Friday, September 29, 2023

#Review - Find Him Where You Left Him Dead by Kristen Simmons #YA #Fantasy #Horror

Series: Standalone?
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy / Horror

AT DAWN HE’LL BE GONE AND YOU’LL BE HERE FOREVER.

Four years ago, five kids started a game. Not all of them survived.

Now, at the end of their senior year of high school, the survivors—Owen, Madeline, Emerson, and Dax—have reunited for one strange and terrible reason: they’ve been summoned by the ghost of Ian, the friend they left for dead.

Together they return to the place where their friendship ended with one goal: find Ian and bring him home. So they restart the deadly game they never finished—an innocent card-matching challenge called Meido. A game without instructions.

As soon as they begin, they're dragged out of their reality and into an eerie hellscape of Japanese underworlds, more horrifying than even the darkest folktales that Owen's grandmother told him. There, they meet Shinigami, an old wise woman who explains the rules:

They have one night to complete seven challenges or they'll all be stuck in this world forever.

Once inseparable, the survivors now can’t stand each other, but the challenges demand they work together, think quickly, and make sacrifices—blood, clothes, secrets, memories, and worse.

And once again, not everyone will make it out alive. 




Kristen Simmons' Find Him Where You Left Him Dead is being sold as Japanese inspired Jumanji with a bit of I Know What You Did Last Summer mixed in. It is a story about estranged friends Madeline, Emerson, Dax, and Owen who are once again forced to play a deadly game in an eerie folkloric underworld. Four years ago, five kids started a game. Not all of them survived. Now, at the end of their senior year of high school, the survivors have reunited for one strange and terrible reason: they’ve been summoned by the ghost of Ian, the friend they left for dead.
 
In the 4 years since, Madeline spends every waking moment studying or swimming. Emerson plays video games all day after dropping out of school. Owen is obsessively into theater. Dax plays guitar at a coffeehouse where nobody pays him any attention. None of them have really spoken to each other in years. One night, each of them is visited by the ghost of their missing friend, Ian, who tells them to play the game again, before dawn, so he can come back. Together, they return to the place where their friendship ended with one goal: find Ian and bring him home. 
 
So they restart the deadly game they never finished—an innocent card-matching challenge called Meido. A game without instructions. There, they meet Shinigami, an old wise woman who explains the rules: They have one night to complete 7 challenges or they will all be stuck in this world forever. As soon as they begin, they're dragged out of their reality and into an eerie hellscape of Japanese underworlds, more horrifying than even the darkest folktales that Owen's grandmother told him.
 
Once the four are pulled in, they must play until the end or risk winding up caught in the game just like Ian. Once inseparable, the survivors now can’t stand each other, but the challenges demand they work together, think quickly, and make sacrifices—blood, clothes, secrets, memories, and worse. And once again, not everyone will make it out alive. So, why you ask is my rating so low? I am glad you asked!

*Thoughts* In the general scheme of things, I don't give two Bleep's what your politics are, who you vote for, or what your thoughts is on certain things. However, let me say that again, however, I don't think you, as an author, should preach about something you have no idea what you are talking about. When a person starts to complain about white privilege, and uses a white person to do so, I cringe. I cringe so hard that I want to stop reading the book and scream at the author. Especially when the white character spouts her nonsense in front of her former best friend who just happens to be black. 
 
I thought the decision to have four POVs was the wrong one. This is a short book, and two narrators would have been more than okay. I would have chosen Emerson, but probably Maddie. The only truly satisfying game portion of the book involved the kids playing Truth or Dare with younger versions of themselves. Lastly, there was an entirely unresolved subplot involving an empress wanting to come back from the dead and rule the world. If this is part of a series, then please say so and tell the readers. Otherwise, you are leaving a huge gap in the storyline.




MADELINE

Madeline swam toward the light like her life depended on it.

She tucked her knees to her chest and rolled through the final turn of her 100-meter butterfly sprint. A hard kick off the wall and she was flying, both arms cutting through the cool water in tandem. One stroke, one breath. One stroke, one breath. The pattern was grueling. Comforting. A structured dance of strength and coordination.

One stroke, one breath.

She pulled her chin to her chest as she stretched her body, eyes dropping to the straight black line on the bottom of the pool marking her lane.

With a blink, the line softened. Spread. Black bled across the bottom of the pool, forming the shape of a cave. Its jagged entrance widened, the water shifting to pull her down.

She flinched out of position. Her right hand scraped against the plastic ring of a floating lane line, snapping her attention to the surface. When she looked back down the cave was gone and only a clean, dark stripe remained.

Focus.

She pushed her muscles to the brink of failure, and with one last burst of effort she jammed her fingers against a touchpad. Her time froze in bright red: 1.02 minutes.

Pathetic.

Gulping breaths, she pulled off her goggles and threw them onto the cement deck next to her keys and the pool entry card Coach K had given her after she’d won regionals sophomore year. She’d been fifteen then, two years younger and weaker than she was now, but pulling faster times.

Her legs pedaled slowly through the water as she gasped for breath. The blue surface of the pool glowed against her brown skin, the only light coming from the locker room behind the starting blocks above her. Sweat and chlorine brought a familiar sting to her eyes. She prodded her braids beneath her cap. Then, tilting her head back to stare up at the white backstroke flags, she floated until her pulse slowed.

The sickness inside her didn’t settle.

One more. One more 100-meter, and she’d be too worn out to feel it. Then she’d be able to drag herself home, to lie in bed without seeing the cave behind her eyelids, and sleep.

Movement on the opposite side of the pool caught her eye. She twisted toward it, but the light from the nearby locker room only reached halfway across the water. The pool seemed to go on endlessly into a long, dark night.

“Hello?” she called. It was after nine. No one else should have been here. Even the janitors had left hours ago.

She squinted, but saw nothing.

Another shift in the shadows, and a boy stood at the far end of the pool.

Madeline bit back a scream.

“Who’s there?”

No answer.

The paleness of the boy’s skin was bright against his dark shorts. He was soaked, dripping, his face obscured by wet, black hair. The dim light made him look grainy, like an old photograph.

“The pool’s closed,” Madeline tried. “You shouldn’t be here.” Certain privileges came with being the best, and they weren’t extended to everyone.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the boy repeated.

“This isn’t funny.” She hated the rising pitch of her voice. Her teammates were just trying to scare her. This was just a prank, like how they’d replaced her racing suit in her bag with a pink string bikini at the holiday invitational and she’d nearly missed the first heat, or the time they’d written “blow Coach K” on her weekly training schedule.

But it didn’t feel like a prank. Adrenaline poured through her veins.

The boy stared at the water, frozen. Statue still. The steam from the pool rose around his sharply cut shins and calves. His chest was so pale it took on a reflection of the water, glowing a light blue.

“Fine,” Madeline said, her voice hollow. She twisted and placed her hands on the side of the pool, ready to push herself out.

“Maddy.”

Madeline’s stomach filled with lead. She turned back slowly, squinting through the steam, to see the boy step to the edge of the pool. His gait was strange—his legs and arms bent like he had too many joints.

