Valley of Embers (The Landkist Saga, #1) by Steven Kelliher

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ARC provided to me by author Steven Kelliher in exchange for an honest review.

“It’s time we took control of our destiny rather than waiting for the ghost of a dead king to point us in the wrong direction.”

Valley of Embers is a great debut and a fantastic start to a new high fantasy that surrounds many characters that reside in a village that is being continually attacked by the dark kind, which are essentially demons being let in from The World Apart. Many of the people in this village used to live in the desert, until a Sage came and tried to enslave them. When this attempt happened, the Embers fled the desert into this valley and made it so nothing else could enter, but also this made it so nothing else could leave.

Some of the people in this world develop magical talents that are respectful of where they originated. Faeykin, from the forests in the valley, can heal, Rockbled, from more mountain-like terrain, are able to lift heavy stone and have thicker skin, and Emberfolk, from the desert, harness fire and flame and have some pretty impressive weapons to show for it. Unfortunately, since the Emberfolk fled, they are no longer close to their fire making power, so the children have become fewer and fewer to develop the magic.

Our main protagonist, Kole, is one of the last Embers to have sparked. He’s a very strong character, who is very well liked among his village, but he is harboring sadness ever since his mother died. His mother died looking for a Sage, the White Crest, that was fabled to have helped the village once before with the impending demons. Now, it might be time for others in the village to go looking for answers, since the demons are getting harder and harder to keep at bay.

“I don’t pretend to know what the White Crest once was to the Emberfolk, the Rivermen or the Faey. I know what he is now. Whatever’s left of him, that is. He is not our protector. He is our jailer. Now, our executioner.”

Also, the Sages in this world are magical people who are just constantly fighting with one another and will use the people of the valley to fight for them. The biggest and baddest sage, the Eastern Dark, might put an end to the valley once and for all if nothing changes.

“The Dark Kind had no ears for mercy and no hearts for forgiveness.”

And speaking of people who are going looking for Sages, the other main point of view is Linn, a girl that has grown up with Kole her whole life. Now, I don’t want to fangirl too hard here, but I loved Linn so much. I loved how she was reckless, and did what her heart told her was the right thing to do. I loved that she didn’t wait, I loved that she took action, and I love that she never gave up, no matter how dark her journey got. I was living for Linn’s chapters, and I seriously need more of her.

This story mostly focuses on the people from one village, Last Lake, but towards the end we also get to focus in a little bit on someone from a surrounding village, Hearth. I very much expect this world and these villages to be expanded on more in The Emerald Blade, and I have nothing but high hopes for it

I know I made this story seem pretty simple, but I promise you this story is the exact opposite. Steven Kelliher for sure believes in showing rather than telling. The world building is fantastic, but it’s very unforgiving. There is absolutely no info dumping, and I found myself constantly making notes, while trying to picture everything in my head. I can see this being not an easy read for many, but if you take the time I think it is a pretty rewarding story.

Also, this book is very, very, very focused on the non-stop plot and the world, which is amazing, but you guys know how much my heart belongs to character focused and driven stories. This is something the story did lack, and it is what is essentially holding me back from giving this five stars. I also had a hard time believing the characters. Like, the author would tell us how a character was, but I constantly had trouble believing that was how the character actually is, if that makes sense. Like, “so and so is angry” but they never really did anything to make me believe they were angry. This is just my preference to stories, but I feel it is important to note.

My favorite thing about this book is how we get to see all the different groups of people view the same exact thing differently. I think there is so much beauty in that, and I absolutely loved it. Also, Steven Kelliher’s MMA background shines through, because every fighting scene in this book is expertly done and will leave you completely breathless.

Valley of Embers is a self published work that I have nothing but high hopes for. Steven Kelliher really impressed me, and if you’re looking for an action filled, nonstop adventure that features some pretty phenomenal warriors, then please look no further and support this indie book.

“If the Dark Months were a time of war then the dawn was a time of preparation.”

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1) by Josiah Bancroft

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Buddy Read with Petrik

This highly praised indie book series has recently been picked up by Orbit! After that news, and seeing the first two beautifully sitting on my shelf for far too long, I decided I wanted to experience this self published series before the year was over, but now I just want all the books immediately, because Senlin Ascends is a literary masterpiece.

“The Tower of Babel is most famous for the silk fineries and marvelous airships it produces, but visitors will discover other intangible exports. Whimsy, adventure, and romance are the Tower’s real trade”

Senlin Ascends is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. The basic premise seems easy enough: A headmaster that works at a school in a very small and far away village, has newly married a girl who compliments him perfectly. Senlin is a man of planning, habit, and always following the rules, while his new bride, Marya, follows her own beat completely and just wants to see the world. Senlin is also obsessed with a mysterious tower that is far, far away from him and Marya’s village. So, what better place for them to honeymoon than the tower that he’s been obsessing over his whole life. I mean, Senlin has a guidebook, and he always follows the rules, what could go wrong?

“the Tower is a tar pit. Once you put a toe in her, you’re caught forever. No one leaves. No one goes home.”

Yet, we soon find out that inside the Tower of Babel there are completely different worlds living and dwelling inside each level, or maybe I should say functioning inside each level. And, yes, I said Tower of Babel, like the bible story you probably grew up hearing at least once about why we speak so many different languages. Basically, after the Great Flood happened, a bunch of people came together and agreed to build a tower that would touch Heaven itself. God, realizing what they are attempting, scatters them all around the world and makes them all speak different languages, hence our world today. Yet, obviously, the higher in the tower you are the closer you are to God and Heaven.

Also, unbeknownst to me both times, this is the second Tower of Babel inspired story I’ve read this month, because I also read Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad, #1) by Scott Reintgen . So now I’m lowkey sitting at my computer like, “Is God trying to tell me something?”

