Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams

Completely Riveting!

Agnes resides within a cult at Red Creek but she doesn’t realize that she’s part of a cult. She’s the eldest of several siblings and is responsible for taking care of their family because their mother is severely depressed. Agnes sneaks to the Outside once a month to retrieve insulin for her younger brother Ezekiel, even though she knows it’s against the rules. Her sister Beth, the next eldest sibling, is a rebel and doesn’t like the rules. When Beth is caught kissing a boy, she’s disgraced by their father and the community. Agnes has been betrothed as a sixth wife to a middle-aged man and before she gets married, she has to teach Beth everything so she can then become the family caretaker. The middle-aged man decides to marry Beth instead of Agnes to straighten Beth out. In the meantime, a ferocious virus is spreading throughout the world and eventually arrives at Red Creek. The Prophet releases an infected dog during a church meeting and, after a few people are bitten, he tells them about his revelation; the Rapture has arrived and everyone must move into the underground bunker. Agnes escapes with Ezekiel and is heartbroken that she’s left the rest of her siblings behind. She knows that the bunker would be a death sentence for Ezekiel because there’s no insulin for him. This is a riveting story about cults, self-worth, self-importance, bravery, love, loyalty, and sacrifice. The author’s note explains the cult background information being from a nonfiction book of a survivor who escaped a true cult. A wonderfully written and all-encompassing story about love, sacrifice, and different faiths, 5 stars!

Daughters of Jubilation by Kara Lee Corthron

Evvie is a teenager helping her younger siblings to lighten the load of her single mother. Their father is in prison. Jubilation runs in the family and Evvie’s magic is coming on strong. She causes odd behavior in others and can change the world around her, usually unintentionally. She’s falling for Clay, her longtime crush that’s very interested in her too. A creepy stranger keeps showing up, scaring Evvie and her mother tells her the past experiences with him. Virgil Hampton is not a good man and he hurt Evvie when she was little. Her mother lost her job over it because she was angry that he hurt Evvie and she was fired because her family is black and Virgil’s family is white and rich. This is a beautiful story of hardship and perseverance which brought me to tears many times while reading it. I cried for the touching and sweet moments, for the fear and loss and for the bravery, kindness, love and hope. Highly recommended and an emotional journey, 5 stars!

The Little Mermaid’s Voice by Shonna Slayton

The Little Mermaid’s Voice by Shonna Slayton
The story opens as the Little Mermaid watches the prince walk away. The sea witch tricked her. Fast forward one hundred years and the mermaids are still suffering from restrictions placed on them because of the Little Mermaid’s actions. She was the present Queen’s sister. Mairin is a daughter of the Queen and she wants to breathe above water but that’s one of the restrictions placed on her people; no going to the surface. An advisor approaches her and gives her the job of going to the surface and tells her how to get to the location where she needs to be. When she arrives she’s told that she has to keep the human prince alive per the agreement made by the Little Mermaid all those years ago. The prince’s descendants have to be kept safe. A finman approaches Mairin and taunts her into listening to his idea to save her kingdom. Go above the surface, make the prince fall in love with her then break his heart by leaving him. This will break the curse and allow the restricted barrier to be broken. Edwin is the descendant that Mairin has to protect and when he boards the Titanic, she has to find a way to get aboard also. What follows is an adventure that takes a dreadful turn. This story meshes fairytale with history, 4 stars!

Havoc by Mary Lindsey

Rain and Freddie are perfectly content with their present lives and the future they’ve planned together until her mother shows up. Freddie’s mother left her at birth and shows up unannounced and brings not-so-good news of a contract signed when Freddie was hours young. If Freddie doesn’t completely cut ties with Rain and marry Conrad, Rain will be killed. People are getting hurt, being attacked and being accused of illegal acts. The mystery becomes more complicated and complex before it begins to unravel. Strong characters and brave actions made me root for them. A fun read, 4 stars!

Namesake by Adrienne Young

Namesake opens with Fable kidnapped and trapped on Zola’s ship, the Luna. Fable is unsure of why she was captured until Zola tells her it’s because he knows who her parents are. She’s forced to harvest gemstones with other dredgers so Zola can use them for payment for something. She soon finds out what the payment is for, to Zola’s detriment. Fable discovers more than she ever could have imagined about her family and her relationship with West worries her. She goes in search of the elusive gemstone, midnight, that her mother supposedly found before her death. This sequel to Fable is exciting, action-packed, dangerous and full of great character development. The series is so good that I want to read it again, 5 stars!

All the Tides of Fate by Adalyn Grace

All the Tides of Fate is the sequel to All the Stars and Teeth. Amora is ruling the kingdom after her father’s death. She’s dealing with advisers and others that are trying to show their lack of confidence in her through insubordination and rude remarks, but Amora handles it well. Bastian arrives at the meeting and announces himself an adviser. At the end of the meeting, Amora is asked to prove her magic is working and is told that she needs to be engaged to give the kingdom something to look forward to and as a distraction. Amora manages to trick the advisers into believing her magic is intact with the help of a few others. She travels with her crew to pretend to find a fiancé and search for the artifact needed to restore her magic and make her soul complete. Full of action and loyalty and deception and tough decisions, All the Tides of Fate is a perfect ending to this duology, 5 stars!

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Shanghai ports and a terrible monster in the prologue piqued my curiosity. A retelling of Romeo and Juliet with rival gangsters in Shanghai and a mysterious string of strange deaths. Roma and Juliettte are two nineteen-year-old gangster heirs that love each other but are meant to hate each other. Shanghai is being terrorized by a strange monster that causes madness and death. The two heirs are desperately trying to save their gangs and territories from the madness, communism and other foreigners threatening to take control of Shanghai. They don’t want to cross paths, but Roma and Juliette realize they need each other’s information to solve their problems. Two strong main characters that are conflicted bring angst and empathy to this retelling, 4 stars!

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

The introduction is perfectly written with its foreboding and ominous tale that happens to be true.
Soraya and Sorush are twins. Soraya is hidden away because her touch is fatal. Sorush is the heir next in line to rule the kingdom.
On the day of Sorush and Laleh’s wedding announcement, Soraya meets Azad. He’s been awarded by Sorush for his bravery and for saving his life. Azad is immediately taken with Soraya even after he finds out about her fatal touch. The two of them sneak through secret passages to get into the dungeon so they can ask the prisoner div for help in breaking Soraya’s curse. A div is what gave her mother the curse years ago. The div tells her not to believe her mother’s story. As Soraya discovers the truth about her curse, her family becomes endangered and she has to do some clever thinking to save them. Soraya searches for allies and truths throughout the story as everything changes for her. Beautifully written and based on Persian mythology to give us this unique fantasy, 4 stars!

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Two of Bitterblue’s advisers have perished in a shipwreck. They managed to send a message for Bitterblue before they perished. The message tells her to look into zilfium, a fuel used in the Torlan continent but illegal to use in Winterkeep. She discovers that she’s been swindled out of money when selling materials from her kingdom’s mountains, unknowingly selling traces of zilfiium that are found next to those materials. She’s angered and decides to visit Winterkeep, taking Giddon and Hava with her. She’s swept overboard and her crew thinks she perished. Instead, she’s being kept hidden away from her crew and most of Winterkeep. We meet her kidnappers and see the conditions she’s kept in. An array of characters fills the pages and intrigue turns the story. This latest addition to the Graceling realm adds another interesting culture to this vast world. Spies, loyalty and grief spin a complex riddle, 4 stars!

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

The prologue shares the confusion of Bitterblue and her mother as they try to stay focused on truth to keep from becoming muddled by Bitterblue’s father, King Leck. Almost nine years later, Queen Bitterblue struggles to rule her country under the many advisers who “help” her. She sneaks out of the castle one night to check out the village and ends up in a pub where a storyteller is narrating a story about her father, King Leck. She observes several villagers and one, in particular, catches her attention but he disappears before she walks out of the pub after him. Bitterblue manages to keep sneaking out at night and listening to different storytellers. She finally meets the villager that caught her eye earlier, Saf, and his friend Teddy. She keeps her identity from them and pretends to be a bread baker in the castle. Eventually, her true identity is discovered when she’s attacked. Bitterblue has to rely on everyone she trusts to get to the bottom of the attack, the truth seeker killings, destruction of her kingdom and the past when King Leck ruled. Bitterblue is a wonderful story with a variety of strong characters who are interesting and keep the queen on her toes. I’m excited to read the next book in the Graceling realm, Winterkeep! A fantastical and intriguing world, 5 stars!