HEIR TO SEVENWATERS by Juliet Marillier – double review!

The chieftains of Sevenwaters have long been custodians of a vast and mysterious forest. Human and Otherworld dwellers have existed there side by side, sharing a wary trust. Until the spring when Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters finds herself expecting another child—a new heir to Sevenwaters.

Then the family’s joy turns to despair when the baby is taken from his room and something…unnatural is left in his place. To reclaim her newborn brother, Clodagh must enter the shadowy Otherworld and confront the powerful prince who rules there


Title : Heir to Sevenwaters
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book four)
Format : physical
Page Count : 398
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : Roc
Release Date : November 4, 2008

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Otherworldly
Roller coaster-y on steroids
Nefarious side of magic

I couldn’t be happier that the Sevenwaters ‘dip’ was fleeting and is over (Child of the Prophecy). The struggles of book three are but a memory and the band of buddy readers gobbled Heir of Sevenwaters up.

In Clodagh we found a worthy heroine, made of true Sevenwaters heritage. She thought herself lacking in some worth, masterful with running the house and little else. BUT Clodagh was much more, she had a steely determination and she was caring to a fault.

We got some true Marillier hurt in this book, I wont say anything further but just remember the saying that no one is safe. That said, in this installment, she soothed and healed the reader too. We also got some real connection between Clodagh and Cathal. I believed their tether and that proved so vital in times apart.

I have to mention Becan without elaboration, but oh, my heart. That wee one stole my affection immediately and I adored him. His personality, who Clodagh became through him and all that came after. For me, the biggest moments in this book were focused on him.

The story really took us more into the Otherworld and it really was a scary place, not visually but in terms of a total lack of sense of safety for the characters. I was tense every moment of being in that place.

As ever, Marillier’s writing was complex in part but with enchanting prose (quite literally). She has caught me in her net with this series.

I met a young woman with hair like a flame,
She laid my heart open,
She banished my shame.


Hollis’ 3.5 (rounded up) star review

This rating might change as we continue on through the remaining two Sevenwaters instalments but. If you’ve made it this far, you know you are getting a very Marillier-experience which means heartbreak, love that conquers all, and stories. Stories that come with lessons, and clues, in how to survive what is to come and what is expected of our main character.

For Clodagh, she herself is a bit of a departure from our original trilogy heroines, particularly the first two. She’s not adventurous, or a gifted healer, or seems to have any particular strength beyond the maintaining and running of a household. And it’s really as far as her ambitions have pushed her. So when she is underestimated (by others and herself) when she initially finds herself on a particular quest that only she can take.. well, no one is surprised. But for this journey, it takes that kind of selfless love, from a person always putting others before herself, to triumph.

This particular instalment introduces us to a different kind of Fair Folk than we’re used to seeing in this world. Not just meddlesome and cagey, trying to steer these to the tune they like, but this time outright devious, destructive, and dangerous. Nor have we seen the last of this particular character. That said, this may have been the most Otherworldly focused story so far and the character we met along the way, the atmosphere, the dangers.. it was all so vibrant, full of tension, and made for great storytelling.

While I don’t think I loved this one, I liked so much of it. Again, my rating might change by the time we finish book six, and I can rank these companions back to back (to back), but.. it was still a lovely time. And I enjoyed my buddy read immensely with the Sevenwaters Squad (though our final day to discuss was foiled by the All Apps Are Down annoyance). Can’t wait for book five and beyond.

THE LAST GRADUATE by Naomi Novik – double review!

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . . 


Title : The Last Graduate
Author : Naomi Novik
Series : The Scholomance (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Del Rey Books
Release Date : September 28, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

That ending.. I just.. the only two options are stupefied silence or hysterical laughter and right now I’m alternating between the two.

Weirdly enough, with nine minutes left on the kindle countdown, I put the book down. I could almost sense something. But that bit of warning was not enough to prepare me for t h a t.

“[..] you’re the only person I’ve ever met who’d come up with the idea of being wildly rude and hostile to the guy who saved your life twenty times.
Thirteen times! And I’ve saved his life at least twice.”
Catch up already, girl.

Goodness, wow, so. Yeah, lots of my feelings about this book have been eclipsed by all the nonsense above but I will say this. I was delighted to return to this world for one main reason : I had forgotten how delightfully prickly El was. Being back in her space, watching her interact with people, it was often hilarious because she is constantly battling the general feeling of “not putting up with this shit” which, I mean, same. But she’s also in a much better place than she was in the beginning of book one so she’s also struggling to remember she has friends and how that’s changed her life, yes, but also changed her odds of surviving the Scholomance. And those opposing forces are just as funny as she is.

I was unenthusiastic about the prospect of being found attractive because I seem like a terrifying creation of dark sorcery instead of despite it.

Also there was maybe a very short, tiny, little scene that ambushed some tears out of me. Unexpected.

