Skyseeker’s Princess (Songs of Si’Empra: Book 1) by Miriam Verbeek

Publisher: Independently Published

Date of publication: May 14th, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Incest (off page, remembered), Sexual abuse of a teenager (off page, remembered), Rape (off page, remembered), Depression (off page, remembered), Grief (on page), Assualt ending in mutilation (on page), Mental Illness (on page), Gun violence (on-page)

Series: Songs of Si’Empra

Skyseeker’s Princess—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

The cold, stark but beautiful Si’Empra island is dying … Ellen doesn’t think she can help but others believe she’s their only hope.

Ellen’s trained to be the next ruler but her brother’s taken the throne. He’s fiercely determined to possess her body and soul … and she’s horrified. She runs away, aiming to lead a peaceful life far from the clutches of power. But the people or Si’Empra are struggling to survive, their unique societies pitched against one another. Cryptals are key to the land’s survival and subtly nudge Ellen towards healing Si’Empra’s wounds. Duty runs deep in Ellen’s veins. The question is whether reluctance or duty will triumph. In this first book of the Si’Empra series, Ellen tinkers at the margins with challenge, gaining unexpected allies and dangerous enemies.

Get your copy of Skyseeker’s Princess today and dive into the extraordinary world of Si’Empra.

First Line:

The sun was at noon by the time Ellen felt strong enough to crawl to the river for a wash.

Skyseeker’s Princess by Miriam Verbeek

Ellen has dared to escape from her abusive older brother and ruler of Si’Empra Island. Running away was her solution to her situation. But it wasn’t. Her people were suffering, and the island’s native creatures, the Cryptals, were being hunted to almost extinction. It is the Cryptals who save Ellen, and it is the Cryptals who start pushing Ellen toward healing Si’Empra’s wounds. But the question is, will Ellen do it? Or will she ignore what the Cryptals, the Crystalweavers, and the WebCleaners have told her? Can she save Si’Empra from her brother?

When the publisher approached me to read and review Skyseeker’s Princess, I immediately accepted. I was intrigued by the blurb, and I like the cover. I figured the storyline could, too, if both could catch my attention. And it did. I couldn’t put this book down!!!

There are trigger warnings in Skyseeker’s Princess. I will warn that these triggers can be more triggering to people than usual. The author did a great job describing what happened to Ellen without going into much detail.

The triggers are:

  1. Incest (off-page and remembered): Ellen’s mother married her stepson to keep him from touching Ellen. After Ellen’s mother died when she was fourteen, Redel started raping Ellen.
  2. Sexual abuse (off-page and remembered): Ellen was being sexually abused by Redel when her mother stepped in and married him. When her mother died, Redel upped the sexual abuse to rape. There were also vague worries that Redel was sexually abusing his four-year-old daughter.
  3. Rape (off-page and remembered): Ellen was raped repeatedly for years by Redel. Muther (Richard’s mother) was raped after her mutilation and gave birth to Richard.
  4. Depression (off-page and remembered): Ellen suffered from depression while being raped by Redel.
  5. Grief (on-page, off-page, and remembered): Ellen grieves the loss of her mother and father throughout the book. Ellen’s grandmother remembers grieving for her daughter and grieving for Ellen’s lost innocence. Ellen grieves for the lower caste people, and Cryptals hunted like animals by Redel.
  6. Assault ending in mutilation (off-page and remembered): Muther, a high-ranking official in the King’s court, was attacked on a beach. Somebody gouged her eyes out and cut off her hands and feet.
  7. Mental Illness (on-page): One of Redel’s advisor’s wife is mentally ill. She hears voices and sees imaginary people. Redel is mentally ill. He suffers from what I believe is hyperreligiosity and OCD.
  8. Gun Violence (on-page): Guns are used throughout the book to kill Cryptals, Crystalweavers, and Webcleaners. One memorable scene is where Redel goes into the tunnels and massacres the people living there with semi-automatic weapons. Ellen is shot several times by Redel’s supporters while traveling through the wooded areas.

If any of these triggers you, I recommend not reading the book.

Skyseeker’s Princess is a medium-paced book that got off to a slow start. While I’m not too fond of slow starts, in this case, it worked. The author laid out Ellen’s backstory and some of the history of Si’Empra Island. The pacing does pick up towards the end of the book, but it never goes fast enough to confuse me or make me backtrack.

Skyseeker’s Princess is set on a fictional island off the coast of Antarctica. From the descriptions, it is closer to New Zealand than Chile, but I could be wrong. I was fascinated by the island and its geography. There were forests, lakes, rivers, and intricate cave systems. The author didn’t cover half of what this island offers.

The main storyline of Skyseeker’s Princess centers around Ellen. Ellen’s journey to self-acceptance and healing was heartbreaking and unforgettable. I got why she didn’t initially want to help the Crystalmakers or the Cryptals. But once she saw what her brother was doing, she decided to help. The turning point for her was two things. One is the over-taxation of villages and Redel’s horrific attack on the Crystalmakers. Ellen realized that she couldn’t just stand by and let her people starve, and she couldn’t let innocent people be slaughtered. That was when she turned into a leader in my eyes.

I liked Ellen. While I did feel horror (for what was done to her) and pity, the fact that she overcame that was amazing. I understood why she didn’t want to help anyone at first. People just stood by or turned the other way when Redel was raping her. But Ellen was a good person who didn’t let other people get hurt. A reasonable person also fights for people being oppressed. By the end of the book, I loved her. She was indeed the ruler Si’Empra needed, not her abuser of a brother.

As much as I despised Redel, I found the chapters from his perspective very interesting. He was obsessed with Ellen. His obsession then turned to religion. I could see his slide into madness every time the author returned to his POV. What got me was that this small, tiny piece of him knew what he was doing was wrong. But the mentally ill part of him drowned that part of him out. I am very interested to see what he will do in book 2.

The Cryptals, as did the lore that sprung up around them, fascinated me. There were no descriptions of what they looked like, except that they looked like wild animals. They were the ones that initially saved Ellen at the beginning of the book. They were also the ones that gave Ellen her pet dinosaur, Rosa.

I wish there were a glossary at the book’s beginning or end. There was so much lore that I couldn’t keep track of it all.

The end of Skyseeker’s Princess ended on a cliffhanger. I wouldn’t say I like cliffhangers. They irritate me and make me want to throw things. But, in this case, it did its job. I need to read book 2 to see what Ellen will do. Plus, there was a neat reveal about Muther’s identity, too, which makes me wonder if she will be a more prominent presence in book 2.

I would recommend Skyseeker’s Princess to anyone over 21. There is mild language, violence, and nongraphic sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warning list.

Many thanks to Miriam Verbeek for allowing me to read and review Skyseeker’s Princess. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Skyseeker’s Princess, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Miriam Verbeek:

Her Latent Charm: The Ambience Series by Dana C. Brentson


Date of publication: June 1st, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Trigger Warning: Slavery, Torture

The Ambience Series:

Her Latent Charm—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

The nation of Trylia believes that the gift, a force that can alter the world through the intent of the person who wields it, is a myth. The stuff of children’s tales, brought to life only in the imagination.

For Lila, separated from a life she was too young to remember, it’s a confusing power that has set her apart from the family she found. And she is only just beginning to understand it when her home and family are destroyed, and she is captured.

To escape, she unleashes the gift in a destructive wave that also forces a man she doesn’t trust to keep them alive. Bryn won’t survive unless Lila does, and they must flee the wrath of the captors still pursuing her. If they can’t find a way to work together, Lila won’t live long enough to learn more about the gift.

As Lila finds her strength, the gift inside her grows. Unless she can control it, she may be a greater danger than the one at her heels.

First Line:

My fingers brushed canvas sails and rough hempen rope-just out of my frantic reach-as a hurtled toward the deck of my ship.

Her Latent Charm by Dana C. Brentson

Rescued from slavery by her adopted father at a young age, Lila barely remembers her birth family. Her family is the crew and captain of the ship she lives on. When Lila develops a gift that sets her apart from the others and could potentially get her killed, her found family accepts her as is and keeps her safe. But, in a devastating attack by slavers sent to capture her, Lila learns she isn’t the only one with the gift. Desperate to escape, Lila unleashes her power on the boat, which destroys it. While doing that, she also tethers the only man who treated her with kindness to her. Lila must find a way to control and use her power before the evil that killed her family and captured her. Can Lila do it?

I was very intrigued when I read the blurb of Her Latent Charm, but at the same time, I was like, “Haven’t I read similar books like this before?” And yes, I have. But the author put a fresh spin on the found magic/maybe hidden identity trope. That only added to my enjoyment while reading this book.

Her Latent Charm is a medium to fast-paced book set in Trylia. The book’s first half is set mainly at sea, but when Bryn and Lila wash up on shore, they visit various cities and end up at a cabin in a forest on a lake (try saying that three times fast).

There are trigger warnings in Her Latent Charm (besides the violence, blood, and minimal gore). It is:

  1. Slavery: Lila was rescued from a slaver when she was very young (so young that she only remembers smells and brief images). The same slaver attacks Lila’s ship, and Lila is taken captive.
  2. Torture: Lila is tortured while onboard the slaver ship. Derth, another magic user, uses his magic to subdue and keep Lila from her magic. Some of the scenes are graphic.

When I started to read Her Latent Charm, I was thrilled that the author included a map of Trylia at the beginning. I could refer to it while reading. But I wish there was a glossary that explained some of the terms used in the book and another glossary that explained the lore. It would have helped a ton while reading.

The main plotline of Her Latent Charm centers around Lila and her magic. Lila could not control her magic and almost killed herself at the book’s beginning. What interested me was how the crew treated her. Nearly all accepted her, but there were a few that didn’t. The author explained that the Captain fired those who didn’t like Lila’s magic use (there was a flashback where a crew member almost killed Lila and was stopped). As the plotline went on, Lila’s character grew, and so did her magic. It wasn’t until she met Sam that she realized what she was. And it was Sam who started teaching Lila how to control her magic.

The other part of the main storyline centered around Lila, her past, and how her past directly influenced her present. Lila had zero clue about her history. All she remembered was being carried by a slaver onboard a ship, and then she was in the custody of the Captain who raised her. While on the run, she started having flashbacks, but it didn’t explain much. I was frustrated by the lack of background on her. I have my theories about certain people and Lila. But, at the same time, I couldn’t wait to read the next book.

Speaking of Lila, she was your typical teenager until the slaver ship. She had crushes (very bittersweet about Hunter) and loved her family. She also made mistakes, and it was one of her mistakes (well, I don’t know if I would consider it a mistake personally) that led the slavers to her. I wish she could have been a typical teenager for a bit longer in the book. But, I also liked the Lila after the slaver ship. She made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Her interactions with Bryn (through the tether and face-to-face) were fantastic. She wasn’t a big fan of Sam and wasn’t afraid to tell him. By the end of the book, though, she had her stuff together and was willing to do anything to protect her family and friends.

There were a bunch of secondary characters that made this book. The main one for me was Sam. I am interested in him and his background. He was a grump, but his grumpiness was earned. He was very knowledgeable in magic and could teach Lila a ton about how to use (and not use) her powers.

I wouldn’t say I liked the book’s romance/wanna-be love triangle. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good romance in a fantasy book, but this one seemed wrong. Lila and Bryn brought up that maybe their feelings were because of the tether (it wasn’t), but I couldn’t help feeling it was. And when Hunter was reintroduced to the book, I was like, “Oh no, it’s going to go down.” Then it fizzled, and Hunter stepped out of the way!! I wanted him to at least try and fight for Lila. The good thing is that the sex scenes were very clean and nongraphic. They were fade to black sex scenes, so I blessedly didn’t get to read about teenagers doing the nasty.

There is an epic battle towards the end of Her Latent Charm. I was glued to my book during it. I couldn’t get enough of Sam battling Derth!!

The end of Her Latent Charm ended on a cliffhanger. I will not say why or how, but the author didn’t shut down the storylines. Instead, she widened the door and made me want to read book 2!!

I would recommend Her Latent Charm to anyone over 16. There is violence, mild language, and very mild sexual situations.

Many thanks to Dana C. Brentson for allowing me to read and review Her Latent Charm. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

Other books by Dana C. Brentson:

Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper

Publisher: Shivnath Productions, IBPA, Member’s Titles

Date of publication: May 24th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Mental Health, LGBTQ+

Trigger Warnings: Mental Illness (anxiety, depression), Suicidal Ideation, Self Harm

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks

Goodreads Synopsis:

“INKHEART meets INCEPTION in this allegorical masterpiece.”

Fantasy author Kyla knows dreams don’t come true. Isolated and grappling with debilitating depression, she copes by writing about the realm of Solera. Fearless heroes, feisty shapeshifters, and mighty dragons come alive on her pages. She adores her characters, but she doesn’t believe in happy endings. And if she can’t have one, why should they?

Kyla’s on the verge of giving up on everything when she wakes one morning, magically trapped in her fictional world. Now she’s with her most cherished characters: the friends she’s always yearned for, the family she’s never known. There’s even someone who might be Prince Charming (if Kyla could get her act together and manage some honest communication). She’d surrender to the halcyon fantasy, except she knows a nightmarish ending awaits. Solera is at war, and its defenders are losing against the insidious villain spawned in the depths of Kyla’s mind. He feeds on the energy of dreams, seeks the destruction of all who oppose him—and Kyla’s become his number one target.

Kyla must trade her pen for a sword and fight to change her story’s ending, but this isn’t a fantasy anymore. No happily-ever-after is guaranteed. And mental illness has robbed her of everything she needs to succeed: love, fighting spirit, hope. If Kyla can’t overcome the darkness inside her, she’ll die with her darlings.

Depictions of mental illness including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.

First Line:

Oblivion is a funny thing. It’s human instinct to fear the proverbial abyss, but now that I’m here, it’s not so bad.

Kill Your Darlings by L.E. Harper

Kyla, a fantasy author, loves her characters, her darlings and loves creating the world that they live in. But, to shock her readers, Kyla decides to kill all her characters except for her namesake. But that decision to kill her darlings off is made while Kyla is in the midst of a horrible depression. On the verge of giving up, Kyla goes to sleep one night and wakes up in her make-believe world. Knowing what she has written and realizing what she has left behind in the real world, Kyla is desperate to save her new friends and return to the ones she left behind. But with a villain who spawned from her mind tracking her, Kyla needs to make a plan fast. Because things aren’t what they seem, Kyla must return to the real world before something horrible happens.

I will start with trigger warnings before diving into the review. It is essential to read these. Even I got triggered by what the author wrote, which doesn’t happen often. The triggers are:

  1. Mental Illness: Kyla suffers from severe depression and anxiety. Both have colored her life in ways that she never expected. Her depression and anxiety are carried over into Solrea, and Kyla uses that time to understand why she suffers. Her aha moment was pretty sad, and honestly, it got me so upset for her.
  2. Suicidal Ideation: During the book, Kyla often wonders if the world would be better off without her. Again, her time in Solrea shows her how valuable and wanted she is.
  3. Suicide: I can’t get into this, but yes, there is a suicide attempt, and it is rather graphic.
  4. Self-harm: Kyla uses self-harm to soothe her anxiety.

If any of these trigger you, I recommend not reading this book. If you are struggling with your mental health, please dial 988 and connect with someone who can help. You are worth it, and you matter.

The author included a forward where she explained that this book was semi-autobiographical. After reading this book, my heart went out to her. If she was like Kyla, then she was in a bad place.

Kill Your Darlings is a fast-paced book mainly set in the fictional world of Solrea with brief (very brief) glimpses into Kyla’s life in New York City. The book did drag a bit in the middle (and I got very frustrated with Kyla at one point), but the author got the book back on track.

