Review of A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, These are the hands that buried my mother.

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her―the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi–masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making–she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Firstly i was totally drawn in by the cover of this book, such beautiful colours and it totally makes it stand out in the crowd! A Magic Steeped in Poison is such a wonderful book, with so much going on, i do enjoy a competition in books and pretty much all of the trials that Ning undertakes are beset with either danger or fiendish complexity, not to mention a heavy dose of sabotage. 

I adored the magic system and the way the wielding of tea was visualised, different teas displaying different traits and weaving a subtle and wonderful thread through the story. The tea trials may sound like they might not be very exciting but the way that they are incorporated in such an all encompassing way is fantastic, i especially enjoyed how Ning’s magic allowed her to transcend to a different level as she combined both her mother and father’s skills.

The underlying pace is subtly relentless with not only the race against time for Ning to save her sister but also to complete the trials before the all the pieces come together and there are many things that are all at play at the same time. One of my favourite things though was the sense of camaraderie and companionship, and how Ning learns more of her history as she talks to those in the palace and explores the grounds and the city beyond. Her uncanny ability to turn around being in the wrong place in the wrong time to her unwitting favour is fantastic and leads her down some very interesting paths.

If you love unique magic systems with a dash of historical fantasy and that keeps you on your toes then you will adore this book!

Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy to review

Review of a Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland

A Taste of Gold and Iron is a very introspective book, we follow prince Kadou as he seems to almost bumble at times though his life and duty, we discover very early on that he suffers greatly with anxiety and I thought that was written in a sensitive way and as an anxiety sufferer myself I had a lot of understanding in the situations he was in. When I first picked it up i was flying through the pages convinced that this was going be a five star read but whilst i liked that we spent a lot of time with Kadou initially, by about half way through i was starting to get tired by the lack of plot progression, by that point i realised that this was more of a character piece than a plot driven one and when I readjusted my expectations from the story i was able to get back into the flow. 

A Taste of Gold and Iron is at its heart a romance book and palace life is secondary to that, so do keep that in mind if you, like me , were expecting an epic fantasy. The burgeoning relations between Kadou and Evemer are sensitively written given its shaky start and Evemers preconceptions about Kadou. The story does start in tragedy worn by a relationship that should not have become as close as it had and even if i felt it could have been condensed, its only right that Evemer took as long as he did to reach that point. We have tropes for days, with miscommunication, enemies to lovers, forbidden romance, one bed, honestly if you’re a romance fan there is a whole lot for you to love in these pages. 

When the action gets going it is fast paced and the time spent getting to know the characters really gripped you in their sense of peril, one of my absolute favourite scenes is with Kadou and Evemer who have to think quickly to create a ruse, it is just wonderfully done and its continued effect on the rest of the story really helped pull it back round for me, how two pins of metal could make my heart burst as much as it did is quite the achievement. The worldbuilding when you get it is wonderful, a really rich environment is woven in the pages. The description of the palace and the clothing really pulled me and I could picture it all perfectly.

In the end, i did really enjoy this book, even though it wasn’t quite what i was expecting it to be, I really bonded with the characters and liked the way it played out, if the romance had been more balanced with the political plot it would easily have been a 5 star read for me.

Review of Lightfall by MA Phipps and Rebecca Jaycox

Lightfall is a YA paranormal romance, with a hint of dark academia and a bit of mystery. Now I usually shy away from romance and paranormal romance particularly as there is usually lots of “claiming” going on, but actually the romance element of Lightfall is pretty low down on it’s list of priorities.

The story is told in alternating chapters between naive Light, Luna, as she takes her first wobbly steps in the Alexandria Academy and bad boy Dark, Caleb, attending the Academy on an exchange programme. Caleb has an agenda, and when Luna’s powers are not quite what they seem the two team up to reach a common goal. The Academy is elitist and it’s easy to understand how lost Luna feels especially when her first ally, Alaric, leaves on other business, she doesn’t get support from either students or staff, leaving her open to suggestion from a mysterious voice. I really did feel for Luna, as she has become broken by the mortal world and then she is just dropped into the thick of it being told she is nephilim and that actually there’s a whole other world hidden away that she’s part of. Caleb doesn’t fall into the trope that he could have become, actually standing out as by far the most reasonable person there. I found that he handled the conflict between his agenda and wanting to be there for Luna really well, they have the perfect burgeoning relationship which is being solidly built on honesty, and communication plays a vital part in getting them over any hurdles they reach. Normalising healthy and positive relationships is one of my number one priorities when it comes to romance in YA and I am so happy that this is the route taken in Lightfall.

I really enjoyed the discovery element of this story, the mystery surrounding Caleb’s task and the voice that Luna hears is really well done and exciting to read, it was easy to fly through the pages to find out what came next and it certainly left me ready to read more. I also do enjoy a creative spin on “releasing a breath they didn’t know they were holding”!

On the flip side, for me it took a few chapters to settle into its stride, maybe it was a case of just wanting to get from A to B quickly to move the story to where it needed to be but it didn’t immediately pull me in which was a shame as once I was in sync with it I couldn’t put it down. The story did feel a little flowery at times and some unusual word choices did pull me out of the world which was a shame but then that’s probably just a me problem.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised with Lightfall and it goes to show that sometimes an out of comfort zone read can be a good thing and i’m excited to see where these characters head next.

4*

Lightfall is out on 6th September and is available for pre-order now

Review of The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itaranta

A gripping sci-fi mystery wrapped in an LGBTQIA love story that bends space, time, myth and science.

Lumi is an Earth-born healer whose Mars-born spouse Sol disappears unexpectedly on a work trip. As Lumi begins her quest to find Sol, she delves gradually deeper into Sol’s secrets – and her own.

While recalling her own path to becoming a healer under the guidance of her mysterious teacher Vivian, she discovers an underground environmental group called Stoneturners, which may have something to do with Sol’s disappearance. Lumi’s search takes her from the wealthy colonies of Mars to Earth that has been left a shadow of its former self due to vast environmental destruction. Gradually, she begins to understand that Sol’s fate may have been connected to her own for much longer than she thought.

Part space-age epistolary, part eco-thriller, The Moonday Letters is also a love story between two individuals from very different worlds.

The Moonday Letters reads in a very quiet and unassuming way, yet cleverly pulls you into a story that feels urgent and unravelling. It’s a writing style that I felt very comfortable with and kept me coming back to read more. 

The epistolary style gave a very one sided approach to the story, with Lumi looking inward, unweaving her relationship with her spouse, Sol, their family and the building blocks of how she became a healer. As each stone is turned Lumi’s approach to the growing situation starts to flip as understanding of the bigger picture dawns and she is forced to be resilient and resourceful in ways she never expected. Because of this i struggled to warm to Sol, their part retained in sugar coated memories or short messages that initially lacked any empathy for Lumi. I found the change in their’s and Lumi’s dynamic well constructed.

Whilst the story would indicate a low opportunity for worldbuilding a solid picture is painted of the areas Lumi visits or recounts, I felt properly able to visualise and appreciate each place although everything felt muted, as if Lumi’s longing and frustration translated into her descriptive writing. Her calm and patience, despite many dead ends and set backs is laudable. 

This is a translated book and I have to give huge props to the translator who managed to capture every thought and feeling so wonderfully.

The Moonday Letters isn’t what i would describe as a traditional sci-fi novel and there is much within it’s pages for those who are not necessarily fans of the genre, i found the comfort of communication within a long marriage captivating and also the theory behind climate change and activism well written and engaging. 

The only down for me was the lack of punctuation in the epistolary style when lumi was recounting conversations past, thoughts, words and who was speaking gave me pause a few times – however, i appreciate that this is a me problem!

I very much enjoyed this story which kept on surprising me!

4*

Review of Together we Burn by Isabel Ibanez

Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come for miles to see him fight in their arena, which will one day be hers.

But disaster strikes during their five hundredth anniversary show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s father is horribly injured. Facing punishment from the Dragon Guild, Zarela must keep the arena—her ancestral home and inheritance —safe from their greedy hands. She has no choice but to take her father’s place as the next Dragonador. When the infuriatingly handsome dragon hunter, Arturo Díaz de Montserrat, withholds his help, she refuses to take no for an answer.

But even if he agrees, there’s someone out to ruin the Zalvidar family, and Zarela will have to do whatever it takes in order to prevent the Dragon Guild from taking away her birthright.

Together we Burn is the first book I have read by Isabel Ibanez and on the strength of this I will definitely be seeking out the rest of her works. The story is absolutely glorious, with wonderful characters and colourful world building. The writing style is so easy and the story flowed so well, I struggled to put it down and flew through the pages when I picked it up!

Zarela is the kind of protagonist I love to love, full of fierce determination but also happy to barrel headfirst into whatever she needs to reach her goal, I really liked that she felt 18 years old with a good level of naivety balanced  with the kind of understanding that 18 year olds never quite get the credit they deserve for. This, coupled with the wonderful Lola create a fun yet chaotic team. Arturo is the antithesis of Zarela and if you like a grumpy vs sunshine trope then you will love their dynamic!

Yes, there are dragons but don’t go into this expecting them to be the star of the show, the story is very much character driven by Zarela as she races against time to uncover the mystery surrounding recent events. The climax is fantastically written, fast paced and paints a breathtaking picture. Zarela is a burst of colour in the otherwise bleached landscape.

In short I absolutely adored this book and I was so happy the story was wrapped up in one stand alone novel. It is a wonderfully written YA Fantasy, with just a hint of spice that created a story that I am sure i will come back to! Thank you so much Titan books for sending me a copy to review.

5*

Review of Once Upon a Fever by Angharad Walker

Since the world fell sick with fantastical illnesses, sisters Payton and Ani have grown up in the hospital of King Jude’s.

Payton wants to be a methic like her father, working on a cure for her mother’s sleeping fever. Ani, however, thinks the remedy for all illness might be found in the green wilderness beyond the hospital walls.

When Ani stumbles upon an imprisoned boy who turns everything he touches to gold, her world is turned upside-down. The girls find themselves outside the hospital for the first time, a dark mystery unravelling … 

Once Upon a Fever is a fantastic MG standalone fantasy which pits the scientific and the natural world against each other, it also has some really important messages about feelings which is covered in a really unique way and gets the message across without sounding forced or preachy. 

Ani and Payton are very different siblings and whilst they both have the same end goal their approaches to it take different paths. They have a strong bond, which despite their differences, really shines through After a frenetic opener I enjoyed how the story became split with each sister travelling their own and very different path of discovery

As mentioned at the start, I really liked the important discussions around feelings, all the ill’s of this world are caused by feelings after an event called “The Turn”. Their Methics work with science and botany for often bizarre approaches to healing,  what if we could wipe out all memory of the feeling, would that necessarily make us a better person? That feelings can consume us if we push them down too far is a important lesson, but the book also carefully balances that we can often surprise ourselves with our resilliance – it’s actually very layered for it’s short pages.

The worldbuilding is artful with the wilds coming alive against the almost oppressive feeling of the methic towers – this sister a wonderful shade of grey between the two. Ani’s discovery of life outside of the walls is a delight as Payton is dazzled by the grandeur of what life as a Methic could be like.

The book did take a darker turn than I was expecting but in that i actually applaud the author for taking the route that we knew the sisters would over the route that we would traditionally expect young fantasy books to tread.

Once Upon a Fever is a wonderful upper MG read that I would recommend to the suggested reading age and above.

4* 

Review of The Path of Thorns by A G Slatter

Alone in the world, Asher Todd travels to the remote estate of Morwood Grange to become governess to three small children. Her sole possessions comprise a sea chest and a large carpet bag she hangs onto for dear life. She finds a fine old home, its inhabitants proud of their lineage and impeccable reputation, and a small village nearby. It seems an untroubled existence, yet there are portraits missing from the walls, locked rooms, and names excised from the family tree inscribed in the bible. In short order, the children adore her, she becomes indispensible to their father Luther in his laboratory, and her potions are able to restore the sight of granddame Leonora. Soon Asher fits in as if she’s always been there, but there are creatures that stalk the woods at night, spectres haunt the halls, and Asher is not as much a stranger to the Morwoods as it might at first appear.

The Path of Thorns is a wonderful example of playing the long game for revenge. It’s a story that quickly pulled me into its pages, with the heart pounding opener of Asher feeling followed as she walks up the path to Morwood Grange. Its a path that feels well trodden within the Gothic Genre, as Asher attends the imposing building to act as governess for 3 children, who’s father has wandering ways – however that’s where similarities end and outside of that lies something incredibly well woven. A slow burn of a story, many elements come together under the swirling mists as Asher insinuates herself into the household. In doing so, the reader is given the chance to reflect on Asher’s past of poverty, and how she strove to break free from that, It’s through unlocking the past that much of the mystery becomes clear and that there are many layers to be peeled away to reach the end goal.

Whilst none of the characters can be said to be good, I did like the aspect of the struggles of the morally grey – its an interesting dynamic as resolve starts to change. Asher is a very determined character and there is a lot to love about her, with the retrospective aspect rounding her out. I enjoyed how all the staff had their very distinct personalities and their own little arcs moving alongside of the main story. The villains were really well realised and it was a wonderful piece of storytelling to read their evolution. I enjoyed the reliance on folklore and fairytales to punctuate the beliefs being put forward by each character, an insight into their being, as if the book is set in a world of stories it really helped give the book an ethereal feel, like it could all be a dream

The Path of Thorns is in places a very dark story, however. There are depictions of witchcraft, including animal death, and also a graphic description of child loss during pregnancy. It is not profoundly part of the story but discretion is advised if these are upsetting topics.

Whilst overall i really enjoyed this story as it was captivating and full of intricate plot details, the ending felt a bit chaotic and far reaching which did pull me out of the fantasy world i had been so engrossed in. But, if you enjoy gothic tales of witchcraft and folklore, with a heavy dose of mystery to unravel then i really recommend The Path of Thorns.

Thank you to Titan Books for the review copy.

4*

Review of A Thousand Steps into Night by Traci Chee

In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again. But with her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did. 

A Thousand Steps into Night is a standalone YA fantasy steeped in Japanese folklore. Following Miuko as she makes her way from clumsy awkward teen to clumsy awkward teen demon in waiting, the story feels somewhat childlike in its narrative. Miuko is from a sheltered home where propriety is held in high regard, her life experiences are minimal which are reflected in the way way the writing plays out. One thing is for sure, she just can’t catch a break and its both comical and heart breaking at times as she gets so near yet so far from what she is trying to achieve.

The story started off strong and i felt instantly pulled into the world, there was little lead into to the story arc and we hit the ground running along with Miuko as she quickly finds herself understanding what it is to be one foot in one world and the other somewhere else entirely. There is so much going on as Miuko runs against time from place to place searching for both a cure and place to hide from those giving chase – like so many “journey” based stories she finds many who both help and also hinder her in her task. I enjoyed how some of her stops felt like genuine trials, especially in the village without women, and that the sinister presence of the demon voice giving Miuko series pause to consider demon life.

However, i did find this book didn’t keep me as hooked as it did in the start, there was a huge number of people to keep track of and the flighty nature of the journey meant that world building had to take a back seat. It was just lacking a layer of substance that would have kept me hooked from page to page.

It’s a nice little fantasy adventure though, very much appropriate to the YA market and i liked that it was a standalone. If you’re after a light and quick read that isn’t fuelled by romance and has a strong focus on friendship and family, give this a go!

Thank you to Harper 360 YA for the review copy

Review of Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman

Girl by day, killer by night: a dark, twisting thriller about a teen assassin’s attempt to live a normal life.

Trained and traumatised by a secret assassin program for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than a new life as a normal civilian. And she might just be in with a shot when she befriends Emma Westray, because for the first time in her life things are looking up.

But when Isabel blows her cover by impulsively murdering a burglar, she draws the attention of the guilds – the two organisations who control the city of Espera. An unaffiliated killer like Isabel is either a potential asset … or a threat to be eliminated.

Will the blood on her hands cost her everything?

The Butterfly Assassin is a faced paced adrenaline ride that will leave you struggling to put it down. The tone is set from the very first chapter that this is a book that will not pull any punches or sanitise its violence for the sake of its readers, it hits the upper end of dark for the YA bracket

Isabel Ryans is a character that you can’t help but hurt for, the fact that she transforms so effortlessly from student to cold blooded killer is heartbreaking; that her programming is so entrenched her body reacts before her brain can process, she’s like a young black widow. She is so endearing though as she tries so hard, every step of the way, to be a normal teen to try and shield her past life but she just cant catch a break as it catches up with her in the most catastrophic ways

The story works well if you are a visual reader, playing out very much like a movie, character driven by Isabel as she races against the clock, there’s a lot going on and several different players who may or may not be who they seem or to be trusted. The landscape feels very bleak and sterile at times, I read in shades of grey.

I do feel a little torn in that I do love wordbuilding and I felt that there was more to know, i would have liked to have understood more of the history behind the guilds and how they came to exist in parallel with the day to day, and had a more descriptive vision of the world, it could have been anywhere at any time. However, i do have to balance that with the fact that the thriller pacing would have fallen flat if time was taken to explain every little thing, much is left to the reader to connect the dots in the background and i was actually ok with that in the end.

I found the use of esperanto interesting, especially as it’s not a language that really pops up often, I liked the fact that each chapter had both English and Esperanto meanings, like a little lesson each time!

Whilst the story wrapped up in whirlwind, it was a very enjoyable and easy whirlwind to get swept up in and I’m excited to find out where Isabel Ryans may end up next!

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the early review copy

Review of Nettle and Bone by T Kingfisher

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra―the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter―has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince―if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

Nettle and Bone is the fairytale I didn’t know I needed in my life! It is a wonderfully chaotic story in that you never quite know where it’s going to take you next, when I first picked it up it was dark and bleak to the degree that I thought I was reading a dystopian but as the story winds back the clock to tell us how our protagonist Marra gets herself into the predicament she finds herself in, its clear that this is a dark and delicious fairytale full of macabre creatures, darkly comedic wit and demon possessed chickens.

Telling the story of 3 sisters who are doomed to marry the wicked prince of a nearby kingdom, Marra is sent to a convent to protect herself from the misfortune that has befallen her siblings. Not one for convent life and hiding away whilst her family suffers, Marra sets out on her own to save her sister as it’s clear that no prince charming is going to do the right thing. I loved the refreshing take that Marra steps up to this! Nettle and Bone then takes us on a wonderful mash up of the wizard of Oz meets found family as Marra picks up a band of outcasts along the way to aid her in her quest. My favourite by far was the Dust Wife, whos no nonsense and brittle exterior was a clever front for a quick witted keen mind and a knack for forward planning.

Their journey is full of perils, puzzles and often angry spirits as Marra and each of her troupe find their own redemption arc and their part to play to get to the castle but can they save the princess in time?!

4*