Can’t Wait Wednesday: Cruel Illusions by Margie Fuston

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings to share upcoming book releases that we’re excited about! This meme is based on Waiting on Wednesday, which was created and hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Cruel Illusions honestly sounds like a trope-filled delight. Our main character Ava is trying to avenge her mother’s death, but when Ava stumbles across a secret society of magicians, she finds out that somehow they’ve been waiting for her and she has magic in her veins. Also, it’s possible there could be vampires in this book. I’m so here for the vampire renaissance! Cruel Illusions will be released November 1, 2022.

Currently Reading: 5/23/22

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro
I’m about 20% into this already and I’m enjoying it at a slow pace – I think this is a book best savored! Despite the synopsis’ implication that it’s set entirely in England, there are a number of scenes set in the United States at the beginning. I think I’m going to like this one, as it’s certainly not a story of cut and dry good vs. bad.

Of Blood and Fire by Ryan Cahill
I’ve seen quite a few excellent reviews of this series in the various bookish communities I lurk around. I really just want to check it out and see if this epic fantasy is worthy of the praise I’ve seen. As always, I’m hoping for a new favorite series/author.

A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari – Review

Published: June 7, 2022

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Genre: Mystery

Series: Standalone

Pages: 304 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saffron Everleigh is in a race against time to free her wrongly accused professor before he goes behind bars forever. Perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anna Lee Huber, Kate Khavari’s debut historical mystery is a fast-paced, fearless adventure.

London, 1923. Newly minted research assistant Saffron Everleigh attends a dinner party for the University College of London. While she expects to engage in conversations about the university’s large expedition to the Amazon, she doesn’t expect Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives to drop to the floor, poisoned by an unknown toxin.

Dr. Maxwell, Saffron’s mentor, is the main suspect, having had an explosive argument with Dr. Henry a few days prior. As evidence mounts against Dr. Maxwell and the expedition’s departure draws nearer, Saffron realizes if she wants her mentor’s name cleared, she’ll have to do it herself.

Joined by enigmatic Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher, Saffron uses her knowledge of botany as she explores steamy greenhouses, dark gardens, and deadly poisons. Will she be able to uncover the truth or will her investigation land her on the murderer’s list?

This book is basically a terrible tale of what it was like to be a pretty woman in academia in 1923 in the sciences (this was before women could even vote in England!). The main character was harassed by male professors, treated as a glorified note taker, and mostly frowned upon. And this was all before the wife of one of the most prominent professors was nearly murdered, which is what the story is actually about!  

I liked Saffron Everleigh (what a name!). She was determined to earn a place for herself in the botany department at the University College of London, defying the will of her wealthy grandparents for her to marry well. Instead she would rather study plants, following in the footsteps of her deceased father. During a dinner party for department members and those going on a research trip to Brazil, Mrs. Henry, the wife of the philandering though prominent Dr. Henry, is poisoned. Unfortunately the suspicion falls on Saffron’s mentor, Dr. Maxwell, who had recently argued with Dr. Henry and had access to and knowledge of a deadly array of plant specimens. Saffron promptly sets out to clear Dr. Maxwell’s name and find out who really tried to murder Mrs. Henry – was it a jilted lover or perhaps the poison was intended for Dr. Henry?

The mystery aspect was less of the Sherlockian variety and more a slow untangling of the complicated social and professional history within the university. Saffron does a bit of snooping and solving, but mostly she eavesdrops and chats up various people who might have information, all while swooning over the handsome Alexander Ashton. I appreciated Saffron’s dedication to her mentor and her determination to become a successful, respected researcher in what was primarily a man’s world at that time. I also enjoyed the slowly building relationship between her and Mr. Ashton – it was cute and satisfying. 

This was an enjoyable read, though it doesn’t rank among my favorite mysteries. To me the plot felt a bit contrived at times, but I did think it was quite fun and it wasn’t a heavy, stodgy read. Once again, I picked a good book for a vacation read. It wasn’t a stressful book where your favorite hero is in dire peril (or horridly embarrassing themselves) and while clearing someone’s name and figuring out who’s the poisoner is high stakes, it’s not saving the world!

Stacking the Shelves: 5/21/22

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Reading Reality and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course audiobooks and ebooks!

Received for Review: 

As usual, Orbit keeps me well supplied with new books to read. I’ve already torn through both For the Throne and Half a Soul, so keep an eye out for reviews in the near future!

Half A Soul by Olivia Atwater
A delightfully fun Regency fantasy romance. Thanks to Orbit for the eARC – keep an eye out for a review soon!

Across the Sand by Hugh Howey
It’s been 6 years since Howey’s last book was released and I’m so excited to see how his writing has grown/changed since then! Thanks to Harper Voyager for the eARC.

Killers of A Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
Aged assassins must defend themselves against the upstart youngsters trying to take them out. I love the vibe of this – many thanks to Berkley for the eARC.

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan
Yesssss I cannot wait to start this! One of my most anticipated sequels of 2022. Alwyn Scribe started out as a bastard brigand and has risen to sword protector of Lady Evadine Courlain. Thanks to Orbit for the eARC.

Sign Here by Claudia Lux
This is about a guy who works in hell and needs one more soul to get his big promotion. I’m sure this going to be weirdly humorous, though it’s also labeled as horror on Goodreads. Really interested in this one – thanks for the eARC, Berkley!

The Poison Season by Mara Rutherford
This was something I requested largely because of how pretty the cover is. I’m hoping this will be a fun YA fantasy with a nice dash of romance. Thanks to Inkyard Press for the eARC!

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne
With a tagline like “Everyone knows the tale of Rapunzel in her tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there?”, I knew I had to read this. Many thanks to Redhook for the eARC.

Wild is the Witch by Rachel Griffin
I tried to resist this… and then I got one of those Netgalley emails where if you’re one of the first 500 people you get to download the book. And here we are. This is about a witch’s curse gone wrong and her attempt to right her mistake. Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for the eARC.

High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson
This was an irresistibly fun sounding novella and at only 160 pages, I decided I could make some time for it. Many thanks to Tordotcom for the eARC.

My Purchases:

On the left I have the two Fairyloot Adult Book Only subscription books for April and May, plus the latest subscription book from The Broken Binding, which is Joe Abercrombie’s Before They Are Hanged! And on the right, you can see I went a bit wild adding books to my shelves after I did a big shelf clean up. I decided to snag a hardcover of Daughter of the Moon Goddess after the sequel was announced and I also picked up the first three Raven Cycle books in hardcover, as it’s one of my favorite YA series.

And lastly, my audiobook/ebook haul from the last month! I’ve been slowing down on my audiobooks simply because I haven’t had the time thanks to the sheer number of ARCs I’ve been reading lately. I’ve finished up Fevered Star and The Wisteria Society for Lady Scoundrels an have Whispers Under Ground waiting for when I want to return to the world of Peter Grant. I also picked up the ebook of Along the Razor’s Edge by Rob J. Hayes recently as he was offering it for free. It’s also on Kindle Unlimited if you use that service.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings to share upcoming book releases that we’re excited about! This meme is based on Waiting on Wednesday, which was created and hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Look how MAGNIFICENT that cover is! And the UK covers for this series are just as beautiful – so much so that I’m tempted to get both editions. This is a continuation of Xingyin’s tale and yet again she must leave her home on the moon and go to the unexplored lands of the Immortal Realm with her friends to save all she holds dear. The first story was beautifully written and I was taken by surprise by how much I loved it – hoping this is just as wonderful! Heart of the Sun Warrior will be out November 15, 2022!

In A Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power – Review

Published: April 5, 2022

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Series: Argyrosi #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 432 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Twins imbued with incredible magic and near-immortality will do anything to keep their family safe—even if it tears the siblings apart—in the first book of a mythic epic fantasy from the New York Times bestselling author of Wilder Girls.

Rhea and her twin brother, Lexos, have spent an eternity helping their father rule their small, unstable country, using their control over the seasons, tides, and stars to keep the people in line. For a hundred years, they’ve been each other’s only ally, defending each other and their younger siblings against their father’s increasingly unpredictable anger.

Now, with an independence movement gaining ground and their father’s rule weakening, the twins must take matters into their own hands to keep their family—and their entire world—from crashing down around them. But other nations are jockeying for power, ready to cross and double cross, and if Rhea and Lexos aren’t careful, they’ll end up facing each other across the battlefield.

In A Garden Burning Gold was an odd book that was heavily into the political, which I tend to enjoy. Imagine a world that’s sort of like Greece with but instead of gods, it has immortal city state rulers and their broods of offspring who are granted shards of their parents power. You can kill them and take over their role for yourself if you fancy it, but you have to kill the whole family line.

The main characters are Rhea and Lexos, two children of one of the city-state rulers. I say children, but they’re hundreds of years old though admittedly they act rather immature or unwisely at times. Rhea and Lexos play important roles in ensuring stability across the lands, not just their own territories. Rhea takes a spouse each season and at the end of that time period she kills them to usher in the next season. As a result, she’s interacted with many more people than her siblings have and she’s seen more of their territory. You’d think that killing someone each season would make her unpopular, but to be chosen as her spousal sacrifice offers great benefits for the family and the city from which they were chosen so Rhea is feared but perhaps not as hated as she might be. Lexos’ job is to control tides and literally put the stars in the sky each night. He’s also the chosen heir to their father and he goes on diplomatic trips alongside him, interacting with the Seconds of each of the other city-states. Their younger two siblings have been granted lesser abilities and essentially never leave the family compound though they aren’t unimportant in the scope of this story. 

As they live out their days, the siblings begin to notice their father isn’t quite the man he used to be. He’s making poor decisions that harm or alienate their people and they begin trying to mitigate the damages in small ways. Eventually they begin rebelling in bigger ways – Rhea goes against her father’s choice for her next spouse and instead picks a man from a territory near rebellion. Lexos begins making his own deals and plotting for their family’s success without their father’s knowledge. Contingency plans, if you will. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if all their plans and plotting went smoothly.

This was an interesting story and I almost always enjoy a story that goes heavy on the politics. I just love some good, old fashioned backstabbing and plotting! I will say that these characters were unbelievably naive for people who’ve lived for a century already, even if they don’t get out much. It would have been easier if they had been like, in their thirties or something and were trying to keep their aging father from running the kingdom into the ground. It was different and was a surprisingly light read for something that was more politically oriented, which was great since I was plowing through books on a long flight! The ending took a somewhat surprising turn and I’ll be keeping my out for news of the sequel.

Currently Reading: 5/16/22

Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald
I really loved Ed McDonald’s Blackwing series and was vastly curious about what his new work would be about. The main character is a girl who can see and speak to the dead and when she saves a woman dying in the snow her future is irrevocably altered. Really hoping this is going to be a new fave!

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
This has been on my Audible wishlist for awhile now and I really needed something light and fun after a few heavier reads. And boy is it quirky! Flying pirate houses, assassination attempts, and possibly romance make for a fun Victorian inspired romp indeed!

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah – Review

Published: May 17, 2022

Publisher: Orbit Books

Series: The Sandsea Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 480 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One NightsThe Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

Mildly anticipated, highly enjoyed! This wasn’t on my most anticipated list for the year, but it was quietly sitting on my TBR tempting me with promises of jinn magic and One Thousand and One Nights inspired themes. I’m so glad I checked it out because it was amazing!

