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.

Gilded by Marissa Meyer

Suspenseful, dangerous and interesting fairytale retelling!

Serilda enjoys creating stories to tell and embellishing the tales every time she retells them. One snowy night, she hears noises outside her house. She dares to go outside and she sees two moss maidens trying to hide from hunters. Serilda helps them hide but lies to the Erlking to keep them safe. He’s intrigued by her story of being able to spin straw into gold so he sends for her to come to his castle. After that, she’s bound to keep going back to the castle because the Erlking won’t let her go. She meets Gild, who the Erlking classifies as a poltergeist. Gild has the gift of magic that allows him to spin straw into gold. He helps Serilda but requires payment in return each time he helps her. The first two times, Serilda gives him the gifts the moss maidens gave her when she saved them from the Erlking. The third time, she offers her future firstborn child as payment. That is the only thing she has to offer. Gild accepts this offer, so his magic will work. Everything grows more complicated and the people Serilda love become endangered. The Erlking is heartless, cold and brutal. He will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
Gilded is one of the best fairytale retellings I’ve read because Marissa Meyer adds twists and brings original characters to the story. Suspenseful, dangerous and interesting fairytale retelling, 5 stars!

This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Reads like an old-fashioned fairytale!

Alizeh is alone in the world, hiding her true identity and living as an overworked servant. She’s Jinn and has ice in her veins. She’ll be in danger if anyone discovers who she is because she’ll be seen as a threat to the human king. Kamran, the young prince, sees Alizeh help a homeless thief and is intrigued by her actions. The more he observes her, the more curious he becomes. The king, Kamran’s grandfather, sees that the prince is interested in the girl so he explains that their kingdom’s peace is at stake if they let her live. He orders Kamran to put her to death and then be ready to attend the planned ball the next evening and choose a wife. Alizeh works as a seamstress after her servant hours are finished for the day. She’s helping Miss Huda with several gowns. Alizeh is exhausted and after she leaves Miss Huda, she’s attacked by six men. She warns them but they laugh at her so she subdues them with the only weapons she has available, seamstress needles and scissors. Afterwards, she’s approached by a man who has been searching for her and wanting to protect her from harm. He sees the attack and knows she can protect herself. He offers her assistance and safety. He will take her away at the ball the following night. He also gives her a nosta, a rare orb that warms in your hand when the truth is told and chills like ice when a lie appears. This man’s identity is a surprising twist to the story! Huzzah!!!
The action takes over and another twist is revealed, ending the book with a bang! I can hardly stand to wait for the next book! Elegant storytelling, 5 stars!

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Intrigue, mystery, and adventure!

Catherine loves to bake and wants to be a professional baker but her parents think that baking is servants’ work and they want her to marry the king, even if it’s against her wishes. The king seems very interested in Catherine’s baking and possibly for marriage with her. She’s not remotely interested. Jest, the new joker, fascinates Cath and the two of them develop a relationship. The Jabberwock continues to terrify and attack the people and Cath tells the king that he should be doing something about it. The king happens to be more interested in parties and happy thoughts than the safety of the kingdom. This fairytale retelling is full of intrigue, mystery and adventure as we learn the story of the Queen of Hearts from Wonderland. Enjoyable, suspenseful and heartbreaking, 5 stars!

Kingdom of Sea and Stone by Mara Rutherford

Characters with strength and integrity!

Zadie and Nor row home and surprise their parents. Talin arrives and the three of them leave on his small ship but see Ceren’s soldiers attack their home as they’re sailing away. Nor seems unsure about the future she wants and when Talin mentions staying together, she panics inside. They travel to Galeth to look for Sami and ask the people for support against Ceren. They make a discovery about the bloodstones and how Ceren uses them to manipulate and control his soldiers. Talin’s four year old sister is queen as the next female heir. Since she’s too young, their mother is representing in her stead. She’s going to war with Ceren and his bloodstone soldiers but she’s using every citizen who’s twelve and older in her army. Nor faces Ceren, trying to talk sense and logic to him. All he wants is power and control no matter how kind and longing for love he might have been when Nor sees a younger Ceren in her visions. He’s a lost soul. This second and last book in the duology finishes the story up nicely with strong characters full of integrity and loyalty, 5 stars!

Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

The intensity multiplies in the second book of the Kingdom of the Wicked series!

Emilia finds herself in the Seven Circles of Hell with Wrath by her side. He’s guiding her to Pride and she’s reminded of the temptations surrounding her in Hell. Wrath keeps reminding her that what she’s seeing isn’t real but a test.
They eventually get to Wrath’s elaborate home and Emilia senses and eventually knows that he’s continuing to have secrets that either he won’t or can’t share. This is a story of intensities, secrets, curses, deception, bonds, passion, and twists. I could not put this book down and the ending is perfect for continuing the story into the third and final book! Wrath and Emilia have an intriguing relationship and they’re both stuck in a kind of limbo. Emilia has been kept in the dark and Wrath isn’t allowed to divulge information. I’m anticipating the third and final book. This series reminds me of Sarah J. Maas’ writing in the ACOTR series because they’re both awesome! 5 stars!

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Supernatural mystery and the beginning of an awesome new series!

Twin sisters grow up hearing tales of the Wicked princes of Hell and heeding the warnings that go hand in hand with the stories. Eventually the warnings of danger wear off since they haven’t seen any real evidence of the Wicked until tragedy strikes when they’re eighteen. Emilia is desperate to find whoever is responsible for Vittoria’s death so she summons a demon but ends up with one of the Wicked, Prince Wrath. His disdain for humans is immense but Emilia wears him down and surprises him with her abilities and intellect. When she’s attacked by a large viper shaped demon, Wrath saves her. He also pulls her out of despair after she’s attacked by Lust. Their relationship fluctuates between understanding each other and despising each other. They’re both trying to stop evil so they decide to work together until tragedy strikes again. This supernatural mystery held my complete attention and I’m excited for the sequel, 5 stars!

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!