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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.

Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson Audiobook Review

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

A young man must decide between the woman who has given him a home and the young man who has stolen his heart in turn of the 19th century America in author Shaun David Hutchinson’s “Before We Disappear”. 

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The Synopsis

It’s a new star-crossed romance about the magic of first love from the acclaimed author of We Are the Ants and Brave Face, Shaun David Hutchinson.

Jack Nevin’s clever trickery and moral flexibility make him the perfect assistant to the Enchantress, one of the most well-known stage magicians in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Europe. Without Jack’s steady supply of stolen tricks, the Enchantress’s fame would have burned out long ago.

But when Jack’s thievery catches up to them, they’re forced to flee to America to find their fortune. Luckily, the Enchantress is able to arrange a set of sold-out shows at Seattle’s Alaska–Yukon–Pacific World’s Fair Exposition. She’s convinced they’re going to rich and famous until a new magician arrives on the scene. Performing tricks that defy the imagination, Laszlo’s show overshadows the Enchantress, leaving Jack no choice but to hunt for the secrets to his otherworldly illusions. But what Jack uncovers isn’t at all what he expected.

Behind Laszlo’s tricks is Wilhelm—a boy that can seemingly perform real magic. Jack and Wilhelm have an instant connection, and as the rivalry between the Enchantress and Laszlo grows, so too does Jack and Wilhelm’s affection. But can Jack choose between the woman who gave him a life and the boy who is offering him everything?

It’s a stirring tale about the magic of love from award-winning author Shaun David Hutchinson.

The Review

This was such a magical read (pun intended)! The author does an incredible job of crafting an alternate history setting with a magical realism story element while still incorporating the hardships and struggles of not only that era but the struggles of the youth in the LGBTQ community. The theme of family and finding one’s place in the world was felt in every chapter of this book, and really captured the heart of the narrative.

The characters were so engaging to read. The alternating perspective of protagonists Jack and Willhelm were so interesting to see unfold, as they came from very different paths in life by the time they found one another, and yet found a sense of belonging and home within one another’s lives. The background of magic, both real and more illusion-based, was fascinating to see unfold, especially considering the era of the narrative.

The Verdict

A brilliant, heartfelt, and engaging YA Magical and LGBTQ Historical Fiction, author Shaun David Hutchinson’s “Before We Disappear” is a must-read (and listen) book of 2021.  The perfect book to grab as we head into the fall season, the balance of history, magic, and LGBTQ-forward romance was amazing to see in this novel, and I look forward to reading more of this amazing author’s work. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Born in West Palm Beach, Florida, Shaun grew up twenty minutes north in the town of Jupiter. He has three brothers (two older, one younger) and a half-sister.

Shaun attended Jupiter High School before going on to Florida Atlantic University, where he studied medieval and renaissance literature. Shaun has also studied emergency medicine, gaining his EMT certification, and firefighting. Ultimately, he ended up working with computers designing databases, building apps, and coding websites before publishing his first book, The Deathday Letter.

Shaun currently lives in Seattle, WA and works full time as an author. In his free time, he enjoys baking, running, designing 3D environments for virtual reality, and reading.

http://shaundavidhutchinson.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Before-We-Disappear/dp/B08TSPMKS2/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1632448823&sr=8-1

The Eternity Knot (Celtic Magic Book 4) by H.R. Conklin Review

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

A teen girl continues her exploration of humanity’s connection to nature and the world of the Fae as she is tasked with proving humanity’s worth to the Queen of the Unseelie Fae before the Earth is plunged into chaos in author H.R. Conklin’s “The Eternity Knot”, the fourth book in the CELTIC MAGIC YA series. 

