerfully spends mornings in her rowboat, casting her nets. The very last thing Poppy expects or wants to find tangled in them is a dangerously attractive man. Especially one with a head wound—who’s convinced he’s a duke.

AND A DUKE OUT OF WATER
Andrew Keane is the Duke of Hawking, but he’s having the devil of a time convincing his fiery-haired rescuer of that fact. The truth is he came to the seaside resort of Bellehaven Bay to escape his life in London. Unfortunately, someone in Bellehaven wants to kill him—and he intends to find out who. He implores Poppy to tend to his injuries and hide him on her beach, reasoning it will be easier to find his attacker if that man assumes Keane is already dead. She wants no part of the scheme but can’t refuse the generous sum he offers in exchange for food and shelter while he recovers. It’s a mutually beneficial business arrangement…nothing more.

ARE ABOUT TO MAKE WAVES
Under Poppy’s care, Keane regains his strength—and a sense of purpose. As they work together to solve the puzzle of his would-be murderer, he’s dazzled by her rapier wit and adventurous spirit; she’s intrigued by his mysterious air and protective streak. Though Poppy’s past gives her every reason to mistrust someone like Keane, the seawalls around her heart crumble in the storm of their passion. But when clues hint at the prime suspect in Keane’s attempted murder, Poppy must decide where her loyalties lie. Torn between the world she’s always known and the one she’s always dreamed of, she’ll need true love for a shot at her fairytale ending.

I love a good historical romance novel. I only started reading them a couple years ago, and while I have read some clunkers, there are way, way more good books than bad out there. I took forever to pick them up because I tended to think the covers were embarrassing or just plain ridiculous looking. Now, I will be the first to happily admit that the reason I wanted to read One Duke Down was because of that absolutely gorgeous cover. How rare is it to see both characters on the cover smiling? Especially on a photo-realistic cover like this one?

Thankfully, One Duke Down lives up to its cover. Keane, the Duke of Hawking, is absolutely head over heels for Poppy, a fisherman’s daughter. They meet in unusual circumstances (when don’t characters in romance novels meet in weird ways??), but it’s easy to see how they click together right away. I love it when a hero is just a total simp for their love, and Keane fits the bill perfectly. He’s willing to stand up for her almost immediately, and once he finds out about certain things in her past, he’s just raring to go beat someone’s head in for her. It’s amazing, it’s perfect, it’s what we want to see in a romance hero.

Poppy is independent, but fiercely loyal to her family. She’s very easy to like, and I loved that she wasn’t willing to bend to The Duke’s needs right away — she got what she wanted and then she decided to help him. She falls for him in a slower manner, but it’s still a joy to read.

Some parts of this book were a little eye-rollingly cringey, but to be quite honest, I’ve come to expect that with romance novels. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this one and do recommend that you pick it up. Poppy and Keane are adorable together, and I wish we got slightly more of an epilogue, honestly. But! No big deal — this one comes in at a solid 4 stars.

ONE DUKE DOWN comes out January 24th, 2023 

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ARC REVIEW: MYSTERIES OF THORN MANNER BY MARGARET ROGERSON

  • STAR RATING:  5 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 192 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: January 17, 2023
  • PUBLISHER: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • WHAT SERIES? Sorcery of Thorns
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Sorcery of Thorns
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 1.5 at the moment
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Child death (in the past, and not shown), Death of parent (in the past, and not shown)
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Literally any of Margaret Rogerson’s books, they’re all fantastic

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

SYNOPSIS

In this sequel novella to Sorcery of Thorns, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas must unravel the magical trap keeping them inside Thorn Manor in time for their Midwinter Ball!