Loulie al-Nazari, garbed in her midnight blue star speckled garments, sells rare jinn artifacts to wealthy collectors defying the sheiks law. Always by her side is Qadir, her jinn bodyguard. Of course it’s a secret that he’s a jinn because Prince Omar and his Forty Thieves hunt and kill jinn simply for existing. Loulie is forced before the sultan and given a deadly quest to find a magical lamp containing one of the seven jinn kings, who’s magic is powerful enough to grant any request, including killing all the jinn. She and Qadir are accompanied by the younger, kinder Prince Mazen in the guise of his deadly elder brother Omar, and one of Omar’s most trusted thieves, Aisha. 

The group of unwilling adventurers trek across the desert toward the Sandsea, home of the hidden jinn city and the magical lamp. Along the way they stumble across numerous dangers both natural and otherwise. Ghouls hunting in the desert, dark undead jinn queens, and murderers dressed all in black threaten the party at every turn. Their imminent peril kept me hooked, particularly when the group gets caught in a sandstorm and ends up in the hidden prison of the Queen of the Sands, a jinn who can infiltrate your mind and control the dead. The action was vivid and the scenery was exquisite and some of the implications were thought provoking. When jinn blood is spilled it causes flourishing growth, so it’s often pointed out that the beautiful palace gardens and one particularly lush city is thanks to the murder of countless jinn. 

This was an awesome debut that kept me reading late into the night! If you’re looking to fill the hole in your soul left by the Daevabad trilogy this might help, though there’s little in the way of romance in the first book. It has so many great elements that totally worked for my current reading mood – betrayal, secrets, and magic! Characters with long, dark histories that slowly get revealed as the story goes along! All my favorite things!

Gallant by V.E. Schwab – Review

Published: March 1, 2022

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 334 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Everything casts a shadow. Even the world we live in. And as with every shadow, there is a place where it must touch. A seam, where the shadow meets its source.

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

I’m always in favor of fantasy standalone, simply because it’s nice to have a story all wrapped up in a single book. I was delighted when Gallant was announced; the synopsis was right up my alley and I couldn’t wait to check it out.

Gallant is the story of Olivia Prior who’s been in an orphanage since she was just a baby. She didn’t even know her father’s name, but her mother left her a diary that started out normal enough- much of it was addressed to Olivia’s unknown father, but clearly her mother was unwell because it spiraled into madness. Olivia thought her life would be spent alone until a letter arrived from her uncle Arthur Prior who invited Olivia to Gallant. This is the family home that Olivia’s mother warned her to stay away from at all costs…but Olivia is lonely and anywhere is better than the orphanage that she’s about to age out of anyway. 

Olivia arrives at a gorgeous estate, complete with a marvelous fountain and a gate to a dark world of death in the garden wall. She’s an unexpected, and according to her cousin Matthew, totally unwanted presence at the grand house full of secrets. Olivia’s situation is made more difficult since she cannot speak and only one person can understand her sign language. 

So much of the book is spent with Olivia arriving and somewhat settling in at Gallant that it seems very little is truly dedicated to what lies on the other side of the garden wall- this forbidden land, whose lord haunts the dreams of Priors and eventually drives them mad. The drawn out sense of foreboding and mystery added to the drama of the tale, though once the conclusion arrived it felt rushed which seems to be a common complaint amongst other reviewers. Everything wrapped up so neatly and succinctly in like, 30 pages. I actually really liked the ending – nice and bittersweet – but the overall pacing of the book was a bit strange because it started off quite slow. Overall, I rather liked it and can see myself recommending it to a wide range of readers since I think the appeal spans from YA to adult.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Uncanny Times by Laura Anne Gilman

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings to share upcoming book releases that we’re excited about! This meme is based on Waiting on Wednesday, which was created and hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Excuse me while I go search out even more fantasy set during the Revolutionary War because this might be my unintentional *vibe* at the moment. The main character is sent away from Boston to the countryside to escape the war and also to hone her healing/growing magic. The synopsis hints at both sides wanting her powers, so I’m sure she’s being pressured to join one side or the other and well, I just like the turmoil. Uncanny Times is set to release October 18, 2022.