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The Synopsis

Mairi has been shown the future and knows humans must change their ways. Continuing on their path of disconnect with Nature will cause the destruction of human life. Tasked by the Seelie Fae to save the human world, Mairi and friends seek out ancient wisdom in the stories of old. The Queen of the Unseelie Fae decides humans have to prove themselves worthy of the Earthly Realm, or die trying. Dark magic makes Mairi push harder to find the answers she needs, but the Undersea Faerie Queen is weighing in and Mairi is uncertain whose side she is on. When young people representing cultures from all of the continents share their knowledge, Mairi finally feels the seeds of hope. Deadly faerie magic is working against humanity, but humans and faeries are working together like never before. As humans begin seeing the earth through ancient views, they are waking up to their dormant powers. Now Mairi must put all the pieces together before time runs out for human life on Earth, and for once she’s starting to feel worthy of the task. Join Mairi and friends in this exciting conclusion to the Celtic Magic series. 

The Celtic Magic series is a unique tale connecting modern day California to the Scotland of centuries ago. Join Mairi during a life-changing year in this eco-heroine’s journey, following the Celtic wheel of pagan holidays through the seasons and time as she meets druids, witches, and faeries of both Light and Dark. Discover what role mythic stories play in saving the Earth from imminent destruction, and what happens when the world is inclusive of all people. This series includes The Trinity Knot, The Witch’s Knot, The Faerie Knot, and just finished is book 4, The Eternity Knot! 

This book is perfect for teens and adults of all ages who enjoy a 

modern take on myths and fairytales! 

The Review

What a truly incredible read. As a newcomer to the series, I really appreciated the way the author wrote that both keyed in longtime readers of the series and presented this narrative and the series as a whole in a way that newcomers like me could jump on immediately. The protagonist, Mairi, is so endearing and does an incredible job of bridging the gap between the past and her ancestry with the present and who she is as a person, and her determination to fight for both the environment and humanity was incredible to see.

This novel does an incredible job of balancing history and mythology with the environmental-driven narrative of humanity’s impact on the world as a whole. As a fan of history and mythology, I was blown away by the incredible YA approach to detailed Scottish and world cultures and the impact mythology has had on the various cultures around the world, while the action and suspense of the narrative really pulled attention to the horrors humanity has unleashed on the environment, and the need to reconnect to our planet and take care of it was felt in every chapter.

The Verdict

A brilliant, entertaining, and thoughtful new chapter in a wonderful YA series, author H.R. Conklin’s “The Eternity Knot” is a must-read novel. The perfect blend of mythos and environmental supernatural thrillers, the narrative draws readers in with an explosive opening chapter and keeps the readers hooked with strong mythology and a powerful cast of characters. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

H. R. Conklin grew up in the rural mountains of Northern California where her mother gardened and her father played the bagpipes, as well as spending long hours in the theater where her parents were a dancer and an actor. This undoubtedly led to her overactive imagination and love for nature. She currently lives in San Diego with her husband, two adult children, and three dogs. She used to teach kindergarten at a public Waldorf charter school in which she told many fairy tales to the children, and made up stories in her spare time. Now she is a Story Circle Leader and guides parents in homeschooling at a private Waldorf school.

 Keep in Touch – Sign up for Conklin’s Newsletter! 

Find out more at: 

Website:  https://wildrosestories.com/welcome

Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/wildrosestories/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/wildrosestories

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wildrosestoriesandcircles/

Purchase The Eternity Knot on AmazonWaldorf Books, and/or H.R. Conklin’s website: Wild Rose Stories. Be sure to also add this to your GoodReads reading list.

Buy Links: 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Eternity-Knot-Celtic-Magic/dp/B096TTR9PK/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=celtic+magic+h.+r.+conklin&qid=1625601403&s=books&sr=1-2

Waldorf Books Online: https://earthschooling.info/thebearthinstitute/product/celtic-magic-book-4-the-eternity-knot/

Wild Rose Stories: https://wildrosestories.com/shop

Blog Tour Calendar 

July 19th @ The Muffin

July 21st @ The Faerie Review 

Join Lily at the Faerie Review as she shares her review of H.R. Conklin’s latest book The Eternity Knot; part of the Celtic Magic Series. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys a modern take on myths and fairytales! 

https://www.thefaeriereview.com/

July 29th @ The Knotty Needle 

Judy at the Knotty Needle shares her review with readers after reading H.R. Conklin’s The Eternity Knot – part of the Celtic Magic Series. Don’t miss Judy’s insightful review! https://knottyneedle.blogspot.com/ 

July 31st @ Author C.K. Sorens 

Fellow Author C.K. Sorens shares her review of The Eternity Knot – the latest release by H.R. Conklin and part of the Celtic Magic series. Don’t miss today’s peer review! 

https://www.cksorens.com/blog

August 1st @ Bring on Lemons with Cathy Hansen 

Wisconsin entrepreneur and educator, Cathy Hansen reviews the latest novel in the Celtic Magic Series – find out what Cathy has to say about The Eternity Knot as she shares her thoughts with readers at Bring on Lemons. 

http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/ 

August 2nd @ Author Anthony Avina 

Fellow author Anthony Avina shares his review of H.R. Conklin’s The Eternity Knot. This book is part of the Celtic Magic Series – readers of all ages will delight in this special story! https://authoranthonyavinablog.com

August 3rd @ A Storybook World 

Readers at A Storybook World will hear from guest blogger H.R. Conklin on the topic of Symbolism in Fairytales. Conklin just release The Eternity Knot – another 5 star book in the Celtic Magic series, but she’s taking time to share her author expertise with readers today! Don’t miss this fabulous opportunity to learn from Conklin! 

http://www.astorybookworld.com/ 

August 4th @ Author Anthony Avina 

 Earlier this week, readers at Author Anthony Avina’s blog read Anthony’s review of H.R. Conklin’s The Eternity Knot. Today readers will hear from Conklin herself as she shares a guest blog post titled:  “Symbolism Reflected in Stories from Around the World” . Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to learn more about The Celtic Magic series! https://authoranthonyavinablog.com/

August 5th @ The Knotty Needle 

 Judy at the Knotty Needle shares her review of The Eternity Knot by H.R. Conklin. This is book 3 in the Celtic Magic series and it is guaranteed to delight readers of all ages! Don’t miss Judy’s review! https://knottyneedle.blogspot.com/

August 6th @ Beverley A. Baird 

 Today’s guest post for readers at Beverley A. Baird is written by H.R. Conklin. Conklin is the award winning author of the Celtic Magic Series and she recently released her latest title: The Eternity Knot. Don’t miss a chance to read today’s guest post titled: “Parenting Wisdom Shared Through Storytelling”.

https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com/

August 7th @ World of My Imagination with Nicole Pyles 

Nicole just finished reading The Eternity Knot by H.R. Conklin and can’t wait to tell readers at World of My Imagination all about it. Don’t miss today’s review by Nicole to find out more about this title as well as the others in the Celtic Magic Series! 

https://worldofmyimagination.com/

August 8th @ Word Magic; All About Books with Author Fiona Ingram 

 H.R Conklin pens today’s guest post about fairies and mythology as she visits fellow author Fiona Ingram at Word Magic. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from Conklin and find out more about her latest release: The Eternity Knot; part of the Celtic Magic series! http://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com/

August 9th @ Bring on Lemons with Crystal Otto 

 WOW! Blog Tour Manager, Crystal Otto reviews the latest novel in the Celtic Magic Series – find out what Crystal has to say about The Eternity Knot as she shares her 5 star review with readers at Bring on Lemons. 

 http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

August 10th @ Bring on Lemons with Libby 

 Libby is a young artist who enjoys many genres of books – she shares her thoughts with readers at Bring on Lemons today – her deep thoughts about The Eternity Knot by H.R. Conklin. This book is part of the Celtic Magic series and Libby is excited to read all the books. Readers will delight in her youthful perspective and her energy! 

 http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/

August 11th @ Lisa Haselton 

 Lisa Haselton interviews H.R. Conklin about the Celtic Magic series and her latest release The Eternity Knot. Don’t miss a chance to become better acquainted with this talented author! 

https://lisahaselton.com/blog

August 18th @ Jill Sheet’s Blog 

 Today, readers at Jill Sheet’s Blog will hear from H.R. Conklin on the topic of “How Symbolism in Fairy Tales of Old Help Us Today”. Stop by to learn more about The Eternity Knot (part of the Celtic Magic Series) and learn from this talented author. 

http://jillsheets.blogspot.com/

August 19th @ Wildwood Reads with Megan 

 Readers at Wildwood Reads will hear from Megan as she reviews The Eternity Knot by H.R. Conklin. Don’t miss an opportunity to learn more about The Celtic Magic Series and this latest release!

https://wildwoodreads.com/

Garkain (The Uluru Legacy #1) by Anna J. Walner 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 searching for her birth parents discovers she comes from a truly shocking lineage, and must come face to face with a history and secret that will tie into her ultimate fate in author Anna J. Walner’s “Garkain”, the first in the ULURU LEGACY series.

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The Synopsis

Amelia was dropped at a hospital in Houston 25 years ago. After searching for her biological family for years she receives a vague text: “It’s time for you to come home, we need you, the Colony needs you.”

The Colony is a secret society in the Outback of Australia, driven from Europe in 1788 to the prison colony of New Holland to begin anew. Her mother is Garkain, her father Larougo. Two different bloodlines, two different societies. One Vampire, one Werewolf. Given away instead of killed, she’s being called home for a purpose.

She’ll agree to things she thought she never would, become things she never thought existed, and agree to a bargain that will change the Colony forever.

The vampire rule book has changed in this imaginative series that defies expectations. Blending worlds together as a delicious escape in a new and unique way.

Welcome to your new obsession.

The Review

What a unique and original take on the urban paranormal genre of YA Fantasy. The way the author elevates and changes the mythology of vampires, werewolves, and the paranormal overall was inspired to say the least. The mythos balanced out the incredible setting of Australia in this novel, a setting not often seen in a YA Fantasy series. 

The novel itself is very character-driven. The focus on Amelia is evident from the start, slowly introducing her evolution from a self-reliant young woman searching for answers to a powerful paranormal leader in the making. Her relationships with characters like Roan and her mother really elevate the narrative, drawing the reader in as Amelia serves as the eyes and ears of the reader themselves, exploring this fascinating world first-hand. 

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The Verdict

A memorable, engaging, and iconic first novel in a brand new YA Fantasy and Urban Fantasy series, author Anna J. Walner’s “Garkain” is a must-read novel for fans of paranormal storytelling YA genre is known for, but with a twist. The updated mythos of vampires, werewolves, and everything in-between makes this story shine, and the characters really keep the reader invested in this evolving narrative. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Anna is the author of two fantasy series, The Enrovia Series, and The Uluru Legacy. She is the author of five books, which range from fantasy to memoir.

A mother and a published author, she finds time for her passion in the evenings. Growing up as an introvert she gravitated to the classics, and fantastic worlds as a means of escape.

Over time the urge to create her own stories took control.

https://annajwalner.com/

https://www.instagram.com/annajwalner/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE4ybn-YRrDMytAUKN9Bu9g

https://www.bookbub.com/books/garkain-book-one-of-the-uluru-legacy-series-by-anna-j-walner

Cold Hearted (Villains #8) by Serena Valentino Review

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

The true origin of one of the most notorious evil stepmothers is revealed in author Serena Valentino’s “Cold Hearted”, the eight book in the VILLAINS series.

The Synopsis

It’s a familiar tale: A kind and beautiful young girl, reeling from loss. A doting father, frantic to bring a mother’s love back into his daughter’s life. And the selfish, cruel woman who insinuates herself into that family―a woman so unfeeling, so cold hearted, that when her new husband dies, she makes the girl a servant in her own home.

