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Review | Wanting You Always (The Always Series #1) by Lizzie Morton

Disclosure: I received this complimentary copy from the author and/or publisher and voluntarily left an honest review. A positive review is not required.

Published on: 01 December 2022
Type: series, standalone
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Author: Lizzie Morton
Book Length: 420 pages
Read: 26 September 2022
Shelved: 30 September 2022
Rating: 4/ 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Sam Riley has been one of my best friends for as long as I can remember, it’s the wanting him part that is new.

With my personal life falling apart and Sam’s self-doubts putting his music career on the line, we do what we’ve always done best … we lean on each other.
Desperately trying to hold everything together, Sam manages to brighten the darkest of days.
In the middle of the storm, he’s my rainbow.
My person.
My one.
My constant.
Until we find ourselves tiptoeing the line of something more.
Deciding between what’s right and fighting for what we want feels impossible when it comes down to one thing …

Is loving your best friend worth the risk of losing them?

**Wanting You Always is Book 1 in a series of interconnected standalones which act as spin-offs to The Always Trilogy. Each book is a complete story and contains a HEA.**


Review

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★
Logic: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 4.14 ~ 4 stars ★★★★

TW: impostor syndrome, abuse, traumas, abandonment

POV: dual-first person, Sam and Sophie Parker


Wanting You Always extrapolates human behavior and its reaction to success. 

Sophie Parker is kind and caring. She comes from two successful musical legends, has a fantastic job with wonderful coworkers, and, to top that off, is a gifted singer. One would think that she has it all! But even surrounded with love and support, Sophie has much self-doubt that paralyzes and debilitates her from happiness. I am glad Sam comes through for her in the end, even if both Sophie and Sam picked “outstanding partners” at the beginning chapters. Both their partners are “scums of the universe” after what they did – no spoilers from me.

Sam may have had some issues with his “worthiness” to be part of a successful band, but he somehow worked it out better than what Sophie had to go through. Something happens in the book that throws Sophie from her controlled environment of self-doubt and denial to help someone dear to her unexpectedly. She had to face her issues head-on and fast to help others who urgently needed her. The solution was well-written and well-thought-out in the end, wherein I couldn’t have thought of a better ending than what the author did.

Overall, Wanting You Always is a great read. It talks about finding one’s worth and purpose in an industry that can be very unforgiving. It plays upon human insecurities and rears its ugliness unless one has the love and support of people around them. Sophie did in this book, and a lovely HEA does come out of it.


About the Author

Author Lizzie Morton is an author of Contemporary Romance and New Adult novels. She lives in the U.K with her partner and three children.
Previously, she worked as a Personal Trainer and Back Pain Specialist and trained as a Chef at Leeds City College.
Her first novel was initially just a note on her phone but became a full manuscript – released in August 2020.
Her favorite things include running, sniffling, and changing nappies when she isn’t reading or writing.

Connect with Lizzie:
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Review | One Dark Window (The Shepherd King 1) by Rachel Gillig

Disclosure: This is a voluntary and honest review. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. I hope you will consider purchasing a copy at one of the local bookstores listed below.

Published on: 27 September 2022
Published by: Orbit
Type: series
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy
Author: Rachel Gillig
Book Length: 432 pages
Read: 22 October 2022
Shelved: 24 October 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.

But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.

Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.


Review

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★★
Logic: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 4.7 ~ 5 stars ★★★★★

Top 5 things I enjoyed reading One Dark Window:-

1.) Chapter quotes from The Old Book of Alders give an insight into the chapter’s content and are a nice touch. These poems were simple yet packed a load of information and warnings. I enjoyed the chapter more and got a tiny sneak peek of what happens.

2.) The slow-burn romance between Elspeth and Ravyn kept me glued to the pages. Thank goodness it wasn’t long before they “succumbed” to each other. The angsts were perfect, and the steam would make one’s creative mind wild in implied thoughts. I was engrossed and invested in Elspeth and Ravyn – their connection tugged my heartstrings.

3.) It was a visual and sensory trip into the world of Blunder and the noble families relating to the trees and Nature. There is a sense of conjuring a sense of place and atmosphere that readers will feel – the mist and the salt. World-building descriptors were “spot-on” and easy to visualize. 

4.) The plot twists will make one’s head spin, and readers will still not see how things turned out until it is too late! There is always a cost to magic, and Elspeth pays for it all at the end of this book. Ironically, how the book described some characters as “changed due to the cards” surprised me that I thought they would betray everyone, YET they didn’t and even helped Elspeth to the best of their abilities. I love the many thrills and chills of suspense at each turn!

5.) The cliffhanger broke me! I knew there was a Book 2, but I did not expect all the warnings given would end where it would be. I was left stumped and at a loss. One good thing is the last-minute insight provided in the epilogue that somewhat calmed me. Ravyn will somehow save Elspeth and free Blunder of the mist – he and “his crew” has to!

Overall, I enjoyed One Dark Window for the thrilling suspense of a slowly endangered community, the characters’ intricate personalities, world-building stimuli, and the mysteries of card magic!


PROs:

– morally grey yet complex characters
– colorful world-building
– the concept of card magic – extensions and limitations
– intriguing family complications, cut-throat politics, and unanticipated plot twists
– steamy, slow-burn, angsty romance 

Cons: 

– cliffhanger ending, BUT the author concluded all the things “at stake” with the families’ politics

What to expect:-

* interesting concept of cards and magic
* power-hungry families
* intrigue, deceit, and manipulation
* slow-burn romance


Trigger Warnings: (from Rachel Gillig’s website)
  • Scenes of terror
  • General violence/gore
  • Child in peril
  • Blood
  • Mention of self-harm for magic
  • Moderate sexual content
  • Mention of parental neglect
  • Alcohol consumption

About the Author

Rachel Gillig was born and raised on the California coast. She is a writer with a B.A. in Literary Theory and Criticism from UC Davis. If she is not ensconced in blankets dreaming up her next novel, Rachel is in her garden or walking with her husband, son, and their poodle, Wally.

Connect with Rachel
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Review | The Empress of Time (Keeper of the Night 2) by Kylie Lee Baker

Disclosure: A positive review is not required. I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. I hope you will consider purchasing a copy at one of the local bookstores listed below.

Published on: Inkyard Press
Published by: 04 October 2022
Type: duology
Genre: Teen & Young Adult Myths & Legends, Diversity & Multicultural Fiction, Dark Fantasy
Tropes: Fantasy and Supernatural buffs
Author: Kylie Lee Baker
Book Length: 416 pages
Read: 10 October 2022
Shelved: 12 October 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

In this riveting sequel to The Keeper of Night, a half-Reaper, half-Shinigami soul collector must defend her title as Japan’s Death Goddess from those who would see her—and all of Japan—destroyed.

Death is her dynasty.

Ren Scarborough is no longer the girl who was chased out of England—she is the Goddess of Death ruling Japan’s underworld. But Reapers have recently been spotted in Japan, and it’s only a matter of time before Ivy, now Britain’s Death Goddess, comes to claim her revenge.

Ren’s last hope is to appeal to the god of storms and seas, who can turn the tides to send Ivy’s ship away from Japan’s shores. But he’ll only help Ren if she finds a sword lost thousands of years ago—an impossible demand.

Together with the moon god Tsukuyomi, Ren ventures across the country in a race against time. As her journey thrusts her in the middle of scheming gods and dangerous Yokai demons, Ren will have to learn who she can truly trust—and the fate of Japan hangs in the balance.

Book 1 Review can be found here.


Review

Note: I would highly suggest readers start with Book 1 – The Keeper of the Night, before starting this book to appreciate the events and character personalities better. 

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★★
Logic: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 4.7 ~ 5 stars ★★★★★

POV: first-person – limited (Ren Scarborough)

Note: I would highly suggest readers start with Book 1 – The Keeper of the Night, before starting this book to appreciate the events and character personalities better. Jumping into Book 2 will spoil the many internal struggles Ren faced in Book 1 that evolved her from a shunned Reaper to a formidable goddess of the Underworld.

The pace is slower than in Book 1, but I believe it is the author’s technique to help create better world-building, character growth, and plot climax. Described in detail, each scene/city visited by Ren and her “crew” transports readers to being there – walking and trekking with Ren. I felt it all – the hums of mosquitoes, hollering street vendors, the squish of an organ, the metallic taste of blood, the smell of ash, etc. 

The plot is intricate, and the twists, in the end, were so good, especially from one of the supporting characters! There was no end to the twists and turns as the book progressed. There were many underlying meanings to the events happening all around them that seemed to have slipped in importance from me until revelations started – how things were “magically manipulated” to either Ren’s advantage or disadvantage, depending on how one sees things. With the book only from Ren’s POV, many background events formed that made things more complex than how Ren (and the reader) thought things were – but effectively mysterious.

The book focuses a lot on family, forgiveness, and healing

A stellar cast of characters that readers will invest in them emotionally and psychologically.

I loved Ren’s development from Books 1 to 2. She now knows her enough capabilities as a goddess that was amazing and supposed to be liberating, but because of her past, she still feels shackled. She tries to fit her “new role” into a mold. But these molds are nothing compared to Ren, who is unique with her dual heritage. I appreciate the progression of Ren failing as a goddess, a sister, a wife/widow, and a Reaper, especially when she did not expect to be where she was. As the story progresses, she begins to realize and throw the “ideal goddess standard” and pushes herself to discover and empower herself from within. I cheered for Ren the moment Ren morphed from second-guessing every move/decision made to a brave, strong, and selfless inspiration to everyone. Ren is an excellent grey female protagonist. She is not one-dimensional and serves a higher purpose with deep motivation for what she does – to protect her brother – constantly echoed in each action/reaction she shows. Ren found strength with her “found family” and reverted to them when needed. She becomes resilient and soft during appropriate times.

The ending was beautifully done and unraveled, making readers like me sigh with relief!! I love it!!! The revelation after revelation that resolves the problem came in waves that felt rhythmic and flowed well. I liked that it didn’t feel like being bombarded with information all at the same time.

I appreciated a big twist from a trusted source at the end because I had too much faith in that character. (No turning a new leaf for this character – cannot change a leopard’s spots.) Thank goodness Ren was wise enough NOT to fall for it, but I did and was flabbergasted when everything unfolded in the end.

Overall, I absolutely and positively enjoyed The Empress of Time! It was a deeply satisfying read with excellent world-building and intriguing characters. The book was thoughtful, well-written, and perfectly wrapped on a bow to conclude the duology. I love this story’s transformative effect on love, family, and internal reflection.

Given the duology as a whole, I enjoyed Books 1 and 2 equally, which surprised me since, at the start, I was leaning toward Book 1. 


What to expect from The Empress of Time:

fantasy and magic
ghost, ghoul, and monster
Asian / Japanese reps
strong female reps – hero, and villain (yes, both are women)


About the Author

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

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Review | Silver Under Nightfall by Rin Chupeco

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 13 September 2022
Published by: Gallery / Saga Press
Type: standalone
Genre: Asian Myth & Legend, Coming of Age, Vampires, Adult, Speculative
Tropes: Fantasy, Vampire/Humans, Enemies to More, Grey Character fans
Author: Rin Chupeco
Book Length: 511 pages
Read: 28 September 2022
Shelved: 30 September 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Remy Pendergast is many things: the only son of the Duke of Valenbonne (though his father might wish otherwise), an elite bounty hunter of rogue vampires, and an outcast among his fellow Reapers. His mother was the subject of gossip even before she eloped with a vampire, giving rise to the rumors that Remy is a half-vampire himself. Though the kingdom of Aluria barely tolerates him, Remy’s father has been shaping him into a weapon to fight for the kingdom at any cost.

When a terrifying new breed of vampire is sighted outside of the city, Remy prepares to investigate alone. But then he encounters the shockingly warmhearted vampire heiress Xiaodan Song and her infuriatingly arrogant fiancé, vampire lord Zidan Malekh, who may hold the key to defeating the creatures—though he knows associating with them won’t do his reputation any favors. When he’s offered a spot alongside them to find the truth about the mutating virus Rot that’s plaguing the kingdom, Remy faces a choice.

It’s one he’s certain he’ll regret.

But as the three face dangerous hardships during their journey, Remy develops fond and complicated feelings for the couple. He begins to question what he holds true about vampires, as well as the story behind his own family legacy. As the Rot continues to spread across the kingdom, Remy must decide where his loyalties lie: with his father and the kingdom he’s been trained all his life to defend or the vampires who might just be the death of him.


Review

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★★
Logic: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 32/7 ~ 4.6 or 5 stars ★★★★★

POV: third person

Trigger Warning(s): abuse, sexual assault (implied), manipulation, blood, gore, death, mental health


Immediate Thoughts:-

Exceptional plot twists
Diverse, impressionable grey characters
Polyamorous relationship
LGBTQ+ side character reps
CSI-like investigation with a side of Resident Evil and Castlevania feels 
Cinematic world-building 
Dramatic yet thrilling fight scenes
Scandalous court intrigue
Gruesome, horrific, and indestructible monsters

Silver Under Nightfall is about Armiger Remington “Remy” Pendergast, a unique Reaper of Aluria, who faces his traumatic past, finds a way to help his people and country defeat impossible creatures, and a way to heal for the future. He meets or gets introduced to a vampire couple, Xiao and Zidan Malekh. All three characters later become critical players in saving Aluria and exposes many more politics and secrets that will turn Aluria upside-down and flushes out more questions.

The world-building reminds me of the Bone Witch trilogy, wherein each location visited is well described as if I was there. The author’s strength in the vivid descriptions, folklore references, and cinematographic descriptors (“journey/quest” themes) is present in this book. Although similar, this book has more intricate issues and language use than her previous book, most likely to target a different audience, a more mature and adult level. I saw it in the language and word use.

I love how different the plot and pacing of this book are more plot-driven (for me) versus character driven. The plot is complex, intricately woven internal and external conflicts that muddle good and evil. The characters are on a time crunch as the plot seems to move to its unique rhythm.

The book explores humanity’s strengths and weaknesses, consent and manipulation, trauma and healing, family, parental and personal love, and loyalty and debt to family and country. Many controversial topics, discussions, and justifications showed each point was valid yet, at the same time, debatable. It poses more unanswered questions: Remy tries to find his purpose, duty, and honor and what he owes himself. 

As the main character, Remy is a fearless warrior, but emotionally and mentally, he is sometimes naive and childish because he seems so young (in his 20s). Placed in a few traumatic situations (repeatedly, too) and told that this was all part of “duty,” it is no wonder Remy’s head and morals are “whacked.” He questions so much of himself and the people around him with self-doubt and self-loath. There were no therapists in Aluria. It is hard to make friends, specially labeled as a dhampir/cambion, so Remy also has trust issues. He only has Elke (jeweler by trade/housekeeper and estate manager of Kinaiya Lodge/ blacksmith for Breaker) as a good enough friend. Still, even Elke (Elke Whittaker) has limited knowledge of how serious these issues are until it blows up in the book’s last few chapters. She is my favorite character aside from the mysterious and complex Zidan Malekh.

