Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost BrideThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had my eye on this gorgeous book for a very long time. After recently reading through some glowing reviews from friends, I decided not to put it off any longer. Proving that sometimes I do make good choices. It’s rare, but it happens.

One of my favorite aspects of this ended up being the striking atmosphere. It was such a good fit as we transition from a spooky October into a still spooky, yet more cozy November…

Set in the 19th-century port town of Malacca, in colonial Malaya, this story follows 17-year old, Li Lan, who lives with her father and loving nursemaid, Amah.

Li Lan’s family was once well-off, but due to her father’s persistent opium addiction, they now find themselves virtually bankrupt.

Li Lan is at the point in her life when most young women her age are getting married. Due to their status, however, Li Lan finds herself without many prospects.

When her father first presents her with the idea of becoming a ghost bride for the wealthy Lim family, he says it lightly, sort of in passing; like he wasn’t really considering it.

The local practice of ghost brides are said to calm restless spirits of those who have passed on. The Lim’s son, Lim Tian Ching, has recently died under mysterious circumstances and his mother seems set on finding him a ghost bride.

Even though Li Lan would be set for life, having a lavish place to live, never wanting for anything, she’s not into it. Tying herself to a dead man for the duration of her life, no thank you. She wants more, maybe even love.

When she gets invited to the Lim home for a visit however, she does accept. There’s no reason to be rude. Plus, she’s genuinely curious about the family.

It is a very interesting visit. She’s mesmerized by their lifestyle and the characters fluttering around their lush estate. After the visit, the haunting of Li Lan begins.

In her dreams, Li Lan is visited by the dead Lim Tian Ching, whose spirit makes her incredibly uncomfortable for a host of different reasons. The nightly interactions begin to wear heavily upon her.

She even goes as far as visiting a medium to try to find a way to free herself of his spirit. In short, she’s given a potion of sorts to try to help and after taking too much, Li Lan slips into a coma.

Y’all, I am really simplifying this here, but you get the gist. Through her condition, Li Lan is transported to the parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where vengeful spirits, ghost cities and monstrous establishments abound.

There she meets Er Lang, a sort of spiritual guide, and they help her upon her journey. The more ensnared Li Lan becomes in this world, the greater the risk becomes that she will never be able to return to the mortal realm. It’s a race against the clock.

I adored the menacing, magical tone of this. I loved the infusion of Chinese folklore. It’s so interesting to read about and learn about. I have read a couple of other novels tackling similar concepts and always end up really enjoying the imagery of the dark underworld.

I did end up listening to the audiobook and I would absolutely recommend that format. It is actually narrated by the author and is completely mesmerizing.

I love when an author narrates their own story. If done right, it can just breath such energy and authenticity into it. Only they know exactly how their words should be read and wow, Yangsze Choo could be the best I’ve ever heard!!!

I know I am probably forgetting a million things that I wanted to say about this one. The goodness of it all has just zapped thoughts straight out of my brain.

Overall, I found this story to be beautifully-lyrical, fantastical and compelling. I’m so glad that I finally made time for it. I am definitely planning to read more from Yangsze Choo; looking forward to it. I’m a fan!

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Review: Into the Windwracked Wilds (The Up-And-Under #3) by A. Deborah Baker

Into the Windwracked Wilds (The Up-and-Under, #3)Into the Windwracked Wilds by A. Deborah Baker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬 🌈🌬

Into the Windwracked Wilds is the third installment to Seanan McGuire’s, writing here as A. Deborah Baker, The Up-and-Under series.

This fantastical series is connected to McGuire’s tour de force of SFF, Middlegame, and is perfect for Readers of all ages.

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, Over the Woodward Wall and Along the Saltwise Sea, proceed with a little bit of caution, as some things I mention herein could be considered spoilery.

Now is your chance to turn back. I am only saying this once.

The series follows two children, Zib and Avery, who upon a normal commute to school one day encounter a giant wall where it shouldn’t be. Together they decide to go up and over this wall, thus finding themselves in a different world, known as the Up-and-Under.

In the first novel, they travel through a magical forest while following the improbable road and the second book finds them traversing the Saltwise Sea. Along the way they collect new friends, encounter challenges to overcome and enemies to out-maneuver.

After a final, very Pinocchio-esque, adventure on the Saltwise Sea, Avery, Zib, the Crow Girl and Niamh, finally find themselves on dry land.

More specifically, they’ve entered the Land of Air, ruled by the intimidating Queen of Swords, who is known to have a habit of turning people into monsters. Although, by this definition the Crow Girl would be considered a monster and we love the Crow Girl!

