Review: Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny Elder Moke

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Curse of the Specter Queen
Author: Jenny Elder Moke
Series: Samantha Knox #1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: eARC; audiobook
Length: 352 pages (10 hours)
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Source: eARC from the publisher via Netgalley; audiobook from the library via Libby
Recommended for fans of: archaeological mystery adventures like Indiana Jones and The Mummy
Content Warnings: fire; death of parent; grief; murder

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!

MY THOUGHTS

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! This 1920s-set, YA historical fantasy takes readers on an archaeological adventure, full ciphers, artifacts, secret societies, ancient mysteries, and Celtic mythology.

It got off to a great start with Sam working in an antique bookstore. After a mysterious diary is delivered to the bookstore, followed by dangerous men hunting the book, Sam flees from Chicago to Ireland with her estranged best friend, Joana, and Jo’s older brother, Bennet, in search of Bennet’s Professor and answers about the deadly curse of the Specter Queen described in the book.

Some elements of the plot were predictable, but one major twist completely took me by surprise. I really loved the characters in this book, especially clever, brave Sam. I thought her reconciliation with Jo was portrayed realistically, and her slow burn with her childhood crush and best friend’s brother was really sweet. There was an unnecessary love triangle that didn’t add much to the plot, but it wasn’t a huge focus of the book.

Even though the characters and older teens and a college student, it reads like lower YA/upper MG. This book might not blow your mind, but it’s very entertaining if you enter with the right expectations. I will be picking up the sequel when it comes out!

Review: Fly with the Arrow by Sarah K.L. Wilson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Fly with the Arrow
Author: Sarah K.L. Wilson
Series: Bluebeard’s Secret #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: New Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 311 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Recommended for fans of: Alice in Wonderland, fairy tale retellings
Content Warnings: violence, murder, kidnapping

SYNOPSIS

A STOLEN BRIDE. A TERRIFYING BRIDEGROOM. THE GAME THAT WILL DETERMINE THEIR FATES.

No one told her the most important law of the court – the Law of Greeting.
If they had, maybe she wouldn’t have greeted Bluebeard when he arrived to claim a mortal wife. And if she hadn’t greeted him, she wouldn’t have become his sixteenth wife or been swept away to the lands of the Wittenhame.

But if none of that had happened, then she wouldn’t have been an integral part of the game that takes place every two hundred years – a game that determines the fates of nations.

For not all is as it seems, not in her homeland of Pensmoore, not in the Wittenhame, and certainly not in her new marriage.

MY THOUGHTS

Fly with the Arrow is a creative retelling of Bluebeard that also draws inspiration from fantasy like Alice in Wonderland. With a mysterious curse, forced marriage, and a veryyyyyy slow burning romance I expected to love this book, but while this book has a great concept, the execution did not always meet my expectations.

Izolda initially turned me off with her “not like other girls” vibes. After inadvertently volunteering to become Bluebeard’s sixteenth human bride, I understood her fascination with him, but I didn’t quite get when those feelings became romantic. Especially since the curse prevented Izolda and Bluebeard from speaking to each other, it was hard to get a sense of their romance without the kind of banter I love in fantasy romances.

Bluebeard is a very dark fairy tale, but I don’t think the gruesome nature of the source material blended well with the later whimsical elements like giant salamanders and walking houses. The Wittenbrand are very similar to Holly Black’s fae in The Cruel Prince, but I don’t think Wilson blended the darker and lighter sides of the fae quite as successfully.

One of my biggest issues is the length. At 311 pages, it’s short for a fantasy book, and some details really needed to be fleshed out. I was left with so many questions about the curse, the magic system, and the romance. I understand that this is the first book in a series, but I needed at least some of my questions answered to convince me to continue the series. I also think the writing could’ve used another round of polishing; some of the metaphors did not make sense. I am curious about what happens next, but with so many other books I want to read, I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to the sequels.

ARC Review: Misrule by Heather Walter

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: Misrule
Author: Heather Walter
Series: Malice Duology #2
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC
Length: 459 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Recommended for fans of: dark fairy tale retellings, Maleficent
Content Warnings: violence, war, death, grief, xenophobia

SYNOPSIS

Does true love break curses or begin them? The dark sorceress of “Sleeping Beauty” reclaims her story in this sequel to Malice.

“Fans of reimagined fairy tales and LGBTQ+ themes will be delighted with the conclusion of this fantasy duology.”—Booklist (starred review)

The Dark Grace is dead.

Feared and despised for the sinister power in her veins, Alyce wreaks her revenge on the kingdom that made her an outcast. Once a realm of decadence and beauty, Briar is now wholly Alyce’s wicked domain. And no one will escape the consequences of her wrath. Not even the one person who holds her heart.

Princess Aurora saw through Alyce’s thorny facade, earning a love that promised the dawn of a new age. But it is a love that came with a heavy price: Aurora now sleeps under a curse that even Alyce’s vast power cannot seem to break. And the dream of the world they would have built together is nothing but ash.

Alyce vows to do anything to wake the woman she loves, even if it means turning into the monster Briar believes her to be. But could Aurora love the villain Alyce has become?

Or is true love only for fairy tales?

MY THOUGHTS

100 years after the events of Malice, Alyce reigns the ruins of the former kingdom of Briar as Mistress of the Dark Court. She and her wicked allies conquer the Fae Courts one by one until only the High Court remains. Will ending the war bring about the new age that Alyce and Aurora once dreamed of? Or will senseless hate and killing bring about more of the same?

I loved reading about all the different creatures that made up the Dark Court. I was here for the villainy, dark side fashion, and lovers to enemies vibes. However, I was a bit disappointed in the character development. I expected more character growth from Alyce after a century as Mistress of the Dark Court, yet I found her to be a frustrating combination of stubborn and wishy washy. Her love for Aurora was borderline obsessive, blinded her to the big picture, and led to some repetitive moments.

The story kicked off at an exciting pace, slowed in the middle, but turned around for an epic and emotional ending. I didn’t love this book as much as Malice, but I overall recommend this duology for a unique villain’s perspective.

Review: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Lost Stars
Author: Claudia Gray
Series: Stars Wars Canon Novel
Genre: Science Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Pierce Cravens
Length: 12 hours (551 pages)
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press
Release Date: September 4, 2015
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Star Wars, Defy the Stars
Content Warnings: suicidal thoughts, child abuse, violence, death, grief

SYNOPSIS

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Eight years after the fall of the Old Republic, the Galactic Empire now reigns over the known galaxy. Resistance to the Empire has been all but silenced. Only a few courageous leaders such as Bail Organa of Alderaan still dare to openly oppose Emperor Palpatine.

After years of defiance, the many worlds at the edge of the Outer Rim have surrendered. With each planet’s conquest, the Empire’s might grows stronger.

The latest to fall under the Emperor’s control is the isolated mountain planet Jelucan, whose citizens hope for a more prosperous future even as the Imperial Starfleet gathers overhead…

MY THOUGHTS

This was the first Star Wars novel and first Claudia Gray book I ever read. It’s very sentimental to me, especially since it was one of the first books I read in 2016, the year I got seriously back into reading after college. After rereading, I can confidently recommend it as a great starting point for Star Wars fans wanting to give the books a try. I think it even has appeal for non-Star Wars-loving readers! (but that might just be wishful thinking)

Lost Stars is a classic tropey YA sci-fi/fantasy romance. Childhood friends Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree enroll together at the Imperial Academy to fulfill their dreams of becoming pilots. Thane becomes disillusioned by the Empire’s harsh tactics and flees to join the Rebellion, but Ciena’s belief system, which values loyalty above all, keeps her bound to the Empire. The resulting friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers forbidden romance is *chef’s kiss.*

The story spans the timeline of the Original Trilogy, beginning a few years before A New Hope and ending slightly after Return of the Jedi. The book follows new characters and only requires cursory background knowledge of the movies to understand. I really enjoyed experiencing new perspectives on classic moments from the films and the brief character cameos!

If you at all like Star Wars (and maybe even if you don’t), this book is worth the read!

Review: The Song of the Marked by S.M. Gaither

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Song of the Marked
Author: S.M. Gaither
Series: Shadows and Crowns #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: New Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 512 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: September 17, 2020
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Recommended for fans of: Elise Kova and Danielle L. Jensen
Content Warnings: death of parent, chronic illness

SYNOPSIS

An ancient evil is stirring. The old gods are growing restless. Can she stop the coming storm?

A Devastating Sickness

For decades, the Kethran Empire has been plagued by a strange illness that leaches the very life and soul from its victims.

The Girl Who Survived

Casia is one of the Fade-Marked—one of the few people who caught this sickness and lived. Why she lived is a mystery even to her and the outcast crew of mercenaries she calls her family. It also makes her an intriguing target for the young, enigmatic king-emperor, who claims he wants to work alongside her to find a cure.

Unfortunately, working alongside him also means working with the handsome but infuriating captain of one of the most prestigious branches of the Kethran Army.

A Soldier With No Past

This infuriating Captain Elander also has secrets: A past that Cas can’t seem to uncover, a powerful but strange brand of magic, and a deep distrust of the very monarch that he’s sworn to serve. She feels oddly drawn to him in spite of these things…

But can she really trust him?

The Fate of an Empire

As the bodies pile up and strange monsters begin to wreak havoc throughout the realms, Cas and Elander will have to work together to protect their world whether they trust one another or not. Because one thing is clear: Something ancient and evil is stirring in the shadows of Kethra.

And the empire will not survive its full unleashing.

But how can they save a world where nothing and no one is what they seem to be— including Cas herself?

Return to the unique universe of myth and magic first introduced in the bestselling Serpents and Kings trilogy with this first book in a brand new series—or visit that world for the first time! You do not need to have read any of the Serpents and Kings books to read this one. All you need to enjoy this new series is a love of fierce heroines, epic world building, enemies-to-lovers romance, and breathtaking adventure.

MY THOUGHTS

This is a strong start to a new fantasy romance series! The plot is fast-paced and action packed, full of mystery, scheming, and dangerous secrets. The characters are complicated and lovable. Casia is my favorite kind of strong female protagonist who is passionate, loyal, and willing to bend the rules to protect her found family. As a rare survivor of a mysterious wasting sickness, Cas’s very existence makes her a target.

And you know I am here for the enemies to lovers SLOW BURN. Cas and Elander’s romance is wonderfully angsty with a touch of forbidden.

I found the magic system with gods-blessed powers and crystals a bit confusing and overwhelming at first, but I got the hang of it by the end. Speaking of the end…DID. THAT. REALLY. JUST. HAPPEN?! I need so many answers, and I can see myself falling head over heels for the rest of this series.

Review: How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge by K. Eason

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆
Title: How the Multiverse Got Its Revenge
Author: K. Eason
Series: The Thorne Chronicles #2
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: eARC/Audiobook
Narrator: Nicole Poole
Length: 13 hours (408 pages)
Publisher: Daw Books; Tantor Audio
Release Date: October 27, 2020
Source: eARC from publisher via Netgalley; audiobook from library

SYNOPSIS

Rory Thorne must use the fairy blessings gifted to her to change the multiverse in the second book in this space opera duology.

After avoiding an arranged marriage, thwarting a coup, and inadvertently kick-starting a revolution, Rory Thorne is no longer a princess, but a space pirate.

Her new life is interrupted when Rory and her crew–former royal bodyguards, Thorsdottir and Zhang, and co-conspirator Jaed–encounter an abandoned ship registered under a false name, seemingly fallen victim to attack. As they investigate, they find evidence of vicious technology and arithmancy, alien and far beyond known capabilities.

The only answer to all the destruction is the mysterious, and unexpected, cargo: a rose plant. One that reveals themself to be sentient–and designed as a massive biological weapon. Rose seeks to escape their intended fate, and Rory and her friends must act fast when the attackers return with their superior weaponry.

As the situation gains the attention of an increasing number of alien races, Rory finds herself acting as negotiator and diplomat, in order to save Rose and her friends–and avert an unprecedented war.

MY THOUGHTS

This sequel did not have the charm, wit, humor, or creativity of the original. While How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse blended myriad fairy tales and sci-fi tropes to create something fresh and fun, this space saga involving alien politics and a mysterious super weapon felt uninspired. I still don’t understand arithmancy, the tech-based magic system. The characters felt bland, and the drawn out story just did not hold my attention.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free eARC.

Review: The Saltwater Heir by Cassidy Clarke

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Saltwater Heir
Author: Cassidy Clarke
Series: The Blood and Water Saga #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: New Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 560 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: June 25, 2021
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Recommended for fans of: Sky in the Deep, Six of Crows, Throne of Glass
Content Warnings: chronic illness, fire, alcoholism, confinement, kidnapping, violence, death

SYNOPSIS

Princess Soren of Nyx is no stranger to loss after a decade-long war with the neighboring kingdom of Atlas. But with her best friend slowly succumbing to a cruel Atlas poison, she hatches a reckless plan: kidnap the enemy prince from the battlefield and use his life to barter for the antidote.

But when that prince calls her by a different name…the name of his sister, whose death began the war ten years ago…everything changes.

Stolen away to Atlas, trapped behind enemy lines, Soren must navigate a kingdom she knows nothing about, surrounded by a family she doesn’t remember, and work to hunt down the antidote only Atlas possesses, all while strange memories fight to take over-memories of a different life, a different home, a different girl.

And memories aren’t the only thing awakened by Soren’s return. Dark, forbidden magics begin to stir, threatening both her new life and her old. With death stalking in every shadow, the lost princess must fight harder and sacrifice more than she ever dreamed to save what she holds most dear.

MY THOUGHTS

What a fantastic debut! This book took me by surprise in the best way. Soren is a princess and soldier of Nyx, but when battle brings her face to face with the prince of the rival kingdom Atlas, he recognizes her as his long lost sister Soleil, whose death caused the war to start ten years ago.

The beginning gave me major Sky in the Deep vibes, but imagine if that book had humor? I absolutely love the way the Atlas siblings’ relationships are depicted (shoutout to Finn), and their banter is top notch. Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Soren struggles to remember her past and reconcile conflicting loyalties. Everyone has secrets, and there’s plenty of political scheming and sneaking around. A dark magical threat looms, and powerful forces awaken.

I just loved everything about this book. It had the perfect balance between light and dark moments, between action and introspection. It has just a hint of romance (mostly pining) that still managed to hurt me and will surely play a larger role in future books. The end left me absolutely reeling: crying, screaming, gasping, and oh so excited to see how things play out in book 2!

Review: Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Anatomy: A Love Story
Author: Dana Schwartz
Series: Anatomy #1
Genre: Historical Fiction/Sci-Fi
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 338 pages
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Source: Publisher
Recommended for fans of: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Content Warnings: gore, medical content, sexism, body horror

SYNOPSIS

Edinburgh, 1817. Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

A gothic tale full of mystery and romance about a willful female surgeon, a resurrection man who sells bodies for a living, and the buried secrets they must uncover together.

MY THOUGHTS

I really wanted to love the book. The cover drew me in, and the synopsis sounds right up my alley. I truly admired Hazel’s determination to pursue her education and live independently in an era when women relied so heavily on men for their wellbeing. Some readers might be turned off by the gory and macabre descriptions of surgery and grave robbing in the story, but I thought they contributed to the dark, gothic atmosphere. While the book has romance, the true love story is that between Hazel and her study of anatomy.

However, I had a lot of issues with the plot. I understand that Hazel’s mother was not the most present parent, but I found it unbelievable that a girl of Hazel’s status during the Regency era would be left so totally unchaperoned and free to do as she pleased. In general, there were a lot of very convenient plot points throughout the book that made things too neat and easy for the characters. The book also included an unnecessary and underdeveloped supernatural element.

I liked a lot of things about this book, but overall the pieces didn’t come together in a satisfying way for me. I couldn’t help but compare it to Stalking Jack the Ripper since it gives off very similar vibes, but I thought SJTR worked better. However, a sequel was just announced, and I’m hoping the new setting will allow this concept to live up to its potential.

Thank you to the publisher for the gifted copy.

Review: Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Lord of Chaos
Author: Robert Jordan
Series: The Wheel of Time #6
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Michael Kramer & Kate Reading
Length: 42 hours (1011 pages)
Publisher: Tor
Release Date: October 15, 1994
Source: Library
Content Warnings: kidnapping, confinement, torture, violence

SYNOPSIS

In this sequel to the phenomenal New York Times bestseller The Fires of Heaven, we plunge again into Robert Jordan’s extraordinarily rich, totally unforgettable world:

On the slopes of Shayol Ghul, the Myrddraal swords are forged, and the sky is not the sky of this world …

In Salidar the White Tower in exile prepares an embassy to Caemlyn, where Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, holds the throne — and where an unexpected visitor may change the world …

In Emond’s Field, Perrin Goldeneyes, Lord of the Two Rivers, feels the pull of ta’veren to ta’veren and prepares to march …

Morgase of Caemlyn finds a most unexpected, and quite unwelcome, ally …

And south lies Illian, where Sammael holds sway …

MY THOUGHTS

This was maybe my favorite in the series so far! (although I also really loved book 5) Even though this book is ridiculously long, it didn’t feel as slow as previous books in the series. The worldbuilding and character development were great, with Egwene and Nynaeve stealing the show toward the end. Rand’s journey in this book was his most exciting yet, and the mindblowing ending left me stunned and so excited for the next book.

Review: The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Beauty of Darkness
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #3
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Emily Rankin, Ryan Gesell, Kirby Heyborne, Kim Mai Guest, Ann Marie Lee
Length: 19 hours (684 pages)
Publisher: Henry Holt; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: 2010’s YA fantasy
Content Warnings: misogyny, sexual assault, pregnancy, death of parent, violence

SYNOPSIS

Lia has survived Venda—but so has a great evil bent on the destruction of Morrighan. And only Lia can stop it.

With war on the horizon, Lia has no choice but to assume her role as First Daughter, as soldier—as leader. While she struggles to reach Morrighan and warn them, she finds herself at cross-purposes with Rafe and suspicious of Kaden, who has hunted her down.

In this conclusion to the Remnant Chronicles trilogy, traitors must be rooted out, sacrifices must be made, and impossible odds must be overcome as the future of every kingdom hangs in the balance.

MY THOUGHTS

Wow, just wow. What a STUNNING conclusion to the trilogy. This book is nonstop action, plotting, and betrayal. Lia is a fierce and inspiring protagonist. The way everything came together blew my mind.

My only complaint is that Rafe acted like a controlling jerk for a chunk of the book. I understand that he was adjusting to new circumstances in his life, but the way he treated Lia was not okay! I was fully Team Rafe the first two books, but this made me less sure that he deserves her.

This series had a near perfect ending for all the characters. I especially liked how Pauline’s storyline resolved. I can see why this series is quintessential YA fantasy!

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