Publication Date: January 8, 2019
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 4 stars
When I was a child, I went through a period of time where wondered, on and off, if I was adopted. I'm sure that it was brought on by some book I that read, or a movie that I watched, and I even think I asked my mom once. She laughed it off, assured me that wasn't the case, proceeded to show me baby photos that I'd seen countless times before. But not long after I caught her silently wiping at her eyes. She couldn't help it, I understood it even then, but I think that a few children sometimes wonder these things. I think it's borne out of the same curiosity which makes some of us also question if there are other worlds out there full of magic and possibilities that our “real” world does not offer—with far-off quests, vicious villains, brave heroes and wild monsters to conquer. Even after we grow up, we keep these fantasies. At least book lovers do.
I know that I keep to them.
In an Absent Dream brought all of that back. Not the adoption part. Though the memory was triggered, my parents have convinced me of the improbability of this. But rather the possibility of those alternate worlds. And who's to say that they're not true? No one knows all there is to know of the universe. And thank goodness for that, since it means that mysteries still exist.
Lundy is a child with a ferocious imagination who does not belong in the world onto which she is born. I don't think that she even realizes this until she comes across that magical tree and looks upon her first door with the words BE SURE written cleverly over it. But she goes through the door and steps into the Goblin Market, leaving behind the house with her first family and stepping into her true home with a new family of her choosing.
The rules are set for her from the beginning—as they oftentimes are in fairy tales of a sort—the warning is given for them to be followed, and a price must be paid when they are broken. And the price of those broken rules is that the child who had found her home is banished, the magic is removed and set as punishment, and she never gets to walk through the door again.
I've had my ups and downs with the books in this series, and since I do tend to lean and favor the darker tales that follow a plot like this one—which is why so far, my favorite in this set of books has been Down Among the Sticks and Bones—there was a sort of bleak loveliness to this installment. Call me a glutton for dreariness in stories, and I'll be guilty as charged.
It didn't grasp me at first, but the closer I got to the ending, the more I appreciated that bleakness and therefore the good in the novel. Where at first I found annoyance in the fact that the world outside the Goblin Market barely held description, I realized it was to better drive home the point that the Goblin Market was really all that mattered to Lundy and therefore deserved attention. Where I wished more interaction would have occurred between Lundy and her family outside the Goblin Market, more did I enjoy it when it did happen in the form of Diana and her desperation to have the love of her sister. And where I wished that we would've witnessed the actual action between Lundy and the moments with the battle and conquest of the Wasp King or the Bone Wraiths, the more I appreciated the growth, rather, that the character had after these events.
Part of me still wants for the things that I feel I was cheated out of, but we come to the fair value of the story and sometimes it gives before taking again. There's anguish and loss and happiness to be found, and I think that Lundy got just what she wanted in the end. However, it brings home once more something that the Archivist attempted to instill in Lundy more than once (and us, as the attentive reader): be sure, before you ask, or request, or want for something, because there is always a price to pay. Lundy got just what she asked for, but it came at a stark cost.
Title: One of Us is Next (One of Us is Lying #2)
Author: Karen McManus
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genre: Mystery / YA
SYNOPSIS: Come on, Bayview, you know you've missed this.
A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one's been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.
This time it's not an app, though—it's a game.
Truth or Dare.
Phoebe's the first target. If you choose not to play, it's a truth. And hers is dark.
Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.
But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it's that they can't count on the police for help. Or protection.
Simon's gone, but someone's determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there's a whole new set of rules. (Goodreads)
Karen McManus' first installment into these sets of books, One of Us is Lying, was a cozy and comforting mystery that took me back to the feels of the 80s. Just like advertised, it had huge Breakfast Club vibes...with a dead body thrown in and a set of teens bound together to find out who did the crime. I'm expecting the same thing in One of Us is Next, along with a fun new story to follow and a new cast that will be thrown into the dangerous mix. I cannot wait!
Title: The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Genre: Mystery / YA
SYNOPSIS: Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .
She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.
At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.
Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.
In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy. (Goodreads)
There's just something about a school campus setting in a story that makes me happy. It's a joy that I am more than glad to sink into, and if a mystery is involved, all the better. Lead Stevie has unapologetically been her “weird” (I say unique) self in this trilogy since Truly Devious, and she has become one of my favorite characters in the last few years to read. She's the kind of girl detective that I would've loved to be had I actually sunk my claws into that sort of lifestyle (I came to reading Nancy Drew too late in life to fully get into the role, I think). She's the main thing that makes reading these novels entertaining, but the fact that the story is coming to a close and we are finally going to be having all of our questions answered has me making eager grabby hands for this book. Alice Ellingham, what really happened to you???