It doesn’t take long before they come across Jack Daw, the Queen’s son, but he’s giving off a serious vibe that he’s not too crazy about Mommy Dearest.

Can he be trusted though, or is he playing double agent with our intrepid heroes?

They eventually end up at the castle and have to stay on their toes at all times to avoid being tricked by this Queen. She is a devious one indeed.

Will they all be able to make it out in one piece? At this point, Zib and Avery are beyond ready to get home to their parents. But the Queen of Swords is tricky and coming out on top is going to take all their mental stamina. She may be their biggest challenge yet.

After a bit of a slow start, this wrapped up with an absolutely beautiful ending. Once they finally made it to land was when it really started to pick up for me. The Queen was quite the character. She’s got the dangerous, evil Queen thing down and I was living for it.

The intensity was high once they reached the castle. I love these characters so much. I can’t wait to see what’s next. I’m really looking forward to the 4th-book, when I believe we’ll be entering the Land of Fire.

McGuire’s writing, as always, continues to impress. There’s such intention behind every word. The nuance is stunning and truly mind-boggling.

This entire world, the connection to the Alchemical Journeys series, the characters and the lore of it all is so fun to read and think about. There are so many layers, it’s the type of thing you could read over and over and still find new things each time.

I love that kind of story and will definitely continue to pick up anything in this world for as long as McGuire is putting them out.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I just adore this series and definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a dark, whimsical read.

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Review: A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables #2) by Alix E. Harrow

A Mirror Mended (Fractured Fables #2)A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Mirror Mended is the second installment to Alix E. Harrow’s fairy tale-based novella series, Fractured Fables.

The first in the series, A Spindle Splintered, was such a delightful surprise for me when I picked it up last fall.

In that story we meet our protagonist, Zinnia Gray, who due to an industrial accident is left with a rare fatal condition. She’s told she won’t live to see her 22nd-birthday. In spite of this, or maybe because of this, Zinnia tries to live her life to the fullest.

Her best friend Charm, knowing this about her, decides on her 21st-birthday to throw Zinnia a Sleeping Beauty-themed party. It’s at that party, at the stroke of midnight, that Zinnia pierces her finger on a spinning wheel and first gets transported into another world.

It happens to be the world in which the real Briar Rose lives and the two women work together to try to halt their doomed fates.

In this installment, we find Zinnia still fixing fairly tales. She has traveled throughout the fairy tale multiverse always seeming to find herself in her comfort zone; Sleeping Beauty.

That’s why Zinnia is beyond shocked when she looks into the mirror one day and sees a face looking back at her. A beautiful, slightly evil face.

It seems Zinnia may be on to a whole new story, which just so happens to be one of my favorites, Snow White.

The Evil Queen has come seeking Zinnia’s help. She’s found out how her story ends and she is desperate for a better ending. Zinnia’s intrigued.

Not only is the Evil Queen beautiful, but as Zinnia gets to know her, she feels like maybe the Queen is a bit misunderstood. Zinnia wants to help, but will she be able too before the story ends for them both?

This installment was just as much fun as the first. I forgot how incredibly smart and witty the writing is. It hooked me in from the start.

I’m seriously obsessed with this series. I’m not sure exactly how long this series is slated to be, but I am hoping for many, many more. Zinnia Gray is life.

I would definitely recommend the audiobook format as well. The narrator really brings spirit to the story and breaths life into Zinnia. It’s completely immersive and fun.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review. I can’t wait for whatever comes next!!

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Review: Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega

WitchlingsWitchlings by Claribel A. Ortega
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Ghost Squad in 2020 I knew I wanted more from Ortega. I had so much fun with that book.

The characters, the relationships, the humor, the heart; it was such a fantastically pure Middle Grade story. The perfect start for future Horror Readers like myself.

In Witchlings, Ortega is able to bring a classic feel to a modern Fantasy story.

Set in a magical town called Ravenskill, we follow 12-year old Seven Salazar, who on the night of her Black Moon Ceremony gets a result she wasn’t expecting.

For context purposes you can picture the Black Moon Ceremony as a kind of sorting hat process. Young witchlings are essentially sorted into covens based on their skills and abilities.

Seven and her best friend have always dreamed of being in the same coven. They want it so much that the girls actually begin to take it as a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works out and Seven ends up as a Spare. A witchling who doesn’t get placed into one of the five covens.