Elisabeth Scrivener is finally settling into her new life with sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn. Now that their demon companion Silas has returned, so has scrutiny from nosy reporters hungry for gossip about the city’s most powerful sorcerer and the librarian who stole his heart. But something strange is afoot at Thorn Manor: the estate’s wards, which are meant to keep their home safe, are acting up and forcibly trapping the Manor’s occupants inside. Surely it must be a coincidence that this happened just as Nathaniel and Elisabeth started getting closer to one another…

With no access to the outside world, Elisabeth, Nathaniel, and Silas – along with their new maid Mercy – will have to work together to discover the source of the magic behind the malfunctioning wards before they’re due to host the city’s Midwinter Ball. Not an easy task when the house is filled with unexpected secrets, and all Elisabeth can think about is kissing Nathaniel in peace. But when it becomes clear that the house, influenced by the magic of Nathaniel’s ancestors, requires a price for its obedience, Elisabeth and Nathaniel will have to lean on their connection like never before to set things right.

I got approved for an ARC of this one yesterday around 3:00 pm. It is now 2:00 pm the next day, and I’m already done with this. Whoops. Destiny and I were supposed to buddy read it, but honestly, Mysteries of Thorn Manner just FLIES by as you read it. Those not even 200 pages barely feel like anything at all by the time you’re done. And I don’t mean that in a bad way at all — this was a delightful novella, and I’m so, so glad that I got the chance to read it a little early.

For those you that don’t know, I am a huge fan of Margaret Rogerson’s books (though i still need to read Vespertine!). She’s primarily a YA author, and her books tend to have fairly low stakes, with sweet romances in them. It’s hard to discuss this book without mentioning anything from Sorcery of Thorns, which is the first book in the series. You can read my review of that one here. ANYWAY, Mysteries of Thorn Manner picks up pretty much where Sorcery of Thorns left off, and does not bother to explain to you anything about that novel. It’s just assumed that you’ve read it, and honestly that works 1000% here. No time to waste on that when we have such a short (but delicious) page count!

Elizabeth and Nathaniel are dancing around the edges of what their relationship means, and very quickly it becomes apparently that Thorn Manner wants them to decide what they are and what they mean to each other. There’s barely any plot to this, but I was a-okay with it, because overall, this is a silly, cozy fantasy book. I (like Destiny) was giggling through the whole novella. There’s almost zero stakes really felt, but again, it doesn’t matter. This book exists purely to bring a smile to your face, especially if you are a fan of Rogerson’s past work.

I loved this, and wish it was about 5000 more pages, personally.

MYSTERIES OF THORN MANNER comes out JANUARY 17, 2023.

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ARC REVIEW: EMILY WILDE’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAERIES BY HEATHER FAWCETT

  • STAR RATING:  5 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 336 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: January 10, 2023
  • PUBLISHER: Del Rey Books
  • WHAT SERIES? Emily Wilde
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? Unknown
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Blood, Injury/injury detail, Animal death, Kidnapping, Gore
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  The Veronica Speedwell Series by Deanna Raybourn

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

SYNOPSIS

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

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

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

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

You all know how much I love books involving The Fae, or Faeries, or anything remotely similar to that. I wrote a whole recommendation post on them, and I’ve seemingly read about six thousand books that weren’t on that list. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, I really like stories about the Fae. Especially when the fae are tricksy, and not exactly nice — the old-school you don’t want to mess with these fae. Those are my favorite.

NOW THAT WE’VE GOT THAT OUT OF THE WAY — I requested  Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries on Netgalley on a complete whim. The cover was cute, and the description sounded like something I’d like. When I got the approval for it, I was mildly surprised (it’s been a hot minute since I’d actually reviewed an arc. Whoops — fully blaming you, reading slump.) , but totally ready to dive into the book. Imagine my surprise at how much I freaking loved this book. I don’t know why I was surprised, as this has all the makings of a book I’d really enjoy. BUT ANYWAY.

I LOVED THIS.

The characters are all amazing, believable and so much fun to read about. My favorite is Wendell Bambleby, who is just about as Howl Pendragon-esque as you could possibly be without actually being Howl. He’s grumpy, lazy, but so, so charming. Willing to help if Emily demands that it needs to be done. Emily herself is curmudgeonly and more interested in scholarship than helping another human being. But despite that, she does spend a great deal if time in this book helping people. I rather liked her for that, even if she did it for altruistic reasons. She still did what she could to make people’s lives better. I also really enjoyed Poe, a tiny fae who Emily befriends rather quickly into the novel. I did wish we saw more of him by the end, but I have a feeling he’ll be in later installments of this series.

