The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified
assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Fantasy, 394 pages, published in 2020

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified
assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
[Goodreads]

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: child abuse (mentioned)

I feel like everyone and their mother has read and loved this book and I’m glad I finally got to it because I LOVED it as well!

This book keeps getting labelled as YA for some reason, but the main character is in his 40’s, which is not something I typically go for. It does have a pretty light feeling overall, even though it does deal with some hard topics, such as child abuse and neglect and discrimination.

The world this story is set in felt a lot like the world in A Series of Unfortunate Events. It could be our world, but some things are just a little different. I think it was the perfect choice for a story about a house for magical children.

The found family in the book was absolutely the best. All of the children have their own clear personalities and relationships with each other and all of the adults were just so wholesome and caring.

I also see a lot of people call this a romance, and while there is a romantic element to it, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It doesn’t feel like the sole focus of the story.

The overall vibe was very hopeful, yet realistic. I think this will be a book that I come back to many times in the future and I will definitely be checking out more books by this author.

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Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove #2) by Shelby Mahurin

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of her mother, Lou and the crew must figure out where they are safe and how they can defeat Morgane.

Fantasy, 528 pages, published in 2020

After narrowly escaping death at the hands of her mother, Lou and the crew must figure out where they are safe and how they can defeat Morgane.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Content Warning: general violence

I really enjoyed the first book, so I was really looking forward to this one, but unfortunately, I didn’t like it and it kind of ruined my fond memories of the first one.

The ending of the first one really made it sound like this book was going to focus on the side characters and have Lou and Reid in the background, but that was not the case at all. In fact, I feel like it put the side characters in the background even more, in favor of new side characters.

I honestly could not even tell you what the plot of this book was. In the beginning, the group kind of had a goal, but because of a twist at the end, all the work they put into that goal for the first half of the book seemed wasted. This just made it feel really boring.

The villain is also so bland. It feels like they are being evil just for the sake of being evil.

The relationship between Reid and Lou was the cause of my enjoyment of the first book, but in this one, they just didn’t have the same appeal to me. The hate to love tension was gone, and in it’s place, there was a different kind of tension. They just had a lot of things to work out, but it felt like they didn’t even really talk about them before deciding that everything was resolved.

I think this series is a perfect example of a book that should have been a standalone. There was no need to draw out the “plot”, the villain, or the lack of worldbuilding. I found out that this was going to be a trilogy, not a duology, right before starting this book, and honestly, there’s no way I’ll finish the series.

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From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Poppy has been told since she was a child that the fate of her people relies on her sacrifice as the Maiden. She’s had faith in that, even though no one will tell her exactly what it means, and she begins to question her role once she meets her mysterious new guard, Hawke.

Fantasy, 634 pages, published in 2020

Poppy has been told since she was a child that the fate of her people relies on her sacrifice as the Maiden. She’s had faith in that, even though no one will tell her exactly what it means, and she begins to question her role once she meets her mysterious new guard, Hawke.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: abuse, murder/death, death of family members, mentions of possible sexual assault, graphic sex, violence

I definitely had expectations going into this book (that it was going to be a fun, steamy time) and it definitely met those expectations!

I have to say that my biggest problem with this book was that I was definitely confused for about the first half about the worldbuilding. Words like “the Rise” and “Ascension” meant nothing to me, so I kind of just went along with it until I finally got it. There was a point near the end that was a tad info-dumpy, but at least then I was actually able to understand what was going on.

Other than that though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The romantic/sexual tension was just so good. I saw a specific fanart that convinced me to read this book, and I feel like that sums it up well.

I wasn’t expecting to like the characters as much as I did. Poppy has been sheltered for most of her life, but she is a fighter. There was a certain moment where she finally let go of what was holding her back and it was just such a satisfying moment to see. I also really liked a few of the side characters, specifically Poppy’s other guards.

There was a point that felt like a crossroads, where the story could have gone one of two ways. I like the direction it went, but honestly, I think I would be happy with the other way I was imagining in my head as well.

Overall, I just thought this book was a super fun time and I can’t wait to read more of the series! This is kind of the content I’ve been craving. Contemporary romance feels like not enough and fantasy with a romance sideplot is also not enough, so this was a perfect mix for me.

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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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Fireborne (The Aurelain Cycle #1) by Rosaria Munda

After the ruling family is killed for their crimes, one child remains hidden. In the new government that has been created, any mentions of the previous way of life must be discouraged, so Lee must fight to keep his past hidden, even when the actions of his family have hurt the lives of the people he now cares the most about.

Fantasy, 448 pages, published in 2019

After the ruling family is killed for their crimes, one child remains hidden. In the new government that has been created, any mentions of the previous way of life must be discouraged, so Lee must fight to keep his past hidden, even when the actions of his family have hurt the lives of the people he now cares the most about.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: death of family, murder, violence, childhood trauma

I was fully expecting to enjoy this book, but it absolutely blew me away! I don’t feel like I’ve ever read another book like this one.

This book is very character-driven in my opinion. We follow Lee, the son of the previous ruler who has to protect his identity, and Annie, whose family was killed by the previous ruler. They are training together in a dragonrider fleet and fighting for the top positions.

The relationship between Lee and Annie was one of the most interesting, complex relationships I’ve read about. Not only do their pasts complicate things, but their present situations do as well, added in with their strong bond formed over many years. Whenever one of them had to make a decision, I could just feel all of the emotions tied to what choices they made.

The world was also so well created. The dragons are really the only magical element of this book, which normally isn’t my favorite, but I think it was so well done. The politics of this world and the clash of the old regime versus the new regime was so interesting. Normally, this heavy political stuff isn’t my favorite either, but I just thought it was so well done. It was complex, but still simple enough for me to understand.

There are some flashbacks in this book, but they were very well done. They were short and not too often, and always related to what was happening in the present.

This book is YA, and I was hesitant because I’ve been feeling some feelings about YA fantasy recently, but it doesn’t feel like it at all.

I just freaking loved this book. I ended up listening to the audiobook and I put everything else aside so that I could just sit and listen to it. I think I started it at 10PM one night and finished it the next afternoon.

Anyway, I am very much anticipating the sequel! I keep seeing the audiobook in my library and I am tempted to listen to it again, but I will have to resist until the sequel is published in March.

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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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