A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow


Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

Will Zinnia accept the Queen’s poisonous request, and save them both from the hot iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path? (Taken from Amazon)

A Mirror Mended is the continuation of the Fractured Fables series. You can find my review of book one, A Spindle Splintered, here. Both books are available now.

A Mirror Mended continues the story started in A Spindle Splintered, with Zinnia traveling into various versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale to save the princess from her own story. It’s obvious that Zinnia is creating as many happy endings as possible because she feels she has no control over her own fate. She knows that her illness will catch up to her (sooner rather than later) and she will die. As far as avoidance techniques go, it’s a pretty creative one. It’s also alienated her from her best friend, Charm.

After one night of a particularly zesty victory celebration, Zinnia finds herself traveling into another fairytale- except for the first time ever, it’s not another version of Sleeping Beauty. Instead, she comes face to face with the Evil Queen from Snow White.

I’ve never been a big fan of Snow White (especially the Disney version) and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it dumped on its head. Since Zinnia meets the Evil Queen first instead of Snow White, she’s treated to an opposing view of what really happens in the story. Doubly interesting is that this villain knows she’s the bad guy and even knows her own fate (which is really rather grisly).

Just like Zinnia, Eva (short for “Evil Queen”) is looking for a way to escape her story. The book focuses mainly on their changing relationship and how they learn from each other. Now, before you think “boring” and write the book off- there’s also a fair amount of fairy tale shenanigans, including battles, magical witches, and romance. At the end of the day, though, the relationships and character growth were what kept me interested.

I was a little concerned at first because Charm is in very little of this book. I was worried that it wouldn’t give Zinnia the chance to continue to grow as a character without having someone who understood the entire situation. Fortunately, Eva is a quick study and more than made up for the missing Charm (weak pun intended).

Zinnia was in fine form, her snarkiness shining through, but Eva stole the show. Her mix of naivety and condescension made her a blast to read! She was always a force to be reckoned with, and it didn’t go well when people forgot that.

Author Alix E. Harrow packed a ton into such a short book. Every now and again I wished that more time could have been spent on a particular part (especially when a certain character helps raid a castle), but such is the nature of shorter books. I just enjoy Harrow’s writing so much that I’m always eager for more.

Is A Mirror Mended my favorite Alix E. Harrow book? No. But’s it’s well written, added a new facet to the Fractured Fables storyline, and kept me highly entertained.

Book Review from a Teen Reader: The Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi

Today, my teenager has once again given me permission to share a book review. This time, he’s reviewing the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure how heavy his review is on spoilers. Enjoy at your own risk!

Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again. But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that? (Taken from Amazon)

I recently read the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, and Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, Aru Shah and the City of Gold, and Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality) and I really, really liked it!

Every single one of the characters was likable, fun, and unique. Not only that, but the story itself was set at just the right pace to make it hard to put down yet easy to pause for stuff like, y’know, eating, drinking, and other necessary things (Curse you, Life! Can’t you see I’m trying to read?).

As you probably guessed, I really liked these books. I don’t want to go into too much detail (because SPOILERS) but I will try my best to outline the series without actually saying anything too specific.

Well, let’s see…there’s a bunch of characters, and they do some stuff, and other stuff happens…I’m just kidding! I can tell you more than that (Hold onto your hats! This is gonna be fast)!

The Pandava series is a series under the unique title of “A Rick Riordan Presents book”, which basically means that, one, it has something to do with mythology, and two, Rick Riordan liked it. There are other Rick Riordan Presents books (I’m currently reading one called Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee) and all of them fall under those categories I mentioned earlier. So if you like good, fun books with undercurrents of interesting cultures and mythologies, the Rick Riordan Presents title is one to watch for.

The Pandava series is also the subject of this current book report, so back to talking about it!

Based off Indian myth and legend in its theming (though probably not all of myth and legend, because that would make my brain explode. India is BIG)! The Pandava series focuses on a group of girls who are the reincarnations of the Pandava siblings, ancient and powerful heroes from Indian myth. I won’t name names because some of them only show up in later books. so that would be a…SPOILER.

Anways, Aru Shah, the main character of the series and maybe a Pandava (no spoilers here, though she totally is) accidentally releases The Sleeper, the main villain of the series with some complicated backstory and motivation, from his imprisonment while trying to impress some rich kids from the local school (by showing them a definitely cursed lamp she was told not to touch and then touching it). This leads to lots of bad stuff, which of course leads to the main body of the book. Heroic quest, anyone?

