ARC & Audio Review: Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe

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Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.

But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.

When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.

Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a really interesting reading experience. I was ready to give up on it really fast because it seemed to be setting up a very very typical YA love triangle with a villain-who’s-actually-good and a bad-boy-who’s-really-bad. I kept reading though, because I felt for Mae, who has spent her whole life on an island sort of on the outside of this very rich family. And it’s very well-written, which helped.

And then… everything flipped. And flipped again. I spent most of the book trying to figure out who is actually the good guy. My thoughts were like “Is he the good guy? Is he the good guy? Is there a good guy? You know what, these are all terrible people, why does Mae want anything to do with them? Oh ho, now Mae is a terrible people, what? Is… is there anyone on this island with even the tiniest redeeming quality?”

I couldn’t look away from the scheming and the backstabbing and the betrayals and the lies. It was like the Great Gatsby in that way. They’re all rich and terrible but you can’t look away.

And even after that, after all the darkness and lies, a whole new level of darkness and lies is reached. It was impressive, actually, that my opinion of these people could sink any lower. There is a tiny hint of redemption for some of them at the end, which is good because otherwise I would have come away with a very bitter taste in my mouth and might not have liked this book very much at all. As it is, yeah. You know, I really did enjoy it.

Also. That ending! That is a gutsy place to end a book, especially one that seems to be a standalone. And it’s also absolutely the right choice, because I’ve thought about it way more than I would have if the scene had gone on another few seconds and I think I like it more than I would have otherwise.

I have not read the Tempest, which I know this is a re-imagining of, but I don’t think that really impacted my enjoyment of this story. It definitely has Great Gatsby vibes, but again, I don’t think you need to be familiar with that story to read it. Just don’t write it off early on, because it does a great job of twisting that love triangle trope.

The audiobook performance was excellent. The narrator did a great job giving all the characters believable voices and acting out the story. I read a portion of the story and listened to a portion of it and I definitely enjoyed the listening experience more because it was so well done. It was like a movie playing out in my mind, seamless and totally immersive. I would definitely recommend getting the audio for the best reading experience.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and MacMillan Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

We arrived at lunch with the bones of a plan. Actually, the bones of three different plans, which, combined, were not quite enough for a full skeleton.

I wished I could make him feel something other than rage. I wanted to make him smile.

ARC Review: Dark Breakers by C.S.E. Cooney

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Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

NEW FROM WORLD FANTASY AWARD WINNER C. S. E. COONEY

A young human painter and an ageless gentry queen fall in love over spilled wine—at the risk of his life and her immortality. Pulled into the Veil Between Worlds, two feuding neighbors (and a living statue) get swept up in a brutal war of succession. An investigative reporter infiltrates the Seafall City Laundries to write the exposé of a lifetime, and uncovers secrets she never believed possible. Returning to an oak grove to scatter her husband’s ashes, an elderly widow meets an otherworldly friend, who offers her a momentous choice. Two gentry queens of the Valwode plot to hijack a human rocketship and steal the moon out of the sky.

DARK BREAKERS gathers three new and two previously uncollected tales from World Fantasy Award-winning writer C. S. E. Cooney that expand on the thrice-enfolded worlds first introduced in her Locus and World Fantasy award-nominated novella DESDEMONA AND THE DEEP. In her introduction to DARK BREAKERS, Crawford Award-winning author Sharon Shinn advises those who pick up this book to “settle in for a fantastical read” full of “vivid world-building, with layer upon layer of detail; prose so dense and gorgeous you can scoop up the words like handfuls of jewels; a mischievous sense of humor; and a warm and hopeful heart.”

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this collection of connected stories, and I am very much looking forward to reading Desdemona and the Deep now.

The writing is absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous. It was challenging at first, a bit of a tangle, and then as I read it opened up and I fell in love with it. With Athe and the Valwode, humans and gentry and goblins, and doors that open at midnight and art that can change the world.

The characters were so layered and intriguing, so interconnected, and it was a joy to come to know them.

There was honestly nothing I would change about it – a rare thing – and I am hereby adding CSE Cooney’s name to my list of favorite and must-read authors.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Mythic Delirium Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

They stood together on that liminal platform between second floor and first, and peered over the bannister into the main hall below.

“That same sandpaper tongue, that flays as it licks.”

Gideon did not like people touching him unexpectedly — or at all, really. But for some reason, sometimes, he suffered Elliot’s touch. Elliot did not know why. And he would never, for all the gentry gold in the Veil, ask.

A half-smile from Gideon was about as resistible as a riptide. Elliot returned a shy one of his own.

A little water, after all, might quench thirst — but a little more would drown you.

But she must be careful. Too much, too fast, all at once, all the time: that was Athe.

Illusionist artists painted ceilings that looked like skies — just to remind you that they were ceilings.

But sometimes, sometimes, Nyx the Nightwalker, Queen of the Valwode, ruler of the unruly gentry, exerted herself to dream a little fragrance into her life, just to delight her own dreaming self — even at the cost of a riot.

But Nyx was no longer young and stupid — which made her different from all the other perpetually young and stupid gentry…

He sounded practiced, patient, wise, and anciet.

She frowned at him in peeved admiration. That he dared use that voice on her! Did he imagine Nyx to be one of his unbaked human dough balls, his piglets, his caterpillars, come romping through his halls for an education? Watch her tell him her true name — all of it — pronounced by a bolt of thunder across the whole of the Valwode sky, and see if he survived it!

But she nodded. She trusted him to do what he did best — and to re-make her, so that she might re-make the world.

And perhaps, Ana thought, that very feeling of ridiculousness was part of what made the walls between worlds. The fear of humiliation, of talking nonsense, of babbling of things unseen and worlds unknown.

“Mortal children may learn these things. But they forget. Or they do not believe. But you — you, Ana — when you speak, you are retelling the World Flower into being; you are paving the way for Ymbglidegold!”

All Ana had to do was readjust a lifetime of perception. All she had to do was think of them, not as stories, as histories. Nixie’s personal memories

ARC & Audiobook Review: Lord of Pleasure by Erica Ridley (Rogues to Riches #2)

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Publication Date: May 2, 2017

Synopsis:

Never fall in love at a masquerade…

Nondescript “good girl” Miss Camellia Grenville only ever opens her mouth when forced to sing at her family’s musicales. That is, until the night she infiltrates the ton’s most scandalous masquerade ball on behalf of her sister, and finds herself in the arms—and the bed—of the one man she’d sworn to hate.

Irresistibly arrogant and unapologetically sensuous, infamous rake Lord Wainwright always gets his way. When he accepts a wager to turn his rakish image respectable in just forty days, he never anticipates falling for an anonymous masked lover…or that discovering her identity would destroy them both.

In the Rogues to Riches historical romance series, Cinderella stories aren’t just for princesses… Sigh-worthy Regency rogues sweep strong-willed young ladies into whirlwind romance with rollicking adventure.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was delightful. I had to suspend disbelief a little at the idea that you could spend so much time with someone while masked and they’d have no idea who you were unmasked. But it did make for a lovely story so I forgave it.

I love how Camellia and Lord Wainwright are both playing roles for society. She’s a mouse and a wallflower, he’s ‘the lord of pleasure,’ while neither is really that. Really, one wonders how Lord Wainwright’s reputation got so out of hand. But in secret, they’re much more alike than it would seem. They make a wonderful couple, giving one another strength and courage to be on the outside who they are on the inside.

Camellia and her sisters were determined and outspoken and a joy to watch interact. I hope we get more of them in future novels in this series.

There were just the right amount of obstacles and drama to make it a delicious read and make the happy ending that much more enjoyable.

The audiobook narrator did an excellent job and a very pleasant listening experience. I’ll be continuing the rest of this series in audio and then seeking out more of her narrations.

*Thanks to Erica Ridley for providing a copy for review.

Historical Romance ARC DNF Reviews

The Rake Gets Ravished by Sophie Jordan (The Duke Hunt #2)

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Publication Date: February 22, 2022

Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan returns with an all new sizzling historical romance in her Duke Hunt series about a woman determined to reclaim her family home from the dangerously handsome owner of London’s most popular gaming hell.

The owner of London’s most popular gaming hell, wealthy and powerful Silas Masters is feared by men and desired by women—except Mercy Kittinger. When the blackguard wins her family home in a game of cards, Mercy steals into Silas’s rooms, intent on destroying the proof. But things don’t go to plan…

She would have her way with him…

Caught in the act, Mercy must be bold to save herself… even if it means seducing the dangerous rogue and then disappearing with the dawn, debt voucher in hand. Safe at home and determined to settle back into her quiet, uneventful life, Mercy burns at the memory of her night spent ravishing the most compelling man she’d ever met. Thank goodness she’ll never see him again!

He didn’t see her coming…

No one trifles with Silas Masters. Even if he could forget the dark-haired seductress who undid him, he can’t allow anyone to steal from him. He will hunt down the sultry woman who haunts his dreams and show her just how sweet payback can be.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This was disappointing. I love a good regency romance, but good is the operative word here. The premise looked interesting, but as it progressed I became more and more convinced that it was not for me. The idea that Mercy would have had no romantic relationships and yet have extensively studied her brother’s erotic literature collection and be ready and willing to put that study to use stretches plausibility. But I could have forgiven that if the writing style hadn’t grated so.

We have such phrases as “he husked” — which I take it means his voice was husky, not that he suddenly started husking corn. Even that I could have forgiven.

However. Then I encountered this sentence: “Those unfurling lips were like a forest on a moonless night, with all kinds of magic humming below the surface, out of sight, but real and present.” And that’s where I decided my time could better be spent elsewhere. Sails unfurl. Large pieces of cloth unfurl. While lips miiiiiiight be described as “furled” I have never seen them described as “unfurling.” Not to mention the rest of that ridiculous sentence.

Not for me. If you like overly flowery and slightly strange similes, or can forgive them more easily than I, then you might enjoy this book very much. I care about writing style too much to do so.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon for providing an e-arc for review.


Say You’ll Be My Lady by Kate Pembrooke (The Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair #2)

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Publication Date February 22, 2022

Synopsis:

Opposites attract in this irresistible Regency romance, where a proper gentleman who lives by the ton‘s rules and a lady who lives to break them try to resist one another—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton series.

Lady Serena Wynter doesn’t mind flirting with a bit of scandal—she’s determined to ignore society’s strictures and live life on her own fiercely independent terms. These days, she chooses to pour her passions into charitable causes with the vibrant group of ladies in her Wednesday Afternoon Social Club. But there is one man who stirs Serena’s deepest emotions, one who’s irresistibly handsome, infuriatingly circumspect, and too honorable for his own good…

Charles Townshend, former boxer and consummate gentleman, worries Serena’s reckless nature will earn her the ton’s scorn…or put her in serious danger. Though Charles isn’t immune to the attraction between them, a shocking family secret prevents him from ever acting on his desires. But it seems Lady Serena doesn’t intend to let his penchant for propriety stand in the way of a mutually satisfying dalliance.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This book was disappointing. It started with a conversation between a group of ladies at an unconventional ladies’ club. Which… should have been interesting. But it was so. Boring. Mostly because we have no sense of who any of these ladies are? There’s a name and some insipid comments to another name and… They’re not really discussing anything of substance and it goes on. And on.

The same sort of thing keeps happening. We get the introduction of the Hero and … yet another boring conversation with a lot of words that say very little. I started to skim about there and nothing really changed — the book seems to rely very heavily on long-winded telling and absolutely no showing. Nothing about it snagged my interest.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review and Blog Blitz: A Perfect Equation by Elizabeth Everett

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Publishing Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

How do you solve the Perfect Equation? Add one sharp-tongued mathematician to an aloof, handsome nobleman. Divide by conflicting loyalties and multiply by a daring group of women hell-bent on conducting their scientific experiments. The solution is a romance that will break every rule.

Six years ago, Miss Letitia Fenley made a mistake, and she’s lived with the consequences ever since. Readying herself to compete for the prestigious Rosewood Prize for Mathematics, she is suddenly asked to take on another responsibility—managing Athena’s Retreat, a secret haven for England’s women scientists. Having spent the last six years on her own, Letty doesn’t want the offers of friendship from other club members and certainly doesn’t need any help from the insufferably attractive Lord Greycliff.

Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff cannot afford to make any mistakes. His lifelong dream of becoming the director of a powerful clandestine agency is within his grasp. Tasked with helping Letty safeguard Athena’s Retreat, Grey is positive that he can control the antics of the various scientists as well as manage the tiny mathematician—despite their historic animosity and simmering tension.

As Grey and Letty are forced to work together, their mutual dislike turns to admiration and eventually to something… magnetic. When faced with the possibility that Athena’s Retreat will close forever, they must make a choice. Will Grey turn down a chance to change history, or can Letty get to the root of the problem and prove that love is the ultimate answer?

About the Author:

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her series is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoyed this book. It has the classic enemes-to-lovers thing going for it as well as a hero and heroine who have put up some pretty strong walls around their hearts and have a lot of soul-searching to do before they can be together in a healthy way.

I loved the concept of Athena’s Retreat as a haven for female scientists, though I thought they really could have used more page time. A lot of them were glossed over so much that it was hard to keep track of them. There was a lot of opportunity for representation among them but it was all so minor it didn’t add up to much. However, it is possible they had more page time and development in the first book. Even so, more page time in this book would have balanced a very Letty and Grey heavy story.

I loved Letty’s family and that rather than toss her out for her mistake they simply retrench around her. I wish they’d had more page time. Sam and his ability to sell anything was a lot of fun.

I really loved Grey’s boyish moments when he lets his control slip enough to actually express emotion. Especially when Milly and Willy show him sodium’s exothermic reaction (explosion).

I loved Winthram and how they all accepted him as a man without question despite him being trans. I can’t speak to how it was handled in the first book as I haven’t read it yet, but I really liked his treatment in this one.

Grantham was amusing and could have used more page time. I’m definitely looking forward to his book next.

The villains were not as villainous as they first appeared and I appreciated that they weren’t cartoonishly evil. Nevin definitely did not make me like him very much until his decent act at the end. It was a good choice and definitely showed him as a character who could be redeemed.

There were some things that bothered me, however, in addition to the lack of page time of the members of Athena’s Retreat:

Letty and Grey had too much sexual attraction going. Like they couldn’t have a conversation without having sex somewhere improbable. As the story went on, the time between improbable sex scenes decreased and my enjoyment decreased with it.

For a book about a mathematician, there’s surprisingly little math. Mostly we get visions of Letty’s weird math world inside her head which felt strange. It’s just accepted that to do math you have to zone out and experience the inside of your head as a river with equations floating around in it and then come to and realize you’ve covered a blackboard in equations. It just… didn’t feel like an accurate portrayal, speaking as someone who went to school with a bunch of scientists and mathematicians.

The other scientists’ work was also glossed over and most of what we do see is played for comedic effect. Which is funny but… I feel like they could have shown some of the serious side of science? Not just the escaped tarantulas and bird hats side with some explosions thrown in for good measure?

Letty and Grey’s problems were relatable and made them easy to root for however, and their banter and eventual getting together were very romantic and made for excellent reading. So, despite my issues with it I did very much enjoy it.

I would recommend it for fans of Evie Dunsmore’s Bringing Down the Duke (League of Extraordinary Women) series.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Violet colored prettily, and Kneland gave an abrupt nod, in the way men use a gesture to express anything from undying love to polite disinterest.

Grey had seen him laugh on only two occasions — both times after he’d been hit on the head.

Excerpt:

Slipping through the crowd, Letty approached the building as a thin wail rose from the doorway. A beady-eyed man with a pinched mouth and spidery fingers had grabbed the shopgirl by the wrist, halting her escape.

“Don’t bother trying to go to work. We’re shutting this place down until they stop employing women in their factories and hire the men back,” the man said.