I do wish we got more of the romance, but again, I think it’ll get developed in coming books. What we saw was on the sweeter side, which I enjoyed!

The story is interspersed with faerie tales or legends from the local culture. It does read a bit like an actual scholarly book in some ways, but since Emily is writing an encyclopedia of all faerie knowledge, this makes sense. I really had so much fun reading this — I flew through it in a way I haven’t read a book in a while. Please pick this one up when it comes out! Especially if you like the Fae the way I do!

EMILY WILDE’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FAERIES comes out JANUARY 10, 2023.

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

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ARC REVIEW: GEORGIE, ALL ALONG BY KATE CLAYBORN

the book cover for Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn
  • STAR RATING:  5 ENORMOUS stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 320 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: January 31st 2023 
  • PUBLISHER: Kensington Books
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Child abuse, Emotional abuse, Drug use
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  In a Jam by Kate Canterbary

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

SYNOPSIS

In this heartfelt tale of one woman’s quest to reinvent herself, the acclaimed author of Love Lettering and Love at First delivers a poignant, witty reflection on how the hopes, dreams, and stories from our past shape our future . . .

Longtime personal assistant Georgie Mulcahy has made a career out of putting others before herself. When an unexpected upheaval sends her away from her hectic job in L.A. and back to her hometown, Georgie must confront an uncomfortable truth: her own wants and needs have always been a disconcertingly blank page.

But then Georgie comes across a forgotten artifact—a “friendfic” diary she wrote as a teenager, filled with possibilities she once imagined. To an overwhelmed Georgie, the diary’s simple, small-scale ideas are a lifeline—a guidebook for getting started on a new path.

Georgie’s plans hit a snag when she comes face to face with an unexpected roommate—Levi Fanning, onetime town troublemaker and current town hermit. But this quiet, grouchy man is more than just his reputation, and he offers to help Georgie with her quest. As the two make their way through her wishlist, Georgie begins to realize that what she truly wants might not be in the pages of her diary after all, but right by her side—if only they can both find a way to let go of the pasts that hold them back.

Honest and deeply emotional, Georgie, All Along is a smart, tender must-read for everyone who’s ever wondered about the life that got away . . .

Georgie, All Along is a profoundly lovely story about self-discovery and figuring yourself out. Yes, it’s a romance book, but I found that wasn’t the most important part of it for me. Georgie is lost — she’s been let go from her important assistant job out in Hollywood, and has found herself slinking back to her home town. She’s supposed to be staying her parent’s house while they’re out vacationing, but the first night she’s there a man walks right into the house while she’s dancing in her robe and underwear. That night will forever change her life — in the best way possible.

I love, love, loved this book. Every character in it felt like someone I know in real life. They all were dynamic, and understandable and dang if they didn’t just breathe right off the page. Georgie reminded me so much of myself I wanted to scream. She’s such a lovely, bright, bubbly person but all she does is help everyone else. Once she realizes this, she’s even more lost than she already was — who is she when she’s just taking care of herself? Who is she when she has no one to help? Who is she when she looks forward and stops thinking about right now? Georgie finds the answers to all of these, and gah. I want to be her best friend, but that role is already taken by Bel, another fantastic character.

But even more than I loved Georgie, I loved Levi. What a strong person. What a horrible past. What god-awful parents. I loved that Clayborn gave him such a thorough backstory, but what was best was that she sort of peppered it in. You learn in bits and pieces and then when it all finally comes out you want to take Levi and hold him tight. I love that he took his hurt and used it it improve himself, and make a life that he wanted. I loved that he was silly with Georgie, but generally a quiet man. He took care of her without smothering her — Levi let Georgie be Georgie. He loved her — all of her, not just the palatable bits. Georgie and Levi fit together like puzzle pieces.

It’s obvious I’m just gushing now, but I really adored this book. This one is one I’ll come back to again and again, just hoping for more Georgie and Levi. Go pick this one up the second it comes out, okay?

GEORGIE, ALL ALONG comes out JANUARY 31, 2023.

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ARC REVIEW: THE FOXGLOVE KING BY HANNAH WHITTEN

  • STAR RATING:  5 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 400 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: March 7th 2023 
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit Books
  • WHAT SERIES? The Nightshade Kingdom
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? The Foxglove King
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, body horror, kidnapping
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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

SYNOPSIS

In this lush, romantic new epic fantasy series from New York Times bestselling author Hannah Whitten, a young woman’s secret power to raise the dead plunges her into the dangerous and glamorous world of the Sainted King’s royal court.

When Lore was thirteen, she escaped a cult in the catacombs beneath the city of Dellaire. And in the ten years since, she’s lived by one rule: don’t let them find you. Easier said than done, when her death magic ties her to the city.

Mortem, the magic born from death, is a high-priced and illicit commodity in Dellaire, and Lore’s job running poisons keeps her in food, shelter, and relative security. But when a run goes wrong and Lore’s power is revealed, she’s taken by the Presque Mort, a group of warrior-monks sanctioned to use Mortem working for the Sainted King. Lore fully expects a pyre, but King August has a different plan. Entire villages on the outskirts of the country have been dying overnight, seemingly at random. Lore can either use her magic to find out what’s happening and who in the King’s court is responsible, or die.

Lore is thrust into the Sainted King’s glittering court, where no one can be believed and even fewer can be trusted. Guarded by Gabriel, a duke-turned-monk, and continually running up against Bastian, August’s ne’er-do-well heir, Lore tangles in politics, religion, and forbidden romance as she attempts to navigate a debauched and opulent society.

But the life she left behind in the catacombs is catching up with her. And even as Lore makes her way through the Sainted court above, they might be drawing closer than she thinks.

I knew upon reading the synopsis of this book that it would be right up my alley. I knew it. And reader — I was right. I had been desperately waiting for my ARC copy to arrive in my email ever since Orbit had announced this book was coming. And I know I really should have waited until closer to The Foxglove King‘s publishing date to read it, but uh, I could not wait any longer.

Despite my ongoing reading slump, I found myself diving into The Foxglove King. It is so good. It reads like the best YA adventure novel out there — and I do not mean that as a dig in any way whatsoever. I know people like to rag on YA novels, but they are a lot of fun most of the time. The Foxglove King is NOT a YA novel, but it definitely has the same feeling. There’s a lot at stake here in the plot, and the three main characters are all pretty high up on the so-called totem pole, if you will.

We have Lore, who is something of a necromancer. She’s got a mysterious past that we don’t see very much of in this book, but I fully expect to see more of in the incoming books. I really liked Lore. She never took anything for granted, and was rather fully on her own side. But she also had real feelings, and dang do you feel sorry for her the more you read.

Next, we have Gabe, who is a duke/monk in a death…related…cult? It’s hard to explain without spoiling anything. I promise it makes total sense in the book. He’s got his own reasons behind everything that he does or allows to happen, and while I wanted to like him, and you really really do want to like him, he is so manipulated that you really aren’t surprised by certain things that occur.

Lastly, we have Bastian, the Sun Prince. I love, love, love Bastian. I’m a sucker for a pretends-not-to-care, parties-all-the-time, but-actually-cares-a-lot character. That’s Bastian to a T. I cannot wait to see more of him. His dad is the King (obviously) and wow, do you hate his dad as soon as you meet him.

And yes, there is a bit of a love-triangle situation going on between the three leads. I know who I’m rooting for, but we’ll see where it goes. The romance is NOT a huge part of the book, though, for those of you that are worried about it. It is very much a minor subplot. Lore is not at all worried about her heart when her death magic seems to be strengthening. She has her priorities straight, I promise.