Note that there were many characters in the book. Now, who to trust is the question, and so many grey characters complicate things further. Remy has the daunting task of saving Aluria, appeasing some of the Courts, eradicating the Rot, etc. 
Bottomline: Make the improbable possible.

Silver Under Nightfall is a captivating, could-not-put-the-book-down read! Like chess pieces handled by a grand master, the author ensured that each character/event has a strategic purpose that gets presented and wrapped up nicely and is ready for “the next book” in this duology.

“As my love always says, improbable, but never impossible.”

Xiaodan, Silver Under Nightfall

“It’s never been about them. It’s never been about whether they treated me well. It’s about whether I think they deserve to die. I don’t care if they never think I’m respectable enough. I don’t deserve being kind to, if I walk away now. It’s not about the. It’s about me.”

Remy, Silver Under Nightfall

“You’re too kind for this. You’ll always leave pieces of your heart behind, whether you want to or not.”

Elke, Silver Under Nightfall

The only true power within Elouve, it seemed, lay with old men who should long ago have been relegated to obscurity. Change only occurred when they allowed it, according to what they considered proper, never for those most affected by it.

Elke, Silver Under Nightfall

“What I’m tired of is being jerked around like a puppet by my father. And… my mother’s dead. I’m not, and its about time I started building my life around that.”

Remy, Silver Under Nightfall

About the Author

Rin Chupeco wrote obscure manuals for
complicated computer programs, talked
people out of their money at event shows, and
did many other terrible things. They now write
about ghosts and fairy tales but is still
sometimes mistaken as a revenant. They were
born and raised in the Philippines and, or so
the legend goes, still haunt that place to this
very day. Their pronouns are she/they.

Sign up for updates, events, and new releases for their newsletter here.

Connect with Rin
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Review | Belladonna (Belladonna #1) by Adalyn Grace

Published on: 30 August 2022
Published by: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Type: series, cliffhanger(ish)
Genre: Teen & Young Adult, Wizards/Witches Fantasy, Ghost Stories, Historical Romance
Author: Adalyn Grace
Book Length: 416 pages
Reading age: ‎ 14 years and up
Grade level: ‎ 9 and up
Read: 19 September 2022
Shelved: 26 September 2022
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears, claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.


Review

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★
Logic: ★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★
OVERALL: 3.7 ~ 4 stars ★★★★

POV: first-person, Signa Farrow

TW: death, blood, and gore, spirits and ghosts, alcohol abuse, murder, orphaned, death of a parent, orphan/foster homes, abuse, complex family dynamics and relationships, infidelity (mentioned) of side characters, drugs, misogyny, patriarchy ideology, illness/sickness

World-building:
Expect to be “grabbed” immediately as readers enter the first page! I love how the scenes flow and transition yet still give much detail and importance, like each plant, herb, leaf, flower, etc. Signa goes through a few foster homes, and through her flashbacks, there were a few semblances of what she saw and experienced, then transitions to Thorn Grove’s colossal estate and its “garden.” It all culminates into a successful dark Gothic fantasy magical romantic suspense. 

Character Development:
Signa was a character I connected to immediately. She is naive yet brave, reckless but selfless, and hard-headed yet evolving. 
Given Signa’s exposure to “certain households” in the past and being orphaned at a young age, she saw only a specific outcome for all ladies during her time. Women of her time’s aspirations are limited. The expected roles are being prim, proper, with manners, having a “suitable and stable” partner, attending balls and soiree and tea gatherings while providing an heir to the family.
Even with her childish ways of wanting to find a partner to “settle into got me rolling my eyes out too many times, she was a brave girl to jump into the things she did. She was still very human and had to learn and make mistakes. Fear not, though! Sigma does mature and starts questioning what she wants for herself in the end.
Death also evolved. Without giving out too much, He finds more tactics to get through to Signa and brings in more patience than I have ever seen from such a character. There were a few times when Signa was very hurtful, but Death still found a way to get through to her and help her find herself.
Something to mention on the other minor characters like the women that Signa competes with “finding a stable and respectable husband.” Note that Signa conveniently has the means and privilege to go against the norm of the times, but for a few characters in the book, they had to resort to “dirty tactics” in finding husbands.)

Writing:
The writing is sound and with appropriate pacing. Though moments that seemed slow or sometimes frustrating were maybe my kneejerk reaction to how “brainwashed” Signa was on how she should behave, believe and act. The rest of the time, I was happy with how things progressed, especially how Signa and Death found a “middle-ground” in their dispute. 

Plot:
The plot was simple at first, as Signa rationalizes what she is all about, then the story transitions with her newfound knowledge of herself to solve the mysterious ailments and deaths around her. Some weird coincidences and “people” helping her out, and some of the “conclusions” felt too easy. However, even if midway was so-so, the ending and wrap-up of the mystery is still an enjoyable and imaginative journey. I like the mystery/crime-solving vibes of the book outside of the budding romance. 

Belladonna is a spine-tingling and fascinating read. The book looks and sounds like a typical immortal theme/genre read about a girl who cannot die, BUT readers will be surprised by how novel how the author wove Signa’s story to be. It is not per se that she couldn’t die somehow, but some limits were happening. Signa is something different that is in between the world of the living and the dead. Even Death didn’t know what she was, aside from knowing her existence was affecting him. It had moments of momentum while there were segments that lulled me. The concepts are intriguing; for once, Death is an ally that no one saw coming. Ultimately, the conspiracy and deceit that came out were astounding, and I’m still in disbelief at how things turned out. I never suspected that things ran more profound and more sinister than proposed at the beginning!

There were two rules Signa knew about spirits – the first was that Magda could haunt only the land where she had died, and the second was that should her courpse be burned, her spirit would be torn unwillingly from the earth.

Belladonna by Adelyn Grace

“How do you feel? Death asked with a knowing lilt.
“Like the world I’ve known is suddenly insufficient.” She didn’t realize it until she’d spoken the truth aloud. Something about Death – something about when she was like this – made her brave.

Death and Signa, Belladonna by Adelyn Grace

I could not be the first, so let me be your last of the night.
Dance with me, Little Bird.

Death and Signa, Belladonna by Adelyn Grace

“You are more than just shadows.”

Signa Farrow, Belladonna by Adelyn Grace

“So which is better? To live forever, or to live and love?”

Death, Belladonna by Adelyn Grace

About the Author

Adalyn Grace is a New York Times bestselling author of All the Stars and Teeth, called “2020’s biggest YA fantasy” by Entertainment Weekly.

Prior to becoming an author, Adalyn spent four years working in live theatre, acting as the managing editor of a nonprofit newspaper, and studying storytelling as an intern on Nickelodeon Animation’s popular series The Legend of Korra.

Local to San Diego, Adalyn spends her non-writing days watching too much anime and by playing video games with her two dorky dogs.

Connect with Adalyn
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BLOG TOUR | Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Thank you, TBR and Beyond Tours, for having me on this tour! Check out the other participants on tour here.

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author and/or publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 27 September 2022
Published by: Delacorte Press
Type: stand-alone
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance, Teen & Young Adult Humorous Fiction, Multigenerational Family Fiction, Romantic Comedy
Rep: Asian (Indonesian), LGBTQ+
Author: Jesse Q Sutanto
Book Length: 352 pages
Reading age: ‎ 12 – 17 years
Grade level: ‎ 7 – 9
Read: 25 August 2022
Shelved: 25 August 2022
Rating: 3.7 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

A laugh-out-loud YA rom-com about a girl who’s whisked from LA to her mother’s native Indonesia to get back to her roots and finds herself fake-dating the son of one of the wealthiest families there, from the bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties and The Obsession

After Sharlot Citra’s mother catches her in a compromising position, she finds herself whisked away from LA to her mother’s native Indonesia. It’ll be exactly what they both need. Or so her mother thinks.  

When George Clooney Tanuwijaya’s father (who is obsessed with American celebrities) fears he no longer understands how to get through to his son, he decides to take matters into his own hands. 

To ensure that their children find the right kind of romantic partner, Sharlot’s mother and George’s father do what any “good” parent would do: they strike up a conversation online, pretending to be their children.

When the kids find out about their parents’ actions, they’re horrified. Not even a trip to one of the most romantic places on earth could possibly make Sharlot and George fall for each other. But as the layers peel back and the person they thought they knew from online is revealed, the truth becomes more complicated. As unlikely as it may seem, did their parents manage to find their true match after all?


Review


RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★
Logic: ★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★
OVERALL: 3.7 ~ 4 stars ★★★★

I enjoyed the world-building of the book. It is fantastic to see that even after visiting Indonesia (Jakarta and Bali), there were still a lot of places I had not experienced, like the white water rafting at Ayung River or the Wayang Museum (a museum dedicated to Javan wayang puppetry).

This book is a definite ode to Indonesia. I enjoyed revisiting known famous tourist spots like the Uluwatu Temple, and Monkey Temple were a few places that brought back wonderful and mirthful memories. One of these memories also experienced by the MCs in the book was ensuring to secure all essential items else, expect a monkey to steal them from you. Also, I remembered ensuring proper attire when entering the sacred grounds, so my friend had to have her shoulders and legs covered by a scarf and sarong, which Sharlot had to do!

I love the book’s gastronomical journey and showcasing the many types of food the country offers, especially in Bali. It further educates readers that Indonesia is one of the world’s top coffee-producing countries, home to several islands renowned for coffee. There are a vast number of Indonesian coffee brands that represent a large number of distinguished regions.

I appreciate the author’s insight into the different cultural traditions and customary beliefs about the Indonesian heritage that may seem very conservative to outsiders. The double standards of men versus women in Indo society, brought up a lot by the author, is one of the frustrating issues in the book. I felt so invested in this topic but helpless in the book, especially when someone exposed the secrets of one side (of course, Sharlot’s side). 

I had trouble connecting with the MCs since both were still young and the mistakes and insecurities of teenagers for that age. Sharlot was more annoying than George. I sided with George more but later shifted to Sharlot, especially after she got to know her mother and backstory. Ultimately, I was relieved that George, in his capacity, did the right thing by disclosing his side of the story. But even after George’s sharing with the world, the brunt of the attacks was still centered on Sharlot, which drove me so mad! Given Indonesia’s modernity and world-class offerings, one would think this would not be an issue. Still, ironically, patriarchy is alive and thriving in this part of the world. 

Ironically, I pushed through the book more because of the supporting characters. I relished the banter and comic relief provided by the parents and relatives of both Sharlot and George – in broken English! All of these people were more appealing to me, especially Eleonore and Kiki, who were stellar in their roles and stole the show!

There is ample LGBTQ+ representation. But fair warning, there was lot of “backward thinking” on this topic due to societal challenges and prejudices regarding homosexuality. (Although most parts of Indonesia do not currently prohibit non-commercial, private, and consensual sexual activity between same-sex members, there is no specific Indonesian law that protects the LGBT community against discrimination and hate crimes.) I suppose I was naive to believe in general acceptance. Still, when the book mentioned that homosexuality is illegal in some areas of Indonesia and may be punishable by flogging or imprisonment – I was shaking! I was frustrated and sad. Unfortunately, the book did not resolve this societal issue (i.e., public acceptance); the characters found a way to unite and “workaround” their restrictions, making the story a double HEA.

Given the above, I must mention that the book took me longer to finish. The beginnings of both MCs were tough to read through. It was inappropriate in some parts and seemed to be tangent to Asian upbringing. But I had to remind myself that this is a YA book targeting a younger audience and with MCs in their teens (college-bound). I must be more forgiving of the sometimes juvenile actions and reactions, especially at the beginning of the book. I.e., getting caught in compromising positions of the MCs in the book by their parents thus started this whole stalking and catfishing each other on social media by their respective parents.

In summary, I recommend Well, That Was Unexpected to YA audiences who love cute, humorous romances and coming-of-age tropes and travel buffs who want to know about Indonesia or other Asian cultures. The book is full of flawed yet exciting characters like meddling yet well-meaning relatives/matchmakers and flawed yet resourceful younger generation MCs.

I may not be overly excited in the first few chapters with some cringe moments for parents taking over a dating app chat. Still, the overall message of being true to oneself through self-reflection will relate to readers of all ages.

———————–

Content Warning: conservatism and patriarchic views, manipulation, social media catfishing and ghosting, premarital sex attempt, masturbation

Favorite Quotes

“My job as your other is keep you safe, show you hot to – how to jadi orang.” Jadi orang. Those two words have plagued me ever since I can remember. I think they’re supposed to mean “make it,” but the direct translation is “become a person,” which I hate. As though kids aren’t people. As through we need to jump through hoops and cater to the whims of our elders in order to become a legit human being.

Sharlot
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto

We looked at each other and it’s like the final wall has finally crumbled and I’m seeing all of Sharlot for the first time. She’s flawed and broken and more beautiful than ever. The world stops spinning on its axis, pausing to hold its breath for us. Expectation clings to the air, makig it heavy on my skin…She glances up at me with a shy smile before looking back a the horizon, and we stand there for a long time, not saying a world but somehow communicating so much more than we ever did before.

George
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto

“She pets my head like I’m a good dog.”Oh, my little grandson, you held hands! With a girl! You know, I was convinced you were a gay.”
I Pinched the bridge of my nose. “Nainai, we’ve talked about this before. It’s the twenty-first century, you can’t say stuff like that.

George and Nainai
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto

I’m about to argue that it’s different back in LA, that people are way more open-minded. It’s true, to a certain extent, but she’s right that even though it’s more progressive, every time there’s gossip or scandal, the one that comes out worst for wear is the girl. The guy gets away unscathed or with a reputation of being a player, which elevates his status instead of destroying it, while the girl is demeaned and shunned.

Sharlot
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto

I hate that there’s a double standard when it comes to sex. It’s a healthy part of growing up for many people, and I don’t think there’s any shame in that. but girls carry so much societal expectation when it comes to sex.

Sharlot
Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto

About the Author

I grew up going back and forth between Jakarta and Singapore and consider both places my homes. I was fortunate enough to do my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford, which is surely one of the most gorgeous places in the world.

I am passionate about women’s rights and diversity in publishing. I regularly do giveaways where I critique queries or the first few pages, and I am especially interested in helping writers from marginalized communities. If you are a writer from a marginalized community, do hit me up! I love hearing from other writers, even if it’s just to say a quick hello.

Connect with Jessie
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


This tour is hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours.

Review | Babel by R.F. Kuang

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author and/or publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 23 April 2022
Published by: Harper Voyager
Type: standalone
Genre: Asian Myth & Legend, History Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy / Historical, Fantasy / Dark Fantasy
Tropes: Dark Academia, Magic Fantasy
Author: R. F. Kuang
Book Length: 560  pages
Read: 09 September 2022
Shelved: 19 September 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? 


Review

Content Warning: child abandonment, abuse, and trauma, abandonment, racism, patriarch ideology, misogyny, death, murder, patricide,

POV: multi-POV

Topics: coming of age, colonialism, capitalism, dark academia, patriarchy, Politics, power of languages and translation

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★
Logic: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 4.6 ~ 5 stars ★★★★★

Without a doubt, Babel is in my Top Reads for 2022! It is raw, haunting, poignant, and enigmatic. It is a reminder about human nature, the constant search for belongingness, and the path to a purposeful life. The author is not afraid of exposing humanity’s darkest atrocities before carrying readers through to the ending. 

I felt excited and overwhelmed (a positive) all at the same time with the many resource references on etymology, race, and culture that connect well with each of the scenes/chapters. The deep dive explores England/Babel’s governing and political systems of England / Babel and shows the disparity of wealth and privilege between societies.

The world-building was spectacular and a pure literary delight! I didn’t know much about Babel aside from the olden belief that it’s the center of knowledge. The author pushed further the boundaries of this concept by adding a bit of magic to mold a fantastic backdrop of infinite possibilities for the plot and characters to grow beyond expectations.

Aside from colonialism, many controversial themes on identity, loyalty, and discrimination will have readers go through all the emotions in the alphabet! 

Many characters underwent internal changes that tested their faith in the establishment, cultural beliefs, and heritage. Heroes and villains were not clear, but there were many grey characters that one would not see coming. The author highlighted many valid connections that made me revisit my personal experiences as a student and immigrant. This book was an intricate exploration of human behavior and perspectives that was impossible to ignore and digest. Given that the topics are still relevant and current, I appreciate the author placing them at the forefront, and they still require much attention.
**Note: with the number of characters in the book, I had to have a list of names, identifiers, and background information noted down to better track who and what was going on.

I didn’t realize how complex the threads of industries and people are. This book laid it out – from slavery to drugs (i.e., Opium War), similar to the issues tackled in the author’s previous work – The Poppy Wars trilogy. Toppling an institution and going against one’s comfort level may seem impossible and hopeless, though how the author resolved the ending is well written and give readers hope in humanity, especially in the epilogue.

In summary, Babel is about diving into the infinite possibilities of knowledge and power through languages and translations, unforgettable characters, and gorgeous plot development that infuses and emphasizes human nature, survival, found family, and colonialism. The author offers a profoundly original, captivating, haunting, and inspiring story beyond the book’s last page.


Victory is not assured. Victory may be in the portents, but is must be urged there by violence, by suffereing, by martyrs, by blood. Victory is wrought by ingenuity, persistence, and sacrifice. Victory is a game of inches, of historical contingencies where everything goes right because they have made it go right.

Victoire, Babel by R.F. Kuang

About the Author

R.F. Kuang (also known as “Rebecca F. Kuang) is the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Poppy War trilogy and Babel: An Arcane History, as well as the forthcoming Yellowface. A Marshall Scholar. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale, where she studies diaspora, contemporary Chinese literature, and Asian American literature.

Connect with Rebecca
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Review | Ink Blossom (Ink Blossom #1) by Lynn Robin

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author and/or publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 20 September 2022
Type: series, cliffhanger
Genre: paranormal romance, suspense/drama romance,
Tropes: YA Paranormal Romance
Author: Lynn Robin
Read: 29 July 2022
Shelved: 01 August 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

All her life, Gwyn has lived in a land suspended in eternal autumn—but her heart calls out to the Land of Spring. Leaves don’t fall when she’s around; they flourish instead, and cherry blossoms follow in her wake.

The only way to leave the Land of Autumn is by having the devil of the Ink Lake accept your offering—the very devil who steals Other Season Girls to feast on their bones—and only then he will allow a soul to leave his season.

But no one’s offering has ever been accepted.
Except for Gwyn’s.
Yet still, Autumn is trapping her, and she cannot leave.

Desperate to escape, Gwyn attracts the attention of a being she should not, and when her path crosses that of the devil’s, he’s nothing she thought he would be.

Beautiful. Soft-spoken.
A broken man haunted by nightmares and guilt and death.

Gwyn has a choice to make. To either remain trapped forever.
Or to risk it all and free the devil from his cage.

The Ink Blossom series consists of 4 books total.


Review

POV: Gwyneth (Gwyn) and Rafe, first-person dual

Words that popped in my head as I read Ink Blossom, Book 1 of the Ink Blossom:-

Grippingly captivated
Calming yet suspenseful
Yearning with much angst
Slow-build yet just enough
Delicate yet fierce

The world-building is excellent, and its cinematography in words is spot-on! The Autumn descriptions leap through with vibrancy and warmth, while dark death-like scenes show the grim, harshness, and stench of despair. 

I love the development of Gwyn and Rafe. Note that the story is slower than I am used to, BUT I understood why in the end – that one book will not be enough to sort through the many problems that come with Gwyn and Rene’s connection. It is fair that the story is slow since now I realize that it’s a 4-book series that revolves around Gwyn and Rafe and the many trials they will be going through as they seek to “free” the seasons.

There were haunting moments that grabbed my attention further and deeper into the story. The mystery and suspense parts sprinkled with much angst make the story work. Note: there will be many angst scenes as each turn seems to be direr than the first.

Ultimately, be prepared to be hooked from the very start for Ink Blossom! This book got me excited and enthralled with the concept, the story, and the characters. I love the unsettling, uncertainty, and unpredictability of the story with angst writing and grey characters that readers will empathize with. Jaw-droppingly good, especially the ending!

I am so glad that I picked up this series and thus cannot wait to get my hands on the rest of the books. I highly recommend this addicting read to paranormal romance YA readers.


Favorite Quotes:

” Every creature longs to belong somewhere, to someone. Every creature longs to have a name to answer to. No matter how wild they are. “

Rafe, Ink Blossom

Yet right now, he doesn’t feel as big as that. He feels small instead, so brekable that she forgets all about strength, all about whatever just made her heard pound and her cheeks flush. Whoever he is or isn’t, one thing wasn’t a lie: the brokenness she saw shen she met him…For tonight, she’ll hold together the pieces of him. Like she always longed someone else would do for her.

Gwyn, Ink Blossom

He wants to be able to see her when he does. To prove to himself, one last time, that it is true: that she can only feel his touch like nobody and nothing has ever been able to…not even Autumn, when it was still his.

Rafe, Ink Blossom

About the Author

Lynn Robin (1992) is an author of Paranormal Romance novels.
Born and raised in the historical city of Leiden in the Netherlands, she has felt the urge to write stories ever since she was little— preferably ones with ghosts and other spooky things (probably because her parents let her watch Stephen King film adaptions when she was nine).
Next to that, she likes to add a healthy dose of romance to her books; star-crossed lovers and forbidden romances, preferably about monsters hiding in the bodies of young men and girls blessed with angelic powers—or at least humans touched by magical abilities.
She made her debut in 2017 with her Dutch series entitled the Schimmenwereld Serie (the Phantom World series), containing six books about ghosts, angels, demons, music, dance, art, and—of course—love. She won the Best Book of 2018 award with the fourth installment, Schimmendroom (Phantom Dream), chosen by the jury of The Dutch Indie Awards.
In 2020 she debuted internationally in English with the highly romantic Kissing Monsters series, which concluded with 8 volumes in 2021. Her latest release is The Sea of Her, a still ongoing paranormal romance series in a tropical setting about the Weeper of Pearls, a Wild Stranger from the Sea, and a long-lost King of the Ocean.
Besides being passionate about writing, she’s also a rather dedicated running/fitness/yoga/martial arts enthusiast and likes to spend time with her family, play videogames, or freak herself out watching documentaries about haunted houses (for research, she claims).

Connect with Lynn
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Blog Tour | Grave Issue by Julia Vaughan

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Published on: 16 September 2022
Published by: Cahill Davis Publishing Limited
Type: series
Genre: Crime thrillers
Author: Julia Vaughan
Book Length: 370 pages

Universal Link:  www.books2read.com/graveissue

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Synopsis

Who killed Abraham and Esther Downing in the 1970s?

What is the significance of the seven tiny skeletons unearthed in the garden of Downing’s cottage?

And why does no-one care?

As DCI Kath Fortune and her cold case team deep dive into their second investigation, they come up against a wall of silence surrounding the reclusive couple. With Kath trying to piece together the clues and keep her personal and professional relationships on track, her past comes back to haunt her with time running out on all counts.

Grave Issue is the second book in the DCI Kath Fortune series and now available! This follows Daisy Chain, Julia’s debut novel.


Author Interview

What inspired you to write this book?

I knew I wanted a new investigation for DCI Kath Fortune and her cold case team. I did a Creative Writing module within my English degree and the final piece was a short story. Grave Issue is that story, which was originally set in the US, and I felt I could transport it to Shropshire without losing the essence of the story. I really just expanded a 2,000-word story into over 70,000 words!

If you could set the scene for this book in one sentence, what would it be?

Secrets don’t stay buried forever.

What did you find the biggest difference between writing the first book and writing a sequel?

My first book, Daisy Chain, was more like making a patchwork quilt. If I got stuck, I wrote separate scenes and then pieced them all together. Grave Issue flowed in a much more linear fashion. I more or less went from Chapter One through to the end. I knew the characters better as well, and how they would react to situations I put them in.

How do you keep track of the characters from one book to the next in the series?

I’d love to say I’m really professional and make copious alphabetised notes and sections, but I mostly rely on my memory! Sometimes I have to go back and check facts – I’ve been known to get names of husbands mixed up. I do make notes… and then forget where I’ve written them down!

In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing or being an author? 

I think the self-doubt never leaves you. Even with lovely comments and great reviews I guess, for me anyway, there are still ‘Yeah, but…’ moments. Then there’s the courage required to cut out what you think is a great passage. I am better now at asking myself ‘Does this move the story forward?’ If not, it has to go.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from everywhere! I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction and enjoy watching great TV drama. Genealogy is another great source. I also find I can be talking to someone, and they make a comment, and I think ‘That’s going in the next book’.

Favourite quote from the book?

I seem to make Marvin the butt of Ruth and Shirl’s jokes. I’m fond of ‘Cool your jets, Kojak’ when Marvin is excited about an aspect of the case. Of course, he has no idea who Kojak is!

What do you hope for readers to get out of the story?

I hope readers get involved in trying to solve the case along with the team. There are some sad moments in this one, and would like to think the readers feel the emotion when reading as I did when writing.

Excerpt

Chapter 3

They’d all spent twenty minutes or so quietly eating and looking over the notes Byron had provided, and now Kath was eager to get into it.

‘So, thanks to Byron for the abridged notes of the case,’ Kath said, waving her copy of the paperwork. ‘We pare it down to the bare facts. Feel free to offer ideas, suggestions.’ Kath moved the front sheet further away from her face, trying not to look as though she was squinting.

‘Get some glasses, woman,’ Ruth said, trying to hold in a laugh.

‘I’m fine. Leave me and my eyes alone.’ Kath shook the paper and cleared her throat. ‘Two adults, Esther and Abraham Downing. Police were called when a dog walker discovered Abraham’s body.’

‘Thank god for dog walkers,’ said Marvin.

‘Indeed. He was lying in front of his cottage with his head caved in,’ Kath continued. ‘A shovel, covered in blood, lay next to him. Presumed murder weapon. Police discovered a shallow grave containing the body of his wife, Esther. Cause of death: shotgun blast to the torso. Said shotgun was inside the house. Only one cartridge discharged. So, the first question is, why two different weapons?’

Shirl lay back in her office chair, almost horizontal. ‘Ruth, you’re gonna wear a hole in the carpet.’

Ruth was pacing at the other end of the office. She did her best thinking on her feet, the movement seeming to aid her brain in putting thoughts together in some sort of natural order. She liked her external world to be clean and ordered, everything in place, and now her brain was in chaos mode, trying to unscramble the information.

‘My question is, why was one body buried and the other left exposed?’

‘Marvin.’ Kath pointed at him, and he sat up straight at his desk. ‘You’re the killer. Go.’

‘Erm… well, I go to shoot Abraham, but Esther gets in the way.’

Kath nodded. ‘Okay. Shirl?’

Shirl tossed her papers onto her desk. ‘Why wouldn’t Abraham stop you?’ She peered at Marvin, who was tapping his pen against his forehead.

‘He can’t get to me in time.’

‘So, why not turn the gun on Abraham and shoot

him?’ Shirl asked.

‘The gun…’ Marvin struggled to focus his brain, trying to insert himself into the killer’s head. ‘Okay, how about the gun jams?’ He smiled and held out his hands. ‘So, I throw the gun to one side and pick up the nearest weapon, which is the shovel. I bash him in the head. Job done.’

‘Maybe Abraham wasn’t there when Esther was

shot,’ said Ruth, still pacing.

‘So, why didn’t he report it?’ Marvin was throwing questions out now. There was a moment of silence.

‘Okay,’ Byron said. ‘But why would you bury Esther and not Abraham?’

They all turned to Marvin for an answer.

‘I… don’t have time.’

Kath nodded. ‘It can take a while to dig even a shallow grave.’

‘Is that the voice of experience talking?’ Ruth laughed, and her colleagues joined in. Kath feigned indignation, but her insides flipped at the thought of her teammates discovering her own murderous past. She needed to bring the discussion back to the case in hand.

‘Marvin, why didn’t you bring your own weapon with you if you meant harm to them?’

The office was silent as Marvin processed the question.

‘I didn’t mean to do it; it was spur of the moment, so I used what was already there.’

Ruth nodded, flapping her own paperwork and causing a draft. ‘But why did you put the gun back inside the cottage? The shovel was outside, next to Abraham’s body, but the gun was inside.’

‘Maybe…’ Marvin shrugged. ‘I’ve got nothing.’

Byron picked up the thread. ‘Maybe someone else killed Esther, and Marvin—sorry, the killer—found out, and Abraham’s murder was something else entirely.’

Kath went back to her notes. ‘Autopsy showed Esther’s approximate day of death was the same as her husband’s.’

‘Which was?’ Shirl asked.

‘August sixteenth 1975,’ said Byron. ‘No one heard the gunshot and thought to go and see what had happened?’

‘Everyone’s got a shotgun in that neck of the woods, pardon the pun,’ said Kath. ‘It’s the regular form of maintenance, shooting foxes and such. All the farmers have one, and the cottage is quite remote, set back in woodland away from the main road, no other houses around.’

The cottage in question, at the heart of the case, was still standing but was a shell of a construct. With no traceable relatives, the Downing property had passed, after many years, into trust, and there was no possibility of selling the land to build on. Broseley was full of sinkholes from its mining history, and portions of woodland and road had slowly disappeared over the years as the land shifted and tree roots snaked their way through the underbelly. The cottage could just about be seen from the main road running from Broseley centre down the Ironbridge. In times of torrential, prolonged rainfall, the whole area in front of the cottage turned into a mini lake fringed by ancient trees and scrub. The cottage was still standing, despite the shifting of the land around it. The roof was all but gone, the window spaces resembling empty eye sockets.

‘You’ve picked a good one here, Byron.’ Ruth stopped pacing and perched on the edge of one of the tables in front of the window.

‘Sorry.’

‘No, don’t apologise.’ Kath grabbed her cigarettes and stood up. ‘I think what Ruth is hinting at is that this all happened in the mid-1970s. Forensics was sketchy, nothing at all like we are now blessed with, and there is practically a whole generation that has died off, so witnesses are few and far between.’