But who is that evil stepmother, that icy lady of the house? How did she become so closed off that, in the face of a child’s grief, she thought only to seek wealth and power for herself and her abhorrent daughters? Before that fateful ball, before the glass slipper and the prince, there was another story―a story of love and grief, of hope and of dreams dashed. It is the story of Lady Tremaine.

Even the coldest of villains are sometimes wives and mothers, women who loved and lost and hoped for

something grander for their lives . . . once upon a dream.

The latest novel in Serena Valentino’s deliciously devious Villains series introduces the most famed and hated wicked stepmother of them all―but turns everything you know about her on its head.

The Review

A truly haunting and engaging story, the author has masterfully brought to life the story of Cinderella in a whole new light. Seeing the story through Lady Tremaine’s eyes was amazing, not only showcasing who she was before her marriage to Cinderella’s father, but showcasing how all the girls of the household became victims of his cruel nature. Even Cinderella, beloved by her father, found herself a pawn in his game of control. The pacing of the novel really helped draw readers in, while the setting changes from London to the Many Kingdoms highlighted the change in magic and it’s effect on those not of that world.

The character growth was definitely the highlight of the narrative. The story helped balance the original characters and gave them more dimension. From Cinderella inadvertently giving her father the means to push Lady Tremaine over the edge to the inclusion of the Fairies and their dark counterparts, The Odd Sisters, and even the tumultuous path that put the step sisters in the path of villainy, readers won’t be able to help feeling sympathetic towards the women.

The Verdict

A brilliant, entertaining, and chilling take on a classic fairy tale, author Serena Valentino’s “Cold Hearted” is a must read YA novel of the summer. Capturing the essence of classic fairy tales and elevating the narrative to include much more well rounded characters, the book is one readers won’t be able to put down. Be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

About the Author

Serena Valentino has been weaving tales that combine mythos and guile for the past decade. She has earned critical acclaim in both the comic and horror domains, where she is known for her unique style of storytelling, bringing her readers into exquisitely frightening worlds filled with terror, beauty, and extraordinary protagonists. The books in her best-selling Villains series are best enjoyed when read in the following order: Fairest of All, The Beast Within, Poor Unfortunate Soul, Mistress of All Evil, Mother Knows Best, Odd Sisters, Evil Thing, and Cold Hearted.

https://www.serenavalentino.com/

https://www.twitter.com/SerenaValentino

https://amzn.to/3qS8knn

Spells Trouble (Sisters of Salem #1) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast Review

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

Twin witches must avenge their mother’s murder, stop an ancient evil from taking over their town and ultimately fulfill their destiny in authors P.C. and Kristin Cast’s “Spells Trouble”, the first in the SISTERS OF SALEM series. 

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The Synopsis 

Double double, twins spell trouble…

Hunter and Mercy Goode are twin witches, direct descendants of the founder of their town of Goodeville. As their ancestors have done before them, it is now time for the twins to learn what it means to be Gatekeepers–the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds, ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and nightmares come to life.

When their mother becomes the first victim in a string of murders, the devastated sisters vow to avenge her death. But it will take more than magic to rein in the ancient mythological monsters who’ve infected their peaceful town.

Now Hunter and Mercy must come together and accept their destiny or risk being separated for good.

The Review

A truly mesmerizing and haunting fantasy and supernatural YA series comes to life in a one-of-a-kind way, blending history and culture with mythology and the true concept of family. The family dynamics of the Goode sisters are engaging, to say the least, highlighting their differences as the two sisters who have always been close find themselves lost and drifting apart off and on throughout the narrative after the brutal loss of their mother. The history of Sarah Goode from the infamous Salem Witch Trials and tying her story into that of her descendants was an inspired choice for story and character growth, which helped elevate this story. 

What was the biggest draw for me as a reader was the incredible attention to detail both historically and mythologically, not only exploring the impact and culture of the Salem Witch Trials to a fantasy setting, but incorporating ancient gods and goddesses and mythological creatures from not just single mythology, but multiple mythologies. From bloodthirsty Norse monsters to ancient and sometimes even obscure goddesses of Greek origin made this narrative feel larger than life, while the balance came from the intricate relationship between the sisters, as well as their relationships with their friends as well.

The Verdict

An entertaining, shocking, and haunting YA fantasy and paranormal read, authors P.C. and Kristin Cast’s “Spells Trouble” is a must-read novel for YA fans this summer! A perfect blend of mythology, history, and family dynamics, the shocking final moments of this narrative will leave readers anxious to get a glimpse into the next book of this series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Authors

P.C. CAST

PC was born in the Midwest, and grew up being shuttled back-and-forth between Illinois and Oklahoma, which is where she fell in love with Quarter Horses and mythology (at about the same time). After high school, she joined the United States Air Force and began public speaking and writing. After her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. PC is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today Best-Selling author and a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Her novels have been awarded the prestigious: Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Prism, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Booksellers’ Best, and the Laurel Wreath. PC is an experienced teacher and talented speaker. Ms. Cast lives in Oregon near her fabulous daughter, her adorable pack of dogs, her crazy Maine Coon, and a bunch of horses. House of Night Other World, book 4, FOUND, releases July 7th, 2020. More info to come soon about the HoN TV series!

https://www.pccastauthor.com/

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/p-c-cast

KRISTIN CAST

Kristin is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author who was born on an Air Force base in Japan and grew up in Oklahoma where she explored everything from tattoo modeling to broadcast journalism. After battling addiction, Kristin made her way to the Pacific Northwest and landed in Portland. She rediscovered her passion for storytelling in the stacks at dusty bookstores and in rickety chairs in old coffeehouses. For as long as she can remember, Kristin’s been telling stories. Thankfully, she’s been writing them down since 2005.

https://kcastauthor.com/

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/kristin-cast

Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke 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 living a quiet life in a bookshop after the loss of her father finds her world turned upside down after receiving a mysterious diary that leads her in a race to stop an ancient order hellbent on bringing a war unlike anyone has ever seen in author Jenny Elder Moke’s “Curse of the Specter Queen”. 

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The Synopsis

MAY THE HAZEL BRING YOU WISDOM AND THE ASPEN GUIDE AND PROTECT YOU…

Samantha Knox put away her childish fantasies of archaeological adventure the day her father didn’t return home from the Great War, retreating to the safety of the antique bookshop where she works. But when a mysterious package arrives with a damaged diary inside, Sam’s peaceful life is obliterated. Ruthless men intent on reclaiming the diary are after Sam, setting her and her best friend, along with her childhood crush, on a high-stakes adventure that lands them in the green hills outside Dublin, Ireland. Here they discover an ancient order with a dark purpose – to perform an occult ritual that will raise the Specter Queen, the Celtic goddess of vengeance and death, to bring about a war unlike any the world has ever seen. To stop them, Sam must solve a deviously complex cipher – one that will lead her on a treasure hunt to discover the ancient relic at the heart of the ritual: a bowl carved from the tree of life. Will she find the bowl and stop the curse of the Specter Queen, or will the ancient order bring about the end of the world?

Indiana Jones gets a refresh with this female-driven mystery adventure, set in the 1920s, full of ciphers, ancient relics, and heart-stopping action – the first in a brand-new series!

The Review

A thrilling adventure that blends the action and historical aspects of Indiana Jones with the emotional storytelling of the YA genre, this book excels at highlighting the historical fiction aspect that has made archeology the perfect pairing with action and adventure. As a longtime fan of history and culture, I loved the exploration of Ireland, namely things like the Druids and Morrigan. The blend of history with fantasy and sci-fi elements made this story feel both classic and fresh all at once.

The character development in this book is the heart of this story. From protagonist, Sam and her evolution from an emotionally scarred bookkeeper into a strong and resilient hero was fantastic to see unfold. While her relationships with her allies and against her enemies were powerful in so many ways, it was her friendship with Joana that really stood out to me. The contrast in these characters and their personalities and the evolution they undergo both emotionally and physically solidified the stakes of the novel and the hope their friendship brought Sam in order to face these threats head-on.

The Verdict

An adventurous, entertaining, and hauntingly-good action and historical fiction YA read, author Jenny Elder Moke’s “Curse of the Specter Queen” is a must-read book of 2021. The perfect blend of action, history, and fantasy, the story itself instantly draws readers in, and the characters are both relatable and inspiring to see tackle this narrative, making this the perfect summer YA read. Be sure to pick up your own copies today!

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About the Author

Jenny Elder Moke writes young adult fiction in an attempt to recapture the shining infinity of youth. When she is not writing, she’s gathering story ideas from her daily adventures with her two irredeemable rapscallions and honing her ninja skills as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Her debut novel, HOOD, about the daughter of Robin Hood and Maid Marien, will release from Disney/Hyperion in Spring 2020.

https://jennyeldermoke.com/

https://www.bookbub.com/books/curse-of-the-specter-queen-volume-1-novel-by-jenny-elder-moke

Misfit by Jo Zaida Review

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

Two teens find themselves caught in a war between two orders for control of not only their world, but the world of the dead as well in author Jo Zaida’s “Misfit”, the first book in THE ASURA CHRONICLES series.

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The Synopsis

Two clashing orders battle for power over their world and the realm of the dead, using teenagers as their pawns. The teenagers, however, have other ideas.

In the New World, Elle is visited by a ghost from the Asura, a realm existing between the mortals and the Gods. The Asura challenges everything she thought she knew about herself, her family and the Ministry that controls them, and throws her into an adventure of chaos and discovery.

River, meanwhile, has been welcomed into a secret organization with tantalizing promises of a better future. But not everything is as it seems. His loyalty to his father is challenged as he gets pushed into a strategic engagement with a girl he does not like, and starts to discover more about the Alliance’s darker schemes.

Worlds collide for young adult readers who will love the fast-paced thrills, the chemistry between characters, and the interplay of dystopian fantasy and science fiction, self-discovery and friendship in Misfit, book one of The Asura Chronicles trilogy.

It is a perfect cross-market read for fans of Hunger Games and Harry Potter, both young adult and adult readers who are searching for the next enduring sci-fi/fantasy classic. 

The Review

A fantastic exploration of a futuristic society that has blended technology with the spiritual realm, the author has expertly layered this YA narrative with elements of politics, themes of morality, and the complex relationships we form with our families. The author does a wonderful job of exploring each faction introduced in the world of this novel, both the good and the bad, and highlights how no one side is ever truly “right” and the other “wrong”. Instead those in power, no matter what side they choose, deserve to be challenged and held accountable when situations arise.

The world-building in this novel was incredible. Richly layered throughout the novel, the author crafts an impressive story of those who pass on from the world and the few who manage to ascend, in essence, into a state of higher spiritual existence. On top of the secret societies and shady government operations hoping to take control of these beings, the author also creates complex and interesting characters that are multi-dimensional. The hardships and struggles these teens have not only with these factions fighting for control but with their own family lives make this story shine brightly, and also showcases that both politics and family are rife with secrets and lies that have the power to change things forever.

The Verdict

An engaging, entertaining, and beautifully written narrative, author Jo Zaida’s “Misfit” is a fantastic YA sci-fi and dystopian fantasy read. The first in what proves to be an exciting and much-needed new YA series, the book expertly wades into some complex themes that deserve to challenge YA readers everywhere and highlights how young people are just as powerful and needed in the evolution of a nation or faction as anyone else. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab this amazing read for yourselves today!

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About the Author

People say that authors write themselves into their characters. But I am not Elle. 

Does the way the world works frustrate me? It does. Am I stubborn and rebellious? Sometimes. I hope I’m a little less moody…

Like Elle, I love traveling and adventure. 

I also love books, cats, music and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

https://www.theasurachronicles.com/

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/jo-zaida?list=author_books