Title: The Sun Down Motel
Author: Simone St. James
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
SYNOPSIS: The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn't right at the Sun Down, and before long she's determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden… (Goodreads)
We all have our comfort reads. And from the last two books in this list, I think it's obvious that mystery is a comfort read of mine. Add even the smallest smidgen of the supernatural to that and it's pure bliss. While Simone St. James' books don't always showcase that element in an obvious way, there's a flair to her novels that makes you settle into that mind-space. I love her stories; I've breezed through almost every single one of them save for Lost Among the Living. I am a fan. I have no doubt that I'm going to be delighted by this new release.
Title: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / NA
SYNOPSIS: Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.
Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.
As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it. (Goodreads)
At this point, anything that Sarah J. Maas releases, I want. I want to read it, hold it, cherish it, protect it with the same zealousness with which Gollum keeps his preciousssss. I am addicted to her writing and the stories that she weaves. Whatever disappointment I might have felt over the fact that there is no future release date in 2020 for any other novel in the ACOTAR series, was more than alleviated when I found out that a first book in her new Crescent City series was being published. There were squeals, there was shock, there may have even been a little danced jiggle in the middle of my room. And don't think me insane for taking personal delight in the fact that House of Earth and Blood releases in March, my birthday month, and therefore I think that's totally a gift meant just for me. I'm fine, reaaaaally.
Title: Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2)
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / Sci-Fi
SYNOPSIS: She answered the Emperor's call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman's shoulders.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.
Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor's Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off? (Goodreads)
Holy crap was I shocked by the fact that I liked Gideon the Ninth as much as I did. I did not take the synopsis seriously when I first read it, and at the end picked up the book because I could not make up my mind on what else to read. To me, it sounded like a flippant, floppy, satirical novel of what something dark and dreary was meant to be—whatever it is meant to be, depending on one's own personal belief. But halfway through the first chapter, I was hooked. I may or may not have shed a tear at the ending, I may or may not have been a bit heartbroken, and I may or may not still hold (probably pathetic) hope that what happened will be remedied. But, even if that's not the case, Harrow the Ninth promises to be just as badass as Gideon the Ninth was. After all, Harrow is one of the most delightful anti-villians I've come across. Or is she an anti-hero? With Harrow, you never really know, and that's terrific.
Title: Forest of Souls (Shamanborn #1)
Author: Lori M. Lee
Publication Date: June 23, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
SYNOPSIS: Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.
And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.
Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for. (Goodreads)
It's happened spontaneously, but since then, little by little I've been drawn to reading novels—mostly fantasy—that draw from Asian lore. It's always a gamble, and I'm not as well versed in the original works as others, but I find these stories so beautiful and lyrical that whenever I find a new one, I am instantly prompted to add it to my TBR mountain. Forest of Souls sounds intriguing, with a promising lead, and a fascinating setting. Plus, let's face it, any place in a novel called the Dead Wood just made that story ten times more gripping.
Title: Empire of the Vampire (Empire of the Vampire #1)
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publication Date: September 3, 2020
SYNOPSIS: Twenty-seven years have passed since the last sunrise, and for almost three decades, the creatures of the night have walked the day without fear. Once, humanity fought bravely against the coldblood legions, but now, we exist only in a few scattered settlements—tiny sparks of light in a growing sea of darkness.
Gabriel de León is the last of the Silversaints, a holy order dedicated to defending realm and church, now utterly destroyed. Imprisoned for the murder of the vampiric king, Gabriel is charged with telling the story of his life.
His tale spans years, from his youth in the monastery of San Michel, to the forbidden love that spelled his undoing, and the betrayal that saw his order annihilated. Most importantly, Gabriel will tell of his discovery of the Grail—the legendary cup prophesied to bring an end to the eternal night.
But the Grail was no simple chalice; and its secret was held by a smart-mouthed teenage urchin named Dior. Their journey with a band of unlikely allies would see Dior and Gabriel forge an unbreakable bond, and set the broken paragon on a road to redemption.
But now, the Grail is shattered. And with the cup of the Savior destroyed and the last Silversaint awaiting execution, what can bring an end to this unholy empire? (Goodreads)
Granted, I've never read a book written solely by Jay Kristoff—this must be remedied as soon as possible. But I did read the Illuminae Files, written alongside Amie Kaufman, some of the most entertaining and uniquely formatted novels I've experienced. I fully intend to make Empire of the Vampire my first of his works—if nothing else falls onto my lap before then. It's been quite a while since I've read a vampire novel, and this one sounds like it'll have a few traces of that inviting darkness which makes these stories all the more satisfying. I'm ever so slightly worried about the similarity drawn from Interview with the Vampire, but I hold my hopes up. It can still—and likely will—turn out to be something phenomenal.