Along the way, lots of really likable and interesting characters show up, and I won’t say any names because my favorite characters only shows up later in the series, but for all of you out there who have read the books, I’ll say that a certain naga prince is my favorite character (“I can’t die! I haven’t even learned what a microwave does!”).

Before I close off my report, I want to say thank you to the author for including a glossary of terms and pronunciations. Without it, I would not know where to start with some of the more complicated stuff. Plus, it’s fun to read the author’s opinion on all of it!

Anyways, I highly recommend this series to anyone who liked this report because the series is way better than the report says (it’s kinda hard to talk about how awesome a book is without actually saying anything specific).

The characters are great, the story is great, the action and humor and emotions are great, and overall, I’d say that the Pandava series is fantastic. I hope you decide to read it and, if you do, I hope you like it as much as I did.

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham


Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms.

Before getting to the review, I have to give a little backstory. My oldest son occasionally allows me to share book reviews that he’s written. Author A.R. Witham heard about that and sent a copy of his book, along with a kind and supportive note, to my son. It meant so much to my son and I am so grateful to the author for this kindness. My son reviewed The Legend of Black Jack as well (you can find his review here).

Jack Swift can remember anything—even the horrible things he’d like to forget. To keep his guilt-ridden memories from haunting him, and to dodge his abusive foster mom, he buries himself in any book he can find, dreaming of his ultimate escape: becoming a doctor.

But fate has another escape in mind.

At 3:33am on his fourteenth birthday, Jack is kidnapped by a monstrous rhinoceros and whisked away to another sphere of existence: the land of Keymark. Though this world is filled with pixies, monsters, pirates, elves, warriors, and all sorts of mythical wonders, it is without healing magic—that magic was stolen by an evil, immortal prince hell-bent on domination. With no understanding of medical science to heal their wounds or illnesses, Jack’s kidnappers ask the impossible of him: use his knowledge to save a life…or be trapped in this bizarre world with no chance of rescue.

Jack doesn’t have secret magic, a great destiny, or any medical experience.

Why do they all expect him to become a legend? (Taken from Amazon)

The Legend of Black Jack is a fast-paced book full of adventure and heart. The novel centers around the most likeable main character, a boy named Jack who has an eidetic memory. After losing his father and bouncing from foster home to foster home, Jack- whose thirst for knowledge is matched only by his desire to become a doctor- finds himself embarking on a new adventure with the most unlikely of characters.

They say he was an outsider. A man with no home, no family, no friend to call his own. The man with nothing left to love. The empty man.”

The beginning reminded me so much of The Name of the Wind, which was astonishing considering the difference in target age. I loved how it was written and I was immediately drawn in. The book continues wonderfully, not only keeping me invested, but keeping my oldest son invested as well. It was awesome being able to talk about the plot and our favorite characters together.

I loved that Jack’s strengths were the things that people might have found odd about him: his fascination with how the body works and bits of knowledge gleaned from encyclopedias. These are not the usual trappings of the hero in a story, and it was genius. He was an incredibly nuanced character, who grew and changed as he experienced new things and dealt with growing fears.

Jack having fears and continuing on despite them made me like him all the more. This is the sort of book that, on top of being tons of fun, middle-grade and high school readers will relate to. Sure, the setting is fantastical, but the things Jack deals with transfers over to real-life fears and doubts. I think the stories that often stick with us the most are the ones that do this.

The creatures and characters that show up throughout The Legend of Black Jack are fantastic! While my son’s favorite character was Chance, I was partial to Rooker the pirate. His relationship with Jack and the way it grew and developed, was wonderful to read.

The world was full of creativity and rip-roaring adventure, which I loved. At the end of the day, though, the relationships were what made me fall in love with this novel. My 14 year old loved the book – and so did I. The Legend of Black Jack is something special.

The Legend of Black Jack by A.R. Witham

Every now and again, I share a book review written by my oldest son. Author A.R. Witham kindly gave him a copy of The Legend of Black Jack not too long ago. I’m sharing my son’s review exactly as he wrote it. Enjoy!

I recently read The Legend of Black by A.R. Witham, and I absolutely loved it! There are so many things to talk about here, so I gotta stop with the intro already and start with the actual review.