Anyways, this is a glorious painting done by Peter Bruegel, that I found because of my wonderful friend Mike’s review, that is a very close interpretation to how I pictured the Tower in this book:

And here is the Tower that the amazingly talented author, Josiah Bancroft, made that shows us around and inside a few of the levels known to man:
(I looked at this constantly once Petrik showed it to me!)

Okay, so now you guys know sort of what the gist of the Tower is and sort of what it looks like, but I’m sure you’re reading this review to find out about the story. Oh, my friends, this story is a treat to any book lover who happens to stumble upon this tale. It’s mystery after mystery, surprise after surprise, whimsical new steampunk world after whimsical new steampunk world.

“Not a solitary soul will help you here. The good souls don’t have the means or mind for it, and the bad souls will only bleed you dry.”

As Senlin is ascending the Tower, this book will constantly lead you to believe something, and you will, with your whole heart, but it will end up being so completely different. And the book will do this over and over again, but it will never feel forced or gimmicky, but it will always surprise you. I’m not sure any author I’ve ever read has been capable of doing that before, and, again, this is a debut novel by a self published author. (Which is why we need to support indie authors and find more hidden gems like this little masterpiece.)

And the writing is so fantastic. It’s entrancing and addicting, while also being one of the most immersive works I’ve ever read. Especially the baths, like, I’m still halfway convinced that I was there in my own little pinecone like shelf, watching everything play out through the streets of that city. This story reads like you’re in a lucid dream that you’re not sure you want to wake up from. Yet, it still feels like you’re seeing everything through somewhat of a haze. Again, this tale is glorious and unlike anything I’ve ever read in my many years of reading.

“It is easier to accept who you’ve become than to recollect who you were.”

And Senlin as a character was wonderful to read about, too. Seeing the Tower shape him into what he needs to be, is worth its own review. I mean, the Tower changes everyone, but Senlin always stays true to his caring self that loves to learn and to teach others and it makes him flourish. Senlin’s journey is nothing short of beautiful. I also loved the Tower itself, and how it is so much bigger than anyone realizes. I loved Senlin’s theory and I can’t wait to ascend the next levels with him.

“The Tower is only as tall as the man that climbs”

The side characters that Senlin meets along his journey are also nothing short of exquisite. Iren, Goll, Tarrou, Edith, Adam, Ogier, they were all such wonderful additions that truly shaped this story into something remarkable that leaves me with a loss for words. I could read side story after side story about each of these individuals and their time spent in the Tower.

At this point, I also believe that Josiah Bancroft could very well just be a genius for crafting this complex tale that is so entrancing yet easy to follow. The only negative thing I can really say is that this book does end, and I mean it ends somewhat abruptly, and if you don’t have the next book, Arm of the Sphinx, on hand, you are probably going to cry. If you’re looking for a fast paced adventure, with a completely addicting story, with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, that is unlike anything you’ve ever read, please give Senlin Ascends a try.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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“All I want to do is kiss you until I fall asleep. I want to slide in between your sheets, and find out what goes on inside your head, and underneath your clothes. I want to make a fool of myself over you.”

Oh my good dear sweet Lord, this book was absolutely heart warming. I was feeling a little under the weather and wanted something that would be cute, fluffy, and a fast read, so I picked this up completely underestimating how amazing it would be. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read all year and probably the best romantic contemporary I’ve ever read in my entire life. Yeah, it’s not the cold medicine talking; this book is really that good.

“Books were, and always would be, something a little magic and something to respect.”

Also, this story takes place inside of a publishing house! I mean, what kind of book lover wouldn’t automatically love that premise? This publishing house, Bexley & Gamin, is the result of a merger that happened a few years ago between Bexley and Gamin.

Lucy Hutton – Executive assistant to Helene Pascal, the original CEO of Gamin.
Josh Templeman – Executive assistant to Mr. Bexley, the original CEO of Bexley.

Lucy and Josh, working directly under both co-CEOs, share an office, which forces them to spend a vast amount of their time together. They constantly feel like they are in competition with one another, and play games with each other throughout the day, trying to assert dominance. They go back and forth, slinging insults while trying to get the upper hand. They claim to hate each other, but it is so clear to everyone but themselves that they do not.

But their dynamic completely changes when they are both up for the same promotion, which will cause one of them to be the boss of the other. Complete games and high jinks ensue, and they are forced to come to a realization of how much they do, or actually do not, hate each other and all the time they have been forced to be together over the years.

And the witty banter and back and forth lines in this book are complete perfection, and maybe my favorite thing of all. This book is so very funny that I was actually in tears from some of the banter. Like, Lucy is everything. She is so sassy and never afraid to speak her mind. And her dialogue feels so natural and constantly felt like something I would honestly say or think about in real life, and I just loved t.

“What are you imagining? Your expression is filthy.”

“Strangling you. Bare hands.” I can barely get the words out. I’m huskier than a phone-sex operator after a double shift.

“So that’s your kink.” His eyes are going dark.

“Only where you’re concerned.”

I really liked Lucy, but Josh won me over… from the elevator. No seriously, Josh was such an amazing romantic lead. And the things he said, oh boy, the things he said. I was swooning pretty hard for this fictional boy. He was expertly written and so easy to root for. I also loved the confidence he bestowed upon everyone, but the insecurities he showed Lucy behind closed doors. I loved the element of it being the guy that was self conscious about his body and about his food choices. It was such a wonderful switch up and surprise and I really appreciated it.

Lucy was a great character, too, though. She never questioned her worth, and was never going to back down from any interview or opportunity for that matter. I also loved reading about a character with anxiety, and how she was able to cope with overwhelming situations. And I loved how she stood up for what she believed in and wasn’t afraid to stand up for others who were less willing to stand up for themselves. Also, again, I feel like the way she spoke was so very realistic to how people (myself, at least) actually speak. Also, Lucy and I are the same age in this book, so I guess I just felt a really believable attachment to her character.

I also loved Lucy’s parents and their unwavering and unconditional love, and how they thought the sun rises and sets because of Lucy. Like, that’s how my family is, and I seriously have to say the line “you’re just biased!” on weekly bases, but it warmed my heart to see them support her, and it was very reminiscent to my family who I also moved away from after college.

“He still hates me.” I take a fist of cashews and begin eating them a little aggressively. Dad is flatteringly mystified. “Impossible. Who could?” “Who even could,” Mom echoes”

This book was so close to perfect, but I did find the wedding date very, very predictable. I kept feeling anxiety while reading because I totally knew what was going on, even though Lucy didn’t and everyone else was acting ignorant about it. I understand this wasn’t meant to be a mystery or anything, but I wish it was resolved a little sooner, because I hated reading the lead up to the explosion I guessed once they stepped foot into the hotel.

I also feel like there was way too big of an emphasis on Lucy’s height. Like, I’m only 5’4″ so I’m happy for some short girl representation, but I didn’t need to be reminded of her height on every freakin’ page. Also, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand 5’0″ is a lot shorter than 5’4″, but every guy I’ve ever dated or been with has been over 6’0″ (I don’t even have a thing for tall guys or anything, it just happens to work out like this for me, I don’t even know) and the height difference is never as crazy as this book made it sound like. Especially *gulp* during sex, you know?

The only other negative thing I can say is that I feel like the cover is really underwhelming and would probably detour people from picking this up at a bookstore randomly. Like, I’m being nice, this cover is borderline ugly. This book deserves so much better. So, so, so much better.

Regardless, this was the perfect summer romantic comedy read! It’s adorable, heartwarming, and everything I could have ever asked for! But, like, I can’t believe this is a debut novel! Sally Thorne is so talented, and this story she wrote was so captivating and addicting. She has totally made a fan for life and is now an auto-buy author for me. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Comfort Zone in 2018!

Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad #1) by Scott Reintgen

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buddy Read with Solomon & Elise

“But they don’t tell you the pain comes with you. They don’t tell you that hurt travels at light-speed too.”

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year. I can’t wait for everyone to be able to read this in September when it releases. This book is the YA Sci-Fi book I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

Growing up, you guys might have learned about the story of Tower of Babel as a lesson about why we speak so many different languages. Basically, after the Great Flood happened, a bunch of people came together and agreed to build a tower that would touch Heaven itself. God, realizing what they are attempting, scatters them all around the world and makes them all speak different languages, hence our world today.

Well, Scott Reintgen spins that story backwards, and created a company, Babel, that brings ten teens from all around the world, speaking different languages, from different cultures, and gives them headsets that translate everything for them. Then, they are sent on a mission to land on a new planet, Eden, where the life forms, Adamites, won’t harm children. Babel then wants the children to mine Nyxia, which is the new super resource and is a substance that can create anything.

This book also feels a bit like a mixed hybrid of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, The 100, Divergent, but, in my opinion, it does it way better and more realistically and much more emphatically.

Nyxia stars a young black boy from Detroit, Emmett, who is one of ten teens that are a part of a space mission. All of these children come from broken places, and all are desperate to enter this program, because the company, Babel, is offering them an immense amount of money. But Emmett isn’t in it for the money; Emmett is doing it to save his mother.

Systemic poverty in America is real and the system keeps people in that demographic over and over and throughout generations. This book doesn’t shy away from it or any other hard topics. Emmett’s family works hard, they work so very hard, but they still can’t afford his mother’s hospital bills. She is in dire need of a transplant, and the only way to get her to the top of the donor list is for Emmett to be a part of Babel’s mission.

“It’s hard to tell the difference between rich and wrong.”

Our story mostly takes place on the ship, Genesis 11, where the teens are heading to Eden and Babel is training them to not only mine the substance, but to become powerful and strong tools themselves. The teens all get scores and points on how they complete their daily missions. Seriously, think Hogwartz, where the kids can constantly see how they are doing. Once on the ship, the group is informed that only so many will be allowed to actually step foot on Eden and be able to gain all the money they were promised. Obviously, this is where the point system comes into play, and we quickly learn how much this mission means to these ten teens.

Emmett – American (Detroit) – The main protagonist.
Kaya – Japanese – Emmett’s roommate and a master problem solver.
Longwei – Asian – The best on their ship.
Jaime – Swedish – The only white boy.
Azima – Kenyan – Looks for strength, while being strong.
Katsu – Japanese – The stereotypical chubby comic relief (but I do love him).
Jazzy – American (Tennessee) – Beauty and pageant queen with a sick mother.
Isadora – Brazilian – Has a secret tattoo, and carries a lot of anger and hurt.
Roathy – A boy with a lot of mystery and sadness surrounding him.
Bilal – Palestinian – The sweetest and kindest boy in the world.

You’ll feel an immense amount of empathy for all these characters, but, besides Emmett, Bilal and Kaya were easily my favorites, and both are complete little cinnamon rolls! The kindness that Bilal would constantly show everyone, even the people who wronged him, made me cry or tear up constantly. I wish everyone in the world was more like Bilal. And Kaya, and the unconditional love and friendship she showed to Emmett was something I always look for in a YA book. All of the friendships in this book are honestly goals, and Bilal and Kaya showed so much beauty towards Emmett that I couldn’t help but fall in love.

I spoke about how this book touches on our current health care crisis and how we let people die just because they can’t afford treatment to live, but Scott Reintgen doesn’t stop there with there with the important discussions. We get to see in this book how we stereotype and profile kids and adults of every race so very often and without even thinking.

I loved seeing Emmett handle this anger, and using the system his Grandma helped him with. I hate how we live in a world where black men have to always be portrayed as angry. They can never be happy, or emotional, or anything close to looking sensitive. I loved seeing Emmett constantly battling his anger, and then also seeing him break down and just cry innocent tears from his family’s love and them believing in him.

And the family dynamic in this book is so strong and wonderful. We don’t get to see a lot of Emmett’s family, but each time we did I had tears in my eyes. Emmett’s dad is perfect, and seeing his unconditional and unwavering love for his son and wife was something pure and beyond words. I wish more YA books showed stronger familial bonds like Nyxia.