Cold filled her. Even in the dim light she registered his concave chest and rib lines. He was too skinny to be a swimmer. Skin and bone.

“Maddy,” the boy said, louder now. “Maddy.”

Her fingers gripped the gritty cement of the deck.

“Mad—”

“Stop!” She needed to get out—to run. Instead, she sank deeper into the water, as if it might protect her.

“Why’d you do it?” he asked. “Why’d you leave me in the dark?”

Her lips parted on a sharp inhale. “Ian?”

Impossible. Ian was dead.

But when she looked at the boy on the edge of the pool, she saw him. His long limbs, his mess of dark hair. His memory took shape before her. Wild-eyed. Forever thirteen.

“Ian,” he repeated, and then he gave a shrill laugh that cut off as quickly as it had started. “By dawn, there will be no more Ian.”

“No.” She shook her head. Ian was dead. This was a prank. A hallucination. Maybe she was dreaming. Another nightmare.

Dizziness had her hand slipping off the side of the pool. She fixed her grip.

This wasn’t real.

“Finish the game,” the boy who couldn’t be Ian said.

She shook her head, water sluicing from her cap as she tried to push the images he’d conjured back into the locked box in her brain. Cards, painted with symbols they’d acted out like charades. The cave, punched into the riverside. The moments before the end, when everything had felt right.

“You’re not real,” she whispered. She knew what today was. She’d felt it coming all week, a storm on the horizon. The brain did strange things in response to the anniversary of trauma. A coping mechanism—that’s what this was.

A splash. The boy went under, the water flattening instantly over him. Not a ripple moved the glassy surface.

Terror jolted through Madeline. She pushed out of the pool and spun, peering down into the water. No one swam beneath the surface. No dark shapes. No waves or bubbles.

Ian wasn’t in the pool. Ian wasn’t there at all.

A breath huffed from her lips. She didn’t notice that the humid air had begun to cool until goose bumps covered her arms and legs, and her shuddering breath made a puff of steam.

At the far end of the pool, the water began churning in a spiral motion, as if it were being drained. Then something at the bottom bolted toward her, its wake rippling the surface like an accusing arrow.

She scrambled back, just barely grabbing her keys, and ran.


EMERSON


Emerson was going to beat level twenty-one if it killed her.

She was on hour thirteen in the shadowlands of Assassin 0, her favorite metal album playing on a loop through her computer’s speakers. She’d finally beaten the fire sorcerer and narrowly avoided the Choke—a poisonous cloud that grew with every player it consumed—and was now in a race against a three-legged orc called N00bki11er87 (Had they made up that handle themselves? Must have taken hours…) to get the final poison stone at the top of the twisted tower.

A clatter erupted in her right earpiece and she flinched reactively. Spinning the viewfinder, she caught a flash of a smooth snakeskin head ducking behind the crumbled brick of an arrow slit.

“Nice try.” Emerson activated her weapon wheel and swapped her wrench for her flamethrower. Her loadout had a throwing knife that worked well against orcs, but she liked to watch things burn. Before she could use it, N00bki11er87 leapt out, peppering the room with arrows from their crossbow.

“Shit!” Emerson dropped her soldier to the floor and sent a spray of fire across the room. The orc went up in flames.

And that was why you didn’t bring a crossbow to a flamethrower fight.

She hardly had a moment to celebrate. Within seconds, the mossy avatar started decomposing into the Choke’s green mist. Urgency pumped through Emerson’s blood in time with the bass straining through her shitty speakers. Her player climbed the spiral stone stairs two at a time. At the top floor she flung the door open, but the dark room before her was overrun by a wave of thick, emerald fog, and with a gasp she pedaled backward.

“Are you seriously going to let her stay in there?” Her mom’s voice cut through the music and the heavy sigh of the Choke, drawing Emerson’s shoulder blades together. Their two-story condo was narrow and, with the original wood flooring, sound travelled. She was probably in the kitchen, just below Emerson’s bedroom.

“What do you want me to do, Hannah?” Her dad sounded tired.

He was always tired.

She reached toward her keyboard, covered with greasy fingerprints and chip crumbs, and tried to crank up the album’s volume, but it was already maxed out.

“She won’t eat any real food. She won’t even look at me,” her mom railed on as a second moan came from behind Emerson. She spun her viewfinder, focusing on the fog creeping around the turn in the steps.

“No no no no no.” Emerson pounded the controller as she twisted past it, leaping down the stairs to the landing. This was her last chance to get the poison stone.

“Is this how it is now?” her mom asked. “She comes and goes as she pleases. Doesn’t even go to school?”

“She said she’d take the GED.”

“She said that last year.

Emerson gritted her teeth.

The distraction cost her. The mist shifted, surrounding her on a rugged exhale. She couldn’t jump free—her avatar began to writhe and screech, and her health on the bottom corner of the screen plummeted.

Before Emerson could take another breath, the bloodred letters FARE THEE WELL, ASSASSIN splattered across the screen.

“Dammit!” She hurled the controller onto her desk, where it collided with a half-empty box of Corn Pops. Her head fell against the back of the chair, neck aching from staring at the screen. Her fingers had locked more than a dozen times in the last hour alone.

She ran a hand over her freshly buzzed hair, the soft prickle tickling her palm. The clock in the corner of her monitor read 10:43 PM.

Maybe she should restart.

Maybe she should eat something first.

She stood and stretched, the reflection of her white skin ghostly as her tired eyes stared back from the window over her desk. She peered through her own image, to the drawn curtains of the apartments across Foxtail Avenue, then two blocks down to the left, where, at Washington Park, heavily armed cops were trying to intimidate another wave of peaceful protesters. People like her dad, who actually thought their speeches and marching made a difference in a good old boys’ town like Cincinnati. To the left, a yellow glow came from the late-night coffee shop on the corner. It had been good once, before gentrification had priced out the old owners. Now it was filled with hipsters, drinking eight dollars’ worth of coffee-flavored milk.

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” she muttered as if they could hear.




Thursday, September 28, 2023

#Review - Spider and Frost by Jennifer Estep #Fantasy #Mythology

Series: Elemental Assassin #19.6
Format: Kindle, 135 pages
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Publisher: Jennifer Estep
Source: Author without compensation
Genre: Urban Fantasy

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Estep delivers an epic team-up featuring beloved characters from her Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series and her Mythos Academy young adult series. This crossover novella, Spider and Frost, mixes magic and mythology in an action-packed adventure. Perfect for fans of Ilona Andrews, Jennifer L. Armentrout, and Rick Riordan.

WHEN AN ASSASSIN . . .

My name is Gin Blanco, and I’m on vacation. Sort of. As the assassin the Spider, it’s hard for me to completely relax, but I’m determined to enjoy a scenic train ride and a nice, quiet lunch before heading back home to Ashland.

My plans change when Gwen Frost boards the train. The girl says she’s heading back to Mythos Academy, the fancy private boarding school, but I can’t shake the feeling that Gwen is hiding something—and is in far more trouble than she realizes.