The Legend of Black Jack is an awesome fantasy story that isn’t just about one thing like some other books, it’s about everything in the world of Keymark. It follows the story of Jack, a young boy (or Toshan) from Chicago with a perfect memory. His life is kind of rotten at the start of the book, but it quickly gets better when he is brought to Keymark in order to use his knowledge of medicine (he wants to be a doctor so he memorized every medical book he owns) to save the life of Xiang-lo, an important resident of Keymark.

Admittedly, I was a little uncomfortable with the part where Jack has to perform surgery, but it was mostly me. Anyways, back to the review!

After the operation, Jack meets and befriends Valerian Tsai, a Border Knight and wielder of a blade that glows gray with the power of the Wikk, which is what they call magic in Keymark. I personally loved the idea of magic flaming swords in different colors, it was really unique. Valerian introduces Jack to Abrahim Qin, another Border Knight and wielder of the Azure Blade. Abrahim attempts to train Jack in combat and quickly decides that Jack is best off with a simple staff.

After the somewhat fruitless training session, Jack meets more residents of Keymark (I’m not naming names to avoid spoiling everything). But then, the evil armies of the Necrorceror (the villain of the story) attack! Led by a warrior in red with a flaming sword, the horde of zombies and dog-sized cockroach things quickly overrun the area, leaving Jack running for his life.

Jack is quickly picked up by Rooker Flynn, a pirate and the new captain of the ship Venture Brigand. Rooker and Jack befriend each other during their voyage to Rimmy’s Cull, a bustling seaport town known for being a hub for merchants, pirates, and trade. When they arrive, however, they find that Rimmy’s Cull has been set ablaze, and is under attack from the man in red armor and the army he leads. Again, I will leave some things out in order to avoid spoiling the book completely (even though I already said a lot of things), but let’s just say a lot happens during and after that.

I don’t want to say any more about the story than I already have, so instead I’ll talk about my favorite characters and other things.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: my favorite character is Chance the Jinx-cat. A Jinx-cat is basically a cat-person, or I guess you could say they’re walking, talking, tail-having anthropomorphic cats. Chance just has a lot of personality, in my opinion. I also happen to really like cats and Chance portrays a cat’s personality well. Chance doesn’t appear until later in the book, so I’m technically revealing more spoilers, but I haven’t said anything about his role in the story, so I think I’m good there.

Another thing I want to say is just that Mr. Witham did a really great job giving each of the Border Knights unique and interesting personalities, even though some don’t appear much at all. Again, I want to compliment the idea of the magical color-coded blades. Now that I think about it, it kinda reminds me of the Keyblades from Kingdom Hearts mixed together with the different colors of Lantern Rings. Cool!

Suffice it to say, The Legend of Black Jack is now one of my favorite books. Everything worked so well to really give life to the world of Keymark and to keep me interested. It’s definitely going on my reread list!

By the way, thank you to Mr. Witham for sending me the book. I thought the note you wrote me was very nice!

March of the Sequels: A Kingdom for a Stage by Heidi Heilig

Jetta is a wanted criminal. The army wants her for treason against the crown, for the sabotage of Hell’s Court temple, and for the murder of General Legarde. They also want her for the power in her blood―the magic that captures wandering spirits to give life to puppets, to rocks, to paper . . . to weapons. They’re willing to trade the elixir that treats Jetta’s madness for the use of her blood. The rebels want her, too, to help them reclaim their country. Jetta may be the one who can tip the scales in this war.
But Jetta fears using her power will make her too much like Le Trépas, the terrifying and tyrannical necromancer who once held all Chakrana under his thumb―and who is Jetta’s biological father. She’s already raised her brother from the dead, after all. And scared off Leo, the only person who saw her as she truly is. With Le Trépas at large and a clash between the army and the rebels becoming inevitable, Jetta will have to decide if saving her country is worth sacrificing her soul. (Taken from Amazon)

There are spoilers for For a Muse of Fire (first in the series) below. You can find my review for that book here.

**Here Be Spoilers**

       Oh man, I loved this book! From the plot-line to the characters, everything was done well. It was a worthy sequel to For a Muse of Fire.

Jetta is a great character. She’s tough without being cold and emotionless. In fact, her emotions are a big part of what makes her so tough. She has an illness that is most definitely bipolar (as confirmed by the author). I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but books that feature mental illness with consideration and respect automatically get extra points from me. This one in particular means a lot, since I also have bipolar. It is a mental illness that is rarely represented in YA, and even more rarely mentioned in the fantasy genre. Heidi Heilig’s choice to not only feature it in a fantasy, but to show both the positive and negative aspects of it is pretty stinking cool. But I digress.