My one.. not complaint, really, but observation, is that there is a lot going on in this world, in the day to day, and Novik strings together some long-ass sentences sometimes — and as a result I completely lose the original thought or point and have to reread or, occasionally, just give up and keep going. It doesn’t always feel like dense fantasy when there’s action or bickering or brainstorming but there are huge swaths of this that is actually quite wordy or complicated. Sometimes I gobbled it up, other times, well, like I said, I just cruised on by. That said, maybe I sabotaged myself a bit because I didn’t adjust my pace to actually take time to process it all, so, maybe it’s my own fault. But unlike most magical schools or learning sequences, this author doesn’t gloss over anything. We are with them as they learn, as they do homework, as they team up and help each other, because not doing the work is sometimes just as dangerous as the monsters crawling through the vents.

I had such a good time with this one. The banter, the action, the romance, the snark, the cut-throat ruthlessness, and, yeah, even that e n d i n g.. I can’t wait for book three (and this isn’t even out yet, arg!).

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Whaaaattttt? Who else had that reaction on finishing?

Well, I thought I knew a bit about the Scholomance from A Deadly Education but The Last Graduate took my expectations and threw them out into the void. This installment took many an unexpected turn but continued to deliver on a great story, snarkastic wit and characters to cheer for.

El showed a new level of maturity in this book, a little more measured and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that she had friends, that she wasn’t alone. These platonic friendships, the potential alliances were rich in trust issues and fun to read. El and Orion were an interesting grumpy and grumpy/sometimes sunshine.

Plotting and planning was a big part of this year’s graduating class and I did not see that final plan coming. The magic complexity went up a notch and I was able to follow but also I was agog at the skills need to set things in motion.

Naomi Novik made these characters elevate from sophomore to senior and I’m still rather enamoured by this world. Bring me book three on a plate, please!

Thank you to Del Rey UK for the gorgeous review copy.

CHILD OF THE PROPHECY by Juliet Marillier – double review!

Magic is fading… and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core. 

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them… as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fainne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fainne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fainne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?


Title : Child of the Prophecy
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 596
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : TorBooks
Release Date : March 20, 2002

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5 / ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

Well, we did it. The original trilogy complete. What a ride.

I cannot be part of this. The forest, the family, the — the brotherhood. You must realize that.”

What makes Child of the Prophecy so interesting, but also easily unlikeable, is the shift. After two books featuring brilliant, self-sacrificing, and purely good, heroines, we are faced with something different in Fainne. She’s not the hero. She’s not purely good. She is, simply, an antagonist. A reluctant one but nonetheless it’s true. She is brilliant, she is powerful, she shares her mother’s temperament (making her difficult), and she’s making choices that don’t have good results. Because she’s fighting for those she loves.. even at the cost of others. This disconnect, this unfortunate situation, is made worse because of her otherness. We, as a reader, have a connection to the Sevenwaters clan, the history, the losses and triumphs they have endured. But Fainne is outside of that while at the same time able to trace her own losses back to the choices (well meaning though they were) of those characters we love. We know their struggle, their guilt, and their enduring love. But Fainne doesn’t. And even worse, her otherness, her disconnect, is compounded by her own gifts and her parentage (doubly so); neither of which are acceptable.

Perhaps my own spirit was damaged, my heart cracked into pieces, so that I could never be fine and good.

It makes her journey difficult in so many ways.

You have the power to make us or break us, I think, and it will not be until the last that you will choose which way to go.”

And honestly I totally understand why my buddy readers had a hard time connecting with this story and the lead. I’m sure, a hundred years ago when I first read this, I had the same issue. It’s always been my least favourite of the trilogy, though still undoubtedly a Marillier and thus excellent (previously rated a four to the otherwise outstanding fives), but now, in hindsight, I can respect and appreciate this a little more — the experience of reading it was also, likely, helped by the benefit of hindsight and knowing where the story would end up. Every character’s journey in this saga has had pitfalls and struggles; Fainne’s are just different and, unfortunately, come with collateral damage. 

The days where the children of Sevenwaters could roam the forest freely, without fear, are gone.

Then again, I’m so biased it’s beyond comprehension, so there’s that.

What likely also chips away some of the lustre with this final (ish) instalment is the lower romance content. Or, rather, the fact that we don’t get enough time seeing it to really believe in it, maybe. But I think this ties into the fact that, considering the ending, their story isn’t really for us. They are part of the whole but set apart from it. For reasons. Either way, though, I can admit it’s the weakest part of the story but there were still moments I found lovely and moving.

There will come a time, soon enough, when even that ancient wood will fall to the axe, to grant man his grazing land, his settlements, his towers and his walls. He thinks, in his ignorance, to tame the very earth, to force the very ocean to his will. And so he will lay waste the body of the mother who gave him birth; and will not know what he does. The old ways will be forgotten.”

Equally this might be the least emotionally devastating of the stories. I definitely cried for a few reasons during the big conflict during the end but there were only one or two brief moments during the telling that actually got me choked up. Fainne’s disconnect makes this less of an emotional journey and considering the books that came before that, too, is a change.

But.

This is my favourite series for so many reasons; for the emotions, the folklore, the magic, the heartbreak, the challenges, the strength, the wisdom, the losses, and the whole of it. These three books make up a generational story that, in my mind, is truly untouchable. But, again, biased.