I loved the magic that Whitten included. I love the little hints of the gods that we see — this was actually one of my most favorite parts of the book. The gods are dead, but not, and they seem to be influencing things to go a certain way. It is so vastly interesting, and mysterious without being infuriating that I am now waiting with bated breath for the next entry into this series.

THE FOXGLOVE KING comes out MARCH 7, 2023.

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ARC REVIEW: A RESTLESS TRUTH BY FREYA MARSKE

the book cover for A Restless Truth by Freya Marske
  • STAR RATING:  4 stars
  • PAGE LENGTH: 400 pages
  • DATE PUBLISHED: November 1st 2022 
  • PUBLISHER: Tordotcom Publishing
  • WHAT SERIES? The Last Binding Series
  • WHAT BOOK DO I START WITH? A Marvellous Light
  • HOW MANY BOOKS IN THE SERIES? 3
  • CONTENT WARNINGS: Sexual content, death, torture, Misogyny, racism
  • IF YOU LIKED THIS, TRY:  A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

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

SYNOPSIS

Magic! Murder! Shipboard romance! The second entry in Freya Marske’s beloved The Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light

The most interesting things in Maud Blyth’s life have happened to her brother Robin, but she’s ready to join any cause, especially if it involves magical secrets that may threaten the whole of the British Isles. Bound for New York on the R.M.S. Lyric, she’s ready for an adventure.

What she actually finds is a dead body, a disrespectful parrot, and a beautiful stranger in Violet Debenham, who is everything—a magician, an actress, a scandal—Maud has been trained to fear and has learned to desire. Surrounded by the open sea and a ship full of loathsome, aristocratic suspects, they must solve a murder and untangle a conspiracy that began generations before them.

One of my absolute favorite books I read last year was the first book in The Last Binding series — A Marvellous Light. It took everything that I adore — historical romance, mysteries, meaningful gay relationships, magic, and steamy sex scenes — and pushed it all together in an absolutely fantastic mashup. When A Restless Truth showed up on Netgalley, I daren’t hope that I would be given access to an ARC. I loved A Marvellous Light too much, obviously, to be impartial to the sequel. Well, I was wrong — Tordotcom rather lovingly bestowed me access to an e-arc of one of my most anticipated books of the year. I think I squealed out loud when I got the approval email, actually.

So, drumroll — did A Restless Truth stand up to A Marvellous Light in my eyes?

Yes, and a tiny bit of no.

Yes…mostly, I suppose?

The entire book takes place on a massive ship heading across the Atlantic back to England. It’s possible that this hampered the book in my eyes — perhaps I missed the mad dash hurry travel scenes to get some other neatly magical location? Or was it the characters themselves that just didn’t stand up to Robin and Edwin? (This is what I’m leaning towards.) I love them both so much, that it would be very hard for anyone else to match them, honestly. While I did like Maud, and Violet, they just weren’t Robin and Edwin. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It might also be the ending of the book that just didn’t shine quite as much as A Marvellous Light‘s. (I won’t spoil anything but repeating something happening to the characters three times is a bit much, in my eyes.) Whatever the reason may be — I’m still not entirely sure — I still did enjoy A Restless Truth very much.

More about the characters, now. Violet Debenham is an absolute marvel of a character — she is a magnificent scandal and she does not care who notices. She spends the majority of the book pretending to be behind a version of herself that she’s created in order to hide who she really is. She’s a lot of fun, but she does ring false for a lot of the book — on purpose. Maud Blythe is Robin’s sister who is determined with all her might to be a good person, in spite of her parents being absolutely awful people. Lord Hawthorne, I’m hoping will be one of the leads in the next book. He’s so very stoic, noble, and straight-backed I really want to see someone just totally tear him apart emotionally.

The mystery at the center of the plot was fantastic, though I do wish there had been a little more foreshadowing as to who was actually involved in the theft and murder. It feels like the twist comes out of absolutely nowhere, unfortunately.

Overall, I did enjoy A Restless Truth, just not quite as much as I loved A Marvellous Light.

A RESTLESS TRUTH comes out NOVEMBER 1, 2022.

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

GOODREADS | BOOKSHOP.ORG | AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE