"She never thought to have a lover like him. A king, even if he was one in exile. A god, even if he was one who had given up his power."
'Nightborn (The Hollow King Book 2)' by Jessica Thorne is has been one of my most eagerly awaited releases of the year. When I read the first novel in the series 'Mageborn' back in February, I had no idea the kind of need it was going to create in me for more of her world.
In hindsight, I fell absolutely in love with Bastien the moment he graced the pages. I was slower to warm to the other characters, though they're all good.. the villains included. In fact, the villains have pretty nasty tendencies indeed.. even if they don't always get to carry out their thoughts and ideas.
Prince Bastien, the Lord of Thorns, and his lover Grace Marchant fled their home for safer lands. This part of the journey picks up on those distant islands with the Valenti Dowager Queen bargaining with the throne meant for him. As heir to the throne of Larelwynn, she offers him an alliance in exchange for marrying her daughter.
Meanwhile, innocent mageborn are being corrupted and becoming nightborn once thought to be legend, growing dangerously powerful as the Deep Dark spreads. The only way to protect themselves and save the people he's sworn to protect seems to be agreeing to the price the Valenti royal family demands. Though Grace knows the sacrifice is necessary for the good of the kingdom, he's her everything.. and watching it all happen is not easy.
"Her only adornment was the warrant and a sigil threaded on a chain. She wore them like a thread.
If only she'd stop looking like she wanted to murder anyone who so much as glanced their way."
Oh the angst!
While I do miss the constantly annoyed, brooding Bastien from the first book, it's also really good to see him content and it's frustrating how short-lived his happiness always seems to be. Watching as those around his clamor for his power or his name for their own agendas is infuriating. He deserves so much more.
Thorne does such a great job of getting the reader invested because there really is always some nefarious person right around the corner with plans to use him. He's loyal, protective, and will do just about anything for those he considers 'his people' which is a huge weakness with the pit vipers surrounding him.
"Danny had always said Kurt would end up in more hot water than he could handle. Kurt had always told his little brother that he liked his water as hot as possible."
The supporting characters are wonderful. The banter is good, the dialogue is well-written, and frankly.. there's a great sense of humor that sort of permeates their little group. Sarcasm abounds.
I love Misha the Lyric who's loyalty also seems to know no bounds, of course.. he suffered awfully in book one as well and I haven't forgotten. Kurt is a wildcard, always funny, always resourceful, but you never know exactly where he's going to come down on a situation. Ellyn is as stubborn as Grace and that's saying something because I'm pretty sure if you searched the word in Webster's.. there'd just be a picture of her there.
It's definitely a quick-paced page-turner. There's plenty of action, lots of moments that swing wildly back and forth while you wait to see the outcome, and an antagonist that just never stops showing up at the worst possible moments. I despise Asher. Even more than the nasty royals, the man has no morals. He completely lacks any redeeming qualities. I guess.. I could say that for all the villains, they're clear-cut.
"I can throw him over the side, but he'd probably just control the sea and walk after us."
Though Bastien is beautiful and lovely.. he's also (to borrow a phrase from a comedian) a bit of a Princess Peach. I'm not sure I've ever read a powerful male character who gets captured quite so much. He's always being abused by some horrible person or another, manipulated and controlled.. because he does have vulnerabilities. Don't get me wrong, it makes for a great story. It just also makes me want to sweep him away and keep him safe.. which enables me to relate to Grace really easily. At least until she does the same stupid things, albeit for better.. if not good reasons.
Unless you're heartless, you're probably going to go through some tissues. I know I did. Quite a few.. and it started before I even reached the first half of the book.
If you like good fantasy stories with interesting mythos building and magic systems, this is one of my favorites. Be sure to give this series a try. Thorne really knows how to weave a tale and keep you engrossed throughout every page.
Fury of the Gods
THINGS GO WRONG.
Sometimes it’s from a small crack that crumbles the foundations. Sometimes it’s just a string of bad luck that ties into a truly horrific end.
Today was definitely the latter.
I lay on my back and blinked rapidly against the rain pounding down on me and pooling in the crater beneath my spine. My left hand throbbed in agony, broken again. I curled my right hand around it and used my magic to heal the bones. I’d had to do that twice already in this fight alone.
I could hear Selena fighting the Crocotta on the hill above me--alone--after it kicked its cloven hooves into my chest and knocked me down a hill.
Getting close to a Crocotta was never a good idea, but I hadn’t been having many of those lately.
And bad habits were easy to fall into.
Get up, Derek, my internal voice demanded. Have an existential crisis later.
Exactly the kind of thing Liam would have said.
After clasping my wounded hand and swiftly healing it, I rolled onto my stomach. Water soaked through my armor. I grimaced as my bruises throbbed. This Crocotta had not wanted to be disturbed but would settle for us being a late-night snack.
Being devoured by a twisted stag/hyena hybrid was not how I intended to end my day. The cursed thing had imitated a man’s cry for help, and I ran into the Crocotta’s trap without thinking.
Now, my fingers clawed up the slope. The toes of my boots sank into the muck. I slipped my way up, clamping my lips shut so as not to swallow more mud and finally dragged myself to the hilltop.
Everything ached as I took a moment to catch my breath. A moment that ended as soon as I heard the Crocotta scream.
Instinct kicked in and I rolled through the mud as fast as I could. The hooves stabbed down inches from my head, splashing my back with muck.
I twisted to my feet and called Ki̱demónas back to me. The spear responded to my telepathic call and struck my hand a split second later. The monster twisted to face me.
The Crocotta was a ruddy brown stag with patchy fur and a knobby spine. It had a shaggy, lion-like mane and cloven hooves. Its beady black eyes glowered at me and my weapon. Saliva dripped from its frightfully wide mouth, filled with a jagged bone ridge instead of teeth.
It growled, a jagged hitching noise, like a hyena trying to cough. It was amazing—and horrifying—that the same animal could mimic a human voice and even call out names perfectly when they chose to hunt.
Which they did often.
It pounced and I Adapted, sidestepping to the left. I jabbed Ki̱demónas into its hind legs. The Crocotta screeched as the steel tip pierced its thick hide. It twisted, yanking Ki̱demónas from my hands, as its front hooves kicked out. I leaned back and watched the split in its hooves pass my chin.
The Crocotta’s rear leg buckled, causing it to stagger on its right side. Selena snuck out from behind the Crocotta and slashed her kukri along its flank once, twice, three times, doing as much damage as she could.
I couldn’t help but grin, my heart reveling at the graceful, effortless, and brutal way Selena moved.
The Crocotta roared and twisted, kicking at her. She nimbly jumped back and lifted her free hand. Flames spooled out from her palm and struck the Crocotta in the face. As it reared back from the intense heat, Selena darted forward and chopped at its foreleg. It howled and leaped again to catch up with her.
I ran straight for its back.
Selena hurled a blast of fire at the Crocotta. It hunched its shoulder and took the blast against its arm rather than its face. It swiped at her with its hoof. The kick missed her, but it bounded through the mud and rammed its head in her stomach. She toppled backward, striking a boulder before her head slammed hard against the stone. The Crocotta opened its sneering, sliced-open mouth, leaping at her slumped, dazed form––
I Adapted my weight a split second before I slammed into the Crocotta. I made myself heavier and swung into the beast like a wrecking ball. It jolted but I hooked my hand onto the stark ridges in its spine. It wasn’t going to dislodge me; I was ready to end this fight.
The Crocotta wrenched its head left and right, but my magically added weight kept me from rag-dolling against its body. I centered that weight while pressing my back against its rough hide. I jabbed Ki̱demónas into its ear, pushing deep. The Crocotta howled and thrashed, nearly throwing me off. I held on but my grip slipped from the spear. I cursed and filled my free hand with aether. Maybe I’d have luck with the second, more dangerous element.
I swung my aether-filled hand up toward the Crocotta’s face. My palm brushed its bony fangs, leaving a trail of black, corrosive smoke along its snout. The dark magic crawled up its face, the smoky edges digging in like hooks. It howled in agony, twisting guilt into my heart, but I couldn’t let it live. With our friends vanished, Selena and I were each other’s only backup.
The Crocotta roared again, its face now engulfed by the thick black smoke. I sent a command to Ki̱demónas. Burn.
The spear, still embedded in the Crocotta’s ear canal, exploded to life. My flames brushed harmlessly against me. With my free hand, I closed my fingers against the Crocotta’s throat and summoned aether––
My left hand, the one I was using to hold onto the monster, exploded with pain. Invisible glass shards splintered through my flesh. I hissed and let go reflexively. My right hand scrambled to get another hold on its spine, just as the Crocotta kicked me in the side. Pain exploded through my hip and ribs. Something cracked uncomfortably.
Clapping a hand to my side to at least set the rib, I sent another quick thought to Ki̱demónas. The spear tore from the creature’s ear and flipped end over end. Seven feet of bronze and steel stabbed through the monster’s leg. I reached for Ki̱demónas again and watched as the Crocotta closed its ridged, bone-filled mouth over my arm.
Ridged bone crunched down on my elbow, crushing the joint and breaking skin. Blood gushed from the wound. A little more pressure, a little more tearing, and the arm was coming off.
I didn’t think about what I was doing. I slipped my broken left hand up and set it inside the Crocotta’s mouth. I pushed a block of aether into its throat and hardened it in place, cutting off its air. Every push of magic sent waves of pain onto my shattered fingers, but I couldn’t lose my arm.
My left hand turned slippery from saliva and blood. The creature widened its jaws, freeing my right arm. I commanded Ki̱demónas and whip quick, it flipped from my hand and smashed through the Crocotta’s skull, puncturing deep. The monster’s coal-colored eyes rolled into the back of its head. I jumped away from the Crocotta as it collapsed.
I tucked my broken hand into my chest, trying not to think about the jagged pain within it as I looked at the monster. It had fallen on its side, its one undamaged eye glazed and lifeless, and its body entirely still. Even the rain seemed lighter now.
We survived, remained mostly unharmed, and were absolutely filthy. A winning outcome, all things considered.
Selena stumbled through the long grass toward me, one hand pressed against her skull. I covered my left hand with my right––wincing at the pull of raw cuts at the fold of my arm––and healed it again.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” she muttered, wincing when she moved her hand. There didn’t seem to be any blood or swelling, which I was grateful for. She looked more angry than pained. Her eyes turned to me, noting the blood on my arm. “Gods.”
“Looks worse than it feels,” I half-lied.
She hurried over to me and pressed her fingers to my arm just below the wound. It stung, but my arm swiftly filled with soothing, healing magic.
“Thanks. Didn’t expect a Crocotta to be here.” Though to be fair, we’d wandered into the wilds of Yosemite National Park. Artemis’s region. A huge risk for anyone, given how many creatures roamed free in that verdant territory, but more so for me, since Artemis likely wanted me dead for a crime I hadn’t––
My hand splintered again. I hissed.
Finished with my arm, Selena wrapped her fingers around my hand and healed it again. Her eyes flitted to the creature.
I tilted forward slightly to peer into her face, seeing the shadows on it. Her ponytail, soaked and caked in mud, rested heavily against her back. Her pale face glistened under the coat of rainwater, and her silver-blue eyes were just as stormy as the clouds above us. She’d dropped her kukris somewhere and didn’t seem to care about the smears of mud and grime on her neck, chin, and leather combat uniform.
“It’s not here,” she finally muttered. “All of this, crossing paths with a Crocotta that nearly concussed me and almost maimed you, and it’s not godsdamned here.”
It being the Helm of Darkness—the last of the three Trinity Weapons we had been tasked to find by the Olympians. There were still two more Cronus Shards to find, but we figured that finding the Helm took priority. Recovering the last key to Tartarus was the best way to ensure that the mad Titan himself, Cronus, couldn’t escape his prison.
Not that we needed to look anymore, to be honest. I was on the outs with the Olympians. They believed I murdered two of their own: Poseidon and Apollo. Sneaking into Artemis’s territory had been a huge risk—if we were caught, she would have my head on a spike.
Never mind that my forefather had lied to her—possibly even mentioned I was the Bringer of Shadow and Fire, the leader of an army bent on destroying the world when the Titans were released.
Olympians only saw things their way. Half their legends were born from their stubbornness and pettiness. The myths had been true.
But I couldn’t say these things out loud. I could barely think them, because Ares had hexed me. Every time I tried to speak the truth, my left hand would break.
At first, it didn’t seem like a debilitating curse. Painful? Absolutely. I’d had more than a few broken bones in my twenty-five years of life, so I was accustomed to pain and could use magic to heal.
But the hex was changing. My hand would break on its own at completely random times, and that sharp explosion of pain would drastically hinder me in combat. I was ambidextrous, but the pain caused a split second of distraction and hesitation. A split second meant the difference between surviving and maiming. The hex was becoming slow poison putting mine and Selena’s lives in danger.
And I wasn’t the only one who’d been cursed.
Selena had endured a two-thousand-year-old curse because she did not want to bed Apollo. At the time, Selena had been known as Cassandra, Princess of Troy. Not only were her visions doomed to never be believed, but he cursed her with immortality. Everything she Saw became muddled and skewed. It led us into situations like these, where she was certain she had Seen the Helm’s hiding spot, only to be greeted by a hungry Crocotta instead.
Selena blamed herself for the position we found ourselves in, but I never had. How could I, after the choices I had made?
“We’ll find it,” I promised her. We had to, because what else were we going to do? We couldn’t get our friends back, and there was no way to exonerate me, even if I had an extremely powerful Farseer and two goddesses on my side. Zeus’ decrees were law and he would never admit to making a mistake.
Selena’s gaze stayed on my hand, our intertwined fingers. My broken bones were long since healed. I wondered at her thoughts. Before I could ask, she sighed.
“We should go.”
I didn’t argue with her. Since learning about her past and how Athena tricked and betrayed her, Selena had become closed off. It didn’t help that her friends––and mine––were missing. We trusted and cared for each other, but I told her the truth about my feelings. Namely, that I loved her.
We hadn’t spoken about it, and neither of us seemed keen to. We talked as friends, and we didn’t touch unless we had to. When we needed healing or brushed against each other quickly turning around a corridor. I wouldn’t push for anything, either. Finding a way to clear my name and help my captive friends mattered more than finding a girlfriend.
But my memory so often betrayed me, and I thought about those moments back when things had been normal and Selena lived with Liam and me. We’d watched movies until she fell asleep against my chest. She’d curled her fingers around my arms or chest when I stood in the way of something she wanted to reach. She grinned as we sparred, eyes bright with challenge and ambition.
She kissed me to save my life.
I wanted to go back to those things, to feel her comfortable against me, curling my arms around her so we could be closer. I wanted to use my height to tease her until I could kiss her frustration away. I wanted to make her laugh and kiss her for the sake of it, not just because I was charmed or dying.
One day, we’d have to face this question. And if she wanted to remain friends, I would step back.
Right now, I just missed normality. Things were different now between us, distant and unsure, but I could no sooner change my feelings than I could tell the Olympians that Ares was manipulating them.
“Yeah,” I conceded, glancing at my blood- and mud-soaked body. “I’m ready for a shower.”
Selena just nodded and followed me as we trod through the forest, saying little.
It had been this way for three months, both of us silent and moving straight forward, trying not to think about the four people missing from our lives.
The nervous transporter. The wealthy and flirtatious heir to Zeus. The ex-con-turned-sea-goddess. The sharp-witted, loyal little brother.
We hadn’t heard anything about them, making these past three months agonizing. Even my blood bond with Liam remained silent. I only heard updates through Athena’s spies in the Zeus region.
They were alive. But they were with the Council of Clouds.
If anything, they were in more danger than we were.
Fighting monsters was one thing. Fighting gods…?
It would take a miracle to win. And the Olympians rarely traded in miracles.
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'The Jealousy of Jalice' blog tour brought to you by Storytellers On Tour and Jesse Nolan Bailey!
"Darkness covered the forest like a spider's web--insignificant at a casual glance, but fatal to anything trapped within."
'The Jealousy of Jalice' by Jesse Nolan Bailey is a somewhat complex fantasy story about a plot hatched by Annilasia.. an enslaved assassin.. and Delilee.. the royal decoy for the Chieftess of the Unified Tribes.. to spirit the Chieftess away in an attempt to right the wrongs plaguing their people.
Citizens of the Ikaul and Vekuuv tribes and their lands are compromised. Their Chief, The Sachem is at fault. The Realms have been split apart, throwing them all out of alignment. Magic wielders utilize a form of it called aether, but it leaves behind remnants that corrupt and mass genocides have been committed in an effort to stamp out something called The Delirium.
"There was something in the darkness. It dripped of death and violence, two elements permeating the bunker's space. Whatever it was, it wanted her. Needed her."
Bailey wastes no time jumping right into a tense situation. The opening pages see Annilasia sneaking and bluffing her way into The Fortress to meet with Delilee so the pair can begin to carry out their plan. The decoy, intending to stay behind and attempt to keep anyone from discovering the Chieftess has been kidnapped, walks a very fine line indeed. It's apparent from early on that things are so dire for their people, the two are willing to do anything to affect a change.
Delilee is probably the most likable character, as her motivations seem rooted in goodness. She hopes to spare not only their people the suffering they already endure, but also to save the Chieftess.. even if she doesn't realize she needs to be saved.
Annilasia is a bit harder. She has been spared nothing. Enslaved and taught the ways of the tillishu, elite assassins that move like shadows who carry out orders for The Sachem, though she and Delilee were childhood friends with the Chieftess, they've lived through very different experiences. She's brutally efficient, decisive, and not prone to letting her emotions rule her decision making.
I'm going to be honest. I absolutely detested Jalice. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to, but it also never changed for me. I'm relatively sure that was supposed to happen though. I didn't like her whining, pampered behavior and I certainly didn't like who she was as a person. In fact, by the end, I was decidedly rooting for the antagonists and everything else was pretty much upside down anyway.
"Silence. That was the source of her distress. Even amongst the grisly scene, the absence of sound festered."
I can definitely say the plot feels very robust. There are no squandered words and the journey is long. Every moment there is something happening.. a battle, an unexpected ripple in the plan, a soul crushing memory, or a life or death struggle. It's perpetual motion. The story is a machine bearing down on you from behind at all times.
Through dreams and trancelike flashback memories, it's told along a non-linear path by a shifting narrative which moves primarily between the three women and occasionally Hydrim, The Sachem.
There's plenty of gore and violence to keep the fight scenes interesting and lead to some truly gruesome discoveries as we follow their progress. And Bailey definitely isn't afraid to make some hard decisions for his characters.
Certainly, for me.. there didn't need to be quite so much hope, but it was a well told tale that moved at a steady pace and never got dull. I sincerely enjoyed it and look forward to the next book in the series.
"I'm not saying no to you.."
"More like to the sane voice in my head telling me there are a hundred reasons why this is a terrible idea, and only one that makes it right."
I don't read much in the way of standard romance or 'love stories,' so when I came across this title and it happened to center around a culture that is near and dear to my heart, I decided to give it a shot. I try not to limit myself by avoiding any particular genre, but admittedly this is just one that doesn't get my attention easily.
'Island Affair' by Priscilla Oliveras is a very modern tale about a social media influencer named Sara who has had her share of difficulties. Recovering from an eating disorder as her career is starting to really take off, she heads down to Key West for a family vacation following a health scare with one of her parents.
Things with her siblings are complicated at best. They're already hugely successful, having followed in their parents footsteps, which makes her a bit of an outcast. Not only did she not go into the family business, she's also the only one without a settled life and family. She spends a lot of time on the outside looking in.
When her boyfriend tells her he isn't coming, she feels like she's going to be the disappointment again..
Lucky for her, she manages to score a last minute stand-in. A sexy firefighter named Luis Navarro overhears her argument with her boyfriend and asks if he can help. Unfortunately for him.. helping comes by the way of a pretend relationship.
"The sane part of him that had been thinking maybe she'd reevaluate her offer over lunch and together they'd come up with a Plan B shriveled up like the potted plant his mami had saved off his back porch last week. He'd been ready to toss the plant in the trash, but his mom balked. Something about it needing water, food, and conversation. Silly him, he thought he'd bought a fern, not a metaphor for a date."
Luis is absolutely the best character in the book. I love him. I adore him. He deserves everything. He's warm and funny, conflicted and intense. All the things that can make a character irresistible to me.
Coming from a big Cuban family, Luis is a local. Like Sara's family, there's a family business.. but in his case, that's firefighting. Also like Sara's family, there's a deep divide. A fissure born between Luis and his youngest brother that he won't discuss and completely refuses to mend.
He's a mostly soft-spoken, strong, steady guy. Despite the painful betrayal he keeps locked away, he's got a serious savior complex. Even the locals call him Saint Navarro.
Wow.. is he lovely though. He's patient and kind. He doesn't push sensitive topics. Mostly he just let's people get to where they need to be on their own pace.. with a little help along the way. Oh.. he might nudge.. but he doesn't push.
"I don't know how the three of us manage to fit in your truck.."
"You, me, and your ego."
"I'll be here all week. Maybe you can catch my show."
"Ha, I'm in your show, sweetheart. All the...What did you call me? Oh yeah, all the hunky parts."
Looking back.. I did like Sara most of the time, despite the character being a bit of a Barbie wrapped in a cliche. She's inherently a good person at least.. and she's fallible. She's also willing to own her mistakes, which you've got to respect.
It was enjoyable watching them try to navigate the untruths while also trying to avoid people who knew him in the area.. because that was impossible.. and left them quite the balancing act.
What I loved about the story though was that regardless of the imperfections in them.. they seemed really good for each other. Both Luis and Sara grew and benefitted from the other's presence.. and even with the lies they were telling.. their good intentions were so genuine.
If you're looking for a light romantic story with a good sense of humor, you'll enjoy this book. There are a couple of tear-jerking moments, but that just gave the story broader depth.
Zinnia – Age Nine
Tucking my unicorn comforter under my chin, I come to a big decision.
Naptime is for losers.
I may only be nine—well, almost ten—but I know one thing: there are way too many rules for dragon princesses like me. For starters, we’re supposed to take naps every bleeding afternoon. No way. Napping is for babies. That’s why I’m sneaking out today to see my best friend, LT.
Twisting under my covers, I check out my bedroom. There are pink curtains, white furniture, and the royal crest of Furonium over the door. My parents rule all the dragon shifters, so that crest-thingy hangs everywhere. My sisters, Kaps and Huntress, lie in their bunk beds across the room. So you know, my family stays in human form most of the time. No dragon caves for us, thank you very much. Those places have bats.
Squinting, I look at my sisters more closely. Are they really out of it? Can I sneak away? Like always, Kaps lays half-off the top bunk. Wisps of brown hair hang over her mouth, blowing in and out with her snores. I shake my head.
Even asleep, my twin is noisy.
Meanwhile, Huntress rests curled up on her side. Her shoulders rise and fall silently. Huntress never lets out a sound, even when she’s snoozing.
That settles it.
Both my sisters are totally zonked.
Time to go.
"There's no hiding from life, just as there is no hiding from death."
'Seven Endless Forests' by April Genevieve Tucholke is a standalone companion to a 2018 title called 'The Boneless Mercies.' It's an interesting retelling of the legend of King Arthur.. melded with distinctly Norse influences, though here they're called the Vorse, and featuring a strong female lead instead of Arthur.
A destructive plague wipes out most of Torvi's family. Only she and her sister Morgunn survive. When Morgunn is stolen away by a Fremish wolf-priest who bears the name Uther, our main character begins her quest to save the only family she has left.
Joined by a magic wielding, shaven-skulled druid named Gyda who seeks a mythical sword lodged in a cursed tree, the two quickly stumble across a group roaming artists called the Butcher Bards. The group already on a quest of their own, accompanies the two girls.
"I put my palm to chest and pressed in, as if I could hold the shards of my heart together by sheer force."
Along their path, they meet many more unique groups. Sea witches, mystical Drakes who trade in magic readings and young men, a mysterious black tower in a forest corrupted by dark spells, a pack of bold Vorseland Quicks.. archers that hunt the wolves, Fremish wizards who deal only in trades that may be too costly, rogue Jade Fell children, and even a Pig Witch converge with them here and there. There's much more that I haven't mentioned, plenty of difficult trials and unexpected turns.
Each magic system is relatively distinctive, though the author doesn't go into them too deeply. The scenes of conflict are vividly described and memorable. There is love and loss, joy and tragedy, and Tucholke is not afraid to kill a character.. so be prepared. The adventure is grand.. they travel for weeks, there's extensive character and story development, and a lot to experience before you reach the end.
"Quick moves, quiet blades--this is the way of the Bards."
The writer is gifted. In the early pages when the plague kills those around Torvi, while we never really meet the boy she's in love with.. as he's already dead, she does such a good job of conveying the longing and sense of loss the Vorse girl feels for him, I found myself saddened at his passing too. In the small ways she remembers him.. honors him.. it feels like we've met him.. and I could feel the hole in her life he left behind.
While not everything I hoped for happened in the novel, the decisions the author made still felt right. My hopes were based on the emotions she created in me during the read and she's a bit fearless in not always giving into those hopes she must know we have.
"You are part of our family now. Our success is your success. We are one."
I loved the way she wove the Norse legends and mythologies together with the King Arthur tales. It felt original and elegant. The female characters were strong, but not overdone to the point they felt more like caricatures of strength. Their doubts and weaknesses.. their missteps.. felt natural.
If you enjoy medieval tales, Norse mythology, Vikings, Druids, and classic magic.. this book is for you. I enjoyed it so much, I'll be seeking out other titles from Tucholke in future.
That's what I get now when I re-read the synopsis for 'These Women' by Ivy Pochoda.
When I first came across this story, I was certainly intrigued. In life, I've said tearful goodbyes to my share of 'the lost,' which is how I see the many I feel are sadly overlooked. As is true with the characters in this book, the lost can come from any demographic.. from any lifestyle.. from any past or future. Tragedy doesn't pick and choose.. deciding on some mystical idea of a deserving few. That's a uniquely human trait. To see the worst occur and blame the victims.
Told from the perspective of several women, this shifting narrative gives the reader a glimpse of what it's like to walk in each woman's proverbial shoes. Outwardly, it tells a story about a gruesome string of murders spanning two decades, and those whose lives are rocked by them.
It doesn't cease with the victimization of the murders, but rather expands to include the unstated victims as well. Those orbiting the women who are killed.. family, friends, neighbors, police.. even the murderer and their circle of influence.
Inwardly, it's about much more. It's about the minimalization of women. Not just in death, but in life and not in an overblown, sensationalistic way either.. though, that's here too. In the little things.. like the way sometimes it's assumed our perspective just isn't true. In the ways not only outsiders can push us down, but sometimes those we see as friends.. who opt instead to leverage us for their benefit. Though it's not just a women's issue, the act of tearing each other down, isn't exclusive to us. In my personal experience, it can at least seem like we do it much more than men.
I was deeply moved by each of these stories, the misrepresentations, the misunderstandings, the darkness you can see coming a mile away.. but can't seem to move out of. And that's what it's like in some cases. I had a friend in junior high.. who was often out on her own with other kids in her situation. Her parents were more involved in themselves than her. Despite appearances, to a degree I suppose that was the case for all of them, but her details I knew well.
She had a warm, wonderful nature. When she wasn't at school or hanging out with friends, she actually volunteered at an animal shelter. When she and her friends were hurt and she died, there was of course an outpouring of grief, but there was also a lot of finger pointing going on. To me, it's never "their own fault" that something horrible happens. Some lifestyles may put people at higher risk simply because of accessibility, but that doesn't mean they're to blame.
Pochoda did an amazing job of taking these separate threads and slowly, methodically twining them together. Each woman's journey seemed to circle an unseen and magnetic core, spiraling ever closer both to that center and to one another, and the inevitable collision was grand.
Admittedly, I definitely saw the reveal coming early on, but it also never felt important. The killer didn't feel like the motivation for the story at all. The women did. And their stories were the journey.. the best part. I never felt short-changed because I knew who was going to be responsible. I wanted to understand how we were going to get there. I wanted to know why.
What's captured so beautifully in this novel, are the emotional effects of circumstance. Trauma and loss, of course.. but also the slow death of dreams, the peek beneath the illusions crafted around us, the lies we tell ourselves and other people, and the preconceived notions we might have.. walking into any situation.
The novel is gripping and I didn't want to put it down. Ivy Pochoda is an author to watch and I highly recommend you pick up her book if you like mystery, drama, or suspense. 'These Women' is easily one of the best books I've read this year. I look forward to seeing much more from her.
"One dress. Five rules."
'Crown of Gold' by Isabella August is a wonderful little prequel novella, Book 0 in the Faerie Lords Series, that takes place just prior to 'Crown of Frost' and gives us a glimpse of some of the characters we'll come to know there. It also gives us a little overview as to the structure of alliances and where the battle lines are drawn amongst the Lords.
Though we do see some familiar faces.. Pallid Valentine, the Lady of Illusions, Lord Blackfrost.. not everyone is quite the way they'll become yet.
This story focuses on the Lady's Warlock, Ezra, and a human investigator named Nicole. Ezra, known in fae circles simply as Wraith, strikes a deal with Nicole in hopes of getting her help to steal a valuable prisoner from the Lord of Coins during a dangerous ball in his neighboring realm. If they succeed, the soul he sold to the Lady years before, will be his once more.. freeing him to live an untethered mortal life again.
If they fail.. well, they'll probably both be dead and none of it will matter much at all.
As can be expected from the pair of writers who work under the single pseudonym, August's tale.. while brief, is no less vibrant.
"Breakfast is god...........
I'm here to worship."
So this is where you go on Sundays, is it?"
Ezra is a lovely character, cool on the surface.. though this seems as much to be a common survival instinct in the fae lands. Beyond that casual exterior, lies a great deal of warmth and sweetness that's as obvious in his affectations as his words. He's formal and positively adorable, but he's definitely capable of some snark and I loved every minute of it.
Nicole is on the sarcastic side. She's funny though. She's someone you can see yourself hanging out with, as long as the people you hang out with are also prone to having itchy trigger fingers and trust issues. She's very likeable and even when she's fretting about whether or not she's trusting the wrong person, she draws back from her personal experiences with them and tries to give the benefit of the doubt. Things haven't always been great, but she means well.
The protagonists, the creepy Lord of Coins and his Warlock, Midas.. are just as richly textured. Immediately, I didn't like either of them. The writer always has a way of presenting them even before you get to know them, that just raises your hackles. You're just like.. okay.. this one feels like bad news.
Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"I suspect that list to be vanishingly short."
You can't have a fae story without some unexpected complications and August always does a fantastic job of complicating the characters' lives. I enjoyed watching Nicole work out how to handle things as they came up, she thinks well on her feet and that's a trait I have to assume she shares with the writers who shaped her.
I'm thoroughly absorbed in this world they've created. I love the idea of the Hedge which sits in the center of their world bordering the various realms, affected by each wherever it comes up against them, and with dangers all its own. I love the way each Lord's realm is distinctly different, from their magic and how it works to the look and feel of the realm itself.
Since there's a fifth book on the way, I'm going to have to hustle and get caught up. Books 2-4 await and I don't want to miss a thing!
WANT TO TRY OUT 'CROWN OF GOLD' AND SEE WHY I LOVE THIS SERIES AND THIS AUTHOR DUO SO MUCH? HEAD OVER TO THE WEBSITE AND SIGN-UP FOR THE NEWSLETTER TO GET YOUR COPY NOW!
[TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on 'Alpha Erased' blog tour brought to you by Xpresso Book Tours, Ink Monster Books, and Aileen Erin!
I've been wanting to read 'Alpha Erased (Alpha Girls Book 9)' by Aileen Erin for months. Literally since the cover was unveiled, it grabbed my attention and the synopsis sounded incredibly tense.
According to the blurb, the story is about Tessa, a twenty-one year old girl who's part witch and part werewolf, but 100% the unofficial leader of a supernatural alliance known as 'The 13.'
The group basically spends their nights fighting off everything bad-- vampires, fey, demons, you name it. Initially, that's where we find them, waking up to a battle. But after the end of what seems to be more of a minor skirmish, she gets a desperate call from her brother, Axel. Then she, her mate Dastien, and a couple others go tearing off to try to save him.
Faced with an impossible choice, Tessa sacrifices herself to save those she loves. Dastien hears her urgent plea for him to save her brother and then their bond goes dark. Absolutely silent. She's gone and there's no sign of her kidnappers.
"I didn't know how or when, but I would find her. If not in this life, then I'd find her in death."
Unable to hear her or feel her along their connection, nearly half of the book focuses on the quest to locate her. Considering a lengthy amount of time passes in the story, this makes sense, but it's also a bit dull to read. Mostly pages filled with self-loathing and self-pity on her mate's part, though it's understandable, along with the process of trying to seek out answers.. it just dragged a bit.
With all the chasing around they had to do, I think it could have been really interesting. The book is definitely padded though. Erin loves to repeat herself. In some cases, I know what she was doing. She was trying to show Dastien obsessing over what he could have done differently and what might yet happen. In other cases, it was literally restating parts of phrases in reverse.
"She'd just disappeared as if she never existed.
But she did."
"The night seemed to go on forever, but it didn't."
"She looked like a stranger staring at me, but she wasn't."
It'd be easy enough to excuse once or twice, but it's a frequently occurring problem for me throughout the book. I found myself gritting my teeth with each additional occurrence.
That's not to say the book is bad, it really isn't. Her structure is fine and from a conceptual aspect it's quite interesting.
When Dastien is finally reunited with Tessa, there's no recognition of him in her eyes. He can't feel her magic or her wolf beneath the surface either. It's as if everything about her has been removed or locked away.
Once these two meet up again, near the halfway mark in the novel.. that's where the story begins to evolve. Watching him struggle with how to help her, how to keep her safe.. that kept my focus. The magic involved to change Tessa like that was unique. I enjoyed the creativity Erin showed in making that work.
There were some good quotes too. Some funny moments and supporting characters with lots of potential. Van, one of the fey helping them, and Samantha.. a magic user, were both integral in helping me connect to the story.
"Right. So, maybe don't growl at me. Or at least don't bite me, okay? I've got enough problems to worry about without being all furry and s***."
Admittedly, for a USA Bestselling author on the ninth book in a series, it wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for. I'd like to see her expand on her descriptive writing and get outside her character's heads a bit, but it still moved me. Dastien's suffering was hard to watch at times, but I'm glad I was there to bear witness.
"I've always loved this volatile quality that magic has. This ability to create meaning and defy meaning. To be real and not real. That's how it feels when you're waiting for your life to start and yet somehow, impossibly, having to live it at the same time." -- Andrew Eliopulos
It's strange, give me a book and tell me there's a sorcerer in it.. and I'm all about it. Normally though, if instead you swap that word out for magician, I'm going to reflexively just make a face and hesitate. I don't know why.
In my head a magician is a performer and while I enjoy a good magic show as much as the next person, I really don't usually want to read a book or watch a film about it. There have been exceptions, of course. Both The Prestige and The Illusionist were great films and I loved them, but I'm hard pressed to think of a single book until this year that has labeled magic wielders as magicians, that I've actually been interested enough to read.
That being said, since I've gone back to reviewing.. and this time with books, I've required myself to keep an open mind.. to try concepts I might normally skip when my reading time is more limited.
'The Fascinators' by Andrew Eliopulos is a story about 'magickers' that I didn't even bat an eye at before deciding I needed to read it. From the synopsis alone, I knew I had to go on this adventure. There's something even about the cover that for me radiated late summer/early fall friendships and an 'us against the world' feeling. It made me think of Breakfast Club and Goonies.. even Stranger Things a little bit.
"If you've ever cast a spell alone in your room in the dark, wishing you were somewhere--or someone--else, this book is for you." -- Andrew Eliopulos (Dedication)
Sam, our protagonist, lives in a small town where pretty much everything marks you as an outcast. Magic, religious beliefs, sexual preferences.. anything that doesn't align with the majority of the community is frowned upon. He's got two best friends, James and Delia, that he's counting on to see him through his senior year.
Though the three teens have been friends for ages, early on the group starts to splinter. Sam is having confusing feelings for James, Delia is finding their amateur magic club disappointing, and new elements are at play.. causing rifts between them.
Turns out that over the summer, James also got mixed up with some shady magic users and that's making everyone's lives difficult too. Difficulties that even magic can't fix.
"(His mom always countered that his relationship with James was less like a fire and more like Schrodinger's cat, and Sam was just afraid to open the box to find out whether it was alive or dead.)"
I have to tell you, Sam is just the sweetest boy. He's tormented by his feelings and by the pressure of not fitting in.. even in places where that was never the case for him before. I found myself genuinely hoping for him to find love and happiness.
Dynamically, the group evolves quite a lot from the start to the finish of the novel and though I wasn't always pleased with the actions of every character, I felt satisfied with the results of their choices. I enjoyed watching them evolve. Their dialogue feels very natural, in some cases it's filled with easy banter and in others, the discomfort is like a physical thing between them. The funny moments really stand out, they're not rare.. but they are fabulous.
"Mary Ellen's has the best biscuits and gravy you have ever eaten or will ever eat. It's like gravy soup with biscuit croutons. It's like a gravy landslide over biscuit city."
"I'm not sure you're convincing me by comparing the food to a natural disaster."
"It's like a natural disaster that's making way for a better civilization."
"Wow, Sam. Didn't peg you for a kill-all-humans type, but I guess we all have our dark sides."
The magic itself, is fairly wide-ranging.. though most of what we see is elemental in nature, magic also surprisingly, doesn't play that much of a role in the scenes. It's a major part of the story, but the scenes are really all about the group and how the magic they use changes their circumstances and their core beings.
Honestly, I can easily say I loved this book. It's fun, but not too light-hearted. The relationships are warm, but imperfect. And even the parents vary from dismissive and narrow-minded to supportive and loving. I feel like it's easy to see the paths each character is set on and how they become who they are.
What a great story..