Review of The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

I’ve never read a Susan Dennard book but the hype around The Luminaries is strong and I was so happy to have received an early copy to review. I also buddy read the book which has really helped me to get my thoughts in order for this review.

Hemlock falls is indeed in it’s own little bubble, there feels like there is little in life there that particularly conforms to social convention, I mean we open with our protagonist, Winnie age just 16, on corpse duty but now of the age to take on the trials to become a hunter. I found Winnie instantly likeable and wonderfully awkward – which is good because we are 90% focused on Winnie throughout.

I loved the trials and the way they played out, and whilst initially the pacing was slow, but understandable as Winnie throws herself into a life she hasn’t been part of for 4 years, when she begins her training montages her readiness and aptitude for the following trials picks up the flow and honestly the pages were almost turning themselves.

I loved the rich lore and the detailed descriptions of the nightmares that roam the forest, the background of the hunter clans and the witches is fascinating and for every question answered it opens the door to about 5 more. The Luminaries is far more than a standard YA girl faces monsters, there are mysteries to solve a plenty too. The single page passage at the start is definitely something i went back to and re-read to see if it gave me any clues, and each time it read a little differently depending on what i had learn from the story.

It’s definitely a book your going to want to tab or keep notes on as the breadcrumbs start to connect and you can try to unravel it all!

Where it didn’t quite work for me (and I say this with the caveat that I had an uncorrected proof) is that there is an odd tense to the writing in places, which led me having to re-read some sentences to make sure i had it right, and there is a hybrid of US and UK language which made me question where on Earth Hemlock Falls was meant to be. I also think (personal preference) that it would have been nice to have had a little bit of the story wrapped up, there are tons of questions left unanswered which felt a little unsatisfying.

That said, there is certainly a lot in the balance which is more than enough to draw me back to book 2 in the series, which I hope we don’t have to wait too long for!

Thank you to Daphne Press and Black Crow PR for sending a copy for review.

Review of the Christmas Wish by Lindsey Kelk

Newly single lawyer Gwen Baker is hoping that a family Christmas – countryside, a mountain of food and festive films –

will salve the sting of her career hanging by a thread and her heart being trampled on. Because everyone else has their life sorted: even Dev, her boy-next-door crush, is now a tall, dark and handsome stranger with a fiancée. She can’t help wishing her future was clearer.

Then Gwen wakes up to discover it’s Christmas day all over again. Like Groundhog Day but with turkey. And family arguments. On repeat.

As she figures out how to escape her own particular Christmas hell, Dev is the one bright spot. He might be all grown-up but underneath he’s just as kind and funny as she remembers.

Maybe, just maybe, her heart can be mended after all.

But how do you fall in love with someone who can’t remember you from one day to the next?

Sometimes it’s nice to read outside your usual genre, and whilst contemporary romance isn’t what you would usually associate with my reading tastes, when I do pick one up I do inevitably enjoy it! The Christmas wish is nothing short of a delightfully warm blanket of a read. I loved wrapping myself up it it’s pages as Gwen’s experience of Christmas day went from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in the most charming of ways.

A festive groundhog day, Gwen finds herself transfixed with the wishes her family would make on the Christmas Pudding sixpence, doing her best to give everyone their hearts desire, whilst childhood crush and neighbour, Dev, is never far away.

I loved the family dynamic and how everyone’s frustrations and secrets were written in a way that still kept humour in the story, never feeling heavy or downbeat, things were always solved by some Bailey’s, fireworks or a hot tub! Gwen’s nan is fabulous and her scenes never failed to make me laugh, because we all know a no holds barred family member like her. There wasn’t a family relationship that I didn’t enjoy reading about, be it sibling rivalry, parental expectation or walking in on your cousin taking *lower half” pics

Gwen’s self discovery is lovely to read, the romance is pretty sweet and all in all it’s a lovely festive read that ties itself nicely with an oversized bow.

Thank you so much Harper Fiction for sending me a copy for review!

Review of Forestfall by Lyndall Clipstone

At the lake’s edge, I made my promise. In the forest, I will fall.

The curse that haunted Lakesedge Estate has been broken, but at great cost. Violeta Graceling has sacrificed herself to end the Corruption.

To escape death, Leta makes a desperate bargain with the Lord Under, one that sees her living at his side in the land of the dead. And though he claims to have given her all he promised, Leta knows this world of souls and mists hides many secrets.

When she discovers she is still bound to Rowan, Leta goes to drastic lengths to reforge their connection. But her search for answers, and a path back home, will see her drawn into even more dangerous bargains, and struggling to resist the allure of a new, dark, power.

When I read Lakesedge I was instantly pulled into its dark and gothic fairytale, so I was looking forward to returning to the world with Lakesedge. Sadly, for me, this book did meet the standard set in book 1. Starting with the positives though, Lyndall Clipstone is certainly able to write beautifully. The words are a masterclass in lyrical and atmospheric creativity, lush descriptions bring you into the world so completely that you almost can feel the cold and the dark, the woodsmoke and surroundings. It was a delight to read in places, although it did feel much more like traditional high fantasy over the more gothic tones of Lakesedge.

I found Leta a very difficult protagonist to get behind this time, I just didn’t enjoy her character. Her behaviour changes felt very sudden and the indication of a love triangle was just bizarrely played out.There was a lot of repetition as the story just went round and round in the same circle and because I was not invested in Leta’s plight I struggled to come back to the book a lot. I think perhaps this was, in my opinion, a one book story or would have been better served entirely from Rowan’s point of view. The Lord Under felt lacklustre this time, rather than the chilling menace of Lakesedge, although I did enjoy the introduction of his sisters and how Leta’s tithes to them played into the greater story.

I really wanted to love Forestfall but alas, not every book can be for everyone. It truly was beautifully written but that wasn’t quite enough for me on this occasion.

Thank you as always to Titan Books for sending me a copy for review.

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*