Tag Archives: fantasy

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A half Reaper, Half-Shinigami warrior must find her place in the underworld and life as a whole while trying to earn the trust of the Goddess of Death in 1890’s Japan in author Kylie Lee Baker’s “The Keeper of Night”, the first in the series of the same name.

The Synopsis

Julie Kagawa meets Scythe in this captivating and evocative journey into Death’s domain as one soul collector seeks her place in the underworld of 1890s Japan. Book 1 of a planned duology.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough yearns for the acceptance she has never found among the Reapers who raised her. When the Shinigami powers she can no longer hide force her to flee for her life, Ren and her younger brother—the only being on earth to care for her—travel to Japan and the dark underworld of Yomi, where Ren hopes to claim her place among the Shinigami and finally belong.

But the Goddess of Death is no more welcoming than the Reapers who raised her, and Ren finds herself set on an impossible task—find and kill three yokai demons, and maybe, just maybe, she can earn a place in Death’s service. With only her brother and an untrustworthy new ally by her side, Ren will learn how far she’ll go to win the acceptance she craves, and whether the cost of belonging is worth any sacrifice.

The Review

Wow, that was truly a captivating and visceral reading experience. The author has expertly crafted an original YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction horror tale that will not only entertain audiences but introduce many readers to the rich mythos that exists within Japanese folklore and the culture as a whole. The balance of Asian and European mythology that the author explores is great, but what really is amazing to see is how the European lore is very much a secondary component to the narrative, serving more as a stepping board for the character’s beginning arc rather than taking up the majority of the novel’s mythos. 

The characters were so unique and rich to watch unfold. The protagonist herself was interesting, as she really toed the line between morality and her dark origins the further and further she went on her journey. Seeing how her brother and this new ally of Ren’s served as devil and angel on her shoulders throughout this journey, highlighting the hardship of having others tell you who you are while you are in the middle of trying to decide that for yourself. 

The Verdict

A mesmerizing, haunting, and emotionally driven YA Fantasy and action novel, author Kylie Lee Baker’s “The Keeper of Night” is a must-read novel for YA Fantasy and horror fans this fall! Incorporating truly chilling mythology and brilliant character growth, the shocking final chapter and cliffhanger of an ending will have readers on the edge of their seats, eager for the next entry into this amazing duology. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her writing is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, and Irish), as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing and Spanish from Emory University and is currently pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she watches horror movies, plays the cello, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Author website: https://www.kylieleebaker.com/

Twitter: @KylieYamashiro

Instagram: @kylieleebaker

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56030267-the-keeper-of-night

BUY LINKS:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-keeper-of-night/9781335405661 

Porter Square Books: https://www.portersquarebooks.com/signed/signed-keeper-night-hardcover

Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405661

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-keeper-of-night-kylie-lee-baker/1138317760?ean=9781335405661 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Keeper-Night-duology/dp/1335405666/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=the+keeper+of+night&qid=1613326691&sr=8-2

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Kylie_Lee_Baker_The_Keeper_of_Night?id=6asJEAAAQBAJ

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ph/en/ebook/the-keeper-of-night

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/dk/book/the-keeper-of-night/id1540957269

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Q&A with Kylie Lee Baker

Q: What was the hardest scene to write in The Keeper of Night? What was the easiest?

A: The opening scene was probably the hardest to write because I had to introduce a complex magic system. The Reapers control time, and that kind of power makes the story vulnerable to a lot of plot holes if you don’t word it carefully. It’s such a powerful tool that it raises the question of why there’s ever any conflict at all, or why any battle is ever hard for Reapers. I needed to address that very early on so the whole world wouldn’t fall apart, while still making the story move forward. 

The easiest scene to write was an argument between Ren and Neven, when Neven tries to dictate Ren’s identity, and Ren responds: “Why am I the only one with no say in who I am?” That was one of the first scenes I wrote, and it contains a lot of my raw feelings about how biracial people are treated. Very little of the dialogue changed from the first draft of that scene. The challenge, then, was to build up the rest of the book to bring the reader to the point where that question, and that very emotionally charged scene, made sense. 

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)?

A: I wouldn’t really call these hidden secrets, but a lot of details about the British Reapers are a huge nod to the Black Butler anime, which fans of that show might notice. For instance, the Reapers in The Keeper of Night are known for their poor vision, much like the Reapers in Black Butler who all have to wear glasses, which are important details in both stories. Neven’s love of cats came from Sebastian Michaelis, the titular character from Black Butler who is inexplicably obsessed with cats. Another reference (unrelated to Black Butler) is to Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ren often refers vaguely to themes in his poetry, but she’s talking specifically about a poem called “Love and Death” in which love defeats death, which is something she probably should have internalized a bit sooner. 

Q: What do you hope people remember about The Keeper of Night?

A: I hope people remember how complex, traumatic, and powerful Ren’s existence as a biracial character is. I hope that this gives people more respect for the uniqueness of biracial identity, and that biracial readers feel solidarity in their struggles. 

Q: Did The Keeper of Night have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I listened to an acoustic cover of Sia’s “Elastic Heart” and Billie Eilish’s “You Should See Me in a Crown” a lot when writing, because those songs reminded me both of Ren’s vulnerability and thirst for power. I also distinctly remember sitting in a coffee shop in Seoul listening to RM’s “Tokyo” while writing some of the first scenes in Japan. It has a very cold, lonely, wistful atmosphere that I tried to emulate. 

Q: What is your dream cast for The Keeper of Night?

A: This question is hard to answer, partially because I don’t often imagine real people when writing, and partially because the pool of mixed race white/Asian actors who you can discover through a quick Google search is much smaller than for actors of other races, not even taking into account things like age or face shape. The closest I can come for Ren is Pom Klementieff (who plays Mantis) with black hair. I know she’s Korean, not Japanese, but she also grew up estranged from that culture, much like Ren. Timothee Chalamet with blonde hair is probably the closest match for Neven, since I’ve heard a lot of people say he looks like he should have been a wealthy Victorian child, and Terada Takuya for Hiro–he’s very silly at times, and very sharp at other times, much like Hiro. 

Enjoy this Exclusive Excerpt from “The Keeper of Night”

chapter two

At the far edge of London, somewhere between nightmares and formless dreams, the Reapers slept by daylight.

