Sister of Starlit Seas (Virdian Deep: Book 3) by Terry Brooks

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: November 14th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Viridian Deep

Child of Light—Book 1

Daughter of Darkness—Book 2

Sister of Starlit Seas—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | Kobo | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A rebellious young heroine begins a voyage of self-discovery in the third novel of an epic fantasy series set in the world of Viridian Deep, from the legendary author of the Shannara saga.Auris’s adoptive sister Char has always been the baby of the family—a position that grates on Char, especially when everyone insists on telling her exactly what to do and how to do it. But Char is certain that her headstrong, impulsive behavior, the quality her family sees as her greatest weakness, is actually her greatest the willingness to instantly brave danger and leap to the rescue when anyone she loves is threatened. Char knows she will never grow into the woman she was meant to be under her family’s loving but repressive eye, so a month before she turns fifteen, she runs away and joins a Human pirate crew in the warm southerly regions of her world. Then, three years into her pirate career, her captain—the man she is convinced she loves—is captured by the leaders of the slave trade he has been fighting. When Char leaps in to rescue him, she finds herself thrust into an adventure that will uncover secrets she never suspected about herself, one that will maybe, finally, teach her to look before she leaps.

First Line:

In the late-night hours of the second day of the full moon, I slip from my concealment to begin my latest mission.

Sister of Starlit Seas by Terry Brooks

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pacing of Sister of Starlit Seas varies throughout the book. It started at a medium pace, slowed down while Char was discovering her Merrow side, picked back up during her journey back home, and stayed at a medium fast pace until the end of the book. Usually, I wouldn’t like it when the pace changes up like it did, but in this case, it worked.

POV: Char tells Sister of Starlit Seas in the first person point of view.

Series: Sister of Starlit Seas is the third book in the Viridian Deep series. You can read this book as a standalone. But, as I always do, I suggest reading the first two books before picking this one up. That way, you can understand Char’s relationships.

Trigger/Content Warning: Sister of Starlit Seas has trigger and content warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Slavery (graphic, on and off page)
  • Depression (minor to moderate, on and off page)
  • Boating Accident (moderate, on page)
  • Bullying (minor, on page)
  • Violence (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Death (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Grief (moderate, on page)
  • Stillbirth (minor, off page)

Sexual Content: There is no sexual content in Sister of Starlit Seas. There are a few kissing scenes, but it doesn’t go beyond that.

Language: There is no swearing or offensive language in Sister of Starlit Seas.

Setting: Sister of Starlit Seas takes place in The Kingdom of Man and The Kingdom of Fae. There are also underwater scenes in the Merrow territories.

Tropes: Chosen One, Orphan, Good vs. Evil, Magic, Growing Up, Mythical Beings, Self-Discovery

Age Range: I recommend Sister of Starlit Seas to anyone over 16.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

At the age of fifteen, Char ran away from her family. A headstrong girl, Char left her family because she felt smothered. Traveling south, Char eventually joined a pirate crew headed by a Human and lived what Char thought was her best life. Everything was fine until one night, on a daring solo mission to rescue the captain of the ship she was on (who she thought she loved). Char was captured. Tortured by repeated and prolonged dunks in the ocean, Char is amazed when she changes into a fabled being called a Merrow. She is immediately taken in by the Merrow community living in the sea. But her changing brings her more questions than answers. The only two people who could answer those questions were her adoptive mother and biological mother. With her adoptive mother dead, Char realizes that she will need to find her birth mother. She also realizes that her journey must start where she left- her home. Can Char get answers to her questions? Will she find her biological mother?

Main Characters

Charlayne (Char): I will not lie; I found Char annoying and immature for over half of the book. But I also liked her. She was loyal, tried her best to keep her promises, and was, for the most part, a good friend (she had to be reminded at specific points about being a better friend). I enjoyed seeing her character grow throughout the book. By the end of Sister of Starlit Seas, she was a little more mature, less annoying, and definitely less reckless. She learned a few life lessons in her travels that stuck with her.

My review:

I got very excited when browsing NetGalley and seeing Sister of Starlit Seas. See, I loved Terry Brooks in high school and had read The Sword of Shannara so many times that I did have passages memorized. Seeing that it was on Random House and it was a wish, I decided to do it. I had a 50/50 chance of getting it. So, I was thrilled when I got the email saying it had been granted. I couldn’t wait to read this book.

The main storyline in Sister of Starlit Seas centers around Char and her quest to find answers. It was a well-written storyline. I liked that Char wasn’t perfect and had the same issues as a late-age teenager (unrequited love, hormones all over the place, self-involved, and annoying). If I am to be honest, she reminded me of a combination of my sixteen and eighteen-year-old. I liked that the storyline changed as the book went on. It went from an answer about who she was to why her adoptive mother made her forget to a search for her mother to the end game (I can’t say what because of spoilers). The author did that seamlessly.

I loved the fantasy angle of Sister of Starlit Seas. The author took the Merrow myth and incorporated it into the storyline. I was like Char; I thought Merrow and mermaids were identical. Nope, they are not. The use of magic was very understated. I can only think of one scene where magic could have been used. But that didn’t bother me. To me, fantasy isn’t all about magic. It is about the world and beings in that world, too.

The end of Sister of Starlit Seas was a little bittersweet. I was very upset over some of the things the author did, but at the same time, I understood why he chose to write that way. I also saw a little hint that maybe another book will feature Char.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Terry Brooks for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Sister of Starlit Seas. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Sister of Starlit Seas, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Terry Brooks

Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of Publication: November 21st, 2023

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Supernatural, Adult, Mystery, Suspense

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

From J. H. Markert, the author Peter Farris calls the “clear heir to Stephen King,” Mister Lullaby brings our darkest dreams and nightmares to life.

In the vein of T. Kingfisher and Christopher Golden, the boundary protecting our world from the monsters on the other side is weakening—and Mister Lullaby is about to break through.

The small town of Harrod’s Reach has seen its fair share of the macabre, especially inside the decrepit old train tunnel around which the town was built. After a young boy, Sully Dupree, is injured in the abandoned tunnel and left in a coma, the townspeople are determined to wall it up. Deputy sheriff Beth Gardner is reluctant to buy into the superstitions until she finds two corpses at the tunnel’s entrance, each left with strange calling cards inscribed with old lullabies. Soon after, Sully Dupree briefly awakens from his coma.

Before falling back into his slumber, Sully manages to give his older brother a message. Sully’s mind, since the accident, has been imprisoned on the other side of the tunnel in Lalaland, a grotesque and unfamiliar world inhabited by evil mythical creatures of sleep. Sully is trapped there with hundreds of other coma patients, all desperately fighting to keep the evils of the dream world from escaping into the waking world.

Elsewhere, a man troubled by his painful youth has for years been hearing a voice in his head he calls Mr. Lullaby, and he has finally started to act on what that voice is telling him—to kill any coma patient he can find, quickly.

Something is waking up in the tunnel—something is trying to get through. And Mr. Lullaby is coming.

First Line:

Deputy Sherriff Beth Gardner had only been on the job for two weeks when Simple Simon walked inside the station with a chainsaw.

Mister Lullaby by J.H. Markert

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Mister Lullaby’s pace is fast. The book takes place within a week of Gideon’s arrival home after being honorably discharged from the Army. I was iffy on the pace. The author threw a lot of information at me at the beginning of the book. I had to reread specific chapters. If the pacing had slowed down a little, started at a medium pace, and then amped up, I could have processed the information better.

Trigger/Content Warning: Mister Lullaby has trigger and content warnings. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Mental Illness (graphic, on and off page)
  • Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Murder (graphic, on page)
  • Gun Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Rape (graphic, on page)
  • Grief (graphic, on page)
  • Fire (moderate, on and off page)
  • Bullying (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Racism (minor to moderate, off page)
  • Alcoholism (moderate, on and off page)
  • Anxiety and anxiety attacks (moderate and off-page)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (moderate to graphic, on page)
  • Blood (graphic, on page)
  • Gore (graphic, on page)
  • Body Horror (graphic, on page)
  • Coma (graphic, on page)
  • Dead bodies and body parts (graphic, on page)
  • Loss of autonomy (graphic, on page)
  • Homophobia (moderate, on and off page)

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Mister Lullaby. It is not graphic.

Language: There is graphic swearing in Mister Lullaby. There is also offensive language used in various parts of the book.

Setting: The Before part of Mister Lullaby is set between Harrod’s Reach, Nebraska, and Lalaland. The Then part of Mister Lullaby is set in Harrod’s Reach and wherever Teddy drove the bus.

Tropes: Chosen One, Emotional Scars, Reluctant Hero, Dark Lord, Good vs Evil, Childhood Friends, Monsters, Humans Can Be Evil

Age Range: I recommend Mister Lullaby to anyone over 21.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

The night Gideon arrives home, his younger brother, who has been in a coma for three years, wakes up and starts shouting names. Why he shouts out names confuses his family until Maddy shows up in town. Her explanation is crazy: Sully is trapped in a nightmare land called Lalaland. There, he is struggling, along with other coma patients, to keep the monsters inhabiting that world from bleeding into this one. But something is wrong, and the king of these monsters, Mister Lullaby, is trying to break through. While trying to process the information he has been told, Gideon and his best friend, Beth, are stunned when prominent figures in the community start showing up brutally murdered. Can Maddy be believed and trusted? What is happening in town? Can Gideon and Beth protect their loved ones and the townspeople from the evil trying to come through? Or will they fail?

Main Characters

Deputy Sheriff Beth Gardner: I didn’t know how to feel about Beth. On one hand, she was a great police officer and rose to the job when the Sheriff was attacked. But, on the other hand, her personal life was a mess. She was friends with Gideon and Jax. But her friendship with both was not equal, and it showed. She sided more with Jax (who was awful in the flashbacks and the present day) than Gideon. Even during the storyline, she didn’t treat Gideon like an equal. The use of his nickname, Giddey Up Gideon, was used as a way of putting him in his place. But she was determined to protect Sully at any cost when push came to shove. What she did at the end of the book was very selfless.

Gideon Dupree: I liked him, but he was so damaged that I thought his character wouldn’t rise to the occasion. He was bullied relentlessly throughout school and beyond (Giddey Up Gideon referenced how he ran). He blamed himself for Sully’s accident even though he had nothing to do with it (it did happen while he was watching him, though). And his Army career left him with even more scars. But, by the middle of the book, I saw something shift in his character. It happened when Maddy came to town, and it evolved. By the end of the book, even though he was still damaged, Gideon had come into his own.

Theodore Lomax (aka Teddy): Teddy’s character sent chills up and down my spine. He was a serial killer who had a very troubled and trauma-filled childhood. He had a voice in his head, called Mister Lullaby, that was instructing him to kill coma patients. Teddy also killed other people for fun. But Teddy realized the voice wasn’t a figment of his imagination until he bought a bus (which he named the Lullaby Express) and started picking up random people. It was real. His end game was to go to Harrod’s Reach and set those random people loose while he searched for the name at the top of his list, Sully Dupree. He was evil personified, and I couldn’t think of a better antagonist for this book.

Maddy Boyle: I liked her character. But I did wonder what her connection to Harrod’s Reach would be and what would happen once she got there. I liked how she was like an envoy to Lalaland (having been there herself). She was able to convince Gideon and then Beth about the dangers that were coming out of the train tunnel.

Simple Simon: I went back and forth on including him as a significant character. I decided to have him as a central character because of his actions in the book’s second half. Simon knew a lot about what was going on with Lalaland bleeding through, and he was a massive factor in the events that went down at the end of the book.

Sully Dupree: The whole storyline is centered around Sully. He was still a powerful force even though he never woke up and talked. I can only get a little into what happens with him because of spoilers.

My review:

Mister Lullaby was one of my most looked-forward-to-read books. I had seen it featured on other blogs and was thrilled when Crooked Lane Books sent me the widget. So, when it was finally time for me to read it, I dove right in. I finished the book liking it but was disappointed by it simultaneously (thus the star rating).

Mister Lullaby has various POVs. Not only that, but the author also split the chapters into Before and Now. The author labeled each chapter with who it focused on and whether it was Now or Before. But I got lost while reading. I would backtrack to determine when the chapter occurred (the who part was obvious). It frustrated me but not enough to DNF.

The main storyline of Mister Lullaby is good, and I find it fascinating. I liked that the author tied his previous books into this one. It made for an interesting read. But, sometimes, I lost sight of the storyline (Sully, the train tunnel, Teddy, Gideon, Beth, and Maddy). There were so many secondary storylines thrown in (some I feel were to fill in empty plot holes) that my head was turned around. Did I need to know why Jax was such a dick? Or why did Beth marry him? Not really (even though it was sad). That stuff could have been left out or mentioned in passing. Another example was the chapter with Chimp and the weird fish. My head was spinning by the end of the storyline, and I couldn’t keep everything straight.

The storyline with Teddy and his collection of serial killers was interesting. Unlike the main one, this storyline was tight and kept to just the storyline. The only time it deviated was toward the end of the book, but even then, it was all right.

The horror angle of the book was well written. I want to warn everyone that it is bloody and violent. I did jump during some scenes, and in others, I had to read gagging.

The end of Mister Lullaby did disappoint me. It seemed very rushed. The final battle was almost anticlimactic (compared to what was happening around them). I also needed clarification on why Beth did what she did. There were storylines left in the air. I also have not received a resolution about what would happen to the town or the aftermath. They might have plans for another book in this universe (or even a sequel). I also have an answer as to why the book’s ending was the way it was. The author explains everything in the acknowledgment section after the end.

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and J.H. Markert for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Mister Lullaby. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Mister Lullaby, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by J.H. Markert

What the River Knows (Secrets of the Nile: Book 1) by Isabel Ibanez

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books

Date of publication: October 31st, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Romance, Historical, Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult Fantasy, Adventure, Historical Fantasy

Series: Secrets of the Nile

What the River Knows—Book 1

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Mummy meets Death on the Nile in this lush, immersive historical fantasy set in Egypt filled with adventure, a rivals-to-lovers romance, and a dangerous race.

Bolivian-Argentinian Inez Olivera belongs to the glittering upper society of nineteenth century Buenos Aires, and like the rest of the world, the town is steeped in old world magic that’s been largely left behind or forgotten. Inez has everything a girl might want, except for the one thing she yearns the most: her globetrotting parents—who frequently leave her behind.

When she receives word of their tragic deaths, Inez inherits their massive fortune and a mysterious guardian, an archeologist in partnership with his Egyptian brother-in-law. Yearning for answers, Inez sails to Cairo, bringing her sketch pads and an ancient golden ring her father sent to her for safekeeping before he died. But upon her arrival, the old world magic tethered to the ring pulls her down a path where she soon discovers there’s more to her parent’s disappearance than what her guardian led her to believe.

With her guardian’s infuriatingly handsome assistant thwarting her at every turn, Inez must rely on ancient magic to uncover the truth about her parent’s disappearance—or risk becoming a pawn in a larger game that will kill her.

First Line:

A letter changed my life.

What the River Knows by Isabel Ibanez

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: What the River Knows was medium-paced. For the most part, it suited the book. But there were parts, mainly towards the end of the book, where I felt the pacing dragged out some scenes.

Trigger/Content Warning: What the River Knows does have trigger and content warnings. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Death (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Death of a parent (minor to moderate, off-page)
  • Murder (moderate to graphic, on and off page)
  • Grief (moderate to graphic, on page)
  • Gun Violence (graphic, on page)
  • Colonisation (moderate, off and on page)
  • Violence (on page, graphic)
  • Blood (on page, graphic)
  • Kidnapping (minor, off page)
  • Abandonment (graphic, on and off page)
  • Cultural Appropriation (graphic, on and off page)
  • Injury (moderate, on and off page)
  • Alcohol (moderate, on page)
  • Alcoholism (minor, on page)
  • Confinement (minor, on page)
  • Gaslighting (moderate, on page)
  • Cheating (minor, off page)
  • Military Violence (minor, off page)

Sexual Content: There are no sex scenes in What the River Knows. But there are kissing scenes, and those kisses get a little passionate.

Language: There is no swearing in What the River Knows. There is language that people might consider offensive but is era-appropriate.

Setting: What the River Knows takes place entirely in Egypt. The prologue takes place in Argentina.

Tropes: Orphan, Enemies to Lovers, Love/Hate Relationship, Ancient Secrets, Babysitting, Magic, Secrets, Slow Burn Romance, Powerful Artifacts, Forced Proximity

Age Range: I recommend What the River Knows to anyone over 16.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Inez Olivera has everything she wants in nineteenth-century Argentina except the attention of her Egypt-obsessed parents. Inez is devastated when she receives a letter informing her of her parents’ deaths. Wanting answers, Inez boards a ship to Egypt. But what she finds there doesn’t answer her questions. She finds an uncle who is closed off and angry. His associate/bodyguard, a handsome British man, keeps trying to send her home. But, after finding evidence that suggests her parents’ deaths were not the tragic accident that she had been told, Inez is determined to stay and find out what happened to them. Can Inez find out the truth? Or is everything that she had been told a lie?

Main Characters

Inez Olivera: I liked Inez. She was spunky, didn’t take crap from anyone, was inventive with how to get her way (i.e., staying in Egypt), and was determined to investigate her parents deaths. There were times that I feared for her life in the book (the one scene when she fell into the Nile had me on edge). I liked that she had layers to her, and the more time I spent with her in the book, the more layers were revealed.

Whitford Hayes: I wasn’t sure what to think of him when the book began. But, as the book continued and his backstory was explained, I started to like him. The author did something different with him; she held much of his background until the last minute. He was indeed an enigma.

My Review:

What the River Knows is a long book. It took me three days to finish. But in those three days, I relished what was written. I was immersed in the storyline and connected with the characters. And yes, like other reviewers, I was very much surprised by the ending and the epilogue. But even before that, the surprises that the author had up her sleeve were almost never-ending.

What the River Knows is a dual-POV book. The story is told mainly from Inez’s POV, but Whit gets his chapters in occasionally. Whit’s chapters explain some mystery that swirls around Inez’s parents, her uncle, and other plotlines. But, what his chapters do not do is verify his feelings for Inez.

I have read very few books centered almost entirely on Egyptian pharaohs and mythology. I enjoyed the mystery of Cleopatra’s tomb. I didn’t enjoy what was happening while Inez, Whit, and the rest of their group were looking for it. I understand why the author did it, but I still wasn’t a fan.

What the River Knows has a few plot twists that will surprise you. I did see the first one coming (sorry to the author). It was set up perfectly so that I would not miss it. This is the catalyst for everything that happens after the twist happens. The author was sneaky and added two plot twists at the very end of the book. I saw neither of those plot twists coming. So, saying I was surprised is an understatement. I was more surprised at the twist in the epilogue than I was at the one at the very end of the book.

The romance angle of the book was slow. It was so slow that I forgot it was even there until Inez was on the ship with Whit. While I had no question of Inez’s feelings towards Whit (ranging from irritation to love), I did question Whit’s. That’s all I am going to say about that.

The fantasy angle of the book was well written. But, like the romance, it was barely there until the middle of the book. I liked how the author wrote about the magic, though. It was exciting and is something that I hope the author expands on in the next book.

As I mentioned multiple times, the end of What the River Knows was a huge surprise. There was so much crammed into it that it did take me a minute to process. But the cliffhanger ending (which annoyed me) and the two twists had me up in arms (see above). It was very sneaky of the author to do that. It was all I thought about for a while after I stopped reading the book.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books, NetGalley, and Isabel Ibanez for allowing me to read and review this ARC of What the River Knows. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to What the River Knows, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Isabel Ibanez

The Arcannen Chronicles: Magicom by Adam Joseph

Publisher: Independently Published

Date of publication: April 13, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Purchase Links: Kindle

Goodreads Synopsis:

August Silvershield is a dead man walking.

He and his group (Ashes) have dedicated their lives to opposing the Magicom tyranny and how they control, sell and distribute magic.

And Magicom are hell-bent on his capture.

Pink, August’s sister, is a recently qualified mage and practitioner of the four elements of magic. Strong-willed, talented and independent, she’s determined to make a name for herself at Wing (the institution that trains and assigns its mages to contracts throughout the Island of Blake) without her brother’s help.

But the siblings’ worlds inextricably collide when Pink’s first contract leads her and her Wing friends directly to Magicom and unimaginable danger.

Can Pink and August defend their friends and themselves while trying to eradicate everything Magicom stand for?

Or will the dangerous quest prove too much, given the blurred boundaries between their friends and enemies?

Find out in this fast-paced epic YA fantasy adventure novel where elemental magic changes everything.

First Line:

Holding Castle was not the structure of old.

The Arcannen Chronicles: Magicom by Adam Joseph

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pacing of Magicom went between medium and fast. I had no issues with having to reread previous chapters to understand what was going on. There was a little lag toward the latter half of the book (when Pink and August’s storylines merge), but nothing affected me. It was just a tiny bump, which I got over reasonably quickly.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are a few trigger warnings in Magicom. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading this book. They are:

  • Bullying (mild)
  • Classism (moderate)
  • Dead bodies and body parts (moderate)
  • Grief and loss depiction (moderate)
  • Captivity and confinement (graphic)
  • Disappearance of a loved one (moderate)
  • Explosions (moderate)
  • Hanging and lynching (mild, but it is only a threat to flush out the secondary main character)
  • Kidnapping (moderate)
  • Murder and attempted murder (graphic)
  • Physical assault (graphic)
  • Torture (moderate to graphic)
  • War themes and military violence (moderate to graphic)
  • Animal attack (moderate)

Series: Magicom is the first book in the Arcannen. As this is the first book in the series, you can dive right into the book without wondering about the characters’ backstories or previous books’ plotlines popping up.

Sexual Content: Magicom is a reasonably clean book, but there is one scene where two of the characters sleep in the same bed, and sex is implied.

Language: There is moderate swearing in Magicom.

Setting:  Magicom is set entirely in the kingdom of Blake.

Tropes: The Hero’s Journey, Magical Creatures, Epic Storylines with Lots of Characters, Best of the Best, Dystopian, Power and Technology

Age Range: I recommend Magicom for readers over 16.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Since witnessing the death of his fiancee by Magicom forces, August Silvershield is on a quest to expose Magicom for the corrupt company it is. As the ranks of Ashes (his group) grow, the more Magicom wants him captured. But it is after a stunt where Ashes blows up a fleet of blimps and causes numerous deaths that the general starts searching for August and forces him to go on the run.

Pink is a full-fledged mage who has joined the ranks of Wing. She is also August’s sister, a fact that she has kept a secret from everyone but a select few. Her first assignment is to find out why people are going missing in a neighboring town. What she discovers puts her right on Magicom’s radar. Soon, Pink is heading towards Blake’s biggest city to try and find the founder of Wings.

With long-held secrets exposed and their relationship out in the open, Pink and August join forces to take down a common enemy: Magicom. Or will everything they both have been working for be for nothing?

Main Characters

Rox Salvamal: I felt pity for this guy until halfway through the book. Why? Well, his men were killed, and fleet was destroyed because of Ashes (August’s group). But then, there was a pivotal scene around the same time Pink was investigating the mine that changed my mind. He had lost his damn mind. As the book went on, Rox’s single focus on August consumed him.

August Silvershield: I liked him, but I wished the author had explained his backstory (the reason he created Ashes) earlier in the book. Bits and pieces were trickled out as the book went on. But it was when August explained it to another character that I fully understood where he was coming from and why he was doing what he did.

Roeden Mason: I thought he was adorable and very resilient for someone so young. It was interesting to see everyone (including the more major secondary characters) through his eyes. I liked his role in the events at the end of the book.

Sara Arrancove (aka Pink aka Sara Silvershield): I enjoyed her character. I do wish that the author had been more upfront about who August was to her, but at the same time, I liked finding that out while reading. Pink was tough; she didn’t exactly listen to authority, and she knew her mind. Pink was also brave and had a knack for getting herself into trouble. She was essential (along with Roeden) in helping the events along at the end of the book.

Secondary characters: I enjoyed the secondary characters. There were some that I wished I had more background on (Taurus stands out the most in my mind). Others interested me but left a bad taste in my mouth because of their actions (Sol stands out the most). There are characters I didn’t form an opinion on either way (Chadwick comes to mind). However, each character did add depth to the storyline and the backstories of the main characters.

My review:

There are three storylines in Magicom. Each of the storylines was well written. I liked the detail that went into most of the storylines. There was one storyline that I wished had more detail. That is because of where it is set and why that person was there.

The storyline with Rox, his determination to flush out August, and the mystery he had going on creeped me out. As I said above, I liked Rox at first. He looked at dealing with Ashes like someone deals with a fly: swat it and hope it moves on. But when Ashes attacked Holding and destroyed most of the blimp fleet and killed a crap ton of people, he changed. As his storyline went on, Rox descended into obsession and madness. He started making mistakes, and those mistakes are what eventually ended up leading to his downfall.

The storyline with August, Ashes, and everyone else in the book was interesting. I liked how the author made August almost a mythical creature from Rox and Roeden. But August was human, and he made mistakes. Mistakes that he admitted to during the book. August also cared for his friends and would do whatever he could to break Roeden’s brother from prison, even if that meant getting captured himself. August’s storyline wasn’t wrapped up, making me wonder what he would do in the next book.

The storyline with Roeden, Chadwick, August, and their journey to find Phantex. I liked seeing everything through Roeden’s eyes. Roeden was determined to find and release his brother. He was also determined to help August, whether August wanted to help or not. Roeden’s storyline was wrapped up, but I did wonder if he will make an appearance in the next book.

The storyline with Pink, the mage school, her new instructor, the investigation, and her eventually meeting up with August was well written. Usually, I like things (like sibling relationships) shown upfront. But in this case, I understood why the author kept it under wraps for as long as he did. Pink was almost stupidly brave and put her life in danger more than once. That bravery and her penchant for not listening to people in authority came in very handy at the end of the book. Like August, her storyline was left open-ended.

The fantasy angle was terrific. I loved the magic system. People didn’t have latent magical powers. Instead, they had to drink a potion (the Arcannen potion) to boost the magic up. It was fascinating, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I also liked that while this book wasn’t exactly a steampunk book, it had very strong vibes.

The end of Magicom was interesting. The author wrapped up all of the storylines except for August’s and Pink’s. I cannot wait to read book 2!!

Many thanks to Adam Joseph for allowing me to read and review The Arcannen Chronicles: Magicom. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Heir of Broken Fate, then you will enjoy these books:

Heir of Broken Fate by Mads Rafferty

Publisher: Mads Rafferty

Date of Publication: May 1st, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Fantasy Romance, Romance, Fae, Magic, New Adult, Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

One hundred and fifty years ago the Fae race vanished. Along with their magic and creatures. With the fallen Fae lands the humans were soon to follow as corruption spread throughout the realm. Heir to the throne, Delilah Covington is forced to watch her people suffer under the sinful hands of her father, the king—while she herself suffers his cruel hand. Delilah has longed for change, her prayers going unanswered until she discovers salvation.
Fae are alive.
In desperation, Delilah flees her home and crosses the border, in hopes that the Fae will save her people.
Yet she isn’t the only one who needs help.
Caught in a web of lies and riddles Delilah’s only chance at hope is Knox, one of the irritating, yet frustratingly charming Fae kings. Together they’ll need to unravel the many mysteries to bring freedom to both their oppressed people, or damn them all.

First Line:

No matter how strong I get, I always end up here.

Heir of Broken Fate by Mads Rafferty

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The pace of Heir of Broken Fate started slow and gained momentum by the end of the book. There was some slight lag towards the end of the book, but it didn’t affect how much I enjoyed reading it.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are trigger and content warnings in Heir of Broken Fate. If you are triggered by any of what I list below, I suggest skipping this book. I don’t get triggered easily, and there were some very tough scenes to digest at the beginning of the book, mainly because they brought up memories that I don’t like to think about. They are:

  • Physical Abuse (graphic)
  • Violence (graphic)
  • Child Abuse (graphic)
  • Death (moderate to graphic)
  • Emotional Abuse (moderate)
  • Torture (moderate)
  • Domestic Abuse (minor)
  • Child Death (moderate)
  • Grief (moderate)
  • Genocide (moderate to graphic)
  • Slavery (minor)
  • Murder (moderate)

Sexual Content: There is explicit sexual content in the last half of Heir of Broken Fate. I was a little surprised by it, considering that this is a book geared towards young adults.

Language: There is moderate to explicit swearing in Heir of Broken Fate.

Setting: The beginning chapters of Heir of Broken Fate are set in the kingdom of Aloriah. The rest of the book is set in the Fae Lands, mainly in the Essence Kingdom. There are journies to Air Court, Earth Court, Water Court, Fire Court, the witches’ lands, and the mermaid’s territories.

Representation: There is LGBTQ representation in Heir of Broken Fate. Easton, Delilah’s best friend, is gay.

Tropes: Forced Proximity, Enemies to Lovers, Incapable of Love, High Stakes

Age Range: Heir of Broken Fate is marketed as a Young Adult book, and it is until the last 20% of the book that graphic sex is showcased. Because of that, I recommend this book to those 21 and older.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

One hundred and fifty years ago, the Fae disappeared. Everything about them was erased from people’s minds, and they became myths. But to Delilah, the Fae represent freedom. Horrendously abused by her father and forced to be compliant with his horrendous acts of violence against his people, Delilah longs to get away. Then, one day, everything changes. Delilah’s mother, abused into lunacy, gives Delilah a necklace that allows Delilah to see the impossible. The Fae are alive. Taking that hope, Delilah barely escapes to the Fae Lands. There, she hopes to find someone to help her stop her father and free her people. But instead, Delilah finds a dying land and people. She also discovers that she is Fae, but she is also more. To free her people and the Fae, she must unravel a 150-year-old mystery: Why the Fae disappeared and who is behind it. But Delilah isn’t alone. She is helped by Knox, the Fae King of Essence, and his friends. But, what they find will shake them to the core. Can Delilah free the Fae and help her people?

Main Characters

Delilah Covington: Delilah was one of the strongest people in this book (other than Knox). Even when faced with the threat of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, she wasn’t afraid to speak up when it came to the safety of her people. As soon as Delilah could, she left with Easton (and gave Annie word to jet with the horses after a month). But, once she reached the Fae Lands, she morphed into a jerk. Yes, I said it; she was a jerk. I understand why she has issues with men (I would, too), but since meeting her, Knox was polite and helpful. I started to get grumpy with her and wanted to shake some sense into her. Then, her character did another 180, and she turned back into that strong woman. I almost got whiplash because of how fast she turned.

Knox Holloway: I am not going to mince words here. I loved him. He was dirty-minded (omg, the things he said and insinuated to Delilah). He was loyal and fiercely protective of his friends and people (the Essence court subjects). Knox wanted to find out why his parents were killed and why the magic was draining from the Fae Lands. I thought he was perfect for Delilah. He was willing to wait for her to drop her walls and let him in. The build-up to that was almost unbearable. He also knew who Delilah was to him from nearly the minute they met, but he didn’t push her into anything. He saw that she was traumatized. I liked that Knox waited for Delilah to tell him about her father’s abuse (seeing the scars on her body did hasten that). I can’t wait to see what he will do in the other books and how his character will progress.

Secondary characters: I say this in every review, but the secondary characters made this book, even the animal ones. They each added depth to Delilah and Knox’s storyline(s), and when something happened to one, I felt it. I cannot wait to see what these characters will do in book 2.

My review:

The main storyline centered around Delilah, Knox (later on), and their quest to save both worlds. I enjoyed this storyline, but I did have some questions. I was trying to figure out if the storyline took place during the present day or if it was in the past. There was electricity and bombs, yet they went by carriage and horse everywhere (in the Human Lands). It wasn’t evident. I also did have an issue following the storyline once they figured out who was behind everything. The whole Tree of Life chapters (what Delilah did) confused me, and I read those chapters 2 to 3 times.

I liked the fantasy angle. I enjoyed seeing the Fae paired with various elements. I also liked that the Fae could have multiple elements. I enjoyed seeing the mythological creatures (the griffins and mermaids had excellent portrayals). I also enjoyed the magic system. How people were losing their magic and dying made absolute sense.

The romance angle was a little “meh” to me. I felt that Delilah, for almost the entire time she was in the Essence Court and the Fae Lands, was too damaged for romance. And while Knox and Delilah ended up together, it did seem forced and a little unrealistic. But I did like that there was at least a genuine feelings for Knox behind Delilah’s wanting to push him away.

The end of Heir of Broken Fate was interesting. I liked how the author wrapped up the banishment and magic storyline. But it almost seemed too convenient, and I think Queen Aurora was behind everything. But I could be wrong. The book did end on a cliffhanger, which I detest. But it did its job, and I cannot wait to read Book 2 when it comes out!!

Many thanks to Mads Rafferty for allowing me to read and review Heir of Broken Fate. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Heir of Broken Fate, then you will enjoy these books:

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 26th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Paranormal, Adult, Halloween, Suspense, Supernatural, Mystery

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small town is transformed by dark magic when a strange tree begins bearing magical apples in this new masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something else is changing in the town besides the season.

Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: Strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.

Take a bite of one of these apples and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.

This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?

And even if buried in the orchard is something else besides the seeds of this extraordinary tree: a bloody history whose roots reach back the very origins of the town.

But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. And a stranger has come to town, a stranger who knows Harrow’s secrets. Because it’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.

First Line:

Calla Paxson, age twelve, lurched upright in her bed, her heart pounding as if the nightmare she’d been having was still chasing her.

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Black River Orchard goes between medium and fast-paced. It is medium-paced until Dan loses his ever-loving mind (around the middle of the book). Then, it starts amping up the pace until the pacing is almost frantic. Then it slowed down again.

Trigger/Content Warning: Black River Orchard does have content and trigger warnings. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Violence (on page): This is a violent book right from the beginning. At first, it is subtle violence, but the violence is in your face by the middle of the book. It is graphic.
  • Blood (on page): This is also a bloody book. It is graphic and goes hand in hand with the violence.
  • Murder (on and off page): A murder sets the tone for the book, and the murders continue throughout the book. Some are described, and some are graphic.
  • Animal Death (on and off page): There are scenes towards the middle of the book where an initiation takes place, including murdering baby animals. I am not going to say much more because it is a spoiler. But it is graphic and almost fever-dreamish when described.
  • Homophobia (on and off page): There is homophobia directed at Emily throughout the book. There are blatant words spoken, and there are things done/threatened. There are other instances of homophobia throughout the book.
  • Grief (on and off page): Grief is one of the prominent undercurrents in this book. Dan is grieving the death of his father (years earlier), Calla is mourning the unexpected loss of a loving father, Emily is grieving her loss of self, John is mourning the deaths he caused during the first Gulf War, and Joanie (later on in the book) is grieving about something (I know it is vague but it is a spoiler).
  • Addiction (on page): The entire main storyline centers on the Harrowsblack apple addiction.
  • Suicide (on and off page): There are scenes where Dan remembers finding his father’s body after his suicide. Also, there is a scene where a police officer takes his service revolver and kills himself in front of Calla.
  • Abusive Relationship (on page): Emily’s wife changes after eating the apple and becomes abusive towards her (mentally, verbally, and physically). Dan becomes verbally and physically abusive to Calla.
  • Attempted Murder (on page): Joanie is almost killed by Prentiss in her house. Dan almost kills Calla.
  • Cheating (off-page): Emily cheated on Meg, so they moved to Harrow. Emily remembers it in a flashback, and Meg brings it up several times during the book.
  • Cults (on page): The book shows two different cults formed around the Harrowsblack apples. Since this will be a spoiler, I won’t say anything more.
  • Gun Violence (on and off page): Guns are used throughout the book to subdue and kill people.

Sexual Content: There is nongraphic sexual content in Black River Orchard. The author only gives bare minimum details about orgies. There is the remembrance of a sex scene between Emily and Meg, but it isn’t graphic.

Language: There is foul language used in Black River Orchard.

Setting: Black River Orchard is set almost entirely in Harrow, Pennsylvania. John Compass has a few side trips to New Jersey towards the middle of the book.

Representation: There is Native American representation (folktales, language) and queer representation (bisexual, genderfluid, lesbian, homosexual, and asexual) in Black River Orchard.

Tropes: Humans Can Be Evil, Monsters, Cults and Religious Extremists, Traumatic Past, Defeated Monster Comes Back to Life.

Age Range to read Black River Orchard: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

John Compass is searching for two things. One is a rare apple, the Harrowsblack, and the other is his best friend, who disappeared five years earlier. Careful tracking leads John to the small town of Harrow, Pennsylvania. It also is revealed that his friend had found the Harrowsblack before he disappeared. Meanwhile, in Harrow, a new apple has appeared. So red that it appears black, it is an instant hit at the farmers market. People who eat this apple cannot stop eating it, and they notice that when they eat the apple, they become stronger and heal faster. As John continues his search, the town slowly starts changing. In the middle of everything is Dan Paxson, the orchard owner. What is with the apples? How did Dan get them? What happens when John discovers the truth?

Main Characters

Dan Paxson: I felt for the guy at the beginning. He was determined to clear his father’s name and make something of the orchard that was his father’s. He was a loving father to Calla (almost too permissive, if I am going to be honest) and was somewhat of a pushover. But, the more he ate the apples, the more he changed. I almost hated to see him turn into what he became at the end of the book. It was nothing like he was initially written.

Calla Paxson: Calla is Dan’s seventeen-year-old daughter who wants to get into Princeton and is a wanna-be social influencer. I didn’t exactly like her at the beginning of the book. She came across as selfish and whiny. But she noticed something wasn’t right with the apples immediately. Calla started knowing that the more people ate them, the weirder they got. I liked her character’s development throughout the book.

John Compass: John is a Gulf War veteran haunted by what he did in the Middle East. He is so haunted that he becomes a Quaker (but will use violence to protect himself). John also becomes a hunter of rare apples. He becomes aware of the Harrowsblack apple when his best and probably only friend went missing five years earlier. I liked seeing John’s character progression in the book. But, what I liked the most was reading about the Native American legends attached to the Harrowsblack and seeing John piece everything together.

Emily Price: Emily is new to Harrow. Meg Price’s wife is feeling out of her element in a small town and in her marriage. Emily did something that strained her marriage and caused Meg to move them to Harrow. Their strained relationship becomes abusive after Meg starts eating the apple. So, I thought Emily was whiny, and she wallowed in self-pity until she met John. Then, I saw a side of Emily that I liked. At first, it was just a tiny glimpse, but by the end of the book, the true Emily was shown, and I loved her.

Joanie Moreau: Joanie showed up almost in the middle of the book. She was a character, and I liked her. She had an open marriage, rented her house out for sex parties (indoor only), and enjoyed teasing her neighbor, Prentiss. But things started to change when the Harrowsblack began making its rounds. It was after a specific event that Joanie showed how strong she was. It was also during the events at the end of the book that showed her character.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters in Black River Orchard made the book. They added so much to this book. The plotline was more flushed out, and the storyline had extra depth.

My review:

Black River Orchard was a well-written horror story that has made me never want to eat apples again. I was engrossed (and horrified) by how the storyline progressed. I couldn’t put my Kindle down. I needed to know how this book ended.

The main storyline in Black River Orchard centers around the five main characters and how those apples changed and affected their lives. It was a scary and often disgusting storyline that repulsed me and made me want to continue with the book.

The storyline with John and his search for the Harrowsblack and his friend was interesting. I didn’t know that there were people who went looking for rare strains of apples (so I learned something new). I liked that John wasn’t afraid to stand his ground when looking for his friend. By the middle of the book, John was central to figuring out how the Harrowsblack ended up in Harrow and who was behind it. He also was prominent in the events at the end of the book.

The storyline with Dan and Calla was sad. I hated seeing their relationship suffer the way it did because of the apples. But Calla was right about everything. When things started to change (and Dan started becoming abusive), Calla was right to begin to think things were wrong. I don’t think she realizes how bad it is until almost the end of the book.

The storyline with Emily and Meg was sad. But I did get annoyed with Emily at various points in the book. She was wallowing in remorse and self-pity until the middle of the book. Yes, she cheated, and her wife did something out of character (moving back to Harrow). But in no way did Emily expect what was going to happen. Her friendship with John was a lifeline.

The storyline with Joanie disturbed me. The amount of hate that she faced was unreal. It was that encounter that snowballed into the tragedy at her house. And the hatred by the cops when they came gave me shivers. But Joanie became a haven for Calla and her friends after everything. Even more so at the end of the book.

The horror angle was written perfectly. The gradual morphing into what happened at the end of the book was fantastic. I can’t get the images of those trees out of my head.

The end of Black River Orchard couldn’t have been written any better. The author ended all the storylines in one swoop. It was honestly shocking how he did it. I also liked the epilogue. But it was the very ending that made me go, hmmmm.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Chuck Wendig for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Black River Orchard. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Black River Orchard, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Chuck Wendig:

The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Random House

Date of publication: June 13th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction, Mystery Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction, Adult, Suspense, Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Reality and the supernatural collide when an expert puzzle maker is thrust into an ancient mystery—one with explosive consequences for the fate of humanity—in this suspenseful thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Angelology

“This novel has it all and more. In the nimble, talented hands of Trussoni the pages fly.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci

All the world is a puzzle, and Mike Brink—a celebrated and ingenious puzzle constructor—understands its patterns like no one else. Once a promising Midwestern football star, Brink was transformed by a traumatic brain injury that caused a rare medical condition: acquired savant syndrome. The injury left him with a mental superpower—he can solve puzzles in ways ordinary people can’t. But it also left him deeply isolated, unable to fully connect with other people.

Everything changes after Brink meets Jess Price, a woman serving thirty years in prison for murder who hasn’t spoken a word since her arrest five years before. When Price draws a perplexing puzzle, her psychiatrist believes it will explain her crime and calls Brink to solve it. What begins as a desire to crack an alluring cipher quickly morphs into an obsession with Price herself. She soon reveals that there is something more urgent, and more dangerous, behind her silence, thrusting Brink into a hunt for the truth.

The quest takes Brink through a series of interlocking enigmas, but the heart of the mystery is the God Puzzle, a cryptic ancient prayer circle created by the thirteenth-century Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia. As Brink navigates a maze of clues, and his emotional entanglement with Price becomes more intense, he realizes that there are powerful forces at work that he cannot escape.

Ranging from an upstate New York women’s prison to nineteenth-century Prague to the secret rooms of the Pierpont Morgan Library, The Puzzle Master is a tantalizing, addictive thriller in which humankind, technology, and the future of the universe itself are at stake.

First Line:

By the time you read this, I will have caused much sorrow, and for that I beg your forgiveness.

The Puzzle Master by Danielle Trussoni

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: The Puzzle Master is a fast-paced book. The main storyline occurs within a week of Mike going to the prison to meet Jess. I liked that it wasn’t so fast that I had to reread the previous chapter. The author did slow down during certain parts of the book so I could digest what happened in the last chapter. There is some lag during the book sections that centers on the doll maker and his trip to Prague. But it wasn’t enough to distract me from the book or my enjoyment.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are trigger warnings in The Puzzle Master. Some of these are graphic, and most are on page. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Suicide (on and off page)—The suicide is not described (very vague), but the suicide note is the first thing you read in the book. There is also an on-page suicide towards the end of the book.
  • Mental Illness (on page)—Jess, who is in prison, is being treated for several mental illnesses.
  • Violence (on page)—There is graphic violence throughout the book.
  • Gun Violence (on page)—Mike is shot at and threatened with a gun throughout the book.
  • Animal Cruelty (on page)—Mike’s service dog, Conundrum (Connie), is put in the trunk of a car and left there. When she is let out, she is almost dead. The person then sets her free and drives away.
  • Body Horror (on page)—During the chapters set in Prague, the Jewish rabbi, and his son were severely injured after the ritual went wrong. That’s all I can say without spoilers.
  • Murder (on and off page)—There are several murders committed throughout the book.
  • Attempted murder (on page)—There is an attempted murder towards the middle of the book.
  • Grief (on and off page)—A man grieves over the death of his beloved daughter. His grief and what he did set the course for this book.
  • Child death (on page)—A semi-graphic child death is discussed in the book.

Sexual Content: I was pretty surprised at this, but there is sexual content in The Puzzle Master.

Language: There is foul language used in The Puzzle Master.

Setting: The Puzzle Master is set in a couple of different places. In the present day, it is set in upstate New York and New York City. In the past, it is set in Prague.

Representation: There is Indian representation (Mike’s mentor is from India, but the author doesn’t say what part). There is Jewish representation (Gaston befriends a Jewish scholar and his family). There is a god who is both male and female.

Tropes: Cursed Items, Humans Can Be Evil, Traumatic Past

Age Range to read The Puzzle Master: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

When Mike was in high school, he was a promising football player. But a traumatic brain injury resulting from a brutal hit ended that but opened an unwelcome and unwanted door. The brain injury somehow made Mike a savant–acquired savant syndrome. He could see patterns and puzzles in everything. Not only that, but he developed an eidetic memory. Mike made the most of what he was gifted, using it to solve and create puzzles. So, he is intrigued when a psychiatrist contacts him at a prison. He is even more intrigued after meeting Jess Price, who is in jail for killing her boyfriend. His interest is even more when Jess uses a puzzle to communicate with him. Determined to solve the crime and prove her innocence, Mike soon becomes obsessed with Jess and her case. But there is more to this case than Mike expected, and his poking around puts a target on his back. Will Mike be able to prove Jess’s innocence and set her free? Or will what he learned kill him?

Main Characters

Mike Brink: I liked Mike. I couldn’t imagine living with what happened to him after the brain injury. I felt terrible that he felt that he couldn’t connect with people. In a way, I think that is why he became so focused and obsessed with Jess. He felt an immediate connection with her, and that might have been the first connection he had in years. I hated how he was treated later in the book and what Jameson Sedge tried to force him to do.

Jess Price: She was an enigma. I was on the fence with her until Mike got a hold of her diary entries and met Jameson. I will only get a little into her character because a huge twist happens towards the end (and it involves what Gaston described in his journal).

Jameson Sedge: I felt dirty after reading his character. He had a finger in everything, including monitoring Jess at the prison. He also had a loyal hitman who would do whatever Jameson told him. Again, I am not going much into his character because of spoilers. But he got what he deserved at the end of the book.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters were fantastic in The Puzzle Master. I liked that they added extra depth to the storyline and, in some cases, helped explain what was happening. There were some characters that I liked and others that I wanted to boot from a plane.

My review:

The Puzzle Master was a well-written, well-researched book that kept me glued to the pages. I am not interested in puzzles (of any kind), but I was fascinated by what the author wrote in the book. She used actual anagrams and puzzles throughout the book (including The God Puzzle). When asked to describe this book, I told my husband it was like The DaVinci Code but with puzzles and anagrams.

The Puzzle Master has two storylines. One centers around Mike, Jess, and The God Puzzle. The other storyline centers around Gaston LaMoriette and what happened to him before, during, and after Prague.

The storyline centered on Mike, Jess, and The God Puzzle was well-written and well-researched (as I said in the first paragraph). This storyline has a huge twist that is directly tied to Gaston’s storyline.

The storyline centered on Gaston had some surprises in it. I can’t explain what surprises are because of spoilers. After the author revealed that tidbit of information, a lightbulb went on in my head. And when she tied it to Mike and Jess’s storyline, it became apparent.

The mystery angle of The Puzzle Master was excellent. I was truly kept in the dark about everything until the end of the book. The author had a couple of huge twists that took me by surprise.

The end of The Puzzle Master was almost anti-climactic. The author did wrap up most storylines in a way that I liked. But, there was a huge twist that was surprising and scary at the end of the book. The author set up book two perfectly with that. I also liked the afterward. It explained a lot about what was happening in the book.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Random House, Random House, NetGalley, and Danielle Trussoni for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Puzzle Master. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Puzzle Master, then you will enjoy these books:

Sandymancer by David Edison

Publisher: Tor Publishing Group, Tor Books

Date of publication: September 19th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A wild girl with sand magic in her bones and a mad god who is trying to fix the world he broke come together in SANDYMANCER, a genre-warping mashup of weird fantasy and hard science fiction.

All Caralee Vinnet has ever known is dust. Her whole world is made up of the stuff; water is the most precious thing in the cosmos. A privileged few control what elements remain. But the world was not always a dust bowl and the green is not all lost.

Caralee has a secret—she has magic in her bones and can draw up power from the sand beneath her feet to do her bidding. But when she does she winds up summoning a the former god-king who broke the world 800 years ago and has stolen the body of her best friend.

Caralee will risk the whole world to take back what she’s lost. If her new companion doesn’t kill her first.

First Line:

The day the monster stole Caralee’s future started out as a dull and shiny as any other—with children and young folk scattered around the sandy circle that served as a gathering place for the families of the nameless village.

Sandymancer by David Edison

Caralee is your typical teenager living on a dying planet. But she has a secret. Her secret is that she is one of the few in her world that can control the elements. While out with her foster brother, Caralee draws too much power and sets free, the last thing she expects. Who did she set free? The god-king who broke the world over 800 years ago and who has now taken over the body of her foster brother. Caralee would do anything to get her foster brother back, including accompanying the god-king on his journey to fix the world. But there are obstacles in the way. With the help of an aging sandymancer and a sentient protector, Caralee and the god-king will travel the world to right the wrongs. Can they do it? Can the god-king and Caralee fix the world and restore her foster brother to his body? Or will everything they have gone through be for nothing?

When I read the blurb for Sandymancer, I was intrigued. I have a soft spot for fantasy books involving teenagers, reawakened gods (or kings or both), magic, and dying worlds. Based on what I read, I decided to read Sandymancer. I won’t lie and say that I liked the book, but at the same time, I won’t lie and say that I disliked it either.

The main storyline for Sandymancer revolves around Caralee, The Son (the god-king), and their journey to fix the world. It was a meandering storyline that left me with many unanswered questions. There were references to The Son’s ancestors coming from space and terraforming this planet but not where they came from (I assumed Earth). There were references to The Beasts but no explanation of how they came to be. It was frustrating because everything was left hanging. But there were some parts of the storyline that I did like. I loved the spidermoths that Caralee’s foster mother owned. I liked seeing the Jewish culture represented in the book. And I liked that the author included how The Son rose to be god-king before he was taken down. And the magic, let’s remember that. I found it fascinating.

I wouldn’t say I liked Caralee. I found her to be very annoying throughout the book. She was almost too much in parts of the book, and I wished that the author had toned her down a little. She also seemed to forget that she was the one who caused Joe to run off, and that caused him to get possessed by The Son. It was her temper tantrum that freed The Son in the first place. I did like that the author took her unlikableness and used it to thwart the Metal Duchy. But, even I got an eye twitch when reading her interactions with Elinor.

The Son started as an exciting character that morphed into one that bored me. He gave long-winded speeches about magic and physics. I also found it funny that he thought he was god’s gift to people and expected people to fawn all over him. His family fascinated me, and I liked that the author took the time to explain his backstory. What he had to do was heartbreaking. Did he want to do it? No. Did he have to? Yes.

I liked the fantasy angle of Sandymancer, but I wished the author had explained more about The Son’s magic or even Caralee’s. I also wish the author had explained more about the critters and people that lived on Caralee’s planet.

The end of Sandymancer was left up in the air. None of the storylines (except for The Son’s backstory) ended. I was left with more questions than answers about what the heck happened.

I would recommend Sandymancer to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Tor Publishing Group, Tor Books, NetGalley, and David Edison for allowing me to read and review Sandymancer. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Sandymancer, then you will enjoy these books:

Dream Shatter (Dream Runners: Book 1) by Ann Hunter

Publisher: Rebel House Ink

Date of publication: January 4th, 2022

Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia, Fantasy

Series: Dream Runners

Dream Shatter—Book 1

Dream Runner—Book 2

Dream Watcher—Book 3

Dream Giver—Book 4

Dream Rising—Book 5

Dream Legacy—Book 6

Purchase Links: Kindle

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Circle is robbing the dreams of its citizens.

In Logan Kent’s world, disease, hunger, and war have all been resolved by the dreams of its citizens thanks to nanobots developed and implanted into everyone as newborns. At least, that’s how it seems…

Now The Circle wants Logan to join their fold and continue the utopia they’ve created. He has no reason to distrust his parents—high ranking members in The Circle—until he meets Reina, a girl from the exiled faction “Anyone,” who refuse to give up their free will.

Logan begins to question everything he knows and loves. Can the girl be trusted—especially when she’s a medicine thief skulking around Capitol City—or is it really true that peace can only be maintained beneath The Circle’s rule?

Fans of The Matrix, Inception, and The Giver have been dreaming of this series for a long time coming.

First Line:

Wake up, Logan. Wake up. Now.

Dream Shatter by Ann Hunter

Logan Kent lives in a perfect utopian society. There is no hunger, disease, or war thanks to nanobots implanted in everyone as newborns. But, at seventeen, Logan is tried and accepted into a secret part of the government called The Circle. Because both of his parents are high-ranking Circle members, Logan has no reason to distrust his parents or The Circle until he meets Reina. Reina is a medicine thief in an exiled faction called Anyone. Anyone was exiled because they refused to give up their free will and get nanobots. The more he gets to know Reina, the more Logan questions everything he has ever been told. Can he trust Reina? Or does Logan put his trust in The Circle?

I had been in the mood for an excellent dystopian young adult book for a while. So, when the author emailed me and asked if I could review this series, I said yes. I had enjoyed her North Oak series and was excited to read this one. I am glad that I did because this book was a good read.

Dream Shatter is the first book in the Dream Runners series. What I usually put in this paragraph (read the previous books, and you can/cannot read as a stand-alone book) won’t work here. You can pick this book up and enjoy reading it without wondering if you are missing anything.

The storyline of Dream Shatter centers around Logan, Reina, The Capitol, The Circle, and Anyone. Dream Shatter is a fast-paced book that I genuinely enjoyed reading. There was some slight lag in the middle (when Logan started to full out rebel and Anyone started mobilizing), but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

The storyline with Logan, The Capitol, and The Circle was hard to read at times. Of course, since I am the reader, I knew that The Circle was terrible news and they did awful things to people who didn’t follow their rules (i.e., get the nanobots). I felt horrible for Logan because he had zero clue about this until he was thrust into it against his will. I did like that the author gave us a good look into what Logan’s dad did (taking nightmares from people). But at the same time, I got a sinister vibe from it, and I have a feeling that what his dad was doing would return later in the series.

The storyline with Logan, Reina, and Anyone was just as interesting as the storyline mentioned above. I liked how the author laid out Reina’s backstory and Anyone’s backstory. I thought it was horrible how The Circle portrayed Anyone (they were described as terrorists in propaganda shown to Logan’s high school class). I also liked how the author laid the foundation for Logan and Reina’s romance.

I liked Logan. He had a good head on his shoulders. I was curious about the voice in his head. It was much more than an internal thought. He acts like a teenager throughout the book (he is only seventeen), and like teens, he does stupid/reckless things without thinking about what will happen after. I was as bored with his job as he was, but at the same time, I did find it fascinating. He did fixate on Reina rather quickly, which led to a couple of amusing scenes between them.

I also liked Reina. She was a spitfire wrapped in independence. I don’t know why she kept interacting with Logan after the first time, but I am glad that she did. Reina was also passionate about Anyone. I can’t get more into her character because of what happens in the last half of the book. It would be a massive spoiler if I talked about her family, friends, and what The Circle does.

The end of Dream Shatter was a cliffhanger. I’m not too fond of cliffhangers (and yes, I am saying it like a bratty kid). But it did its job and made me want to read book 2.

I would recommend Dream Shatter to anyone over 16. There are no sex, sexual situations, or language. There is violence.

Many thanks to Ann Hunter for allowing me to read and review Dream Shatter. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Dream Shatter, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Ann Hunter

Dreambound by Dan Frey

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 12th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery, Mystery Thriller, Adult Fiction, Science Fiction Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | Kobo | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this thrilling contemporary fantasy novel, a father must uncover the secret magical underbelly of Los Angeles to find his daughter, who has seemingly disappeared into the fictional universe of her favorite fantasy series.

When Byron Kidd’s twelve-year-old daughter vanishes, the only clue left behind is a note claiming she’s taken off to explore the Hidden World, a magical land from a series of popular novels. She is not the only child to seek out this imaginary realm in recent years, and Byron—a cynical and hard-nosed reporter—is determined to discover the whereabouts of dozens of missing kids.

Byron secures a high-profile interview with Annabelle Tobin, the eccentric author of the books, and heads off to her palatial home in the Hollywood Hills. But the truth Byron discovers is more fantastical than he ever could have dreamed.

As he uncovers locations from the books that seem to be bleeding into the real world, he must shed his doubts and dive headfirst into the mystical secrets of Los Angeles if he ever hopes to reunite with his child. Soon Byron finds himself on his own epic journey—but if he’s not careful, he could be the next one to disappear…

Told through journal entries, transcripts, emails, and excerpts from Tobin’s novels, Dreambound is a spellbinding homage to Los Angeles and an immersive

First Line:

Dear Mom and Dad, If you’re reading this, I’ve already left.

Dreambound by Dan Frey

Byron Kidd’s world was turned upside down when his twelve-year-old daughter, Liza, disappeared. But he soon has hope. Then, an Instagram picture of his daughter in Los Angeles surfaces. Using his investigative journalist skills, Byron heads to Los Angeles to find his daughter. When it becomes apparent that the fantasy series his daughter loved has roots in reality, Byron must discard everything he knew about the world to save his daughter. Can he find Liza? Or will he disappear like his daughter?

I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed reading this book. I had seen it on the Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine’s NetGalley page, read the blurb, thought it was exciting, and wished for it. When I got the email that the wish was granted, I was happy but not overly so. Then I read the book, and I was hooked.

Dreambound isn’t written in your standard novel format. The author chose to write it differently. He used interviews, journal entries, text messages, emails, excerpts from Annabelle Tobin’s books (it is a series), and excerpts from a folktale book to tell the story. At first, I admit, I was a little iffy about it. I had read several books in this format (mainly journal entries) and wasn’t impressed with them. But the author made it work and did it in a way that kept me glued to the book.

The main storyline of Dreambound centers around Liza, her disappearance, and Byron’s search for her. It is a fast-paced storyline that has a ton of twists and turns to it. It is also well-written, and I loved the lore the author created.

I didn’t like Byron at first. I sympathized with him, but he was such a dick during the book’s first half (and well into the second). His ego was enormous, and his drinking was out of control. But, even though I didn’t like him, his love for his daughter showed through. He was willing to do whatever it took (faking emails from a publisher/breaking and entering) to find Liza. By the end of the book, my dislike of him did lift a little, but it never went away.

Liza broke my heart because I could see myself (at twelve) in her. She was awkward, loved reading, and loved anything fantasy. Liza used fantasy to cope with her father’s drinking and her parents fighting. So, it wasn’t a stretch for me to believe she could have been groomed by someone she met online and lured to Los Angeles.

The fantasy angle of Dreambound was fantastic. I couldn’t get enough of it. The author used a lot of folklore/myths to create the Hidden World and explain some of what was going on in the real world.

The end of Dreambound seemed almost fever-dreamish. What happened to Byron and what he did was nothing short of heroic for the Hidden World and Earth. I liked that the author had Byron’s story turn out the way it did. After everything that he went through and did, it made sense for what happened. The book section (where Annabelle reads the first chapter of her new book) of the ending was trippy, too. And lastly, what Liza did at the end made me wonder if there will be a book two or another book in this universe.

I would recommend Dreambound for anyone over 16. There is no sex or sexual situations. But there is language and violence.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Dan Frey for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Dreambound. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Dreambound, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Dan Frey