A tinkling of broken glass punctuated his threat as someone launched a sign at the ground-floor window of the shop. The atmosphere turned in an instant from hectoring to predatory. With a foreshadowing of violence, the group of individuals molded into a single organism-a dragon ready to pounce on whatever threatened. This monster’s hoard consisted of power rather than gold.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Letty said through gritted teeth, clenching the straps of her heavy reticule in one hand.

“Letty!” Sam called after her. “Letty Fenley, you come back here this instant. I know you don’t listen to me, but for goodness’ sake, will you listen to me?”

Fear set her stomach to churning, but Letty allowed nothing to show on her face. Instead, she stuck her chin out and her shoulders back. Never again would she suffer a man intimidating her into submission, and she’d be damned if she watched this happen to any other woman. As Flavia Smythe-Harrows always said, sexual dimorphism does not excuse bad behavior.

What a pity Letty didn’t have that printed on a banner.

Without benefit of a rival sign, she used what was available in the moment. Swinging her reticule around twice to achieve maximal momentum, Letty brought it down, hard, on the wrist of Beady Eyes.

“You let go of that girl, right now, you weasel-faced, onion-breathed . . .” Letty’s stream of insults was drowned in the crowd’s protest at the sight of their fellow man being assaulted by what someone deemed “half a pint-sized shrew.”

“Half a pint indeed,” Letty shouted back. “I’m less than an inch shorter than the median height for a woman of my weight, based on-Oy, stop waving that sign in my face.”

Before Letty could take another swing at Beady Eyes, the sound of horses whinnying and men shouting from somewhere at the edge of the crowd broke the tension; a decrescendo from taunting voices to garbled protests heralded the arrival of authority. Jumping up for a better look, Letty spied two well-dressed men on horseback.

“On your way,” a clipped, aristocratic voice shouted to the crowd. “Disperse at once.”

The crowd buckled, its mood shifting from dangerous to frustrated. Letty protected the girl as best she could from the sudden shoving around them. Most of her attention, however, fixed on the familiarity of those crisp, clean syllables echoing in the air.

She would know that voice anywhere. Their rescue rode toward them in the form of Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff. A traitorous wave of relief that he would put an end to the danger was quickly followed by a cold dose of shame.

Six years ago, she’d believed him the epitome of nobility and elegance until that voice had delivered a verdict upon her head. The words he’d said and the pain they’d caused were etched into her memory forever.

“I don’t care if you’re Prince Albert himself. Move your arse, man!” A deeper baritone, the voice of Greycliff’s companion, now carried over the crowd. “Put down the signs, or I’ll put them down for you.”

“Are they here to rescue us?” the girl asked.

Visions of Greycliff riding up on a snow white steed flashed before Letty’s eyes. A handful of years before, such an image would have set her heart to racing and put roses on her cheeks. She would have caught her ruffled skirts in one hand, ready to be swept away by a hero, lit from behind by a shaft of golden sunlight.

Not anymore. The dirty grey-brown reality of working-class London remained solid and smelly before her eyes. These days, romantic scenes remained between the pages of a well-thumbed book.

“Never wait for someone else to rescue you,” Letty advised. “Especially a man. They’ll ride away on those fine horses afterward, and where will you be? Still here, cleaning the mess, having to work for an owner who couldn’t even be bothered to come out here after you. Rescue yourself, my dear.”

“Shall we run for it?”

“We could, but I’ve a better idea.” Letty turned to Beady Eyes and held up her reticule. The man flinched, but she had other plans.

“Want to get rid of two troublesome women?” she asked him. Pouring out a palmful of coins, Letty made an offer. “Here’s your chance.”

ARC Review: The Thousand Eyes by AK Larkwood (The Serpent Gates #2)

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Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

The sequel to A. K. Larkwood’s stunning debut fantasy, The Unspoken Name, The Thousand Eyes continues The Serpent Gates series–perfect for fans of Jenn Lyons, Joe Abercrombie, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Two years ago, Csorwe and Shuthmili defied the wizard Belthandros Sethennai and stole his gauntlets. The gauntlets have made Shuthmili extraordinarily powerful, but they’re beginning to take a sinister toll on her. She and Csorwe travel to a distant world to discover how to use the gauntlets safely, but when an old enemy arrives on the scene, Shuthmili finds herself torn between clinging to her humanity and embracing eldritch power.

Meanwhile, Tal Charossa returns to Tlaanthothe to find that Sethennai has gone missing. As well as being a wizard of unimaginable power, Sethennai is Tal’s old boss and former lover, and Tal wants nothing to do with him. When a magical catastrophe befalls the city, Tal tries to run rather than face his past, but soon learns that something even worse may lurk in the future. Throughout the worlds of the Echo Maze, fragments of an undead goddess begin to awaken, and not all confrontations can be put off forever…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh my gods that was So. Good. I will now read absolutely everything A.K. Larwood writes forever. I loved the Unspoken Name when I read it two years ago but I’d forgotten just how fun these books are. Gorgeous descriptions, adventure, proper creepy utterances from the gods, relatable characters, wry humor, and a lot of cursing between Csorwe and Tal.

I loved catching up with Csorwe and Tal and Shuthmili and the gang. And I loved the adventure and was just cruising along until– boom! plot twist! 15 years have passed. And then I got to meet Tsereg and let me tell you, they are an absolute delight. And seeing cranky know-it-all teenager Tal suddenly de facto parenting cranky teenager know-it-all Tsereg was just amazing. Really everyone should read these books if only for the Tal and Tsereg dynamic.

A.K. Larkwood does SUCH a good job capturing character voices. They are so relatable and the wry humor is just my style. It was such an interesting experience, seeing the world through Csorwe and Tal and Shuthmlli’s eyes. They all have very different internal voices and perspectives and they all ring very true. The gods are much more prominent in this book than the previous one, and they also have very distinctive voices.

I was absolutely enthralled, I flew through it in two days, I never wanted it to end, and I definitely shed a tear or two at the end. But also the end felt very right and I am satisfied with it. I would definitely not say no to more books in this series — I would give a lot for them, actually — but if this world ends here then I am okay with that.

Also! Csorwe and Shuthmili are lesbians and have a wonderful relationship, Tal is gay and tends toward dysfunctional relationships, and Tsereg is nonbinary. Also Tsereg is a treasure. I really can’t emphasize that enough. And Tal, Csorwe, and Shuthmili are SO relatable and just feel real, that’s how well-developed they are.

*Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

An unreliable friend to some and an inconstant enemy to most.

This is actually from the introduction of the characters not the story itself but I love it as a descriptor

A possibility dropped into his hands, sharp and bright as a shard of glass.

At the point Tal had left, Cherenthisse had divided her time between sleeping, refusing to wear clothes, and demanding that somebody duel her to the death.

You might describe Csorwe as wiry but only in the sense that a steel cable is technically a wire, Shuthmili thought, and could not help smiling secretly to herself.

“Yeah, it looks like a god threw up on it,” said Tal. “had to round up Csorwe and Cherenthisse earlier too, wandered off like a couple of bloody toddlers.”

“Just imagine me nodding and smiling,” said Tal. “Back in Tlaanthothe, our goddess was just a big mean rock that muttered at you.”

Csorwe had a special sympathy for those who were born for sacrifice.

Tsereg was back on their feet, and still shrieking, less with terror and more as if they had turned a spigot marked yell and the valve had broken off in their hand.

Maybe he had never enjoyed fleeing for his life over the rooftops; maybe the thing he enjoyed was surviving afterward.

Tsereg shrugged, like a pile of unclean laundry falling over

“And what, you don’t have a choice?” said Tal.

“Yeah, that’s sort of what being the Chosen one means,” said Tsereg.

“I don’t know what you’ve heard about the good old days, but I’m here to tell you it’s always been a whole mess of bastards,” he said.

It was no good to be brave, he thought. He had to stumble his way toward the thought in darkness. It was no good to break yourself and smile through it. He wouldn’t tell Tsereg they were brave.

Tsereg’s training had probably been delivered by a bunch of old ladies in jail or, given recent revelations, by a drug-fuelled hallucination of their mother’s ghost. Not exactly encouraging.

May you strike your own bargain with the universe.

He had used a poisoned blade before and felt it was more trouble than it was worth, but whatever.

The casual way he said it made Tal’s hackles rise. Nobody said one other complication like that unless they meant a gigantic fucking spanner in the works.

“Are those your only choices?” said Shuthmili. “I mean, nothing, or else murder is a very Thousand Eyes approach–“

Shuthmili disintegrated her ball gown and grew herself an exoskeleton.

Not for the first time, Shuthmili wondered who had made mortals so fragile and so persistent, and who had made Talasseres the flimsiest and most bloody-minded of them all.

Shuthmili lay down on the ground — let Belthandros stare, she hoped he would die from staring —

“I should have known it was you,” said Tal. “Right away. Getting a teenager to fight your battles for you. You can’t resist.”

“I was Chosen,” said Tsereg, hitting the capital C hard enough to crack its skull.

It made sense that this might be the last thing he saw — stared into passive-aggressive oblivion by a corpse — but he didn’t have to like it.

The pungent smell of crushed onion leaves wafted around her, not something Csorwe had ever expected to associate with a malfunctioning divinity.

Oranna was — and this was really a testament to what Tal’s life had become — not an ordinary skeleton.

Tal had mixed feelings about his hometown, but he had never wished to see it turn cancerous.

ARC Review: A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

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Publishing Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch’s Heart in Rebecca Ross’s brilliant first adult fantasy, set on the magical isle of Cadence where two childhood enemies must team up to discover why girls are going missing from their clan.

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.

With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book. It was slow at first and took a while for all the threads to come together, but the story they wove was stunning. And that ending! I need the next book now.

The writing style was poetic and lyrical and reminded me a lot of Patricia McKillip’s works, especially the Riddle-Master of Hed. Since Patricia McKillip has remained my ultimate favorite author for close to two decades now, you can perhaps imagine how much I enjoyed this story. I will be seeking out more by Rebecca Ross immediately. It also reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s Starless Sea and Maggie Steifvater’s work.

I loved how music was woven into this story. As Jack is a bard, it felt appropriate, and made for some beautiful metaphors. Weaving is also integral, which again, feels appropriate with the way this story is woven. I was riveted through every revelation, which started coming hard and fast the closer the story drew to its explosive ending. I love that everything isn’t tied up neatly and the way it sets up the next book as… well it could be anything.

While it took me a minute to get into each of the varied POVs, they were necessary and added so much to the story. I came to love Jack and Adaira, Torin and Sidra, Mirin and Frae. I also loved the themes covered in this novel. Heartache and grief, loss of faith, parenting, marriage, career… It was beautiful and a lot deeper than I expected.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves a slow, lyrical story, and especially fans of Patricia McKillip, Erin Morgenstern, and Maggie Stiefvater.

*Thanks to Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

He wanted to know her, and that realization felt like a sting in his side.

The longer he stayed here on the isle — the longer he slept beneath the fire of the stars and listened to the sighs of the wind and ate the food and drank the water — the more muddled his desires became, until he couldn’t see the original path he had carved out for himself. The safe path, the one that gave him purpose and place on the mainland.

“Yes, but I once thought home was simply a place. Four walls to hold you at night while you slept. But I was wrong. It’s people. It’s being with the ones that you love, and maybe even the ones that you hate.”

It was like she had stolen the very words from his mouth. And he wanted them back.

The feelings hung like stars above them, waiting for another moment to align, and he felt the anticipation in his bones, humming like a harp string.

He didn’t want to have this conversation. This was his last true moment of ignorance. After this hour had shed its minutes, he would know the truth about his blood and what his mother had done, and it would change him.

He listened to the rasp of her inhalations. How they caught on the web of lies and secrets she held.

“I am but a verse inspired by your chorus, and I will follow you until the end, when the isle takes my bones and my name is nothing more than a remembrance on a headstone, next to yours.”

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