. . . MEETS A CHAMPION

My name is Gwen Frost. I might have saved the world from Loki, the evil Norse god of chaos, but I’m still chasing down Reaper villains. It’s all part of being the Champion of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

I’ve been assigned to protect some mythological artifacts that are being transported via train to Mythos Academy, but some Reapers are hot on my trail, and they’ll do anything to recover the artifacts—and kill me.

Also on the train is Gin Blanco, who claims to be the owner of the Pork Pit barbecue restaurant. My psychometry magic keeps whispering that there’s more to her than meets the eye, although I can’t tell if Gin is a friend, an enemy, or something else entirely.
 


Jennifer Estep's Spider and Frost is a 28,000-word crossover novella between the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series and the Mythos Academy young adult series. It is told from the points of view of Gin Blanco and Gwen Frost. Spider and Frost takes place after the events of Last Strand, book 19 in the Elemental Assassin series. If you have read the Elemental Assassin series, you know that Gin has retired...sort of. She and her sister Bria, along with Finn and Owen are on vacation but the vacation turns into just another day at the office for Gin after a rock slide derails her plans and she is forced to ride the train alone to her next destination.

In a curious twist of fate, Gwen Frost has also been separated from her friends (Logan, Daphne, and others) by the same landslide. Here is where Gin meets Gwen who lives in an entirely different world than Gin. In Gwen's world, there are Valkyries, Spartans, Vikings, and gods and goddesses of all persuasions. Her job is to protect artifacts that have been recovered and brought back to Mythos Academy. While Gin's world is filled with giants, dwarves, and vampires, and people trying to kill her for being the Spider, the notorious assassin and current underworld Queen.

Gwen, who is Nike's Champion, still carries her trusty sword named Vic, and Vic is as sarcastic as always which Gin will learn soon enough. Even though Gwen and her friends helped stop Loki, the Reapers are still out there, and they are still trying to steal precious artifacts that carry powerful abilities in them like Minerva's Dagger. Gwen, for those who don't know, is not only Nike's champion, but she's also an Oracle who, while touching a certain object, allows her to get out of jams. In a curious twist, Gin faces an unknown enemy who has absolutely no idea of who she is, or what she has done as the Spider. Never say never to another meeting between worlds. 

*Thoughts*

So, yes, I do encourage readers of this review to please go back and check out Gwen's series. I have no hesitation in saying that you won't be disappointed, especially if you like mythology and romance and twisted villains. I think interesting part of this, and I have to ask the author, but didn't Gwen at one time or the other visit the Pork Pit while Gwen's grandmother was alive, and so wasn't Fletcher Lane? Anyone want to fact check that for me? What's even more curious is that the author also mentions Karma Girl which is one of Gwen's favorite comics.

*ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.*





#Review - Gray Days by Hailey Edwards #Paranormal #Fantasy

Series: Black Hat Bureau # 9
Format: Kindle, 320 pages
Release Date: September 21, 2023
Publisher: Black Dog Books, LLC
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Fantasy

The Black Hat compound is rubble on the ocean floor, the director hasn’t been seen since the explosion that demolished his life’s work, and old enemies have decided it’s open season on the remaining agents. Oh. And Arden has decided now is a great time for a surprise visit to force a confrontation with Rue.

Between holding the Bureau together, searching for her grandfather, and babysitting Arden, Rue has her work cut out for her. But her distraction allows her to be blindsided by a loss that fractures her very soul. Betrayal is a familiar sting for Rue, she barely feels it anymore, but this time? She might not survive it.



Hailey Edwards' Gray Days is the Ninth Installment in the authors Black Hat Bureau series. This story begins right where the previous installment left off. The Black Hat compound has been destroyed and is rubble on the ocean floor. The director aka Rue's grandfather is missing and Rue has been elevated to Interim Director. The Portal to Faerie is still open, and the black witch known as Luca still has an agenda and now it appears that she's taking her hatred out on humans by using a poison called King Kill as well as others in the Boston area.

To make matters even more difficult, Rue has a list of enemies as long as her arm and if she doesn't pull it together soon, there won't be anything left of the Black Hat Bureau which was intended to be a gatekeeper and to hold the line against villains who would destroy the peace. To make things even more twisted, Arden, who some of you may have remembered as one of Rue's workers, has decided to reconnect with Rue in the most inopportune time bringing a curious development between her, Aiden, and a vampire named Fergal.

Oh, and I would be remiss to mention Clay's connection to the director. With him missing (Director is basically his master), what is Clay's future? As Rue, who is losing herself to the Grimoire, and team try to hunt down what happened to the Director as well as his butler who is an Ice Giant, it seems as though Calixta has done what she set out to do and is now Queen of Hael. Aedan is still bound to her as her heir and that makes Rue's heart shatter because of her decision to make a deal with Calixta. 

And then there is Saint, aka Hiram Nadasdy, aka Rue's father who has been hoping for revenge on his father, Rue's grandfather, for the murder of Saint, wife and mother, who is basically a spirit without a body. Confused yet? Even after 9 books, things are still not settled. Luka is still killing people. Aedan is fighting for his freedom but has no control of what happens to him. Arden seems to want to become part of Rue's team, and to make things more twisted, the author kicks the reader in the head with a brutal ending that leaves two very important characters in limbo.

*Thoughts*

If you missed it, here is the most important key clue to what happens in this story. "Between holding the Bureau together, searching for her grandfather, and babysitting Arden, Rue has her work cut out for her. But her distraction allows her to be blindsided by a loss that fractures her very soul. Betrayal is a familiar sting for Rue, she barely feels it anymore, but this time? She might not survive it." Now you know why I am dumbfounded by the cliffhanger ending. Did not see that coming. Even after 9 books, you would think that the author would get to the point where Rue isn't flying off to one place or the other trying to save the world and her friends. There is always another piece to the puzzle, and in this case, one very big piece is now in purgatory until the author decides what to do next.





Wednesday, September 27, 2023

#Review - The Forest Grimm by Kathryn Purdie #YA #Fantasy

Series: The Forest Grim # 1
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: September 19, 2023
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Dark Fantasy

A spellbinding YA fantasy from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Purdie, where fairy tales come to life with dark, deadly twists.

“Tell me again, Grandmère, the story of how I die.”

The Midnight Forest. The Fanged Creature. Two fortune-telling cards that spell an untimely death for 17-year-old Clara. Despite the ever-present warning from her fortune-teller grandmother, Clara embarks on a dangerous journey into the deadly Forest Grimm to procure a magical book—Sortes Fortunae, the Book of Fortunes—with the power to reverse the curse on her village and save her mother.

Years ago, when the villagers whispered their deepest desires to the book, its pages revealed how to obtain them. All was well until someone used the book for an evil purpose—to kill another person. Afterward, the branches of the Forest Grimm snatched the book away, the well water in Grimm’s Hollow turned rancid, and the crops died from disease. The villagers tried to make amends with the forest, but every time someone crossed its border, they never returned.