Kill Your Darlings main storyline centered around Kyla. For a reason explained later in the book, Kyla has swapped places with her fictional namesake. She wakes up in Solrea. Convinced she is lucid dreaming (having trained herself to lucid dream), Kyla realizes she is in her book with no way out. After a wise dragon explains that something is happening with Kyla’s body in the real world, she starts on a quest to figure out how to get back to it. I liked that the author had Kyla come to terms with some things that were causing her to have suicidal thoughts. I also liked that Kyla was committed to getting the fictional Kyla back where she belongs and not in Kyla’s body in the real world. But an undercurrent of something with this storyline made me slow down and read. And once I figured out what was going on with Kyla (because she was having effects), I was rooting for her to get back quickly.

As a character, Kyla was very complex and was often hard to like. That was fine with me. I liked having a character that made me love and dislike them simultaneously. I did think that her behavior, once she started to get to know fictional Kyla’s friends, began to change. She became more open and more friendly to these characters. She confided things in them that she had never told another person. Some of those confidences were gut-wrenching. By the end of the book, Kyla grew into herself (for lack of a better word). I wish I could tell you what happened with her, but it is a huge spoiler.

The secondary characters made this book. They added extra nuances and depth to the storyline.

I loved the fantasy angle of Kill Your Darlings. It was well written, with unique characters that came off the page.

There was a romance angle in Kill Your Darlings. While I expected it, I wasn’t expecting Kyla’s reaction or what she told her wanna-be lover. That threw me for a loop. But, at the same time, it was also an aha moment for me.

The end of Kill Your Darlings was interesting. Again, I can’t get into it except that Kyla did what she had to and defeated the villain.

I recommend Kill Your Darlings to anyone over 21. There are no sexual situations. There is graphic violence and no language. Also, see my trigger warnings.

Many thanks to Shivnath Productions, IBPA, Member’s Titles, and L.E. Harper for allowing me to read and review Kill Your Darlings. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Kill Your Darlings, then you will enjoy reading these books:

The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: May 30th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Magical Realism, Books About Books, Contemporary, Adult, Mystery, Adult Fiction, Mystery Thriller

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Years ago, a reclusive mega-bestselling children’s author quit writing under mysterious circumstances. Suddenly he resurfaces with a brand-new book and a one-of-a-kind competition, offering a prize that will change the winner’s life in this absorbing and whimsical novel.

Make a wish. . . .

Lucy Hart knows better than anyone what it’s like to grow up without parents who loved her. In a childhood marked by neglect and loneliness, Lucy found her solace in books, namely the Clock Island series by Jack Masterson. Now a twenty-six-year-old teacher’s aide, she is able to share her love of reading with bright, young students, especially seven-year-old Christopher Lamb, who was left orphaned after the tragic death of his parents. Lucy would give anything to adopt Christopher, but even the idea of becoming a family seems like an impossible dream without proper funds and stability.

But be careful what you wish for. . . .

Just when Lucy is about to give up, Jack Masterson announces he’s finally written a new book. Even better, he’s holding a contest at his home on the real Clock Island, and Lucy is one of the four lucky contestants chosen to compete to win the one and only copy.

For Lucy, the chance of winning the most sought-after book in the world means everything to her and Christopher. But first she must contend with ruthless book collectors, wily opponents, and the distractingly handsome (and grumpy) Hugo Reese, the illustrator of the Clock Island books. Meanwhile, Jack “the Mastermind” Masterson is plotting the ultimate twist ending that could change all their lives forever.

. . . You might just get it.

First Line:

Every night Hugo went for a walk on the Five O’Clock Beach, but tonight was the first time in five years his wandering feet spelled out an SOS in the sand.

The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

Lucy’s entire childhood was made up of neglect and loneliness. Her parents were more committed to her sick older sister than to paying attention to their youngest daughter. Lucy’s one solace was the Clock Island series written by Jack Masterson. Years later, Lucy is a teacher’s aide living in California, introducing a new generation to the joy of reading. One of those students is seven-year-old Christopher, whose parents died and who Lucy wants to foster to adopt. But that dream is out of reach since Lucy doesn’t have the money or means to pursue that dream. But things change when Jack Masterson comes out of retirement with the announcement that he has written a new book. Also, in that announcement, there will be a contest that will determine the winner. The contestants: Adults who had run away to the real Clock Island when they were children, and Lucy is one of them. Lucy is determined to win but must first dodge book collectors on the island illegally, opponents who will do whatever it takes to win, and handsome Hugo, the illustrator of Jack’s books. Will Lucy win? Will she be able to adopt Christopher and live happily ever after?

When I first read the blurb for The Wishing Game, I immediately compared it to Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The only difference is that Jack is an author, not a candy maker, and the contestants are adults, not children. I figured I wouldn’t get it if I requested it from NetGalley, so I left it alone. Imagine my surprise when I got an invite from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine asking if I wanted to read the book. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

The Wishing Game is a medium-paced book in California and Maine. The pacing of this book suited the plotline. I didn’t have to backtrack to the beginning of a chapter to figure out what was going on. I also loved that it took place in Maine. I am familiar with coastal Maine and thought it was a perfect setting for The Wishing Game.

The main storyline of The Wishing Game centers around Lucy and Hugo. Lucy is a teacher’s aide who wants no more than to adopt seven-year-old Christopher. The first couple of chapters of The Wishing Game laid the foundation for that. The other part of the storyline centers around Hugo. Like Lucy, his past shaped him into who he was. Both parts of the storyline were well-written and kept my attention.

Several secondary storylines fleshed out the main storyline. The one that stood out the most to me was Lucy’s early childhood. That storyline explains why Lucy came across as almost needy when it came to Jack’s attention. It also explained why she made some bad mistakes when she was younger. The resolution to that storyline was heartbreaking. Another secondary storyline that stood out to me was Hugo and his relationship with his younger brother. It sheds new light on Hugo, why he was on the island with Jack, and why Hugo felt responsible for Jack. While reading it, my heart shattered several times, but it also made me happy.

Lucy went through significant growth during The Wishing Game. At the beginning of the book, she is bitter about her past, about not being able to adopt or even foster Christopher, about her life—-bitter about everything. She was allowed to be upset. What I liked was that she didn’t wallow in it. Instead, she turned that bitterness into action when she found out she was in the contest. She was determined to win. I liked how she immediately clicked with Jack. For her, it was like she was finally coming home. By the end of the book, she had discarded that bitterness (a huge scene detailed it), and she became the person she was meant to be.

Hugo wasn’t my favorite character when I started the book. He was rude and abrasive. Hugo was rude to Jack. But as the book went on, it was explained why he was so prickly. The author took her time explaining everything but dropped enough hints that I figured out most of what happened. It still didn’t take away from me getting emotional when it was revealed. Hugo didn’t exactly do a 180 by the time the book ended. Instead, it was more like an onion being peeled, with more depth underneath than initially hinted at.

I enjoyed Jack’s character. Again, he was another character who had so much depth to him. When Jack was introduced, he came across as a kindly children’s author who suffered a tragedy that kept him on his island. But, as the story went on, the more in-depth the author got into Jack’s character. I will not drop spoilers and tell you guys what his backstory is. I will only say this: Jack overcame his upbringing to become what he was. He also couldn’t be himself because of what he thought society would think (and that got me so angry). The author also included the entire 100 books that Jack wrote. I know they are fictional, but I hope the author decides to write them. From the excerpts that the author wrote, I was very interested in them. I also liked the riddles and puzzles that he came up with. He had me guessing the answers along with the contestants.

The end of The Wishing Game surprised me. Remember how I said this book initially reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Up until the end of the contest, I kept seeing the similarities. Then the author did a quick 180, and any resemblance ended. I won’t say what happened, but I was shocked. I will also say that Jack is a very good man who tortured himself over things he had no control over.

I would recommend The Wishing Game to anyone over 16. This is a clean book with no sex or sexual situations. There is mild violence and language.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books, NetGalley, and Meg Shaffer for allowing me to read and review The Wishing Game. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of The Wishing Game, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: May 23rd, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Adult, Fiction, Retellings, Arthurian, LGBT, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Science Fiction Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Climate Change, Eco-Terrorism, Racism, Grief

Publication Link: Kindle | Audible | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An immortal Knight of the Round Table faces his greatest challenge yet—saving the politically polarized, rapidly warming world from itself—in this slyly funny contemporary take on Arthurian legend.

