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In the aftermath of the Ritual of Night, everything has changed.

The Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin’s enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies.

Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin, too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they have all sworn to destroy.

Title : The House of Always
Author : Jenn Lyons
Series : A Chorus of Dragons (book four)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 523
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : May 11, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★.5

Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Welp, just when I had come to terms with the storytelling formula, Lyons shifted the method a bit. We’re still reliving and piecing things together but at least they aren’t sitting around reading to each other. No, they’re just all experiencing snippets of events from each other’s perspectives. I don’t know if this is better or worse. Maybe it just is.

But after just having been pleased that I’d been having a good time with the characters again? Well, we brought back a whole bunch who had been having adventures off-page (hence the memory catch-up game) and unfortunately some of those are ones I would’ve preferred never see again. These names obviously won’t mean anything to anyone who hasn’t read but : Qown. I hate you so much you dramatic coward (yes, it’s a thing). And Kalindra you were a pain. Dramatic in your own way but mostly just a bitch. You both exhausted me.

Bonus though? The thing I had anticipated not happening for a while romantic dynamics-wise based on how book three ended? Well, something allowed for some of that to happen in book four and.. I’m not mad at it.

Beyond that, the only fun part of this was how most of the story felt like a spooky locked room haunted house horror show with a ticking clock counting down the seconds until they were all.. well, killed. And the way some people were taken away was clever, too. I enjoyed that. The downside is some of the filler during the less tense scenes, between memory sharing flashbacks, was spent debating everyone’s horribleness. As in, who had done the most awful things and why. Who deserved what. Who had the most blood on their hands. Who deserved to feel guilt and shame and who didn’t deserve happiness. Who deserved to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Who would then get mad about it all. It got tired pretty quick because this isn’t a new dialogue for this series, we just had a lot of people who had betrayed a lot of the same people, who had all or were still working against each other whilst convinced it was for the greater good, in one space for an extended time.

Also, for a book about the end of end of end of end of days (IYKYK), only 1% of people die. And even then, half of them still manage to come back to life. Talk about taking the wind out of your sails stakes and tension-wise. Either we have to assume literally everyone important will survive book five for the happiest of HEAs ever or the author is going to pull something where everyone dies. Maybe not surprisingly, I’m finding my preference is for option two.

Oh, and okay I guess one other fun part was the twist. I didn’t see it coming.

So, yeah, most of this was a pain. But that kind of tracks if we look back at the pattern of how these instalments have gone. So I guess that means we’re ending on a high note for book five? Maybe? Please.


Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever.

To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.

Worse, Kihrin must come to terms with the horrifying possibility that his connection to the king of demons, Vol Karoth, is growing steadily in strength.

How can he hope to save anyone when he might turn out to be the greatest threat of them all?

Title : The Memory of Souls
Author : Jenn Lyons
Series : A Chorus of Dragons (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 636
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : August 25, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 3 star review

Alright, we have yet another book unfolding as bits of story being pieced together so lets just get that commentary out of the way. I guess I have to just resign myself to that being how this series is going to unfold. There, acknowledged and resigned. Moving on!

So obviously, another thing to get out of the way? I clearly liked this one better. And I did. Book two took a hard dip down into no-fun-land but book three has definitely given me hope for how the rest will go.

As far as the everyone-is-reincarnated-and-related-to-everyone-and-going-by-multiple-names-as-they-all-remember-their-past-selves bit? Wellll that’s less fun. And highly confusing. And honestly just seems like drama for drama’s sake. But some of that is at least acknowledged; the confusion, I mean, not the drama, and how one is supposed to behave with all these memories and feelings bombarding them half the time. But that only ever seems to come up when there’s reason to prop up some romantic conflict and angst so.. might be more plot device than real at this stage.

But as for said romance! I don’t think I mentioned in my review for book two that I could kind of see where Lyons was going with the main ship; and I likely didn’t bother bringing this up because I didn’t really like either of the love interests. So I wasn’t all that invested. Well I’m still kind of in that stage. Except I did like Janel a little more in this book and I liked that she was so anti-Teraeth (and rightly so, he was being an idiot) until she wasn’t. And I liked that Kihrin was a bit nasty to Teraeth, until he wasn’t. But with how book three ended.. we are definitely unlikely to get any satisfaction out of this dynamic for a while. Which might not be a bad thing. There was so much to keep track of with the other Eight, the gods, the various reincarnations, that one (or two..?) less relationships to keep tabs on will be a nice break.

Especially because amongst all that you have to sort out who is betraying who and why and who is lying and who isn’t and omg insert that gif of the guy in front of the murder board losing his mind.

But really what saved this was the plot. The characters, the main ones we’re along the ride for at least, did feel more like themselves which helped. And once again we have a pretty great ending. I didn’t expect to be back in this world so soon but my library dropped this in my lap early and ran away cackling. Only to then drop book four alongside it, too (with the fifth, and final, only days away). So I guess this is now officially a binge.

LEGENDS & LATTES by Travis Baldree – double review!

After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time.

The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success — not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won’t be able to go it alone.

But the true rewards of the uncharted path are the travelers you meet along the way. And whether drawn together by ancient magic, flaky pastry, or a freshly brewed cup, they may become partners, family, and something deeper than she ever could have dreamed.

Title : Legends & Lattes
Author : Travis Baldree
Series : Legends & Lattes (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 296
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Tor
Release Date : June 7, 2022

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

Hollis’ 4 star review

Friends, the hype is real with this one! I’ll admit, I was worried. I wondered if there would be enough plot, enough conflict, in this cozy fantasy to actually keep me interested. Sometimes a great ensemble, or just a few good strong characters, can be enough but sometimes they just aren’t. But I’m here to tell you, this has both.

In fact, Thimble? Thimble has my heart. Maybe I’m just a little emotional or something but the moment this character was introduced? I felt gooey. Every time he spoke? I swear, I got teary. Yes, I was crying over a rat. But honestly, almost every character was a standout. Each felt very distinctive, very themselves, very much a persona, and I loved them all. Mostly Thimble. But of course Amity, too.

I think I heard someone pitch this as Dungeons & Dragons meets Animal Crossing and though I’ve never really played the former, and definitely not the latter, just going off vibes? It ain’t wrong. It’s very right.

This was so wholesome, and lovely, and had just enough grit that you believed some of these characters were capable of darker things, but some had chosen otherwise. And I loved that narrative and the flashes we get of Viv struggling to stick to her new chosen path. I do think maybe Tandri deserved a tiny bit more fleshing out, and I maybe would’ve liked a little bit more overt lead-up to build the foundation of the romance, but really those are my only complaints, I think.

This really felt like a comforting coffee shop AU fanfic spliced with a baking show and if that isn’t a warm cup of deliciousness for the soul I don’t know what is. If you haven’t yet given this one a go, I would suggest you do! Especially now that we know there’s more to come in this world. I can’t wait.

Micky’s 3 star review

I’m a little unsure on why this book is hyped.

I liked:
Coffee type things
The friendships
A sense of cuteness

I disliked:
The pacing
Feeling bored at times (and this is a short book)

It’s totally on me that I ordered a special edition, but hey, I can sell it!

THE WORLD GIVES WAY by Marissa Levien

In a near-future world on the brink of collapse, a young woman born into servitude must seize her own freedom in this glittering debut with a brilliant twist; perfect for fans of Station Eleven, Karen Thompson Walker, and Naomi Alderman.

In fifty years, Myrra will be free.

Until then, she’s a contract worker. Ever since she was five, her life and labor have belonged to the highest bidder on her contract–butchers, laundries, and now the powerful, secretive Carlyles.

But when one night finds the Carlyles dead, Myrra is suddenly free a lot sooner than she anticipated–and at a cost she never could have imagined. Burdened with the Carlyles’ orphaned daughter and the terrible secret they died to escape, she runs. With time running out, Myrra must come face to face with the truth about her world–and embrace what’s left before it’s too late.

A sweeping novel with a darkly glimmering heart, The World Gives Way is an unforgettable portrait of a world in freefall, and the fierce drive to live even at the end of it all.

Title : The World Gives Way
Author : Marissa Levien
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 380
Genre : sci-fi / mystery / dystopian
Publisher : Redhook
Release Date : May 1, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5

Hollis’ 4.5 star review

This probably won’t be a long review because I’m still kind of absorbing this read but.. wow. This surprised me in so many ways and I’m definitely feeling some aftershocks about the impact of the whole experience.

A lot of moving parts go into making a world work. It is a monstrous, exquisite machine.

I went into this expecting a cat-and-mouse mystery thriller set in space but while that’s not a wrong description, it’s very much only one small part. And not the best way to indicate the vibe of this book, either, which is less of a thriller and more of a slow moving collision of characters and themes. Because in so many ways this is haunting, introspective, enraging, stunning, and sad. Levien’s writing was so compelling, so lovely, and somehow she put all these different things into this book (which is a d e b u t, by the way) and made it work. And then gave us that ending. Which, I mean, yeah, of course I cried. Pretty sure I was getting the weepies by 91% and that was before I even knew the final line of the book.

The world owes me nothing, he thought, certainly not a perfect ending.

Even though this isn’t getting a five star, it has some of those qualities. Again, the writing? Wow. The little interludes? Devastating in their matter of factness. And the world? It reminded me of something from Interstellar, helped by the fact that this is sci-fi, but the mythology around it, what they had forgotten, or lost the context for, it was all just so clever, so seamless, and I could envision it so well. Not the least because of the dystopian societal structure was so familiar and, well, sadly typical. But the feel of it all? Still felt new, and fresh, and.. yeah, I might be jumping the gun here after only one book but Levien might be jumping right onto my auto-read author list.

Highly recommend.


You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D’Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel’s plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin’s old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world―the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D’Mon.

Title : The Name of All Things
Author : Jenn Lyons
Series : A Chorus of Dragons (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 589
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : October 29, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★

Hollis’ 2 star review

As excited as I was by the culmination and events at the end of book one, I’ll admit to some trepidation when we kicked off book two with yet another kind of storytelling. This time it’s a form of backstory for a character we sorta met, sorta didn’t, in book one and it is obviously setting the scene for our path forward but.. I wasn’t as impressed. Particularly as the new place we found ourselves in for the majority of the book had a strange cultural paradigm involving horses. Some of it was interesting, their take on gender and sex, particularly as it related to politics and caste, for once wasn’t mired in sexism or nepotism, and I liked that, however I got a little tired of all the “stallions” and “mares” and “foals” as monikers. And no, I’m not joking, that’s what they called each other. Endlessly.

Once again, it took about until the 75/80% mark to get to where the filling-in-backstory bit ended and the action, again, began. And as to how I felt about all said backstory? It felt a little convenient. I had hoped after all the deaths in book one we wouldn’t be revisiting certain events, and certainly not certain characters, but Janel ended up entwined with many many people that Kihrin had tussled with throughout book one and so it was a double whammy of having to go through some of what I thought we’d left behind and also side-eye over the convenience of it all. And a lot of it just felt too reminiscent of the arc of book one. Different themes, different situations, but still too much of the same. Particularly with those same characters popping in and out. And somehow, I don’t know if it’s because we’re supposed to believe all of this gets told in the span of a night, but the sense of time passage did not feel real, and I wonder if that’s because Lyons couldn’t even convince herself that all this had taken so long, just so it could line up with Kihrin’s timeline? I don’t know. But it was hard to picture it all.

Also, full stop, Janel is not remotely who I expected her to be based on that interaction in book one. I’m a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the aspects of her character, and she’s definitely being hyped up like whoa for a major purpose, but she’s turned out to be something different and I’ve still not adjusted. Six hundred pages later, even. But then again, Kihrin acted so unlike himself in this one, maybe because he had a supporting role (and a minor one at that) and so he felt out of place? In his own series? All the characters were a bit weird in this one, not going to lie. The healer priest was a broken record, Janel’s nurse was annoying as all get out, Nina was just constant walking suspicion until a certain point.. so, yeah, no real standout winners. In fact the only character I tolerated was the Big Bad. Made rooting for the good guys kind of hard, really.

So, yeah, for all this was once again very complex and clearly well thought-out (and I mean, that applies not just to the individual books at this point, it’s the whole series and world, full stop), I will admit I’m feeling less positive about this one than I did book one. I hate to say it was much of the same, because it wasn’t totally, but the devices used were similar enough, as was the road we seemed to travel, that I feel less satisfaction for the journey. But I’m still interested in the whole. I think. Or I’m just committed to finishing. Hoping, as ever, that the next yields better results!

SWEEP OF THE HEART by Ilona Andrews

From the New York Times #1 bestselling author, Ilona Andrews, comes a fun and action-packed new adventure in the Innkeeper Chronicles! We invite you to relax, enjoy yourself, and above all, remember the one rule all visitors must obey: the humans must never know.

Life is busier than ever for Innkeeper, Dina DeMille and Sean Evans. But it’s about to get even more chaotic when Sean’s werewolf mentor is kidnapped. To find him, they must host an intergalactic spouse-search for one of the most powerful rulers in the Galaxy. Dina is never one to back down from a challenge. That is, if she can manage her temperamental Red Cleaver chef; the consequences of her favorite Galactic ex-tyrant’s dark history; the tangled politics of an interstellar nation, and oh, yes, keep the wedding candidates from a dozen alien species from killing each other. Not to mention the Costco lady.

They say love is a battlefield; but Dina and Sean are determined to limit the casualties!

Title : Sweep of the Heart
Author : Ilona Andrews
Series : Innkeeper Chronicles (book five)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 456
Genre : fantasy / sci-fi
Publisher : NYLA
Release Date : December 13, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★.5

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Admittedly, this is not my favourite IA series but looking back I’ve given this series more four stars than I would’ve thought. Probably because somehow this author duo still manages to pull things off even if I’m not invested in the plot or as enamoured by the characters as I am for their other works. And also because this series takes more.. concentration, focus, and requires more push to make it through the events and (often) huge strange cast of characters involved. And this was no exception.

Book five in this series can basically be summed up as a intergalactic alien Bachelor extravaganza with all the expected politics and assassins one might expect. But Gertrude Hunt, Dina and Sean’s inn, along with their motley crew, are roped into hosting for the benefit of a favour. Also a nice little bump in rations and reputation if they manage to keep everyone alive.

While the events that take up 85% of the plot weren’t always interesting — I skimmed some of the long paragraphs of some of the dates or the backstory of some of the players — I was really fond of how it resolved. It gave me a bit of an inner squish.

Having said that, I don’t think I was fully prepared for the shift in the plot, once the favour was granted, because a few pages later I found myself crying over a house. Okay, crying sounds dramatic, but I got choked up and felt weepy about it. I’ll admit I did predict some of the reveal but nevertheless it still had impact.

So, yeah, is this my favourite world? No, but it’s creative as hell. Is this my favourite couple? Absolutely not, unfortunately I don’t find either of them all that charismatic or interesting, though the events and circumstances around them can be; and I dig the magic system. But I am invested in the big mystery of the piece and it seems like we’re finally getting closer to that. I have no idea what the longterm plan is in the sense of forecasted length for this series but I’ve yet to give up on anything IA and I’m not starting now.

THE VILLA by Rachel Hawkins

From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins comes a deliciously wicked gothic suspense, set at an Italian villa with a dark history, for fans of Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware.

As kids, Emily and Chess were inseparable. But by their 30s, their bond has been strained by the demands of their adult lives. So when Chess suggests a girls trip to Italy, Emily jumps at the chance to reconnect with her best friend.

Villa Aestas in Orvieto is a high-end holiday home now, but in 1974, it was known as Villa Rosato, and rented for the summer by a notorious rock star, Noel Gordon. In an attempt to reignite his creative spark, Noel invites up-and-coming musician, Pierce Sheldon to join him, as well as Pierce’s girlfriend, Mari, and her stepsister, Lara. But he also sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Mari writing one of the greatest horror novels of all time, Lara composing a platinum album––and ends in Pierce’s brutal murder.

As Emily digs into the villa’s complicated history, she begins to think there might be more to the story of that fateful summer in 1974. That perhaps Pierce’s murder wasn’t just a tale of sex, drugs, and rock & roll gone wrong, but that something more sinister might have occurred––and that there might be clues hidden in the now-iconic works that Mari and Lara left behind.

Yet the closer that Emily gets to the truth, the more tension she feels developing between her and Chess. As secrets from the past come to light, equally dangerous betrayals from the present also emerge––and it begins to look like the villa will claim another victim before the summer ends.

Title : The Villa
Author : Rachel Hawkins
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 279
Genre : mystery / thriller
Publisher : St. Martin’s Press
Release Date : January 3, 2023

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 3 star review

The Villa gave me Fleetwood Mac/Daisy Jones & The Six vibes mashed up with the very real summer Percy and Mary Shelley spent with Lord Byron at a Lake Geneva castle (aka where Frankenstein was conceived) with a dash of The Haunting of Hill House. Or maybe just any horror with a creepy house, that one’s just my favourite. There’s also an element at play I won’t try and comp for fear of spoilers. Despite all those excellent references to things and or peoples, many of which I adore, I didn’t adore the book. And I didn’t find it all that gripping — evidenced by the fact that I started this a week ago and put it down and forgot about it. But, when I did pick it back up, I read it right through to the end. Mostly to see if there would be twists and what they would be; besides the obvious ones.

So I guess, if you want an easy read (it’s short, too), with maybe a surprise or two along the way, you could do worse!

The highlights for me? The dual timeline. This flips between the seventies and present day — the former of which leads up to a time before a scandal rocked the world, and the latter detailing a girl’s weekend at the very house said scandal took place. I liked the past timeline a lot more than the present but I think it was because the present day protagonist’s best friend just irritated me. Hawkins did a great job writing Chess’ character and even though I don’t know anyone like her, I think we all sorta know someone like her. And also I suppose I expected something a little more insidious to occur? Which I suppose could apply to the past timeline, too. I almost think the bright cheerful cover squeezed some of the spooky darkness out of the whole story. This could’ve been way darker. Even the final twist, one I’m not sure I liked, took some of that punch out of everything. I’m left feeling quite strange about it all.

But maybe the true insidiousness is how everything is left up in the air with Emily and Chess and what their life now looks like after it all?

I’m looking forward to reading through some reviews and seeing where folks landed on this one. It’s not quite a disappointment because my investment was low — I keep middle of the road’ing this author’s books but I’m constantly reeled in by the premises — but I do hope Hawkins pushes the envelope a little more one day because I think that’ll be the one that’s a hit with me.

All in all, not a bad way to spend some time, especially if you’re tired of looking out the window at the (I assume..) dreary winter landscape and want to imagine yourself in Italy for a while.


When destiny calls, there’s no fighting back.

Kihrin grew up in the slums of Quur, a thief and a minstrel’s son raised on tales of long-lost princes and magnificent quests. When he is claimed against his will as the missing son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds himself at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless power plays and political ambitions.

Practically a prisoner, Kihrin discovers that being a long-lost prince is nothing like what the storybooks promised. The storybooks have lied about a lot of other things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he isn’t the hero after all. For Kihrin is not destined to save the world.

He’s destined to destroy it.

Title : The Ruin of Kings
Author : Jenn Lyons
Series : A Chorus of Dragons (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 560
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : February 5, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 3 star review

Remember that feeling you had when you first watched season one of The Witcher? How nothing made sense and things seemed out of order and confusing? Yeah. This is that times a bajillion. It also has that Tamsyn Muir Harrow the Ninth kind of wtf’ery going on but because this was book one, and I hadn’t already fallen in love with the characters, and understood (a tiny tiny bit of) the worldbuilding, it was.. hard. I almost gave up many many times in the first 30%. And bearing in mind the length of this novel, that’s a lot of pages. Every percent (throughout the whole reading, not just the beginning) was hard earned.

But here we are. I made it. And I am definitely reading on.

Demons and monsters are obvious; we’ll always band together to fight them off. But real evil, insidious evil, is what lets us just walk away from another person’s pain and say, well, that’s none of my business.”

It’s hard to say if the battles would be worth the war for another reader because the series is far (if you consider the upcoming page lengths in my future, far far far far x a lot) from over. And I still do not have a handle on all the things going on. Not only is this a dense fantasy and told in alternating timelines but it is so complex. Not just politically either it’s.. there are so many confusions with who is really who, when they were those people, who they are now, the origins of the bloody world which definitely still play a part, the gods, the various races, the.. yeah. There were many a time I just had to stop and close my eyes because my brain was crying out in pain. But the more you read, the more you trick yourself into thinking maybe you’re following things. Or, rather, when you finally get to where the narration catches up with the plot, it’s very action packed, and you have been distracted by the new bit of shiny that is a different narrative style and also, well, in theory you will be able to follow the climax better. And it’s true, you will.

But also so many people die at the end of this book that there’s hope some of the details won’t hold as much relevance for future plots. Though I’m sure that’s a vain hope because there’ll be more things to keep track of, and more people and new conflicts arising from said things and people, as we go on.

So, yes, this was a weird experience. It felt like I was reading it for an eternity and not in a great way. But there’s still a lot to be interested in and a lot that was interesting and clever and it’s hopefully all going to be worth it in the end. Having said that, I had thought to binge this series but hahahah no. I cannot. That might very well break me. But I do hope to continue soon before too many details fade.

CYBELE’S SECRET by Juliet Marillier – double review!

For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult.

But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret.

Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her. . . .

Title : Cybele’s Secret
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Wildwood (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date : September 9, 2008

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

Hollis’ 2.5 star review

Well, on the plus side, if you intend to binge this series, you won’t find too much same-y by reading them back to back. In fact.. there’s hardly any same-y at all! It might as well be a different series altogether.

Another plus? We are in another different and infrequently-used setting for this book. Whereas we started in Transylvania in Wildwood Dancing, in Cybele’s Secret we journey to Istanbul. But where previously we spent a lot of time in the Otherworld, amongst the fae, or a drafty castle, this time we visit the heat of the markets, the quiet of the libraries, and maybe even spend some time on boats. Paula, too, is different from Jena — the former a scholar, the latter the head of the household, the responsible one — except in the part that frustrated me about both characters : judgey judgey judgey. 

But that makes for a good segue into the characters. Did I like.. any of them? Honestly, I did like Paula at first. But eventually she became a little one-note. And then she did something that had me banging my head against the wall and we never recovered. Of her two love interests, one looks real good on paper, and did all the right things, but honestly he was a little bland. A little sad. But, shockingly, ended up saving the day in ways that had nothing to do with his bodyguard-acquired muscles. And the other, the dashing and devilish pirate? Oh yeah, he was my favourite. Not really as a love interest, because I couldn’t understand why he would be drawn to Paula, but as a character. 

There was no painfully painful villain in this book, thank goodness, but the villain of the piece is somehow both too well hidden and also too obvious and it made for a weird confrontation. Which wasn’t helped by a surplus of monologues to explain all the mustache-twirling that had happened off-page. And their fate? Pretty lame.

Plotwise, things went about fairly smoothly if often in a repetitive matter. We had some mysteries to solve, a sprinkling of clues to follow, all very vague. All doled out in tiny increments. Until basically the big finale where much is revealed and many faerie-style trials must be endured. Though, I’ll be honest, it mostly seemed like an exercise in running around nonstop. But in hindsight, book one was also a little repetitive. It was just more exciting, even during the frustrating bits, than this one.

I wasn’t mad at the ending, and actually thought the pseudo-third act conflict appropriate considering the chosen love interest’s various tasks and responsibilities, but at this point I just wanted to get things over with and move on. I was wanting to round up on this because it’s Marillier but this might be the weakest of any of her stories and I just can’t quite do it. I’m sad to not have discovered a new favourite series but it was different and it was fun to experience it with my buddy so it definitely wasn’t anywhere near a total loss. This just won’t make it onto my Must Read Marillier list or be one I recommend.

Micky’s 2.5 -3 star review

Perilous times
Triangular shaped connections

Le sigh. After really enjoying Wildwood Dancing and getting attached to those sisters and moreso, the setting, this was a stark change. The story transported the reader to busy busy historical Istanbul where women could not safely exist and tensions seemed to be high. Istanbul has some dark resonating experiences for me personally, so I don’t think that endeared me to it. I missed the woods, the sisters and the fair folk.

The story took Paula and her father in the direction of bidding for a much sought after relic, a bodyguard, a posh pirate and the mysterious Cybele. Cybele was an ancient goddess and there were insects (indraws breath, hyperventilates at the scuttling and crawling, erases images). I went with the flow for the first third of the book, liking the direction. From after half way, I found Paula left all sense behind, acted like a teenager and it was hard to add up the actions that ensued.

Now to the humble bodyguard and the posh pirate…I liked both these characters but didn’t appreciate the triangle. The journey with these three was something close to annoying but not quite there. At the culmination however, I got an unexpected punch of the feels that left me overall on a happier note.

I was left somewhat disgruntled with the lack of tie-up on Tati (yet again) and it doesn’t appear there are any more books to come in the series, so I guess that is that.

I dragged my heels on this buddy read because from that third of the book point, I found this slow and difficult to pick back up. Not my favourite Marillier by any means but I’ll favour the first book in my memories.

WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier – double review!

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

Title : Wildwood Dancing
Author : Juliet Marillier
Series : Wildwood (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 407
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date : January 23, 2007

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

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Even though this couldn’t be more different from the Sevenwaters Saga, there is something intrinsically Marillier about this story. A group of siblings. A mystery to be solved. Transformation. Magic. The Other folk. But this is still very unique, for all that it’s also based on, or paying homage to/a retelling of, folklore stories like The Twelve Dancing Princesses and, well, another one I won’t mention so it doesn’t ruin the surprise. Additionally, we have a story set not just in Britain, or Ireland, as most folklore and fairytales are, but in Transylvania, making the story further unique; because how often do we get that for a setting? And, complementing that setting, some of her creatures may feel a little.. familiar, too.

Joining me on this adventure was Micky but unlike previous Marillier buddy reads, I’m not sure I ever read this one. GR says no and having now read it I don’t think that was a data entry oversight on my part. While this won’t be one I revisit the way I reread her other works, there’s a lot of good here. But also, unfortunately fitting with the times perhaps, in addition to just being the conflict and antagonist of the plot, it’s also a struggle. Now, of course, often times I can enjoy the conflict for what it is without feeling like the book itself was less fun as a result but in this case.. what at first became a game to theorize and assign blame on a character, who was shit from the start, over time because wearisome. Marillier is always great at creating fantastic villains who truly believe they are on the right side, doing the right things, but this time.. it wore on me. Maybe because instead of machinations sprinkled over the course of a trilogy, everything was crammed into one instalment. Or maybe it was the kind conflicts (misogyny, patriarchal behaviour, all flavours of that kind) just rubbed me in places that were too raw. What also frustrated me was the fact that our lead was rarely, if ever, supported by those around her to fight these conflicts. Sure, again, maybe it’s a sign of the times. The reality was they had little support in the first place which could explain why things happened the way they did. But it was exhausting.

As for the mysteries and magic, well. They were mostly fairly obvious from the get-go. We definitely saw a lot of it coming without much surprise. Which is fine. And I did absolutely love how everything kicked off (the game they played as children and the ripples it would have throughout their lives) because it felt true to the mischief and mayhem that comes with involving yourself with the Others. So, too, was all of Jena, our lead’s, assumptions and judgments. She did become rather difficult near the end after having spent so much time judging her sister and what she was going through, only to be found guilty of her own follies and not truly realize the parallels (I’m thinking of her preoccupation in her moment of loss which she saw Tati going through the whole time). Having said that, though, said sister was a little.. dramatic I think. To go from distracted and heartsick to what she did.. I don’t know. A little much.

I definitely wanted to love this more than I did. But I did enjoy the world, even if the characters sometimes frustrated me, and as usual Marillier does fae like few authors can. And, of course, it was a joy to read this with my buddy and theorize and rant about what was going on at any given time.

I do want to read on and I’m looking forward to seeing what new experiences await in book two. 

Micky’s 4 star review

A flavour of retellings
Dancing sisters
Other folk of many types

Marillier knows how to craft an interesting world to invest the reader from the start. In this duology starter, I found myself in the Transylvanian mountains of Romania, somewhere I’ve never been in fiction before; so fresh. This story had the flavour of some fairytales but set in it’s own unique way, one of the influences was the twelve dancing princesses (but there weren’t twelve).

In no surprise to any Marillier fan, the other folk and their world collided with those of the protagonist Jena and antagonist Cezar. Cezar, (deep sigh) was vile in an exponential way as the story developed. Expect to feel shades of patriarchy, misogyny and control. There were many parts of this story with Cezar that enraged me. That said, many of the men in this story were empowering towards women.

Jena and her sisters were a colourful bunch. By the end, I really wanted a Tati story, more of what happened to her in this story and the afterwards. Gogu was a great character and although Hollis and I guessed much about this character, the reading of it was still entertaining.

In the other world we met a lot of different folk, dissimilar to her sevenwaters fair folk. The night people were illusively intriguing, I loved the brief pictures and connections between the sisters and Anatoli, Sten and othe dancing partners.

The romp to the end was predictable in some ways and less so in others but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment. I’m looking forward to the next book (and hoping my buddy is on board for this soon) and wishing already that there were more than two books in this series.