Below (North, #1) by Alexandria Warwick – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Wolf Publishing

Publication Date: February 04, 2020

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Amazon

From the author of The Demon Race comes a YA dark fantasy series inspired by Inuit mythology.

In the heart of the frigid North, there lives a demon known as the Face Stealer. Eyes, nose, mouth—nothing and no one is safe. Once he returns to his lair, or wherever it is he dwells, no one ever sees those faces again.

When tragedy strikes, Apaay embarks on a perilous journey to find her sister’s face—yet becomes trapped in a labyrinth ruled by a sinister girl named Yuki. The girl offers Apaay a deal: find her sister’s face hidden within the labyrinth, and she will be set free. But the labyrinth, and those who inhabit it, is not as it seems. Especially Numiak: darkly beautiful, powerful, whose motives are not yet clear.

With time slipping, Apaay is determined to escape the deadly labyrinth with her sister’s face in hand. But in Yuki’s harsh world, Apaay will need all her strength to survive.

Yuki only plays the games she wins. “

*Thank you to the author for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!*

I am a huge fan of Warwick’s. I am going to try an explain this, her writing makes me feel nostalgia. Below made me feel like watching The Never Ending Story and Labyrinth (It was not in any way based on those, just how it made me feel!). It just felt like my childhood. If that makes any sense.

Apaay has to battle sever weather, wild animals, survive Yuki’s nightmares come to life, survive being a prisoner, and survive Yuki’s punishments. There is a lot Apaay survives. It was very intense at some parts. I loved her never-give-up personality. She fought for those shes loves no matter the cost to herself. And there were high prices for her fight. I actually cried at one point. I NEVER cry reading. It hurt.

One thing I REALLY loved was the healthy and loving friendship she has with Ila! You don’t really see that a lot in books without it turning into a love story or something. I loved them!

Warwick also has an underlying message in her books. In Demon Race, it was forgiveness, and in Below, it was you are enough. Beautiful.

I wish there was a little more explaination of what Yuki and The Face Stealer were and where they came from. It was a bit confusing at times, BUT it left a ton of mystery to be solved for the next book! Which I need and can’t wait for!

What are some mythologies you love?

*Amazon link is my affiliate link*

*Book Sleeve is from Love You More Studio. Code: STORIED10 to save 10%*

Shadowscent (Shadowscent, #1) by P. M. Freestone – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publication Date: November 05, 2019

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 3.5 Stars

Amazon

” Across the Aramtesh Empire, scent is everything. Prayers only reach heaven on sacred incense, and perfumes are prized status symbols. 17-year-old Rakel has an uncanny ability with fragrances, but her skills aren’t enough to buy her dying father more time.

Ash bears the tattoos of an imperial bodyguard. When his prince, Nisai, insists on a diplomatic mission to an outer province, Ash is duty-bound to join the caravan. It’s a nightmare protecting Nisai on the road. But it’s even harder for Ash to conceal a secret that could see him exiled or executed.

Rakel and Ash have nothing in common until smoke draws them to a plantation of the Empire’s rarest flower. Nisai’s been poisoned, flames devour the priceless blooms, and the pair have “suspect” clinging to them like a bad stench. Their futures depend on them working together to decipher clues, defy dangers and defeat their own demons in a race to source an antidote . . . before the imperial army hunts them down. “

*Thank you so much to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!*

I honestly struggled between 3 and 4 stars for this one. I thought 3 because it was kind of easy to put it down. It wasn’t one where I was like, “I need to know what happens or I’ll die!” type of book. BUT when I was reading it, it was really unique and I really enjoyed it so I thought maybe 4 stars. So guess what, it ended up in the middle.

Characters. I really liked the characters. Rakel was a likable mix of wanting to save her family and being really stubborn. She was also kind of goofy which I liked. Ash was our brooding, tortured, love interest with a secret. It was a bit typical BUT I still liked it. They matched well together I think. And it was a slow burn so that was nice too. But then again it didn’t have a lot of tension or fire. It could have just as easily ended up being they were just good friends.

Plot/ World. I actually loved that the plot revolved around scents. This book was a candle makers dream. I loved that the author was so descriptive in what things smelled like. It made the book come more alive because of it. And the fact that your station could be higher because of your finer sense of smell and if you could make scents was so interesting! I also liked Ash’s secret. You could kind of see it coming but it was a bit bigger than I realized it was going to be. And I didn’t see a certain minor plot twist coming. I was looking in another direction, if that makes sense. I really enjoyed the adventure! Ash and Rakel go all up and down their lands looking for ingredients for a cure for the Prince! I liked the different trials they had to face to get each cure. There were also quite a few fantasy creatures in this book that I am all for!! Adventure at it’s finest!

