Thursday, April 9, 2020

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez {review}

Woven in Moonlight
by Isabel Ibañez
♦publisher: Page Street Books
♦release date: January 7th, 2020
♦hardcover, 384 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦series: Woven in Moonlight, book 1
A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.

Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.


Step into Ximena's world of two warring lands, two peoples willing to fight for their convictions, where her role as the Condesa's decoy will challenger her to her limits. I so enjoyed this story. So action-packed and full of emotion, danger, magic, romance, mystery, and most memorably, culture and food. Ooooh, the descriptions of the food,(seriously Page Street---we need a Woven in Moonlight cookbook immediately) the bright colors and textures of the clothing, the sights and sounds of a bustling and lively city. The story itself was really beautifully written, but I found myself absolutely enchanted with the south american-inspired worldbuilding.

Ximena is immediately a character to root for. While there is much love and loyalty to the true Condesa that she serves to protect, she is clearly a frustrated girl feeling stuck in the life of pretending to be someone else.  When she is wisked far from her familiar life, her loneliness and lost sense of self is palpable.  Still, she fights, putting up a determined and fierce front.  The story takes off in a shot, settles into a bit of a lull, and then picks up again as things get more and more complicated for Ximena. Her feisty will, strong beliefs, and grounding in the Illustrian history are all tested as she discovers the truth behind the people she has always known as the enemy. The magic, while intriguing and original, was lacking a little in explanation. I felt a need to know more about why this magic existed, why it was forbidden, and why different people had different abilities, and why her magic suddenly changed the way it did.  The change was fun and added an quirky twist to parts of the story, but I still felt the need to know more details.

There's no shortage of thrilling fight scenes,  the mystery and romantic tension between the masked vigilante is swoon-worthy without taking over the story, and there's a hearty lesson intertwined in the adventure that there is always more than one side to any struggle. The ending leaves you with a perfect blend of heartbreak and triumph.  A great debut, and I'll definitely be looking forward to more from this author!

{About The Author}

Isabel Ibañez was born in Boca Raton, Florida, and is the proud daughter of two Bolivian immigrants. A true word nerd, she received her degree in creative writing and has been a Pitch Wars mentor for three years. Isabel is an avid movie goer and loves hosting family and friends around the dinner table. She currently lives in Winter Park, Florida, with her husband, their adorable dog, and a serious collection of books. 

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon

source: book provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Friday, March 20, 2020

Beyond the Shadowed Earth by Joanne Ruth Meyer {review}

Beyond the Shadowed Earth
by Joanna Ruth Meyer
♦publisher: Page Street Kids
♦release date: January 14, 2020
♦hardcover, 400 pages
♦intended audience: Young adult

It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown.

Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.

Set in the same universe as Joanna’s debut, Beneath the Haunting SeaBeyond the Shadowed Earth combines her incredible world building and lush prose with a new, villainous lead.

As the second book that I've read by this author, Beyond a Shadowed Earth didn't fail to astound me with the beauty of Joanne Ruth Meyer's writing. There's something about her method of spinning tales that make them feel like they are ancient and epic and all consuming.  

While I admittedly took a while to really sink into this one, it was more because I personally tend to need someone to root for and for the first long while, there was really not one likeable character---but you start to see that that is the whole point of the story. To see if Eda can improve upon and overcome her horridness, her selfishness, her despicable disregard for life if it stands in the way of what she wants. There's just no rooting for a character who willingly offers up the life of her best friend to be handed power until that comes back at her in a harsh lesson. BUT, the story itself and it's strange and at times surprising turns of events still entrapped me, I was constantly pushed on to find out where Eda's actions would take her, in some cases, just to see if Eda's character would grow---and thankfully she did. 

At it's heart this story turned out to be about finding worth and meaning in life, in love, in belief, and that what makes that up isn't always the most obvious choice. Though the push-through to the payoff may not be everyone cup of tea, I really enjoyed the experience of Eda's journey and hope that other readers will, too. I'll reach for this author's epic stories again and again!

{About The Author}

Joanna Ruth Meyer hails from Mesa, Arizona, where she lives with her dear family, a rascally feline, and an enormous grand piano. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to convince her students that Bach is actually awesome, or plotting her escape from the desert. She loves good music, thick books, looseleaf tea, rainstorms, and staring out of windows. One day, she aspires to own an old Victorian house with creaky wooden floors and a tower (for writing in, of course!).

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon

source: book provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Guest Post: Creating the World of THE WINTER DUKE

 Hello, dear readers! Today I have a spectucular bit of insight into one of my most anticipated reads of 2020! Claire Eliza Bartlett is back with her sophomore title, THE WINTER DUKE.  If you followed along my reading adventures last year, you know I was a huge fan of her debut We Rule The Night.  Well, Claire just keeps on taking ispiration from the moments in history that fascinate us most and weaving magical fantasy twist into them to capture our imaginations! First it was the Night Witches, and now in The Winter Duke, she takes us on a Romanov-inspired royal adventure with a little Sleeping Beauty magic woven in. Doesn't that sound amazing?? Below, Claire shares how she built this magical and romantic ice-laced world, with a little peek into the Pinterest Boards she created to draw inspiration from!


Worldbuilding isn't usually the first thing I think about when I have a great idea for a story. Most my story ideas come with characters, or plots, or the confluence of the two. But I always want to do something special with my settings - whether that means going out of my way to create a strange world, or giving us a world that's similar to our own with a few striking differences.

Some aspects of Worldbuilding come from necessity. In the case of THE WINTER DUKE, these were things like: why is this tiny city state considered important by larger countries? How does the magic work in a way that will serve the plot without taking it over? How do people walk without constantly slipping in a palace made of ice (and HOW WOULD YOU FLUSH THE TOILET? I solved that problem by forgetting to invent plumbing.)? But some aspects of worldbuilding were put in because I thought they were cool. What? If I don't think I'm writing something cool, how will I convince you? Also, sorry for the winter related puns.

THE WINTER DUKE has two big set pieces. The main story takes place above ground in a palace made of ice - in fact, a city made of ice! But part of THE WINTER DUKE happens in the lake beneath, which holds an entire underwater kingdom that lives in synergy with the duchy Above. Here were my favorite parts about worldbuilding:

A palace made of ice
I got hit with this idea when I saw the ice hotels of Sweden. Being a winter girl who never gets enough snow, I rather romanticize cold weather at this time of my life. I was also fascinated by the idea of not just living, but living comfortably in such a place. I had the chance to carve ice reliefs into my palace walls and imagine thick, opulent clothing for my princess, while piling beds and chairs high with blankets and sheepskins.

A fantasy without horses
Well, not entirely without horses. The main villain rides a horse, which is just adding animal cruelty to his general douchebaggery. I actually had horses in initial drafts for some scenes, but quickly replaced them with dog sleds. Horses don't do so well in arctic conditions, and aren't made for long treks across snow and ice. And of course, anything that involves doggos is going to make me happy. Sometimes the logistics of building a world lead to fun changes!

Magic as a physical resource
Lots of novels have magic that comes from an outside source, but it was a lot of fun trying to figure out where, exactly, the magic came from - how one could unlock its power, and how it could guide international policy as a valuable resource.

The Duchy is so small
I really wanted to make my protagonist Ekata feel crowded in, surrounded by strangers and adrift in her own ignorance. I had a great time surrounding her with people she couldn't remember and didn't care about, and making her more and more uncomfortable as she had to pretend to know everything. Keeping the setting small and claustrophobic also helped to give a feeling of freedom when she could escape to Below.

And speaking of Below...

The Duchy Below
I really loved creating a world below the ice that somewhat mirrors the kingdom Above. I had to ask myself a lot of really interesting practical questions. What did my fish people look like, how did they talk, and how connected were they physiologically to people on land? How could everyone see at the bottom of a lake? The underwater buildings couldn't be made of ice, so what were they made of? Don't worry, I answer all these questions in the novel!

And the Relationship between the duchies Below and Above
I wanted two worlds that relied on each other, and I had to figure out how that was going to work. What did the fishmen Below need from the people Above, and what did Ekata and her family need from Below? What political machinations would they put in play to get these things? Ekata's father was a despot prone to temper tantrums, so we enter the book on a back foot where negotiations are concerned...

Worldbuilding might not be the first thing I think of when I'm generating story ideas, but it's one of my favorite things to expand on. Sometimes a simple practical question opens up an entire part of the world that I'd never considered before. And finding ways to layer it into my story is one of the big joys of writing for me. I hope my little dual world has piqued your interests. THE WINTER DUKE comes out March 3rd, and you can check it out below!

*     *     *     *     *     *
{About The Author}

 Claire Eliza Bartlett grew up in Colorado. She studied history and archaeology and spent time in Switzerland and Wales before settling in Denmark for good. When not at her computer telling mostly fictional stories, she works as a tour guide in Copenhagen, telling stories that are (mostly) true.

{About The Book}

An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke's daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.

When Ekata's brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family's icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother's warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love...or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family's power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what's right in the face of danger.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal {review}

Ink in the Blood
by Kim Smejkal
♦publisher: HMH Teen
♦release date: February 11th, 2020
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦hardcover, 411 pages
♦series: Ink in the Blood, book 1
♦source: ARC from publisher for honest review
Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.


So I ended this one with some very mixed feelings.  On one hand, the concept is just so unique and magical---under the religion of Profeta, inklings send prophetic messages to people through magical tattoos that they ink onto their own skin and then "release". It then transfers the tattoo to the one who it's meant for.  Celia Sand, an inkling since she was 6, is our feisty and high spirited protagonist, whose eyes begin to open and she starts to doubt the true legitimacy and faith behind the tattoos they deliver. Is it truly about faith and altruistic intentions or is it about manipulation and control? 

Such an interesting tale, and the writing at first was beautiful, but as we got deeper into the story, I felt at times it just got a little overdramatic and muddled.  It just wasn't staying with me, wasn't keeping me engaged. I did love the strong friendship and love between Anya and Celia, if anyone seemed capable of bringing down a corrupt religion it was the two of them, both clever and passionate and able to lean on each other infallibly. There was a very light romance but I found the Plague doctor to be a little too broody and cryptic to keep me invested and hoping for a connection between him and Celia. There are so many side characters and many of them are interesting, but we don't learn much about them and at times it was hard to keep them straight. 

Though I struggled through much of it, I did make it to end and was glad I did---the resolution was bloody and hard-won, thrilling and tragic. I'll likely pick up book two to see if this beautiful and unique world can fully draw me in next time.

{About The Author}

Kim Smejkal writes dark fantasy for young adults and not-so-young adults, always with a touch of magic. Her debut novel, INK IN THE BLOOD, will release from HMH in early 2020.

When she’s not writing, she’s homeschooling her kids, tutoring other people’s kids, and voraciously hoarding any precious alone time. Though she grew up on the Canadian prairies, she now lives with her family on beautiful, muse-satiating Vancouver Island. She is represented by Daniel Lazar of Writers House.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim {review}

by Elizabeth Lim
publisher: Knopf BYR
release date: July 9th, 2019
hardcover, 392 pages
intended audience: Young adult
series: The Blood of Stars, book 1
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she'll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There's just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia's task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor's reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.


This book. The Asian mythology, the Mulan inspiration, the adventure and romance, all of that was wonderful, but nothing fascinated me like the descriptions of gorgeous fashion design and sewing!! What a beautiful tale! 

Maia immediately drew me in with her dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, and having the heart, bravery, and sheer determination to reach for it, even when it meant putting her life on the line. She knew she had what it took and she pushed aside any and all backward thinking to prove herself.  The story is basically split into two parts, a contest and quest.  The contest itself was high stakes and very cut-throat, and I loved all the vivid descriptions of the clothing. The quest was so unique and adventurous with such imaginative world building, as Maia and the enigmatic Edan set off to aquire the ultimate magical materials held by the sun, the moon and the stars. Together the two parts of this fantastic and fashionable tale made quite an epic story!

