The Seafarer’s Kiss

32890474by Julia Ember
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This gorgeous cover caught my eye and since I love fairy tales I knew I had to check out this Little Mermaid retelling. It’s definitely the most interesting one I’ve found! I love all the Norse mythology and setting it in a completely different part of the world–and having the mermaid trying to win the heart of a fierce shield-maiden was refreshing. Fairy tales fascinate me because you can change so many components and yet still see the bones of the myth underneath.

Ersel has always wondered what adventures she could have on land, but she doesn’t meet a living human until she finds a scared girl named Ragna trapped on the ice after a shipwreck. Ragna is determined to have revenge on the men who kidnapped her and burned her village. Ersel wants to escape the oppressive rule of an isolationist king who insists that a mermaid’s value is linked to her fertility.

The two girls form a tentative friendship that hints at something more–until Ersel’s suitor catches them together and threatens to tell the king. Desperate to find Ragna and be with her on land, Ersel makes a bargain with the treacherous god of lies, Loki. Her wish threatens to destroy not only her hope of reuniting with Ragna, but her entire underwater community if she doesn’t discover a way to outwit the god.

This short book is so fast-paced! This world was so interesting to explore, especially Ersel’s life under the icebergs. The way the mermaids had to survive such intense cold was thought out! I wouldn’t have minded more time with these characters, but I still felt like they were all so fleshed out. Each of them had such intense desires and were so ruthless in going after what they wanted. Despite knowing the fairy tale, the game with the trickster god and the horrifyingly imaginative results had me wondering what would happen next.

Ersel and Ragna don’t have a lot of time to develop their relationship, yet there was a spark there that I’ve found true to life–when you find someone completely driven to achieve their dreams, it’s so attractive! That spark can grow quickly, and I wanted them to be together just to see what adventures they could have. They’re not “nice” girls but I wanted them to win!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Seafarer’s Kiss is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – Denna’s betrothal has stretched on for years, but it’s finally time for her to meet and marry her husband. She just has to keep her affinity for fire magic a secret–and try not to fall for her fiance’s sister. See my review here.
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie – Cas has spent her whole life training Reckoner beasts to fight pirates in the NeoPacific, but her first solo trip goes horribly wrong. Pirate Queen Santa Elena captures Cas and orders her to train a stolen Reckoner for the pirates, under the watchful eye of Swift, a girl who seems to understand the darkest parts of Cas. See my review here.
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – Lush prose that draws you into a small town filled with magic, secrets, and romance. Sam and Miel have been best friends their whole lives, but when the Bonner sisters decide they want the roses that grow from Miel’s wrists, protecting Miel could reveal all the secrets Sam and Miel have kept from each other and themselves. See my review here.

Wayfarer

20983366by Alexandra Bracken
YA Fantasy / Historical Fiction
4 of 5 stars

Yet another immensely satisfying end to a series! The 500-page factor had me a little hesitant to dive in—I knew I would need TIME—but once I did I found this even faster-paced with more adventure than Passenger.

Etta and Nicholas are separated across centuries and continents and their fight to find each other and destroy the astrolabe jumps us to every imaginable period and region (though regrettably, no dinosaurs). Etta finds herself in the care of the Thorns, with surprisingly not-dead people intent on helping her. Nicholas and Sofia struggle not to kill each other as they track the astrolabe, with the mysterious assistance and resistance of traveler Li Min. Surprises and twists keep the pages flying by!

Once again, the attention to detail and research blew me away. It just feels like you are there, no matter where they go. There’s more magic this time, and definitely more secrets to expose, so without spoilers, anything you loved in the first book is doubled in this installment! It made me want to plan a bunch of trips by the time I finished it.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wayfarer is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – Not technically time-travel, but this is a beautiful story about a girl with a cursed horoscope that finds herself caught between the human and the Otherworld in a mystery that involves lifetimes. See my review here.
  • Abarat by Clive Barker – Candy Quackenbush of Chickentown, U.S.A. is bored to death until a wave carries her from our world to the world of the Abarat, where every island is an hour of the day and a dark power is threatening to destroy it all. Weird but interesting portal fantasy with incredible artwork!
  • Old Magic by Marianne Curley – When Kate and Jerrod meet there’s an actual lightning storm—in their classroom. Kate must convince the skeptical Jerrod that he has magical powers, and that the curse that has dogged his family is something they will need to travel to the past to fix. This is a fun read you’ll breeze through in a few hours.
  • A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones – One of the best fantasy writers of our time tackles time-travel in a unique way. Time City is built on a patch of space outside of time, and its residents are charged with overseeing the cycle of history. But when the timeline begins to crumble, two boys pluck Vivian Smith from Twenty Century to help them save it. Except they got the wrong Vivian, and now they have to save the timeline anyway! So good and will squeeze your brain.

Wintersong

24763621by S. Jae-Jones
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 7, 2017

One of my highly anticipated reads for this year! JJ co-hosts the fantastic podcast Pub(lishing)Crawl about all things writing and publishing and I have been dying to read her gothic fantasy for months. Not having seen “Labyrinth” I didn’t really know what to expect but she is so wise I knew it would good regardless, and I was not wrong!

The eldest of three, Liesl’s dark life of poverty in the Bavarian woods is only lit up by music. Her younger sister Kathe is the beautiful one, engaged to be married to Liesl’s childhood crush. Her younger brother Josef is the musical genius—the talent their parents obsess over. An upcoming audition could change his life forever. Only Josef acknowledges Liesl’s talent: composing. Josef can bring any song to life, but Liesl hears new songs in her head.

Then the Goblin King takes Kathe to become his wife, and Liesl must challenge the Lord of Mischief to save her sister, and ultimately herself.

This is a soul story. Liesl’s quest to save her sister leads her to make sacrifices that could kill her (in mind or in body) and she continues on. But her struggle to claim her identity, her music, her life, feels so deeply personal. JJ’s passion for this story is lovingly drawn on every page but it doesn’t feel like self-insertion because what Liesl fears is universal. Who doesn’t struggle with finding a sense of self and place in the world? Who doesn’t fear their own potential? It’s not often reading a novel feels so intimate without creating the feeling of intrusion. This journey Underground is slow and winding, a fitting pace for the gradual way that understanding sinks into our bones with every experience we gain. It’s a savory, personal journey that leaves you feeling as changed as Liesl.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book of goblin magic and music! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wintersong is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agniezska is forced to serve their wizard, known as the Dragon, only to realize she has a role in saving the town from a dark forest determined to devour them. See my review here.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – An atmospheric story in the wilderness of Rus’ with one girl facing her village’s censure as she tries to protect them from dark forces at work in their land with rituals out of favor with the new Christian church. See my review here.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is only passionate about music, but her post in the royal castle requires her to become a diplomat of sorts between humans and dragons. Her desire for musical recognition is tempered by the secret she hides that would ruin her. See my review here.
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber – Scarlett enters the magical game-world of Caraval to save her sister Tella—but as the game plays out the lines between reality and entertainment are blurred. See my review here.

The Shadow Hour

27245910by Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I finally got around to this sequel! The debut was such a fun surprise of humor and magic that I knew I wanted to invest in this series—I just got side-tracked for awhile.

We pick up 3 months after the events in The Girl at Midnight, with the gang hiding out in London as Jasper recovers from injuries. Echo and Caius try to figure out what strange dark monster is terrorizing the world and how to keep his sister Tanith from using it to fight the firebird. They learn the kuçedra is a shadow monster born to balance the firebird’s light, and much like the firebird, it can house itself in a living vessel. More chaos ensues as Echo and Tanith try to get to it first, and there are a lot of casualties along the way.

Although this is much darker, as middle books usually are, there are still really fun moments of flirting and jokes to lighten the growing feeling of utter doom.  My favorite moments were several key conversations between Caius and Tanith, Echo and Rowan, and Jasper and Dorian. Everyone has a nuanced arc and it’s satisfying to see how much they’ve all grown up and grown together.

We finally get some backstory about several characters, most intriguingly Echo, and there are some good surprises in this fast-paced adventure. (And a cliff-hanger ending, so prepare yourself). I was most impressed by how the gravity of this book seemed to grow organically from the relatively light-hearted first installment. The writing isn’t overly flowery but there are some heartfelt descriptions that had me pause in admiration!

Definitely a worthy sequel and I’m excited to see how this wraps up this summer! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Shadow Hour is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor – The most noted similarities between this trilogy and Grey’s have fallen away now, and Echo stands on her own. But this is definitely an excellent series to try if you love Echo’s journey! Karou and Akiva struggle to trust each other and build up the chimaera to face the seraphs as exposure in the human world threatens everything. See my review here.
  • Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater – A music prodigy attracts a soul-eating faerie muse who offers to enhance his skills and must resist. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Siblings Hazel and Ben must defend their hometown when the faeries in their neighboring forest start to get violent. See my review here.

Caraval

27883214by Stephanie Garber
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: January 31, 2017

Like many other people, I’ve been itching to attend Caraval for a year! Ever since the beautiful ARCs started popping up (honestly, a bit before that) it’s been on my list as a shiny 2017 debut waiting to sweep me away. And for the most part, it succeeded! I was indeed, swept away to a strange island of magic and mystery and mind games.

Scarlett and Tella have been trying to find a way to escape their abusive father for years. Then their chance comes, when Scarlett’s long-unanswered letters to Legend, master of Caraval, earns them tickets to the annual event. Once there, Tella goes missing and Scarlett realizes that finding Tella is this year’s game. With the help of Julian, the roguish sailor who took them to the island, Scarlett attempts to decipher the clues to her sister’s whereabouts as increasingly sinister things start happening.

For me, this was a strange case of loving the world and the magic more than the characters. Scarlett is a prudish, timid heroine, and I frequently felt like I was far more excited about Caraval than she was, despite it being her lifelong dream to go! She, Tella, and Julian don’t get as much depth as I would like. Caraval is fast-paced, but I still thought we’d have a minute for them to break out of their assigned roles.

What kept me turning pages was the mystery and dark whimsy of Caraval! The shops, the bargains, the strangely magical items all had me anxious to keep exploring. The strange feeling that magic was real—but only on the island—and the fact that Caraval players always remind each other that it’s all a game kept me on my toes.

The ending definitely surprised me! Was I swept away? Yes. Did I get “swept too far”? Not quite—but I think future books might achieve that magic. Pick this up for a blazingly fast read that will keep you guessing!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Futhermore is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West – Another case of the world and magic capturing me more than the character, but maybe I’m in the minority! Bristal discovers she has magical abilities and becomes one of the guardians of peace between three countries on an island nation. Fairy tales blend with Bristal’s story too! See my review here.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – A magical island with triplet princesses that must fight to the death for the crown–what’s not to like? Complicated sister relationships, court intrigue, and dark magic abound. See my review here.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – If you can’t get enough of mysterious circuses and games, try this! Celia and Marco are two magicians trained to oppose each other by their instructors–but when they finally meet, they fall in love.
  • Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody – Still need more creepy circus magic? This summer’s debut follows illusion-worker Sorina who must discover how and why her illusion companions are being murdered!

Kingdom of Ash and Briars

28554825by Hannah West
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: September 15, 2016

The summary and cover are so dark and seductive; I desperately wanted to love this story. Unfortunately, this didn’t live up to its potential for me.

Bristal discovers she is an elicromancer—powerful immortals with different abilities that guide the three kingdoms of Nissera and attempt to maintain peace between them. Bristal’s special talent is shape-shifting, a unique power that would be especially useful to keeping treaties intact. When the elicromancer Tamarice curses all the royal families in an attempt to build a nation ruled by the immortals, Brack and Bristal take measures to protect two princesses betrothed to unify the kingdoms.

What follows are loose retellings of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, with Bristal acting the part of village aunt and fairy godmother to the two princesses over the years. I loved the world and the magic, and I even loved Bristal’s behind-the-scenes role in arranging affairs. There are some interesting rituals and side characters, and each chapter I expected the story to take flight. I just had such a hard time connecting to her. When her wishes are so forcibly subsumed by the needs of the island’s nations, she lost most of her vitality, and although the pacing is fast, I felt distant from it all. Ultimately I expected a story about a girl struggling to choose good or evil with her powers (as the jacket hints) but I ended up reading about a girl who chooses good from the outset and fades into the background of her own life.

I’ll be on the lookout for the next book by this author though, as her imagination promises dark and sultry tales to come!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Kingdom of Ash and Briars is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – I was strongly reminded of this while reading Kingdom because they both feature islands with three nations that struggle to get along. In this case, triplet sisters raised apart in the three kingdoms each fight for the crown once they turn 16. There can be only one queen of the island. See my review here.
  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst – A cute romance between two princesses set against the backdrop of political skirmishes and nefarious plots. See my review here.
  • Lirael by Garth Nix – Another protagonist stuck with guiding and protecting a kingdom skeptical of her powers. Lirael is an assistant librarian to the Clayr, women who see the future and try to help the king govern the Old Kingdom. But Lirael is destined to leave her library to fight against a darkness no one wants to acknowledge.
  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan  – A sci-fi retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda Fitzroy awakens from 62 years of stasis to find out her family is dead and she is the missing heiress to a global conglomerate. The acting CEO is not pleased to hear she was found, and Rosalinda must come to terms with her past if she is to survive the fight for her future.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer – A sci-fi retelling of Cinderella. The famed princess is a lowly cyborg mechanic in New Beijing who has a chance encounter with a prince in disguise that changes her life. See my review here.

Windwitch

29939390by Susan Dennard
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Book 2 in the Witchlands series

If you follow the author at all, you’ll know that she writes amazing monthly newsletters, has a wealth of helpful advice on writing and craft on her website, and this book took her two painful years to write. It is completely, entirely worth it, and I am so grateful she put in the blood, sweat and tears to share this story!

Picking up right after the events in Truthwitch:
-Merik the Windwitch is horribly scarred from an assassination attempt that destroyed his ship and killed all but one crew member. Merik thinks it was his sister’s doing, but his companion Cam is not convinced.
-Safi the Truthwitch is on her way to Marstok with its Empress, Vaness, who is an Ironwitch.
-Iseult the Threadwitch is alone and trying to meet up with her Threadsister Safi.
-Aeduan the Bloodwitch finds himself tracking Iseult again both as a job and to get his missing silver back.

-Added to all that is Merik’s sister Vivia (a Tidewitch) and her attempts to secure the throne.

Given all the intricate plot threads and magic tied to these characters, I think it’s completely understandable that this would be difficult to write. But Sooz makes it look easy! Each arc, each transition between the points of view is so smoothly done. Each character has a different voice as well, which is so hard to do. Characters naturally collide and separate again, and all of them experience such moments of growth. This book is just action-action-action EMOTIONAL PUNCH–repeat!

Without spoilers–we see Merik and Vivia struggling to help their starving nation as tensions erupt all around their borders. The Puppeteer continues to invade Iseult’s mind with disturbing information and hints about Iseult’s potential abilities. Safi continually finds herself among enemies-turned-tentative-allies. All of them are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and the world around them, and it’s this that keeps you flipping the pages as quickly as possible.

I think my favorite part was Vivia–learning about her motivations, her struggles as she attempts to run a country full of men who think she shouldn’t, and her dedication to her country regardless of what she must sacrifice or who gains the credit was so interesting and inspiring. All the characters make decisions you don’t always agree with, yet their earnest intentions keep you on their side. It’s truly enjoyable to follow their journeys!

This has all the best aspects of a sequel: deepened world-building, more types of magic, more intimate character relationships and interactions, and nonstop action. It’s hard to convey without spoilers, but if you enjoyed the mood and characters of the first, you will find more of that here!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Windwitch is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce – The Circle of Magic quartet and The Circle Opens quartet features four teens with different types of magic whose intense, unyielding friendships help them defeat evil sorcerers and unite cultures. Adventures abound, and it’s fun watching these characters grow up. These were some of my favorites when I was younger and Pierce is an author worth reading.
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie – Cas is captured by the Pirate Queen Santa Elena to train a sea monster for her (instead of training them to kill pirates). See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I recommend this because this story has another awesome female friendship at its heart, but it was much darker than Windwitch. See my review here.
  • Abarat by Clive Barker – Candy Quackenbush finds herself in an archipelago where every hour of the day has its own island and she discovers she is destined to save them all. Beautiful artwork by the author fully illustrates this series.

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