Being reborn as an immortal defender of the realm gets awfully damn tiring over the years—or at least that’s what Sir Kay’s thinking as he claws his way up from beneath the earth, yet again.

Kay fought at Hastings, and at Waterloo, and in both World Wars. After a thousand years, he thought he was used to dealing with a crisis. But now he finds himself in a strange new world where oceans have risen, armies have been privatized, and half of Britain’s been sold to the Chinese. The dragon that’s running amok, that he can handle. The rest? He’s not so sure.

Mariam’s devoted her life to fighting what’s wrong with her country. But she’s just one ordinary person, up against a hopelessly broken system. So when she meets Kay, a figure straight out of legend, she dares to hope that the world’s finally found the savior it needs.

As the two quest through this strange land swarming with gangs, mercenaries, and talking squirrels, they realize that other ancient evils are afoot. Lancelot is back too–at the beck and call of immortal beings with a sinister agenda. And if their plans can’t be stopped, a dragon will be the least of the planet’s worries.

In perilous times like these, the realm doesn’t just need a knight. It needs a true leader.

Luckily, Excalibur lies within reach–and Kay’s starting to suspect that the hero fit to carry it is close at hand.

First Line:

Kay crawls up from under his hill, up through the claggy earth.

Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee

Cursed (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) with saving Britain from peril, Kay is digging his way out of the earth when he realizes it is different. There is no birdsong, no bugs, and it is uncomfortably warm. He doesn’t understand why he has been summoned to protect Britain again until he meets Miriam. Miriam has been devoted to saving the world from climate change and impending doom. When she meets Kay, she accidentally blows up a fracking rig, blowing toxic fumes into the atmosphere. After accepting Kay’s explanation (after seeing him return to life after being killed), Miriam and Kay start a quest to help Britain. But, also resurrected is Lancelot, and he is working for the enemy. What happens when the unthinkable happens and an ancient leader is resurrected? Will Miriam and Kay be able to help Britain and the environment? Or will Lancelot and the villains succeed in their plans?

I have always been intrigued by the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I have prioritized reading anything that mentions King Arthur, the Knights, and the legend. So, when I read the Perilous Times blurb, I knew I wanted to read it. And let me tell you, I am glad that I did because this book was equally funny and heartbreaking.

Perilous Times is a fast to medium-paced book in future England. The book takes a wandering tour through various English cities and eventually ends up in Wales. The pacing suited this book. The author kept the pace fast enough for me to follow (without returning to previous pages to reread) but slowed down during crucial parts.

The plotline of Perilous Times centers around Kay, Miriam, Lancelot, and the plot to bring King Arthur back (and yes, it is a spoiler). This plot meanders all over the place but, at the same time, sticks closely to the main characters. Usually, I wouldn’t like it written like that, but in this case, it worked. It allowed for a good view of dystopian England affected by climate change and other outside influences. The author did a great job of stressing how climate change affected the lower-lying coastal areas, rivers, and other bodies of water. As for the different influences, it wasn’t a stretch to see Britain reduced to a shadow of what it was. No monarchy, Wales and Scotland were independent (honestly, I can picture this in real life), armies were privatized, and other countries bought up parts of England to help pay their debts. Again, I had no issue seeing this happening in real life.

There are trigger warnings in Perilous Times. They are:

  1. Climate Change: England (and the rest of the world) has been ravaged by climate change. Polar caps have melted, releasing long-dormant diseases. Seas have risen because of the polar caps melting. Trees are almost all gone. Birds, worms, and insects are dying out.
  2. Eco-Terrorism: Miriam is part of an eco-terrorist group trying their hardest to save the world. They do this through nonviolent protests. But Miriam goes off script and accidentally blows up a fracking complex.
  3. Racism: Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in dystopian England. Kay, who is black, makes it a point to remember that his skin color wasn’t an issue until more recently (the last two to three hundred years). Kay also takes a rather drastic approach to being talked down too: he slaughters everyone in the group except Barry, who he turns into a squirrel.
  4. Grief: Kay grieves for his wife and the past. Lancelot grieves for his lover when he discovers what happened to his tree. But Lancelot also turns that grief into a rage and exacts revenge.

If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book.

I liked Kay and understood why he was so tired of being resurrected. All he wanted was to be at peace and see his wife in Heaven. But he knew something was different when he dug out of the earth this time. The world was too warm, too wet. He meets Miriam after the fracking explosion and convinces her to take him to Manchester. But, on the way, they encounter a dragon, and Kay’s quest to get to Manchester gets sidetracked. He gets to Manchester, gets Excalibur, and starts on a quest to find Merlin. While on that quest, a whole bunch of Monty Python-like situations happens. Kay’s storyline kept me on my toes.

I liked Miriam. She was trying her hardest to do her part to save the world. She knew that the Saxon Company (a megacorporation) was behind everything that had happened to England (and the world) but didn’t know how to change things. It wasn’t until she accidentally blew up a fracking site and met Kay that her path became clear. She was a quiet but compelling leader who wasn’t afraid to get stuff done. She convinced her FETA sisters to follow her and Kay. The best part of her storyline was towards the end of the book. What she did was nothing short of amazing. All I can say is, Once and Future Queen?

Lancelot was different from who I thought he would be in Perilous Times. He was not the Lancelot from myth. In this book, Lancelot is at the beck and call of the Saxon Company and a man named Marlowe. He also was gay, which was a surprising turn for me (since he supposedly seduced King Arthur’s wife). His sexuality added extra depth to his character. I didn’t think he was terrible, but he did shady stuff like taking Kay’s wooden staff or helping Marlowe and Morgan resurrect King Arthur. But, once he realized what he did was wrong (and it was very shortly after King Arthur returned), he set about fixing things with Morgan.

As I mentioned above, King Arthur is brought back. I was not too fond of his character, but at the same time, I couldn’t stop reading. The author portrayed him as a jerk and a sexist. He was also too easily led by people and couldn’t see the truth if it was woven in front of his face. In the end, though, he did the right thing; for a secondary character, he was larger than life. He almost overshadowed the main characters at one point in the book.

The author did have Merlin make a brief appearance. Honestly, I was very disappointed in how the author portrayed his character. I thought he would have had more interactions with Kay. But after the bombshell he dropped on Kay, he jetted. I was not OK with that.

There were several other deities/gods/goddesses mentioned in Perilous Times. The fae was brought in a solitary character that sold drugs (now that did make me laugh for a minute). Herne, a Celtic forest god, communicated with Kay and Miriam through dreams. And the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, was a considerable presence towards the end of the book. She reminded me of a cranky old lady who complained about doing things but did them anyways.

The end of Perilous Times was action-packed and very interesting. I will not get more into it than others to say I agreed with how it ended. There was hope for a better future.

I would recommend Perilous Times to anyone over 21. There is language and violence, but no sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warning list.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books, NetGalley, and Thomas D. Lee for allowing me to read and review Perilous Times. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Perilous Times, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Brainstorm (Elements of Mind: Book 1) by Nissa Harlow

Publisher: Nimble Hope Publishing

Date of publication: May 2nd, 2023

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Elements of Mind

Brainstorm—Book 1

Dreamflare—Book 2

Mindquake—Book 3

Headrush—Book 4

Purchase Links: Kindle | Kobo

Trigger Warnings: Vomit

Goodreads Synopsis:

What’s worse than nearly puking in front of a cute guy? Zombies. Definitely zombies.

I’m not feeling so great. I don’t know if it’s something I ate, or if it’s from flipping through one too many teen paranormal romances, trying to find inspiration for an obnoxiously backward creative writing assignment. (Seriously. What kind of teacher asks their students to write a story in their least favourite genre?) But I’m determined not to barf in this stupid vampire book I’m holding, especially not in front of the cute guy who’s checking out the library’s pitiful selection of DVDs. So I make a run for the bathroom… only to have the guy follow me in there. Can you believe it?