Final Thoughts. Major cliff-hanger ending!! I definitely want to read book two and can’t wait to find out what happens to all of the characters! Also, if you are a cover-buyer, go ahead and add this to your list of must buys!

*Once Upon A Time sign is from Bookish Signs and More! Code: Lauren10 to save! I couldn’t resist putting this in my photo!*

*Amazon link is my affiliate link*

*Usual warning of content: This is something I put on my blog for parents specifically. Just putting the different themes or topics represented in the book.*

CONTENT: Mention of child abuse, abuse of the sick, their religion, drug abuse, mention of a couple characters being LGBTQ, forming strong relationships, sacrificing for what is right, strong mental health representation, death, disease, blood and gore.

Tiger Queen by Annie Sullivan – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Blink

Publication Date: September 10, 2019

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Amazon

From Annie Sullivan, author of A Touch of Gold, comes Tiger Queen, a sweeping YA fantasy adventure that tells the story of a fierce desert princess battling to save her kingdom. Fans of Rebel of the Sands and Meagan Spooner will devour this retelling of Frank Stockton’s famous short story, “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger. “

*Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review!*

This was an incredible lush retelling of “The Lady, or the Tiger?” ! It had everything a retelling should, drama, action, and romance! I quite enjoyed my time reading this.

Characters. I actually really liked Kateri, even starting out. She was absolutely ruthless while still yearning for her father’s approval. She had revenge on her mind and she lived like it. Her character growth was not only believable, but it was done REALLY well. Especially for only a 334 page book! And Cion! He was fantastic. I loved his character and how he helped Kateri see truth in a sometimes gentle, sometimes tough love manner. A good mix of both helps! And Rodric is a good classic baddie!

Plot. The plot line was seriously so much fun. With water running extremely low and people having to ration it to half a bucket a day? And the royalty getting to use as much as they want? That’s bound to cause some problems. It was interesting to see how the author solved that problem. I really liked her solution to not only the water but also how people survived and escaped.

World. Minus the water problem and royalty, Achra sounds like somewhere I’d want to visit! It sounds like a blot of color in the desert, an oasis that weary travelers seek. It sounds amazing after a long journey, right? Sullivan did a really good job of making up creatures that would live there too; one’s that are poisonous, ones you can eat, ones that are poisonous and you can eat, and ones that don’t belong.

Final Thoughts. I wish there was more! Also, I am officially a big fan of Sullivan’s work now. I will definitely be buying A Touch of Gold now! I love that she takes lesser known myths and writes re-tellings. I have never read re-tellings like these before!

Thoughts on re-tellings? What is your favorite?

* *Normal disclaimer that content warning isn’t necessarily my personal thoughts. It’s for parents. *

CONTENT WARNING: Kissing, violence, animal cruelty, child abuse, death

OTHER CONTENT: Strong character growth, overcoming your weaknesses, stand up for your values and morals, strong male and female characters, caring for others

*Amazon link is my affiliate link!*

Crown of Coral and Pearl (Crown of Coral and Pearl, #1) by Mara Rutherford – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Publication Date: August 27, 2019

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 3.5 Stars

Amazon

For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine…

Nor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.

Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen… and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.

In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie. “

I have things I liked and things I didn’t really like, however the things I liked outweighed the things I didn’t like (How’s that for a sentence). The things I didn’t like are more plot points than anything else, so I will talk about it there.

Characters. I actually found all of the characters really enjoyable to read about! Nor was headstrong and loves her sister fiercely. I don’t have sisters, but I know I would do anything for my brothers. Nor also has some awesome healing abilities that I so wish were real! She also stood up to what was wrong in her society and what was wrong in the larger kingdom. Talin was also likable. He has some hard core secrets of his own that shapes how he lives his life. Ceren. Oh boy. It’s very clear that something is wrong in his mind. He honestly doesn’t understand that most of the things he does is extremely creepy. Like baking bats in a pie. Gross. He is a pretty messed up prince/ bad guy.

Writing. Loved the writing. Pretty straight forward. I never got lost or anything.

