China, 1937. When Japanese bombs begin falling on the city of Nanking, nineteen-year-old Hu Lian and her classmates at Minghua University are ordered to flee. Lian and a convoy of students, faculty and staff must walk 1,000 miles to the safety of China’s western provinces, a journey marred by the constant threat of aerial attack. And it is not just the refugees who are at risk; Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with a priceless treasure: a 500-year-old collection of myths and folklore known as the Library of Legends.
The students’ common duty to safeguard the Library of Legends creates unexpected bonds. Lian becomes friends and forms a cautious romance with the handsome and wealthy Liu Shaoming. But after one classmate is arrested and another one is murdered, Lian realizes she must escape before a family secret puts her in danger too. Accompanied by Shao and his enigmatic maidservant, Sparrow, Lian makes her way to Shanghai in the hopes of reuniting with her mother.
During the journey, Lian learns of the connection between her two companions and a tale from the Library of Legends, The Willow Star and the Prince. This revelation comes with profound consequences, for as the ancient books travel across China, they awaken immortals and guardian spirits who embark on an exodus of their own, one that will change the country’s fate forever.
From the very beginning, I was drawn into this story. I know zilch about this period of Chinese history, but I think it’s fascinating the Chinese government prized students so much in the midst of war. There are a lot of layers in this novel, all of them blended together seamlessly into an entrancing narrative sprinkled with magic in the midst of war.
Janie Change was born in Taiwan and now lives in Canada. The Library of Legends is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of HarperCollins/William Morrow in exchange for an honest review.)
After all the danger, fighting, and wars, peace now reigns in the seven lands of Alba. But Allegria and Hallow want to rescue their friend Deo, trapped in the shadowlands of Eris. And to do that , they need the three moonstones hidden years before.
As they search for the moonstones, they realize things aren’t quite as peaceful as they seem. Their captain—lifebound for many long years—warns them against heading to Eris by ship, but they are determined to rescue their friend. Even if it means their own deaths.
The banter and snarky humor make this a fun read, but I did feel some of the action was a bit rushed. I enjoyed the read, but it wasn’t as engrossing as the first one was, although if you need a dose of snarky humor and sarcasm, this is a sure bet.
Katie MacAlister is a best-selling author. Starborn is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Kensington Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Love’s Curiosities Inc. is a small shop full of odds and ends and curiosities that most people overlook. Temerity Love and her sister Tilda grew up there and now own it. Things have changed a bit since their parents owned the shop but magic still happens there. Tilda is a witch and Temerity is renowned for her ability to touch objects and see where they came from.
When a local schoolteacher is murdered by a poisoned cup of tea, an antique hand mirror is found nearby, and the local investigator asks for Temerity’s help finding the murder. Too bad his new protegee, grumpy out-of-towner Angus isn’t so open-minded. As Temerity starts asking questions, she’s determined to find out who killed the schoolteacher—with or without the help of the townspeople.
I really enjoyed this cozy mystery mixed with magic! The characters are unique and quirky, and the town was vibrantly alive, filled with a sense of history and stories lurking around every corner. The writing is solid, and I just sort of settled into this novel and enjoyed it.
Kennedy Kerr is an author with a love of all things Scottish. A Spell of Murder, the first book in the Lost Maidens Loch Mysteries, is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Bookouture via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Fie is a Crow—a caste of undertakers and mercy-killers immune to the plague and despised and persecuted by society. When her band is tasked with disposing of two royal bodies, they encounter the conniving queen who plans to cheat them of their pay and cost them even more respect. But Fie thwarts the queen—and discovers the two royal bodies aren’t exactly dead.
Instead, the crown prince and his clever body double have faked their own deaths to escape before the murderous queen can kill them. If they can make it to their allies, they have a chance at overthrowing the queen. They strike a deal with Fie: if she sees them safely to their allies, the prince will protect the Crows when he’s king.
But the queen’s ruthless assassins are on their trail, and Fie might lose everything she cares about to fulfill the promise she made.
From the very first page, I was enthralled. I couldn’t put this book down, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve never read anything like this and found the worldbuilding both vivid and unique. The magic system was odd—teeth?—but compelling, and I adored Fie as a character. She’s tough and prickly and fierce, but she can, eventually, see reason. I fell into this world headlong and did not want to leave.
Margaret Owen is an author and illustrator. The Merciful Crow is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of Henry Holt and Co via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Maia Tamarin works as a seamstress in her father’s shop. She’d love to become a tailor, but she’s a girl, so marriage is the only thing in store for her. Even better if her future husband is wealthy enough to help her family out of their poverty.
But Maia still dreams of making beautiful clothes, and when a messenger from the emperor arrives commanding Maia’s father to the palace to compete for the position of imperial tailor, Maia disguises herself and joins the competition, knowing she’ll pay with her life if anyone discovers her secret.
The treachery and lies in the competition are one thing, but Maia draws the attention of Edan, court enchanter, whose dark gaze sees everything. Maia’s final task is to sew three dresses: from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. Maia has no idea how to accomplish this. She just knows she must.
I enjoyed this book immensely! I like the Mulan-like concept of Maia disguising herself as a son in order to save her family, but this is its own tale. Maia’s battles are more subtle—and just as deadly—and the magic here is woven so skillfully through the setting and the characters that it all just worked for me. Highly recommend!
Elizabeth Lim graduated from Harvard and completed her graduate studies at The Juilliard School. Spin the Dawn is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Deo was born to fulfill a prophecy and save the world. Allegria is supposed to be just a priestess. Hallow is just an apprentice without a master. That was before invaders appeared in the land of the Starborn, threatening the entire world.
Now Allegria has left the priesthood for a chance to battle the enemy and wield the power of the sun. Hallow becomes the leader he always dreamed of becoming. And Deo wrestles with the power of the invaders, a power he doesn’t understand. Together, the three of them are the only ones who stand a chance at defeating the enemy and saving their world.
I loved the characters in this novel! I empathized with all of them (except whiny, angsty young-Deo.) and loved watching their growth. This books has everything from romance to comedy to magic, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Katie MacAlister is a bestselling author. Fireborn is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Kensington Books/Rebel Base Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
When seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders’ twin sister died, her world ended. Her mom moving to the tiny town of Four Corner, New York was just the icing on the cake. Things are…odd in Four Corners. The town is mostly forest. People practically worship Justin Hawthorn and his sister, May. And everywhere you look are secrets.
Like the weird grey landscape Violet sometimes catches glimpses of from the corner of her eye. Or the flashes of her sister’s blue hair. Or the dead bodies found in the past few months. Not to mention the Beast.
Everything in Four Corners is about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and doing anything necessary to keep what you’ve got. But there are even more secrets here than Violet suspects, as power in town is balanced on the tip of a knife, and where it falls will change everything.
This story is told from multiple points-of-view, which made it intriguing. The setting is dark and gloomy. The characters are dark and broody. The history of the town is—you guessed it—dark and troubled. And that absolutely works for this story. I loved this atmospheric read—but I have no desire to visit Four Corners.
Christine Lynn Herman was born in NYC but raised in Honk Kong and Japan. The Devouring Gray is her new novel.
(Galley courtesy of Disney-Hyperion via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
The kingdom of Malam has a dark history of persecuting Channelers, women with magical ability, but now the young king, Aodren is seeking to end the persecution and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred cannot be undone with words, and rumors of a Channeler-made drug are causing fears to burst into flame, and violence to erupt.
Lirra was born in Malam, but her father fled when she was an infant, after her mother was murdered. She distrusts Malam and its new young king, and wants only to perform in the magic showcase, her chance to let her talents shine. But the deadly drug makes a kingdoms-wide summit even more dangerous, and soon Lirra is forced to work with Aodren as they try to find the source of the mysterious drug—and who’s behind it—before Malam’s future is destroyed forever.
This is a standalone, but it’s linked to the other books in the Clash of Kingdoms series, and I had no trouble picking this up without reading the first two (which sometimes does NOT work out). The worldbuilding was fantastic, and the sense of history gave so many compelling layers to this story! The characters are struggling to work together despite the many things that should make that impossible, as they do everything they can to overcome years and a culture of hatred. Highly recommended!
Erin Summerill is an award-winning author. Once a King is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by HMH Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)
Zivah and Dineas failed at their mission and barely escaped with their lives. They have information, but they have no proof of what they know. They desperately need to get home before Ampara attacks their people—who need to be warned of the looming danger.
Dineas spent months thinking he was an Amparan soldier—and now his fellow Shidadi warriors question his loyalty—as does he. Zivah made choices during their mission that broke her healer’s vows, and she’s not sure she can ever regain what she lost—especially when the leaders ask the unthinkable of her. She and the Dineas from Sehmar City were in love, but that Dineas is gone now, leaving both stumbling over their feelings and their history. As Zivah’s plague symptoms return, she struggles to come to terms with her reality—and Dineas fights battles of his own.
I loved Rosemarked, and Umbertouched is just as good! These characters and this world are so vivid and so compelling, that I just can’t put the books down. Zivah is a strong person, but she struggles under so many burdens, afraid to hope as she suffers. And Dineas is torn between two truths: his whole life as a Shidadi warrior, and his brief time as an Amparan soldier.
Livia Blackburne has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from MIT. Umbertouched is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)
Jack made a deal with the devil 500 years ago. He doesn’t remember much about that. Or when he was alive. Now he spends his days as a Lantern, one of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, which is full of dangerous creatures. And he watches Ember, a young witch who lives in his town.
Ember is curious about Jack. And the Otherworld. She wants to get to know both. When Jack refuses to take her there, she runs away with a mysterious and charming vampire with ulterior motives. But Jack knows someone powerful is after Ember—and her power—and he’ll stop at nothing to keep her safe.
I loved the steampunk feel of The Lantern’s Ember. And you have to love Jack, the Lantern. That pun alone made it worth the read, along with the Headless Horseman similarities. Ember and Jack both are pretty naïve, but her wonder at the Otherworld shines through every page. A magical read!
New York Times-bestselling author Colleen Houck’s newest novel is The Lantern’s Ember.
(Galley provided by Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review.)