JACKPOT by Nic Stone

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Dear Martin –which Angie Thomas, the bestselling author of The Hate U Give, called “a must read”–comes a pitch-perfect romance that examines class, privilege, and how a stroke of good luck can change an entire life.

Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize. But what happens when have and have-nots collide? Will this investigative duo unite…or divide?

Nic Stone, the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out, creates two unforgettable characters in one hard-hitting story about class, money–both too little and too much–and how you make your own luck in the world.


Title : Jackpot
Author : Nic Stone
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 339
Genre : YA Contemporary
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Kids UK
Release Date : October 15, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

JACKPOT is the second book by Nic Stone that I’ve really enjoyed. She has a way of making you exist in her fictional world and get completely wrapped up her characters. This is book brimming with diversity, the have and have-nots and coming-of-age.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this read, I knew there was a lottery ticket and a young woman. What I got was the compelling character of Rico, working every hour outside of school to help her mum with keeping the eviction notice away, whilst looking after her young brother, Jax. It was pretty tragic to read as Rico had no kind of normal teenage existence. There was a sense of desperation around Rico that invaded the atmosphere.

Rico embarked on a quest to find a winning lottery ticket and she got up the courage to grab Zan to help her. He seemed to be her opposite in every way especially in terms of his financial situation. However, the more I got to know Zan, the more I realised that Zan and Rico were similar in many ways. What made this story was that Zan and others that entered Rico’s life, brought some normal teen experiences, some firsts and it was precious to read Rico having these experiences.

There were some unexpected twists to this story and some tragedies too that had me on the edge of my seat. I can honestly say this was a great reading experience and that I enjoyed the book from cover to cover. Nic Stone’s narrative felt realistic, representing poverty tangibly and with messages that need to be heard without a preachy feel. I love her writing style, it makes for ease of reading. Highly recommended.

Advertisements

INTO THE CROOKED PLACE by Alexandra Christo – double review!

The streets of Creije are for the deadly and the dreamers, and four crooks in particular know just how much magic they need up their sleeve to survive.

Tavia, a busker ready to pack up her dark-magic wares and turn her back on Creije for good. She’ll do anything to put her crimes behind her.

Wesley, the closest thing Creije has to a gangster. After growing up on streets hungry enough to swallow the weak whole, he won’t stop until he has brought the entire realm to kneel before him.

Karam, a warrior who spends her days watching over the city’s worst criminals and her nights in the fighting rings, making a deadly name for herself.

And Saxony, a resistance fighter hiding from the very people who destroyed her family, and willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge.

Everything in their lives is going to plan, until Tavia makes a crucial mistake: she delivers a vial of dark magic—a weapon she didn’t know she had—to someone she cares about, sparking the greatest conflict in decades. Now these four magical outsiders must come together to save their home and the world, before it’s too late. But with enemies at all sides, they can trust nobody. Least of all each other.


Title : Into the Crooked Place
Author : Alexandra Christo
Series : Into the Crooked Place (book one)
Format : eARC / ARC
Page Count : 380
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends/Hot Key Books
Release Date : October 8, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★  / DNF


Hollis’ 2 star review

Here’s a big reason why I think the current GR rating is what it is (which, as of the writing of this review, is 3.73) : it very much feels, and reads, like another book. Which, as my buddy said, doesn’t mean a certain author holds the copyright to heist ensemble gangster anti-hero/amoral stories. It’s just.. like, wow, a little effort to be different, when so much of today’s culture is comparisons, would’ve been nice?

But here’s where I get a little less snarky. After bemoaning the comparisons, and the utter boredom, for almost 50%.. this book did shift gears. A little. I won’t say I liked it after the first half but while I predicted a lot of what was coming.. some things I didn’t. I felt good about the ending — particularly the last 20% — which, I mean, I guess didn’t take much considering how not-good I was feeling about the book in general, so that’s definitely a low-ish bar. Also, the shift in plot doesn’t quite take away from how much this book is like other things. I’m talking vibe, tone, names.. yeah, it’s a lot.

But. Again, I say, but.

I might pick up book two (thank goodness it’s not a trilogy). Hell, I probably will. I’m a bit of a masochist but I did feel this ended on a good — well, no, not good, but you get what I mean — note. Also there is a lot of diversity in this story, which is one of the few uncomplicated things to celebrate.

So, yes, this is kind of a hash, for a book I wanted to DNF and yet now find myself intending to read even more of now that I’ve finished it, and yet here we are.