Emmett’s journey to making his own family on the ship was also something of perfection. So many important messages are in this book about feeling broken in this broken world, with such heavy emphasis on letting kids know that they are not alone, no matter how alone they feel. Seriously, this book is not just a fast paced and addicting read, it’s powerful and full of messages that warm my heart to know teens and young adults are reading about.

I also loved the use of music in this book, and how Emmett would constantly use it to calm him and to cope with heavy situations around him. I’m a strong believer in the healing powers of music, and I love seeing it used as a positive outlet.

“The power of music and how it can heal your very soul”

I predict that this is going to explode. Between the amazingly addicting story, to the wonderfully diverse and realistic cast, to the important topics and discussions, to the beautiful writing, this story has it all, and I truly believe it is a recipe for success. I can’t wait to get my hands on book two and to see what Scott Reintgen does next!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

2017 Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag

The original tag was created by ReadLikeWildfire and Earl Grey Books!

So far in 2017, I’ve read 57 books and, thanks to the amazing Brock at Let’s Read, here are some other statistics that I was able to gather from his amazing spreadsheet:

For this tag, I also made it a point to not use the same book twice, or else you guys would just have a list of mostly Tyrant’s Throne and Strange the Dreamer. Also, all of these books are 2017 publications.

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2017:
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2017:
Tyrant’s Throne (Greatcoats #4) by Sebastien de Castell

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to:
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:
The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo & Sara Kipin

5. Biggest disappointment:
Into the Fire (Night Prince #4) by Jeaniene Frost

6. Biggest surprise:
Feversong (Fever #9) by Karen Marie Moning

7. Favorite new author (debut or new to you):
Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1) by Nicholas Eames

8. Newest fictional crush:
Pyrre Lakatur from Skullsworn (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 0) by Brian Staveley

9. Newest favorite character:
Nona from Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence

10. Book that made you cry:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

11. Book that made you happy:
Geekerella by Ashley Poston

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received):
Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?:
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

14. Favorite book community member:
I actually just wrote up a post about some of the book reviewers that I absolutely love, and let’s be real, I could never pick just one! Please go check out that post HERE!

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The Dragons of Nova (Loom Saga, #2) by Elise Kova

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ARC provided by Keymaster Press in exchange for an honest review.

1.) The Alchemists of Loom ★★★★

“She was Arianna the Rivet. She was the White Wraith. And she would not scream.”

I devoured this book in one day and one night. It was so whimsical and fantastic, but kept true to its steampunk roots. This book even surpasses The Alchemists of Loom tremendously, and you guys know I loved that. Like, this series is so under-hyped, but is so outstanding. It’s unique, so very creative, beautifully written, completely captivating, and so very addicting.

If you guys are looking for a different kind of fantasy that sits right between YA and NA, please give this a shot. It for sure is mature YA, because this book does have sexy time, but it’s not explicit or anything like that, but it is important to mention if that’s something you’re not comfortable with. But also don’t go into this expecting A Court of Mist and Fury‘s sex scenes, but go into this knowing that it is an older YA book with mature themes that are amazingly written.

“But desire and love and forever were all separate mistresses.”

Book one, The Alchemists of Loom, mostly centers on the world of Loom and seeing how the people are pretty much slaves to the Dragons on Nova. Well, in this book we spend most of our time on Nova and we are able to see how many of the Dragons are not happy with the current ruler. It truly is desperate times for one Dragon house, and our main character, Ari, from Loom might be the only answer to save them.

So, this is book two in a series, but I will do my best to give a little summary, and a big breakdown, that doesn’t give away too much, but still gives you a feel for this amazing world. This world that Elise Kova has built is so very intricate, detailed, and has some of the best world-building I’ve ever read in my life. Honestly, she amazes me and I’m not sure how she has done it, but at this point I’d read anything and everything by her.

There are Two Worlds, Separated by Clouds:
Loom – The main setting of The Alchemists of Loom, and is home to Fenthri and Chimeras and their five guilds.
Nova: The main setting of this book (we do get one amazing perspective on Loom in this book) and the Dragon homeland that is inhabited by three Dragon Houses.

There are Three Main Characters:
Florence – Young Fenthri, whose story-line showcases what’s going on in the heart of the guilds.
Arianna/Ari – The main character, who is made up of nothing short of magic. She’s strong, she’s feared, she’s opening bi-sexual on the page, and she’s amazing.
Cvareh – A Dragon in House Xin, who is trying to change the Dragon’s hierarchy, while also owing Ari a boon of her choosing!

There are Three Races:
Fenthri – Grey, black, white, the weakest of the three races, and have tattoos on their face depicting what guild they belong to.
Dragon – A vast array of colors, very primal, can regrow most things from their bodies, have magical abilities, enslaved Loom and sees Fenthri as servants.
Chimera – Fenthri with Dragon blood and/or organs. They are made by Alchemists, and are very strong.

The Three Dragon Houses:
Rok – Red Dragons! Strongest house, and the Dragon King’s House.
Tam – Green Dragons! Second strongest house, and very aligned with House Rok.
Xin – Blue Dragons! Weakest house.

The Five Guilds of Loom:
Alchemists – Developed Chimeras, and the only guild to not be under the Dragon King’s thumb.
Rivets – Specializes in refining processes in steel mines and applications for gold.
Revolvers – Explores all the uses for guns and explosives!
Harvesters – Supplies all the bare materials to all the other guilds.
Ravens – Moves people and goods all around Loom.

The Fenthri population is completely controlled on Loom, and these five guilds are something that is forced onto you at birth, without choice. It doesn’t matter that you’d be better fit as an Alchemist, if you are chosen to be a Raven. You are given two tests, which you must pass or you will die, then you are branded with a face tattoo according with the guild are you in, and then you will work in alignment with the rest of the guilds granting the Dragons of Nova’s demands.

This sparks an amazing discussion about who we are forced to be and who we truly are when we are able to accept ourselves for who we are. Florence, a Fenthri who is Ari’s assistant, and who has completely won over my heart, has struggled with this her entire life. Her points of view were so amazing and so heartwarming and watching her grow and accept is one of the most beautiful storylines I’ve ever been blessed enough to read.

“Her value extended far beyond the marking on her cheek.”

There is also another very important discussion on how we see certain races as superior and how we build stereotypes and prejudices off of it. Not to get too political here, but this is a pretty close to home parallel for me, and I’d support any book that makes people think twice about judging others off their skin color or other physical characteristics that are unlike their own.

The other discussion statement that I love that this series makes is how women are the strongest force on any planet. This book has some strong female characters that are constantly represented amazingly. Ari is a wrecking force that I would never want to mess with. She continually shows how strong she is, while never having to prove her worth to anyone. Someone like Ari is so important for young girls to be reading about. She knows her limits, and will tell others when she is within them, she never backs down, while still acknowledging her mistakes, she loves and fights selflessly, and does all of this while not being that perfect cookie-cutter YA heroine.

“She bent before no man, woman, king, or queen—and most certainly no Dragon.”

This book has everything: political intrigue, romance, death duels, betrayals, gunslinging, technology, magic, and freakin’ dragons! Like I said, it is for sure mature YA, with darker themes and some sexual content, but I feel like this is truly a unique gift to the YA genre.

Book three, The Rebels of Gold, comes out in December of this year and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

📚🐉✨ If you pre-order The Dragons of Nova before the release (July 10th, 2017), you can get a bunch of cool swag AND help unlock more tiers to get even more swag! The information on submitting your receipt can be found HERE!

“For Loom, there is nothing she wouldn’t do.”

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buddy Read with Jules

“Everyone knew you shouldn’t go biting into fruit offered to you by magical creatures in the woods, even if you’d thought until just five minutes ago that such stories were, you know, only stories.”

This is a wonderful and magical tale about fae creatures that resided in the local Washington forests one wintry season. From page one, this story was so atmospheric and I was completely swept away in this tale of goblins and the horrible things they are capable of in their treetop village. Yet, the goblins only do terrible things if their need for gold is not met by their goblin liaison, Kit.

Every full moon he goes into the forest, notices all the hidden fae signs of life, and meets with the goblins and their leader, Redring, named after the first thing she has ever stolen, which she also wears proudly around her neck. At the monthly encounters, Kit gives them the gold he has collected, or stolen, to appease them from causing havoc on his local townsfolk.

At this wintry visit, Kit does not provide enough gold, and even though he promises to return quickly, the goblins are not satisfied and they decide to have a little fun at the expensive of a local barista and artist who has been drawn to the forests her whole life.

“This magic brought all sorts of cruelty,”

This story surrounds four people, from two different families, and their lives that quickly intertwine. The victim and the liaison’s paths inevitably cross, and we are lead on a magical story trying to figure out how to stop the goblins once and for all, while everyone also chooses to start relationships.

Kit Sylvain – 24 – Mechanic and auto shop owner who also enjoys chainsaw carving. Oh, and goblin liaison.
Livy Darwen – 26 – Environmental scientist, who is passionate about cleaning up her forest, and even more passionate about trying to save her little sister.
Skye Darwen – 23 – Barista and artist, sister of Livy, who accidentally wanders upon the Goblins and finds herself under a powerful curse.
Grady Sylvain – 21 – Chef, who is trying to save money by living with his cousin, Kit, and ends up tangled in the goblin’s web, too.

I enjoyed these characters and their budding relationships, don’t get me wrong, but it still felt a little off. Especially Kit and Livy, because they felt so much older than mid twenties. Hell, they even kept making comparisons how they felt old to their family members, you know, the 21 and 23 year old. I honestly feel like this story was first written with them as the parents, and I actually feel like it would have felt more authentic and more true.

Like, Kit kept talking about how he has always been a bachelor, because of his predicament with the goblins, and I’m like “YOU’RE ONLY 24, WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Seriously, this story would have worked so much better if they were in their 30’s. Like, please, just add ten years to Kit and Livy both and I’d be a happy camper.

Then Skye and Grady’s relationship felt a little off just because of the circumstance that forced them together. As the reader, I was left constantly wondering if they were acting this way because of their predicament or because of their genuine feelings for one another. I totally understand that this is intended, but it made the sex scenes not as enjoyable as they could have been.

Also, for the record, the sex in this book is not good. Like, this for sure has erotic moments, but I didn’t believe or buy them whatsoever. I have read a lot of erotica and a lot of new adult sexy time stories in my day, so maybe the bar is just set high for me, but I personally didn’t enjoy the sex in this book and sort of wish it wasn’t in it.

I did love that both relationships had an older woman with a younger man. We never get to see this relationship dynamic in books, even though it is super common in the real world. So I give huge kudos to Molly Ringle for incorporating that into her story.

And to separate the pairs into other pairs, I freaking loved the familial bonds from each of these characters, especially Livy and Skye. I love sibling relationship stories, and this one truly warmed my heart to see Livy do whatever it takes to save her sister. Kit and Grady, even though they are cousins and not brothers, were still super enjoyable too, and I loved how self sacrificing Kit was willing to be for his family.

I didn’t like how Livy chose not to get her and Skye’s mother involved with Skye’s sickness, especially when she was taking Skye to see professional help and even talked about suicide prevention. In this story, their mother lives in Oregon, and Livy feels like she doesn’t want to involve her mom because she has worked and done so much for them growing up, but, like, that’s her daughter who is hurting, she would want to know. It just rubbed me the wrong way and further justifies my point that Livy and Kit felt so much older and were truly the parental figures in this story, not random twenty-year-olds.

My favorite character in the whole story was a goblin named Flowerwatch, and I would instantly buy a spin-off book just involving that little cinnamon roll. Seriously, she was so precious and the values and morals she brought to the story were so tedious. Flowerwatch truly is a literary gift to this world, and I’d recommend this book to my friends because of this little goblin alone.

I haven’t read that many books on goblins, but I really enjoyed Molly Ringle’s debut take on them, and loved the eerie, creepy, spooky vibe she constantly created involving them. This story was actually inspired by a poem, Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti, that I have never personally read, but now I am so very interested, and I think that speaks volumes about how enthralled this world left me. I’m also really craving to read Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones now, too!

Overall, this was a really enjoyable read. It is fast paced, relatively short, and I’m super happy I gave it a try. My favorite part, besides all the fae life, was how amazingly atmospheric it was. I constantly felt like I was teleported into a snowy forest, or a small town café, or even in a boat floating down a river stream. I really think Molly Ringle is a beautiful writer, who has so much talent with words. I am very excited to see what she does next.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Godblind by Anna Stephens

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ARC provided by Skyhorse Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

I do want to start this review by saying that this is a grimdark fantasy novel, which means that it has much darker and more brutal tones than regular fantasy. Many of the characters are morally grey, and do very ruthless, savage, and inhumane things. I personally do enjoy this type of fantasy, but I know this subgenre isn’t for everyone. This all being said, there are a lot of trigger warnings for brutal violence, rape, attempted rape, graphic torture, genital mutilation, religious sacrifice and other things along/in those veins.

“The gods demanded victory.”

The basic premise of this book is that in the world of Gilgoras the people either worship Dancer, the Goddesses of Light, and her Fox God son or the Red Gods who are the Dark Lady and the God of Blood. The Mireces people choose to worship the Red Gods, but they pay the price by being exiled to the cold and miserable places of Gilgoras, while the people that follow Dancer and her Fox God son get to thrive in Rilpor.

“Rilpor will belong to Blood again and, after it has fallen, all the world will know my wrath.”

The Mireces people not only worship the Red Gods, but they make incredible sacrifices to them, too. I’m talking excruciating pain until death type torture sacrifices. Yet, they are finally strong enough, and have enough people following their Gods’ path, to try to take over Rilpor once and for all so they no longer have to live in the shadows.

Meanwhile, there is a man who is part of the civilian watch of Rilpor who is directly connected to the world of the Gods. They speak to him, among other agonizing things, but he is normally able to let his people know before something catastrophic happens. Then he rescues an escaping Mireces who he believes is the key to something much bigger. And he’s right.

Add in a sick king, mourning the loss of his wife, a commander trying desperately to protect that king, while also trying to uncover what is true, a general, who doesn’t know what to believe but wants to do what’s right, another newly appointed king who has a very questionable adviser, a very lucky or cursed man, depending on how you look at it, with two different colored eyes, and a couple of Gods that want to live and rule among humans. Yeah, this is a pretty epic story with a lot going on.

This story is told in many different points of view, but it is blended seamlessly and never feels like it’s too much or over the top. It’s just an amazingly well crafted dark tale, filled with twists and turns that made me unable to put this book down. There are betrayals and backstabbing, dark rituals and salvations, friendships and loves, this book has everything I want in my fantasy.

This book has some amazingly strong female characters. A girl coping with her abuse and PTSD to become the fighter she’s always wanted to be. The best officer Rilpor has ever seen, while constantly having to put up with misogynistic and sexist things. The most badass old woman, who never loses sight of her God or her faith, ever. Hell, even a villain that doesn’t want to be a sidekick to a male and his agenda anymore. This story has the representation I want to see as a woman who reads and loves fantasy. Anna Stephens is Queen, end of story.

“Then fuck you all, she thought, I’ll save myself.”

And speaking of representation, Crys like instantly became one of my all time favorite characters. He honestly might be my favorite character in all of 2017. I do not believe sexuality is ever a spoiler, but if you feel differently, do not read the rest of this paragraph. I love how we get to see Crys explore, deal, and accept his feelings for men. It was such an unexpected joy in this very dark world. The scenes where Crys accepted his self, and who he truly was, warmed my heart to no end and were some of my favorite moments in this entire book. Plus, you guys know I’m always here for the bi/gay representation, always, and Crys’ was expertly done.

And the friendship in this book is truly spectacular, too. I loved seeing the growth of some of these friendships, but I loved seeing the forgiveness and acceptance even more. Friendships are never perfect, and sometimes they start out really rocky, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth it.

I also loved the lesson of starting over, and how you are never the mistakes you have made it your past. And you certainly are never the terrible things that were forced upon you. Seeing the escaped Mireces, Rillirin, healing from her abuse (sexually, physically, and mentally) and the PTSD caused by them, was beautifully done and I was so happy it was added into this book. And then seeing her be able to love and accept love again was nothing short of magic to read. Discussions like this, especially in fantasy, are so needed and I completely applaud Anna Stephens for thoughtfully and respectively adding them in her already phenomenal story.

“You weren’t a whore; you were a victim”

My biggest, and maybe only, complaint is that I went into this believing it would be a standalone, which it is totally not. In fact, I think this beautiful book spent most of its time setting up for the events that are going to take place in the next installment. Most the time, when you receive a physical ARC, you will get a sell sheet that will say something along the lines of “epic new first book in a series” or something along those lines, but my sell sheet totally didn’t say anything like that, and neither does the description, so I went in ignorantly believing this would be a stand alone. Obviously this is not the fault of the author or this books what so ever, in fact after reading, I saw on Anna Stephen’s author bio it says it’s a trilogy releasing a book a year. So, this is totally and probably my fault for just not doing my research and realizing that it was the first book in a new series, but regardless I was a little disappointed, especially because of the massive cliffhanger(s) of an ending. Yet, now I realize that I get more books in this world and with these characters, so maybe it’s not as much as a disappointment as I originally thought. But I do think it is important to note, especially since Goodreads also doesn’t have this listed as the first book in a series yet. But I do need to get my hands on the next book, like, yesterday. Seriously, who do I need to sacrifice?

Please give this a try upon release on June 20th 2017. I really believe it is something special and something so worth reading if you’re a fantasy lover. I loved this book wholeheartedly. I instantly loved the premise, I quickly fell in love with the world, and eventually fell in love with most of the characters. The discussions are important, the representation was amazing, and the story is addicting as well! I am so impressed with this debut novel and author, and I cannot wait to get my hands on book two.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

The New Voices of Fantasy by Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love supporting under-hyped books and authors, and these are nineteen up and coming fantasy authors that each contributed a short story for this anthology. I mean, how could I not request an ARC of this? I absolutely love the thought that went in to this, and I’m so very thankful that Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman curated this.

Yet, I do think that these curators are being very liberal with the word “new”. Some of these short stories were released in 2014 and 2015. Some of these authors are very well known and published. I didn’t let this impact my rating or reading experience, but I think it’s important to note it is a very loose term here.

I also feel like this would be a perfect October/Fall read, because even though this is pitched as a fantasy collection, which it is, but I couldn’t help but feel like it had much more of an eerie, almost horror, vibe. Most all of the stories are set in our world, in our time, so if you’re looking for dragons, dwarfs, fae, and elves, you’ve come to the wrong anthology.

Yet, a few of these short stories completely captured my heart and very quickly made me a new fan of the authors. The Tallest Doll in New York City by Maria Dahvana Headley, Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon, and Wing by Amal El-Mohtar were some of my favorites and I gave each story a perfect five stars. These stories just felt a tier above most and were just so impactful and beautifully written. I am a sucker for lyrical prose, and all three of these authors completely delivered.

My personal favorite in the whole collection is, hands down, The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado. I am in awe of this story and its utter perfection. One of the best feminist works I’ve ever read in my life, and one of the most powerful pieces of art, too. If you can only read one short story of these nineteen, please pick this one. It’s life changing and so very important.

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating! Also, all but three of these short stories can be found and read online for free. I will include a link in the title of the story that will direct you to a source that will allow you to read it for free if you are interested.

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★
This first short story completely hooked me. A girl uses Tinder to find dates who are petty criminals and feeds off their impure thoughts. Yet, she gets more than she bargained for when she becomes addicted to feasting off an actual killer. Now her hunger knows no bounds, and to protect the girl she secretly likes she has to find another way to sate her hunger.

Selkie Stories are for Losers by Sofia Samatar – ★★
This one for sure feels like it could dip into the horror category, too, but it never really got scary. It is sort of story of stories and the whole theme revolves around the mythical folklore creatures, selkies. Selkies are seals who are able to shed their skin and turn human to dwell on land among us. Sadly, this just didn’t work for me, and the buildup left a lot to be desired.

Tornado’s Siren by Brooke Bolander – ★★★
This is a very unique short about a girl that has caught the attention of a tornado one stormy evening. She is only nine at the time, but it follows her periodically through her growing up to become an adult. After years of attempted normalcy, our main character realizes that she doesn’t want to be normal after all. I enjoyed this, and I loved the open ending, but it wasn’t my favorite in the collection.

Left the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker – ★★★
This is a very, very short little story about a local pond where only the bravest of townsfolk jump off a waterfall into it. There are rules to jumping in this pond, and this pond is said to just take people. They can dredge it up, but no bodies are every found, only the swimsuits that float to the surface. Our main character is obsessed with jumping in it, ever since her brother went missing after his jump. This story is beautifully written, and the message very strong, especially with the length of this one.

A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone – ★
This story was so difficult for me to read. I didn’t connect with the writing style whatsoever, and it felt ungodly longer than the rest of the stories in this collection. This story focuses on a modern day version of Vlad the Impaler, where he is trying to live a normal life, and raise a normal son, while also trying to control his urge to function as a vampire. He becomes obsessed with his son’s teacher, and begins to literally stalk her. To drink from? To kill? To fuck? Who knows, but it is supposed to be a “you can work out your problems if you love each other enough, while still being able to be who you are” story, but it didn’t work in the slightest for me. Also, I’m just personally so sick of Vlad the Impaler retellings.

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon – ★★★★★
Good Lord, this story was so close to perfect! I absolutely loved and adored it. Twist and turns throughout, with a perfect ending, all wrapped up in such a short tale. This story is about jackalope rabbits, which can turn into very beautiful women, who love to dance the night away. Many men desire to make them their wives, and by stealing the rabbit coats they shed while dancing, but by doing so you will also be trapping them into not being able to shift back into their rabbit forms. Some very cruel men burn their skins, while forcing them to be humans forever.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu – ★★★★
This was the first story in the collection that every aspect felt like fantasy. We are thrown into this amazingly beautiful, but ruthless, community of bees and wasps and a couple other insects. We get to see the hierarchy within the wasps, and the demands they make of the bees. We get to see, as the title suggests, their uses of maps and how they take note of the events happening in their world. I really enjoyed this, and the writing was superb.

The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate by A. C. Wise – ★
This is exactly what the title implies, a section by section guide on how to buy a residence if you are a witch. Now, I’m sure this will be super cute, charming, and funny to many readers out there, but it totally fell flat for me. It just felt very forced, while trying to be funny, but it just came across as cringey. Plus, (not that I am the expert on witches buying or creating homes) it felt very basic with its “witch knowledge”. I feel really bad saying this, but I didn’t enjoy this at all.

The Tallest Doll in New York City by Maria Dahvana Headley – ★★★★★
Be still, my heart! This was so amazingly unique! I loved it! This story is set in New York, where the tall buildings and structures move on their own. This tale is told on Valentine’s Day, and the storyteller is a waiter in a club that works high up inside one of these moving buildings. I loved seeing all these iconic structures choose one another and pair up for Valentine’s Day. And the story is told so beautifully, whimsically, and romantically, that you can’t help but fall in love with it.

The Haunting of Apollo A7LB by Hannu Rajaniemi – ★★★
A woman is dealing with the death of her lover from her past, when she gets a knock on her door from that person’s moon suit, that she helped sew, which is a little scary because that person has died. At first sight, she believes it to be his ghost, but soon realizes that there is someone else inside of it. The suit is compelling him to do things that he normally would never do, and now it has showed up on her doorstep. This short story definitely talks about differences in races and classes and how far we still need to go, but also about love and how far we are willing to go for the ones we love.

Here Be Dragons by Chris Tarry – ★
This is easily my least favorite in the whole collection. Trigger warnings for child abuse, even though it’s written about in a disgustingly light way. This story is about two men who are pretty much medieval con-artists, who “slay dragons” for wealth and fame. Well, now they have come home to actually be fathers to their children, while their wives work, but they can’t deal with that apparently, because, you know, sexism, and then they both have separate epiphanies that they aren’t cut out for this father thing, when they could have fame, glory, and prostitutes. I understand not every story has to have likable main characters, but I literally hated both of these men from start to finish.

The One They Took Before by Kelly Sandoval – ★★★★
This story was just the perfect about of ominous and eerie. It all starts with a rift in the universe and an ad on Craigslist in Seattle. Our main character is constantly battling her inner feelings whether or not she wants to return to her abductors that are not from our world. It was such a good balance of realistic and whimsical, and my only real complaint is that I wish there was more that I could read.

Tiger Baby by JY Yang – ★★
I feel somewhat torn about rating this story. This short is about a girl who is being constantly haunted by her dreams of being a tiger, which she also believes is her “true form” and aspires to become it. She doesn’t have the best life and constantly feels so much different than her peers. All of this, and the many metaphors, could have packed a big punch, but instead it fell short because our main protagonist isn’t a teenager feeling like an outcast that can’t connect with anyone, instead she is over thirty years old and refuses to seek out help.

The Duck by Ben Loory – ★★★★
This was short and cute and extremely unexpectedly powerful. On paper, this is a story about a duck that fell in love with a rock, but it’s truly a story about helping people you love and understanding and accepting them for who they are. With true friends, we can accomplish so much and we can help heal others and make so many people happy. This was really good, and I highly recommend.

Wing by Amal El-Mohtar – ★★★★★
This might be the most beautiful story in the whole collection. This short story is so romantic and so expertly written. My interruption is that soul mates are rare, but always worth the wait, and sharing yourself body and soul with someone else is something indescribable. We will have many loves in our lives, but when you find that person who you can share all your secrets with you will realize why it never worked out with anyone else. I loved this so very much, and I loved the imagery in this, and I loved picturing a girl with a book of secrets around her neck. Seriously, this was perfection.

The Philosophers by Adam Ehrlich Sachs – ★★
This is three mini stories; all surrounding a discussion about boys and their fathers. It’s about becoming what they expect you to be, becoming what you have no powering to not become, and how one day the boy will become the father. If I’m being honest, this wasn’t bad, but it just tried too damn hard to sound prolific. And it wasn’t that I couldn’t relate, but I just didn’t care to read three stories of different father and son relationships.

My Time Among the Bridge Blowers by Eugene Fischer – ★★
This was just ungodly boring. It’s about a man, traveling with another man, to a village tribe that’s unlike anything he’s ever known, and then closes very mysteriously and very open-ended. Maybe there is some very introspective meaning here that just went over my head, but I just didn’t enjoy this.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – ★★★★★
Oh my God. This was the best short story I have ever read in my entire life. I’m writing this review in tears, because it was so immensely powerful. My hands are shaking, because this story is so real and so relevant. My stomach is in knots, because I’m not sure any combination of words I will create will do this story justice. This story is very feminist and very sexually explicit, but so damn important. It’s about the life of a woman, who gives everything to men and never is allowed to keep anything for herself. It’s about life’s expectations on women, and how society shapes the choices we do and do not have. It’s about how, no matter what, giving everything will never be good enough as a woman. It’s about enjoying and exploring your sexuality, yet trying to cope with the shame. It’s about never fully being able to become the person you are, but becoming the person your husband and/or family require you to be. It’s about having children, who will just repeat the same vicious and unfair cycle. I wish I could put this story in everyone’s hands.

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik – ★★★★
This story was so very long, but was rather enjoyable. It’s about a boy, who has been obsessed with a story his grandfather has told him since he was young, about a princess, her two sisters, and a jinn that protected them all. This family lives in the states now, but the story is from Pakistan. After a few turn of events, the boy, now a man, picks up his life and goes to Pakistan to see if his grandfather’s story was just a story. Also, this story has such a beautiful ending.

I gave The New Voices of Fantasy 3 stars overall, because out of a possible 95 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 19 stories) this collection accumulated 60 stars (63%).

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (The Gryffindor 20th Anniversary Edition)

I know I said that June would be a month where I only read my ARCs, but what kind of reader would I truly be if I didn’t drop everything to reread a new edition of the series that made me a reader? And seriously, I couldn’t resist even if I tried. Look how breathtaking this Gryffindor version is!

And the inside? The inside is even more spectacular!

Each of these four versions, one for each of the different Hogwarts houses, has a few special pages at the beginning and at the end to celebrate the love and glory of that house.

Even though I’m constantly battling an internal crisis over the fact that the new Sorting Hat on Pottermore put me in Ravenclaw, I feel like I am and always have been a Gryffindor. And I suppose that internal struggle, much like Neville Longbottom, is actually very Gryffindor of me.

But I’m here to show you some of this glorious art in the Gryffindor edition, while just trying to celebrate every piece of happiness that J.K. Rowling and this life changing series has given us. I am beyond words of gratitude, so hopefully my pictures suffice.

If you are interested in purchasing the Gryffindor edition or any/all of the other four houses, you can order them at a reasonable price, and with free shipping, from Book Depository!

Hardcover: Gryffindor | Ravenclaw | Hufflepuff | Slytherin
Paperback: Gryffindor | Ravenclaw | Hufflepuff | Slytherin

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