Title: Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove #2)
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA / Romance
No synopsis or cover art yet available, sadly. However, Serpent & Dove was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2019. It was not the best rendition of witchcraft in fiction that exists out there, although what was presented was very entertaining. And the romance/chemistry between the leads was so much fun that it more than made up for anything else that may have been lacking. It was a guilty little pleasure. I'm not sure whose story follows in Blood & Honey, and quite frankly, I do not care. All that I know is that I am incredibly eager to keep reading more of this story.
Title: UNTITLED (Dreamer Trilogy #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
No synopsis or cover art yet available, sadly yet again. I have not yet read Call Down the Hawk, I confess it. I do, however, fully intend to make that my first read of 2020, and I already love the world of this story so much that I cannot possibly imagine how I could ever dislike it (may I not have to bite back my words). Which is why I'm so excited to see that there is already a second novel in the works to release later in the year. Mr. Ronan Lynch was my favorite character from The Raven Cycle series, that the fact that he gets his own set of books makes my fan-girl heart soar with joy.
Thank you to the author and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this novel. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Publication Date: June 15, 2019
Rating: 2 stars
The Dawnvel Druids is the tale of a young man who is given the opportunity to attend the college of Dawnvel in England and becomes embroiled in the goings-on of its group of druids, soon learning that he is a druid himself.
The premise of the story is that the druids exist because there is a portal to the Otherworld—the realm where other beings and beasts live—and therefore they are there to guard that portal, always needing seven to be the number of druids needed. After one of them is murdered, one of our leads—Simone--brings Bobby (our unlikely hero) forward as the next possible druid. Once he undergoes the Joining, which is the magical initiation ceremony of their kind, it is proven that he is indeed a druid.
Story-wise, the novel is entertaining. Not once did I feel a need to put it aside, it has a brisk pace that's easy to follow. And there are a lot of moments when comedy steps in and makes a scene well worthwhile, especially whenever Bobby attempts to get away from the rest of the cast, refusing to believe that he is one of them while he accuses the lot of being a cult. As a matter of fact, Bobby is one of my favorite parts of the novel, and I highly appreciated the fact that he doesn't fall into the category of leads who easily accept something that is out of their realm of knowledge and belief just because it looks “cool” or “amazing”. He resists right up and 'til the end, which is as realistic as it can be for someone suddenly put into a position such as he is.
The writing, however, was rather underdeveloped. And the brisk pace of the story gave way to it being rushed, which became even more evident when crucial moments happened: such as the Joining, or the breaking in of Tarin and her gang into the home of the druids.
I was left with questions as to why Simone's father needs the drug Orachun—or what the drug really is/does—nor do I yet know why seven druids are specifically needed to secure the portal. Then Bobby states at the start of the novel that he has anxiety issues around others, proven when Warren first confronts him and he cowers from him, yet he is so comfortable confronting his roommate despite the lesser level of harassment he receives from him compared to Warren. It's such a leap.
Despite these points, there is a nice diversity in the characters' personalities—no one is a cookie cutter version of anyone else. And while I wish I would know who is the culprit in Zander's murder, I enjoyed the idea of a mystery surrounding it, albeit one that was not seen to fruition. The ending of the novel holds its promise and the possible realization of Warren and Lana's suspicions about who and what Bobby really is. Although, I do hope that he doesn't easily give into the sudden dark desires his new wand seems to want to explore, as seemed to be the case at the closing of the last chapter. Hopefully, he continues to use that charming resistance of his and grow.
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 4 stars
Back in 2018 when I read The Hazel Wood, the novel was all the rage. I remember wondering if there was something wrong with me for not loving it as much as many others did—as I tend to wonder whenever a hyped up book falls short with me. But it was simply missing its spark, and while I enjoyed it as it was, it didn't hold the magic that should have been brimming in it. Especially for a story such as it is.
All of that changed in The Night Country.
One of the things I did enjoy in The Hazel Wood, and which continued throughout The Night Country, are the fairy tales that Melissa Albert spins. Stories within stories that not only take you away but that build up and shape a new world. That darkness that one can imagine clinging to a character such as Alice Three-Times, to the Spinner, to Sophia, stood out wonderfully in this novel and gave it an ambiance that was a pleasure to explore and love. One that I had previously hoped for.
There was a beginning, a middle, and an ending with this second installment that I did not come across in The Hazel Wood. And while I continue to compare the two, I can't help it. They're both part of a whole story, and the story has grown and developed nicely. There is no rushing events, they're very well explored. Finch's delving into the Night Country at the end and attaining the role of Spinner was wonderfully detailed. The fight for survival and the choices that were made came at an ideal pace. Alice's struggle to find who the murderer is of Stories and bring it all to an end is so nicely explored. The reveal of the culprit—while not surprising—is still satisfying to behold. And the little kernel that the (original) Spinner leaves in Alice concerning the third, smaller version of herself is tantalizing.
No part of this installment was filler, unnecessary. It brimmed with colorful characters and a dreary stirring deep in the gut that was very à propos to the type of tale that was being weaved.
One of the things, however, that I would have liked to see is further interaction between the Stories, and something that was also done in swift passing in The Hazel Wood. It's there, we get snippets, and it is fascinating to behold in the party that Sophia last invites Alice to. But even then, it's fleeting. And while seeing the Hinterland wreak havoc among humans is morbidly entertaining, their interactions with one another happen behind-the-scenes, but not often before us. We can see them in the same room, we know that they live together and hang out together, but we don't know what happens behind those closed doors.
I suppose that these are another set of doors which may stay closed to us for good, or that might be opened in the next book. Whatever the case, the mysteries behind them continue to sweetly torment.
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 2 stars
***Possible Spoilers Ahead***
The premise for Nameless Queen was wonderfully intriguing. But, unfortunately, this novel suffers from the impossible-to-ignore plight of the Mary Sue lead. Coin is amusing, resourceful, intelligent—and has an ability to master things that she has had no experience with before so fast and so well, that is quite difficult to believe. So difficult, in fact, that once you notice it, you can't help but notice all the things that happen around her that are conveniently too...well, convenient.
There is Coin, minding her own business, getting ready to perform a new con as the Nameless that she is, and bam—she receives the crown tattoo that signals her as Seriden's next ruler, and all of a sudden magical abilities that she has never even come across before are as easy for her to access and manipulate as breathing.
There's no struggle, no work is done to attain the end of a complex situation, and answers seem to come so simple to these characters. Characters, which sometimes are used as props, thrown into a scene for the purpose of spouting a few lines or doing a few actions that will help drive the plot along, until they are shooed along and tucked away again.
I won't say, however, that all of it was bad. There were things, like Hat, for example, that made this story worthwhile. Despite my mistrust of realism in allowing a child to perform any sort of medical care on a critical patient because she just so happens to be in a medical ward alongside an experience doctor, she's a darling of a character. She's loving, warm, sweet, funny, and she endears the reader to many of the moments that she is around Coin. She's one of the reasons that Coin is appealing—she makes her seem more human and more caring, even as she resists that bond with the little girl.
Belrosa's twist to use a Nameless army was a great addition, although, once again, it was not used to its full potential. Aside from them chasing Coin down after she escapes their training ground, they don't do much. I would have loved to see more glimpses of them, direct ones, not just the behind-the-scene peeks of their burning down houses or dragging away Nameless and making them disappear around the city.
And in a book where building relationships are less than realistic in their swiftness, Esther and Coin's was a breath of fresh air. Yes, it should happen just as it does, that the young women do not like each other. Yes, Esther should be suspicious and snappy at Coin considering their backgrounds. Yes, they should resist whatever warmth they feel for each other at the beginning, even once it's revealed that they're sisters. That was excellent, that was real, that was progress.
The end was a two-way street. I thought it ingenious that Coin locks Belrosa into her own mind, essentially, as a way to beat her. But the duels come and go in the blink of an eye. Once more, we have an opportunity for something to go through a process so that it grows and builds, but it gets cut short. And while part of me went a little nuts having Coin's name dangled before me then snatched up again, I can't help but enjoy that we still don't know who she was born to be. She may be the type of character that knows all and can do all, but having her be the person her experiences have shaped her out to be, rather than whoever she was christened as, portrays her as a more likable being.
Not only that, but not showing a romance arc for the lead was fortifying. In a genre where romance—especially love triangles—are so well used for the plot, the fact that the author did not lean on this other than a few very coy and subtle hints that never panned out to be anything else, was commendable.
Regardless of whatever faults were found, due to how the novel ends, I can't help but want to know what is to come. If nothing else, the open-ended story leaves you with enough questions that you continue to seek answers for them. Smart.