The only way to enter our home was through the catacombs of the Highgate Cemetery, through a door that no longer existed. It had been built there long ago, when the Britons first came to our land and Ankou carved a hole in their world so that Death could enter. But humans had sealed it shut with layers of wood, then stone, then brick and mortar, all in the hopes of keeping Death out.

By the nineteenth century, humans had mostly forgotten about the Door and what it meant. Then, when the London churchyards began to overflow with bones, the humans had searched for a place just outside of London to bury their dead. By chance or fate, they’d built their new cemetery right on top of the Door. It turned out that Death drew all of us close, even if we weren’t aware of it.

No streetlights lit the path through Highgate at night, but I didn’t need them to find my way home. Before I’d even passed through the main gate, Death pulled me closer. All Reapers were drawn to him, our bones magnetized to the place of our forefather. As soon as I entered the cemetery, a humming began just under my skin, like a train’s engine beginning to whir. My blood flushed faster through my veins as I brushed aside the branches of winter-barren lime trees and low-hanging elms. My boots crunched shattering steps into the frosted pathways as I ran.

I stumbled through jagged rows of ice-cracked tombstones on uneven ground and through a village of mausoleums, finally reaching the gothic arched doorway of the catacomb entrance. The pull had grown unbearable, dragging me along in a dizzy trance as I descended the stairs into the cool quietness of damp bricks and darkness. The labyrinth would have been unnavigable if not for the fervent pull.

At last, my hands came out to touch the wall where the Door used to be, but now there were only damp bricks and an inscription on the arch overhead that read When Ankou comes, he will not go away empty in rigid script. I dug one hand into my pocket and clutched my clock, pressed my other hand to the bricks, then closed my eyes and turned time all the way back to the beginning.

Time flowed through the silver-and-gold gears, up into my bloodstream and through my fingertips, dispersing into the brick wall. Centuries crumbled away, the mortar growing wet and bricks falling loose. One by one, they leaped out of their positions in the wall and aligned themselves in dry stacks on the ground, waiting once again for construction. Objects were easy to manipulate with time, for I could draw from their own intrinsic energy rather than siphoning off my own. Rather than paying in years of my own life, I could borrow years before the bricks crumbled and quickly repay the debt when I put them back.

I stepped through the doorway and the pull released me all at once. I breathed in a deep gasp of the wet night air, then turned around and sealed the door behind me. The bricks jumped back to their positions in the wall, caked together by layers of mortar that dried instantly, the time debt repaid.

The catacombs beyond the threshold spanned infinitely forward, appropriated as resting places for Reapers rather than corpses. Mounted lanterns cast a faint light onto the dirt floors and gray bricks. It was almost Last Toll, so only the last Reapers returning from the night shift still milled around, their silver capes catching the dim light of the tunnels, but most had retreated to their private quarters for the morning.

I turned right and hurried down the block. The low ceilings gave way to high-arched doorways and finally opened up to a hall of echoing marble floors and rows of dark wood desks. Luckily, there was no line for Collections this close to Last Toll.

I hurried to the first Collector and all but slammed my vials into the tray, jolting him awake in his seat. He was a younger Reaper and seemed perplexed at having been awoken so unceremoniously. When his gaze landed on me, he frowned and sat up straight.

“Ren Scarborough,” I said, pushing the tray closer to him.

“I know who you are,” he said, picking up my first vial and uncapping it with deliberate slowness. Of course, everyone knew who I was.

He took a wholly unnecessary sniff of the vial before holding it up to the light to examine the color, checking its authenticity. The Collectors recorded every night’s soul intake before sending the vials off to Processing, where they finally released the souls into Beyond. He picked up a pen from his glass jar of roughly thirty identical pens, tapped it against the desk a few times, then withdrew a leather-bound ledger from a drawer. He dropped it in front of him, opened the creaky cover, and began flipping through the pages, one by one, until he reached a fresh one.

I resisted the urge to slam my face against the desk in impatience.

I really didn’t have time to waste, but Collections was a necessary step. I didn’t consider myself benevolent in times of crisis, but even I was above leaving souls to expire in glass tubes instead of releasing them to their final resting place, wherever that was. And besides, a blank space next to my name in the Collections ledger meant a Collector would pay a visit to my private quarters to reprimand me. The last thing I needed was someone realizing that I’d left before Ivy could even report me.

But when the Collector uncorked my fourth vial and held it up to the lamp, swirling it in the light for ten excruciating seconds, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.

The bells of Last Toll reverberated through the bricks all around us, humming through the marble floors. In this hazy hour between night and day, the church grims came out in search of Reaper bones to gnaw on. Night collections had to be turned in by then, while day collections had to be processed by the First Toll at dusk.

The Collector sighed as he picked up my fifth vial. “I’m afraid I’ll have to mark your collections as late.”

My jaw clenched. “Why.”

“It’s past Last Toll, of course,” he said.

My fingers twitched. The lamp on the Collector’s desk flickered with my impatience, but I took a steadying breath.

“I was here before Last Toll,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.

“According to my ledger, your collections still have not been processed,” he said, spinning my fifth vial in his left hand.

I sighed and closed my eyes. Of course, I knew what he was doing. Chastising a “latecomer” would earn praise from higher management. It was the easiest way for him to climb the ranks—to exert his power over the half-breed. He would be praised for his steadfastness and gain a reputation as a strict and immovable Collector, while I could do nothing to complain. I could explode his lamp and send glass shards into his eyes, but that wouldn’t make him process my vials any faster. The fastest way to get out of there was subservience.

“Forgive me, Reaper,” I said, bowing my head and dropping my shoulders. I let my voice sound timid and afraid. “I apologize for being late.”

The Collector blinked at me for a moment, as if surprised that I’d given in so quickly. But he looked young and power-hungry and not particularly perceptive, so I wasn’t too afraid that he’d see through my tactic. As expected, he sneered as if I truly had offended him, finally beginning to process the fifth vial.

“It’s a great inconvenience to both Collections and Processing,” he said, “though I wouldn’t expect a half-breed to understand the workings of the educated Reapers.”

The only believable response to his goading was humiliated silence, so I hung my head even further and tried to make myself as small and pathetic as possible. It wasn’t hard, because the memory of the night’s events was still wringing my heart out like a wet rag and my skin prickled with nerves so fiercely that I wanted to claw it all off and escape before Ivy could find me, yet here I was, brought to my knees before a glorified teller. I imagined being a High Reaper, being able to reach over and smash his face into his blotter and shatter his owlish glasses into his eyes for delaying and insulting me.

His lamp flickered more violently and he paused to smack it before finally finishing with my last vial. He placed all seven in a tray and pressed a button that started the conveyor belt, sending the souls down to Processing. The moment he put a black check next to my name in the ledger, I stood up straight and turned to leave.

His hand twisted into my sleeve, yanking me back.

I shot him a look that could have melted glass, but he only pulled me closer.

“There’s the matter of your sanction,” he said.

“My sanction,” I said, glancing around the office to see how many people would notice if I simply twisted the Collector’s neck. Too many.

“For your tardiness, of course,” he said, smirking sourly. From his position stretched across the desk, the lamplight caught in his glasses and turned them into two beaming white moons.

The standard punishment for failing to make curfew was a night on the pillory, hands and feet nailed to the wood and head locked in a hole that was just slightly too tight, letting you breathe but not speak. The other Reapers could pull your hair or pour mead over your head or call you a thousand names when you couldn’t talk back. But the worst part wasn’t the nails or the insults. It was the Reapers who did nothing but look at you and sneer like you were nothing but an ugly piece of wall art, like they were so perfect that they couldn’t fathom being in your place. And far worse than that was my own father and stepmother walking past me and pretending not to see.

“Come back at First Toll,” the Collector said. “We’ll find a nice place to hang you up by the Door.”

It took every ounce of restraint I had left to keep my expression calm. This was the part where I was supposed to say, Yes, Reaper, and bow, but he was lucky that I hadn’t smashed his glasses into his face with my fist.

As if he could smell my defiance, he pulled me closer. His glasses fell out of the lamplight, revealing a deep frown.

“Scrub that look from your face,” he said. “Remember that I’ll handle your collections in the future.”

The future, I thought.

Luckily, I didn’t have a future.

The light bulb flashed with a sudden surge of power, then burst. Glass shards rained down over the desk, forcing the man to release me as hot glass scored his hands. Some of his paperwork caught fire, and he frantically patted out the flames with hands full of shards.

“Yes, Reaper,” I said, bowing deeply so he wouldn’t see my smirk as he sputtered about “bloody light bulbs, I knew we should have kept the gas lamps.”

Then I turned and rushed off to the West Catacombs.

Excerpted from The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker, Copyright © 2021 by Kylie Lee Baker. Published by Inkyard Press. 

Luminous by Mara Rutherford Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young witch who has hidden her power her entire life must unlock her potential after her sister is taken by a nefarious warlock and her best friend disappears in author Mara Rutherford’s “Luminous”.

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The Synopsis

From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power—or risk losing her loved ones forever.

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos—and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.  

The Review

A truly unique and intense new YA Fantasy world! This novel did an amazing job of drawing the reader into this unique world where witches, mages, and warlocks take on an entirely new meaning. The theme of sisterhood and family, as well as the theme of accepting ourselves for who we are, was felt widely in this narrative, as the story unfolded the layers of Liora’s past and her true nature beautifully.

The balance of world-building, mythology, and character growth was so well-written in this book. The exploration of Liora’s sheltered life and the fear of her magic was a great reflection of every parent’s desire to shield their children from the dangers our world presents, and the harm that can come from being too protective and letting our own fears dominate our children’s lives. Liora’s evolution as a protagonist was great to see unfold, showing the inner strength that blossomed her from a shielded witch in hiding to a powerful force for change and light in the darkness. 

The Verdict

Emotional, mythological in its world-building, and heartfelt in its delivery, author Mara Rutherford’s “Luminous” is a must-read YA Fantasy novel of 2021. A wholly unique take on witches and magic overall, and the theme of self-acceptance, this novel does a wonderful job of keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, delivering shocking and heartbreaking revelations, epic confrontations, and beautiful relationships that tie into the story of hope that Liora represents. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world with her marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a master’s degree in cultural studies from the University of London. When she’s not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushin_g the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. Mara is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.mararutherford.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mararaewrites

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/mararutherfordwrites 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/56030266-luminous 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Luminous-Mara-Rutherford/dp/1335405658 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/luminous-mara-rutherford/1138317759?ean=9781335405654 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Luminous/Mara-Rutherford/9781335405654?id=8287773942852 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405654

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/luminous-9781335405654/9781335405654 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/luminous/id1540957165 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Mara_Rutherford_Luminous?id=gK0JEAAAQBAJ 

Q&A with Mara Rutherford

Q: What was the hardest scene to write in Luminous? What was the easiest?

A: The hardest scene to write in Luminous was probably the climax. This book has changed a ton over the past five years, so balancing a few different aspects of the novel was challenging. I don’t want to give anything away, but I hope I hit the right combination of exciting and heartbreaking. Fingers crossed! The easiest part to write was somewhere in the middle… Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say I really enjoy writing anything with monsters. 

Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)?

A: I always have some inside jokes/secrets in my books. In Luminous, the three sisters are inspired by the three daughters of our good friends. My husband and I had a black greyhound as our first dog, so that helped inspire Lord Darius’s sighthounds (although ours was adorable and in no way demented!). There’s a part where Liora, the MC, is looking at the stars and she recalls a myth about one of the constellations. The triplets referenced are inspired by my triplet siblings.

Q: What do you hope people remember about Luminous?

A: I suppose with all my books I hope people will remember how they felt when reading them, and in this case, I hope they feel inspired to embrace the parts of themselves they may fear or doubt. Liora is a somewhat reluctant heroine given her circumstances, and I hope young readers will remember that even if you don’t feel like the hero of your own story, you can be.

Q: Did Luminous have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?

A: I currently listen to a combination of alternative music, classical, and Taylor Swift when I write. I drafted this novel a long time ago, and at the time I didn’t listen to music when I wrote. But I will say that Folklore and Evermore were on repeat for all of 2020.

Q: What is your dream cast for Luminous?

A: This question is always weird for me because I’m 41 now and not particularly in touch with who the up and coming young actors are! I think Mackenzie Foy would make a good Liora based on looks, however.

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Excerpted from Luminous by Mara Rutherford, © 2021 by Mara Rutherford. Used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

My father once described magic as an invisible beast, an unseen enemy that could snatch our lives away at any moment. As a small, impressionable child, I had imagined a lupine creature lurking outside among the whispering pines, breathing over my shoulder in our garden. For years, I didn’t even leave the house; it was magic that had killed my mother, after all.