But that’s just the first unbelievable thing that happens. When we come out of the bathroom, the library appears to be closed. Weirder still, it’s surrounded by a strange, supernatural storm that definitely wasn’t there a few minutes ago.

Being trapped in a library with a new friend (or enemy—I haven’t decided yet) might not be the worst thing in the world. But it might not be the best thing, either… especially once that weird storm starts spitting out characters that are only supposed to exist in stories, and we find ourselves trying to figure out how to take on a horde of zombies with nothing but our wits, the Dewey Decimal System, and some very strange bookish magic.

Elements of Mind is a metaphysical fantasy quartet that celebrates the power of stories… and the people who create them. Join Sadie on her elemental adventure today!

First Line:

Don’t barf in the book. Don’t barf in the book. Saliva floods my mouth.

Brainstorm by Nissa Harlow

Sadie is not having a good day. First, she has to do a writing assignment on teenage paranormal romances (which disgusts her); secondly, she’s feeling sick to her stomach (which might be partly due to what she has had to read). There is a super cute guy the next aisle over that Sadie keeps checking out. But her stomach gets the better of her, and she barely reaches the bathroom before she throws up on the toilet, her shoes, the floor, and the wall. Sadie wasn’t expecting the super cute guy to follow her into the bathroom to ensure she was OK. And she wasn’t expecting the library to be surrounded by a strange storm that trapped her in the library with the cute guy or fictional characters to appear when the wind ripped out pages of books. When one of the characters throws a zombie manga’s pages into the wind, Sadie and Lincoln know they need to find a way to beat them. But Sadie has so many questions that she doesn’t have the time to get answers for (because of zombies). Will Sadie get her answers? Will they outwit the zombie horde and save the other book characters? Or will they be stuck in the library forever?

Generally, I try not to review short stories or novellas when reviewing books. I always feel that the books are too fast, and some don’t have enough plotlines for me to whip up a good review. But, I was intrigued by Brainstorm. I loved how the author wrote the blurb, and oddly enough, I wanted to see how Sadie and Lincoln ended up in a weird storm that spits out book characters.

Brainstorm is a fast-paced book set in an unknown town in the United States. The entirety of the book is set in the town’s library. Brainstorm is also a short book, more like a novella, with only 66 pages. But it is worth the read.

There are trigger warnings in Brainstorm. There is one, and I went back and forth on putting it here. The trigger warning is:

  1. Vomit: Sadie starts off the book puking in the library bathroom. It was a tad graphic, and if you have a sympathetic stomach like me, you would want to puke too. And guess what? I almost did. I had to put the book down and take a Tums to settle my stomach.

If this trigger warning triggers you, I suggest not reading this book (even though you would miss out!!)

The main storyline in Brainstorm centers around Sadie, Lincoln, the storm, the characters, and them trying to outwit the zombies. I loved it and couldn’t get enough of it. The author puts a different spin on the story by having Jane Eyre, Adele, Gage the vampire, and the zombies appear. It made the book more exciting. I got a giggle from Sadie and Lincoln’s interactions with the characters (minus the zombies).

I loved Sadie. She wasn’t happy about doing her writing assignment and wasn’t afraid to let people know about it. I also liked how she was not so secretly checking out Lincoln (before she got sick). Once she exited the bathroom, she tried to take charge and discover what was happening. And when Jane and Adele showed up, she was determined to protect them. The best lines in the book were when Gage the vampire turned up and started doing his broody thing (think Edward from Twilight), and Sadie was like, “Just get away from me.” I cracked up laughing at that. I also liked that she forgot to tell Lincoln something significant at the end of the book. She, again, made me laugh.

The end of Brainstorm had me wondering what happened. The author added a neat twist to the storyline, and of course, it made me wonder what exactly happened!! She did leave the storyline wide open with the ending. And because of that, I can’t wait to read book 2.

I recommend Brainstorm to anyone over 13. There is mild language, violence, and no sexual situations. Also, see my one trigger warning above.

Many thanks to Nissa Harlow for allowing me to read and review Brainstorm. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Brainstorm, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Nissa Harlow:

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of Publication: May 2nd, 2023

Genre: Science Fiction, Fiction, Dystopia, Fantasy, Thriller, Mystery, Adult, Science Fiction Fantasy, Horror, Speculative Fiction

Trigger Warnings:

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

From author of The Passage comes a standalone novel about a group of survivors on a hidden island utopia–where the truth isn’t what it seems.

Founded by the mysterious genius known as the Designer, the archipelago of Prospera lies hidden from the horrors of a deteriorating outside world. In this island paradise, Prospera’s lucky citizens enjoy long, fulfilling lives until the monitors embedded in their forearms, meant to measure their physical health and psychological well-being, fall below 10 percent. Then they retire themselves, embarking on a ferry ride to the island known as the Nursery, where their failing bodies are renewed, their memories are wiped clean, and they are readied to restart life afresh.

Proctor Bennett, of the Department of Social Contracts, has a satisfying career as a ferryman, gently shepherding people through the retirement process–and, when necessary, enforcing it. But all is not well with Proctor. For one thing, he’s been dreaming–which is supposed to be impossible in Prospera. For another, his monitor percentage has begun to drop alarmingly fast. And then comes the day he is summoned to retire his own father, who gives him a disturbing and cryptic message before being wrestled onto the ferry.

Meanwhile, something is stirring. The Support Staff, ordinary men and women who provide the labor to keep Prospera running, have begun to question their place in the social order. Unrest is building, and there are rumors spreading of a resistance group–known as “Arrivalists”–who may be fomenting revolution.

Soon Proctor finds himself questioning everything he once believed, entangled with a much bigger cause than he realized–and on a desperate mission to uncover the truth.

First Line:

Dawn is breaking when she creeps from the house. The air is cool and fresh; birds are singing in the trees.

The Ferryman by Justin Cronin

Prospera is an island utopia that the mysterious Designer founded to shield people from climate change and the general chaos of the outside world. Death is not known in Prospera. All residents wear a monitor embedded in their arms, and those monitors measure their physical and mental health. Once the meter falls below 10 percent, the citizens must retire to the Nursery. There, their memories are wiped, their bodies rejuvenated, and they are readied to start life again as a teenager. But things are beginning to change in Prospera. The support staff, who mainly live in the Annex, are beginning to question their place in the social order of the island, and a resistance group is formed. While that is happening, Proctor Bennett, the Director of Social Contracts, is having a crisis. He has been dreaming, something no one on the island should be able to do. Proctor also received a cryptic message from his father shortly before his father forcibly retired. Running into roadblocks, Proctor starts to realize that there is more going on in Prospera than he realized and that Prospera isn’t what he thinks it is. What will happen when Proctor uncovers the truth? Will he be able to handle it?

I first heard about The Ferryman when I read several reviews on blogs I follow. What I read got me very interested in reading it. But I figured I would have to wait for it to be published to read it. It so happens that I saw it was on Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine’s NetGalley page as a wish. So I figured I would wish for it and see if I got it. And as you can see, I did. I was very excited; this became the book I read this spring. I hyped it up in my mind, and I became a little wary about it. Usually, when I get so excited to read a book, I get let down. Not in this case. Nope, this book definitely delivered for me!!

The Ferryman centers its storyline around Proctor. Proctor is an Elite. From the age of 15/16, he grew up lacking nothing on Prospera. He eventually married an artist and became head the Director of Social Contracts (who oversaw the ferryman). Life was good until it wasn’t. The author briefly explains Proctor’s early life, including the death of his beloved mother. More focus was on Proctor’s dreams, his rapidly falling stats on his monitor, and his shaky mental health. Everything started to happen after Proctor was forced to retire his father, and his father kept repeating a word over and over. That starts Proctor’s digging into the truth, and what he uncovers is amazing and, frankly, a little scary (and I am applying what was revealed in the last part of the book to this statement)

The other main storyline in The Ferryman centers around Thea, The Annex, Mother, and the resistance. The author did a wonderful job of keeping me guessing how Thea was involved and why she sought out Proctor. And when he melded the storylines, it was gold. I loved it!!!