{About The Author}
Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, "Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that's kinda cool!" But after one of her teachers told her she had "too much voice" in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel -- for kicks, at first, then things became serious -- and she hasn't looked back since.
Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon 

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett {review}

The Lady Rogue
by Jenn Bennett
♦publisher: Simon Pulse 
♦release date: September 3rd, 2019
♦hardcover, 372 pages 
♦intended audience: Young adult
♦stand-alone (currently)
♦source: ARC from publisher for honest review

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck returns from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.


This was SO FUN.  The adventure is nearly non-stop, virtually starting from the get-go as we find Theo already in hot water at a Turkish market on the very first page! I haven't read this author before but I do love the writing style in this book, the plot was tightly woven and I absolutely adored the bouncy dialogue that  captured the 30s era setting perfectly.

Being the daughter of a well-known archeologist definitely gave this a very Indiana Jones feel to it as well, which I really enjoyed. And with the historical twist of Vlad the Impaler's legacy at the heart of this story, Theo and Huck's quest takes a dark turn. The story unfolds as the two race to track down Theo's father, Richard whose short journal entries interject the story with little hints that propel the plot. From Turkey to Hungary to her mother's homeland in Romania, each clue drives them closer to the truth...and further into danger as the quest becomes about much more than finding her missing father. Theo and Huck were such fun characters, their banter was spot on and funny, but also showed a hurt in both of them that you know they would have to come to terms with eventually. It was a love story with history---my favorite kind. ♥ I'm not sure you could pack many more characters into one story and have nearly all of them be so intriguing in their own way. And what a conclusion---quite surprising and darkly satisfying. Really, really enjoyed this one!

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult books, including: ALEX, APPROXIMATELY; STARRY EYES; SERIOUS MOONLIGHT; and THE LADY ROGUE. She also writes romance and fantasy for adults. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw {review}

by Shea Ernshaw
publisher: Simon Pulse
release date: November 5th, 2019
hardcover, 336 pages
intended audience: Young adult
source: received ARC for review at author event
Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.

From New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Deep comes a haunting romance perfect for fans of Practical Magic, where dark fairy tales and enchanted folklore collide after a boy, believed to be missing, emerges from the magical woods—and falls in love with the witch determined to unravel his secrets.


What can I even say about this? The writing was absolutely gorgeous. Though after Ernshaw's debut, The Wicked Deep quickly and easily became one of my favorites last year I was not the least bit surprised.  In her second standalone YA novel, Shea Ernshaw once again brings all the spookiness and atmospheric writing that I love.  In Winterwood, we are introduced to the legacy of the Walker women of Fir Haven and the dark magic hiding in the surrounding woods. Nora Walker is floundering, feeling uncertain about not having really found a magic in herself to connect her to the long line of women in her family. Her mother has left her alone in more ways than one---always trying to distance herself from their family's legacy. When a winter storm leaves the Fir Haven residence snowed in, Nora finds Oliver Huntsman in the woods and the mystery begins.

This story is such an interesting balance of  being steeped in ancient magical atmosphere and modern social ways.  Nora, being mostly raised by her grandmother, feels so out of a different time, but she can certainly handle herself in tough interactions with the boys from the reform camp across the lake. Her solitude does put her in a vulnerable position when it comes to the possibility of making friends or even falling in love. I adored every moment in the woods---the weird ways of the magic there were just so strange and lovely. The mystery unfold beautifully, and although there was one major twist that readers will likely see coming a mile away, watching it all unravel was so enjoyable.  

If you haven't experienced Ernshaw's unique and haunting storytelling yet, I highly recommend both of these for your winter TBRs. Both are so enchanting.


Shea Ernshaw is an Oregon native and YA author. She often writes late, late, late into the night, enjoys dark woods, scary stories and moonlight on lakes. She drinks loads of tea and believes sunrises are where unicorns hide. She lives with her two cats, a dog, a husband, and a stack of books beside her bed she still needs to read. Her debut THE WICKED DEEP will be published by Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in 2018. She currently calls Boston home, where she manages an independent bookstore, drinks too much Diet Coke, and pets every dog she meets. 
Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon