The Witch Hunt by Sasha Peyton Smith

Likeable characters!

Frances is now a teacher at Haxahaven. She and Maxine are traveling to Paris and picking up their mutual friend Lena on the way. They travel six days on a fancy ship then stay at Maxine’s family home once they reach Paris. Frances hasn’t told Lena and Maxine that she received a letter from Finn or that she wants to visit her father who abandoned her family when she was young. She meets her father and is underwhelmed with his reaction and his personality. Finn doesn’t evoke trustworthiness but Frances feels that she has to work with him to fix the damage the two of them caused when reaching the veil and speaking to her deceased brother William. Frances and her friends are determined to fix the magic problem caused by the veil breach and they need all the help they can get. Likeable characters! 4 stars!

Mature content: PG-13 for underage drinking, LGBT side characters mentioned
Language: R for 7 swears and 1 f-bomb
Violence: PG-13 for stabbing, shooting and a tied up victim
Mixed Ethnicity and set in 1913 Paris

The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

A magical, tragic fantasy!

Frances works in a sewing factory in 1911 America. Working and living conditions aren’t very good. She’s working late one night so she can finish an order that’s scheduled to be delivered the next morning when her boss rushes in to steal money from the till and then notices Frances. He tries to force himself on her and he’s choking her to hold her still. Frances is struggling for air when she suddenly feels an odd sensation in her fingers and hears a whoosh sound. Her boss gasps and lets her go because her scissors have somehow ended up embedded in his neck. It takes Frances a minute to catch her breath and notice that her scissors have killed him. She panics, throws up and decides that the only way to get out of this situation is to stage a crime scene. Her supervisor helps her. She’s picked up by two strangers taking her to a sanitarium but they’re actually witches taking her to a training school. Haxahaven is a school that helps young women use their magical skills to help them become better wives and mothers and conform to the early 1900’s society. Many of these girls also want to learn how to use their magical abilities to protect themselves. Frances and a couple of others sneak out to venture and meet Finn who says he’ll help them train and help Frances figure out what happened to Will, her deceased brother. An entire world opens up to the girls and they get involved in much more than they bargained for. 5 stars for this magical, tragic fantasy!

Belladonna by Adalyn Grace

Pure reading enjoyment!

Signa is born into a rich family. When she’s two months old, her mother Rima throws a party. No one realizes the wine is poisoned and baby Signa sees Death approach her mother before he moves onto the others who drank the wine. Signa is left alone in the home after Death tries to take her too but he sees her brilliant future instead of her short past, what he usually sees as he takes someone’s life. Now, at nineteen years old, Signa lives with Aunt Magda. Signa has lived with several relatives throughout her lifetime. After Rima died, Sigma lived with her loving grandmother until her death. After that, relatives have wanted to be her guardian only for the money she’ll receive when she’s twenty and the payments they receive for housing her. Most of them haven’t loved her and Aunt Magda is especially mean to Signa. Every guardian she’s had has died and she thinks it’s her fault and that Death’s taking people on purpose and because of her. When Magda dies, Death appears once again and assures Signa that’s not the case. Signa is retrieved by her new guardian’s workers and taken to Thorn Grove where the lady of the manor, Aunt Lillian, is deceased and Signa’s cousin Blythe is ill. Cousin Percy and Uncle Elijah seem healthy though. Sylas, the worker who brought her to Thorn Grove, helps investigate Lillian’s death. They believe someone poisoned her and is poisoning Blythe too. Signa finds help for Blythe when Sylas shows her the manor library. She finds natural remedies to rid Blythe’s body of poison and she gets somewhat better. In the meantime, Signa can’t stop thinking of Sylas and Death and how she feels attracted to both of them. I can’t say much more without including a spoiler or two but this book was a pure enjoyment to read and I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel, Foxglove. 5 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I love the rich prose and beautiful descriptions of the scenery. I appreciate the fact that the book has very little swearing and vague details of sex that keep it out of the sensitive materials area. I enjoyed reading about the main character’s views on and dealings with proper etiquette and the setting is beautifully descriptive. The ethnicity is white and brown.

Language: PG for two swears, no f-bombs

Mature Content: PG-13, alluded to sex and two women embracing in public mentioned once.

Violence: PG, Death touches a person and then that person immediately dies. Poisonings

Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

Political intrigue in 1930’s Orient with a mix of historical fiction and fantasy!

The prologue tells of a painful scientific experiment on a person that has been strapped down. Then the story starts as Rosalind is trapping a criminal who is a member of the group responsible for the death of her cousin Juliette during a past act gone awry. She’s exacting revenge on those who were part of it. Political intrigue, spies, agents, Communists and Nationalists describe the characters in this book. Her handler pairs her with another agent, Orion, who has family issues as well. The two of them have to pretend to be married so they can infiltrate the newspaper company and try to discover information on the serial killer murdering people with a toxic liquid in syringes. What they discover turns their lives around and, unbeknownst to Orion and Rosalind, the reader is given the true identity of a mysterious agent, Priest. The author’s notes on Oriental history during the 1930’s are fascinating. Well-written, complex, beloved characters build a fun historical fiction fantasy. 5 stars!

Likes/dislikes:
I enjoyed learning about the history of 1930’s Orient. The author’s notes give readers a glimpse into her research and what’s based on facts and what’s completely fiction in this story. Rosalind and Orion are characters with depth and I had fun getting to know them.
Swearing: PG for three swears, no f-bombs
Mature content: PG for lgbtq transgender character mentioned
Violence: PG-13 for killing by poison, shooting, bloody shooting, stabbing, bloody stabbing

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

The best main character!

Charlie Reade lost his mom when he was a young boy and his Dad was so heartbroken that he became an alcoholic and lost his job. Charlie prayed for help and offered to do kind deeds in return for helping his family out. Charlie hears a dog howling and finds the elderly local neighborhood scary guy, Howard Bowditch, hurt. He’s fallen off a ladder and broken his leg. Charlie stays until the ambulance comes and then he promises Mr. Bowditch that he will take care of his dog, Radar, for him. Mr. Bowditch insists that Charlie call him Howard. Before he’s released from the hospital, Howard tells the staff that Charlie is the only person he wants staying at his house while he recovers from surgery. Charlie agrees. Charlie has also fallen in love with Radar and Radar loves him in return and he thinks that’s why Howard trusts him. Charlie helps Howard recover from surgery and gain back the use of his leg. Howard knows that he and Radar are old and their days are numbered. He starts confiding in Charlie, little by little. Charlie takes Howard’s word for it but checks his information out for his own safety and sanity. Howard is healing well until an incident in the shed causes him to overexert his heart. Howard knows he doesn’t have much longer so he records his secrets on a cassette tape for Charlie. What he tells Charlie is unbelievable! Charlie goes on the mission set forth by Howard and he’s tested in every way and learns to believe in magical things. A unique book for Stephen King because it’s more fantasy than horror and it’s written for young adults. I do enjoy his writing! 5 stars for this fairytale with the best main character!

Language: R for 100+ swears and 19+ f-bombs
Violence: PG for shooting, electric shock, a giant killing minor characters
Mature content: none
Likes/dislikes: The writing pulled me in with hints of mystery and foreshadowing.
Kind, brave main character and gruff older man help and care for each other and the dog, Radar, bonds them together. I enjoy the mysterious feel throughout the book and Stephen King wields words to encompass the reader! The illustrations are detailed and help bring the story to life.
Ethnicity: The setting is the present day America and Other realm and the ethnicities are white and Other realm characters.

Long Live the Pumpkin Queen by Shea Ernshaw

A cozy fun read with a nice twist!

Sally is the happiest she’s ever been, now that she’s Jack’s new bride. She is unsure of how well she will do as queen even though Jack reassures her. After their honeymoon travels, Sally ventures into Dream Town and accidentally leaves the door open. A monster travels to the different towns causing everyone to sleep. Even her beloved Jack, the Pumpkin King, won’t wake up. Sally feels guilty for causing this problem, especially because she had wished to be alone since she felt too inadequate to be queen. She goes to Dream Town hoping for the community to help her bring the monster, the Sandman, back but no one wants to talk about him. Then she’s summoned to the Governor’s house and her world changes. The descriptions of other towns are wonderful and fun! Each holiday has a town themed around its holiday. Dream Town is all about cozy sleep with its lavender crops, Dream Sand factory and Lullaby Library. I love the description of Dream Sand: a blend of stardust, moonbeams, and a pinch of yawns. Such a cozy, fun read with a bit of suspense and a nice twist! 4 stars!

No swearing.
Violence: PG- the Sandman ripping apart rag dolls and forcing everyone to sleep.
Mature content: PG- kidnapping Sally out of her window when she was twelve.

The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

A clean read for upper elementary and middle school readers!

I love the cover because two images can be seen when you change your perspective, black outline of a girl tossing coins and black print of a gargoyle on a cathedral wall.
The opening is told in the gargoyle’s point of view and the statue sees a young woman carrying her baby while running from men. As they almost capture her, she jumps into the river while holding onto her baby. Eight years later, Duck is a young girl within a group of traveling thieves. She’s trying to prove that she’s helpful and ends up as a baker’s apprentice to infiltrate the bakery and steal from inside. She continues to give bread to her thief group, the Crowns, but doubts more and more that she’s doing the right thing because she’s feeling loved by the baker. As the stakes rise, Duck will have to make some tough choices and decide who her family is and who she’s loyal to. 4 stars for this sweet tale of finding your true self.

Ethnicity is predominantly white; it is a historical fiction fantasy.
Language content: no swears
Violence content: PG – men chasing woman and baby and she’s running for their safety.
Mature content: PG – thievery, grooming for a gang
Likes/dislikes: I like the baker. She’s tremendously generous and kind. I appreciate the author’s writing of Duck’s conflicts between right and wrong and in finding her sense of belonging. This is a clean read with a good message. Alternating timelines with a unique gargoyle and a young girl named Duck.

These Twisted Bonds by Lexi Ryan

Romance, adventure and fantasy all wrapped up in one, 5 stars!

Brie is trying to get Sebastian and Finn to form an alliance to stop the queen who wants to imprison and enslave Unseelie Fae. The queen is Sebastian’s mother and he has gone behind her back to free as many as he can. Brie doesn’t trust anyone and doesn’t believe that she belongs in the Fae or in the mortal realm. She tries to learn to trust those around her and when she discovers her lineage, she finds her place. She has to complete a task to save herself and everyone in the Fae realm. Brie and Finn learn they’re tethered, meaning they draw power from each other and give each other strength. The long sleep, where children sleep and never wake up, is affecting the Unseelie children because their kingdom is dying. Finn is willing to sacrifice everything for his kingdom and Brie is willing to do the same. If the two of them can get Sebastian to help then they just might save everything. Romance, adventure and fantasy all wrapped up in one, 5 stars!

Mature content: sex but vaguely detailed, naked aroused breasts
Violence: blood and guts
Swearing: 15 swears and two f-bombs
Ethnicity: mortal mix and Fae

It Ends In Fire by Andrew Shvarts

4 stars for the writing and intensity of the story!

Sixteen-year-old Alka tricks a group of thieves into stopping a wagon for her. They think the wagon holds treasure but it holds a Wizard that is the senator’s powerful daughter. Alka wants revenge on the Wizards for killing her parents ten years ago and Lady Alayne is the key. After dueling with Alayne, Alka retrieves Alayne’s invitation to Blackwater Academy of Magic so she can go in her place and infiltrate the Wizard power. The next chapter explains what happened to Alka’s parents. Wizards arrive at their home so seven-year-old Alka and her six-year-old sister Sera hide under the floorboards like their parents told them to. Their father, Petyr, admits he’s a rebel to save his wife but the Enforcers kill them both. But before Petyr dies, he tells his daughters to run and then he sets off an explosion to kill the Wizards. Alka’s childhood ended that day. Her world completely changed. Now, she travels to Blackwater Academy to take Alayne’s place and exact her revenge. Fylmonela Potts befriends Alka and the two form an alliance preparing for the intense competitive Blackwater Academy where one third of the students will drop out or die instead of graduating. At the opening ceremony, Alka sees the man who killed her parents, Magnus Aberdeen, headmaster of Blackwater Academy. After a failed attempt to get close to Aberdeen, Alka meets the exchange student Prince Talyn Ravensgale IV. The story continues to alternate between young Alka and the present Alka, when she’s at Blackwater. She pretends to mess up a Glyph that distracts Aberdeen and the entire class so she can steal the last four Glyph pages from the master codex of the wizard spells to keep and learn on her own. She wants to be the most powerful so she can take down the wizards. When she was being trained by rebels, she was told not to feel remorse for killing wizards or others who stand in the way of her mission. Despite that, Alka gains allies and friends and when their order competes in a school challenge, they try a daring stunt to beat the competition. This makes the ruling order angry but the rest of the school feels empowered. The second challenge doesn’t go down as planned and when a friend dies, Alka knows the end is coming. She’s got to make a plan that will take the biggest toll of all. 4 stars for the writing and the intensity. Similar to a Harry Potter outline.

The Liar’s Crown by Abigail Owen

A mystery wrapped up in a fantasy!

Twin princesses are born. A rival ruler always kills the twin, so the second princess is hidden away. When the queen dies, the twins’ grandmother, Tabra becomes queen and her sister Meren is kidnapped by a mysterious man who might be the Shadowraith. He actually thinks Meren is Tabra, so she plays the part. He’s terrifying and has secrets that Meren is scared of but curious about. The two get to know each other better as they help one another through danger and eventually get to the Shadowraith’s home. He explains who he is and introduces himself as Reven. He’s been giving a home to the Vanished and others that are shunned from their communities, giving them jobs, safety and a place to belong. When Reven’s sanctuary is attacked, Meren creates a portal for the people to escape. All that’s left are Reven and Meren. They both end up making extreme sacrifices for the people they love. The ending leads to a sequel. 4 stars for the mystery wrapped up in this fantasy!