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Audio ARC Review: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove by Rati Mehrotra

Publication Date: October 18, 2022

Synopsis:

To learn what she can become, she must first discover who she is.

Katyani’s role in the kingdom of Chandela has always been clear: becoming an advisor and protector of the crown prince, Ayan, when he ascends to the throne. Bound to the Queen of Chandela through a forbidden soul bond that saved her when she was a child, Katyani has grown up in the royal family and become the best guardswoman the Garuda has ever seen. But when a series of assassination attempts threatens the royals, Katyani is shipped off to the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir as an escort to Ayan and his cousin, Bhairav, to protect them as they hone the skills needed to be the next leaders of the kingdom. Nothing could annoy Katyani more than being stuck in a monastic school in the middle of a forest, except her run-ins with Daksh, the Acharya’s son, who can’t stop going on about the rules and whose gaze makes her feel like he can see into her soul.

But when Katyani and the princes are hurriedly summoned back to Chandela before their training is complete, tragedy strikes and Katyani is torn from the only life she has ever known. Alone and betrayed in a land infested by monsters, Katyani must find answers from her past to save all she loves and forge her own destiny. Bonds can be broken, but debts must be repaid.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this book so much! It’s so nice to get a good standalone adventure that wraps up in a satisfactory way but doesn’t suffer from feeling too abrupt. I thought it was the perfect length and the pacing was excellent throughout. I connected very quickly with the characters and was consistently surprised by the plot twists.

One of my favorite things is reading fantasy books set in places other than “Medieval Europe” and learning about the customs, mythical creatures, food, clothing, etc and there is plenty of all of that in this book where the setting is an alternate medieval India.

The writing was beautiful and kept me fully engaged while I read and listened. There were many passages I took note of for their beauty.

I loved learning about all of the different monsters. I had limited knowledge of most of them and so I appreciated the descriptions of their physical forms and actions. It never felt info-dump-y though and was always relevant to the plot.

I especially loved how there were many descriptions of monsters and their monstrous ways and it managed to be bloody and occasionally horrific without being horror. I was never really scared by the monsters – only intrigued. Especially since there is an emphasis on the monsters’ humanity even though they are not human. They’re very different, but in many ways they aren’t. In fact I would say that the most monstrous characters were humans.

I loved the slow-burn romance – there was just enough of it to make me root for them while not overpowering the rest of the story – the magic, the monsters, the politics, and Katyani’s journey to knowing and finding herself were the main focus.

Katyani goes through many trials throughout the story as she learns who she is, who she was, and who she can become. Her journey of self-discovery is compelling and pulls the reader breathlessly along for the ride.

The audiobook narrator did an excellent job bringing the story and characters to life. She obviously knew how to pronounce all of the unfamiliar terms that I would have stumbled over, and that made it a richer experience.

Even though this is a standalone and does wrap up satisfactorily, it leaves room for future books exploring Katyani and Daksh’s adventures. I hope the author does write such sequels, and will read them as soon as I can get my hands on them.

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

ARC Review: The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones (e-ARC and audiobook ARC)

Publication Date: August 16, 2022

Synopsis:

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing… but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I wanted to love this one. In fact, I expected to love it like I loved the Bone Houses. But I just…. didn’t.

It *should* be everything I like. Set in the same world as Bone Houses, a heist with magic, characters with mysterious pasts… But it just felt flat.

I tried reading the book and listening to the audiobook and neither one could keep my interest. In fact, it sent me into a bit of a slump where I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up any book because I dreaded returning to this one. It just felt like a slog?

I’m finally calling it and DNFing at 60% of the way through. I mean, if you’re 60% into a standalone heist novel and you’re still slooooowly introducing characters / gathering the crew and none of them have been fleshed out enough to have personalities (and you can barely remember their names and certainly not what they look like) and you have almost no idea about the bigger picture or more than the sketchiest details about the characters’ pasts or the heist itself then that’s a problem.

The one thing I did like was the relationship between Mer and her former mentor. There is obviously fondness there on both sides, mixed with quite a bit of mistrust on Mer’s and a tendency for her mentor to go into teacher mode and/or fail to disclose critical pieces of his plot so that Mer has to follow him with a dose of blind faith.

In the end, too much is kept a mystery both from the characters themselves and from the reader. Mysterious pasts and gifts and magic and plans can intrigue the reader. But if so much is kept in the dark that all you can do is stumble around hoping to figure out what the heck is going on, it does not make for a pleasant reading experience.

The audiobook narrator, Moira Quirk, is one of my favorites. She has a great range of character voices and a good grasp of the pronounciation of the various Welsh names. However, even her excellent narration can’t make up for the foggy vagueness that encompasses this novel.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The third time a customer grabbed her, Mer considered drowning him.

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

“Cities like these, with all the people and the iron — both in their blood and all around them —it pushes back the old ways. Makes me wonder how things will fare in the future.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Fane said, “that humanity has a tendency to push into every corner of a place. And with their iron and their armies, it may be only a matter of time until someone like Garanhir turns his attention on Annwvyn.”

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Blog Tour: The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Welcome to my stop on The Drowned Woods book tour with TBR and Beyond Tours. (This blog tour is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Book Info:

TITLE: The Drowned Woods
AUTHOR: Emily Lloyd-Jones
PUBLISHER:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
RELEASE DATE:
August 16, 2022
GENRES: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis:

A magical, ethereal fantasy from IndieBound bestselling author Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing…but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

Author Bio:

Emily Lloyd-Jones grew up on a vineyard in rural Oregon, where she played in evergreen forests and learned to fear sheep. She has a BA in English from Western Oregon University and a MA in publishing from Rosemont College. She currently resides in Northern California, where she enjoys wandering in redwood forests. Her young adult novels include IllusiveDeceptiveThe Hearts We SoldThe Bone Houses, and the forthcoming The Drowned Woods. Her debut middle grade, Unseen Magic, will release in 2022.

Author Links:

Emily Lloyd-Jones

ARC Review: Sofi and the Bone Song by Adrienne Tooley

Publication Date: April 19, 2022

Synopsis:

In this gorgeous, queer standalone fantasy, a young musician sets out to expose her rival for illegal use of magic only to discover the deception goes deeper than she could have imagined—perfect for fans of An Enchantment of Ravens!

Music runs in Sofi’s blood.

Her father is a Musik, one of only five musicians in the country licensed to compose and perform original songs. In the kingdom of Aell, where winter is endless and magic is accessible to all, there are strict anti-magic laws ensuring music remains the last untouched art.

Sofi has spent her entire life training to inherit her father’s title. But on the day of the auditions, she is presented with unexpected competition in the form of Lara, a girl who has never before played the lute. Yet somehow, to Sofi’s horror, Lara puts on a performance that thoroughly enchants the judges.

Almost like magic.

The same day Lara wins the title of Musik, Sofi’s father dies, and a grieving Sofi sets out to prove Lara is using illegal magic in her performances. But the more time she spends with Lara, the more Sofi begins to doubt everything she knows about her family, her music, and the girl she thought was her enemy.

As Sofi works to reclaim her rightful place as a Musik, she is forced to face the dark secrets of her past and the magic she was trained to avoid—all while trying not to fall for the girl who stole her future.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was EVERYTHING. Gorgeous slow-burn enemies-to-friends-to-lovers f/f romance? check. Magic? check. Music? check. Beautiful, lyrical writing? check.

This book reminded me of An Enchantment of Ravens (which is probably why it’s listed as a comp title on goodreads). They both have magic swirling through the story but also a deep and abiding love of art (painting in Enchantment of Ravens and music in this case) that underpins and transforms everything. Also similar is the journey and slow blossoming of love, and the writing of each is utterly gorgeous.

The story has music and magic and mystery in spades and combined with the gorgeous writing, it’s catapulted instantly onto my favorites list. It’s SO atmospheric and you can really feel the music and the magic as the journey and mystery unspools before Sofi and Lara. I FELT things. So many things.

The way Sofi slowly came to realize that her father’s methods of teaching her were actually abuse–and that she took that abuse further upon herself–was painful but also cathartic. Her discovery that she wasn’t as alone as she thought was beautiful.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of Margaret Rogerson and Maggie Steifvater.

This is definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and after reading the arc I will immediately be purchasing my own copy because I can’t not own this and I will absolutely be rereading it.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

What was art if it did not come from hard work and devotion? If it was not tended to and grown in the careful pockets of one’s heart?

It was eerie how casually people donned the level of polish the Papers offered. Where others fawned over the results of Paper-made glamours, that level of calculated, pristine perfection made Sofi uncomfortable. Humans were messy and complex. It pained her that magic disguised that potential for failure with a fleeting sense of flawlessness.

This girl looked like magic, but for the first time in her life, Sofi didn’t care.

“That’s…” Laura looked unbearably sad. “Sofi, that’s not what makes you a good songwriter. You don’t have to suffer in order to create.”

“Sofi, you don’t have to hurt yourself to be worthy of pursuing your dream. You don’t have to deny pieces of yourself in order to be good. Your songs are never better than when you let yourself go. You’re a different girl when you offer yourself the freedom to merely play. No grimaces, no frostbitten toes. Just your love for the music.”

She wanted this girl and all of her sounds. Every swish of her skirt, every clearing of her throat, every noise that proved she was right there beside Sofi. She never wanted a chance to forget, wanted to ride out the rhythm of Lara’s breathing, the clack of her nails against a tabletop. Sofi wanted every single note Lara’s existence created.

She was a song Sofi couldn’t wait to learn.

“I can’t be a saint,” she moaned, raking a hand through her hair, which had begun to dry in a frizzy pouf. “I’m barely adept at being a person.”

And she had. After all, it was a sixth day.

And sixth days—like every breath Sofi had ever taken, like every dream she’d ever dreamed, like every future she’d ever imagined—had always been for music.

ARC Review: A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy Lin

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such a good book! I knew from the stunning cover art that I was going to love it, and I wasn’t wrong. The writing was gorgeous and painted such lovely pictures, bringing the mythology to life. I’m fairly certain it was Chinese mythology and culture, though I don’t have the background to say for sure.

I love how Ning carries this sharpness inside her. She is sometimes overwhelmed with the glitz and plush life in the imperial city and the competition, but she always finds this core of steel and honed edge when she needs it. I also love how everything she does is for her sister.

This quote in particular really spoke to me and summed up Ning:

‘I am selfish, and I know now that I will no longer apologize for it. Let the world burn, if Shu can live.’

The political games and scheming were great, as were the details of the competition. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and I’m really glad the next book is being released this fall because I don’t think I could wait a whole year after that ending.

The characters were all so great. It wasn’t clear whose side anyone was on or who Ning could trust. Except Lian. She was Ning’s friend and ally from the start and their friendship was really beautiful. I hope we get to see more of it in the next book. Kang is still very mysterious and I’m still not sure whose side he’s on, but I definitely look forward to seeing more of him and Ning together because they definitely had some chemistry.

The magic was so cool! It was tea-based which is something I haven’t really seen before. I was swept away by the gorgeous rituals and ceremony surrounding it.

Thanks to Bookishfirst and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group/Feiwel & Friends for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I am selfish, and I know now that I will no longer apologize for it. Let the world burn, if Shu can live.

How can I give another part of myself to someone else, when I already have so little to give?

“You are the first girl who has ever greeted me with a swift kick to the shins. The first girl who has ever made me feel… normal.”

“That is decidedly abnormal,” I tell him after a pause, not knowing how else to respond.

I’m not sure I would have been able to say something so reasonable about someone who threatened the people I love.

Yet his answers conjure more questions that worm their way through my mind.

Just like the palace itself, tunnels upon tunnels, leading nowhere, and no exit in sight.

Just like Steward Yang said, it is too easy to live this pampered life, this fantasy.

ARC Review: So This is Ever After by F.T. Lukens

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

Carry On meets Arthurian legend in this funny, subversive young adult fantasy about what happens after the chosen one wins the kingdom and has to get married to keep it…and to stay alive.

Arek hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he completed the prophecy that said he was destined to save the Kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler. So now that he’s finally managed to (somewhat clumsily) behead the evil king (turns out magical swords yanked from bogs don’t come pre-sharpened), he and his rag-tag group of quest companions are at a bit of a loss for what to do next.

As a temporary safeguard, Arek’s best friend and mage, Matt, convinces him to assume the throne until the true heir can be rescued from her tower. Except that she’s dead. Now Arek is stuck as king, a role that comes with a magical catch: choose a spouse by your eighteenth birthday, or wither away into nothing.

With his eighteenth birthday only three months away, and only Matt in on the secret, Arek embarks on a desperate bid to find a spouse to save his life—starting with his quest companions. But his attempts at wooing his friends go painfully and hilariously wrong…until he discovers that love might have been in front of him all along.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was so cute and funny! I love how F. T. Lukens takes the chosen one trope and just plays with it and turns it on its head. You have the chaotic group of questers (chosen one, mage, bard, knight, rogue, guard), but instead of beginning as they are setting out on a quest, the story begins at the end, immediately after the quest has been completed. The moment where everyone looks around at each other and goes, “Now what?”

In some ways, this is a found family story of a reluctant king and his loyal friends getting on their feet and fumbling their way into figuring out how to rule the kingdom they took back from the evil wizard. In many ways, this is a book about pining. Arek is quite obviously pining for his best friend Matt. Matt is pining for Arek. It’s quite obvious from the first pages. Since they’re both oblivious idiots, however, it takes them rather a while to figure things out.

The writing was clever and funny, and it was easy to just let myself flow along with the story and enjoy it. It’s fun. I recommend it when you need to laugh and find yourself craving oblivious idiots pining for each other over hundreds of pages. (What, just me?)

*Thanks to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I was starting to think that running away from home to follow a vague prophecy hadn’t been a good idea.

“Money won’t buy their loyalty.”

“No, but if we have happy staff, then our lives are going to be much easier.”

“No thank you. None of the above. I don’t need to be rescued, and I don’t need anyone to know me. Everyone knows love is pheromones and proximity. For it to be real for me, I’d have to be struck by lightning.” She snapped her fingers. “Instant attraction.”