Now, left with no alternative, Clara and her close friend, Axel—who is fated never to be with her—have set their minds to defying fate and daring to accomplish what no one else has been able to before. But the forest—alive with dark, deadly twists on some of our most well-known fairy tales—has a mind of its own.


The Forest Grim, by Kathryn Purdue, is the first installment in the authors The Forest Grimm series which is said to be a duology, and the authors homage to her lifelong obsession with fairy tales and folklore. Despite the ever-present warning from her fortune-teller grandmother, 16-year-old Clara Thurn embarks on a dangerous journey into the deadly Forest Grimm to procure a magical book—Sortes Fortunae, the Book of Fortunes—with the power to reverse the curse on her village and save her mother. 

Years ago, when the villagers whispered their deepest desires to the book, its pages revealed how to obtain them. All was well until someone used the book for an evil purpose—to kill another person. Afterward, the branches of the Forest Grimm snatched the book away, the well water in Grimm’s Hollow turned rancid, and the crops died from disease. The villagers tried to make amends with the forest, but every time someone crossed its border, they never returned. 

Now, left with no alternative, Clara and her close friend, Axel—who is fated never to be with her—have set their minds to defying fate and daring to accomplish what no one else has been able to before. But the forest—alive with dark, deadly twists on some of our most well-known fairy tales—has a mind of its own. As Clara and Axel investigate the Forest, interesting twists happen. Like a girl who was supposed to be marrying Axel now calling herself Cinderella. Like Henrietta, Clara's best friend, running off on a tangent after losing her own sister to the forest.

Then there's twins Hansel and Gretel who are cannibals. And, a woman who has long hair, lives in a castle, and calls herself Rapunzel. There's also a character who is said to be Sleeping Beauty, while Clara herself wears a red cape similiar to Little Red Riding Hood. Nearly the entire book is set in a cursed forest; stuff moves around and there are creepy cottages and towers with even creepier folks living in them. Throw in a pretty intimidating wolf running around chasing after folks in the woods, and you have a really dark story with a pretty curious ending after Clara has to make a choice about her path forward.

*Thoughts*

This wasn't a bad story by any means. I liked the determination of Clara to ignore previous warnings about how she is supposed to die. Clara's attitude seemed to be, well, if I am going to go, then I am going to go and try to find my mother and others before fate takes me. Clara's friendship with Henni is a bit odd in that it is said that Henni is a bit on the childish side. Clara's relationship with Axel was more than expected since they had already spent so much time together before he was supposed to marry another girl. The book ends on a cliffhanger ending which will once again send Clara on yet another mission. Will be patiently waiting for The Deadly Grimm. 





CHAPTER 1

SEVEN YEARS LATER

I am haunted by my mother. I hear her voice ringing on the wind that chases the ravens from our sheep pasture, her stifled cries in the creaking of the pulley over our dry well. Her laughter glances off jagged flickers of dry lightning. Her rage gathers in low peals of rolling thunder.

The storms are only mockery. Their rainfall scarcely touches the earth anymore, and when it does, all I hear in its patter are my mother’s footsteps treading away from me, beckoning me to follow.

I am haunted by my mother … if hauntings weren’t a mystery of the dead, but rather an echo of the living. And she must be living. I will her to be. She isn’t dead, only missing—lost within the Forest Grimm. Three years have passed since she embarked on a journey there, soon after the magic of the forest had turned on our village, and she never returned.

Strips of fabric and ribbon in every color dangle from a large hazel at the edge of the forest. The Tree of the Lost. Mother wasn’t the only villager to go missing. Sixty-six others—the Lost Ones, as we call them—were also never seen nor heard from again after venturing into the forest. Each had their own reasons for wandering away since the onset of the curse, though most of those motives remain a mystery. The only known link between them is the state of despair they were in before leaving Grimm’s Hollow.

As for Mother, she should have known she wouldn’t return home. The Midnight Forest card had warned her long ago not to make a forbidden choice. But she left in search of Father, and she didn’t know he wasn’t Lost, not in that way. She entered the Forest Grimm soon after his disappearance, and she became the first Lost One.

The tokens on the hazel quiver in the summer breeze, stirring the ends of my sable hair. Mother’s hair is the same warm shade of darkest brown, but her cloth strip has been dyed rose red. Grandmère chose that color because it’s Mother’s favorite, and I spun the yarn myself from our flock’s finest wool.

I lift my hand to touch it, squinting against the morning sunlight that pierces the tight weave. Three years have passed since I first knotted it to this tree, and in that time the elements have frayed its edges and worn the cloth threadbare.

What if Mother is also this ragged and bone-thin?

I will come for you, I promise. Soon.

And by soon I mean today.

“Ten minutes until the lottery!” the village clockmaker calls.

My heart lurches like a cuckoo bird springing on the hour. I hitch my skirt to my calves and dart through the gathering crowd in the meadow. Monthly Devotion Day always draws out villagers like myself who haven’t given up hope that our Lost Ones are still alive. It also attracts those who enjoy the spectacle of the lottery and the danger that follows it. The focus of Devotion Day has always been the lottery and its culmination.

I reach the lottery table, where two glass-blown goblets perch side by side, one amber and the other moss green. Each holds scraps of folded paper with names of villagers scrawled upon them.

Today is the day I’ll be chosen—finally permitted—to enter the forest to search for the Lost Ones. Again. Again, because my name is in the moss-green goblet, discarded with others that were already chosen this year, plucked from the amber goblet on previous Devotion Days. My turn came several months ago, when I was finally old enough to take part in the lottery after coming of age at sixteen.

Claiming my chance to enter the forest through the sanction of the lottery was all I could do to save Mother from her foretold early death. It still remains my only hope. Despite the resolution I made seven years ago to make a wish on the Book of Fortunes, that choice has been taken from me.

Two years before I turned sixteen, the Forest Grimm cursed the village, and the book went missing. And soon we discovered why: someone had committed murder, and to complicate matters, they’d used their one wish on Sortes Fortunae to make it happen.

The murderer’s identity still remains unknown. All we can be sure of is that on the day the victim’s body was discovered, the Book of Fortunes vanished.

Just as mysteriously as it had first appeared in Grimm’s Hollow, the book disappeared from the pavilion where the villagers kept it in this very meadow. Many believe that a large willow uprooted itself and stole the book away with weeping branches. However it happened, the willow also went missing, and a trail of root-like footprints remained, leading to and from the pavilion.

Without the book—without a wish that so many others were able to obtain before me—I hoped the forest would compensate with kindness when my name was drawn in the lottery. But it didn’t grant me any favors. To be fair, it never welcomes anyone chosen from the amber goblet. None of us make it more than a few yards inside the forest before we’re spit back out again. I certainly didn’t.

So far this ritual is just as cursed as our village.

But today will be different. Today I’m determined to succeed. I’ve made a detailed map of the forest, gleaned from the knowledge of what the villagers remember from days before the curse when they could come and go freely. And I won’t wait another month for the lottery year to end, when the names will be reshuffled, to test my luck with it.

All I have to do is be chosen again. And for that I have a strategy.

I’m alone at the table, but I glance over my shoulder to make sure no villagers are watching. Those who are missing Lost Ones like I am are busy presenting gifts at the carved altar, just shy of the trailhead. One foot beyond it is the stark line of ashes that marks the forest border, and no one so much as lets a bootlace slip past it.

The forest doesn’t allow anyone to enter anymore, not unless they’re destined to become Lost—and no one willfully chooses that. Our offerings are given in hopes to pacify the forest to yield to our attempt on every Devotion Day.

Ingrid Struppin, who lost her husband, drags her patched skirt away from the line and sets a bowl of porridge on the altar. Gretchen Ottel, who lost her brother, bends her willowy frame to rest a bouquet of wildflowers beside it, then sneezes. She claps a hand over her mouth and stares ahead wide-eyed. That sneeze surely crossed the line, but thankfully the forest doesn’t stir.

“Gesundheit,” Hans Muller tells her, steadying a cup of ale by Gretchen’s wildflowers—weak ale if it’s anything like the jug I bartered a skein of yarn for five days ago. Once the cup is placed, he scampers back from the line of ashes. As he removes his straw hat and bows his head, he murmurs something. I think it’s the name of his Lost mother, Rilla.

The villagers’ offerings are more meager than they once were, but they’re the best anyone can afford nowadays. The curse that fell upon us three years ago takes a harder toll with every passing month. This meadow is proof. No flowers bloom here anymore. The parched wild grass is too choked by thorny drought-tolerant weeds.

As futile as Devotion Day always is, our desperation to save the Lost Ones drives us to play out this ritual month after month. No one, including me, knows what else to do to regain the forest’s good graces, cross its border, and be permitted to make the dangerous journey to recover the Lost.

And finding the Lost is only half the task. The lottery winner is also expected to obtain the Book of Fortunes, wherever it’s hidden in the Forest Grimm. If the woods allow it to be retrieved, we believe the curse will be lifted. The land will be healed, and the Lost will find their way back home.

This much we’ve learned from a riddle that the book left behind. Not all of Sortes Fortunae went missing. A single page remained in the pavilion on a pedestal, and on that page were the following green-inked, magicked words:

A murderous wish

An end of peace

The curse is wrought

My blessings cease.

Falling water

Lost words found

A selfless wish

The curse unbound.

The first half of the riddle explained what set the curse in motion—a wish on the book that resulted in murder—and the last half revealed how to break the curse. The riddle also gave the only clue to how to find the book: near “falling water.” A waterfall seems the obvious conclusion, but if it were that simple, the Lost Ones would have already found the book and returned home. None have.

No matter the difficulty, I vow to find Sortes Fortunae. It feels just as much my destiny as the one Grandmère foretold for me. The Fanged Creature card may have spelled my untimely death, but I won’t let it happen before I save my mother from her death. Ending the curse and saving her—they’re both intertwined. I need the book to make a wish to rescue her from the forest, as well as her fate.

When I’m sure no one has eyes on me, I refocus on my task. Quick as a falcon, I pluck a handful of folded papers from my apron pocket, cast them into the amber goblet, and rush away.

Seconds later, a youthful baritone voice calls from a few yards behind me, “Where are you running off to, Clara?” I know he’s smiling from the teasing lilt of his tone. “I can’t remember a time you missed the lottery, even when you weren’t old enough to enter.”

I fight an eye roll as I slowly spin to face Axel. Of course he had to rub in our age difference, as if the two years between us mean he’s gleaned that much more experience in the lottery. He’s only ever had his name drawn once, same as me.

Every year more than thirty villagers place their names in the amber goblet, of their own free will, but only one name is drawn monthly, when the dark of the moon has passed and then waxed to a crescent. A sign of good luck for travelers. The people of Grimm’s Hollow cling to any superstition that might help bring back the Lost Ones and break the curse on our village.

I haven’t answered Axel yet. I’m still scavenging my brain for an excuse as he walks toward me with that easy swagger of his, confident yet unaffected. Like everything else about him, it exudes a natural charm he’s oblivious to, which makes the village girls bat their lashes in such a flutter you’d think they’d developed tics.

They’d need to bat him over the head with a cudgel to get him to notice. He’s only ever had eyes for one girl, and she’s Lost just like my mother.

“Well?” He leans his weight on one leg, hands stuffed in his homespun trouser pockets. His casual air carries over to the rest of his appearance. The sleeves of his shirt are rolled back to reveal corded tawny arms, and his spruce-blue vest is unbuttoned, flapping in the breeze like bed linens on a clothesline. He chews on the end of a long piece of straw that glints as golden as his perfectly imperfect tousled hair. “What’s the rush?”

I fold my arms at his smirk. “I forgot my hat. If I’m chosen today, I’ll need it.”

“You never wear a hat. Not here, not anywhere.” His river-blue eyes lower to my nose. “All those freckles say the same.”

I shrug. “Today they begged for shade.”

Silent laughter ripples across his broad shoulders. “C’mon, Clara. I saw you throw something into the amber goblet just now.”

Heat surges into my cheeks. “It was only clover for good luck.”

“Clover isn’t white.”

“It is when it’s in bloom.”

His smile deepens, and he nods, humoring me. He pulls the straw from his mouth, dips his head nearer, and whispers conspiratorially, “How many papers were in your hand, hmm? How many times did you enter your name?”

I whirl to bolt, but he catches my arm and turns me back around. He’s a full head taller than I am, and standing this close, I have to tilt up my face to meet his gaze. I do so begrudgingly.

“Do you really think I’ll snitch on you?” He gives my arm a playful rattle. “You know me better than that.”

I suppose I do. When my father was alive, Axel used to help him during the lambing season. I helped Father too, as often as Mother and Grandmère could spare me.




Monday, September 25, 2023

#Review - Stings and Stones: An Elemental Assassin short story collection by Jennifer Estep #Fantasy

Series: Elemental Assassin Collection
Format: Kindle, 251 pages
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Jennifer Estep
Source: Author
Genre: Urban Fantasy

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Estep serves up an Elemental Assassin short story collection featuring danger, magic, and a touch of romance. Perfect for fans of Ilona Andrews, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, and Faith Hunter.

Flash back to one of Gin Blanco’s many missions as the assassin the Spider. Learn more about Gin’s relationships with her mentor, Fletcher Lane, and her foster brother, Finnegan Lane, and see what trouble the other characters get themselves into when Gin’s not around. From a ghost’s lost love to a villain’s origin story, this action-packed collection has something for every urban fantasy and paranormal romance fan.

The Stings and Stones collection features ten short stories told by various characters:


Author Jennifer Estep's Stings and Stones is a 67,000-word collection of Elemental Assassin short stories. Some of the stories previously appeared on Estep’s website, while others have been featured in anthologies. The Elemental Assassin series focus on Gin Blanco, an assassin code named the Spider who can control the elements of Ice and Stone. When she’s not busy killing people and righting wrongs, Gin runs a barbecue restaurant called the Pork Pit in the fictional Southern metropolis of Ashland. The city is also home to giants, dwarves, vampires, and elementals – Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone.

Spider’s BargainThis short story takes place before the events of Spider’s Bite, the first book in the Elemental Assassin series. In "Spider’s Bargain," Gin Blanco takes on a corrupt cop, but only one of them will be left standing in the end. This was originally a 13 page short novella that feature Gin Black, aka the Spider, an assassin trained by Tin Man Fletcher Lane.

Web of DeathThis short story takes place after the events of Spider’s Bite but before the begin­ning of Web of Lies. In "Web of Death," Gin Blanco’s retire­ment is inter­rupted by some unwanted guests. A Giant and a Vampire encounter an assassin, and blood will flow.  

Web of DeceitThis short story takes place when Gin is a teenager. It’s told from the point of view of Fletcher Lane, Gin’s assas­sin men­tor, and focuses on Gin’s first solo job as the assas­sin the Spi­der. It has also been 3 years since Gin's family was murdered by Mab Monroe. Guest appearance by Jo-Jo Deveraux who become a series regular thanks to her ability to heal Gin after he battles. 

 PoisonThis short story takes place when Gin is a teenager and is told from the point of view of Finnegan Lane, Gin’s foster brother. The story itself takes place several years before Spider's Bite with an appearance from Sophia Deveraux who is also a series regular and someone who definitely knows where the bodies are buried. 

 WastedThis short story takes place in between the events of Web of Lies and Venom. One day, a beau­ti­ful woman (Clarissa Drysten) walks into the bank (First Trust of Ashland) where Finn works, and trou­ble soon fol­lows. Xavier, a giant who is Bria's partner at the Ashland PD, makes an appearance.

 Tangled DreamsThis short story takes place in between the events of Venom and Tan­gled Threads. It’s told from the points of view of Jo-Jo Dev­er­aux and her sis­ter, Sophia Dev­er­aux who is a cook at the Pork Pit, while her sister owns a beauty salon where Gin and her friends go to get healing. When a car­jacker fol­lows an injured Gin back to Jo-Jo’s beauty salon, Jo-Jo and Sophia join forced to elim­i­nate the threat. 

Tangled SchemesThis short story spans a period of time start­ing from the last chap­ter of Spider’s Bite and end­ing right before the begin­ning of Tan­gled Threads. It’s told from Detec­tive Bria Coolidge’s point of view and shows her search for her long-lost sis­ter Genevieve Snow. For 17 years, Bria though her sister was dead. What Bria doesn’t know is what she’s going to do about the fact that Genevieve also hap­pens to be the assas­sin the Spi­der. This is during the time where Gin has declared war on Mab Monroe what she did to Gin and Bria's family.

 Spider’s NemesisThis short story spans a period of many years, beginning before Gin was born and ending during the events of Tangled Threads. It is told from the point of view of Mab Monroe and shows how the Fire elemental grew up, including her first meeting with Eira Snow, Gin’s mother. This is by far the most detailed and longest story in the collection. 

Haints and HobwebsHaints and Hobwebs is an 11,000-word story that takes place after the events of Tangled Threads, book 4 in the Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. Haints and Hobwebs first appeared in The Mammoth Book of Ghost Romance in 2012. Gin is being haunted by a ghost. A ghost who wants revenge before she can move on. And, if someone wants revenge, who better than the assassin known as the Spider?

 Parlor Tricks” This short story takes place after Deadly Sting. Gin and her younger sister Bria are going to the Carnival of Wondrous Wonders looking for a missing teenager named Elizabeth, and Gin once again finding it necessary to kill someone in order to keep them from harming Bria and herself. This story shows that Gin and Bria have become protective of each other after finally learning that they survived Mab Monroe's attempt to wipe out their family.  





Friday, September 22, 2023

#Review - The Witches of Bone Hill by Ava Morgyn #Fantasy #Paranormal

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Paranormal

A story about family secrets and two young women who discover they're Nordic witches.

Cordelia Bone's meticulously crafted life and career in Dallas are crashing down around her thanks to a philandering husband with criminal debts.

When her older, carefree sister, Eustace - a cannabis grower in Boulder, calls to inform her the great aunt they never met has died and they must travel to a small town in Connecticut to deal with the estate, she sees an opportunity to unload the house and save herself.

But once there, the sisters learn they are getting much more than they bargained for. The Victorian mansion they stand to inherit is bound in a dynasty trust controlled by their late aunt's aging attorney who insists they inhabit the house and retain it but keeps them in the dark about the peculiar rituals of their ancestors. Not to mention a sexy, tattooed groundskeeper with a shrouded past who refuses to leave the carriage house and a crypt full of dead relatives looming at the property line.

As both women grapple with their current predicament, they come face to face with a haunting family secret, the truth of what happened to their mother, and the enemy that's been stalking them from the shadows for generations. In a twisting torrent of terror and blood, the sisters must uncover the power within them to heal their fractured relationship, reverse their mysteriously declining health, and claim the lineage they wanted to escape but now must embrace if they are to survive at Bone Hill.


Ava Morgyn's The Witches of Bone Hill is a contemporary paranormal centered around a pair of sisters who will shortly learn about their family, including their mother, that they never knew about. Cordelia Bone is a realtor in Texas who has been betrayed by an affair by husband. Her reputation is destroyed and so is her finances. Just when things are looking bleak, her older, carefree sister, Eustace, a cannabis grower in Boulder, calls with some interesting news. Even though the sisters have drifted away over the years, they learn that an aunt they never met has died, leaving them with a house. 
 
Cordelia sees this as the answer to her problems. She’s eager to go see the house, sell it as fast as possible, and use the money to repair her life. But once there, the sisters learn they are getting much more than they bargained for. The Victorian mansion they stand to inherit is bound in a dynasty trust controlled by their late aunt's aging attorney who insists they inhabit the house and retain it or they lose everything. Then there's the  tattooed groundskeeper (Gordon Jablonski) with a shrouded past who refuses to leave the carriage house and a crypt full of dead relatives looming at the property line.  
 
As both women grapple with their current predicament, they come face to face with a haunting family secret, the truth of what happened to their mother Magda, who was likely murdered, as well as other devastating secrets about their descendants, and the enemy that's been stalking them from the shadows for generations waiting for the right time to strike and gain their revenge on be Bone's. In a twisting torrent of terror and blood, the sisters must uncover the power within them to heal their fractured relationship, reverse their mysteriously declining health, and claim the lineage they wanted to escape but now must embrace if they are to survive at Bone Hill.
 
*Thoughts*
 
This book has all the things...ghosts, witches, blood magic, romance, mystery,murder...the house is its own character, especially when Cordy comes into her own magical heritage and starts understanding that not is all that it's cracked up to be. There were also times when the story dragged a little and I felt like the sisters were just rehashing the same subjects over and over. The story itself is on the dark side with very eerie, ghost like chills to it, and a sickening scene with animal cruelty that will likely not go over well. In the end, the final 3 chapters were definitely the most entertaining and chilling of the entire story.
 
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for this complimentary ARC. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
 
 


CHAPTER ONE THE CALL

THEY SAY WHAT doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Cordelia was beginning to think “they” were liars.

She looked up at the gleaming, white-brick two-story and willed herself to feel something, staring at the sun bouncing off the paint until her eyes began to water and her head felt heavy. The first time she’d seen the house, she’d thought it looked immaculate. A paragon of suburban construction, solid and flawless. Her very own ivory tower. It seemed molded to the earth, dominating the end of the cul-de-sac like a modern fortress, rising from the carefully shaped boxwoods and the rows of cheery marigolds and coleus, the menace of black-iron fencing, as if to proclaim its value to anyone passing by. She’d even imagined a white dog behind the gated drive to complete the picture. Something regal—a standard poodle or a borzoi.

And of course, the house had a certain whisper …

But over the last several weeks, when she walked into it, she couldn’t feel anything except betrayal. The space didn’t whisper to her anymore. It was like John’s affair had tainted their connection, and she and the house couldn’t hear each other.

Looking at it now, she felt only an alarming sense of numbness where the pang of loss should have been. Maybe the grief had spiked when she’d gotten the notice of default from her mortgage company—a herald she’d been quietly dreading from a lender known for property seizure—and then had receded like an outgoing tide. Maybe this was the drawback before the tsunami.

The moving truck angled toward the drive, rumbling in the street. Cordelia simmered with a barely repressed shame, like an evicted mistress with her negligees scattered across the lawn. She hated to think of her neighbors witnessing this. John had secreted away whatever he wanted at her first prolonged absence, along with the money in their joint accounts and the business they’d built together. Cordelia mentally flogged herself again for agreeing to not list herself as co-owner of their agency. It had made so much sense when he explained it to her—him pulling back to take brokerage classes since her income was greater, protecting her assets from liability should the agency incur debts, thinking it was all fifty-fifty anyway since they were legally married. Outsmarting the fine print, he’d called it. What a gullible fool she’d been.

And then the notices had begun to arrive—maxed-out credit cards, payday lenders frothing at the mouth for instant reimbursement, the accounts he kept opening in her name even after he and Allison split for Vegas, then San Diego, Key West, and God knew where else. All on her tab apparently. She’d done her best to explain, to make whatever small, indemnifying payments she could, but he’d poked so many holes in her finances it was like trying to bail the Titanic with a colander. She was staring down the inevitable—divorce, foreclosure, bankruptcy, homelessness. They would fall on her like dominoes, one after the other.

A budding tension between the eyes, the initial squeeze of an oncoming headache she’d become all too familiar with in the last six months, forced her to look away and turn toward the street. Her mother’s tired face sprung to mind, the sharp intake of air she’d make at the onset of pain, shadows puddling in her eye sockets. Cordelia had been just a girl when Maggie started getting them—migraines, the doctors would say, or cluster headaches. They would give her hormones and pain relievers and supplements, but still they came without warning, dragging the smile from Maggie’s face and the spring from her step, causing her to get as low as she could—the sofa or the floor—and huddle there in the grip of pain.

Cordelia winced at the memory as much as at the ache in her head. She didn’t like to think about the things she had in common with her mother or where those things could lead, had led for Maggie in the end.

“Where do you want these?” Molly, her new assistant, asked, walking up with a gargantuan arrangement of irises and gladiolas as an angry streak of black and tan barreled past their ankles.

“Hold on,” Cordelia told her, turning to jog after what could only be Perry Ellis, her neighbor’s Australian terrier. She caught up with him behind the truck, where he had a mover cornered inside. Fifteen pounds of swagger and spite, he looked like a roughed-up Yorkie with mutton chops and made everything on their street his business.

Cordelia bent over and scooped him up, his body rigid as he continued to bark, every shriek hitting her square between the eyes. “It’s okay—he’s missing most of his teeth,” she explained by way of apology to the frightened mover, then marched toward the yard to the right of her own. Mrs. Robichaud was already halfway down the driveway.

“He snuck right past me,” the older woman claimed as she reached for him with unsteady hands, resin baubles clacking. Of course, the glaucoma meant that Perry Ellis snuck right past Mrs. Robichaud almost every time she opened the door.

“It’s the movers,” Cordelia said with a smile, handing him over. “He was just defending his territory.”

Mrs. Robichaud glanced at the truck. “Oh, I was worried this day would come. Perry Ellis and I will be so sad to see you go.”

Cordelia put on a brave face. She would miss the quiet old lady next door who always invited her in for tea and regaled her with tales of international travel in the seventies. She would miss her monogrammed teaspoons and matching pantsuits, the soft overlap of her curls like duck feathers. Mostly she would miss her kind smile and generous nature. “I’m sorry I won’t be able to bring you your groceries anymore.”

“Don’t you worry about us,” Mrs. Robichaud said, batting a hand. “You just look out for yourself.” Her puckered mouth scrunched up in distaste. “I knew you were too good for that man, always slinking around with his gold watches and shiny loafers, giving Perry Ellis the stink eye. Thought he was back last night when I saw someone at your door, but this man was far too large to be John. Had Perry Ellis fit to be tied.”

“Last night?” Cordelia racked her brain for who might be knocking on her door after dark, but she had no idea. She’d taken to staying in a hotel once it was clear she would have to sell. With the house already in pre-foreclosure and her business yanked out from under her, bills with interest piling up in the rolltop desk, this sale was her last-ditch effort to avoid total collapse.

“Walked all around peeking in windows, then left something in the mailbox before he drove away,” she said. “These old peepers couldn’t make out much, just shoulders like a gorilla.” Suddenly, her eyes widened and her face brightened. “I’ll bet he was an early buyer wanting to see the property before someone else snatches it up!”

Cordelia felt her stomach drop. She didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Robichaud that the house hadn’t been listed until this morning.

“I’ll bet he was,” she lied before stepping away. “Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything. I may not be next door, but I’m still close enough to help a friend,” she added as the old woman turned back for her house. Cordelia watched until she was safely indoors and then scurried over to the mailbox, pulling out the single envelope waiting inside.

She slid a finger to open it before she noticed that Molly was still standing on the sidewalk, the giant flower arrangement trembling in her tired hands. “Oh gosh, Molly, I’m sorry. You can put that on the entry table. Thanks.”

Cordelia watched her make her way up the walk in tight, little steps. Unlike the last one, Molly was too eager to please. She lacked Allison’s confidence, and she asked too many questions. But she put in the hours and would drive to kingdom come if Cordelia told her to. More important, she lacked Allison’s natural blond highlights and runner’s legs. Cordelia could still hear the sound of her old assistant’s naked ass rubbing against the Carrara marble, John grunting like a wild hog every time she walked into the kitchen. Cordelia would stand in the middle of the living room and take inventory of every surface she thought they probably fucked on. It didn’t leave her many places to sit.

Loyalty was what Cordelia needed as she sifted the wreckage of her life, and there was something in Molly’s eager-beaver personality that she found endearing. She shared perfectionism and ambition with her new apprentice, qualities needed to compete and succeed in her field, where every house had five agents waiting to list it. Without them, Cordelia never would have gotten as far as she did. And of course, there was the knack—an uncanny timeliness and intuitive knowing that Cordelia possessed which couldn’t replace hard work but made a sizable difference.

Molly didn’t have the knack, but maybe it would rub off on her. After all, hadn’t it transferred to Cordelia from her mother after so many years? That’s what Cordelia told herself when her hunches and her clients’ needs intersected a little too perfectly, leaving her skin bristling with an indefinable tingle. In time, Molly would get used to Cordelia’s inclination to predict the little things like rain showers or an offer about to come in. Some of the mysticism would wear off. Like Cordelia, she would learn to explain it away as an exceptionally perceptive gut honed by experience and evolution. Luck was not genetic, and Cordelia preferred to ground herself in the firmly rational, where things could be explained. Most things, anyway.

And then there were the whispers. But Cordelia didn’t talk about those, hadn’t since she was a small girl of six or seven. And what was there to say? They were so scarcely perceptible she wasn’t sure they were there at all. Not everything she’d experienced could be so assuredly minimized.

A sudden hammering jolted her. To her left, Molly—mallet in hand—was pounding the For Sale sign into the emerald-green lawn with all the enthusiasm of a drummer in a death-metal band. Once the stakes were a foot deep, she straightened. “Done.”

But Cordelia didn’t appreciate the finality in her tone. Every stroke of the mallet felt like it was proclaiming her failure. As a wife. As a businesswoman. As a person. She’d procured an image over the years that she could hide behind, but she’d never quite managed the finer complexities of “fitting in”—a relic of growing up her mother’s daughter. John’s vanilla-wafer mien went a long way toward securing her place in the community and her mind as an exemplar of normalcy. Her impostor syndrome had been in overdrive since he left.

As if to affirm Molly’s pronouncement, the largest crow Cordelia had ever seen landed atop the sign, cawing rudely in her direction, pinning her with one horrid obsidian eye.

She scowled at its greasy black feathers as it launched into the air and sailed over her roof, an ominous blight on her perfect specimen of a house. As it disappeared, her gaze dropped to one of the dormer windows, curtains parted. She stood between them, the stern-faced woman dressed in black, a bonnet of white hair piled on her head as she stared down at Cordelia malevolently, pale as death itself.

Cordelia fell back a step, heart grinding to a halt within her chest, breath trapped inside as she gave over to little-girl terror. Not again, she thought, squeezing her eyes shut. Not again, not again, not again.

Her fingers began to buzz with a pins-and-needles effect she couldn’t ignore. She opened her eyes to check her cell phone, the home screen lighting up with a picture of her and John on their wedding day—flushed faces pressed together, electric smiles dazzling. They were probably four glasses of champagne in when she snapped that shot. It used to be her favorite. Now, it filled her with equal parts doubt and longing.




Thursday, September 21, 2023

#Review - A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid #YA #Fantasy #Historical

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: September 19, 2023
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Historical

Bestselling author Ava Reid makes her YA debut in this haunting stand-alone dark academic fantasy, perfect for fans of Melissa Albert and Erin A. Craig.

Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice. Since childhood, she’s been haunted by visions of the Fairy King. She’s found solace only in the pages of Angharad—author Emrys Myrddin’s beloved epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King and then destroys him. Effy’s tattered, dog-eared copy is all that’s keeping her afloat at Llyr’s prestigious architecture college. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to redesign the late author’s estate, Effy feels certain this is her destiny.

But Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task: a musty, decrepit house on the brink of crumbling into a hungry sea. And when Effy arrives, someone else has already made a temporary home there. Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar, is studying Myrddin’s papers and is determined to prove her favorite author is a fraud. As the two rivals piece together clues about the reclusive author’s legacy, dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspire against them—and the truth may bring them both to ruin.


Ava Reid's A Study in Drowning is part historical fantasy, part rivals-to-lovers romance, part Gothic mystery, and all haunting, dreamlike atmosphere. Reid's powerful YA debut is also an unflinching indictment of institutions that sacrifice young girls on the altar of men’s “genius” and a gripping read that will stay with you long after its final page. Set in a historical fantasy world inspired by early twentieth-century Wales, this novel reinterprets the Fair Folk in the guise of a brooding and sinister Fairy King. 

Effy Sayre is a survivor who believes in the Fairy King while everyone around her dismisses the stories as rural superstition. Effy has always believed in fairy tales. She’s had no choice. Since childhood, she’s been haunted by visions of the Fairy King who she believes she met after her mother temporarily abandoned her like parents normally do to changelings. She’s found solace only in the pages of Angharad; author Emrys Myrddin’s beloved epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King and then destroys him. 

Effy’s tattered, dog-eared copy is all that’s keeping her afloat at Llyr’s prestigious architecture college. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to redesign the late author’s estate, Effy feels certain this is her destiny. But Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task: a musty, decrepit house on the brink of crumbling into a hungry sea. And when Effy arrives, someone else has already made a temporary home there. Preston Héloury, a stodgy young literature scholar, is studying Myrddin’s papers and is determined to prove her favorite author is a fraud. 

When Effy and Preston go head-to-head over Emrys Myrddin's papers, sparks fly instantly—much to their mutual chagrin. As they investigate side by side and trust and affection bloom between them, they become a pair readers will absolutely fall in love with. Through its historical fantasy lens, this novel touches on complex topics such as sexual assault and coercion, depression, and institutional sexism. As Effy struggles with a feeling of disconnection from her life and grows into greater confidence, she develops relationship skills, self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making.  

Over the course of the novel, Effy faces dark forces and darker truths and will answer once and for all the question of whether magic is real or something that only haunts her nightmares. By helping Preston dig into the truth about the author of her favorite book, she may be on the road to immortality. Ava renders the crumbling, sea-sprayed halls of Hiraeth Manor and the stormy skies of the sodden countryside of Llyr in stunning, moody detail. Readers who have loved recent YA fantasy by Erin A. Craig and Shea Ernshaw will love the notes of Gothic suspense and creeping tension.

*Thoughts*

As a reader, I am sure many of you have often wondered what kind of home your favorite author lives in, or what kind of life do they actually have to create some wonderful novels. Now, imagine having a once in a lifetime opportunity to reconstruct your favorite authors gothic home. What secrets are behind the doors? Are the characters real? Is the Fairy King real or is it Effy's imagination? Maybe she should take just one more pink pill which she has taken for years since she was left behind by her mother and has been having some strange dreams for years. Did she imagine what happened to her, or was it real? How do you explain the missing digit on her hand? By the end of this book, instead of a scared and unsure of her self Effy, you get someone who is ready to take on the world, and don't nobody get in her way or else!