** I received a ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky sadly DNF’d at 30% – unrated

I’m sorry to say that this was a full day’s struggle of picking it up and putting it down repeatedly because I did not like this world that felt pretty familiar and I did not buy into the characters or story. I found the names of people and phrasing too similar to the Grisha world to discount and it was told without the finesse of that one.

I strongly believe there is no copyright on this kind of story (heisty-gangster fantasy) because the whole book world is built on a jenga pyramid of similar stories. That said, its hugely important to find your slice of uniqueness and according to my bud Hollis, that issue settled a bit from half way in. I didn’t get that far because I just didn’t engage with the story and I was consistently bored.

I feel disappointed in myself on the one hand because I loved Christo’s previous book but I think this review would look a whole lot worse if I had.

Thank you to Hot Key books for the review copy and I’m sorry I couldn’t see this through to the end. Gratitude for the chance to read early.

THE BEAUTIFUL by Renee Ahdieh – double review!

New York Times bestselling author Renée Ahdieh returns with a sumptuous, sultry and romantic new series set in 19th century New Orleans where vampires hide in plain sight.

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien’s guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

At once a sultry romance and a thrilling murder mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet: The Beautiful.


Title : The Beautiful
Author : Renee Ahdieh
Series : The Beautiful #1
Format : ARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape / G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 8, 2019

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Such a highly anticipated title for me from an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. Although my rating isn’t a wow rating, it delivered on some aspects of enjoyment and not on others. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series however as there’s much still to discover (I’ll return to this point).

I immeditely fell into like with the tenor of the book, in pace, mystery and ambience. New Orleans in this book’s era had such a temperature of the magical that was enticing but it also sparked trepidation. The heroine Celine was running from her life in Paris, straight into the burning flames of a furnace. She courted danger in a way that didn’t seem befitting of a woman of that time but that was the kind of character she was. I was intrigued by her and the character of Bastien, as I was supposed to be.

What started out as mystery in terms of who or what kinds of beings prowled New Orleans, became a bit of a frustration as world building didn’t come but in a fog towards the end. I feel like I was possibly promised vampires but didn’t really get this. I got the measure of Celine and Michael, but Bastien, his uncle and many others were clouded and this became increasingly difficult as a reader.

The violent happenings in the story were the good part of the mystery. The unknown povs added to this. The descriptions of sights and smells, heat and darkness were vivid and alluring. There was very little romance in literal terms but the suggestion of it was threaded through the story.

I enjoyed the idea of this story but I wanted a bit more from the execution of it. I enjoy Renee Ahdieh’s narrative voice very much, she’s easy to read and her work pulls you into the story. However, I wanted more from the story in terms of the final reveal and last chapter. I will be back for more.

Thank you to Hodderscape for this early copy to review.


Hollis’ 3 star review

So this one is an interesting mix for me. Because on the one hand, I was pretty damn entertained while reading this. I read it mostly in one sitting, with only brief pauses, and had a pretty romping good time while I was in it.

It was during those breaks, though, and post-epilogue where I really paused and went, huh. So, we do have some problems.

First of all, let me say, I loved Ahdieh’s first series. And she brings that same magical weaving of atmosphere and setting, of flowy but not too purpley, prose, to THE BEAUTIFUL. Between the vibrancy of a carnival in the dark of the night, the decadence of the food, the colours of a masquerade, it’s a treat to read. I love the French woven through the story, along with a few other languages!, and how sometimes it isn’t even translated. That worked for me, though I imagine it won’t work for all, but. I liked it because it felt true and authentic to the scenery. I’m not entirely sure about the choice of the time period, other than wanting some old world charm, complaints about corsets, and an impetus to send a bunch of girls, mainly our main character, across the sea to the New World to escape their pasts, though. Because there was so much of this that felt very present-day, had very modern commentary, and overall just felt a bit uneven.

If you think I used my wiles to catch your notice like a girl trying to fill her dance card at a ball, then–
Whatever I think has nothing to do with you. My behaviour is not your responsibility.”

Also in relation to the setting, beautiful (hah) as it may be, I have some world building/mythology confusion regarding The Fallen and The Brotherhood — though honestly I think we’re meant to want to know more, wanting to have it all explained, as that will drive us to pick up book two. Additionally because we obviously want a resolution to the events of said epilogue. Which is probably the biggest thing that made me go, huh.

I don’t quite remember seeing it but apparently with the announcement of this book, they came right out of the gate trying to throw shade on a certain other vampire series. Which, hey, whatever. We probably all throw some shade at it. That’s not my issue here. My issue here is that.. why are we throwing shade when some of this book is so damn similar to said other book? I’m not spoiling specifics. But I can’t be the only reader who is seeing it?

I’ve heard many people say tragedy shapes us. But I am not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, nor am I the worst thing I’ve ever done. Nothing in life is that simple.”

Anyway. A lot of this, like I said, was really good. I was hooked in. I like Celine for the most part, I liked Bastien for the most part, and I definitely loved Odette, the glue that kind of holds them together when initially they are keeping to the hate part of their hate-attraction-situation. But honestly these two were best when they were snarking at each other or when.. ahem, well, there was that one time.. because otherwise? I don’t know. They’re both too much and not enough.

I can stand there forever in irritated silence. It it no bother to me. You can perish wondering what I’m thinking, for I’ll never tell.”
Likewise.”

I do think this book suffers a bit from lack of polish. There’s so much going on, so much unknown, and it’s definitely going for a bigger scope that I imagine will get explained now that we’re on the other side of things going into book two. Or maybe not, who is to say. But I have lots of questions, lots of things that in hindsight, I say again, make me go, hm. But again. I had a good time with it. Though I’m going to hope for more vampires in the sequel. Because, minor spoiler? They were hard to spot. Like I said.. there’s a lot going on and this is more than what you might think it to be.

THE BEAUTIFUL is a slowburn plot build that develops into a murder mystery revenge story with more secrets than vampires and more modern day commentary and inclusion than a historical fiction novel actually deserves. But I’ll definitely be picking up book two.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE TENTH GIRL by Sara Faring

Simmering in Patagonian myth, The Tenth Girl is a gothic psychological thriller with a haunting twist.

At the very southern tip of South America looms an isolated finishing school. Legend has it that the land will curse those who settle there. But for Mavi—a bold Buenos Aires native fleeing the military regime that took her mother—it offers an escape to a new life as a young teacher to Argentina’s elite girls.

Mavi tries to embrace the strangeness of the imposing house—despite warnings not to roam at night, threats from an enigmatic young man, and rumors of mysterious Others. But one of Mavi’s ten students is missing, and when students and teachers alike begin to behave as if possessed, the forces haunting this unholy cliff will no longer be ignored.

One of these spirits holds a secret that could unravel Mavi’s existence. In order to survive she must solve a cosmic mystery—and then fight for her life.


Title : The Tenth Girl
Author : Sara Faring
Format : ARC
Page Count : 460
Genre : YA historical horror/thriller
Publisher : Imprint
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

So here’s my problem with THE TENTH GIRL. If this was a more straight-forward, yet twisty, gothic horror, I think it would’ve been amazing. Parts of this were really good. The atmosphere, the creepy factor, the isolated strangeness of the setting, the eerie encroaching darkness of it all.. it was great.

But instead this book is a lot more than meets the eye. Infact in hindsight you see a lot of the clues, or at least I do, but even had I noticed, even if they had got me wondering, nothing could have prepared me for that this book actually is. It’s a very.. risky choice. Bold, even. Particularly for a debut.

The good thing is you get a sense early on that things aren’t quite as the appear. But the problem is just how not as the appear things really are. It didn’t work for me. My mind is trying to make it work but I had certain expectations about this book and the story as a whole didn’t meet them. So maybe that’s on me.

This is a spoiler free zone. This is the only kind of review you will, get the vaguest of vague, which will either intrigue or scare you off. Either choice is valid.

I might read this author again but unfortunately I can’t say this book gave me what I wanted.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

BID MY SOUL FAREWELL by Beth Revis

The stunning finale of the epic fantasy duology from New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis. 

Alchemy student turned necromancer Nedra Brysstain has made a life-changing decision to embrace the darkness–but can the boy who loves her bring her back to the light before she pays the ultimate price?

Lunar Island is trying to heal. The necromantic plague that ravaged the land has been eradicated, and Emperor Auguste, the young and charming leader of the Allyrian Empire, has a plan: rid the island of necromancy once and for all. Though Greggori “Grey” Astor wants what’s best for his people, he knows that allying himself with Auguste threatens the one person he loves most: necromancer Nedra Brysstain. Feeling like he already failed to save Nedra once, Grey becomes determined to help the Emperor rebuild Lunar Island while still keeping Nedra safe from harm.

Back at the quarantine hospital, Nedra’s army of revenants are growing increasingly inhuman by the day. Wracked with guilt for imprisoning their souls, Nedra vows to discover a way to free the dead while still keeping her sister by her side.

But, still reeling from the trauma of the plague, the people of Lunar Island are looking for someone to blame, and Grey can only protect Nedra for so long. And when Nedra and Grey are thrust into a battle with an even more terrifying adversary, Nedra will be pushed to the darkest depths of her necromantic powers. But can Grey let her go that far? 