‘Didn’t anyone miss the Downing couple?’ Byron asked. ‘Surely someone would have said that they hadn’t seen them around and gone to check if they were okay.’

‘Can’t answer that one,’ Kath said. She headed for the door, and Shirl got up to follow her. ‘It’s the babies,’ said Byron quietly.

Everyone turned to look at him. He lowered his head, his curtain of hair falling forward to cover his face.

‘I had a baby brother.’

No one moved, not wanting to break the spell. Byron took a deep breath and looked up. ‘I was seven, I think. So excited to have a brother. But he died when he was around three months old. Sudden infant death syndrome.’

‘Oh, mate.’ Marvin moved to him and put a hand on his shoulder, wanting to give him a hug but feeling it was maybe too much.

‘It’s okay.’ Byron gave a weak smile. ‘Mum called him Percy. He was adorable.’

Shirl’s sudden movement made them all start, and she pushed past Kath and headed down the stairs. Kath frowned and looked over at Ruth, who shrugged and raised her eyebrows.

‘There’s no explanation for SIDS. I guess I just want to try and find out what happened to those seven little babies.’ Byron moved to the coffee machine, and Kath rubbed his back lightly as she passed him on the way to meet Shirl downstairs for a much-needed fag break.

‘We’ll find out, won’t we, guys?’ Kath looked over her shoulder at Marvin and Ruth, who muttered words of encouragement, and she continued downstairs to find Shirl smoking underneath her favourite tree next to the Madeley station.

That was the part of the case they were all not talking about: the seven baby bodies found in graves at the side of the cottage. It wasn’t until the council had released the ground many years after the deaths of the Downing couple that the graves had been unearthed. A developer had made inroads into looking at the prospect of using the land for building houses and had used a team of surveyors to look at the potential of the ground if the council was willing to let it go for the right price. The seven bodies had seemed to be a forgotten aspect as the police had concentrated their efforts on looking for Abraham and Esther’s murderer. Now, the babies were most definitely in Kath’s sight, and the team would be investigating their deaths just as thoroughly as the two adult bodies.

The case wasn’t so much cold as frozen. Although the adult bodies had been discovered in 1975, the corpses of the seven babies had only been unearthed, literally, when developers had been testing the soil. The officer in charge had amazingly had the bright idea of getting a local archaeological group to take a look, realising they may have some relation to the case of the two adults found murdered on the same spot eight years earlier. The would-be archaeologists had surmised the tiny bodies might even have stretched back into the 1960s, but the focus had been on the adults, and the seven skeletons were considered a mystery not worth the time and effort of investigation.

‘You okay?’ Kath lit up and waited for Shirl to speak. Shirl kicked at the mass of leaves already forming in the September sunshine under the tree.

‘I have to show you something.’ Shirl exhaled a plume of smoke and looked at her boss and friend of many years.

‘Will you take a ride with me?’

‘Of course, mate, whatever you need. We’ll go after we’ve finished these, okay?’

Shirl nodded, took one last drag, and dropped her cigarette butt, crushing it with force into the leaves.

‘Thanks, yeah. I’ll see you up there.’

Kath looked up at the branches as Shirl went back into the station. ‘Always another mystery.’ She flicked her cigarette butt into the road and followed Shirl inside.

The churchyard was quiet. A woman sat on a bench against the front wall of the church, hands clasped in her lap. The only other person was a man collecting grass cuttings from an old lawnmower. He moved to an area on the far side where the oldest graves leant at impossible angles against the low perimeter wall and deposited the grass into a boxed construction that appeared to be some kind of compost heap. Planks of new wood encased the cuttings and decaying flowers, and the elderly man stepped into the box and began trampling the contents.

Kath followed Shirl to a gravestone to the right of the lychgate. She still had no idea why Shirl had asked her to come but knew that her friend and colleague would tell her when she was ready. Shirl had seemed unsettled ever since Byron had produced the new case for the team.

The gravestone was an old one, rounded at the top and bearing two names.

‘Oliver and Mary Carling,’ Kath murmured as Shirl lay a small posy of roses against the headstone. They had stopped off at a florist on the way, Kath again choosing not to ask questions.

Shirl patted the grass and stepped back. ‘My grandparents,’ she said. ‘And also the resting place of Rose Thompson.’

Kath waited, watching her friend as she took deep breaths. Shirl turned to Kath and pulled her cigarettes from her pocket. Kath waited as she lit one. Shirl looked up at the clear sky and exhaled a large plume of smoke.

‘My firstborn. My daughter.’

‘Oh, Shirl.’ Kath put her hand on Shirl’s arm, searching for the right words to comfort her friend. She had not seen this coming. ‘Tell me about her.’

‘She breathed for two hours. Short, snuffly breaths. We were told she probably wouldn’t live very long. Heart defect.’ Shirl paused and took another deep drag of nicotine. ‘It was there on the scans. They said they couldn’t do anything but wait until she was born and then they could perhaps look at operating once she was strong enough, but even then, she might not survive the surgery.’ Shirl wasn’t known for being overly emotional and she kept it together now in the warm sunshine, with the sound of birdsong and the hum of tractors in the far fields.

‘You must have been really young.’ Kath took out her own cigarettes and lit one. Everyone knew that Shirl had four sons, two sets of twins, grown men now, who Shirl and her husband adored.

Shirl nodded. ‘Eighteen. Both of us. We knew we wanted a family straight away, and I was pregnant when we got married, here in this church.’

‘And she’s buried here?’ Kath stared at the gravestone, confused, failing to find another name on

it.

‘There’s a centuries-old tradition where babies who died were often buried with a grandparent or elderly lady so they could take care of them in… Heaven, I guess, or wherever.’

Kath smoked quietly and let her friend talk, amazed at the revelation. They had known each other for over eighteen years, and Kath had not had any clue. Shirl had been very careful to keep this little part of her past well and truly buried. She suspected that very few people knew this story, and she was humbled that Shirl could share it with her.

‘My family have been buried here for generations.’ Shirl pointed across the churchyard, next to the makeshift compost heap. ‘Great-great-grandparents over there, great-uncles next to them. We asked if Rose could be buried with my grandmother.’

‘That’s lovely,’ said Kath. ‘Comforting, I should think. For all of you.’

Shirl nodded and looked at her burned-down filter, flicking off the remaining ash and putting it in her pocket.

‘I understand now why this case has hit a nerve. We don’t have to carry on…’

Shirl held up her hand. ‘It’s fine. It’s time.’ She gave a weak smile. ‘It just made me sad when we started out. I mean, we were looking at the murder of two adults, then the dead babies turned up…’ She moved away, and Kath followed, keeping hold of her filter until she could flick it into the road.

‘Any time you want to talk about her, you know you can come to me now. Right?’

Shirl turned and embraced Kath. ‘Thank you.

But it’s all good. I have one day a year—her birthday—when I cry and come here to talk to her, tell her about her brothers, our lives.’

Kath released her and stepped back. ‘June fourteenth. You have it off every year.’

Shirl smiled. ‘What a good detective you are.’

They got into Shirl’s car and sat looking out across the fields.

‘It’s weird how Byron picked up on this case,’ Shirl said. ‘And how we now have this strange connection. Not that he knows.’

‘I don’t know… it might have something to do with Lane,’ Kath replied.

Shirl turned in her seat to face Kath. ‘Go on.’ Lane Petreus was the psychic who had helped the team on their first case a few weeks previous. Kath had watched the interaction between her and Byron as she’d said goodbye.

‘I think Byron has some… capabilities that even he doesn’t know he has. We can’t explain it, and we don’t want to because we just accept that it is what it is, but maybe Byron was just guided somehow to pick this case.’

‘Okay, I’ll take that. You may be right. He’s an extraordinary young man.’ Shirl paused. ‘Have you thought about inviting Lane onto this case?’ Kath had been wrestling with the idea. The team was still in its infancy, and she didn’t yet know if Lane could be a permanent part of the team, even if it were possible and it was what Lane desired. Her talent was in great demand, and Kath felt a little selfish in asking Lane to commit completely to them.

‘I don’t honestly know yet. I kind of feel we should press on as we are. If we hit a stumbling block and Lane is available to us, then maybe we can consider calling her in. What do you think?’

Shirl nodded and started the car. ‘I think your instincts are spot on, as ever. You’ll make the right call when the time comes.’

She nosed the car forward and headed back to the station, considering the idea of sharing an intimate piece of her past with the rest of the team.


About the Author

Julia Vaughan, author of Daisy Chain, is a Medical Secretary living in Shropshire with her husband and 2 cats. As a youngster, she wanted to be Destiny Angel or one of Charlie’s Angels. Neither came to pass. Julia completed a degree from Worcester University in English & Literary Studies with Associated Drama and has been writing crime and mystery fiction for years, with the odd short story published. She’s happiest when watching Columbo, Law & Order and Midsomer Murders. Daisy Chain is Julia’s debut full-length novel.

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Review | Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 02 August 2022
Published by: Tor Books 
Type: standalone
Genre: Speculative Fiction, British & Irish Horror, Fairytales and Folklore, Fantasy,
Author: Sunyi Dean
Book Length: 304 pages, Hardcover
Read: 22 August 2022
Shelved: 25 August 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

A gorgeous new fantasy horror – a book about stories and fairytales with family and love at its dark heart…
Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Coraline), Susanna Clarke (Piranesi), and Let the Right One In.

Hidden across England and Scotland live six old Book Eater families.

The last of their lines, they exist on the fringes of society and subsist on a diet of stories and legends.

Children are rare, and their numbers have dwindled, so when Devon Fairweather’s second child is born a dreaded Mind Eater – a perversion of her own kind, who consumes not stories but the minds and souls of humans – she flees before he can be turned into a weapon for the family… or worse.

Living among humans and finding prey for her son, Devon seeks a cure for his hunger. But time is running out – for her family wants her back, and with every soul her son consumes, he loses a little more of himself…

This is a story of escape, a savage mother’s devotion, and a queer love that will electrify readers looking for something beguiling, thrilling, strange, and new.


Review

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★★
Logic: ★★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 5 stars ★★★★★

Note: After reading this book, I remember my jaw-dropping, and I was stumped! I had to sit down and digest everything. Even though I took my time savoring this book, there was a lot to absorb and sift through. I included a few trigger warnings at the bottom for reference.

The world-building and scene placements were terrific! The Book Eaters excellently wove together classic fairytale classics like Photogen and Nycteris and fantasy books of J.R.R. Tolkien, William Goldman, and George MacDonald Fraser. I felt like I was transported to where Devon and Cai were and felt every emotional turmoil they went through.

There were a lot of really dark and challenging themes. Still, the author did a great job of balancing moments of tension, suspense, and drama versus moments of familial and maternal tenderness. Many of the scenes were so poignant or full of perfect timing that they brought me to tears. The parts of the book that are hardest to read are the ones that make her question her beliefs through characters either creating doubt or even invalidating what she wants – to live peacefully and safely with Cai. 

The writing is so vivid in these moments, using flashbacks and metaphors that span Devon’s childhood, that it appeals to the universal human experience.

Devon is a relatable character, especially for mothers who had to give up their child (willingly or not), trying to do her best in challenging and ever-changing circumstances, including in her own home. My heart broke for her over and over with each promise broken by people she trusted or thought she could have. She is a woman of resistance. Trying to find solace and a haven for her and her child, Cai, Devon decides many risky actions that either work or backfire to place her in more precarious situations. I see more of her character development as relatable and believable during the latter. Her naivety at the start of the book transforms her into someone stronger, braver, confident, and determined. I love how it shows how one event shaped and changed Devon forever. 

Food for thought: the relationship between Devon and Ramsey was a fascinating exploration of class (book eater vs. knight), familial duty (?), and entitlement in the Family structure. All the characters felt incredibly justified in their ideologies, with histories, motivations, and unique personalities forcing them towards the final conflict. 

In summary, The Book Eaters is an outstanding read with so much to digest! It is intriguing and innovative in its idea and execution (the idea of absorbing ideas and concepts by eating books), making it a riveting read. Even if the book is pretty dark, dire, helpless, and horrific at the beginning, the ending will leave readers with much hope and love that it would be impossible to forget. This book shows a woman/mother’s resilience and creativity, even with limited resources offered from the start, as she crushes the repressive, patriarchal society she faces. Since I started my book review journey, I rarely had books that left an indelible impression. I must say that the Book Eaters will have a place in my mind for years to come! I hope a sequel will be in the works since I do not believe that Devon will rest until she finds the ultimate ending of her choosing.


POV: Devon Fairweather, dual timeline

Reps: LGBTQ+, Asian-Mix, Fantasy, Horror, Fiction, LGBT, AdultBooks, Queer, Lesbian, ACE

Content Warnings: PTSD, body horror, gore, explicit violence, domestic abuse including marital rape, abandonment (of parent/child), emotional/psychological abuse, patriarchial society, mental/physical manipulation, blood, death, dying out race, sexism, violence against children, imprisonment, murder


Favorite Quotes


“There has to be a moent, she thought, where you could pinpoint the dies of an ocean turing. A single specific flicker of time, recordable, measureable, where the waves stopped retreating and stared advancing up the beah again. This, surely, was such a moment for her.
For the first time in years, her heart seemed to float within her chest, free and light and calm. Fear had been an anchor, dragging her down, and the certainty of death had finally cut that chain. Fif all this politicking were a card came, the knights beleved they had stacked the deck against her, to cover every eventuality. And if she could not win, then she no longer had anythign to lose. She would play with all she had because there was no other choice. In taking away her options, Ramsey had set her free. All she had to do was figure out a plan of her own.”

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


“Information is not intellect. Computers can contain entire books, too, but they’re not considered intelligent yet. It si sone thing to have a repository of data, and quite another to use it, let alone creativity. Weston could do both.”

– Mani, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


The compass slid cold against her chest. Clarity doused her nerves like a bucket of water ot he face. Leaving him was not an option. Couprage, she told herself. Breathe in, breathe out; endure.

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


“Don’t look back, Hes. Never look bak. We make our choices and we keep going. Do you hear me?”

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Someday, Devon thought, her promises would have worth. Someday, she would have enough strength to force the world into the way it needed to be. She would be good, and so would Cai. Somehow, in a place far from here.

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Because despite her promises and her murders, and her fanatical commitment to protect him from the world, she hadn’t been able to protect him from his own choices, his own crimes that were his to commit. The sins he chose to bear, for love of her. Love

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

The sins he chose to bear, for love of her. Love was sometimes a terrible thing, and he had discovered that just as she had.

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

About the Author

Sunyi Dean (sun-yee deen) is an autistic author of fantasy fiction. Originally born in the States and raised in Hong Kong, she now lives in Yorkshire with her children. When not reading, running, falling over in yoga, or rolling d20s, she sometimes escapes the city to wild swim in lonely dales.

Her short stories have been featured in The Best of British Scifi Anthology, Prole, FFO, Tor Dot Com, etc., and her debut novel, THE BOOK EATERS, will be published on 02 Aug 2022 by Tor (USA) and 18 Aug 2022 by Harper Voyager (UK). Available at all good bookstores, in ebook, hardback, and audio.

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