World Building. Rutherford’s world seems really interesting! I would love to get more details on the other kingdoms! The geography makes sense and of course I love the whole little village world in the ocean.

Plot. Here are the things I loved: The water! I am part Polynesian and my love for water knows no bounds. Where Nor and Zadie live is my dream. In a small house, on stilts, in the ocean. And they swim or take their boat to their neighbors house or the market. I also loved the author’s take on healing properties of water. I don’t personally believe water itself can heal you, but I honestly feel better when I am in water. I also liked the plot line of how their village was being threatened by the kingdom that “owns” them. And Nor sets out to fix things.

Didn’t like: There were no plot twists. What you see is what you get. Also, the romance. While I like those two characters together, it was too insta-lovey for my tastes.

Final Thoughts. Again, the things I liked outweighed the things I didn’t like! My water loving soul loved this take on the ocean! It was a really FUN read. And it looks like there is a sequel so I will definitely be reading that!

* *Normal disclaimer that content warning isn’t necessarily my personal thoughts. It’s for parents. *

CONTENT WARNING: Kissing, sexual situations, violence, self harm (even if the character does it for “a good reason”), some disturbing situations (one character drinks blood and he siphons blood), death

OTHER CONTENT: Strong sibling bond, strong female POV, dealing with a harsh parent, beauty is not all that matters (and doesn’t have to matter)

*Amazon link is my affiliate link!*

*Book sleeve is from Love You More Studio! Code: Storied10 to save!*

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication Date: September 03, 2019

Genre: YA Fantasy, Historical

Adventure Rating: 3.5 Stars

Amazon

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it. “

*Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review!*

I really had fun reading this book! And let’s be honest here, that’s really why I read, to have a good time. I was caught up in this story right away. Literally from the first page I was like the Kool-Aid Man going, “OH YEAH”! However, towards the end it kind of lacked it’s shine. Books are usually the other way around for me. It takes me awhile to get into them and then the ending has me wow’d.

Characters: Theodora was actually pretty funny. She was cleverly sarcastic, believable in her actions, and fun to read about. I LOVED her sense of adventure. She was a “damn the consequences” type of gal. She was a dreamer. Huck, was the opposite. Poor guy was dragged along to her wild adventurous ways (even though he kind of liked it). He was also very practical which was a good balance. He was also very charming. They had good chemistry also, and I liked that they had a deep history before the story started. You don’t see that too often.

Plot. Like I said, the plot pulled me in from the get-go. I was all about that Vlad life, you know? And not Bram Stoker’s Vlad but historical Vlad. I find him extremely interesting. I also liked the creative direction the author took for his story! The historical part was actually pretty rich and deep considering it was a shorter book! BUT I feel like more could have been done. It felt almost too magical realism rather than fantasy. The fantasy element only came into play maybe the last 50 pages or so? I felt as though more could have been done with the magic and the surprise element at the end.

Writing. I can understand why so many people are Jenn Bennett fans! She’s actually quite funny! She is clever and a bit mysterious in her writing. I will definitely be reading her other works!

Final Thoughts. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes just a taste of magical horror. Vlad is a very interested historical figure to read about and books like these might help teens to get interested in history. As an adult, if you are looking for a short, fun read, check it out!

* *Normal disclaimer that content warning isn’t necessarily my personal thoughts. It’s for parents. *

CONTENT WARNING: Kissing, talk of sex, mild swearing, death, gore, blood, the general history of Vlad is extremely violent.

OTHER CONTENT: Family is extremely important, helping those that are in need, strong female lead, following your convictions, towards the end, promoting healthy communication

*Amazon link is my affiliate link!*

Do you like Vlad (pretty sure I’ve said ‘Vlad’ too many times in this review) the Impaler retellings? What are your favorites?

The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: DAW

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Genre: Fantasy

Amazon

From an Aurora Award-winning author comes a new fantasy epic in which one mage must stand against a Deathless Goddess who controls all magic.

Only in Tananen do people worship a single deity: the Deathless Goddess. Only in this small, forbidden realm are there those haunted by words of no language known to woman or man. The words are Her Gift, and they summon magic.

Mage scribes learn to write Her words as intentions: spells to make beasts or plants, designed to any purpose. If an intention is flawed, what the mage creates is a gossamer: a magical creature as wild and free as it is costly for the mage.

For Her Gift comes at a steep price. Each successful intention ages a mage until they dare no more. But her magic demands to be used; the Deathless Goddess will take her fee, and mages will die.

To end this terrible toll, the greatest mage in Tananen vows to find and destroy Her. He has yet to learn She is all that protects Tananen from what waits outside. And all that keeps magic alive.”

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for The Gossamer Mage! Thank you so much to the publisher, DAW, for sending me an ARC and a finished copy in exchange for a review.

Characters. My favorite point of view was probably Maleonarial. He was the mage that raged against the injustice that the goddess takes part of a mages life in exchange for magic. They die early deaths. Maleonarial goes on a quest to kill her and take back the stolen futures of his kind. He was a kind soul but also knew what needed to be done. He mourned but didn’t hesitate to do what was right. I admired that. Kaitealyon is a Daughter of the goddess. They speak with her authority in different holds. I liked her. She was a mother and protected her son at all costs. She had this sense of almost super-hero like honor when it came to Tananen (the land they live in). There were also side character POV that were fun to read about.

Plot. The plot was my favorite part of the whole book. The fact that there is magic but it comes at a very high price. A twenty-seven year old that has used magic since he was fifteen would look like he was eighty. I really liked the magic system. I loved that writing words with your intention could produce something beautiful (or in Cil’s case, something horrible). They not only have to write the right words but have the right feelings behind them. And the plot twist at the end about the goddess was A+! And the eaters were a pretty scary threat. They ate magic and could take over people’s bodies! That Maleonarial and Kaitealyon had to team up against this threat was epic!

Writing. I had a really hard time being drawn into this book because of the writing. It was written very differently than what I used to. While I can appreciate the uniqueness, it wasn’t exactly my flavor. It seemed choppy and really hard to read. I often had to re-read sentences and paragraphs to understand what was going on.

Final Thoughts. This stand alone was hard to read but I loved the plot so much! Everything about this book was extremely unique!

“For over twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Julie’s written fantasy too, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series (DAW) A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Having completed her Clan Chronicles series with To Guard Against the Dark, Julie’s latest SF novel is Search Image, Book #1 of her new SF series, The Web Shifter’s Library, bringing back her beloved character Esen the Dear Little Blob. Julie’s edited/co-edited numerous award-winning anthologies of SF/F, including SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase, but nothing prepared her for the sheer joy of opening her Clan Chronicles to fans of the series to produce Tales from Plexis, out December 2018. This year, Julie is delighted to a guest of honour at ConStellation, April 26-28th. What’s coming next? Her new fantasy standalone, The Gossamer Mage, out August 2019, and so much more ” Her Website

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim – Spoiler Free ARC Review

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: July 09, 2019

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

| Amazon | Pre-Order Swag

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.

*Thank you so much to Net Galley and Knopf the the e-arc in exchange for an honest review!*

Project Runway meets Mulan is a perfect tag for this book! Y’all, I was extremely invested in this world. Lim paints a picture of fashion so alluring I wanted to see them in real life more than anything. I loved the competition in the first half and the adventure in the last! Both were very different and very interesting!

Characters. Maia was very likable and relatable. Her character progression was done very well. She was shy at first but then owned her skills. She was just a nice person to read about, without being boring. Edan was intriguing and mysterious. He was a good mix of cocky and sweet. The person I wanted to know more about was Lady Sarnai! She was straight up FIRE! I hope to get more of her in the next book! And the Emperor can go away. He’s so annoying.

World. There’s not really a magic system. It’s extremely rare in people and in enchanted items. It was interesting to learn about how the Enchanters were made though. I really enjoyed the China-like world. Lim did a fantastic job of giving detailed descriptions.

Plot. Very unique. I have not read something like this. Have I said I loved the descriptions of the fashion yet?! Lim writes like a dream! The first half of the book is very different than the last half. The first half was more Project Runway and the last half was Mulan. The journey Maia goes on to collect the magic she needs for her dresses is amazing! It’s the type of adventure I love! Magic, romance, danger, and an ending that leaves you wanting more.

Final Thoughts. The ONLY things I didn’t like were very minor. There was a time where Maia stabbed a creature with her scissors and ran but then they were with her later. Then another time where she left her cane at the Summer Palace but then randomly had it at the Fall Palace. Small details like that happened a few times. I loved this book. I didn’t really get the Sarah J. Maas vibe but I do agree that it’s like Renee Ahdieh! I highly recommend! I cannot wait for the next book! Also, officially obsessed with Lim’s writing!

Is this on your radar for this year?