The companions that follow the main Sevenwaters trilogy are the ones I don’t know well at all, having only read them each once upon publication. Though I remember which characters they follow, and have vague memories of the plot, I don’t have any real emotional attachment to them beyond the fact that they exist in this beloved world. I hope, with age and my enduring delight and respect for this saga, and the main trilogy fresh in my mind (though it never truly fades), I come out with some newfound love for them. I can’t wait to read on.

Thank you to the Sevenwaters Squad — Micky, Steph, Amanda, and Cat — for coming on this journey with me. I know it wasn’t always what you expected (in good and bad ways) but I had a great time nonetheless.


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Pesky protagonist
Oh the sevenwaters family
Magic – dark versus light

Child of the Prophecy did not live up to my expectations but lets just frame that with how high the bar has been set by books one and two. The biggest difficulty with this story was Fainne, a protagonist that was hard to like. On the one hand, I admire Juliet Marillier for taking the difficult road on this but we’ve been spoilt with the family of Sevenwaters in the previous books and so it was tough to be away from them at first.

The Sevenwaters family do become a big part of this story but Marillier put readers through the mill somewhat. I am saying nothing of the plot but it had me in knots of loyalty, allegiance and despair.

There was a smattering of romance but nothing as deeply affecting or connecting in this installment, I definitely missed that heart yearning love. There were a bunch of fav characters in this read, hello Liadan (I’m looking at you), Bran, Johnny (give the man his own book) and Ciaran.

How Marillier brought a fitting end about, I don’t know but thank goodness, she did. This was a very up and down read but I feel it was left in a suitable place and I hope for even more from book 4. I remain 100% invested in the series.

Thank you sevenwaters squad for the heated debate along the way.

THE HOLLOW HEART by Marie Rutkoski – double review!

Intrigue, romance, and magic abound in the heart-stopping conclusion to Marie Rutkoski’s Forgotten Gods duology.

At the end of The Midnight Lie, Nirrim offered up her heart to the God of Thieves in order to restore her people’s memories of their city’s history. The Half Kith who once lived imprisoned behind the city’s wall now realize that many among them are powerful. Meanwhile, the person Nirrim once loved most, Sid, has returned to her home country of Herran, where she must navigate the politics of being a rogue princess who has finally agreed to do her duty.

In the Herrani court, rumors begin to grow of a new threat rising across the sea, of magic unleashed on the world, and of a cruel, black-haired queen who can push false memories into your mind, so that you believe your dearest friends to be your enemies.

Sid doesn’t know that this queen is Nirrim, who seeks her revenge against a world that has wronged her. Can Sid save Nirrim from herself? Does Nirrim even want to be saved? As blood is shed and war begins, Sid and Nirrim find that it might not matter what they want…for the gods have their own plans.


Title : The Hollow Heart
Author : Marie Rutkoski
Series : Forgotten Gods #2
Format : Hardback / eBook
Page Count : 384
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date : September 9, 2021 / September 14, 2021

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
A treat for Winner’s Trilogy fans
Emotions in shreds

Ooof, what a read and culmination to this duology set within The Winner’s Trilogy world. I have been on an emotional roller coaster, I’m a little dizzy and sad it’s over. The Sid and Nirrim from The Midnight Lie were different in this story, one more mature and the other completely different; I was utterly glued to the page.

I lived for the time in with Sid and others (trying not to give too much away here) in Herrani and I simply loved time with those characters of old, seeing them in a different light, through a different lens. Sid really grew from that cad-ish character we saw in book one to a person with self-realisation over a number of factors. There were a number of clever twists to the tale in Herrani. Seeing Sid’s mother in a state of weakness was kind of shocking, her father was warm and strong. Ohhh, the feels here.

I found reading about Nirrim discomforting, her situation was painful as were her actions. I longed for restoration of her lost self and connection with those she had loved. I found the whole separation of these two painful, emotional and compelling. The weaving in of the forgotten gods was also clever plotting.

It wrapped up quickly towards the finish and I definitely could have managed some more of what happened after but I’m not complaining. This is one of the strongest and enjoyable fantasy duologies I’ve read in a while and both installments were equally as good as one another. Marie Rutkoski remains one of those authors who I am drawn to on plot and characterisation with a unique fantasy world. Roll on her next incarnation.

Mortals say it as though they can feel the hand of the beloved inside their ribs, palm supporting the heart, fingers curled lightly around the trembling muscle. Pain could come so easily. All it would take is a good, hard squeeze.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the finished review copy.


Hollis’ 4 star review

I think I had promised myself a reread not just of THE MIDNIGHT LIE but also the main Winners Trilogy series before diving into this finale and.. whoops? None of that happened. I was so desperate to dive into this that I’d actually forgotten my plans until, like, halfway through. 

The grabby hands were just too too real.

As for what you can expect with this one, well.. everything is a spoiler. How book one ended was so huge, so unreal, that any hints to what that is will just ruin it if you haven’t yet decided to start this series. But suffice it to say that a character we had seen go through so much, but remain true, kind, and gentle, well. She’s a whole different person for this book. And so was the love interest; but in a very different way.

You’ve changed.
Good.”
You used to be kind, Nirrim. Gentle. I liked you better before.”
Of course. I was easier for you to use.”

Said love interest has connections back to characters from Rutkoski’s other series and to say they would be complicated connections would be an understatement. In some ways, her journey is a nostalgic throwback to some of the themes from said series as webs have to be traced back to their weaver and somewhere, somehow, there is a plot to uncover. 

It remains the fate of all humans who lack compassion to never understand that they lack it.

How these two reunite, how it all gets resolved, well.. it was both satisfying and, keeping this from a five star, was a little unsatisfying. We are both living the story and being told this story, in a way, and there were definitely events, conflicts, that kind of happen outside of the main and get brushed over. Though this book isn’t short I think had there been another hundred pages, and we’d had some of that beefed up, it would’ve been perfect. The ending, for all that some of it works so well, feels unbalanced. And that isn’t me just complaining because I wanted more. Though that’s true, too.

I think about the wrong people do for the sake of love, and how it is possible to love a villain.

With this series wrapped (so nice to have duologies pop up again) I have no idea what Rutkoski has planned for the future but after the long wait for this series, and because I was already such a fan, I don’t care. She’s an auto-read author for sure.

THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang – double review!

A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected—and the man she enlists to help her—in this heartfelt new romance by USA Today bestselling author Helen Hoang.

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. 


Title : The Heart Principle
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book three/companion)
Format : e-ARC / eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Corvus/Atlantic Books
Release Date : September 2, 2021 / August 31, 2021

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Love is messy
Grief is messy
Life is messy

My expectations coming into The Heart Principle were altered by things I’d seen on the author’s social media. I came into this expecting it to be different from the previous two in the series…and it was…and I’m okay with that. This story was definitely Anna’s book, Anna’s journey with some Quan on the side. I think some readers will miss that he wasn’t the full focus but I really liked Anna, her realisations, her evolving self awareness and her vulnerability. I could definitely have managed more Quan focus because as a character and great human, he was superb.

Anna’s character and her new diagnosis felt utterly raw. Anna’s reaction to the diagnostic news really resonated with me (not the same diagnosis), how she reacted, how it floored her, I could really relate to that. Later, how Anna grieved felt tangible and while some of that inertia of grief isn’t the most engaging thing to read about, it was and felt real.

I couldn’t stand Priscilla, I hated that dismissal she aimed towards Anna and having experienced that from my own mother, I seethed on her behalf. So much of this story that was personal to the character and author, felt personal to me too. This really isn’t your average romance, it’s messy and complicated but it’s rich.

There’s a lot of processing to do reading this and coming out of it; it still has me thinking. I will say that I wanted a little more depth in the closing quarter of the book but overall, this was a memorable journey and the most gritty of the three books. Helen Hoang really brought a portion of herself to this book and I am the richer for reading it.

Thank you to Corvus Books for the review copy.


Hollis’ unrated review

This is such a complicated reading experience and I’m really going to struggle putting some thoughts down, I think, and urge you to try this for yourself no matter what I come up with. Just know this might not be what you expect of it.

I knew pretty early on in the unfolding of this story that this was going to be very personal. Just from following the author, her struggles — all posted on public platforms — I could see the writing on the wall with this one. And she goes on to confirm it in the author’s note, too, just incase you think I’m reading too much into it. So the thought of “rating” or expressing dislike on something that is all but half a memoir is kind of uncomfortable. But if you go into this book expecting a romance ala what the cover is selling? You might end up with some buyer’s remorse.

Lately we’re seeing more and more romances toe the line of women’s fiction (or whatever you want to call it) where the romance is central, yes, but there are other topics that play just as (if not more) prominent a role. In this case I think there is equal page time given to both.. however, because of the structure of the story, you take turns reading about one thing and then another. The first part? Romance. Delightful. Sweet. Sexy. An irritating character or two. Some cameos. Everyone is having a good time and if we just quietly side-eye how quickly one of these two is moving and feeling? That’s okay. We can roll with it. The second part? Devastating. Uncomfortable. Frustrating. Hard to read. Over the course of a few different issues, really. Romance is on the back burner. And part three? A really rushed resolution that gives us a happily ever after but doesn’t resolve every single issue — which is often the case in women’s fiction but somehow, in this romance, feels.. unsatisfying? Not because I needed a bow tied on everything but I felt wound up so tight from part two and I wasn’t given enough time to decompress and process and see the character do the same. I don’t know how to explain it. But suffice it to say, yes, rushed.

That said, I am not calling this women’s fiction, nor am I hating on that genre — this year alone I’ve rated at least two of them five stars — it’s just that this feels a little bit of both, but not quite either.

Thus.. it’s an odd reading experience. But it’s obviously also a very personal one. Is Anna’s creative burnout, the fear of failing those who are watching her so closely, the author’s own manifested fear post-success of The Kiss Quotient? So much of Anna comes from the author (which she also explains was her reason to switch from third person to first) and the more I think about the elements of this story, the realer and realer is seems. And I haven’t even touched on the more obvious real-life elements she put onto the page.

I’m sure aspects of this will mean a lot for all sorts of readers or make them feel seen. I don’t want to dismiss that representation or impact. I just don’t know how it works as a whole when each section didn’t feel tuned to the same frequency.

What I’ve also yet to mention is that if you are expecting this to be Quan’s book? It isn’t, really. If you’re expecting the character represented by the woman on the cover to exude the energy she’s giving us with that pose? You won’t get it (this happens more and more due to illustrated covers, I think we’re all getting used to it, but it bears mention). This is a lot of things but between expectations and marketing I’m not sure it all lines up. And hey, it is what it is, I imagine the author did not anticipate her own circumstances to go the way they did during the course of writing this book, either.

So, again, how does one rate this? If you’re me, you don’t.

I absolutely don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this. I love this author, I love her works, and there is so much courage in putting these experiences out into the world in the form of fiction for people, like myself, to critique. I will absolutely read whatever else she puts out. But was this satisfying? Worth the wait? Everything I wanted? A great experience? I would say no. But the why of that no is due to all the aforementioned reasons above.

SON OF THE SHADOWS by Juliet Marillier – double review!

Son of the Shadows continues the saga of beautiful Sorcha, the courageous young woman who risked all to save her family from a wicked curse and whose love shattered generations of hate and bridged two cultures. 

It is from her sacrifice that her brothers were brought home to Sevenwaters and her life has known much joy. But not all the brothers were able to escape the spell that transformed them into swans, and those who did were all more–and less–than they were before the change. 

It is left to Sorcha’s daughter Liadan who will take up the tale that the Sevenwaters clan is destined to fulfill. Beloved child, dutiful daughter, she embarks on a journey that opens her eyes to the wonders of the world around her…and shows her just how hard-won was the peace that she has known all her life. 

Liadan will need all of her courage to help save her family, for there are forces far darker than anyone should have guessed and ancient powers conspiring to destroy this family’s peace–and their world. And she will need the strength to stand up to those she loves best, for in the finding of her own true love, Liadan’s course may doom them all…or be their salvation.


Title : Son of the Shadows
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Sevenwaters (book two)
Format : physical
Page Count : 607
Genre : fantasy / historical fiction / retellings
Publisher : TorBooks
Release Date : May 18, 2001

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


Hollis’ 5 star review

This series has lived in my heart for twenty years so is there really any surprise this is five stars? Even though it’s a reread and there was nothing new to experience or learn, knowing the course of this story didn’t mean I cried any less. And I cried a lot.

Don’t you long for something different to happen, something so exciting and new it carries you along with it like a great tide, something that lets your life blaze and burn so the whole world can see it?

Daughter of the Forest told of Sorcha’s story and Son of the Shadows reunites us with this family and a new generation of characters; ones to love, ones who break your heart, and ones to hate. Liadan knows the horrors her family has endured for peace, for happiness. She wants no more than to stay home, unmarried, and care for her parents, tend to the household. She is much like her mother in stature, in the arts of the stillroom and healing, but though Sorcha had her own bravery, her own strength, Liadan, when forced to rise to challenges she never imagined, is even stronger, fiercer, so much in possession of her mind that she will not be swayed by the forces around her; be they old and ancient, fey, wise, or family.

The greatest tales, well told, awaken the fears and longings of the listeners. Each man hears a different story. Each is touched by it according to his inner self. The words go to the ear, but the true message travels straight to the spirit.

Secrets and betrayal begin to fester amongst a family that cannot risk being left vulnerable to unfriendly forces, to the darkness that nearly overcame them once before. Mistakes are made, truth obfuscated, and thus Liadan is forced to navigate, to unveil, and to rescue her family, her love, and her future.

You captured a wild creature when you had no place you could keep him.”

An interesting twist to this particular instalment, however, is how we see the unintended consequences of the previous book’s happily ever after. So often we get that ending, everything is great, and life goes on. But reality is never so tidy and events can be twisted and a person can be left hurting. Not in the way you might think, though. And I really loved how Marillier made this connection and created a way to go back without undoing any of the hard-earned events of book one.

What about his mother? What did she have to say about it?
She was a woman. The tale does not concern itself further with her.

For a story written so long ago, what surprised me was how, sometimes, Marillier’s narrative or dialogue was almost wry in how she, and her characters, navigated the inequalities and double standards of gender. Nothing so overt the way we have these days, where the goal is to make a point, but there are subtle digs, bits of dialogue, observations. So much is careful, considerate, and also very purposeful. Which is probably why so much of this book, this series, is devastating. Because there is so much imbued, so much that resonates, and it comes through.

Much like with book one, I have never tried to review this, and once again I know I haven’t done this book any justice at all. It’s impossible to express my love for this book because it’s honestly so deeply embedded in my soul. I read this as a young human and it’s been with me, and I’ve relived it, over and over throughout the years, and we are irrevocably entwined. Some books you lose the love for other the years, as your taste or perspective or style as a reader changes. This book, this series, isn’t one of those.

(yes, I did steal most of those last paragraph from my review of Daughter of the Forest, and yes, I am calling myself out for it)

Come, dear heart. Lean on me and let us walk this path together.

Lastly, I just want to give a huge shoutout to the Sevenwaters Squad with whom I spent a very fun — but emotionally draining — weekend buddy reading this book. Most had never experienced this before, having come only recently to this series, and while I loved having the excuse to revisit, I loved living through it with their eyes, too. Can’t wait for book three, and the rest of the series, with you all!


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Feminist folklore fest
Morally grey characters
No-one is safe
An ocean of tears

I feel pretty incoherent in writing a review for this book, so much happened, so much was felt on my part and despite the emotions I felt, I don’t want to leave this book or this world. If I thought Daughter of the Forest was amazing, Son of the Shadows took that feeling, that world and expanded my love for it even more. This is a spoiler-free review.

Finding myself back in Sevenwaters was rich and colourful but it also carried some lament and sadness. The protagnist of this story was Liadan, a young woman who was single-minded, gifted and real. It was wonderful to be back with characters from book one even if some elements were bittersweet. There were so many character favs: Bran, Johnny, Dog, Evan, Sorcha, Red and Finbar.

The story was totally unpredictable, many plot lines that were sneaky, well thought out and deep but not overly complex. The mystical elements of the story were clever and added to the whole experience. The writing style was simply divine. The prose Juliet Marillier uses just speaks to my book soul.

Tread slowly. Tread light as a wren, that makes barely a rustle in the leaves of the hazel thicket. Tread softly, I told myself, or she would shatter into pieces, and it would be too late.

The book took my emotions on a journey. It was easy to invest in these characters that were new and those of old. I don’t think I’ve felt so connected to characters in this way in such a long time. I cried, I figuratively held my breath and I angsted my way through this, loving and living every minute.

This is swiftly becoming one of my favourite fantasy series of all time. If I could award more than 5 stars, I would. Everything about this reading experience was centred around a brilliant set of buddy readers and we are now on a Sevenwaters quest together.

BATTLE ROYAL by Lucy Parker – double review!

Beloved author Lucy Parker pens a delicious new romantic comedy that is a battle of whisks and wits.

Ready…

Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, colorful creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere, the hottest pastry chef in London. When her glittery unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has managed to use her fame to help fulfill her dream of opening a bakery, Sugar Fair. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.

Set…

Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker, the go-to for sweet-toothed A-List celebrities, and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that the irksome Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.

Match…

When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they’re both determined to come out on top.

The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.

In this royal battle, can there be room for two?


Title : Battle Royal
Author : Lucy Parker
Series : Palace Insiders (book one)
Format : eARC / eBook
Page Count : 411
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Avon
Release Date : August 17, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

While Battle Royal shares some similarities to one of my all-time favourite Parker reads, and obviously by the above rating I really loved it, I’ll admit this might end up being on the bottom rung of my top five favourites from this author. Which just goes to show you how much I love her books because so many of them are so great. But it’s easily the one that made me cry the most.

Some of us have compassion for others. It’s called empathy.
Some of us would hug a rabid squirrel if it shed a few tears and burbled an improbably sob story. It’s called gullibility.”

This story is doing a lot plot-wise, which may actually be what works against it a little bit, only because sometimes certain elements don’t quite get the full attention they deserve, or are tied-off pretty quickly and conveniently, but despite all that, I enjoyed everything that was done. And was also, like, moved by much of it; see aforementioned tears.

[..] it’s way too.. not beige to come from your kitchens.”
A neutral palette is universally appropriate.”
That’s not how you pronounce ‘dull’.

The obvious plot points to note are easily deduced by both cover and summary; there’s a pair of rival grumpy/sunshine bakers who feature not only on a GBBO-like baking competition but also are competing to win the royal wedding cake contract. But what’s less obvious? Is the lovely infusion of found family dynamics. As well as complicated biological-family relations. Less lovely but just as emotional? The talk and processing of loss and grief.

Jealousy is a destructive, pointless emotion and a complete waste of time.
Fairly annoying, then, that it’s seeping from your pores right now?
Very.”

Like many romances these days, we’re getting more bang for our buck and within the pages of this cutesy adorable outside is a lot of substance. Which isn’t to say the cutesy adorable ones aren’t just as satisfying. But I definitely picked this up for something joyful and fun and I got that.. and tears. That’s all I mean. And I don’t remotely regret getting more than I wanted. There were plenty of laughs (full out cackles a time or two) and I really enjoyed watching these two opposites fall for each other amongst all the other excitement happening around them. Bonus points because they are a bit older than the typical romance protagonists and, as always, Parker makes the steamy moments steamy and a little silly and all around endearingly real.

You have the table side manner of the shark from Jaws.

Though I maybe didn’t come off as strong about my love for this one, I think that’s a combination of having too many top top favourites from the author and also just because this one, despite the emotes, was a bit of a softer touch. A slower, gentler, burn of a story.

I’m equal parts terrified and aroused.”
What an excellent relationship motto for us.”

All that to say : this is a definite recommend. And I can’t wait for the next in the series.

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


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
When your judge becomes your peer
When you hate each other, or do you…
A combination of family & found family

Well Lucy Parker started a brand new series in style and confirmed my trust in her brand of romance is unwavering. This story had a combination of a re-imagining of the Great British Bake Off with royalty, judges of the competition, business rivalry and so much chemistry.

Sylvie was the wildly creative character in this, full of glitter, focus and drive while Dominic was an ex-mentor as such, clean lines, minimalist and her opposite in every way. We all know that opposites make for the best couples though and this book provided an excellent plot to work alongside what built between these two. There was the most compelling family and found family context to this story, Pet had me glued to the page.

“You have the tableside manner of the shark from Jaws.”

Lucy Parker writes with wit (as ever) and dialogue that makes you feel the emotional temperature. The chemistry was palpable and there was nothing I didn’t enjoy about this read. I’m truly excited for more from this series.

Thank you to the author for the arc that I won in a giveaway, this hasn’t affected by unbiased opinion.

THE SOULMATE EQUATION by Christina Lauren – double review!

Single mom Jess Davis is a data and statistics wizard, but no amount of number crunching can convince her to step back into the dating world. Raised by her grandparents–who now help raise her seven-year-old daughter, Juno–Jess has been left behind too often to feel comfortable letting anyone in. After all, her father’s never been around, her hard-partying mother disappeared when she was six, and her ex decided he wasn’t “father material” before Juno was even born. Jess holds her loved ones close, but working constantly to stay afloat is hard…and lonely.

But then Jess hears about GeneticAlly, a buzzy new DNA-based matchmaking company that’s predicted to change dating forever. Finding a soulmate through DNA? The reliability of numbers: This Jess understands. At least she thought she did, until her test shows an unheard-of 98% compatibility with another subject in the database: GeneticAlly’s founder, Dr. River Pena. This is one number she can’t wrap her head around, because she already knows Dr. Pena. The stuck-up, stubborn man is without a doubt not her soulmate. But GeneticAlly has a proposition: Get to know him and we’ll pay you. Jess–who is barely making ends meet–is in no position to turn it down, despite her skepticism about the project and her dislike for River. As the pair are dragged from one event to the next as the “Diamond” pairing that could make GeneticAlly a mint in stock prices, Jess begins to realize that there might be more to the scientist–and the science behind a soulmate–than she thought.


Title : The Soulmate Equation
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eBook (overdrive)/Paperback
Page Count : 365
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books/Piatkus Books
Release Date : May 18, 2021/August 5, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

I have been so disappointed by the last handful of CLo novels so I guess it was about time my luck changed.

I saw a lot of early buzz and excitement for this release but I expected nothing less. What intrigued me was seeing the same excitement from other often-disappointed CLo fans. That made me sit up and take notice.

It’s so hard for me to be inspired to pick up a book during the working week and yet I sat down the same night my library hold came in and I d e v o u r e d the whole thing. It made me laugh. It made me soft. It maybe even made me tear up once.

Is the premise of this book a little outlandish? Yes (if it’s based in real science pls insert my apologies here but I suspect not). Did some elements of the romance veer a little too quickly into the all-systems-go lane once the hook had taken over, particularly after the way their previous interactions had gone? Yes. Did I hate the financial conflicts with the MC’s mother? A thousand times yes (this kind of plot is a huge issue for me in general though so I didn’t expect anything different). So, is it perfect? No. But I had such a great time.

There’s a core group of supporting characters that are funny and charming and lovely, the reluctant connection between humans who don’t seem to click, or are so different, as a base for the romance is always (often) a hit, and I was definitely feeling the chemistry even in this lower range of heat we’ve come to expect from the new CLo books. Though I do think maybe there was more going on this time than there has been. Coincidence? I think not.

Suffice it to say I had a really good time and while I will not hold out hope that this trend will remain true with what’s to come from this duo, there’s a reason I keep picking these authors up. When they are good, they are good.


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Lets have more geeky scientist/mathematician combos
Fakey breaky goodness
Sold down the river for River

The Soulmate Equation seemed to find that sweet spot of the right push and pull alongside sweetness and angst; everything was in good measure to formulate the ideal equation for a story. Sorry, I’ll stop using title puns now. But seriously, the characters and plot brought a cross of Darcy with The One and equaled a lose-yourself read.

River Pena was all of Darcy’s best angles: arrogance, dismissal but alluringly handsome. I felt on a string from his first ‘Americano’ sighting. Jess, a single mom with her own brand of geek was a great protagonist with the best family to read about.

…the only thing she could focus on was the way he spoke like he was reading aloud from a textbook. God, Siri carried on a more familiar conversation.

This couple’s journey carried elements of awkwardness but staying for the journey to reach the delicious chemistry was worth the wait. This story really grew for me, especially from a third into the book. The way River stepped up in certain situations was complete swoon territory. There wasn’t a lot of on-page steam but you felt every inch of chemistry between these two.

I thoroughly enjoyed this standalone from Christina Lauren and I can’t see a day when I will not be reading their offerings.

Thank you to Piatkus Books for the review copy.

A PSALM FOR THE WILD-BUILT by Becky Chambers – double review!

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools. Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?


Title : A Psalm for the Wild-Built
Author : Becky Chambers
Series : Monk & Robot (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 160
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ scifi/fantasy
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : July 13, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★  / ★ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’ll admit that I didn’t look too hard into what this was about (though that’s not too much of a surprise as I’m #TeamNoBlurb) but I was definitely hoping this would be more in line with To Be Taught, If Fortunate, than the author’s Wayfarers series. Alas it wasn’t; but it wasn’t bad, either.

I figured you’d be all numbers and logic. Structured. Strict, y’know?
What a curious notion.”
Is it? Like you said, you’re a machine.[..] And machines only work because of numbers and logic.”
That’s how we function, not how we perceive.

I think this was a little more philosophical and cerebral, definitely existential, than I expected it to be. But in hindsight, a series about a robot and a monk? How didn’t I see this coming. That’s on me.

I made made of metal and numbers; you are made of water and genes. But we are each something more than that. And we can’t define what that something more is simply by our raw components.”

This is definitely a gentle, wholesome, thoughtful, novella, not unlike we are to expect from this author, that simultaneously makes you think while also taking you out of your head a bit — as the dedication goes, this is for all of us who need a break (boy do we ever). Much like the art of choosing a tea and savouring it, there was something meditative about this, and, as a side effect, made me a little sleepy.

This won’t be a favourite but I’m definitely curious as to where this series is going.

Side note? I’m so in love with that cover.

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was conceptually clever (when is Becky Chambers ever not?) and in many aspects, it was quite a beautiful tale. It started off curiously, then built and built into a connection between a monk and a robot. Yes I did just say that and if that doesn’t draw you in, I don’t know what will.

This sci-fi offering comes with Chambers unique perspective on the genre, it carries a ecological tone along with sense of searching. Robot and humans were estranged for centuries in this book until the monk and robot happen upon one another.

The story was engaging the most from the point of those two meeting and exploring each other’s species. There was banter, misunderstandings and poignant moments. There were also some slower moments, where I had to push on, thus my rating.

“So, that’s…sorry, I’m slow at math.”
Dex frowned. “What?” How was the robot slow at math?
“Hush, I can’t multiply and talk at the same time.”

I’m definitely pleased that this is going to be a series. I have questions and a desire to see this journey through. A gorgeous cover and clever concept from Chambers.

Thank you to Tor for the early review copy.

FOR THE WOLF by Hannah Whitten – double review!

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

For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.


Title : For the Wolf
Author : Hannah Whitten
Series : Wilderwood (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Orbit
Release Date : June 1, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5 / ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

This is not the first time I’ve had a reading experience with this, where I start strong, get waylaid in the middle, and then have no opportunity to pick it up and finish even though I’m so close to the end. This kind of pattern always screws me up (I’m a one or two session reader, often just one!) and leaves me uncertain how I feel about a story. Enter, For the Wolf.

I liked so much of this but was equally confused by just as much. This is a story that I definitely need to reread because I think it’s possible this would be an easy four star if I had read it normally.

People created stories to fill the gaps they didn’t understand, and religion grew up around it like rot on a fallen tree.

There are shades of familiar fairytales woven into the roots of this spooky forest magic story. But these parts are made equally their own thing. This is not YA but is written with similar YA beats, yet manages to be dark without crossing any ‘can’t turn back now’ lines.

All of them loved like burning, no thought for the ashes.

While this had some absolutely lovely turns of phrase, a slowburn romance, and tons of forest aesthetic, I definitely lost track of some scenes or events as they played out, and I did find myself losing the thread of the worldbuiling (probably explained in the beginning and then just forgotten, because I’m dumb and was too slow to read this; though I also think the mythology is supposed to be uncertain and skewed and that doesn’t help?), but I am definitely going to be keen for the follow up.

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


Micky’s 3.5 -4 star review

Headlines:
Retelling hybrid
Oh for the love of great MCs
Confused world building

I’ve had to really think about my rating on For The Wolf because I’ve come out of it in a good place but the journey was sometimes confused by difficult world building layered in a way that wasn’t intuitive. However, what this book brings in terms of characterisation is pretty great, with Eammon a large, gentle man battling to keep the wood in some kind of equilibrium and Redarys, an immediately likeable young woman who knew her own mind and her path.

This book felt like a fresh blend of traits from a number of well known fairytales in a hybrid that totally worked. It definitely felt like it’s own story but I enjoyed the elements of familiarity when they popped up. The wood itself was a wild, powerful ‘being’ and there were moments of body horror (fleeting but present) but I felt all that really added to the wilderwood presence. The description opened up such imagery when reading that I had a really clear picture of how I felt this wild place looked.

There were important side characters, a few I liked and some I couldn’t stand, nor was I meant to. I’ve come away from the story unsure how I feel about Neve but 100% invested in reading more in the next book.

I do just want to embelish a little on my world building problems and say that by the last quarter of the book, I was clear on what was what. I don’t mind having to work for answers with a fantasy book but I did feel a lack of clarity at times that was irritating. This was a case of having to just go with the flow of side confusion to keep traction with the story until things were clearer and they did become clearer.

Overall, this is a good debut. If you start this book and feel some confusion, keep going, the story and the characters are worth it.

Thank you to Orbit Books for the early review copy.