There was a major secondary storyline involving the heads of the society. I can’t get much into it, but everything they were doing made sense once it was explained. I can’t give any more detail than that. But I was a little surprised by what Proctor did at the end. I was left scratching my head at first, but then I thought of the old saying: Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Then it made perfect sense.

The characters in The Ferryman were well-written and fleshed out. I wish I could go more into them because there is more to their characters than what is revealed at first. I loved the comparisons once the author dropped his bombshell. It made sense.

I liked Proctor. He was a natural leader, but he was so confused by what was happening to him. I liked that even his dreams kept telling him to do things. I also liked that his dreams hinted at something that could destroy him. When that was revealed, it did. But then he got back up and resolved to keep fighting.

I thought Thea was awesome. I had her pegged as someone totally different than what she was portrayed as. Her actions throughout the book showed that. She loved Proctor to the point where she was willing to let him go.

The end of The Ferryman was amazing. The author explained everything that was going on in the book. And when I say everything, I mean everything. All of my questions were answered, and then some. Did I agree with what Proctor did at the end of the book? Not really, but I got why he did it. There was also a big twist involving Thea that I maybe should have seen coming, but I didn’t.

I recommend The Ferryman to anyone over 21. There is language, mild sexual situations, and violence.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books, NetGalley, and Justin Cronin for allowing me to read and review The Ferryman. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of The Ferryman, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Justin Cronin:

This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Date of publication: April 25th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Young Adult, LGBT, Queer, Lesbian, Thriller, Mystery, Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery Thriller

Trigger Warnings: Alcohol consumption by minors, Anxiety disorders (mentioned), Blood, Gore, Body Horror, Cannibalism, Captivity, Confinement, Dead bodies, body parts, Deadnaming, Death of a grandparent, Death of a sibling, drugging, drug use, fire, grief, loss, gun violence, intrusive thoughts, murder, needles, syringes, nightmares, parental neglect, pandemic, scars, sexism, suicidal ideation, transphobia

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Four best friends, one music festival, and a cooler filled with human organs: this summer is about to get gory. ​​​

Jennifer’s Body fans will clamor for this new sapphic horror standalone from New York Times bestselling author Kayla Cottingham.

Three years ago, the melting of arctic permafrost released a pathogen of unknown origin into the atmosphere, causing a small percentage of people to undergo a transformation that became known as the Hollowing. Those impacted slowly became intolerant to normal food and were only able to gain sustenance by consuming the flesh of other human beings. Those who went without flesh quickly became feral, turning on their friends and family. However, scientists were able to create a synthetic version of human meat that would satisfy the hunger of those impacted by the Hollowing. As a result, humanity slowly began to return to normal, albeit with lasting fear and distrust for the people they’d pejoratively dubbed ghouls.

Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine are all ghouls living in Southern California. As a last hurrah before their graduation they decided to attend a musical festival in the desert. They have a cooler filled with hard seltzers and SynFlesh and are ready to party.

But on the first night of the festival Val goes feral, and ends up killing and eating a boy. As other festival guests start disappearing around them the girls soon discover someone is drugging ghouls and making them feral. And if they can’t figure out how to stop it, and soon, no one at the festival is safe.

First Line:

When my parents asked if I wanted a Mini Cooper for graduation, I didn’t think ahead to whether or not it would have enough trunk space to accommodate my cooler full of organs.

This Delicious Death by Kayla Cottingham

Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine are preparing to attend a desert music festival. This event is a big deal for them because they were infected with a pathogen three years earlier, which turned them into ghouls. They all rely on synthetic meat to satisfy their hunger, which keeps them from going feral (and turning back into ghouls). But ghouls are feared, and the girls are monitored constantly. So, taking this trip is a big deal to them. But, on the first night, Valeria goes feral, killing and eating a boy. After investigating why Valeria went feral, the girls make a surprising discovery: someone is drugging ghouls and causing them to go feral. With other guests going missing and the National Guard on their way to round up the ghouls, the girls must find out who is behind it and why. But, what they discover is just the tip of something much bigger than what they realized. Can they stop the people behind it? Can they retain their humanity?

I had initially seen This Delicious Death floating around the blogosphere. I liked the blurb for the book and made it a point to put it on my short list of books I want to read. Then I got an email from NetGalley saying they had the book on a limited Read Now for the first 500 people. I made sure that I immediately downloaded it. I can’t even begin to express how excited I was about this. The funny thing about this is that I am terrified of any zombie movie/tv show/book—I legit freak out. So I was curious how I would react when reading This Delicious Death. I didn’t have the reaction I thought, and I loved it!!

This Delicious Death has numerous trigger/content warnings. The author kindly lists everything at the beginning of the book. They are:

  1. Alcohol Consumption by Minors: Zoey, Celeste, Valeria, and Jasmine drink constantly throughout the book. They are served at bars set up at the festival also.
  2. Anxiety Disorders: It is mentioned throughout the book that Celeste and Zoey have anxiety. Also, Jessica and Valeria have anxiety because of what they went through during the Hollowing.
  3. Blood: There is a lot of blood in this book. Seeing that it is a zombie book, I would have been surprised if there wasn’t blood.
  4. Gore: There is a lot of gore throughout This Delicious Death. The explicit scenes happen during each girl’s flashback to the Hollowing, Cole’s flashback, Valeria’s feral scenes, and the scenes in Facility B.
  5. Body Horror: There are quite a few scenes where the author graphically describes the girls eating synthetic organs and meat. There are also scenes where the author details the girls (in their flashbacks) killing and eating people. There are scenes towards the end of the book where the girls watch a ghoul (called the anthropophagi) kill and eat a boy in front of them.
  6. Cannibalism: The girls need to eat human flesh so they don’t become ghouls. It is graphically detailed throughout the book.
  7. Captivity: Celeste and Zoey are captured and held at two different facilities while they are ghouls. The anthropophagi are held captive in Facility B. While at the festival, Celeste, Jasmine, and Zoey are in their cabin.
  8. Confinement: Zoey was confined to a facility for months longer than Celeste. Valeria was confined to her house and then her room during the onset of the pandemic. The four girls are confined to their cabin before going to Facility B and after the events at Facility B.
  9. Dead Bodies: There are dead bodies throughout the book. Some, the girls caused (in their flashbacks and present day), and others, they stumbled upon.
  10. Body Parts: The girls must eat organs and body parts to satisfy their ghouls. Different body parts appear once ghouls start getting drugged and the anthropophagi are removed from Facility B.
  11. Deadnaming: Celeste (who is trans) is almost deadnamed at a party after the Hollowing. The author stopped short of having that person say what her male name was.
  12. Death of a grandparent: Jasmine’s grandmother was killed after she turned. Jasmine and her younger brother left when her grandmother started tearing up her bedroom.
  13. Death of a sibling: Cole killed and ate his older sister while she was on Facebook Live with her boyfriend (who was also Cole’s bandmate). Cole never recovered from doing that.
  14. Drugging: Celeste and Zoey were drugged during their capture. Zoey was drugged constantly during her captivity. Valeria was drugged at a bar, turned feral, and killed the boy she was with. His bandmates drugged Cole towards the end of the book, and he went feral.
  15. Drug Use: I think that drugs were used recreationally by other festival-goers. I don’t believe that the girls (or Cole) used drugs.
  16. Fire: A fire was deliberately set in Facility B at the end of the book.
  17. Grief: Both Celeste and Zoey grieve the deaths of the hunter and camp counselor they killed and ate. Jasmine grieves that she has scarred her brother for life. Valeria grieves what she did to survive. Cole grieves what he did to his sister.
  18. Loss: Each of the main characters experienced loss. There is too much to go into, but the author covers each person individually in their flashbacks and the present day.
  19. Gun Violence: In flashbacks, a hunter holds Celeste and Zoey at rifle point, and Zoey is shot. Present day, Celeste is shot by a National Guardsman while distracting them from seeing Zoey and Jasmine going after Valeria.
  20. Intrusive Thoughts: Zoey is tortured by what she did while a ghoul and thinks about suicide. Cole is also tormented by what he did.
  21. Murder: Zoey and Celeste murder their camp counselor and the hunter. Jasmine murders the white supremacist couple that was threatening her brother. Valeria murders the star football player in a scuffle over a corpse. Valeria murders the boy she was with at the bar. Cole murders his sister.
  22. Needles: Zoey is given medication through her neck with a needle while confined. Celeste takes her hormones with needles. Jasmine gives Valeria the antidote with a needle to the neck.
  23. Syringes: See above.
  24. Nightmares: All four girls suffer from nightmares from what they did while they were ghouls. The same goes for Cole.
  25. Parental Neglect: Zoey’s parents refuse to have anything to do with her after she returns home. Her parents are terrified of her. She is painfully aware of that.
  26. Pandemic: The Hollowing is caused by a pathogen released by melting polar ice caps. That sets off a worldwide pandemic of ghouls.
  27. Scars: The girls and Cole have mental scars from their Hollowing.
  28. Sexism: The lead singer of the band that Cole is in is sexist. He makes several remarks during the book that set me on edge.
  29. Suicidal Ideation: Zoey and Cole have thoughts about suicide during the book. This is directly related to what they went through during the Hollowing.
  30. Transphobia: Celeste is trans (male to female). She is afraid to tell her followers (she is an influencer) because of the transphobic backlash. There is a small moment of transphobia at a party she is at with Valeria and Zoey, but Jasmine stops it.

This is a lengthy list. If any of these triggers you, I suggest not reading the book.

The main storyline of This Delicious Death centers around the four girls (Zoey, Celeste, Jasmine, and Valeria), their trip to the festival, the mystery of who is behind drugging the ghouls and why, and the girls’ backstories. Let’s start with the backstories first. The author gave each girl a smallish chapter explaining how they became ghouls. It was heartbreaking in all cases because of how young they were. They were all around 15 years old, and they were all in different parts of California. The author details what they did to survive and sometimes did it explicitly. But those chapters were sprinkled throughout the book. The main focus was on Valeria going feral and why. I loved how the girls went about their investigations. They were resourceful with their limitations. Because they were ghouls, they were not allowed to go beyond certain boundaries. Once they discovered the drug, it was a search for who and why. It was a very twisty investigation, and I was surprised at what the girls turned up. I wasn’t surprised at who was behind it (because I had an idea it was those people).

The main characters (Celeste, Zoey, Jasmine, and Valeria) were well-written and multifaceted. I liked that they were diverse, but at the same time, they weren’t (if that makes sense). I liked that each girl brought their personality to the story. Even when they were fighting, which they did quite a bit of in the middle of the book, they were still respectful of each other and watched out for each other. It was watching out for each other that eventually paved the way to the ending events of the book.

The romance angle of the book was well played out. You knew what Zoey’s feelings were for Celeste since page one. She was in love with her. But she wasn’t sure how Celeste felt about Zoey, and the author kept it that way until the end of the book. I wasn’t sure if I liked the almost romance between Zoey and Cole, mainly because it didn’t feel right.

The mystery angle of This Delicious Death was wonderfully written. The author had me guessing who drugged Valeria and the other ghouls. I liked how the girls did their investigations and ended up at Facility B. But how they tied everything together (with Cole’s help) and decided to get the antidote to the drug and rescue Valeria made the book!!

I was almost unreasonably angry with Zoey’s parents. Finding out your kid had been changed into a flesh-eating monster was soul-shattering. But to let her languish in that detention center and treat her like dirt when she got out was awful. For three years, she raised herself while her parents made themselves scarce. At least she had a parent in Celeste’s mom. Speaking of Celeste’s mom, she was the MVP of the entire book. She was one of the most accepting, down-to-earth, loving people ever!! I was jealous of Celeste.

An interesting secondary storyline involved Cole’s stepfather, the drug he tested out, and ghouls that went crazy. There was a point in the book where I wondered if the author would explain the background of the anthropophagi. I wasn’t expecting the horrible backstory to that, though. I also didn’t expect Cole’s stepfather to develop a conscience about his actions and create an antidote.

The end of This Delicious Death was gripping and heartbreaking. I expected everything to go down differently than it did. I’m not going to go much more into it other than that.

I would recommend This Delicious Death to anyone over 21. There is violence, language, and nongraphic sexual situations. Also, see the very long list of triggers above.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire, NetGalley, and Kayla Cottingham for allowing me to read and review This Delicious Death. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of This Delicious Death, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Kayla Cottingham:

Tales from the Box, Volume 1 by Weston Kincaide

Publisher: Shattered Light Press

Date of publication: March 31st, 2023

Genre: Anthology, Fantasy, Paranormal

Trigger Warnings: Murder, Torment, Pedophile (suggestion), Gore, Blood, Suicide, Mass Suicide

Purchase Links: Kindle

Goodreads Synopsis:

Tales from the Box, Volume I, is the first solo collection of fantasy and supernatural horror from Amazon best-selling author Weston Kincade.

The stories inside delve into secret niches that skirt reality. Tales from the Box includes witty stories from Hell, music auditions with a flair for magic, one small town’s Halloween Minute Man, an etiquette consultant confronted by an audience of identical teens, and even a man who finds himself permanently drunk, sans alcohol. From surprising mystical finds at your local garage sale to odd games played in a zombie-filled world, this twenty-story collection is written to delight.

If you enjoy Twilight Zone, Stephen King, or M. Night Shyamalan, Tales from the Box has what you need, stories of fantasy and horror hidden in shadow until now.

First Line:

“Has anyone called maintenance? It seems like an eternity since the AC worked in here.” A middle-aged man peers over the walls of his cubicle, asking anyone within earshot.

Tales from the Box (No Complaints) by Weston Kincaide

I was hesitant to review this book because it is an anthology. I have a love/hate relationship with reviewing these types of books. But since I have read and reviewed for the author before, I decided to review Tales from the Box. I am glad I did because this book was great and had some gems in it!!

Since this is an anthology, I will write a mini review on each story. This is the best way to cover each story instead of giving a blanket review of the entire book. So here goes nothing!!

No Complaints—This is the first story in the book, and it sets the tone for the book. I giggled at where the author set the office and how useless it was for John to complain about the heat.

Not My Lucky Charms—I will not lie; I laughed a little while reading this story. As you can guess, this is about a leprechaun. But this leprechaun is evil and does the vilest things to a strip club owner. And his name was what made me laugh. The ending was a little weird, but it fit the story.

Prison Torment— This one was the sadder of the twenty stories. Sam worked at a prison and was well respected. That ended when he told Simon (a colleague?) his secret, and work became unbearable—with the inmates taunting him. It wasn’t until Sam met Kaleb that I realized what Sam’s secret was, and it wasn’t until it happened that I realized what Sam was planning on doing. What shocked me was what Kaleb did when he came back. It didn’t take a lot to shock me, but that did.

Three-Car World—This was an interesting short story. I didn’t get what was happening until almost the story’s end. It made sense when it was explained (about the Great Pitching and what was happening to the train). It also made sense what people were willing to do to save themselves.

H.E.L.L.—This was one of my least favorite stories. But, if this were real life, it would have made sense. Hell would need a lawyer and a PR specialist, and who better than one who was already going to Hell? I liked the twist the author put at the end of this story. But it didn’t resonate with me.

Audition Surprise—I liked this story. I loved the author took American Idol and put a sinister spin on it. That whole audition had me glued to the story. Of course, there was an evil undercurrent to everything. I couldn’t pinpoint who was controlling it until the end of the story. Then the author sprang it on me and why this person did what they did.

The Etiquette Consultant—What a creepy story. There were so many layers here, and I wished the author had time to peel them back. The star of this story was the etiquette consultant and his tutoring of clones. There was a creepy end to the story. I wasn’t sure what to make of the end of the story.

Hunger—This was an interesting story. It is set during a zombie apocalypse. Three survivors ran across a community that had an interesting pastime. I won’t get into it, but it was gruesome. The end surprised me because I didn’t see it coming.

