SKIN OF THE SEA by Natasha Bowen

An unforgettable fantasy debut inspired by West African mythology, this is Children of Blood and Bone meets The Little Mermaid, in which a mermaid takes on the gods themselves.

A way to survive.
A way to serve.
A way to save.

Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata–a mermaid–collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable–she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it.

To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But something is amiss. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail. . . .

Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.


Title : Skin of the Sea
Author : Natasha Bowen
Format : Physical ARC
Page Count : 323
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Penguin
Release Date : November 4, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
West African fantasy wow
Slavery and fighting back
Lush cover

I’m blown away by the cover on this book, it is stunning and provides such a fantastic visual for Simi the main character. I really bought into this story initially, Simi being a mermaid-esque being but able to transform to human on land. Her job was to collect the souls of those dying at sea, particularly slaves killed on the boats taking them away from their native shores.

I really loved the early elements of the folk lore& gods but it did get more complicated and a bit harder to follow at times. It wasn’t a long book but the second half felt a little longer than it should have to me. Kola, the human alongside Simi had a joint quest to fulfill with Simi and that premise for the story was interesting but again with a rather complex set of gods and magical elements to follow.

I liked this book but sadly I didn’t love it like I thought I might. I’d definitely read this author again however and I really appreciated the slavery perspective and generally the African fantasy context.

Please check out some black reviewers on this book. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC through netgalley.

YEAR OF THE REAPER by Makiia Lucier

From the writer whose stories have been called “brilliant” (Booklist), “masterful” (Horn Book), and “breathtaking” (School Library Journal), comes a romantic new standalone fantasy.

The past never forgets . . .

Before an ambush by enemy soldiers, Lord Cassia was an engineer’s apprenticeon a mission entrusted by the king. But when plague sweeps over theland, leaving countless dead and devastating the kingdom, even Cas’title cannot save him from a rotting prison cell and a mercilesssickness.

Three years later, Cas wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what heremembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And theyhave brought their enemies with them.

When an assassin targetsthose closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for akiller…one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliantyoung historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terriblesecret–one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plungeit back into war.


Title : Year of the Reaper
Author : Makiia Lucier
Format : Hardback
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape
Release Date : November 9, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Standalone goodness
A gripper
Twists

I got on board with Year of the Reaper in a handful of pages. This story in the context of a waning plague didn’t jar me at all from a COVID perspective. So, I want to say that if you have that worry, this isn’t pandemic-y. This was a historical fantasy with great depth, all encapsulated in a standalone. I romped through the pages, not wanting to put it down.

Cas was a young man battling with the psychological scars of captivity and returning home after a long absence. He returned to a home and city recovering from the plague, there were new incomers to his home, old allegiances and plenty of secrets to unravel. Those secrets, the shocking events that occured and the twists in the plot were fantastic.

Buddy reading this was a great idea (thanks for your company, Steph) because we could chat through the things that happened. The pacing was fast but also very well metered out. There was a smattering of romantic connection but it was in the background and I was satisfied with how that was pitched. I would have liked just a little more about Cas’ special ability.

This book has everthing you want, a standalone, twists, great characters that have depth and a story you don’t want to put down. I’m excited to read more by Makiia Lucier.

Thank you to Hodderscape for the review copy.

GILDED by Marissa Meyer

All magic comes at a price, but love was never part of the bargain . . .

The look he was giving her. Serilda had never been looked at like that before . . . The intensity.
The heat. The raw astonishment. He was going to kiss her.

Cursed by the god of lies, a miller’s daughter has developed a talent for storytelling – but are all of her tales as false as they appear?

When one of Serilda’s stories draws the attention of the devastating Erlking, she finds herself swept away into a world of enchantment, where ghouls prowl the earth, and ravens track her every move. The king locks Serilda in a castle dungeon and orders her to spin straw into gold, or be killed for lying. In despair, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious young man to her aid. And he agrees to help her, for a price. But love wasn’t meant to be part of the bargain.

A compulsive read, and as bewitchingly good as you’d expect from a YA bestselling author. You will stay up all night reading this.


Title : Gilded
Author : Marissa Meyer
Format : eARC
Page Count : 435
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Faber & Faber
Release Date : November 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

Headlines:
This is a series…
Plot is golden
Story is long

I have mixed feelings coming out of Gilded and some of it is applause-worthy but other bits pulled this rating down. Firstly, the over-arching story and plot in this book are excellent. This was a Rumplestiltskin/Goblin King hybrid retelling with lots of woodland fable and magic thrown in. It was also incredibly raw narrative with gore and moments that seem to edge onto horror but retreat back quickly. I’d say this was older YA read because of some brief themes/triggers that emerge.

The characterisation in Gilded was also brilliant. Serilda was a morally grey heroine, prone to fabrication, occasional theft and somewhat unreliable as a friend and family member but in reality, she was just living out her legacy and god-given talents. She was incredibly likeable and moreso as the plot evolved. Erlking was not a nice character but he was so captivating to read about. He was evil to the core, lacking in any empathy and cruel. His court was also fascinating.

The other main character, I’m not going give a thing away about. Suffice it to say, I really liked this character, I like the connections made and I wanted more of this character. It ends in such a way that I’m dying to know what happens.

Now to my rating…why 3.5 stars? This book was incredibly long, it felt long, I had to push at times through long, descriptive narrative to get to the next plot theme. The pacing felt off and while I loved the story, the dragging of the narrative kept pulling me out of it. I wanted to be spun away like the gold bobbins on the tails of escapism but I wasn’t.

I will definitely be reading on, in fact, I am quite a bundle of anticipation for what comes next in this complex, twisty plot. I do hope it’s paced a little better.

If you want info on triggers, I’m happy to supply on DM.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for the review copy.

MEDUSA by Jessie Burton

A dazzling, feminist retelling of Greek myth from the internationally bestselling author of The Miniaturist, stunningly illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill.

Exiled to a far-flung island by the whims of the gods, Medusa has little company except the snakes that adorn her head instead of hair. But when a charmed, beautiful boy called Perseus arrives on the island, her lonely existence is disrupted with the force of a supernova, unleashing desire, love and betrayal…

Filled with glorious full-colour illustrations by award-winning Olivia Lomenech Gill, this astonishing retelling of Greek myth is perfect for readers of Circe and The Silence of the Girls. Illuminating the girl behind the legend, it brings alive Medusa for a new generation.


Title : Medusa
Author : Jessie Burton
Illustrator : Olivia Lomenech Gill
Format : eARC
Page Count : 224
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Bloomsbury YA
Release Date : October 28, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Feminist retelling
Underlying relevance for today
Illustrations that will blow your mind with their beauty

My first thought on finishing is that I need this in a hard copy, so I would say that if possible, savour this in the flesh rather than ebook. The illustrations are utterly eye-catching, inspired and beautiful.

This retelling was YA but it’s not without dark and difficult themes. I have placed some trigger warnings at the bottom of this review. While this was a Medusa tale with some familiarity, it really portrayed her perspective, what life was like for her. I particularly thought for the first time what life would be like with snakes on your head, the loss of her hair and how that affected her with the same hopes and desires as any young woman. Her narrative alongside Perseus’ was bittersweet and yet still something to delight in.

There were so many moments in this historical retelling that will resonate with women in the now, be they young and older. Here’s a flavour of what hit me: power and powerlessness, victim shaming, body image, empowerment and finding your identity. Medusa sure had a lot to tell us.

People think your beauty is their possession. As if it’s there for their pleasure, as if they’ve got something invested in it. They think you owe them for their admiration.

I think it’s obvious I adored this book and that it would be a lovely gift for yourself or others.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for the early review copy.

TW: rape, sexual assault, victim shaming, stalking, body image

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.

LAKESEDGE by Lyndall Clipstone

A lush gothic fantasy about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake. Perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer.

There are monsters in the world.

When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

There are monsters in the woods.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn…

There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name.

Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.


Title : Lakesedge
Author : Lyndall Clipstone
Series : World at the Lakesedge #1
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA Fantasy
Publisher : Titan Books
Release Date : October 12, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Shadows & smoke
Chilling & creepy
Secrets & hope

Lakesedge hit the top level of my creepy tolerance but I just could not not carry on. This spook wuss enjoyed everything about this evocative story, from the smoky shadows, to the dark characters and even Lord Under.

This was a story with a real gothic feel, complete with a large creepy house. Violetta (Leta) was all about selflessly protecting those around her…at any cost. That was the whole premise of the story but woven into the Monster of the Lake. Everything felt dark, foreboding and almost hopeless.

The plot was unexpected all along, especially with an ending that definitely locks you into needing the next installment. Rowan and Clover as characters really grew on me; they turned into so much more than they seemed at first glance. There was a satisfying level of romance too.

My power is a thread, tied to Rowan.

If you’re a fan of creepy woods, cloaked figures, dark horizons and family, found and blood, I’m certain that Lakesedge will appeal to you. Also, just admire that glorious UK cover.

