The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Whoa! That ending!

A young woman who has been without her family for ten years, is a prisoner in a camp that sounds similar to the concentration camps of World War II. She’s responsible for carving a z into the prisoners’ hands. The z represents the prison’s name and it reminds me of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, except this is a fantasy story. She’s also the prison healer in charge of treating prisoners. A well-known rebel arrives at the prison and she’s known as the Rebel Queen. She’s supposed to be put through the Trials as punishment. Kiva receives a message from her family that states they’re coming to rescue her and implores her to keep the Rebel Queen alive. She’s also threatened by another prisoner to keep the Rebel Queen alive or her younger assistant, Tipp, will be killed. Kiva sacrifices herself to the Trials hoping that she’s going to be rescued before they’re over, since no one ever survives them without magic. A new prisoner arrives, Jaren, and he befriends Tipp and Kiva because she healed his wounds. The Trials consist of four Ordeals that are insanely dangerous and fatal. Kiva doesn’t know what any of the Ordeals are before she’s thrown into each one. During the time of the Trials, a stomach sickness is ravaging the prison and Kiva and Tipp work endlessly to find a cure. This is a unique story and that ending was awesome, 4 stars!

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!

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!

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

Amara is set to be the next ruler but she doesn’t pass the test in front of her father or the people of the kingdom that are watching. She’s imprisoned but escapes with Bastian, a mysterious pirate. Amara’s fiancé Ferrick travels with them also. They’re trying to figure out how to stop Kaven. He’s become a ruthless leader and vows to conquer Amara’s father. Along the way, the three of them meet a mermaid and help her escape her servitude and she willingly helps the crew of rebels. They reach Kaven and see firsthand what his rule has cost his people. Amara touches a cursed dagger and sees the memory of what truly happened to the magic so many years ago. The truth could crush her father’s rule. When Amara and her crew return home, they find it under a vicious attack. They jump into the fight and have to do some quick thinking if they’re going to survive. I love the main characters and the development they underwent throughout this book. Amara, Bastian, Ferrick and Vataea are strong, brave and have great loyalty and integrity. I enjoyed the section on Sira’s memory and how it adds a twist to everything Amara and her kingdom know. A grand adventure, 5 stars!

Love Spells and Other Disasters by Angie Barrett

Love Spells and Other Disasters by Angie Barrett
Rowan lives with her ghost-whisperer mom in an old family mansion that belonged to Rowan’s deceased father’s family. Her mother is famous for her abilities and Rowan is slightly embarrassed by it all, since she doesn’t believe in any of that stuff. At school, she’s paired with a snobby Abby who isn’t nice to Rowan. Their assignment is to create a lucrative business together. Abby comes up with the idea of making love spells and has Rowan write them up and fold them into origami hearts. Luca is helping with the renovation of Rowan’s home. Luca and Rowan talk and begin dating and everyone seems surprised by this because Luca is popular and was a star athlete until an injury ended that and everyone thinks Rowan is odd. The love spells were supposed to be harmless fun but Abby finds a real love spell and Rowan uses it on her mom because she seems lonely. Afterward, Rowan notices that some of the couples are unhappy and her mom has gone loopy. She finds a reversal spell that undoes the real spells, causing angry customers. She deals with the backlash through acts of kindness that seem to appease and calm people down. 4 stars for this romance with a bit of magic!

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin
Lou is a witch and thief who’s hiding from more than just the law. Reid is the leader of the Archbishop’s soldiers who have all been trained to despise and kill witches. Lou and Reid meet under not-so-friendly circumstances and their relationship grows from there. Forced to marry, the two start out hating each other but eventually begin to care when they truly see who they are. Action-packed fantasy with a splash of humor make this a fun read, 5 stars!

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

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Impressive sequel!
A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer
Rumors abound about and rewards are offered for the lost heir of Emberfall. Grey is working as a stable boy and goes by the name of Hawk. He mostly keeps to himself except for his stable companion and coworker, a young boy named Tycho. One night Grey tests out the silver bracelet Lilith gave him for transport into Harper’s world. He didn’t know if it worked anymore but when he touched the bracelet, he left the stables and when he returned, Tycho was staring at him. The ruthless leader that threatened Emberfall before has returned with her daughters to force Rhen into an alliance. The daughter named heir is like her mother while the other cares for people and their well being. Rhen brutalizes Grey and Tycho and the group escapes Emberfall because Grey unintentionally uses his magic. Grey doesn’t trust either kingdom or their rulers but the kind, wise daughter convinces the group to go to her kingdom despite worrying about her mother. A tremendous amount of character development bonded me with this story. I thought A Curse so Dark and Lonely was a wonderful read but this sequel is just as good! 5 stars for this impressive sequel that introduces even more great characters!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

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Surprise ending!
A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is one of the best fairy tale retellings that I have read.
The writing demanded my attention from the first chapter and each chapter ends in a bit of a cliffhanger! I had to force myself to stop reading to go to bed. Harper is kidnapped but for reasons that are different from what she ever expected. She’s been kidnapped from Washington D.C. to help break a prince’s curse. Prince Rhen and his top guard, Grey, are the only two that know about the curse and the secret that Rhen is horrified about. Lilith cursed Rhen years ago and he’s turned into a violent monster every season since. Once he changes, he has no memory or control, and because of that he’s ending up killing the royal family, his family. Harper doesn’t like Rhen at first but she understands him better the more she gets to know him. Grey is an intimidating guard but a kind and caring soul. Each season, Rhen becomes a different creature but he’s always violent and ruthless. Harper helps Rhen and his kingdom by pretending to be a princess. A cruel ruler threatens to take over the kingdom and Harper and Rhen tell her that the princess’s father is sending reinforcements to stop her. Rhen, Harper and Grey continue to work together and become closer. This story is full of action, loyalty and bravery and ends in an intense surprise, 5 stars!

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

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The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu tells the story of Mozart and his older sister Nannerl when they were children and the fantastical world they discover together through their musical talent. I absolutely love how Marie Lu based this story on sources she found while reading about Mozart. She discovered that he did have a sister and they shared compositions along with their love of music, as well as their co-created stories of the Kingdom of Back. The historical based story fascinates me and I enjoyed every minute reading this fantasy. The struggles Nannerl dealt with because of the day and age she was born in were unfair but she persevered as much as she could. I love this story and give it a full 5 stars!

Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

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Interesting characters wrapped up in intrigue!
Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read and review Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith!
Witchcraft is forbidden in Aurelia’s kingdom and the story opens as she’s sadly watching two women hang for performing witchcraft. Aurelia has performed her share of magic, even though she’s the princess. She’s being sent away to Achleva to marry the prince. In his kingdom, magic is allowed. Along the way, a plot is revealed and she escapes on her own. She disguises herself as a maid and meets other commoners, befriends them and helps them. Someone is trying to break seals and release dark magic and they finally discover who has been breaking them, only after they’ve lost a wonderful friend. I love the part when the prince stands up to the king, speaking the truth about the seal breaker. The king’s reaction raises suspicion. Some of the transitions could be more clear between reality and Aurelia’s visions but for the most part, the visions add depth to the plot. Aurelia loses people she loves and she discovers her true origins. Unpredictable and entertaining, Bloodleaf kept me riveted to the end, 4 stars!