In this book, Jetta has been offered a medication that will help with her illness, in exchange for the use of her blood by the crown. Whoever uses the blood can bind souls to inanimate objects, essentially animating-and controlling-them. The crown wants to use her power as a weapon against the rebels, who Jetta sympathizes with.

The rebels also want to use Jetta. Meanwhile, she’s afraid to use her power at all, worrying that it will make her like her biological father. He’s a monstrous necromancer, and everyone is afraid of what would happen if he- or another like him- came to power.

Of course, there’s also ye random romantic entanglement with Leo, another rebel. I’m not a huge fan of their relationship because it often came across as an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the plot, but I admittedly don’t like most dramatic bookish relationships.

I liked that Heilig didn’t pull punches. I was justifiably concerned about what would happen to some of the characters in the book. I like when an author gives things a sense of urgency, and she does that very well. I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.

I feel like this series is very underrated and deserves way more hype. It’s well-written and fast-paced, with memorable characters and an interesting plot. The mental illness representation just pushes it even higher in my esteem. I highly recommend this book.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

March of the Sequels: The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

During March we are enjoying March of the Sequels, a monthlong challenge issued by Sue’s Musings. Basically, the challenge is to read (and review, if you’re a reviewer) more sequels.

Filled with political intrigue, violent magic, and malevolent spirits, the mesmerizing second book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia epic fantasy trilogy that started with the award-winning The Queen of Blood.
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.
Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.
Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.
But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.
Sarah Beth Durst established a place of dark wonder in The Queen of Blood, and now the stakes are even higher as the threat to the Queen and her people grows both from within and beyond the borders of Aratay in this riveting second novel of the Queens of Renthia series. (taken from Amazon)

The Reluctant Queen is available now. It is the sequel to The Queen of Blood, so there will be some slight spoilers for book one which I’ll try to keep as minimal as possible. You can find my review for Queen of Blood here.

The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy. The story continues in a way that I did not expect, but which makes perfect sense. Daleina has some disturbing news: she’s dying. As queen, she alone has the power to command the spirits that inhabit the land, to keep them from destroying everyone in Renthia. Without a queen, the lives of each human are forfeit. Daleina sends her champions (think King Arthur’s knights) to hopefully find and train an heir-because time is running out.

Here’s where things get complicated: Ven, the champion that trained Daleina, does find a candidate- one who is more powerful than anyone he’s ever seen. Naelin, who hides this power, is a mother focused on raising two healthy, happy children. She has no interest in traipsing off to be trained to use her power, and she definitely doesn’t want to become a queen. However, she might not have a choice: other candidates are mysteriously dying and things aren’t necessarily what they seem.

Being a mom myself, I loved Naelin. She knew where her priorities were and she made no bones about it. I felt horrible for her when she realized that the only way to protect her kids was to learn to protect everyone. Naelin’s kids were her whole world, and it was gut-wrenching when they were in danger as a direct result of her power.

This book moved a little more slowly during the first half, but it was never boring. The character development was fantastic. I loved getting to know more about Champion Ven, who grew in leaps and bounds between book one and the end of book two. There was an entirely new facet of his character revealed that added an extra layer of humanity to the plotline.

Sometimes in fantasy books, child characters are either incredibly annoying, or incredibly one dimensional. Neither of those things happened here. The children were fully developed characters, and they definitely contributed to the story.

The second half of the book ramped up until it became a breath-taking confrontation. I honestly didn’t know how things would end up and I loved every nail-biting moment. Once again, author Sarah Beth Durst showed incredible creativity in both her spirits and how they interacted and fought. Add in political intrigue, an epic battle, and some major backstabbing, and it’s safe to say that The Reluctant Queen has become one of my new favorite fantasies. This is a fantastic series for both fantasy veterans, and those who are just dipping their toes into this wonderful genre. I highly recommend it.

March of the Sequels- 2 Times the Fun!

There are many instances of readers not getting around to the sequel of a series, even if they enjoyed book one. I think there are several reasons for this, many that have nothing to do with the enjoyment of the book, but that doesn’t make it any less discouraging for authors. However, Sue from the excellent blog Sue’s Musings, has issued the call: let’s read and (and review, if you happen to be a reviewer) sequels this month!

Without further ado, here are some sequels that I think have continued a series magnificently:

Dead Man in a Ditch (Fetch Phillips Archive #2) by Luke Arnold- Review found here. “This is a fantasy like no other. It’s gritty and dark, but still has an undercurrent of hope running through it. It showcases how wonderfully broad the fantasy genre really is. “

The Reluctant Queen (The Queens of Renthia #2) by Sarah Beth Durst- Review found here. “The Reluctant Queen is an engrossing addition to the Queens of Renthia trilogy.”

The Crossover Paradox (Justice Academy #2) by Rob Edwards- Review to come. The Crossover Paradox raised the stakes and never let up on the gas.

A Kingdom for a Stage (For a Muse of Fire #2) by Heidi Heilig- Review found here. “I raced through this book, enjoying every moment of it.”

The Unready Queen (The Oddmire #2) by William Ritter. Review found here. “The series continues wonderfully, combining the fantastical with the everyday wonder of childhood.”

The Isle of Battle (The Swans’ War #2) by Sean Russell- Far from being merely a setup for book three, The Isle of Battle added so much to the storyline of the series! It also created a sense of urgency, which I loved.

Nectar for the God (Mennik Thorn #2) by Patrick Samphire- Review found here. “Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.”

The Bone Shard Emperor (Drowning Empire #2) by Andrea Stewart- Review found here. “Book two in the Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor was a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists.”

The Cursed Titans (The Tempest Blades #2) by Ricardo Victoria- Review found here. “The Cursed Titans managed to again bring a deeper meaning into an action-packed storyline. In this case, it was mental illness.”

Dragons of Winter Night ( Dragonlance Chronicles #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman – More on Dragonlance found here. “I open the pages, breathe in the smell, and am immediately whisked far and away- to a place that I both love and appreciate.”

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this “twisty, atmospheric story that grips readers like a siren song” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike. (taken from Amazon)

Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.

The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.

When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.

There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.

While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.

It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.

The Girl of Dorcha Wood by Kristin Ward- The Write Reads on Tour Spotlight

Today, I have the privilege of joining the Write Reads on Tour in talking about an exciting new young adult fantasy, The Girl of Dorcha Wood, by Kristin Ward. This book is available for purchase now.

What is The Girl of Dorcha Wood about?

Treacherous. Evil. Dark. Dorcha Wood is all of these. And none of them.

The people of Felmore talk of Dorcha Wood in whispers, if they speak of it at all, fearing the wrath of the Cù-Sìth should their words be carried on the wind. Those murdering beasts still roam the darkness of the forest, the last remnants of the cursed Aos Sí—a race of elves long since vanished from the world. 

But to seventeen-year-old Fiadh, it is home. A haven. A forest whose secrets become known only when it chooses to reveal them. Her life is one of balance until the outside world shatters it. 
From the moment Fiadh set eyes on Gideon, the peaceful rhythm of her life was lost. As a new path unfolds, Fiadh confronts the reality of old hatreds, the consequences of things hidden, and the truth of who she really is. 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08ZLFL8ZB
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57478429-the-girl-of-dorcha-wood

About the author:

Kristin Ward is an award-winning young adult author living in Connecticut. A science and math teacher for over twenty years, she infuses her geeky passions into stories that meld realism and fantasy. Kristin embraces her inner nerd regularly, often quoting 80s movies while expecting those around her to chime in with appropriate rejoinders. As a nature freak, she can be found wandering the woods – she may be lost, so please stop and ask if you see her – or chilling in her yard with all manner of furry and feathered friends. Often referred to as a unicorn by colleagues who remain in awe of her ability to create or find various and sundry things in mere moments. In reality, the horn was removed years ago, leaving only a mild imprint that can be seen if she tilts her head just right. A lifelong lover of books and writing, she dreamed of becoming an author for thirty years before publishing her award-winning debut in 2018. Her first novel, After the Green Withered, is one of many things you should probably read.

https://www.kristinwardauthor.com

Spooktacular Books for all Ages

I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)

Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!

For little monsters:

Spooky Pookie


It’s Halloween! What will little Pookie decide to be this year? Pookie tries on costumes one by one, but somehow can’t find just the right thing. The resolution to Pookie’s dilemma will delight toddlers and their caregivers alike. Told and illustrated with Sandra Boynton’s celebrated charm and pizzazz, Spooky Pookie has all the makings of a beloved Halloween classic. Boo! (taken from Amazon)

Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.

The Ghost-Eye Tree

One dark and windy autumn night when the sun has long gone down, a young boy and his older sister are sent to the end of town to get a bucket of milk. As they walk down the lonely road, bathed in eerie moonlight, all the boy can think about is the ghost-eye tree.

Oooo…
I dreaded to go…
I dreaded the tree….
Why does Mama always choose me
When the night is so dark
And the mind runs free?

What will happen when they come to the tree? Can they run past it or will it reach out and grab them? (taken from Amazon)

This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.

The Monster at the End of this Book

Carve out family time for this Halloween read as Grover begs you not to turn the page — because there is a monster at this end of this book!

Lovable, furry old Grover is distressed to learn that there’s a monster at the end of this book! He begs readers not to turn the pages, but of course kids feel they just have to see this monster for themselves. Grover is astonished–and toddlers will be delighted–to discover who is really the monster at the end of the book! (taken from Amazon)

This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.

For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:

Bunnicula

Beware the hare!

Harold the dog and Chester the cat must find out the truth about the newest pet in the Monroe household—a suspicious-looking bunny with unusual habits…and fangs! Could this innocent-seeming rabbit actually be a vampire? (taken from Amazon)

I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

This is a new edition of the complete original book. Stephen Gammell’s artwork from the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark appears in all its spooky glory. Read if you dare!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a timeless collection of chillingly scary tales and legends, in which folklorist Alvin Schwartz offers up some of the most alarming tales of horror, dark revenge, and supernatural events of all time. (taken from Amazon)

Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.

The Beast and the Bethany

Beauty comes at a price. And no one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.

But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.

The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy?

This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review

For Young-adult vampires:

House of Hollow

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review

Tales from the Hinterland


Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans alike, Melissa Albert’s Tales from the Hinterland features full-page illustrations by Jim Tierney, foil stamping, two-color interior printing, and printed endpapers.

Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review

The Devouring Gray

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny—to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities…before the Gray devours them all. (taken from Amazon)

Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review

For adult zombies:

Meddling Kids

In 1977, four teenagers and a dog—Andy (the tomboy), Nate (the nerd), Kerri (the bookworm), Peter (the jock), and Tim (the Weimaraner)—solved the mystery of Sleepy Lake. The trail of an amphibian monster terrorizing the quiet town of Blyton Hills leads the gang to spend a night in Deboën Mansion and apprehend a familiar culprit: a bitter old man in a mask. 

Now, in 1990, the twenty-something former teen detectives are lost souls. Plagued by night terrors and Peter’s tragic death, the three survivors have been running from their demons. When the man they apprehended all those years ago makes parole, Andy tracks him down to confirm what she’s always known—they got the wrong guy. Now she’ll need to get the gang back together and return to Blyton Hills to find out what really happened in 1977, and this time, she’s sure they’re not looking for another man in a mask.

A mad scientist’s concoction of H. P. Lovecraft, teen detectives, and a love of Americana, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a story filled with rich horror, thrilling twists, outright hilarity, and surprising poignancy. (taken from Amazon)

Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?

In the Garden of Spite

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive. (taken from Amazon)

I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review

Nothing but Blackened Teeth

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions. (taken from Amazon)

While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review

Creepy Classics:

The Lottery

A cautionary short story about the dangers of unexamined traditions and the dark side of human nature.

I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.

Frankenstein

If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!

The idea of a reanimated corpse was famously conceived by an 18 year old Mary Shelley on holiday with her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The three were tasked with writing a ghost story, which resulted in one of the most famous novels to come from the 19th century. Published anonymously in a three volume series, Frankenstein instantly set the standard for a true literary horror and its themes led many to believe it was the first true science fiction novel. In 1831 and after much pressure, Mary Shelley revised the text to be more fitting to contemporary standards. Presented here by Reader’s Library Classics is the original 1818 text of Frankenstein.

Young scientist Victor Frankenstein, grief-stricken over the death of his mother, sets out in a series of laboratory experiments testing the ability to create life from non-living matter. Soon, his experiments progress further until he creates a humanoid creature eight feet tall. But as Frankenstein soon discovers, a successful experiment does not always equal a positive outcome. (taken from Amazon)

Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

A morality tale or a cautionary tale against the dangers of excess and vice? In the Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist sells his soul for youth and eternal beauty. While Dorian lives a decadent and deceitful life, only his picture portrait is affected by the traces of his wickedness and decadence. Oscar Wilde’s only novel offended the moral sensibilities of most of England in 1890 and over a century later, the story endures as one of the most popular classics of the gothic horror genre. (taken from Amazon

I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.

There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?