Thank you to Titan Books for the review copy.

THE GILDED CAGE by Lynette Noni

Kiva Meridan is a survivor.

She survived not only Zalindov prison, but also the deadly Trial by Ordeal. Now Kiva’s purpose goes beyond survival to vengeance. For the past ten years, her only goal has been to reunite with her family and destroy the people responsible for ruining their lives. But now that she has escaped Zalindov, her mission has become more complicated than ever.

As Kiva settles into her new life in the capital, she discovers she wasn’t the only one who suffered while she was in Zalindov-her siblings and their beliefs have changed too. Soon it’s not just her enemies she’s keeping secrets from, but her own family as well.

Outside the city walls, tensions are brewing from the rebels, along with whispers of a growing threat from the northern kingdoms. Kiva’s allegiances are more important than ever, but she’s beginning to question where they truly lie. To survive this time, she’ll have to navigate a complicated web of lies before both sides of the battle turn against her and she loses everything.


Title : The Gilded Cage
Author : Lynette Noni
Series : The Prison Healer #2
Format : e-ARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : Fantasy
Publisher : Hodderscape
Release Date : October 7, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Messed up families
Slow burn persists
Secrets, lies and reveals

Having spent all of book one in the prison and loving that context, I didn’t know how it would be out of captivity for these characters. I did take some adjusting and it took me a little while to get into this installment but boy, I really did get into it.

The Gilded Cage was very much a time of Kiva living a double life, it was uncomfortable for her but it did bring about a clarity in her thinking and allegiances; I loved witnessing that. Jaren remained the uncomplicated human he is, genuine with integrity and totally sold on Kiva. Jaren’s family was a freaky s**t show and Kiva’s was worse. As we got to know these other members of both families, it was pretty double-crossing, mind-blowing and totally gripping.

“You say you became the darkness, that it consumed you, but I call bull on that. I’ve never met anyone who shines as brightly as you do.”

I did not know which way the dice was going to roll in this story, there were plenty of twists and so many were unexpected. That didn’t stop me speculating and messaging friends who had read with my nonsensical speculations. It ended just as I expected, with jaw on the floor and feeling a little hopeless. Reading these books is like an addiction, a good one…like chocolate.

Bring on the conclusion, Lynette Noni; I am ready!

Thank you Hodder Books for the early review copy.

ONCE UPON A BROKEN HEART by Stephanie Garber

From Stephanie Garber, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of CaravalOnce Upon a Broken Heart is the first book in a new series about love, curses, and the lengths that people will go to for happily ever after.

Evangeline Fox was raised in her beloved father’s curiosity shop, where she grew up on legends about immortals, like the tragic Prince of Hearts. She knows his powers are mythic, his kiss is worth dying for, and that bargains with him rarely end well.

But when Evangeline learns that the love of her life is about to marry another, she becomes desperate enough to offer the Prince of Hearts whatever he wants in exchange for his help to stop the wedding. The prince only asks for three kisses. But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’s pledged. And he has plans for Evangeline that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy…


Title : Once Upon A Broken Heart
Author : Stephanie Garber
Series : Once Upon A Broken Heart #1
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 402
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Hodder Books
Release Date : September 30, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Different broken hearts for different reasons
Trust…who?
Apples, foxes, arches and kisses

This was such a fun and gripping world to get caught up in. Once Upon A Broken Heart was magical, sarcastic, funny and twisty. The whole book was an experience (plot and characters aside) with great formatting for newspaper articles and notes.

This felt different to the Caraval world and I was glad of that. The south and then the north felt totally different from those previous books and I would affirm that reading the series first is unnecessary, you’ll only miss a deeper meaning on a few nuggets of information.

Evangeline was a worthy protagonist, she felt mature in some ways but she had a tendency to react to events and then act without thinking things through. That said, I really enjoyed everywhere the plot went, it truly was unpredictable. Predictably however, I really liked Jacks and despite his nefariousness, I really wanted to see him romantically entwined. That fate is utterly untrustworthy and but I’m 100% Team Jack.

I can’t wait to see where this story goes in the next book. Stephanie Garber created a different yet intertwined world with her previous series. This series is right up my street and I’m already a fan.

Thank you to Hodder Books for the early review copy.

THE HOLLOW HEART by Marie Rutkoski – double review!

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

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

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

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


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

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


Micky’s 4 star review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Hodder Books for the finished review copy.


Hollis’ 4 star review

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

The grabby hands were just too too real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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