The Reluctant Queen (The Queens of Renthia #2) by Sarah Beth Durst

After Queen Daleina discovers that she needs an heir more quickly than she thought, she sends her champions out to find powerful young women who could take on that role. Naelin is not young, nor does she think she is powerful, but after Champion Ven sees the depth of her strength, he believes she is the heir Renthia needs, even if she wants no part of her powers.

Fantasy, 358 pages, published in 2017

After Queen Daleina discovers that she needs an heir more quickly than she thought, she sends her champions out to find powerful young women who could take on that role. Naelin is not young, nor does she think she is powerful, but after Champion Ven sees the depth of her strength, he believes she is the heir Renthia needs, even if she wants no part of her powers.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence

I adored the first book in this series and this entry did not disappoint! I thought the world and the characters held the same appeal for me in both books.

Normally, I’m not a fan of adding a new character with each subsequent book in a series, but I love Naelin. A lot of the focus is on her, though you definitely see the characters from the first book often. Naelin is a character that I feel like is rarely shown at the forefront of a story – she’s married and had two young children. She is very powerful magically, but she has always been afraid of her powers.

I did start to get a little frustrated with her because she was so reluctant (it’s in the title of the book, I should have expected it). It’s totally clear why she doesn’t want this position being offered to her, but it’s also totally clear the reader, who has more information about the situation than Naelin does, why it’s so important that she takes this role. It was worth it though, because I loved seeing her change her path in order to find her own happiness and protect her children.

There is a kind of mystery in this book, and I feel like it took me so long to figure out! It’s one of my favorite kinds of mysteries though, so I had a good time with it.

There is a tad of romance in this book and I loved it. I love romance novels, but there is just something so satisfying about a romance subplot in fantasy books. Each little line of romance feels extra sweet because it’s not guaranteed that the couple will end up together or even that there will be a romance like it is with romance-centric books. So yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the little bits of romance in this book!

I’m just in love with this series so far! The forest setting is just so cool, the writing feels nostalgic yet fresh, and the characters are a delight to follow. I definitely recommend this series, as it’s one of my favorites of the year!

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Forest of Souls (Shamanborn #1) by Lori M. Lee

Sirscha has been training for years to become the Queen’s spy, but all of her plans crumble when she discovers she has the shaman powers that are looked down upon in her country. Her best friend is killed, but she is able to bring her back to life, revealing her as the first soulguide in centuries.

Fantasy, 400 pages, published in 2020

Sirscha has been training for years to become the Queen’s spy, but all of her plans crumble when she discovers she has the shaman powers that are looked down upon in her country. Her best friend is killed, but she is able to bring her back to life, revealing her as the first soulguide in centuries.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence, body horror

This review is honestly going to be quite short because I came out of this book feeling almost nothing.

Right away, I was kind of disoriented in this world. Going into a new fantasy world is always hit or miss for me in ways I can’t really describe, but this one was a miss. I felt there was too much worldbuilding, but at the same time, not enough. There felt to be a lot of information in the beginning that wasn’t really necessary yet.

I don’t want to say this felt like a typical YA fantasy, because many elements of it were fresh, but there was definitely a familiar feeling when I started it. I do think the magic, the absence of a romance, and the focus on friendship were definitely not typical. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with magic based on shamanism before.

Other than that, I just didn’t feel a connection to this book. I didn’t have a reason to care about Sirscha, or her best friend Saengo, or what problems they were facing. I was confused about a couple things (possibly my fault because I fell asleep listening to this and didn’t make a huge effort to go back and understand) that ended up hindering how much I cared about the outcome of this book.

I don’t think this was a bad book, I just don’t think that it was for me.

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A Song of Wraiths and Ruin (A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #1) by Roseanne A. Brown

After the death of her mother, Karina is desperate to bring her back so the ruling of their country doesn’t fall on her. In order to complete the ritual, she needs a king’s heart. Malik’s younger sister was taken by a spirit and the only way to get her back is to kill the princess, Karina. He enters into a competition where the prize is her hand in marriage in order to get close to her.

Fantasy, 480 pages, published in 2020

After the death of her mother, Karina is desperate to bring her back so the ruling of their country doesn’t fall on her. In order to complete the ritual, she needs a king’s heart. Malik’s younger sister was taken by a spirit and the only way to get her back is to kill the princess, Karina. He enters into a competition where the prize is her hand in marriage in order to get close to her.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence, family death, anxiety

This book was not what I was expecting at all. I didn’t really know what the synopsis was before picking it up, so I was kind of surprised by the competition aspect.

I did end up really enjoying this book, even though it took me forever to read. I think it was just the wrong time for me to pick up this book, but either way, I had a good time.

One thing I loved about this was the focus on mental health. Malik suffers from anxiety and panic attacks throughout the book, and seeing how people treat him because of that is heart-wrenching, but I loved seeing how he deals with it, especially towards the end of this book.

There was also a lot of emphasis put on the importance of family, and showing that even if a family isn’t perfect, there can still be love there.

There were a few things about this book that I didn’t love. I thought the plot was kind of slow at times (which I didn’t really mind) and I was not all that interested in the different events in the competition. The side characters and the “villain” were not very present or fleshed out. This doesn’t affect my enjoyment, but I wanted to note that there were quite a few typos in this book.

I also was expecting more from the romance, since that is what I had heard great things about. There was definitely attraction, but the characters did not interact enough to call it a romance.

I definitely enjoyed the ending, and I am looking forward to what the sequel does. The ending posed a question of fate and destiny versus choosing your own path.

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set in the 1950’s, Noemi is sent to her newly married cousin’s home in the countryside after receiving some curious letters. Things get even stranger once she arrives at the large, remote house where things aren’t what they seem.

Horror, 301 pages, published in 2020

Set in the 1950’s, Noemi is sent to her newly married cousin’s home in the countryside after receiving some curious letters. Things get even stranger once she arrives at the large, remote house where things aren’t what they seem.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Warnings: sexual assault, incest, body horror

I normally don’t read horror, but I have been getting more into thriller/mysteries, so I was hoping that this book had a strong mysterious element to it. It definitely did have that, but ultimately, I just didn’t enjoy this story.

Noemi is definitely a socialite. She spends her time dressing up, driving her fancy car, and dancing. After getting sent to her cousin’s house, which is much more remote and not as technologically advanced as she’s used to, it becomes clear that this is not an environment she’s comfortable in or will do well in. I definitely felt like she was very naive and didn’t take things as seriously as she maybe should have. I definitely got pretty frustrated with her over the course of the book.

There was a bunch of weird sexual stuff in this book that made me very uncomfortable. Part of the mystery is not knowing what is real and what isn’t, so there were times that I didn’t know if characters were actually getting assaulted or if it was all part of the creepy dreams they were having. It felt like a lot of elements of the twist also relied on things that just made me very uncomfortable.

I’m not going to go into detail about what the twist is, but it did surprise me…I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or not, though. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I’m also not sure it really made sense, so it kind of just left me feeling lukewarm overall.

That was how I felt about this book in general: lukewarm. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t enjoy it either. At times, it was entertaining and I was curious about what was causing all of the creepiness, but that was a far as my feelings went for this book.

I also didn’t love the audiobook narrator. I don’t think that changed my opinion negatively.

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The Original by Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal

Holly wakes up in hospital room and is told that she is a replica of herself with the sole task of hunting down the real Holly for murdering her husband.

Sci-fi, 183 pages, published in 2020

Holly wakes up in hospital room and is told that she is a replica of herself with the sole task of hunting down the real Holly for murdering her husband.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: guns, murder

This is a futuristic sci-fi, audio-first novella narrated by Julia Whelan that is a collaboration between Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal, who work on the podcast Writing Excuses.

Two things about the audiobook specifically: Julia Whelan does an amazing job and there is background music/noises. The background noise was a little…annoying at times, because I couldn’t tell if the sound was coming from the audiobook or in real life, but overall, I think it worked to increase the atmosphere.

The premise of this story is so interesting. Everyone has ‘themes’ that they use to see the world around them differently than what is reality, and if they die, they can have their backed up memories transplanted into a new body. This information is all delivered by Holly discovering what reality is actually like, which I thought was a cool way of showing it all.

I actually wish this was a full length novel, not a novella. I think it had the potential to explore a lot of ideas, but only focused on a few. I would definitely like to read more in this setting, or even something similar.

The ending was…not my favorite, but it didn’t change how much I enjoyed the rest of the story.

One thing that made me laugh a little is that I saw some reviews being upset by excessive profanity being included…I didn’t notice any at all. At one point, I’m pretty sure she says “hella” which I don’t think is profanity, and also feels like a very dated term in a futuristic world.

Overall, if you have a couple hours and you want to get lost in a cool, futuristic murder mystery, I would definitely recommend this!

The Mime Order (The Bone Season #2) by Samantha Shannon

After escaping her imprisonment, Paige has to figure out how to live in the world outside again, as well as struggle against higher powers in order to tell the truth about their society.

Fantasy, 510 pages, published in 2015

After escaping her imprisonment, Paige has to figure out how to live in the world outside again, as well as struggle against higher powers in order to tell the truth about their society.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence/gore

Aside from my few small issues, I am continuing to really enjoy this series! I’m glad I’m reading it so soon before a new book comes out.

As with the first book, the magic is the weakest part of this for. I just don’t feel like I got a good grip on it in the first book, so I don’t think I will unless I reread that one. I understand what it can do, but not how it works, which is actually fine for me. I can accept that a character can do a certain thing because that’s just how their magic works. I did like that this book dove into different types of magic, as well as how society views people based on what magic they have.

The setting of this book is very different than the first one, and I honestly preferred the setting of the first book better.

There was one character that drove me insane throughout, but I think that was the point. Every time they would mutter their catchphrase, I just had to roll my eyes.

I thought there was a fair amount of action in this book. The first one kind of felt like an exploration and education of the world, but in this book, there were a lot of different high stakes scenes.

The romantic/sexual tension in the book was *chef’s kiss* perfect for me. I think I remember Samantha Shannon saying somewhere that she writes one kiss scene per book in this series…that’s a surefire way to get me on board. I love this relationship’s progression from hatred to tentative curiosity to attraction to something more. It does make me a little nervous that this relationship is presented so early on in a projected seven book series though…

Speaking of which, I am very curious to see how this series will be seven books. I think the first two books both have endings that are dramatic and change the trajectory of the story, but I’m curious what the overarching goal will be.

Anyway, I really did enjoy this book! I’ve been listening to the audiobooks for this series so far and the narrator is really growing on me. I can’t wait to read more!

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The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst

Spirits have always wanted to kill humans living in the forest, but there has always been a queen to keep them in check, until they start attacking remote villages. Daleina, who has an ability to control spirits and was able to save her family from one such attack, makes it her mission to help in any way she can.

Fantasy, 368 pages, published in 2016

Spirits have always wanted to kill humans living in the forest, but there has always been a queen to keep them in check, until they start attacking remote villages. Daleina, who has an ability to control spirits and was able to save her family from one such attack, makes it her mission to help in any way she can.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: violence

I picked up this book because my favorite booktuber Elliot Brooks mentioned the creepy forest vibes (also we have very similar taste, so I trust her lol). I was expecting to enjoy it, but I didn’t think that I would absolute love it like I did!

Immediately while reading this book, I was struck by how much it felt like the classic fantasy I read while growing up (specifically The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce). It’s hard to explain because it’s more of a vibe than anything concrete, but the writing was straightforward, the story covers a fair amount of time, and there is a magical training school. This made the book feel so nostalgic and comforting in a way, even though the story was fresh, in my opinion.

Time did go by fast, so Daleina starts as ten year old, and by the main portion of the book, I believe she was 19. I normally don’t like this when it is done in books, because I feel like I can’t connect with the characters, but I didn’t really mind it in this case. I’m curious if time will move this fast in the rest of the series, but if it doesn’t, that will certainly leave time to really get to know the characters better.

One thing I adored about this book was the spirits. They reminded me of the spirits from the spirit world in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra (this guy specifically was on my mind), but way creepier and more threatening. Some where harmless, but there were others that were definitely not harmless. The entire way of life for the people in this forest is shaped around staying safe from the spirits, which I loved.

Daleina didn’t really seem to have a personality at first, which I was happy to see that she ends up struggling with in the book. She vows to go to this magical academy for her kid sister, but she works so hard for so long that she doesn’t remember why she’s doing it. Her emotions toward her family and her life at this point felt very realistic.

The other main character that we follow is Ven, a disgraced champion. He is so bitter, but also genuinely cares about people he is close to. I loved his and Daleina’s banter and how they teased each other occasionally.

The ending of this book was…rough. The series of events that led up the finale was intense and surprising, and the climax itself was brutal.

I am very much looking forward to reading the next two books in this trilogy! As soon as I finished this book, I went out to the only two bookstores near me to buy the next two books, but neither had them in stock. If I had had the time, I could have read this book in a day, that’s how into it I was! I think this book is a new favorite, and depending on how the next two go, this could be a new all time favorite series for me.

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

After being convinced to leave her plantation and slavery by a new arrival, Cora begin her journey on the actual Underground Railroad, a system of underground tunnels and trains with real conductors.

Historical Fiction, 306 pages, published in 2016

After being convinced to leave her plantation and slavery by a new arrival, Cora begin her journey on the actual Underground Railroad, a system of underground tunnels and trains with real conductors.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Warnings: slavery, sexual assault, murder, abuse

I was anticipated this book due to the high praise, but unfortunately, something didn’t just work for me.

This book starts with Cora’s life on her plantation in Georgia. The opening bits of this book were quite brutal, but it wasn’t overdone, just realistic.

I definitely thought that the Underground Railroad element would be expanded on, because whenever I see anyone talk about this book, they mention that the book features an actual railroad that is underground. The book didn’t really go into it, the fact that it was underground was kind of just accepted as fact.

I did appreciate what I learned about slaves trying to escape to freedom. Cora goes to see a doctor, who suggests that she get hysterectomy, even though she is young and had not had any children yet. This was offered as optional, but strongly suggested, disguising a nationwide eugenics movement. There were so many stages to Cora journey, so it wasn’t like she was just going to hop on the Underground Railroad the first time and immediately end up in freedom.

The part of this book that I did not really vibe with was the timeline and perspective shifts. Cora is mostly the main character being followed, but occasionally, it will shift to someone else. It also takes place over a fairly linear timeline, but sometimes it hops around. I also felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time with Cora to really want to read more about her specifically.

I appreciate what I got out of this book, but I didn’t love the story itself.

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Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Fantasy, 435 pages, published in 2020

After half-human half-star Sheetal burns her father with her powers, she must go visit her mother’s world in the sky to find a cure. Along the way, she gets embroiled in family drama and a competition.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Content Warnings: parental abandonment, parent in the hospital

This book had such an interesting premise that I was immediately drawn in by, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t do it for me.

I was immediately surprised to find out that this book starts off in our own world. It wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the synopsis, so I was fully ready for a different world. This kind of made me annoyed at all of Sheetal’s regular teen problems, because I really wasn’t expecting to read about her dealing with SAT prep and boyfriend problems.

I just felt like there were transitions that were missing in this book. One minute, Sheetal is only thinking about her dad, but the next, it is completely out of her mind that he is gravely injured. When she has to go to the kingdom in the sky, it feels like she’s just suddenly there. I also felt like I couldn’t really picture the setting at all.

The “magical competition” in this turned out to also not be what I was expecting and it actually didn’t feel like it played a huge role. The dynamics between Sheetal’s family was actually the main part of the plot, in my opinion.

I don’t think this was a bad book, but I legitimately felt nothing when I finished it. I didn’t connect to any of the characters or their relationships, and not much happened in terms of plot. I feel like part of the problem was that the synopsis kind of misrepresents this book. I appreciate the mythology element to it, but overall, I just wasn’t drawn in by it.

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Take a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters #2) by Talia Hibbert

After being caught in a viral video together, Dani and Zaf decide it could be mutually beneficial if they pretended they were dating. Zaf gets the publicity to get his company off the ground and Dani gets the no-strings sex she’s been looking for…until neither of them can deny the feelings between them.

Romance, 320 pages, published in 2020

After being caught in a viral video together, Dani and Zaf decide it could be mutually beneficial if they pretended they were dating. Zaf gets the publicity to get his company off the ground and Dani gets the no-strings sex she’s been looking for…until neither of them can deny the feelings between them.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: graphic sex, grief, anxiety, discussion of the death of a family member

Talia Hibbert did it again! This book was just as good as Get a Life, Chloe Brown!

Dani is a workaholic PhD candidate at a university, where she is working on feminist theory. Zaf, a former pro rugby player, is the security guard at the building she works in and is trying to get his organization to help young boys with their mental health off the ground. They are friendly for awhile before Zaf gets caught on video carrying Dani out of the building during a routine drill.

I thought Dani and Zaf were both really cool people, so I really enjoyed both of them! I felt like they didn’t fall into stereotypical gender roles for romance novels, which I really appreciated. I particularly loved Zaf. He went through some tough stuff in the past, and he used his mental health struggles as an inspiration for his organization. He is also dealing with anxiety throughout this book, so it’s not like his mental illness just magically went away. Besides that, he was just a generally sweet guy!

I ended up getting a little frustrated towards the end because Dani was so insistent on not being in a relationship. She thinks that she’s not made for relationships because of all of her previous breakups. It just felt a little drawn out to me.

Overall though, I loved this book! I feel like I don’t have much to say because I enjoyed it that much! If you are looking for diverse and steamy romances, definitely check this series out.

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