Masks—So, I will never go to a yard sale again. After what Janice went through (and she did deserve some of it), I will never look at other people’s stuff and take it home. Of course, Janice did deserve it (she was nasty), but still. It was a great take on a particular Greek myth.

Out to Lunch—This story confused me a little at the beginning. The author eventually explained what happened, and I felt it was a good twist for this story!! I rooted for the three people (or beings) this story centered around.

Tick-Tock—This was a genuinely creepy story. It took a little bit to get into, but it was fantastic when it did. I loved the lore in this story, the vengeful ghost, and the courageous schoolteacher. What I wasn’t expecting was the massive twist at the end. It took me by surprise because of who was in charge.

PermaDrunk—So, this story made me laugh and cry. I laughed because what a way to become famous. But it was who was behind the guy’s condition and why that made me cry. And that person had an agenda, which included targeting the drunk’s friends. I was surprised at how this story turned out.

Native Calling—I loved this story!! At first, I didn’t understand what was happening, and I figured it would be another zombie story. Well, this isn’t a zombie story. Instead, it goes into Navajo myth and legend. I won’t get much more into it other than to say it was fantastic!!

Sibling Rivalry—I was so sad reading this story. The author took the monster under the bed and ran with it. But the little girl, Melanie, broke my heart. The end of the story doubly broke my heart because she didn’t mean anything.

House Hunting—I was surprised by this story. I thought it would go one way, but it was strangely wholesome. Plus, I like the fact that ghosts can go house hunting. It brought a smile to my face.

Changes—So, this was a different type of werewolf story. I felt for Benjamin because he was chosen to be a weregoat (yes, you read that right), and it didn’t quite go as expected. Of course, this story has a couple of terrifying and cute twists.

Outsiders—I didn’t understand this story and had to read it twice to understand what was happening. I felt a little silly because it made sense once I understood that all three main characters were part of different organizations. Oh, and I loved the comparison the author drew upon. I kept hearing that person’s voice in my head….haha.

Tech Support—Again, this is a story that I wasn’t too sure about. I loved the action and the fact that people got assassinated. Also, the paranormal angle was chef’s kiss. But I got lost in what was going on. And again, I had to read this story a couple of times. Once I figured out what was going on, it made the final reread much better.

Uncertain Futures—This was a great fantasy story, and I could see it being a great novel. I loved that the professor was insane enough to deal with the punishment for cheating. And what he made those students do was awful!!

Off-World Bounties—This is an exciting story in the time of Wyatt Earp. I liked the power play in the bounty and what was revealed.

Knock, Knock!—This was a poem, but it was a scary poem. I had to read it twice before catching up on what was happening. All I have to say is that Tanner was a bad boy.

Otherside—This was a sad story. I didn’t get what was going on until halfway through the middle. Then it hit me. I can’t tell you much more than what I said because it was depressing after that to read.

So, overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a perfect mix of horror, paranormal, suspense, and mystery. It did make me laugh in spots, and I did cry in others.

I recommend Tales from the Box, Volume 1 to anyone over 21. There is violence and language. There are no sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warnings.

Many thanks to Weston Kincaide for allowing me to read and review Tales from the Box, Volume 1. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Tales from the Box, Volume 1, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Weston Kincaide:

Wings Once Cursed and Bound (Mythwoven: Book 1) by Piper J. Drake

4 Stars

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Date of publication: April 11th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy Romance, Fiction, Magic, Paranormal Romance, Vampires, Young Adult

Trigger Warning: kidnapping

Series: Mythwoven

Wings Once Cursed and Bound—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

For fans of Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer Armentrout comes a bold and captivating fantasy by bestselling author Piper J. Drake.

My wings unbound, I am the Thai bird princess
The kinnaree
And no matter the cost,
I will be free.

Bennet Andrews represents a secret organization of supernatural beings dedicated to locating and acquiring mythical objects, tucking them safely away where they cannot harm the human race. When he meets Peeraphan Rahttana, it’s too late—she has already stepped into The Red Shoes, trapped by their curse to dance to her death.

But Bennet isn’t the only supernatural looking for deadly artifacts. And when the shoes don’t seem to harm Peeraphan, he realizes that he’ll have to save her from the likes of creatures she never knew existed. Bennett sweeps Peeraphan into a world of myth and power far beyond anything she ever imagined. There, she finds that magic exists in places she never dreamed—including deep within herself.

First Line:

Peeraphan Rahttana closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, letting her senses expand until she was aware of every dancer waiting in the wings, of every stage tech behind the backdrops.

Wings Once Cursed and Bound by Piper J. Drake

Bennet is hunting for a dangerous magical artifact called The Red Shoes. Any human who puts them on is trapped by a curse and forced to dance to their death. He traced the shoes to a community center where a group practiced a traditional Thai dance. He gets there in time to see Peeraphan, also known as Punch, slip the shoes on her feet. What Bennet wasn’t expecting was Punch to be immune to the curse. Bennett is surprised to find out that Punch is a kinnaree, a Thai bird princess. Aware of her heritage, Punch is surprised to discover a world she didn’t know existed. A world where vampires, dragons, sidhe, and werewolves live and protect (for the most part) humans from beings and artifacts that will hurt them. Punch and Bennet look for a way to release the curse while battling a rogue vampire and a human collector of magical artifacts. Will Punch be able to release the curse and remove the shoes? Will she fully accept who and what she is?

Wings Once Cursed and Bound is a fast-paced book in and around Seattle, Washington. There needed to be more exploring of the city or the islands where Bennet took Punch, and I would have loved more description of the city/islands. But that was a minor quibble because I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Wings Once Cursed and Bound main storyline centers around Punch, Bennet, The Red Shoes, and the search for how to release the curse. I wanted to know if the author would let Punch remove the curse on the shoes. I admit I knew nothing about Thai (or any Eastern Asian mythology), and the kinnaree legend fascinated me. I also liked that the author included several urban legends/myths from around the world.

Several side storylines fed into the main one. Fransisco’s evil, devious plan to sell Punch to the collector was a major sub-storyline. Fransisco was a nasty dude, and I wish Bennet had ended him in that significant fight scene. But if Fransisco continues to be a problem in the series, I see why the author let him live. I liked that Punch blossomed in this storyline. And when I mean blossom, I mean she came into her powers. It was beautiful to see.

The paranormal angle of this book was excellent. I read about lesser-known supernatural entities, such as the kinnaree, karin puksa, kraisorn rajasri, tsurubebi, and the will-o’-the-wisp. I liked that the author mixed lesser-known mythical figures with the regular ones (the werewolves, fairies, sidhe, and vampires). At the end of the book, she included a section called Field Notes on the Supernatural and the Paranormal. The author incorporated all the entities and artifacts (such as Bluebeards Bloody Key, the Noose of the Phayanak, and The Red Shoes)mentioned in the book in the field guide. I hope that she includes this in the other books in the series.

There is a romance angle to Wings Once Cursed and Bound. It starts as Instalust (Bennet was very attracted to Punch but held off because he thought she was at least half human) but soon morphed into Instalove. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, to be honest. It felt a little forced. I would have loved to see Punch and Bennet’s relationship blossom slowly instead of falling head over heels within a couple of days of meeting each other.

The end of Wings Once Cursed and Bound was interesting. I can’t get into what happened, but I will say that I liked that Punch and Bennet were able to help some of the paranormal entities they found at the mansion. They also found several supernatural artifacts. I was a little grumpy with how Fransisco’s storyline ended, but I am sure he will turn up in the upcoming books, so I wasn’t sweating it. I also liked the insights into the winged fairies, the sidhe, the brownie, the witch, and the werewolf living on the island with Bennet. I wonder if the author will feature one of them in the next book!!!

I recommend Wings Once Cursed and Bound to anyone over 21. There are language, violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca, NetGalley, and Piper J. Drake for allowing me to read and review Wings Once Cursed and Bound. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Wings Once Cursed and Bound, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Piper J. Drake: