SMAILHOLM by C.L. Williams

Shh! Can you keep a secret?

In wild medieval Britain thirteen-year-old Wynn Hoppringle has a big secret of the smallest kind. She has discovered a miniature village hidden close to her family home of Smailholm Tower. When tales of merciless Border raiders reach the small folk, they realise they are in danger and must seek a cure to their strange predicament. Can Wynn help her tiny friends or will the scheming King quog have other ideas? Heroes, it seems, come in all sizes.


Title : Smailholm
Author : C.L. Williams
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 248
Genre : Middle-grade Fantasy
Publisher : Matador
Release Date : January 28, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3.5-4 star review

Smailholm was an engaging middle-grade fantasy that was easy to read and fun to enjoy. It is a historical fantasy with olde-worlde language in small parts. I enjoyed the setting of Scotland, the differences between the haves and the have-nots and of course the Lilliput/Borrowers context of little people in a little land.

There were two protagonists in this story, a 13-year old girl called Wynn who was noblewomen-to-be living in Smailholm Tower and then short chapter interludes from Deablin. Who or what Deablin is, is revealed during the story but it was a clever connection, even though her short interjections were sometimes a little confusing. That said, the confusion was part of the story and it did build up to answers eventually.

Wynn had found the little village, hidden under the brambles, where she was a giant and they were very small. Wynn had been getting to know these folks for a few years and they had become trusted friends. At the fore of the village people were Jimmy and Jenny. Vargo, Wynn’s dog was also a key character and a sweet addition to the story.

What starts off as an interesting story becomes one of adventure, fantastical beings and unsavoury creatures. It all made for a rather fast-paced story. There were moments of reading confusion with some of the fantasy elements but the world building came and caught me up on most questions. I found the eventual Deablin answers a bit confusing and some of the beings or spirits connected to that difficult to get into. The rest of the story kept me engaged, however.

The story finished rather openly and with some elements I want to know more about and some characters I need to know about. This was a solid debut from CL Williams and I would definitely read her work again.

I need to mention what a glorious physical creation this book is. It is a small hardback clothbound book with gorgeous illustrations that really helped with the visualisation of beings in this world. The book itself is beautiful to read and own and it stands out amongst other books.

Thank you to the author for a review copy in return for an honest review.

SPELLHACKER by M.K. England

From the author of The Disasters, this genre-bending YA fantasy heist story is perfect for fans of Marie Lu and Amie Kaufman.

In Kyrkarta, magic—known as maz—was once a freely available natural resource. Then an earthquake released a magical plague, killing thousands and opening the door for a greedy corporation to make maz a commodity that’s tightly controlled—and, of course, outrageously expensive.

Which is why Diz and her three best friends run a highly lucrative, highly illegal maz siphoning gig on the side. Their next job is supposed to be their last heist ever.

But when their plan turns up a powerful new strain of maz that (literally) blows up in their faces, they’re driven to unravel a conspiracy at the very center of the spellplague—and possibly save the world.

No pressure.


Title : Spellhacker
Author : M. K. England
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : January 21, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

I’ve not really had the best luck with queer fantasy lately and that is such a shame. Here is another story that has a great concept that just didn’t quite win in execution. But unlike another recent read, at least I didn’t hate this one? And also, unlike that same book, at least this author prefaced the novel with definitions for the magic system?

And speaking of the magic system, it felt.. new. The fact that not everyone could use it, and there were different levels of ability, but there didn’t seem to be any classism or jealousy between those who could and couldn’t was an interesting mix. The world, too, had a unique feel. I just didn’t love the characters? The plot, and the Big Bad, seemed a little.. thin? I don’t know. Potential was there, and I enjoyed England’s debut, so I kept pushing on. But this just wasn’t a win.

This does seem to be a standalone, however — just like their debut — so it might be worth checking out if you like fantasy and queer representation and heists.

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

DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal. 


Title : Dark and Deepest Red
Author : Anna-Marie McLemore
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends
Release Date : January 14, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I’ve had a few reasons to not rate books over the years. But sometimes the reason is simply because I honestly don’t know what the book deserves. This here is one of those times.

This is my first McLemore despite hearing nothing but wonderful magical things about their writing for.. years. And I can admit, this was magical and at times wonderful. But did I enjoy the experience? I’m not sure. There is so much to be gained by this story, the message within, the truths, the history.. some moments really did wow me. But, again, was this ever actually enjoyable? Not really? So I’m not rating it.

Would I recommend? Maybe. If you’ve read and loved this author before, I think this is going to be another winner for your shelf. With the added bonus of it being a queer retelling. For someone new to this author? I don’t know if this is one to rush out and read. But if you’re curious, feed the beast. Borrow it from your library.

I still have every intention on working through some of McLemore’s backlist.. so maybe that, right there, says it all. Or at least enough.

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

INFINITY SON by Adam Silvera – double review!

Balancing epic and intensely personal stakes, bestselling author Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son is a gritty, fast-paced adventure about two brothers caught up in a magical war generations in the making.

Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

Brotherhood, love, and loyalty will be put to the test, and no one will escape the fight unscathed.


Title : Infinity Son
Author : Adam Silvera
Series : Infinity Cycle (book one)
Format : ARC/eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HarperTeen/Simon & Schuster UK
Release Date : January 14, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★/DNF


Hollis’ 1 star review

Here’s the thing. I didn’t really want to be here, posting a review for a much hyped book that I clearly didn’t like, but up until the 60% mark I was at least hoping to have one or two good things to say to warrant a two star “hey man, you tried, good on you” rating.

But no. I can’t round up on this.

A combination of mostly annoying (oh god I wanted Brighton to go DIAF times infinity) and or doing-nothing-for-me characters, so little world building that I honestly only understood maybe like 15% of the structure of this universe (and literally, after everything, still don’t know the difference between some of the classification/terms), and the weirdest prophecy or, like, Three Step Apocalypse plan ever? I just can’t. 

I pushed on just to finish this because I was sorta hoping there’d be something worth looking forward to in book two and, again, because for the most part it was mostly meh with just a little frustrating.. until we got near the end and it became mostly frustrating, with lots of meh, and two handfuls of added what-the-fuck-ery.

We flip from action scene to action scene and half the time these kids are bouncing back like they just didn’t get their asses handed to them, while spouting the weirdest cheesey action drama dialogue, and.. yeah, I can’t. Sorry. I don’t even want to be writing this review anymore.

There’s lots of rep in here, which is great, and I’m glad Silvera was able to realize his dreams to write a fantasy with the representation that not only all books deserve but also where he can see himself, and others in, but. But. This just wasn’t a win for me in any way shape or form.

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


Micky’s DNF thoughts (can’t really call it a review)

I tried and tried and tried again but the world felt impossible without adequate world building and I could only stay confused for so long. The language for different beings was constantly thrown around without explanation. The writing style was what I can only describe as awkward. I didn’t once lose myself in the story but I was constantly jarred by the narrative style.

Excuse me while I weep as I wanted so much from this, having enjoyed Adam Silvera’s books previously.

THE NIGHT COUNTRY by Melissa Albert

The highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved, New York Times bestselling debut The Hazel Wood!

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Woodwas just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…


Title : The Night Country
Author : Melissa Albert
Series : The Hazel Wood (book two)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : January 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

This series has definitely been one of the darker, and bloodier, stories surrounding fairytales that I’ve ever read. And it feels very true, reads so much more honestly, than the versions our generation grew up with. I think it’s that darkness, that depth, that I love most of all. The creativity of twisting these tales, or letting them be their truth, is fantastic. I love it. But there’s also another side of these books that just doesn’t quite line up for me.

In book one, it was Alice’s unlikeable self, the strangeness of the set up, before it finally settled and things were explained. Once again, in book two, it’s the same early chapters where I’m just.. waiting. But this time, I’m waiting it out to understand and see where things are going.. and just how far we’re going to backslide.

This installment does reunite us with a character I didn’t think I missed as much as I did and yet I’m also a little confused about how his presence, and his role, jives with a throwaway line near end of book one? Curious. But anyway I enjoyed his chapters, I enjoyed all the fairytale/Hinterland characters and their backstory woven into their page-time, and I think the eerie disturbing concept around the whole big purpose of THE NIGHT COUNTRY was really interesting and weird, but like, getting there? I don’t know.

Also, I mean, how was it not obvious to an extent? I’m conflicted.

I honestly finished this book with no idea what to rate this. But as I sit here, typing these words, I know : it’s not a four, it’s more than a two, so I guess we’re going with the old faithful three. These are incredibly fascinating and creative books, written so well, but I guess my problem is not always enjoying where it goes? Or how we get from one point to the next? I don’t know, it’s weird. But I’ll definitely keep picking up this author’s books and hoping for a slam dunk win. I think there’s one out there for me.

If you read and enjoyed THE HAZEL WOOD, you absolutely need to pick this up.

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

A HEART SO FIERCE AND BROKEN by Brigid Kemmerer

In the sequel to New York Times bestselling A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer returns to the world of Emberfall in a lush fantasy where friends become foes and love blooms in the darkest of places.

Find the heir, win the crown. 
The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.

Win the crown, save the kingdom. 
Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen–until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?

The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.


Title : A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Author : Brigid Kemmerer
Series : Cursebreakers (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count :
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Bloomsbury YA
Release Date : January 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

That moment when the ending gives you an ‘aHA‘ moment that almost redeems a major factor that had been dogging most of the book. But.. doesn’t quite.. do it. So close, though.

Some of the things I disliked in book one were both present in this one and yet not. In some ways some of my issues did mellow; the characters that annoyed me went through a growing pain stage and we’ve come out the other side of it; and the one element I was kind of side-eyeing at the end of book one has completely gone away. And as a result of that, it opened the door for what was one of my favourite parts of this follow up installment.

A lot of this book is going from one place, to another, away again, then elsewhere, and then back to where it all began. There’s a lot of running around. Thankfully some of that is used to further some character relationships, as well as introduce a few new characters — two of whom I really enjoy — so it wasn’t all wandering about without purpose while the clock ran down on the ‘time left to finish book’ countdown.

There were definitely some surprises, some things I didn’t think we’d see until book three (if ever), and particularly one thing.. well, again, it explains a lot. I don’t like it, it doesn’t forgive, but it makes so much sense. I just almost wish it didn’t. How’s that for vaguery..

Anyway, I think based on where we got to with this one, where things are set up to go, some elements of book three will be frustrating (not, like, because of the author, but because of certain situations) in the way of book one, and also totally kick ass. She says, hopefully.

If you liked book one, I think you’ll like this one even more.

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

CHOSEN by Kiersten White

Nina continues to learn how to use her slayer powers against enemies old and new in this second novel in the New York Times bestselling series from Kiersten White, set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now that Nina has turned the Watcher’s Castle into a utopia for hurt and lonely demons, she’s still waiting for the utopia part to kick in. With her sister Artemis gone and only a few people remaining at the castle—including her still-distant mother—Nina has her hands full. Plus, though she gained back her Slayer powers from Leo, they’re not feeling quite right after being held by the seriously evil succubus Eve, a.k.a. fake Watcher’s Council member and Leo’s mom.

And while Nina is dealing with the darkness inside, there’s also a new threat on the outside, portended by an odd triangle symbol that seems to be popping up everywhere, in connection with Sean’s demon drug ring as well as someone a bit closer to home. Because one near-apocalypse just isn’t enough, right? 

The darkness always finds you. And once again, it’s coming for the Slayer.


Title : Chosen
Author : Kiersten White
Series : Slayer (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : SimonPulse
Release Date : January 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★


Hollis’ 1 star review

So, listen. My experience with book one wasn’t awesome because the first 60% or so was frustrating af but I thought the ending was intense and interesting and as a result was looking forward to this sequel.

Except CHOSEN was a miserable reading experience without charm, sense, or any kind of joy.

I won’t drag this review out as I imagine, as per usual, I’m going to be an outlier but honestly? Other than name dropping and references, this resembled nothing of the Buffyverse I loved and deviated far from any potential from book one. Everything about this read, the plot, and the characters, was a chore.

I think it’s over, I believe this is a duology, not a series, and I’m not sad about it.

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

BLOOD HEIR by Amelié Wen Zhao

This hot debut is the first book in an epic new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and the con man she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder. 

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls. 

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.


Title : Blood Heir
Author : Amelié Wen Zhao
Series : Blood Heir (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count :  459
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Delacorte Press
Release Date : November 19, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

While this story opened up with a banger of a first chapter, unfortunately I think it was a concept that worked better as a pitch.

This fantasy feels fairly familiar to other revenge plot stories but with a twist : the heroine, the princess, the fugitive, is a monster. Or, rather, has a monstrous power. And the hero, well. He’s a conman with a seedy past. With a Russian-esque feel to the worldbuilding, think Grishaverse but not as direct a copy as another recent release, and interesting character archetypes, I really thought this would be a winner.

But sadly I was feeling some concerns around the 20% mark and it didn’t really get better. Sometimes it got worse.

There were a lot of familiar tropes and situations, the dialogue would occasionally fall into awkward cliche, and everything good and interesting just felt overshadowed by the rest. Also, I found myself rather confused by some of the timeline and events that lead up to where everything opened up. Maybe it was just me, maybe I missed it, but that confusion certainly didn’t help. There was definitely potential, and again in theory this should’ve been great, I just don’t think the writing did it any favours. Nor did a few repeats (and more repeats) of certain things I won’t spoil.

Considering all the controversy around this one, I’m extra sad I didn’t love this. I don’t know what changes, if any, were made, but as of the reading of this edition, I don’t believe any of the complaints were warranted. Topics of exploitation and the violation of human rights, it’s all worthy dialogue. Set against a fantasy backdrop makes the reality less devastating to experience but this was a main plot point and definitely key for our lead character and what drives her. She’s trying to do good, fix her world, and we need more of that in our world. The outcry just seems ridiculous and also so very shortsighted. But I digress.

I’m not sure if I’ll read on in this series. But who am I kidding; I probably will.

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

CRIER’S WAR by Nina Varela

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war. 


Title : Crier’s War
Author : Nina Varela
Series : Crier’s War (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 434
Genre : YA fantasy, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I think this is one of those books that can go either way for some readers. But, for me, I’m caught right in the middle.

First, let me say : if you considered picking this book up because you heard it was a hate to love, or enemies to lovers, or opposites attract, romance? I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This, unlike another fantasy series featuring an f/f pairing, was done so so well. I believed in the evolution of this.. not relationship but this connection. It totally won me over and oh man I want more. The dynamic between them.. (chefs kiss).

As for the dynamic of the story itself? Well, I was definitely under the impression this story was actually the opposite of what it has (haha #TeamNoBlurbs). Instead of the Made-character being the outlier, this is a society where Made-beings, the Automae, are actually in charge. They are the winners of a war where they have subjugated humans. Mostly. There are some who don’t despise humans, who want to live with them equally, but overall this is not the norm. And, to be honest, I think that element made this story even better for me than had it been the other way around, or the way I expected.

However. I’ll admit that sometimes I did feel a little confused by the actions of some of these Automae and how human they did seem, sometimes. And yet others, not at all. Maybe that was done on purpose? Maybe there is supposed to be that fluctuating line to make us see how close but not at all like humans they are? I’m uncertain. Certain actions, particularly that of the villain and his manipulations, just make it to to seem.. well, convenient, that some act more human than others. I don’t know. I’m not explaining this right but I think that’s mostly because, again, confused.

The world is very interesting, though, and how certain things came about in the end..? Yeah, wow, I am reading on for sure. But that said, I’m glad that we had two strong leads to carry this story during those moments where I was just not in it, because those moments did happen. And I’m glad for these leads because I was forever sad I didn’t love the aforementioned other series because diversity and f/f and all that good stuff. But this one? This one does it. I’m here for it.

So, yes, not a super high rating, but I absolutely think book two will knock it out of the park. And I can’t wait.

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

THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.


Title : The Hazel Wood
Author : Melissa Albert
Series : The Hazel Wood (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 365
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : January 30, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I knew so little about what THE HAZEL WOOD was about when I started it.. and as a result I don’t want to give it a review that could risk spoiling it for anyone else.

This is a story ripe with the darker side of fairytales, the ones with no happy endings, no lessons, just.. stories. Magic. But it’s also set in our world, or a contemporary one, and.. well. To be honest that’s all I want to say. That’s all I will say.

I’ll admit I didn’t quite love the characters at first (and, to be honest, I don’t think we’re supposed to, but I know that doesn’t make unlikeable characters easier to tolerate), and had no idea where the plot was going, but oh man, by the end? Actually, maybe.. halfway? I was completely enamoured. I got it. I understood the why and the how and, well, everything just clicked for me. That isn’t to say you won’t like the first half, but it definitely isn’t what you might be expecting, and takes a while to set things up, but things do shift into.. well, maybe what you’re expecting? But also probably not. But in a better way.

My understanding is that Albert’s second book, THE NIGHT COUNTRY, is either a companion or a sequel, but definitely set in the same world/universe, and I’m so so happy I have an ARC. I want to dive in right now. Instead I shall flex some of my willpower and resist — but that doesn’t negate my excitement.

** I received this ARC via trade (thanks Flavia!) and was under no obligation for a review. **

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