Spares, if we are being honest, are sort of looked down on by the whole town. It’s not the greatest fate and disappointing for Seven, but she’s not alone. Two other witchlings become Spares during that ceremony, Thorn and Valley.

Making matters worse, when the three witchlings try to seal their circle, forging their bond as sisters, it doesn’t work. Now they’ll be doomed to a life without magic, except there’s a catch and Seven knows it.

She invokes their right to perform an impossible task. If they are able to complete it, their coven will be sealed and they will be able to gain full power.

If they fail they risk being turned into toads. No pressure.

Thus the three witchlings, who initially believed they had nothing in common, learn to work together and rely on one another to accomplish their goals. Friendship truly is magic.

Witchlings is so engaging from the very start. Seven, as well as Thorn and Valley, are all very well fleshed out and super relatable.

I love how pure their friendship is and the evolution of their relationship is so natural. I am sure young readers will be able to see a bit of themselves in at least one of these main characters.

The witchlings uncover a bit of a mystery involving their town during the course of their impossible task and even in the face of dangerous odds, they forge ahead to reveal the truth.

I loved that bit of mystery and intrigue. It was surprising and fun. You can tell that Ortega poured her whole heart into this one and I would definitely recommend reading the Author’s Note at the end.

Hearing a bit of Ortega’s inspiration behind this story really helped me to appreciate all she brought to the page.

I cannot recommend this one highly enough to both Middle Grade Readers and Fantasy Readers in general. Additionally, the audiobook is superb.

I am super stoked for the sequel to this. Yes, there is one coming and I cannot wait!!!

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Review: Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Nettle & BoneNettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hearty hello to one of my new favorite books. Seriously, Nettle & Bone was the EASIEST FIVE STAR RATING I’VE GIVEN ALL YEAR!!!

I absolutely adored this story from the very first moments. T. Kingfisher positively swept me up into the humorous, enchanting fantasy quest of my dreams.

Nettle & Bone follows Princess Marra of the Harbor Kingdom on a quest to save her sister. Marra is the third-born daughter in her family. The first born was married to a particular Prince. It didn’t end well.

Now the second-born daughter, Kania, is married to that very same Prince and Marra suspects that he is hurting her. Vorling, the Prince in question, has his sights set on a male heir. If this second sister can’t produce one for him, guess who is next in line?

Marra! This isn’t her main concern though. I mean, yes, that would be absolutely terrible. This guy is basically Joffrey Baratheon reborn.

Regardless, Marra’s only concern is getting Kania out of danger. She is literally willing to do anything in order to free her, including commit murder.

Unsure how to even begin, Marra enlists the help of a Dust Wife. I won’t go into what exactly a Dust Wife is, just trust, this one is one of the coolest characters ever written!

The Dust Wife asks Marra to complete three impossible tasks and then she will help her. Before long, the two set off on the road to the Northern Kingdom, along with the Dust Wife’s hen, who happens to be possessed by a demon.

Thus it begins, the most perfect quest. They gather traveling companions along the way, such as a former, and arguably sexy, knight, as well as a Fairy Godmother.

It’s safe to say that I love this story with the same passion, and frankly, for the same reasons, that I love The Princess Bride. Kingfisher is delivering all the classic Fantasy Quest tropes I adore, while glazing the entire tale with a healthy layer of humor.

Additionally, I enjoyed how she was able to mix real-life themes into this story. For example, partner abuse, which we all know is very real, the way that was explored in this fantastical setting was quite interesting.

As I mentioned earlier, from the very start I was hooked on this story. Previously, I have only picked up Horror stories from Kingfisher, but this proves her talents know no bounds. She crushes any genre she writes in.

I am so happy to have found a new book to add to my all-time Favorites list. I will definitely be picking up a hard copy of this and rereading it at some point in the near future.

As an aside, I did listen to the audiobook and highly recommend that format. The narration was fantastic and kept me dialed in the entire way through.

Thank you so very much to the publisher, Tor and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copies to read and review.

It was such an enjoyable reading experience and the good news is, this isn’t it from Kingfisher in 2022. I’m so excited to check out What Moves the Dead very soon!!

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Review: Fortuna Sworn (Fortuna Sworn #1) by K.J. Sutton

Fortuna Sworn (Fortuna Sworn, #1)Fortuna Sworn by K.J. Sutton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Fortuna Sworn is the last of her kind. It was her and her brother, Damon, but he went missing two years ago.

Since that time, Fortuna has spent her days blending into the human world while searching for him at night. On one of her searches she gets captured by goblins and brought to the market to be sold.

Luckily she’s able to escape the whole being sold thing, but she did catch someone’s eye whilst at the market; a very powerful faerie named Collith.

Before she knows it, she’s receiving a proposition, her hand for the possibility of getting her brother back. I am putting it simply, but you get the gist.

The story follows Fortuna as she enters the world of the fae, hoping against all hope that she’ll be able to find what she’s looking for.

But if she finds her brother, will he even want to be rescued? And what is she sacrificing in the process?

This was good. I liked it. A solid foundation for the start of a series. I don’t read a lot of fae books, in fact, I have only read a handful that I can think of, but I liked how this one was constructed.

Additionally, I’m very intrigued by the ending and will be continuing on to the second book.

I won’t claim I understand everything going on here, but I loved Fortuna as a character and want to learn more about her and this world.

Fortuna is a creature known as a nightmare, which I have never come across before. Basically, she can make people see, or experience, their worst fears just by touching them. She wields this power as a weapon and I got to say, it’s pretty badass.

As stated above, I’m definitely on board to continue on with this series. I listened to the audiobook and thought it was a great way to take in this story. The narration was fabulous.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Dreamscape Media, for providing me a copy to read and review. I’m so happy I finally had the chance to check this one out. It sucked me in!

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Review: For the Wolf (Wilderwood #1) by Hannah F. Whitten

For the Wolf (Wilderwood, #1)For the Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.

As the second daughter to the Queen, Red’s fate is set. While her sister will inherit the throne, Red will be sacrificed to the Wilderwood and the monsterous Wolf that resides there.

In her kingdom it is believed that the Wolf of the Wood has the ability to release the world’s captured Gods, and that with Red’s sacrifice, he just may choose to do that. Thus, Red could essentially be the savior of the world.

It’s never worked before, but now could be the time.

Red doesn’t know about all that, but she is hiding a mysterious gift that she learned once, the hard way, is dangerous. Because of this, she is ready and willing to go, if only to protect her friends and family from herself and the magic that lies within her.

Upon entering the Wilderwood, Red quickly discovers it isn’t at all what she expected. Sure, it’s dangerous, but she was planning on instant death. Not so much.

Also, the Wolf, he’s not a beast, he’s a man who lives in a castle, has an incredible library, two humorous roommates, a magical mirror and he needs some help.

Is this starting to sound like anyone you know?

For some reason going into this, I expected a Little Red Riding Hood retelling, but it’s straight-up, Beauty and the Beast. My favorite fairy tale of all time. I smiled every time I discovered another connection.

This is wildly creative. I loved the entire atmosphere of the Wilderwood and the Wolf’s castle. It’s dark, dank, murky and dangerous. The root magic, or earth magic, that Red and the Wolf had is quite captivating. I really enjoyed that aspect.

Red and the Wolf’s slow burn romance was also enjoyable, although when I say slow, I mean SLOW.

For me, it dragged on too long. I almost feel like this could have been broken into two books. While I liked all of the content, it failed to keep me entirely engaged. I was constantly checking to see how many pages I had left.

However, it’s good. It is a well thought out story with some great world creation, so please do not let my one small grievance affect whether or not you pick this book up.

In fact, please pick this book up. I want to hear your thoughts! If you enjoy Fantasy with interesting magic systems, you could end up loving this. Particularly if you are a fan of slow-burn romance.

I am absolutely planning to continue on with this story. There’s some complicated political maneuverings occuring, as well as intense family drama, so I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

Looking forward to it!

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Review: The Last Fallen Star (Gifted Clans #1) by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Star (Gifted Clans #1)The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Riley Oh has never felt like she fits in. She loves her adoptive family with her whole heart, but while they are a part of the Gom clan, a powerful line of Korean healing witches, Riley is a saram; one without magic.

When her sister Hattie is about to be initiated into the clan, earning her Gi bracelet and the ability to perform spells without adult supervision, Hattie comes up with a plan to share her magic with Riley.

While that sounds like a great idea, like many great ideas before it, things don’t quite go as planned.

With Hattie’s life hanging in the balance, Riley must now go on a seemingly impossible quest to find the last fallen star. Obviously, it would be helpful if Riley even had the slightest clue what the star is, or how to find it.

Along with her best friend, Emmett, the two work against the clock, challenging everything they believed about their world, in order to try to save Hattie.

I absolutely adored this story. Riley was such a sweet little gumdrop. She was so easy to get behind and support.