I was old enough now to understand that magic didn’t work that way. But as I hurried down the dark road, past the woods that had become my haven during daylight hours, my childhood fears didn’t feel so foolish. I glanced behind me, sure I’d find Belle Sabine, the fabled witch of every young woman’s nightmares, swooping down as silent as an owl, ready to steal my youth and leave an empty husk behind.

To my relief, there was nothing there. My only traveling companion was the wind nipping at my heels, spurring me forward. But in my brief distraction, I tripped over a rock in the road, falling hard onto my knees. Cursing myself for my clumsiness and superstition, I dusted off my hands, wincing as a sharp pebble dislodged from my palm. I couldn’t afford this kind of delay. It was close to midnight, and there was no moon to speak of, which made my situation even more precarious; my exposed skin glowed so brightly that moths circled me like a flame. But my little sister, Mina, was missing. I had to tell Father.

As I rose, I heard the sound of footsteps up the road. I glanced around for a place to hide, but there was no time. A moment later, a figure loomed at the margins of my glow.

Some said Belle Sabine had died, others that she was biding her time until the townspeople became complacent once again. But I was convinced she had come to kill me on the one night I had dared to venture past our threshold.

I shrank back as skirts and slippered feet came into view, followed by a woman’s arms cradling a basket, and finally, the face of Margana, the weaver who lived next door. Not here to kill me, then. But a witch, nevertheless. And one arguably as dangerous as Belle Sabine, given who she worked for.

“What are you doing on the road, Liora? It’s the middle of the night.”

“Mina is gone,” I said. “Father is still at work, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Margana scrutinized me for a moment. “You’re a witch.”

A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air crept over my scalp. No one had ever called me a witch to my face before, though of course I knew what I was. My entire life revolved around my glowing skin and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful warlock would discover it. Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, gathering mages and torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.

I pulled Father’s cloak tighter around myself, but it was futile. She already knew. I had wasted too much time getting up the nerve to leave the house after I found Mina’s bed empty, wringing my hands at the window, wondering if she’d been kidnapped by drifters or lured into the forest by a ghost lantern. Then, once I was on the road, I had foolishly stopped to look at the devil’s footprints, little white mushrooms that grew in pairs of two, resembling the cloven hooves of a demon. I’d seen them in daylight plenty of times, but never at night. They had caught my eye because their glow was so similar to my own.

Oddly, Margana’s basket was full of the mushrooms. Her cornflower-blue eyes and auburn hair were pale and otherworldly in their light. As if sensing my curiosity, she shifted the basket to her other hip. Margana was one of the few people who lived outside the gates of the ancient village of Sylvan, like us. She was also my best friend Evran’s mother—and the only other witch I knew.

“I always wondered why your father moved you girls out here after your mother died,” she said. “Now it all makes sense. But something tells me your father wouldn’t be pleased to know you’re outside, exposing yourself.” She grabbed one of my hands and turned it over, examining it like a bruised apple at market. Against Margana’s dull skin, mine looked false, as if I wasn’t a real person at all.

I pulled my hand free as politely as possible. “I should go.”

She sighed. “Keep your head down, and pray you don’t meet anyone on the road. Darius’s spies are everywhere.”

My eyes widened in fear, and she chuckled to herself. “Not me, silly girl.”

I swallowed audibly. If there really were spies in Sylvan, Margana was the most likely suspect. After all, she did work for Lord Darius. She might not be his servant by choice, but he was dangerous enough that no mage dared cross him. No mage who had lived to tell about it, anyway.

I was about to step around her when my eyes drifted to the basket once again. “I thought the devil’s footprints were poisonous.”

Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, they are. Highly. Fortunately, I don’t plan on eating them. Good luck, Liora.”

I nodded and hurried to the stone steps leading down to Sylvan, which was tucked away in a gorge, hidden from the roving eyes of river pirates. Above me, a heavy iron chain was suspended between the cliffs. As far as I knew, Sylvan was the only village in Antalla—maybe the world—that could boast having attracted not one, but two falling stars. A fragment of the first had been melted into the shape of a five-pointed star and hung from the chain. At night, it was only a glimmer overhead.

The second star—my star—had disintegrated amid the flames when it landed.

I wound my way silently through Sylvan’s narrow streets, toward Father’s shop. He and Adelle, my older, more responsible sister, were likely the only ones working at this hour. Just as I quickened my pace, I heard a high-pitched shriek from somewhere above me. I looked up to where a lamp winked on in an apartment window, illuminating two silhouettes, then down to the shop on my left. The tailor’s shop.

Mina.

Without thinking, I grabbed the cast-iron boot scraper sitting by the front door of the shop and hurled it through the window. Glass shattered, leaving a jagged hole that gaped like a mouth midscream.

Heart racing, I flattened myself against the alcove by the door as a man shouted and a window screeched open. The tailor, a young man nearly as alluring as the fabrics he sold, poked his head out for a moment, then disappeared, likely heading downstairs to look for the culprit. I scurried to the nook in front of the butcher’s, hoping my light would be hidden there.

“Get behind me,” Luc said from somewhere inside the shop. “The thief could still be out there.”

“You’re so brave.”

I sighed in relief at the sound of Mina’s voice, before fury shot through me like an arrow. I should have known she would come to the tailor’s; she had flirted with Luc relentlessly today, which was how we’d acquired four yards of the champagne-colored silk she wanted for the dress I’d spent all evening working on.

A moment later, they emerged onto the street, Mina clutching at Luc’s sleeve as he lifted his lamp and peered into the darkness.

He tossed his black hair out of his eyes and frowned. “It doesn’t look like they stole anything. Just vandals, I suppose.”

“Or someone trying to send you a message,” Mina breathed, dramatic as ever. “Do you have any nemeses?”

When he turned his dark gaze on her, something tugged at my heart. She was wearing a dress I’d made for myself when I was her age. It hung loose on her thin frame, but the hem grazed her calves, a sure sign she had altered it. She had nothing but a shawl pulled around her shoulders, and from where I stood, it was painfully clear that the tailor was not interested in her the way she no doubt hoped.

“I have to find a member of the night guard and report this. You shouldn’t be here. If your father catches you, he’ll have me hanged. You’re a sweet girl, Mina, but this is inappropriate.”

