Tag Archives: ya fantasy

Breaking Time by Sasha Alsberg 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 finds her world turned upside down when a handsome stranger enters her life from another time, and together they discover fate’s plans for them when a rogue threat targets her for a power she never knew she had in author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time”.

Advertisements

The Synopsis

Romance, Celtic mythology, and adventure swirl together in this time travel fantasy by #1 New York Times bestselling author, booktuber, and popular Outlander social media influencer Sasha Alsberg.

Fate brought them together. Time will tear them apart.

When a mysterious Scotsman suddenly appears in the middle of the road, Klara thinks the biggest problem is whether she hit him with her car. But, as impossible as it sounds, Callum has stepped out of another time, and his arrival marks the beginning of a deadly adventure.

Klara soon learns she is the last Pillar of Time—an anchor point in the timeline of the world. After being unable to protect the previous Pillar, Callum believes he’s fated to protect her. But now a dark force is hunting the Pillars—and Klara and Callum are the only two standing in the way. They’ll have to learn to trust each other and work together…but they’ll need to protect their hearts from one another if they’re going to survive

The Review

This was such a powerful and entertaining new read! The author did such an incredible job of world-building in this narrative. Each scene felt vibrant and alive on the page, thanks to the author’s incredible handle on imagery in her writing and the atmosphere she builds as the narrative progresses. The striking balance the author struck between the rich mythology of the world she created and the intimate and emotional character growth was superb. As a huge fan of mythology in general, I was immediately drawn into this narrative, but what was really fun was being introduced to new mythological figures and stories, and the intricacies of Celtic mythology definitely drew me into the story so much that I’ll be researching the mythos myself, really adding to the author’s ability to draw readers in. 

Yet it was the rich character development that really drew me in further and further into the story. The multiple POVs were great to have, as they added depth to both Callum’s and Klara’s stories. Their backstories and the eras from which they hail and the instant chemistry and discoveries they make about themselves along the way were truly inviting to behold on the page. Even the antagonist, who emerges from the shadows and strikes into the heart of these two protagonists, was chilling and haunting to behold and did a great job of becoming the hero’s foil in the narrative. 

The Verdict

Captivating, engaging, and brilliantly written, author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time” is a must-read YA Historical Fantasy meets Time Travel story and one of my top picks for best reads of 2022. The author does a great job of traversing the influences of other series such as Outlander and The Mortal Instruments, and yet feels so original and authentic on its own at the same time, bringing magic back into the Historical Fantasy meets Highland genre. With a twist ending that left this reader eager to read more, you guys won’t want to miss out on this spectacular story. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

Advertisements

About the Author

Sasha Alsberg is the #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Zenith, the first book in The Androma Saga. When Sasha is not writing or obsessing over Scotland, she is galavanting across social media with her two dogs, Fraser & Fiona. Sasha lives in London, England.

Social Links:

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

Twitter: @sashaalsberg

Instagram: @sashaalsberg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sasha.alsberg 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15100575.Sasha_Alsberg 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Time-Sasha-Alsberg/dp/1335284893 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/breaking-

time-sasha-alsberg/1140332910 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335284891 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Breaking-Time/Sasha-Alsberg/9781335284891 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/ch/audiobook/breaking-time/id1591477301 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Sasha_Alsberg_Breaking_Time?id=5TlHEAAAQBAJ 

Please enjoy this excerpt from Author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time”

Excerpted from BREAKING TIME by Sasha Alsberg, © 2022 by Sasha Alsberg, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Callum

1568

“Thomas!” Callum yelled as he left the pub. The wall of crisp night air dizzied him, causing him to stumble over cobblestones that seemed to shift beneath his feet. Drunken laughter muff led as the door slammed shut behind him. 

“Where the hell are ye?” he shouted. His voice echoed through the deserted streets. 

No answer came. 

Lanterns flickered along the main road, setting the heavy fog aglow. In a wee town like Rosemere, the slightest whispers could be heard a mile away. They carried farther than that, Callum knew; the windows around him were shuttered, but candles burned low just inside. How many prying eyes watched from behind the slats? How many would speak of his friend, the disgraced fighter, in hushed voices at tomorrow’s market, over bread bought with the coin they’d won betting on him mere weeks earlier?

Callum clenched his fists. The whole pub had shouted and jeered while Thomas got pummeled that night. Sounds still rang in Callum’s ears: the thud of fist and flesh, the sickening crunch of bone. It was the third time this month that Thomas had lost—only the third time, in two years of fighting.

Brice would be angry.

Master, keeper, devil, father. Brice MacDonald was all of these things to Callum and Thomas. Whatever Brice’s wrath tonight, Callum could not let Thomas face it alone. Not when Thomas had looked after Callum for so long, raised him up from a nipper as well as a real older brother would.

But he would not abandon Thomas like his mother had abandoned him.

The thought sobered Callum. He called again, lowering his voice to a taunt.

“Thomas! You owe me three shillings!” Thomas could usually be drawn out with a jab.

Callum paused, straining his ears for a response but was met with unease instead. An owl watched from its perch atop the baker’s roof, golden eyes unblinking against the dark night sky. The shining orbs fixed on him.

He tore his gaze from the bird and walked on, moving away from the firelight and into shadow.

Even more worrisome than Brice was the fact that Thomas had given Callum his most treasured item earlier that night: his notebook, small sheaths of vellum bound in leather. When he first began carrying it around, Thomas claimed to have stolen it from the apothecary when he went in for a poultice. 

He had kept it on him, always, and had never let Callum lay eyes on what was inside. Yet he had pressed it into Callum’s hand, just before the match tonight. He said something to Callum when he did, but his words were inaudible within the roar of the pub. Then after, he disappeared from the pub without even a goodbye.

Now Callum was wandering the streets, alone.

It was unlike Thomas to behave so strangely, to lose so badly. The Thomas he knew—boyish and rowdy, tough as leather but never mean—had fallen away with the autumn leaves these past months. Instead of spending evenings at The Black Hart Inn, weaving stories he’d learned as a child of selkies and sailors for red-cheeked barmaids until the sun rose, Thomas began to disappear for days, weeks at a time—stretches too long for Callum to explain to Brice. He took a beating or two for it, too. When Thomas returned, he was sullen, sometimes violent, and consumed by a strangeness Callum had no words to describe. His eyes stared but did not see, as distant as stars burning in his skull. If he spoke at all, he told tales of the demons that terrified them as children: like the Sluagh, spirits of the dead who wandered in flocks, flying around the sky like soaring reapers and stealing souls, flesh hanging off them like blackened rags. Or the bean-nighe, banshees, messengers from the Otherworld and omens of death, who lingered in lonely streams, washing the clothes of doomed men. Normally Callum heard of such dark creatures within the stories of heroes, but Thomas’s stories didn’t end in life…but death. He fixated on that fact, as if it were coming for him.

I saw her, he’d said of the bean-nighe. I refuse to die. 

It worried Callum, but just as his worry morphed into confrontation, Thomas would come back to himself. This was enough to comfort Callum as he watched Thomas return to tales of ancient heroes and kings. Maybe he accepted his relief too soon since the nights of those stories were fewer these days, and more often Thomas’s speech would turn dark again. He would speak of strange visions, of men who leaped from one world to the next.

They’re coming, Cal, you’ll see. It’s as simple as stepping through a veil.

Who’s coming, Thomas? What veil? Callum asked, and Thomas would laugh.

It was no tale that Callum knew. He’d warned Thomas not to tell it. He didn’t like the wary looks it earned him. It was one thing to be a bard who told these stories for a living, but it was another thing to speak like a madman of evil spirits and fairies as if they were tangible things away from the lyrics of a song or the pages of a book.

Callum reached the end of the main road—the turn for Kelpie’s Close. If you wanted trouble, you found it in Kelpie’s. The narrow backstreet edged Rosemere like a blade pressed against the town’s throat.

A chill clung to his skin. Here, there were no lanterns to light the way, his only guide sparse slivers of moonlight. The wind picked up suddenly, lifting his hair and reaching under his woolen cloak. He tried to shake off visions of the Sluagh hovering above him, raking their cold fingers down his neck.

“It’s as dark as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat,” he mumbled.

Callum reached for the dirk tucked under his arm and found the carved handle concealed under layers of wool, feeling a sting of guilt. It was Thomas’s knife. Callum had slipped it away from him before the match, worried about what his friend might do in the crowded pub if he got enough drink in him. He tapped it, drawing enough strength to plunge into the darkness.

“Scunner!” he cursed, meaning it. “Where are you?”

A cry pierced the quiet.

Callum’s heart pounded as he followed the sound farther down the alley. He pulled the dirk from under his arm, certain now that he’d need to use it.

“Thomas?”

Unease, cold and metallic, crept up his spine. The alley appeared empty—strange, for this time of night—but the silence was thick, alive with a feeling Callum couldn’t name. He pushed on, deeper into the gloom. “Thomas?”

Another strangled cry, ahead.

Callum broke into a run.

A single lantern flickered a short distance away, casting a wan glow over a lone figure slumped against the wall. A sweep of red hair, bright even in the dim alley.

“Thomas, ye bastard, do ye ken what—”

The insult lodged in his throat. Thomas lay on the ground, his legs splayed at sickening angles. Blood seeped through his shirt, blooming like ink on paper. Callum rushed to his friend and knelt beside him. He dropped the dirk and pressed his hands against the deep slice that marred his friend’s torso. A knife wound.

“Dinnae fash, Thomas, dinnae fash,” Callum repeated, voice tight and panicked. He glanced up, searching for friend or foe, and found no one. “We’ll be back to the pub before Anderson kens we havna paid our tab.” 

Thomas stared up at him with glassy blue eyes. With each shuddering breath, more blood spilled through Callum’s fingers. He ripped the cloth stock from his neck and pressed the fabric onto the wound. It did little to stem the flow of blood. Within a few heartbeats, the cloth was soaked through, red and dripping.

If he pressed any harder, would it be doing more harm than good? Should he call for help, though it might draw the attacker? Callum hadn’t a clue. He wished suddenly, ferociously, that he’d had a proper mother, one whose wisdom he could call upon to calmly guide his hands. However, Thomas was the only family he had.

His only family was dying.

Thomas opened his mouth, but instead of words, a wet cough came out, splattering red across his pale face.

“Dinnae move, Thomas,” Callum shushed him. His uncertainty gave way to desperation, burst from his throat. “Help! Help us!”

His words dissolved into the night air, leaving behind only a tightness at the center of his chest. If he hadn’t taken Thomas’s dirk, he would have been able to defend himself, he wouldn’t be dying in Callum’s arms—

Thomas gasped, but it seemed as if no air reached his lungs.

Lowering his head, Callum gripped Thomas’s hands, though his own were shaking. “I will find the man who did this, I swear—”

Then the world flipped sideways. A blow had hit Callum like a runaway carriage, throwing him against the alley wall opposite Thomas.

Pain exploded along his ribs. Grasping the mossy wall for purchase, he struggled to his feet and wiped blood from his eyes, scouring the darkness for his attacker—and found no one.

“Show your face,” he growled.

A cruel whisper cut through the quiet. “Are you certain?”

The man emerged from the shadows as if he had been one with them. He wore a dark black cloak, in stark contrast to his unkempt, pale hair. Deep set in his face, a pair of amber eyes seemed to emit their own light. Callum’s gaze was drawn to a glinting shape in the man’s hand.

A dagger, dripping with blood.

Thomas’s blood.

Callum’s heart pounded like a war drum in his ears.

The man sighed. “Move along. Unless you’d like to meet the same fate as your compani—”

Callum lunged forward, cutting off the man’s speech with a guttural cry, striking with the speed of a viper.

The man ducked. He whirled around as Callum charged again. He overreached with the arc of his knife, and Callum used the moment to surge upward with a punch. His fist took the assailant in the chin—

And the force knocked Callum back.

He stared. A blow like that would have laid out the toughest fighter, yet the man stood and smiled, rubbing his chin with a gloved hand.

“I’m going to have fun with you,” the stranger whispered. “I like a man with a bit of fight in him. It’s more fun to play with your prey, don’t you think?”

Callum didn’t see the blow coming, only felt the pain searing across his temple as he was thrown to the ground again. 

He lifted his head, vision blurring. He blinked it clear, took in his friend’s ashen face. The sight flooded Callum with rage.

Whoever said to never fight with anger fueling your fists was a fool. Thomas’s best fights had been powered by emotion. Callum wasn’t fighting for money now. Or for Brice. He was fighting for Thomas. Because Thomas was—

“Stay down, little man,” the attacker’s voice hissed.

Callum dragged himself to his feet. His body, corded with muscle from a lifetime of training, screamed for him to stop. Instead he stood, swaying.

“I dinnae believe I’m going to Heaven,” Callum said, raising his fists once more, drawing strength from the familiar ache that radiated through his arms. “But I cannae wait to bring you to Hell with me.”

Lunging forward again, Callum poured everything he had into a single strike. He swung, landing the punch more out of luck than skill, half blinded by blood and dirt.

The man merely flinched, then caught Callum easily by the throat. A grin curled over his face.

How could that be possible?

“My, my, you are a feisty one,” he hissed.

The man lashed out, and pain flared along Callum’s torso. He released Callum and stepped back, red-tinged silver shining in his fist.

Callum touched his side, and his fingers came away wet with blood. He watched as crimson spread across his shirt. He tried to take a step, only to crumple to the ground beside Thomas, whose head rested limp against his chest.

Callum had never feared death, but now as he looked into its eyes, terror seized him. 

“Many thanks for the entertainment,” the man said.

To Callum’s horror, he bent low, holding a vial to the spreading pool of Thomas’s blood. He was gathering it.

“If you’ll excuse me, there’s one last Pillar I must find.”

Pillar?

The unearthly amber eyes melted into darkness as his opponent backed away and turned, disappearing into the shadows once more. Softly hissed words echoed in the alley. Àiteachan dìomhair, fosgailte dhomh, Àiteachan dìomhair, fosgailte dhomh…

The words the man spoke were Gaelic, but Callum’s fading mind couldn’t make out their meaning. A dark, mist-like substance rose from the ground and curled around the man’s feet, nearly indistinguishable from the dim of night. Like a sudden fog had rolled in.

Callum sputtered a curse, lacking the strength to spit. He tried to lift himself, but with each breath, pain flared in his side like a web of fire.

“I’m sorry, Thomas,” he croaked. Tears fell freely down his face, mingling with blood and sweat. He pressed his forehead against his friend’s. Grief washed over him at the still-warm press of his skin.

Thomas was gone, and Callum would soon follow.

A shiver raked his body. His eyes drifted shut.

Take me already, he pleaded to the darkness.

And the darkness answered.

No, not the darkness—Thomas’s voice, a memory now, though it was solid as stone.

“Get up, scunner.”

The warmth of the words turned electric, spreading through Callum’s body like wildfire. His eyes shot open and he gasped, breathing in a shock of cold air still sharp with the smell of blood. His fingers found the dirk he’d dropped earlier.

Grief and agony and pain and rage lifted Callum onto his feet, thrumming in him as he charged after Thomas’s murderer, knife raised and eager for flesh. He grabbed blindly, finally grasping a handful of fabric—the man’s cloak. Turning, the man’s eyes widened, making two white rings of surprise in the dark. Callum’s hand grabbed the man’s neck and aimed his dirk at the pale slash of his throat.

Suddenly, they froze. Callum could not move. His hand remained around the man’s neck, the tip of the dirk pressed against his vein. Light flowed around them. It’s not time for sunrise, he thought. Dimly, he noticed markings along the man’s collarbone. Knots carved into his skin.

The man cried out—not in pain, but in anger—but then, the cry was stifled by a rush of silence, so thick Callum thought he might drown in it. His stomach turned violently as the ground seemed to drop out from under him, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut. He was falling, flying, falling.

I must be dead in the alley. The man must have killed me. This must be death.

A bright glow burned against his lids. He closed his eyes tighter and welcomed whatever might follow, only hoping he’d find Thomas there. A wall of light had formed above, descending as if the sun were pulling him through the sky. His body rose into its searing embrace.

He waited for the long drop to the ground, but it never came.

Callum kept soaring.

Not just through the street.

Not to death’s embrace. 

But somewhere else.

Leaping to another world, like the man in Thomas’s story, Callum thought.

So he leaped. 

Lost Daughters of Avalon (Awakenings Book 2) by J. Lynn Else Review

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

Four young women return to the magical land they helped save months earlier, finding it in total chaos as the fate of the lands rests in discovering their ancient lineage in author J. Lynn Else’s “Lost Daughters of Avalon”, the second book in the Awakenings series.

Advertisements

The Synopsis

After not hearing anything from their knights in Avalon for weeks, the horrible Questing Beast breaks through into the world and attacks Genie, Beth, Mei, and Whit. Their magic stirs to stop the monster, but Beth’s attempts fail. Help from Avalon arrives just in time to remove the curse and reveal a woman inside the beast who claims to be Genie’s biological mother.

The four friends learn their knights had gone missing, along with one of Avalon’s queens, Viviane. An ancient evil runs amok in Avalon and the people blame the four friends, claiming they released Merlin to destroy their world. To clear their name and rescue their knights, the four friends must once again risk the dangers of Avalon.

Genie, Beth, Mei, and Whit must pull together and learn to combine their powers of air, water, earth, and fire to rebalance the world they might have thrown into chaos. If they fail, the worlds of Avalon and Earth could destabilize and end life as they know it.

The Review

This was a powerful and captivating read. The author did such an incredible job of finding new and creative ways of weaving classic Arthurian legends and mythology into the unique world of Avalon and finding a brilliant twist in how these four young women fit into the fantasy world so unlike their own. The balance of the iconic legends they know and love with the YA/children’s style storytelling devices made this story so engaging to read, and both the action and otherworldly settings really crafted some brilliant imagery in the reader’s mind.

The twists and turns this narrative took really elevated the cast of characters in this read. Getting to understand the women of the Arthurian legends and see them in a new light made this so memorable, and how it reflected the four young heroes who were learning about this world was so perfect to read and watch unfold on the pages. The theme of identity and lineage played such an important role here in this narrative, and readers are going to absolutely be shocked and in awe of the answers that come from this journey the women find themselves on.

The Verdict

Haunting, entertaining, and emotionally gripping, author J. Lynn Else’s “Lost Daughters of Avalon” is the perfect YA/Children’s mythology and fantasy read and the perfect second novel in a growing fantasy series. The heartbreaking revelations and shocking moments as the final moments play out in this read will have readers hanging on the author’s every word, and the need to read more of this captivating narrative will be so strong in the reader’s heart. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

Advertisements

About the Author

J. LYNN ELSE is an award-winning author from Minnesota who’s self-published two historical fiction novels set in ancient Egypt, “The Forgotten: Aten’s Last Queen (2013),” which was named an Indie Editor’s Choice book for 2016 by the Historical Novel Society, and “The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic (2016)” as well as a sci fi novella “Strangely Constructed Souls (2018).” Through Inklings Publishing, she’s authored an Arthurian-influenced, female-driven fantasy trilogy, “Descendants of Avalon” (2018), “Lost Daughters of Avalon” (2019), and “Destiny of Avalon” (2021).” Her short story “The Girl from the Haunted Woods,” won 2nd place in the “Journey into the Fantastical” Anthology contest. In 2021, she became the Indie Reviews Editor for the Historical Novel Society. She believes in unicorns and practicing random acts of awesome.

http://www.teasippinnerdymom.com/

Amethyst (Ambrosia Hill Book 1) by Rebecca Henry Review

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

A young girl struggling with her identity and her parents impending divorce finds her birthright and power with the help of her aunts in author Rebecca Henry’s “Amethyst”, the first book in the Ambrosia Hill YA series. 

Advertisements

The Synopsis

She was sent away because of her feelings for another girl. But what she discovered at her aunts’ lake house was a birthright of magic.

Thirteen-year-old Zinnia is about to turn fourteen when her life is flipped upside down. With her parents on the brink of a divorce, Zinnia is sent to spend the summer with her eccentric great-aunts at their lake house away from her home in Manhattan. Zinnia arrives at her aunts’ massive Victorian house with a heavy heart after a recent falling out with her best friend Charlotte, who betrayed her trust by showing the meanest and most popular girl in school a letter Zinnia wrote confessing her feelings for Charlotte. The aunts rely on practical magic, acceptance and old family friends to help heal their great-niece in more ways than one.

What Zinnia discovers on Ambrosia Hill is more than just her birthright to magic—she meets Billie, a girl who conjures feelings inside Zinnia that she can no longer deny.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of homophobia and mild peril.

The Review

I instantly fell in love with this story. The author did such an incredible job of crafting a unique and beautiful world that felt real and yet held incredible magic that kept the paranormal and fantasy elements of this narrative alive. The sheer volume of backstory and narrative the author was able to pour into this fairly quick read was breathtaking to behold, as were the little bits of mystery and suspense that the author peppered throughout the read, especially with a tease of future storylines in the next book in this series.

Yet it was the heartfelt character development that really played well in this story. The magic and wonder of the world the author crafted only elevated the emotional story of these characters, from the backstory and history of Billie, who brings a sense of edge and pain to her meeting with Zinnia. Then there is Zinnia herself, who not only struggles with the pain of her family falling apart due to her parents impending divorce but the struggles to feel accepted for her LGBTQ status. 

What I love about the story is that the author doesn’t portray Zinnia as someone in doubt necessarily of who they are, but struggling because she does know who she is and who she loves, and wants the world and those around her to accept her as she is. I feel there are so many people, especially teens, in this world who feel the same who could use an inspirational protagonist like Zinnia to connect with and follow, and I applaud the author for this amazing story development for the character.

The Verdict

Heartfelt, emotional, and magical, author Rebecca Henry’s “Amethyst” is a must-read novel of 2022 and the perfect first entry into this brilliant paranormal and fantasy YA series. The balance of realism and magic, along with the positive outlook on witchcraft and magic that is often overlooked in the world, made this world stand out, and the positive exploration of LGBTQ themes made this a home run in my book. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy on April 26th, 2022, or preorder your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

Advertisements

About the Author

Rebecca Henry is an American author living abroad in England. She is a devoted vegan who gardens, practices yoga, crafts, travels the world, and bakes. Rebecca’s favorite holiday is Halloween, and she is obsessed with anything and everything witchy! Besides writing fiction, Rebecca is also the author of her vegan holiday cookbook collection and green living lifestyle book. Her love for animals, baking with her family, having a plant-based diet, and cruelty-free, green lifestyle inspired her nonfiction novels. You can find all Rebecca’s books on Amazon.

https://www.rebeccahenryauthor.com/

Descendants of Avalon (Awakenings Volume 1) by J. Lynn Else Review

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

A young girl reeling from the news that her parents are separating absent-mindedly partakes in a grand wish to bring her family back together, and inadvertently unleashes a portal for a powerful wizard in the process in author J. Lynn Else’s “Descendants of Avalon”, the first volume in the Awakenings series. 

Advertisements

The Synopsis

Genie’s parents are divorcing. Her friends convince her they should all wish for them to stay together at the town’s fountain. Genie thinks it’s ridiculous, but what could it hurt, right?

Turns out it could hurt a lot.

The power of the united wish opens a portal to the long forgotten land of Avalon. An evil sorcerer traps one of Genie’s friends and seeks to use the girls’ coins to retake Earth. Now Genie and her friends must venture into this magical world in hopes of saving both lands and themselves.

Join the adventure in this first installment of the Awakening Series.

The Review

This was a fantastic and magical YA fantasy read! The author’s ability to naturally weave in elements and mythological aspects of the Arthurian legend into a more modernized YA spin with a cast of strong female protagonists was absolutely incredible to read. The exploration of themes such as friendship, the journey towards adulthood, and the dangers that sometimes come with trying to change fate are all so well represented here and are highlighted beautifully with chilling mythological figures and intense action and adventure.

The way the author is able to hone in and focus on the core cast of characters and develop them in such a natural way in this larger-than-life, fantasy-driven narrative was so fun to see. Delving into the heartbreak and hardship of teenage life, including the issues they face like the crumbling of the only family they ever knew through a divorce, was a fantastic way to give the young women’s adventure and epic journey more heart and humanity, while the fantasy elements and this otherworldly environment was so well represented by the history and culture of Arthurian legends while also capturing the author’s voice and creativity perfectly. 

The Verdict

Mesmerizing, entertaining, and brilliantly written, author J. Lynn Else’s “Descendants of Avalon” is a must-read YA Fantasy novel! The brilliant sense of adventure and wonderment that any young person would feel being thrust into this magical world, as well as the fear and worry when danger arrives, is felt in the tone and atmosphere the author has crafted, and the way the setting and characters seem to balance out one another makes the story flourish until the final pages, where readers will be eager to devour the next book in this series. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

Advertisements

About the Author

Award-winning author J. LYNN ELSE loves reading and writing about awesome women from antiquity. Besides history, she also gets nerdy with Star Wars, Star Trek, and MST3K. She’s self-published two historical fiction novels set in ancient Egypt, The Forgotten: Aten’s Last Queen and The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic. Descendants of Avalon, Awakenings book 1 a YA Fantasy with interwoven elements of the legends and people of King Arthur’s time, was released through Inklings Publishing in May 2018. Book 2, The Lost Daughters of Avalon was released in 2019, and Book 3 Destiny of Avalon in July of 2021. Additionally, in July of 2018, she self-published a sci fi novella, Strangely Constructed Souls, which asks ‘what the price of revenge and how far would you go to right a wrong?’ Her short story The Girl from the Haunted Woods, about friendships, secrets, and witchy curses, won 2nd place in the Journey into the Fantastical anthology contest. Besides writing, J. Lynn recently became the Indie Reviews Editors for the Historical Novel Society (historicalnovelsociety.org).

J. Lynn’s always had a flare for the dramatic, graduating college with a theater major and a dance minor. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two kids where her shelves are overrun with books, her kitchen is overrun with loose-leaf tea, and her workroom is overrun with Funko Pop figures. She enjoys sketching, reliving her 1990s by watching the latest X-Files episodes, honing her Fruit Ninja skills, and randomly busting out into song and dance. She believes in unicorns and practicing random acts of awesome.

http://www.teasippinnerdymom.com/

Interview with Clarissa Pattern

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing? 

As a kid I was in and out of hospital a fair bit, reading and writing were my escapes from the long hours of loneliness. My first stories were about dead things that came back to life; maybe one day I will have to revisit those early ideas, because I truly think what the world is missing is tales about reanimated egg shells! 

Advertisements

2) What inspired you to write your book? 

Because it took me many years to write, lots of different people and events have influenced the final published novel. My initial inspiration though, was a simple scene of a young pickpocket at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre being so enchanted by the actors on stage that a yearning for a different life sparkles in his heart. 

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book? 

Something I’m always drawn to is the power of friendship and the importance of finding the right place in life. In essence it’s such a simple message that is contained in one of the best-known childhood stories we’re told: the ugly duckling needs to find his swan family instead of trying to fit in with the ducks who bully him. But it’s so easy, especially in this brave new world of social media, to be constantly comparing and contrasting yourself to the wrong people and feeling inadequate when you should be concentrating on what makes you as a unique and wonderful person shine.  

4) What drew you into this particular genre? 

The coming-of-age genre is so powerful and relatable as everything is felt so intensely in both its freshness and its rawness. I don’t know how true it is, but I read somewhere that because of how the brain develops and the random shooting off of hormones, that the love you experience as a teenager is the strongest love you’ll feel in your life.  

Advertisements

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why? 

My characters are constantly chattering away in my mind, but it’s actually really strange thinking of having an actual conversation with them, they ignore me and just talk to each other all the time!  

A sneaky little voice in my head is saying that as William Shakespeare appears in my novel, I could choose him to yank into reality and ask him any number of literary conundrums. But I think it’s more in the spirit of the question to choose one of my purely fictional characters, so I will ask Black Jack if he believes that John can truly see faerie folk? Black Jack is a very practical person surviving in the dirt of Renaissance London, but I wonder if living and loving someone who is literally away with the faeries half the time, how his view of the universe would change. 

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership? 

I am not sure if it counts as social media, but my publisher likes Booksirens, I personally have been exploring readersfavorite.com and have found some wonderful people there. I have to mention the Historical Fiction Company too as they gave me a 5-star medal and a silver award in their book of the year competition, so I obviously love them. A couple of readers have found me on Facebook and that has made me smile a lot, people from different countries liking my book enough to reach out to me is so validating for an insecure, self-doubting, introverted blob like me. 

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there? 

Writing can be lonely and fraught with doubt, so find yourself some great beta readers, people who can give you honest feedback that you respect.  

There are a lot of places online to share your writing and to meet other authors, so spend the time to find the place where you feel like you fit and make those connections. I’ve heard from friends that a lot of writers in writing groups can be pretty selfish, they only want to share their stuff, but aren’t willing to give the time to other people’s work. Although we’re naturally deeply involved in our own creativity, make sure you are not one of those people, always be kind and attentive to what other writers are doing and you will attract the awesome people who will nourish your books.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon? 

Everything being well(ish) in these crazy times, I should have a novella coming out with tRaumbooks later this year.  It is a contemporary story about the mental torment of being a teenager. Beyond that, there may be some more stories in the Airy world. Or there might be a story about robots keeping humans as pets. My imagination is a weird place of glittery rainbows and murky half emerged krakens, I am never certain what will grab and take my muse hostage next.

Advertisements

About the Author

Clarissa Pattern studied English language and literature at the University of Oxford and has lived in the Oxfordshire area ever since. She has been writing ever since she could hold crayons and scribble across the wallpaper. Aside from writing, she spends as much time with her kids as they’ll put up with, ignores almost all the housework, and has an ever-increasing list of books she’s frantic to read. Her stories have been published in various anthologies over the years, and in August 2021, she released her first novel, a magical, historical YA called Airy Nothing.

Feather and Flame (The Queen’s Council Book 2) by Livia Blackburne Review

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

A renowned war hero who saved Imperial China and became an icon for women warriors everywhere finds herself in new circumstances when she is crowned the heir to the throne of China and must contend with threats within and outside of her new kingdom in author Livia Blackburne’s “Feather and Flame”, the second book in the Queen’s Council series.

Advertisements

The Synopsis

She brought honor on the battlefield. Now comes a new kind of war…

The war is over. Now a renowned hero, Mulan spends her days in her home village, training a militia of female warriors. The peace is a welcome one, and she knows it must be protected.

When Shang arrives with an invitation to the Imperial City, Mulan’s relatively peaceful life is upended once more. The aging emperor decrees that Mulan will be his heir to the throne. Such unimagined power and responsibility terrifies her, but who can say no to the Emperor?

As Mulan ascends into the halls of power, it becomes clear that not everyone is on her side. Her ministers undermine her, and the Huns sense a weakness in the throne. When hints of treachery appear even amongst those she considers friends, Mulan has no idea whom she can trust.

But the Queen’s Council helps Mulan uncover her true destiny. With renewed strength and the wisdom of those that came before her, Mulan will own her power, save her country, and prove once again that, crown or helmet, she was always meant to lead. This fierce reimagining of the girl who became a warrior blends fairy-tale lore and real history with a Disney twist.

The Review

As a longtime fan of mythology, history, and Disney, I was absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to review another great book from Disney Hyperion. The author did such a beautiful job of bringing ancient China to life in such a vivid and magical way. The balance the author struck between the Disney story we know and the historical accuracy and mythology of the novel’s backstory within this series was superb. The setting of the narrative felt so alive and the author’s style of writing took on a very cinematic tone, allowing readers to read and bring to life this adventure in their mind’s eye. 

The character development was outstanding in this novel. The way the author delved into Mulan as a person when confronted with her new reality was amazing, as was her relationship with Shang. Not only did the narrative do a great job of tackling the issues of equality amongst the women warriors and showing the balance one must find between showing strength and courage in the face of adversity without losing who they are inside, but the author also did an amazing job of showing politics and power struggles within ancient China, giving Mulan’s story more depth and intrigue this time around.

The Verdict

Action-packed, entertaining, and brilliant written, author Livia Blackburne’s “Feather and Flame” is a must-read historical fiction/fantasy book and the next great addition to the Queen’s Council series. A fantastic series of twists and turns in Mulan’s saga and her battle both with another invading Hun army and her own political rivals will keep readers hanging on the author’s every word. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this amazing read on June 14th, 2022, or preorder your copy today! 

Rating: 10/10

Advertisements

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne wrote her first novel while researching the neuroscience of reading at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since then, she’s switched to full-time writing, which also involves getting into people’s heads but without the help of a 3 Tesla MRI scanner.

She is also the author of MIDNIGHT THIEF (an Indies Introduce New Voices selection), DAUGHTER OF DUSK, and ROSEMARKED (an Amazon best book of the month and YALSA Teens Top Ten Nominee).

Visit her online at www.liviablackburne.com

Erift’s Journeys: Secrets of The Sealed Forest by J.T. Tenera 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 and his best friend find themselves tasked with stopping another young man from unleashing an ancient power on the earth while discovering that magic and fantasy worlds are very real in author J.T. Tenera’s “Efrit’s Journeys: Secrets of the Sealed Forest”. 

The Synopsis

What would you do if you were given the chance to embark on a real life adventure? Would you take the plunge, or let it pass on to the next person?

After being lured halfway across the globe with the promise of an exclusive video game event, Joseph Erift is pushed on a journey by a coffee-addicted professor that will forever change his life. He never thought magic could be real. That it was just an element found in fantasy stories and games. Airships and magic spells that create fire and slow time don’t exist in our real world.

However, if that were the case, then why is he seeing these things, and why are him and his best friend being sent on a quest to stop a misguided young man from awakening an ancient power?

Erift’s Journeys is a contemporary fantasy for ages 12+ with very mild language and fantasy violence. It features action and adventure, magic, and coming of age themes and is heavily inspired by RPG video games and anime. It follows a young protagonist overcoming incredible odds while meeting new friends during an unexpected trip that leads to a long road of self-discovery. 

Advertisements

The Review

This was the perfect way to capture the heart and passion of Fantasy-driven projects, including animated series and video games. The author perfectly captured the voice and atmosphere of the YA Fantasy genre, while redefining the genre by bringing fantasy elements into a modern-day setting. The action and mythos the author builds here feel fresh and put a fresh twist on long-standing fantasy tropes. 

The character growth and development of the protagonist and his allies were fun and exhilarating to read. Not only is Joseph a great protagonist to help readers feel represented and connected to the growing fantasy world the author draws readers into, but his friendship with Eric is engaging, as is his rivalry with newcomer Ryan. The character’s ability to connect with their hero’s journey through video games will really connect modern YA readers with this genre, while the iconic theme of the hero’s journey feels well represented in this narrative.

The Verdict

A brilliant, entertaining, and grand journey of self-discovery, adventure, and heroism, author J.T. Tenera’s “Efrit’s Journeys: Secrets of the Sealed Forest” is a must-read novel of 2021! A story that balances humor, iconic fantasy mythos, and modern-day character growth, the twists and turns this narrative takes will not only be engaging for readers but will leave them wanting more from this very cinematic writing from the author. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

Advertisements

About the Author

J.T. Tenera will fully admit that he never wanted to become an author when he was a child. Born March 10th, 1987, his dreams consisted of one thing; making video games when he grew up. However, a project in the 8th grade changed his mind. His class was tasked with writing and illustrating their own children’s book. After receiving 110% on the project, and being told by his teacher that he was talented in story telling, he started down a more creative path. Especially since he later learned that making video games was a lot more complicated than he thought as a child.

Tenera originally published Erift’s Journeys when he was a senior in high school. It was a proud moment seeing the story he dreamed about finished as a real book. However, it was all just for fun. He wouldn’t realize his desire to take his writing to a professional level until 2019. Mostly self-taught, Tenera now works to bring his world to life for readers of all ages, all while doing his best to find time to game in between.

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

Advertisements

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”.

Advertisements

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

Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

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.