I really appreciated the growth Riley made as a character and the way Kim incorporated so many true to life, coming of age issues into this fantastical story.

I thought there was a lot of great content in here for young readers concerning things like the meaning of family, friendship, being true to yourself and who you are meant to be.

This story left off in an incredible spot for a continuation of the series. I am really, really, really looking forward to the next book, set to release in 2022.

I highly recommend this action-packed, Korean-mythology inspired Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure. Yes, it has everything! Such an impressive debut!!!!!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Books and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I will be praising this one to the rooftops for a long time to come!! Available now!!

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Review: Malice by Heather Walter

MaliceMalice by Heather Walter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, an evil fairy cursed a line of Princesses to die. The only way to break the curse, true love’s kiss.

You may be thinking you’ve heard this story before, right?

I’d say, not quite like this. in Malice, Heather Walter has put her own darkly creative spin on the beloved tale, Sleeping Beauty.

Alyce is a Dark Grace, living in a house of Beauty Graces since she was just a young girl.

While the wealthy of Briar set appointments with the other Graces to enhance their beauty, they go to Alyce for more sinister potions and tinctures.

Alyce has never fit in with the other girls and is frequently harassed by them; particularly by the beautiful and talented, Rose.

As deplorable as their treatment of her is, Alyce grows used to it. She even comes to accept it, in a way.

That’s why when she crosses paths with the last Princess, Aurora, and Aurora shows her kindness, Alyce isn’t quite sure how to react. Why would the Princess want to be friends with her? It doesn’t make any sense.

In the midst of all of this, Alyce actually stumbles upon, and befriends someone else. Kal, a man magically imprisoned in a tower, who promises to teach her how to harness her powers.

Through her meetings with him, Alyce begins to learn more about her history, potential and the world outside of Briar.

The world Walter created within this story was absolutely immersive. I loved the magic system. Learning about the Graces and their powers, but also the interactions with Fae and the history of Briar.

It’s richly detailed, but in a way that stays engaging. Alyce was a fantastically created character. I felt her every emotion; also extra points for including her kestrel, Callow. Three cheers for animal companions.

I also thought the relationship between Alyce and Aurora was well done. It felt natural. The stakes were really high and it definitely pushed the drama of the story.

I did feel like the end dragged on a bit, but overall, I was so impressed with this. I would definitely recommend Malice for Readers who enjoy the darker side of fairy tales.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Del Rey, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to reading more from Heather Walter!

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Review: Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night BrothersAmari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, yes, yes!!! Middle Grade Fantasy at its best!!!

I love Amari. I love the world. I love the magic system and humbly request at least ten volumes for this series.

Is that too much to ask? I think if you pick it up, you’d agree.

13-year old, Amari Peters, lives with her Mom in the Rosewood housing project. She had an older brother, Quinton, who was smart, fun and brave. He meant a lot to Amari. He was her best friend.

Quinton has gone missing and Amari doesn’t understand why it isn’t a bigger deal. Why isn’t it on the news? Why do the police act like if something happened to him, it was probably because he was up to no good?

Amari knows better. She doesn’t care what they insinuate about him, Quinton is the best person she knows and she is going to find out what happened to him, whether others believe her, or not.

Upon arriving home after an especially trying day, Amari is surprised by a visitor who gives her a clue that may help; the answer to which lies in a briefcase hidden in her missing brother’s closet.

She can’t believe what she finds. The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs? Is this for real?

Quinton has nominated her for a try-out? The prospect is sort of scary, but Amari knows this may be her best, perhaps only chance, of getting to the bottom of her brother’s disappearance. She’s got to go.

Thus begins Amari’s introduction to the hidden supernatural world around her. She also discovers the power within herself.

Under the guise of attending a ‘leadership camp’, Amari is able to stay at the Vanderbilt Hotel with the other Bureau trainees. There she is fully immersed in learning, training and competing. Did you hear that? Learning, training and competing.

It’s a MAGIC SCHOOL trope! I know, it’s called ‘camp’, but it’s a magic school, only one of the best tropes ever created.

The Reader learns along with Amari the ins-and-outs of the world and magic system. The good guys, the bad guys, the history. It’s all beautifully constructed and paced out.

I was totally engrossed in this while reading it. As first books in a series go, this is top notch. It definitely left me wanting more and I can’t wait to see how Amari grows in future books.

If you are looking for that good old-fashioned, kid discovering they are actually part of a magical world, then learns about it, competes within it, and fights evil forces, kind of book, you NEED to pick this up. There’s not even an option.

You can thank me later.

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