“But the silk…”

“That was for your sister. Now, please, go home.”

Mina caught her lip in her teeth to keep from crying. With a nod, she hurried away, tears already streaming down her cheeks. I waited for Luc to start up the street before I ran out of the alcove to catch her.

She squealed in alarm when I placed my hand on her shoulder, and I quickly clapped my other hand over her mouth.

“It’s me,” I whispered, lowering my hand slowly when I was confident she wouldn’t scream.

She swiped at her tears. “Liora? What are you doing out? What if someone sees you?”

My anger softened at her concern, until I remembered that she was the reason I was out in the first place. “I might ask you the same questions. If Father had come home and found you missing, he’d have killed you.”

“And what if he goes home and finds both of us missing? Have you considered that?”

I opened my mouth to scold her, but she was right. “You can explain what you were doing once we get back,” I said.

In typical Mina fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me, then turned and ran toward home.

* * *

We were indeed lucky. We made it home not long before Father and Adelle. By the time he came to our room to check on us, we were both in bed. I waved sleepily at him and Mina let out an emphatic snore, but once the door was closed, I threw back my covers and leaped out of bed.

“I hope you have a good explanation for this,” I hissed.

Her voice was muffled by the thick blanket pulled up to her nose, but I could hear the tremor in it when she said, “I thought Luc liked me.”

“And I thought you were dead!” I whisper-shouted, then stalked to the window ledge to keep myself from throttling her. I plucked a pendant from the collar of my nightgown, running my fingers over the five points on the star charm to calm myself. Evran had given it to me, years ago, and its contours were as familiar to me now as the feel of his hand in mine as he pulled me through the Sylvan woods toward home at twilight. Perhaps I was being too hard on Mina. I would risk a lot of things for Evran.

“Luc told me he was having a party tonight,” she said. “I didn’t realize how late it was when I got there. Everyone else had already left.”

I was surprised that the thought of her getting ready for a party, the excitement she must have felt as she sneaked into Sylvan to meet a handsome young man, made me more envious than angry. “I heard you cry out.”

The whites of her eyes flashed in the dark.

“Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me,” I snapped.

“I’m just stretching them, Ora.” The world-weary tone was classic Mina: so eager to be a grown-up, ever since she was little. “A moth got tangled in my hair. Anyway, Luc was a perfect gentleman. And as it turns out, it’s not me he wants.”

The silk was for me. The last of my anger waned as I imagined how sure Mina must have been of Luc to do something so foolish, only to find she’d made a huge mistake. This was his fault as much as it was hers. “He was just being kind because I spend so much money in his shop.”

She snorted. “He spoke about you the entire time. He asked why you hadn’t come to the party, and what you liked to do in your free time, and why he never saw you out in town.”

“What did you tell him?” I dropped the pendant into my collar and pulled back the edge of the curtain just a bit to gaze at the real stars.

“I told him you were making me a dress, that that’s what you’re doing most of the time.”

I sighed and let the curtain fall. For a girl with glowing skin, I sounded unbearably dull. But it was the truth. If I wasn’t sewing, I was cooking, cleaning, or rereading one of our few books.

Father trusted me enough to let me go out on sunny days now. The smallest stars don’t shine at noon, he said, and my glow could be kept dim as long as I stayed in control of my emotions. But the downside of having even just a little bit of freedom was that it came with responsibilities. Father had only given me permission to go to town for errands, never to dawdle, which made taking Mina along particularly frustrating. She had made an art form out of window-shopping. I missed my afternoons in the woods with Evran, those glorious days when I could sneak out unnoticed while Father was working and my sisters were in their lessons.

I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up, a wave of guilt washing over me. Had I really believed Mina was in mortal peril? Because if not, there was no excuse for my own behavior. What if some part of me had risked going out tonight because I wanted to prove to myself, finally, that my magic wasn’t as dangerous as Father feared?

If that was the case, I had failed spectacularly. It had only taken a few minutes for me to undo all our years of hard work, and I couldn’t blame my sister for that.

“Promise me you won’t sneak out again, Mina. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

She twisted onto her side to face me. “I’m sorry. I should never have put you at risk like that. I won’t do it again.”

“It’s all right. Get some sleep now.”

Mina responded a moment later with a very genuine snore.

I smiled and tried to fall asleep myself, but I lay awake for hours, thinking about Margana. Would she tell Darius about me, potentially destroying not just my life but those of everyone I loved? I thought of Father and wondered if all this time it hadn’t been me he was protecting, but them.

Because as much as I had wanted to believe that the invisible beast was out there, that if I simply hid myself away like a secret, we would be safe, I had known for quite some time that the beast Father feared most lived inside of me.

The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman who’s spent her life alone discovers the possibility for a family she never thought she’d have, but finds her untapped potential for her powers and an ancient family feud all tie together with an ancient curse in author Paige Crutcher’s “The Orphan Witch”. 

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The Synopsis

A deeper magic. A stronger curse. A family lost…and found.

Persephone May has been alone her entire life. Abandoned as an infant and dragged through the foster care system, she wants nothing more than to belong somewhere. To someone. However, Persephone is as strange as she is lonely. Unexplainable things happen when she’s around—changes in weather, inanimate objects taking flight—and those who seek to bring her into their family quickly cast her out. To cope, she never gets attached, never makes friends. And she certainly never dates. Working odd jobs and always keeping her suitcases half-packed, Persephone is used to moving around, leaving one town for another when curiosity over her eccentric behavior inevitably draws unwanted attention.

After an accidental and very public display of power, Persephone knows it’s time to move on once again. It’s lucky, then, when she receives an email from the one friend she’s managed to keep, inviting her to the elusive Wile Isle. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. However, upon arrival, Persephone quickly discovers that Wile is no ordinary island. In fact, it just might hold the very things she’s been searching for her entire life.

Answers. Family. Home.

And some things she did not want. Like 100-year-old curses and an even older family feud. With the clock running out, love might be the magic that saves them all.

The Review

This is such an incredible and rich story. The first thing that struck me as I really delved into this narrative was how the theme and atmosphere took on a perfect harmony of magick, fantasy, and metaphysical fiction that really spoke to me. Not only are the more fantastic and fictional aspects of the narrative really entertaining, but the mind-bending settings and ideas explored in the narrative, including moving between worlds and different realities altogether, and how magick can bleed into the cosmos as a whole, are all ideas that I myself have been studying and exploring in my own life over the last couple of years, and it was great to see how the author implemented this notion while still creating engaging characters and captivating narratives. 

The heart of any magical and fantasy-driven narrative has to be character growth. Persephone is such a complex and heartbreaking (and relatable) protagonist. The heart of her character’s arc is definitely the journey to find love (both familial and romance separately), as well as the journey to find acceptance and our own inner power, a power that can cause others to fear you when it is something beyond their understanding. In the end, her journey will take readers to a thought-provoking truth, which is what the true meaning of love is.

The Verdict

A masterful, enlightening, and thoughtful read, author Paige Crutcher’s “The Orphan Witch” is a must-read magick-filled fantasy read. The perfect way to begin the fall and spooky season, this is a reality-bending and life-and-death deep-dive into the fabric of our universe, and what the cost of love really means. With a heartfelt ending and plenty of world-building that would leave room for more stories in the future, this is not a novel readers will want to miss. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Paige Crutcher is the author of THE ORPHAN WITCH. Her work appears in multiple anthologies and online publications, and she is a former Southern Correspondent for Publishers Weekly. She is an artist and yogi, and when not writing, she prefers to spend her time trekking through the forest with her children, hunting for portals to new worlds.

Gaslight Paradise by Walrus Review

Three people discover how far they would go to live forever as they discover the sinister motivations behind an innocent seeming party in author Walrus’s “Gaslight Paradise”.

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The Synopsis

What would you do to live forever? Three very different people contemplate this question after it is posed to them at a lavish party where everything is more sinister than it seems.

The Review

This was the perfect fusion of otherworldly fantasy, historically-driven sci-fi, and old-time mystery thriller horror stories all in one delicious literary bite. The authors known as Walrus have perfectly captured both a humorous tone amongst the cast of characters and their interactions with one another and a haunting note of terror in the spine-chilling behavior of the “party hosts”. 

The mystery of the doors that take the trio of protagonists to this “party” is inviting and entertaining, to say the least. The author’s ability to translate fantasy, horror, and sci-fi in a mature and adult way was great to see, as so many stories delve into the YA world for these genres that getting a more adult turn in this genre was a breath of fresh air. 

The Verdict

A heart-pounding, chilling, and engaging sci-fi and fantasy read, authors Walrus and their book, “Gaslight Paradise” is a must-read novel. The story is invigorating and does a great job of adding a new twist on the class thriller-mystery genre. The shocking revelation of this party’s origin will stay with readers long after the book’s end, and the cliffhanger of an ending is open-ended enough for fans to want more but mysterious enough to be a brilliant conclusion as well. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Walrus was once believed to be an urban legend. Very little is known other than Walrus is said to sleep very little, eat very much, and write far more than is healthy for the normal mind.

To bestow a great story on the world is Walrus’ only wish.

https://mindofwalrus.weebly.com/

What Once Was Mine (Twisted Tale #12) by Liz Braswell Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

The latest novel in acclaimed author Liz Braswell’s TWISTED TALE series hones in on the infamous story of Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled, but flips the script when Rapunzel’s mother is given the wrong flower to heal her during birth, and Rapunzel is born with silver hair as white as the moon and given destructive power instead in the latest book in the series, “What Once Was Mine”. 

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The Synopsis

The 12th installment in the New York Times best-selling series asks: What if Rapunzel’s mother drank a potion from the wrong flower?

Desperate to save the life of their queen and her unborn child, the good people of Corona search for the all-healing Sundrop flower to cure her—but mistakenly acquire the shimmering Moondrop flower instead. Nonetheless it heals the queen, and she delivers a healthy baby girl with hair as silver and gray as the moon. With it comes dangerous magical powers: the power to hurt, not heal. For her safety and the safety of the kingdom, Rapunzel is locked in a tower and put under the care of powerful goodwife, Mother Gothel.

For eighteen years Rapunzel stays locked away, knowing she must protect others from her magical hair. But when she leaves the only home she’s ever known, wanting only to see the floating lights that appear on her birthday, she gets caught up in an adventure across the kingdom with two thieves—a young woman named Gina, and Flynn Rider, a rogue on the run. Before she can reach her happy ending, Rapunzel learns that there may be more to her story, and her magical tresses, than she ever knew. 

The Review

What a fun and truly entertaining take on the classic story of Rapunzel and the Disney version in the film Tangled! Truly, the story does a great job of laying the groundwork for this retelling by introducing a brother whose sister is in the hospital being treated for cancer and decides to retell her the story of her favorite movie while adding his own twists on it to help keep her mind occupied. This really added a personal and human element to this fantasy retelling, especially when readers learn of this story point’s origin in the author’s afterward.

The haunting, atmospheric tone that the author lays down in the tale of Rapunzel is great to see unfold. The inclusion of magic and witchcraft into the narrative to explore this twist on her origins was great to see unfold. Yet it was the characters that really sold this story, from the inclusion of characters like Countess Bathory, a new villain based on the historical figure to be included alongside Mother Gothel, to Gina, whose strength and partnership with Flynn give them both a stronger voice in the narrative overall. 

Yet it was Rapunzel and Gothel who stole the show. The protagonist’s knowledge of her origins (up to a point), and her desire to keep others safe was a unique twist on her character, as was her complex and emotional relationship with her “mother”. Gothel’s manipulations and selfishness took up all-new levels in this retelling, and the action-packed final confrontation these two had in the midst of a shockingly larger confrontation was powerful for the story Tangled began all those years ago.

The Verdict

A haunting, magical, and engaging dark fantasy take on this Disney classic, author Liz Braswell’s “What Once Was Mine” is a brilliant story and one of the year’s top contenders for the fantasy novel of 2021. A gripping tale of magic gone wrong, betrayal, and the bonds between mothers and their daughters, the addition of a more grounded narrator and a rich tapestry of mythology from beyond Disney’s typical storytelling background made this story shine brightly. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this incredible book today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

After the sort of introverted childhood you would expect from a writer, Liz earned a degree in Egyptology at Brown University and then promptly spent the next ten years producing video games. Finally she caved into fate and wrote Snow and Rx under the name Tracy Lynn, followed by The Nine Lives of Chloe King series under her real name, because by then the assassins hunting her were all dead. She also has short stories in Geektastic and Who Done It and a new series of reimagined fairy tales coming out, starting with A Whole New World—a retelling of Aladdin.

She lives in Brooklyn with a husband, two children, a cat, a part-time dog, three fish and five coffee trees she insists will start producing beans any day. You can email her at me@lizbraswell.com.

https://www.lizbraswell.com/

Pahua and the Soul Stealer (Rick Riordan Presents) by Lori M. Lee Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young Hmong girl with the ability to see the dead discovers she is a powerful shaman warrior must travel through the spirit worlds in order to find her brother’s stolen soul in author Lori M. Lee’s “Pahua and the Soul Stealer”, part of the Rick Riordan Presents series.

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The Synopsis

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Lori M. Lee’s middle grade debut about a lonely Hmong girl who discovers she’s a powerful shaman warrior in this fantasy inspired by Southeast Asian mythology.

“I love the adventures Pahua has in this book. I also love the sense of humor, the clever plotting, and the fantastic cast of characters. But most of all I love Pahua: her courage, her kindness, and her love for family.”–NYT best-selling author Rick Riordan

Pahua Moua has a bit of a reputation for being a weirdo. A lonely eleven-year-old Hmong girl with the unique ability to see spirits, she spends her summer days babysitting her little brother and playing with her best friend, a cat spirit no one else can see.

One day Pahua accidentally untethers an angry spirit from the haunted bridge in her neighborhood–whoops. When her brother suddenly falls sick and can’t be awoken, Pahua fears that the bridge spirit has stolen his soul. She returns to the scene of the crime with her aunt’s old shaman tools, hoping to confront the spirit and demand her brother’s return. Instead, she summons a demon.

Thankfully, a warrior shaman with a bit of an attitude problem shows up at the last minute and saves her butt. With the help of this guide, Pahua will have to find her way through the spirit worlds and rescue her brother’s soul before it’s too late. Little does she know she’ll have her own discoveries to make along the way. . . .

With its unforgettable characters, unique nature-based magic system, breathtaking twists and reveals, and climactic boss battle, this story based on Hmong oral tradition offers everything a fantasy lover could want.

The Review

Such a spectacular and awe-inspiring new middle-grade and YA novel that brings the fantasy genre to all new heights. While I am a big fan of mythology, I must admit that I was not very well versed in the mythology of the Hmong people. After this book, I am ready to take a deep dive into this rich culture and mythos that I never knew waited for me. The author did a fabulous job of finding the right balance of rich culture and mythology with the more personal character development of protagonist Pahua, who must balance her own unique gifts, her destiny, and her struggle as an outcast amongst her schoolmates with her mission to save her brother’s soul. 

The themes that the author employed in the narrative really did grab the reader’s attention. The classic story of a young kid gifted with a perilous and heroic destiny, who must take control of her life and face untold dangers to save the life of a loved one is a story as old as time itself, and yet the unique mythos gave the theme new life, as did the theme of a young person considered an outcast not only finding their footing in the world but becoming the hero no one knew they needed. The connection to family and ancestors also struck a unique chord with me, as we all like to think that our loved ones and ancestors are watching over us, and this novel really incorporated that well. 

The Verdict

A heartfelt, magical, and entertaining middle-grade and YA Fantasy read, author Lori M. Lee’s “Pahua and the Soul Stealer” is a must-read novel of 2021, and a contender for the best middle-grade read of the year. This fantasy novel does a fantastic job of introducing readers to a mythology that may not be as familiar to some as say Greek or Egyptian mythology but holds so much fascinating history and culture that could rival either of those cultures as well. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Lori is an avid writer, reader, artist, and lover of unicorns. She should probably spend less time on the internet (but she won’t). She considers herself a unicorn aficionado, is fond of talking in capslock, and loves to write about magic, manipulation, and family.

The Unwilling (The Barrier Lands #1) by Kelly Braffet Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman with no name and no history soon discovers she’s anything but ordinary, as she finds herself caught between two powerful figures hoping to use her special gifts for their own purposes in author Kelly Braffet’s “The Unwilling”, the first in the Barrier Lands series.

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The Synopsis

A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival… and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban – a lord as mighty as he is cruel – has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

The Review

What a rich and dark fantasy the author has crafted! The narrative is greatly layered between the YA Fantasy from the two main protagonist’s POV, and the darker, more spine-chilling fantasy and horror that the journey takes readers on. The atmosphere and tone the author set for the novel really elevated the reader’s experience, drawing them further and further into the mystery and history of this world.

The mythos and the character growth was the most prominent aspect of these narratives. The shocking cruelty of the antagonists and heartfelt bond the protagonists and the supporting characters made with one another elevated the emotional undercurrents of this book, while the rich history and mythology the author developed opened up some pretty mind-blowing and thought-provoking fantasy elements that left readers eager to read more.

The Verdict

A masterful, creative, and emotional dark fantasy read, author Kelly Braffet’s “The Unwilling” is the perfect start to a brand new mythos and series. The rich historical and mythological development the author wrote and the engaging way the characters not only drew readers in, but the engaging interactions between these characters really made this novel shine brightly. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Kelly Braffet writes stories about unhappy people making bad decisions, occasionally with magic. She is the author of The Unwilling (available 2/20 from Mira Books), Save Yourself, and Last Seen Leaving; her first novel, Josie and Jack, has been made into a feature film starring Olivia DeJonge, Alex Neustaedter, and William Fitchner, and directed by Sarah Lancaster. Her writing has been published in the Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and in several anthologies, as well as on Salon.com. She is a graduate of Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College.

She is married to the tall and immensely talented writer Owen King. He’s dreamy. For more, see www.kellybraffet.com.

Tales from The Foxes of Foxham by Matteo Sedazzari Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

In a magical fantasy world in which animals, witches and mankind live together, a group of evil witches seek to use a young fox in a ritual, and in order to break a curse placed on the young fox, he and his allies must return to Foxham to find a good witch to lift the curse in author Matteo Sedazzari’s “Tales from the Foxes of Foxham”. 

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The Synopsis

It is the late fifties and the Witches of Benevento are determined to plunge the world into darkness by kidnapping and sacrificing the jolly and young Neapolitan fox, Alberto Bandito, in a sinister ritual.

Yet, fortunately for Alberto, he is rescued, then guarded, by his loving mother Silvia and mob boss father Mario with his troops, a good witch Carlotta with an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, the Bears of Campania, the boxing wolves’ brothers Francesco and Leonardo, and other good folks of Naples and beyond.

However, their protection is not enough, for Alberto has been cursed. So, the young fox, along with his family, has to travel to the village of Foxham in Norfolk, the spiritual home of foxes across the world, to rid himself of this spell. The ritual has to be performed by a good fox witch, Trudi Milanese, but there is a problem, Trudi doesn’t know she is a witch….

Tales from The Foxes of Foxham is a magical adventure story, packed with colorful characters and exciting situations, in a battle of good versus evil.

The Review

This fantasy-driven, action, and adventure novel was truly remarkable. What immediately drew me into the narrative was the balance the author found between history and the various cultural points established for the characters and their settings, and the more fantastic, magical storytelling devices that allowed foxes, bears, badgers, and other animals to be interacting on a social level with humanity. The book also does a great job of incorporating themes of tolerance and acceptance, including showing off the cruelty and heartbreaking nature of hunting for sport and adorning animal skins as fashion pieces. 

Yet it was the wide assortment of characters and their character arcs that really drew me into the narrative. From the novel’s beginning, introducing us to Charles, a prominent leader, and figurehead for foxes in Europe, and his partnership with historical figures like Winston Churchill, or even the heroic friendship and trio of protagonists Alberto, Trudi, and Carotta, who must band together and bring all of their allies to face the threat of the evil witches of Benevento, the author really did a great job of making this world feel both fantastic and yet grounded at the same time.

The Verdict

A creative, original, and entertaining fantasy novel, author Matteo Sedazzari’s “Tales from the Foxes of Foxham” is a must-read novel, and a major contender for original fantasy action and adventure read of 2021. Bringing to mind the imagery and storytelling of iconic author Roald Dahl, the author manages to capture that classic battle of good vs evil in a unique setting and time period, all while balancing history, culture, and mythology all at once. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Matteo Sedazzari developed the zest for writing when he produced a fanzine entitled Positive Energy of Madness during the height of Acid House, in 1989.

Positive Energy of Madness dissolved as a fanzine in 1994 and resurfaced as an ezine in 2003, which became ZANI, the ezine for counter and pop culture in 2009, promoting online optimism, along with articles, reviews, and interviews with the likes of crime author Martina Cole, former pop star and actor Luke Goss, soul legend Bobby Womack, Clem Burke of Blondie, Chas Smash of Madness, Shaun Ryder of Black Grape/ Happy Mondays and many more.

After producing and writing for his own publication, Matteo’s next step was to pen a novel, A Crafty Cigarette – Tales of a Teenage Mod. Matteo is influenced by Hunter S Thompson, Harlan Ellison, Kenneth Grahame, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Irvine Welsh, DH Lawrence, Alan Sillitoe, Frank Norman, Joyce Carol Oates, Mario Puzo, Iceberg Slim, Patricia Highsmith, Joe R. Lansdale, Daphne du Maurier, Robert Bloch, George Orwell, Harry Grey and many more. American comics like Batman, Superman, and Spiderman, along with Herge’s Tintin, also provide Matteo with inspiration.

Matteo also finds stimulus from many films like Twelve Angry Men, A Kind of Loving, Blackboard Jungle, Z, Babylon, This Sporting Life, Kes, Midnight Cowboy, Scum, Wild Tales, The Boys, Midnight Express, La Commare Secca, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, so on and so forth. As for music, anything that is passionate, vibrant, and with heart is always on Matteo’s playlist.

Matteo Sedazzari resides in Surrey, which he explores fanatically on his mountain bike. Matteo supports Juventus, travels to Italy and Spain, eats and dress well, as he enjoys life in the process.

https://www.zani.co.uk/

Thread of Souls Book III: Path of the Spiders by Scott and Ashley Roepel Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Torn apart between two worlds, the Phantom Five find themselves facing new dangers, as one group moves through a war-torn land, while the others find themselves trapped in a foreign world, where all of the spiders have disappeared in authors Scott and Ashley Roepel’s “Path of the Spiders”, the third book in the Thread of Souls series. 

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The Synopsis

The adventuring group known as the Phantom Five is torn apart. While one group ventures through Artemis’ war-torn homeland, Unolé is flung across the planes with healer Taliesin, warrior Ruuda, and soldier Wash. All the four of them want is to go home. But this new world has its own dangers, and its own mysteries. They are forced to make dubious alliances to survive, and every escape attempt is blocked with a new threat. The shadow of the eerie ziggurat looms over the land, as do rumors of its growing army inside.

But within ancient temples, slave auctions, and blood rituals lie answers. Answers about Unolé’s stolen sister, Wash’s fugitive past, and the question that Taliesin ran away from home for. Where have all the spiders gone? Now they must ask themselves one final question. How much are they willing to risk for these answers?

The Review

I absolutely loved this novel. Having read the first two books in the series, I keep finding myself enthralled with this vast world and universe the authors have crafted here with descriptive imagery and unique history to this world, the writing takes on an almost cinematic quality, as if these scenes should be playing out in a brand new game series. The balance of the world’s history and the mythology that the authors have crafted for each race that this book brings to life is just incredible. 

Yet the characters really stole the show, so to speak. The way the heroes face their own personal demons and grand threats are greatly balanced and controlled here. From Unole having to look for traces of her sister in a different world to the other members of the Phantom Five dealing with the loss of their unique gifts after defeating their doppelgängers, this novel raises the stakes and delves deeper into the universe as a whole, including the development of those with Celestial blood and ancient gods and their guardians. 

The Verdict

Exhilarating, entertaining, and thrilling, authors Scott and Ashley Roepel’s “Thread of Souls Book III: Path of the Spiders” is a must-read fantasy novel of 2021, and a fantastic new addition to the Thread of Souls universe. The endless world-building and character growth are superb, and the twists and turns that leave the group split apart once more and facing new and old threats alike make this a fantastic cliffhanger of a book. With an ever-expanding landscape that will have readers engaged on every level, this narrative is not to be missed. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Scott and Ashley Roepel are a husband and wife team of writers, creators, and travelers. They are co-founders of Tal & Ru Travels LLC which is focused on entertaining and engaging content. Deep lovers of fantasy, the two of them are avid D&D players and content creators.

https://talandrudungeonloot.com/