Title : Bid My Soul Farewell
Author : Beth Revis
Series : Give The Dark My Love (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Razorbill
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

Once again, I’m left feeling like I wish I loved this more than I did.

After the events of book one, Nedra has become a necromancer, has crossed the line into darkness and treason, because of the devastation wrought by the plague and the necromancer who set it in motion, who had conspired to rule over all. She might have ended the plague but she still lost everything; which means she’ll do anything she can to hold on to what little remains.. or do whatever it takes to bring it back.

What does it take for a girl to choose to be a monster?
I don’t think it’s a choice.”
Of course it is.”

What I liked most about this finale was that Revis did a very good job of showing how, just because the danger has passed, it doesn’t mean everything goes back to normal. The politics took centre stage in this instalment, the unhappiness of the people, the manipulations of the Emperor, the murmurings of rebellion. We see this mostly through Grey’s eyes as he tries to navigate his strange new favour with the Emperor as he’s sent around the island to try and negotiate a trade deal to better the island’s economy, to help right the wrongs done to the northerners, so long ignored by the colony’s seat of power. Nedra goes with him, hoping to find more books, more information, on necromancy and how she might truly save a soul.

But Grey is just a puppet. What’s less obvious, though, is so is Nedra.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the point of this travel really was. Ultimately throughout the whole time, we get only two moments where things really feel relevant to the bigger picture. And instead it’s mostly a way to reconnect these two characters, try and reinforce the romance, as they navigate whether they can be in love while still having extremely opposing beliefs that dictate their choices. Despite the fact that this romance never worked for me, not even in this book, I appreciated these kinds of conversations as well as the acknowledgement of how love isn’t blind.

Was that all it took to make a monster? A label and the accusations of others?

That said, I’ll admit I had my suspicions about how things would come to a head.. and I wasn’t wrong. Infact I figured out the twist to the climax in book one, too. And even with my theory proven right, I enjoyed the last 20% probably the most. Not quite sure how I felt about the epilogue, though I know it’s deserved, but I did like the final showdown. There was definitely less of an emotional kick to this one and I don’t know if that was because Grey had more or a role or what, but, unfortunately he was the weak link that was made weaker because of how little his impact actually was. He was just kinda there or in the way.

Revis’ writing is smooth, her narrative tackling many things that echo in our own world, regarding politics and belief, religion and grief. I do wonder if things got a little too big, too busy, and that’s where some of this didn’t land for me. At least beyond the failure of the romance. But there was a lot of good here.

I was already a fan of the author because of her Across the Universe series and while I didn’t rate these very high, and won’t reread them, I’ll definitely continue to pick up whatever the author puts out.

** I received a ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE INFINITE NOISE by Lauren Shippen

Lauren Shippen’s The Infinite Noise is a stunning, original debut novel based on her wildly popular and award-winning podcast The Bright Sessions.

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

“What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” (Vox on The Bright Sessions)


Title : The Infinite Noise
Author : Lauren Shippen
Series : The Bright Sessions (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA sci-fi/fantasy
Publisher : Tor Teen
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

There’s a lot to love in THE INFINITE NOISE. Representation-wise, we have a protagonist who is Jewish and gay and plagued by depressive episodes, another who is.. well, we’re never given his orientation on page, and also an empath who struggles with the overflow of emotions and lashes out in rage. There’s also a ton of therapy. Positive therapy.

This world is based on a podcast where, as the book’s blurb says, “What if the X-Men, instead of becoming superheroes, decided to spend some time in therapy?” In this world, though, the people with powers, or extraordinary abilities, are Atypicals. And we learn of their existence through Caleb discovering his own abilities, that he’s an empath, with the help of Dr Bright.

The majority of this book is spent with Caleb trying to sort through and also keep from being overwhelmed by the emotions of his classmates and family. His mood swings, culminating in a fight, are a result from processing things he didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, and the aftermath is learning to deal. There’s a lot of talking through of emotions, as represented by colours, and trying to block out the infinite noise of it all. Which only seems to work when he’s alone or with Adam.

I get a moment of enjoying the silence before something inside of me tries to make itself known. Oh. Right. I have my own feelings. I sort of forgot about those.

Adam, who is lonely, alone, and depressed. Who has a hopeless crush on the big jock in his class. Who knows, as a tentative friendship begins, that Caleb is hiding something. But then again.. so is he.

Thinking about Adam makes me feel a little less like a sponge that doesn’t get a say in what it soaks up.

While I did like both characters, I’m not sure I liked either one all the time. They both make questionable decisions, both hide things for too long (and as of the end of this book, one is still hiding things), and.. I don’t know. I loved so much of them, but. Maybe I loved the idea of them a bit more than the reality of them sometimes.

Knowing someone’s feelings doesn’t give me a guidebook on how to respond to them. That I have to make up as I go along.

The back and forth between these two was tough. On the one hand, there’s a lot of baggage, uncertainty, and angst involved. On the other, I’m not even sure how Caleb identifies but while it took quite some time before he blinked and realized he wanted to kiss Adam, date Adam, there wasn’t much issue coming to terms with that. Nor for his family, either. With exception to a few slurs, there wasn’t really any conflict surrounding their characters’ sexualities. The real angst, beyond being sixteen and struggling with depression, with school, with the future, was surrounding an organization who targets Atypicals and who might be working for them; and how keeping Caleb’s secret was paramount.

I think, for all the good, what keeps this book from being great is the pacing. The latter half of the book changes a lot in both tone and scope and after all the big build-up of who is hiding what, I’m not really sure where we are in the end of it all. I know more books are to come (three, it looks like) but the summaries indicate they are to focus on other characters, so. If that’s true, I’m even less satisfied by this ending. At least for how it wraps for this pair.

I love the concept, therapy for superheroes, and it’s a very creative way to ease into the transition of adapting to new powers, but I guess I wanted a tighter focus on these two soft boys.. but also less time spent getting them together, if future books weren’t going to focus on them, and also an ending that was.. more. I don’t know that I’m explaining this well, but. That said, I would read on. I like this world. I love the unique perspective. I just hope book two, and subsequent books, are stronger.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE BONE HOUSES by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family, and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as “bone houses,” and legend says that they’re the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it about Ellis that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.


Title : The Bone Houses
Author : Emily Lloyd-Jones
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA historical fiction fantasy
Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

It might seem obvious, or maybe not, but the overwhelming theme of THE BONE HOUSES, a story of a curse, magic, and reanimated dead, is grief. Of letting go of the past, whether that be from a loss or from a hurt or from an unknown beginning, and moving forward. Living. 

She knew how things died. And in her darkest moments, she feared she did not know how to live.

My interpretation of the setting of this story is Wales, or a Wales-like place, because the mythology and folklore reference beings similar to the fae, to the Tuath Dé Dannan, and also the character names feel Welsh. Once there were magical beings in the world, and magic, but a battle saw it ended and, as time passed, the legends have become stories or morality tales. But in Ryn’s village, the magic isn’t all gone; the dead, or bone houses, still walk the forest. Though with few people brave enough to venture into the dark, few believe that even that much magic still lingers. It isn’t until years later, her father lost, her mother dead, and at seventeen, working as a gravedigger, doing all she can to keep her siblings fed and with a roof over their heads, that something has changed. The bone houses are leaving the forest.

This was the problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren. Nothing stayed buried forever.

When the village is attacked, Ryn teams up with a recent arrival, a mapmaker, to journey to the mountains where the legend of the cauldron of rebirth was said to be last seen. If they destroy the cauldron, maybe it’ll end the bone houses and break the curse.

I’m a mapmaker.
Why aren’t you spending the night in the village?
I–I meant to.”
You’re lost.
I am not.”
You’re a mapmaker who cannot find a village.”
I was using someone else’s map.”

Lloyd-Jones’ story is lush, magical, and eerie. Beyond the mystical, it deals with grief, pain — both emotion and physical — and family; and not just the two legged variety. For all the horror and violence of the walking dead, Ryn is careful in dealing with them, respectful, even as she’s forced to fight for her life against them. She struggles with the concept of what she has to do, with how it makes her a terrible person, and though we don’t suffer through endless agonies I thought enough time was spent — or maybe it was just genuine enough — to make it a good argument. Even if there was really nothing else she could do.

She was a half-wild creature that loved a graveyard, the first taste of misty night air, and the heft of a shovel.

There’s a romance, a slowburn of one, and though you see it coming early on, it nonetheless still wows you as it unfolds. Gently, carefully, and sweetly. These characters were both very aware of themselves and each other; this felt real and believable. Infact, the whole story did. The family connections, the stillness and peace of the forest, the horror of what hides in the dark, the desperate things people will do when facing the death of a loved one.. it might have been wrapped up in the fantastical but it was all very real. Also I would die for the goat.

I grew up thinking monsters could be slain.”
And I grew up thinking people were the monsters.

This isn’t my first read by this author (a fact I just realized while grabbing info for this review!) but it’s definitely the first one that will follow me into my dreams. This one is going to stick with me for sure. And I can’t wait to see what she writes next. 

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **