WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Lauren Blackwood

What the heart desires, the house destroys… 

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre.

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.


Title : Within These Wicked Walls
Author : Lauren Blackwood
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA fantasy retelling
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : October 19, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

Almost any Jane Eyre retelling gets me excited but an Ethiopian-inspired one made me look not once, not twice, but thrice. Having said that, other than some very basic bones of said original, this deviates a lot from the majority of the story — and honestly I think it succeeded because of that.

Andromeda is this version’s Jane who comes to Thornfield, to Rochester — Magnus, in this case — not to be a governess but to exorcise the Manifestations that are haunting the castle, and it’s master, from an inherited curse. I don’t know that I ever fully understood how she was capable of doing this, it involved goggles and a welding pen (steampunky, almost, I guess) to make amulets that were suited to each element of the curse, and then.. voila. She takes this job, what she learns is an impossible job, to guarantee her patronage and recognition as a debtera aka exorcist. But, much like the original, Magnus is often distracting Andi from her job, longing for attention, lonely and entitled, and fascinated by this person who resists him, speaks truths to his face, and is also fiercely capable.

From then on I won’t say which parts are new or true or how it all plays out but honestly other than a few scenes that I think tried too hard to force themselves into the original story.. this was totally captivating. I maybe would’ve liked to see more build up to their relationship, maybe because I enjoyed their earlier prickly interactions so much and didn’t feel as much chemistry after a certain point, but the rest of the story, the world, kept it strong. There was a secondary relationship that I thought was both adorable and also maybe took some focus away from other dynamics I would’ve liked to be stronger but.. it helped humanize, and soften, a character that definitely needed it. And made some later moments perhaps a little more believable.

Vague vagueries, oooh, spooky.

If you want a somewhat dark, atmospheric, yet also occasionally playful, diverse fantasy, that happens to harken back to a well known classic tale, you should absolutely have this not only on your radar but on your TBR. Considering this is Blackwood’s debut, I can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.

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

THE DEATHLESS GIRLS by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…


Title : The Deathless Girls
Author : Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Format : Hardcover
Page Count : 304
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Orion Children’s Books
Release Date : October 28, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★.5


Micky’s 2.5 star review

Headlines:
Sombre retelling
Marginalised voices
Didn’t work for me

I’m gutted that The Deathless Girls didn’t work for me. It’s such an exciting concept but I found the execution somewhat boring. There are some real positives to this story and characters but I found they weren’t enough to lift the story into ‘like’ territory. All the beautiful formatting in the world can’t make a book you don’t like into more.

The story revolved around twin sisters Kizzy and Lili, both quite different characters. Their story started with tragedy and I can’t say that the plot really lifted from that theme at all. I was excited about the idea of a retelling giving perspective of the ‘brides of dracula’ but honestly all that comes so late in the story, that I’d lost my interest and commitment completely.

The positives of this story lie in the portrayal of a travelling community and the prejudices and abuse they experienced; I guess things haven’t changed that much. This is a historical setting, so it was a travelling community of the past. There was LGBTQIAP+ representation too. I also appreciated zero romanticising of vampire characteristics and behaviour.

Sadly, this didn’t float my boat and it was a real push to keep reading through the slow.

THE DARKNESS OUTSIDE US by Eliot Schrefer

They Both Die at the End meets The Loneliest Girl in the Universe in this mind-bending sci-fi mystery and tender love story about two boys aboard a spaceship sent on a rescue mission, from two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer.

Two boys, alone in space. Sworn enemies sent on the same rescue mission.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust each other . . . especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.


Title : The Darkness Outisde Us
Author : Eliot Schrefer
Format : Hardcover
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA Sci-fi/LGBTQIAP+
Publisher : Katherine Tegan Books
Release Date : June 1, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Expect the unexpected
Whispers into the future
Connections

I didn’t expect the story I got going into The Darkness Outside Us but I’m exceedingly happy with how that turned out. This was scifi, LGBTQIAP+ style but that’s where my non-spoilers end. This story conveys future possibilities and carries a bucket load of existential questions and ethical dilemmas.

Now, that might sound heavy, but really it isn’t. That’s because Ambrose and Kodiak, the two spaceboy-extraordinaires of this piece, carry a witty and sometimes emotional narrative, dialogue and more. Ambrose was all sunshine, hope and flirt, while Kodiak was grump-reluctance and pragmatism. I really loved their dynamic together and how they problem-solved and connected.

There were some moments in this story that really took my breath away with the emotionality and my eyes were brimming. How is that possible with two spaceboys on an intergallactic mission? Please, read and find out!

Thank you to Pride Book Tours and Katherine Tegan Books for the 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.

NEON GODS by Katee Robert

He was supposed to be a myth. But from the moment I crossed the River Styx and fell under his dark spell… he was, quite simply, mine.

Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that’s ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city’s dark facade.

With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil’s bargain with a man she once believed a myth… a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he’s spent years craving, it’s all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he’ll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close…

A modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that’s as sinful as it is sweet.


Title : Neon Gods
Author : Katee Robert
Series : Dark Olympus (book one)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 380
Genre : myth retelling / romance
Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date : June 1, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I was close to rounding up on this one but.. there was too much about this particular retelling’s worldbuilding that haunted me for too long. And, in fact, it was only upon starting this review, as I started to talk (write) it out, that I actually started to piece together some of those holes. Sorta. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I found it so distracting for the whole duration of the book. Nor does it solve all the worldbuilding issues. There’s something about this modern but still removed but still modern Olympus that just breaks my brain.

As for the romance.. listen, if I don’t think too hard about how rushed Persephone’s character growth/arc/reveal was, the romance is sweet with a touch of spice. I want to be able to champion the female lead and poke holes in the male but sadly, in this case, as much as I could appreciate Persephone over the course of the story, I never really felt we got to see that duality in her to explain why she’d been one way only to reveal herself as something else. Yes, yes, being able to explore herself, removing masks, yes, it’s all told to us but I didn’t see it because I didn’t see her the other way. A few offhand comments do not a character make. Maybe if we’d spent less time early on to establish that Hades was a fussing mother hen and Persephone needed to eat a few more meals, that page time could’ve gone towards a better foundation.

But yeah, Hades is soft. I don’t really know if this is supposed to be a true D/s romance, maybe it just flirts with the concept (I’ll check some reviews), but even when he was D.. he was soft. I didn’t mind that at all, either. This isn’t a criticism.

Instead my criticisms are definitely worldbuilding and the fact that I couldn’t get a handle on a few things until the end. Sometimes retellings are hard when you know enough about the source or the myth and you just end up tripping yourself up instead of enjoying the homage. This was one of those for me. I also expected to see one of the more famous parts of this myth incorporated and Robert flirted with the idea but didn’t quite commit. So because I expected that, and therefore some angst, and didn’t get it, that also sort’ve twisted me up. Expectations, whatcha gonna do.

This did guarantee I would be humming Eurydice by The Crüxshadows almost the whole time I read this, though. I’m exposing my early aughts goth child with that reference but I don’t even care. What a jam. What a moment. Excuse me while I lose myself in a playlist..

I’m sad to say but for this reader this definitely didn’t live up to the hype. But, minor irritants with my brain not cooperating over those worldbuilding bits, I didn’t hate my time with this, either. Which is why I will read on.

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.

RED WOLF by Rachel Vincent

For as long as sixteen-year-old Adele can remember, the village of Oakvale has been surrounded by the dark wood—a forest filled with terrible monsters. A forest that light itself cannot penetrate.

Unlike her fellow villagers, Adele cannot avoid the dark wood.

Adele is one of a long line of guardians: women who secretly take on the form of a wolf, in order to protect their village.

But when accepting her fate means giving up the boy she loves, abandoning the future she imagined for herself, and breaking her own moral code, she must decide how far she is willing to go to keep her neighbors safe.


Title : Red Wolf
Author : Rachel Vincent
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count :359
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Harper 360YA
Release Date : August 5, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Such easy reading
Fresh retelling vibes
Unexpected plot directions

We’ve had a few wolf stories hit the shelves this year and they’ve all worked for me. What is totally in Red Wolf’s favour is the writing and ease with which the reader can sink into this story and not want to put it down.

Red Wolf set the scene well immediately, a dark wood, evil woodland creatures and a village at risk. I will say no more as the events that arise from there were pretty unexpected and I was hooked to the page.

The Duvall women in this story were captivating; they were brave, humble and focused. Adele had a lot of carry on her shoulders and she struggled to adjust, very understandably. I thought Max was a great character, supporter, feminist and I definitely need more of him.

This book has left me wanting more. It was full of action, pace and some tragedy. This is my first book by Rachel Vincent but she’s reeled me in.

Thank you to Harper360 YA for the review copy.

SIX CRIMSON CRANES by Elizabeth Lim

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.


Title : Six Crimson Cranes
Author : Elizabeth Lim
Series : Six Crimson Cranes (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 464
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date : July 6, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I make no bones about the fact that Daughter of the Forest is probably my favourite book, from my favourite series, of all time. Six Crimson Cranes is loosely based around the same fairytale, The Six Swans. Marillier puts her own spin on the former and Lim does the same in her story. Comparing the two would be like comparing two different Beauty and the Beast retellings.. except for the fact that I am far more invested in this one!

I liked so much of this particular reimagining, from transporting the tale into an Asian-inspired setting, to the extra fantastical elements the author infused into it, the different direction she took with the main character, and, specifically, one thing I can’t mention due the spoilers.

I did, however, find it was a struggle to imagine certain scenes, either because it was hazily described or there were just too many bodies and things bouncing around at once, and it got muddied, which would bounce me right out of the story. I’ve not read the author before so I’m not familiar with her writing in this way but this is also an ARC so maybe it’s just one of those ARC things. That said, the big conflict flies by so quickly, particularly the one I’m familiar with from the story, and some of the impact is lost as a result. Which is unfortunate as I had really become invested up until that point and it was then that I lost steam and pretty much immediately knew I’d not be rounding up the rating.

Also, there’s a certain condition of the curse that befalls our main character and the way it’s described? I hope some character art gets made to give me a better idea of what that’s supposed to look like as my brain struggled to picture something that wasn’t.. silly. And even still I’m not entirely sure there’s any way to salvage it.

Speaking of picture, though, that cover? S t u n n i n g.

So, yes, there’s a lot of good here, and I’m probably biased, but it’s not going to be a favourite. I am, however, very interested in reading on and seeing where the story goes as the retelling portion has concluded and it’s all new territory from this point on (at least I assume! maybe there’s a new fairytale inspiration for book two, who knows, not me). If you need more diverse fantasy for your TBR, I would definitely encourage this as an option.

Side note, to all my Daughter of the Forest fans? Reading this will only make you want to immediately pick up the Sevenwaters series for a reread, so. If you don’t have room in your schedule for that kind of thing, beware (or be resigned, and excited, to have an excuse for such a thing).

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

ARIADNE by Jennifer Saint

A mesmerising retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Perfect for fans of CIRCE, A SONG OF ACHILLES, and THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS.

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.


Title : Ariadne
Author : Jennifer Saint
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 388
Genre : Mythology/Retelling
Publisher : Wildfire Books
Release Date : April 29, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★. 5


Micky’s 4. 5 star review

Headlines:
Feminist and sisterhood
Bittersweet
Betrayal
I’m so over Greek mythology men

I was captivated by the writing and story of Aridane’s world very quickly but honestly, don’t come into this story expecting gentleness. Ariadne was told with raw brutality at times, no holds barred and personally, I appreciated the gritty immersion. Please do check trigger warnings on other reviews or dm me for details.

The story was ladened with tragedy and also times of happiness but there was always that overwhelming sense of foreboding. It wasn’t a book that left you settled, it left me on edge and tense. Most of these feelings stemmed from the male characters in this book, mortal and god alike. Misogyny was rife but some of the key male characters were simply awful.

I had cried all the tears I thought I could ever produce; I had spat and screamed and now I felt strangely cleansed.

The separate stories of Ariadne and Phaedra were so interesting and I had such hopes for their presents, futures and their ability to deal with the past. The legacy of their experiences was a heavy burden and these sisters were close but driven apart by circumstances.

The tone of the story was broadly feminist with a sense of sisterhood at the heart of it. The children were also a balm to the tragedies. I’m not going to lie, I did struggle with the conclusion a little but it was true to the tale and to the tone of the book overall.

Ariadne was an immersive experience with the kind of writing that got you lost in the page. It was a truly impressive debut. The cover is stunning and I’ve ordered myself a finished copy. I can’t wait to see which story Jennifer Saint will retell next.

Thank you to Wildfire Books/Headline for the early review copy.

cxz

THE WIFE UPSTAIRS by Rachel Hawkins – double review!

A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of B.A. Paris and Megan Miranda.

Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie­ Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?

With delicious suspense, incisive wit, and a fresh, feminist sensibility, The Wife Upstairs flips the script on a timeless tale of forbidden romance, ill-advised attraction, and a wife who just won’t stay buried. In this vivid reimagining of one of literature’s most twisted love triangles, which Mrs. Rochester will get her happy ending?


Title : The Wife Upstairs
Author : Rachel Hawkins
Narrators : Emily Shaffer, Kirby Heyborne, Lauren Fortgant
Format : Audiobook / eBook (overdrive)
Length : 8 hours 39 minutes / 277 pages
Genre : Thriller
Publisher : MacMillan Audio / St. Martin’s Press
Release Date : January 5, 2021

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


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
Morally grey characters in every direction
Unreliable narrators
Twists in unexpected ways
A side order of Big Little Lies feeling

I heard the words Jane Eyre re-telling and I ran pretty fast to this audiobook. The Wife Upstairs mostly had the atmosphere I was seeking and I totally enjoyed seeing a contemporary envisoning of the familiar characters of Jane Eyre, especially Eddie, Jane, Blanche and B. Adele was a treat too.

As you would imagine, the focus started on Jane and I liked that Jane was not the angel she was in the original book, this made me feel more invested because I knew this was going to be different. Jane was a plotter, a climber and she had goals, so much so that I thought I knew where this would lead; I was wrong.

Blanche and B ‘Bertha’ were like the ugly sisters or mean girls all rolled into one. Blanche being a more fleshed out character was a very welcome element to the story. Eddie was never really likeable and that crushed my Rochester-loving heart a little but then this wasn’t a romance.

The storyline was pretty clever and this audiobook kept me guessing and invested. I did sometimes get confused with Bee (or B) and Blanche and the two female narrators didn’t sound that different to me, even with their different accents, so I had to really concentrate at times.

The culmination was good, if quick wrap up. The Wife Upstairs was an addictive and enjoyable listen. I would love to see some more classic re-envisioning as thrillers. Such a great idea.

Thank you to LibroFM and MacMillan Audio for the review copy.


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything Rachel Hawkins has released (notably mostly YA stuff but hey!) so this was on my radar even before I knew it was a Jane Eyre-inspired retelling; and not only that but a thriller/mystery to boot. Lots of boxes were being checked here.

I’ll admit this was kind of a slowburn for me that never really built the blazing inferno I might’ve expected.. or at least wanted. But at the same time it dragged me away from other distractions throughout the day and I chewed through it pretty quick. So maybe it was less of a build and more just a steady solitary flame?

Either way, if you’re a fan of the original classic or just know the bare bones this’ll definitely appeal to both kind of reader. There’s enough that sticks true to the story but so much, too, that differs; and I was particularly interested in which characters Hawkins decided to flesh out, and how.

If you’re looking for a Southern Gothic vibe kind of mystery, with twists and homages, you should give this one a try.