Friends Don’t Lie – by Nell Pattison (Review)

Standalone

Thriller, Mystery

Avon Books; September 29, 2022

384 pages (ebook)

Goodreads • StoryGraph
Author Social

8 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Avon Books and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

Meet Isabella Butterworth. Call her Izzy.

She lives alone, working as a virtual assistant, meaning that she only really has to leave home to get food. But during one of these forays, her life is about to change forever.

When she is confronted by a man that threatens to kill her. Her—Isabella Butterworth.

That’s when she learns she’s not alone.

She finds a second Isabella Butterworth (let’s call her Bella), living in her same city of Lincoln (in the East Midlands, not Nebraska). Someone she’d never known about, not until now. And now that’s all she can think about.

What if that’s who the man was really looking for? Izzy has never done anything that would make someone want to kill her—has she? She doesn’t think so. But this other Isabella Butterworth—Bella—who knows?

Izzy has to find her. Izzy has to warn her. But to do that, she has to find out more about her. Like where she lives, what she likes, where she goes, what she does, how many children she has, whether or not she’s married, who her friends are, what her history is… and so much more.

Everything. She needs to know everything about Bella. So she can help her.

Yes—help her.

Wow, what a mindfuck.

The beginning of this book was depressing. Like, REALLY depressing. The lead, Izzy, reminded me at first of me when I get really deep in the throes of depression and avoid people like the plague. And then she goes steadily downhill. It actually made me feel uncomfortable to read. In the beginning, at least. So just keep that in mind.

I was actually considering DNFing this, but I wanted to see what happened next. That’s the beauty of Pattison’s books. No matter how you feel about their subject matter, the tone, the world, even the plot—they make you question. And that’s what hooks you (or me, at least). Once I got by that cringeworthy portion, the story takes off.

For a few hours everything roared right along. Then, at about the 3/4 mark, things got confusing. It’s a big twist, the first of a few in the story. But it’s a HUGE twist, and one that left me reeling. As I said before, what a mindfuck.

I actually had to stop and go back to piece things together. I was well and truly lost for a bit, but I eventually got it under control. And that was one of my main issues with this book: the twist was so nuclear, so mind-bending, that it tore me right out of the story. We’re talking from total immersion to total confusion. It was terribly disorienting. Once I got a handle on things, I could stop and appreciate just what the author accomplished here; a twist that turned everything on its head. The problem is that when it yanked me out of the story, it took quite some time for me to get back into the flow of things. And it wasn’t just me.

I skimmed several reviews, and it’s clear that the twist lost way more than just me. Some people found their way back, others didn’t. As an author, you want your twists to be innovative. To be world-changing and genuinely shocking. But this is evidence that a twist can in fact be TOO BIG.

Moreover, this twist helps set up a few more later on. Mostly they were the regular enjoyable kind, but there were two in particular that I have to harp on. The first, was… misleading. At best. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that we were told one thing throughout the text, but when approaching the end we find that, no, the characters had it wrong the entire time, and we shouldn’t’ve taken it for granted. This annoyed me, but I got over it. The next one was more egregious. A certain… detail that we were told the entire time was just untrue. A complete lie. It wasn’t a major detail, but it’s one I noted that was repeated enough as fact that I accepted it as canon. When it turned out to be entirely untrue I was understandably upset. That said, the final few twists, when they come, succeed in once again upending the story.

But for that one point where everything rebelled and kicked me out of total immersion, this story ruled me. I lived it, breathed it, and never wanted it to end. It drank me in so completely that I binged the book in a day. It’s not my favorite Pattison thriller, but it’s still a damn entertaining read. Yes, I had some issues with the conclusion. But the ending itself was pretty amazing, to be honest. Yes, I had that one part I almost couldn’t wrap my head around. But I did—just took some time—weren’t even any holes in it (not there). Yeah, it wasn’t perfect. But any book that had me tear through it at such a pace, was so unputdownable, and didn’t completely screw up the ending is going to get a recommendation from me!

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

The Seven Swords #4

Epic, High Fantasy

Subterranean Press; September 30, 2022

147 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

9 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Subterranean Press @SubPress for the lovely physical ARC! All opinions are my own.

Please beware minor spoilers for the Seven Swords Books #1-3!

Guyime, once named “The Ravager”, once famed king of the Northern Realms, carries on his search for the Seven Swords—for by uniting them as one he hopes to free himself from their curse, and save Seeker’s daughter while doing so.

Advised to aid the cause of a lovesick knight, the party ventures to Blackfyre Keep, a cursed ruin amidst the Northlands, where war and famine rage, and something even more dangerous lurks. This knight has been tasked with taking and holding the cursed keep for a year to win the hand of his lady love—a task that is thoroughly unfeasible even with the involvement of three of the demon blades.

But Guyime doesn’t plan on sticking around.

Only in finding and mastering the fourth sword can his quest continue, and he has a very strong suspicion that the blade he seeks is somewhere in the depths of Blackfyre Keep. They’ll just have to live long enough to claim it.

Cursed I am, but it was always a useful curse.

So, by Book #4 we pretty much know what we’re going to get from this series. There’ll be a demon-cursed sword, some amazing locale to house it—like a hidden tomb, a cursed keep, a stratified city, a god’s chamber—someone to wield it, and a competition to claim it. If you were expecting something different—well, you’re out of luck.

What you see is what you get. Though not everyone might survive to see it.

There’s something quite nice about that, if I’m honest. I don’t have to worry overly about my favorite characters dying, I don’t have to worry about catching every aspect of the plot, I can just sit back and take it all in. Because I absolutely adore the world of the Seven Swords, and would read pretty much any story set in it. With such a simple and straightforward plot that’s basically episodic by now, it frees up Anthony Ryan to dream up new and more fantastical elements of his world than ever before. If you’ve accompanied me to Book #4 then you’ll know what I mean.

So, we have an episodic book and the expectation of another sword by the end of it. What’s next?

I’d argue the adventure itself takes priority. And the adventure here is a good one. It’s not perfect, by any means (one can only bottle lightning so many times, after all), but it’s another entertaining episode, where our heroes journey to a cursed keep and confront an ancient evil. Again, there’s some travel time in the beginning, so we get yet another glimpse at the incredible world the author has dreamt up. There is mystery, there is tension, there are military and horror and supernatural elements threading through a wonderful fantasy tale.

As with the other Seven Swords installments, Blackfyre Keep is light on details (the review copy I received was only 147 pages), which—while you’d expect that from a novella—I found just a bit more shallow than the others in sequence. The title “To Blackfyre Keep” is telling, as that’s the destination. In the other installments our party spent time searching upon the way, but here (apart for a single brief exception) we head straight to the keep before the story really begins.

TL;DR

If you’ve arrived at this point in the Seven Swords, you should know how this works. A place, an enemy, a sword to claim. A challenge in claiming it. It’s pretty much that simple. While episodic, it’s another investing adventure with an entertaining story and interesting characters. Though the world doesn’t feel as interactive as in past installments, the world around remains as detailed and immersive as before, with wondrous locations and terrifying scenes. Not much more I can say about this. If you’ve reached this point of the series, you’re sure to enjoy this one. If you haven’t—I guess you won’t be reading it anyway. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to pick up the series—I’d say yes, but I guess you could always just wait it out and binge them all at once. Got another 2-4 years wait, in that case. Easier to just start now, eh?

Note: The Subterranean Press version is doubtless a work of art in itself, but the entry point is $40, which, if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t pay for a novella, regardless of how good it is. Still though, if you fancy a piece of history, might I suggest the Lettered Edition? Preorders are up for this $300 book. Otherwise, perhaps the ebook version? It usually retails for $3-5.

All of Us Villains – by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman (Review)

All of Us Villains #1

Fantasy, YA

Tor Teen; November 9, 2021

386 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Foody WebsiteSocials
Herman WebsiteSocials

9.5 / 10 ✪

The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. And the Tournament looms.

Each generation the Blood Moon heralds the start of a new Tournament, as each of the seven families of Ilvernath compete for the ability to control the wellspring of High Magic thought to be gone from the world.

Each and every tournament is distinct for one reason or another, while somehow staying the same. But this year is different. This year—thanks to a revealing new book—the entire world now knows about the tournament, thrusting the seven families (and their champions) into the spotlight.

Isobel Macaslan—the first to be named, the belle of the media—hasn’t had her photo out of the press for the last year. Though the extra publicity gives an added boon before the tournament, this success doesn’t mean anything once the Blood Veil falls.

Briony Thorburn has trained her entire life to be champion—it’s the only life she knows, or wants—but when a last second change threatens her plans, will she be able to deal with the shock of it? Or will her actions mean the death of them all?

Carbry Darrow—the youngest of champions—isn’t expected to be much of a threat, but should he find the confidence within him, he just may surprise everyone.

Elionor Payne might not be the most bloodthirsty of the bunch, but it’s a close thing. She’s out to prove herself and win her family some praise, one body at a time.

Finley Blair—perfect, handsome, charming, every inch a storybook hero—might not be able to charm his way to victory, but he can get down and dirty should the need arise. And it certainly will.

Alistair Lowe is the favorite. Born and bred to win the tournament, he heralds from the most famous of the families; the Lowes win the tournament every two out of three times it’s held. Everyone knows he’s the greatest monster, the one to beat—even if he does have to keep reassuring himself.

Gavin Grieve rounds out the field. That’s the most that can be said about the final champion. A Grieve has never won the tournament, something everyone is keen to remind him—but Gavin aims to be the first. And not just because he doesn’t want to die yet. But as an afterthought of the competition, he is woefully equipped compared to the others. If he wants to win, he’ll have to do something stupid and desperate—though at least it’s not a difficult choice.

Six will die young, but one will rise above them. Only question is—is anything worth it?

There is was.

If he did this, he’d be restricting his magick usage for the rest of his life. But if he didn’t go through with it, the rest of his life would probably be a lot shorter anyway.

All of Us Villains is yet another fantasy thriller in the Battle Royale sub-genre, but this time with magic! So, teenagers battle to the death because why not. Got it. So… just from the prompt, this seemed a bit blah, but several reviewers I follow loved it, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Sometimes it’s all down to timing. Other times, it’s just taste.

This was a perfect combination of the two. For me, at least.

It’s going to sound a bit strange, but I found the pacing to be one of the best parts of this read. It sped up and slowed down from time to time, but always managed to do so at just the right moments, so that it never felt like the story was rushing out or grinding along. It was just always… there. You know how life happens at its own pace? It was like that. There were fast moving, adrenaline-induced parts that roared along, followed by crash sections where time seemed to be inching along while the characters got over the high. There were slower sections of talking and transition which all too suddenly turned to violence in an instant. It all felt… realistic. The tournament playing out over weeks instead of in the span of “days that feel like years”—a phrase which you all know I hate seeing.

The second great strength of All of Us Villains is its characters.

Now, all are profoundly flawed individuals—horrible people that react in terrible ways based on the fact that they’re young and immature, born and bred to fight in tournament that will no doubt claim their lives even if they have the fortune to survive it. And as such, they do some terrible things. But they’re also capable of great compassion, understanding, and empathy. It just comes out kinda weird what with the fact that they’re simultaneously attempting to murder one another. They’re not exactly realistic per say, but… realistic in the way that one can only be when they’ve been told their entire lives that they’ll be forced to fight a bunch of their friends to the death so that their family can reap the rewards.

I couldn’t honestly tell you who my favorite character was… though I consistently enjoyed both Gavin and Isobel’s POVs in a way I didn’t Briony’s. It’s not like Bri was a worse person—I’m not sure there were any “better” or “worse” characters (other than possibly Finley, who did not have his own POV)—I just found her a bit too arrogant for my tastes. Alistair kinda split the difference, showing both an unexpected empathy and a surprising cruelty just when I thought he’d turned one corner or the other. Just those four POVs: Alistair, Briony, Isobel, and Gavin. It never felt overwhelming with the POVs, or the scope, as each POV simply showed a different perspective into the tournament.

The story was not without its flaws, just… these were far outweighed by its strengths. Far, far outweighed.

TL;DR

All of Us Villains features a cast resplendent with the villainous, the vain, the wrathful, and the bloodthirsty. They may not all be monsters, but most come close. If you’re after a story with distinct lines between good and ill—this isn’t it.

This asks you to pick the best of a bad situation—and then pick again, as that person will almost surely die first. It may not feature any saints, but it does tell a lovely story with a definitely dark twist. A somewhat new (if not wholly unique) take on the Battle Royale sub-genre that has overtaken the world, All of Us Villains mostly succeeds through it being a damn good read, with excellent pacing, and believable—if horribly flawed—characters. In fact, I’d argue that their obvious flaws make them even more believable, if not relatable. While you might not love this quite as much as I did, I hope you’ll trust me when I say it’s worth a try. I’d very much recommend Part #1 of this duology, continuing in All of Our Demise, out just recently here in 2022.

Perfect Shadow – by Brent Weeks (Review)

Night Angel #0.5

Fantasy, Novella

Orbit; November 7, 2017

131 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

7.5 / 10 ✪

Gaelan Starfire is a farmer, a husband, a father—and an immortal, a man who’s seen countless lifetimes, and is peerless in the arts of war. In past lifetimes he’s been a leader of men, a war hero, a villain, a rebel, a tyrant.

In this life he is no one.

Was. Was no one.

When his wife and daughter are killed, Gaelan takes an assignment assassinating assassins for the beautiful crimelord Gwinvere Kirena, in order to escape. But it turns out that this escape may cost him more than he bargained for.

Yet, it may also provide Gaelan with the answers he desperately seeks.

This was to be my first kill for hire. It’s good to start with the impossible. Make a name for myself. Enter with a splash.

A bit light on details, but a lot more depth than I’d expect out of the common backstory novella—no wonder it turned out longer than the author had planned. The tale of Gaelan Starfire includes twists and turns, ups and downs, but only the one lifetime (though there are glimpses of more beyond). If you liked the Night Angel trilogy—or even didn’t; I was on the fence, personally, and only ended up reading Book #1—this is a nice piece of lore to pick up, as it explains so much that is just taken for granted in Way of the Shadows.

I haven’t read a book in the series in several years, but had no trouble getting immersed in the world. In fact, even after finishing Perfect Shadow (which took me about a day), I still only remember glimpses of Book #1: the world, the ending, and… that’s about it. The point is that this novella can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the series, though if you have read some of it, this adds a bit more depth to your understanding.

There’s also a short story included: I, Nightangel—which fills in… not much, honestly. I found it a bit worthless and ended up skimming it. So, the novella itself I’d rate at 8/10 ✪—while the short story maybe 4ish. Luckily, the main event is the novella itself, so I only ended up docking half a star for this, as the reason you buy the novella is for the, you know, novella.

TL;DR

If you’ve read any of the Night Angel trilogy, or are curious to do so, I’d definitely recommend Perfect Shadow. It’s a good judge of whether or not the trilogy would be right for you. I’m not certain that the short story is included in the ebook version—according to the Amazon page, it is, but the hardcover edition claims it isn’t supposed to be.

Black Heart: Words on Wind, Adrift on Dreams of Splendor – by Mark Smylie

Black Heart #1 / Artesia #2

High Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Self-published; February 21, 2022

235 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Patreon

Please beware minor spoilers for the Barrow.

Give them a chance to be cruel, and they will love you for it.

You know, for a book I never thought I’d read, Black Heart: Part 1 was pretty damn good. Fresh off a reread of the Barrow, it was good to drop back into that same niche, the groove, and explore more of the highly detailed, immersive world of Artesia. While Part 1 is mostly used for building the coming story, there are a few things I’d like to note.

Other than sex, the same formula as the Barrow
There was no graphic sex or mention of cocks until nearly the two hundred page mark! It was weird. Luckily Smylie squeezed one scene in before the close of Part 1, so if you were only reading this one for the lurid fantasies—take hope!
If instead you were reading it for story- and world-building, yeah, there’s a lot of that. Black Heart uses the same formula that the Barrow did before it. Namely, a bleak starting location, heavy on the action, then a break to build the world and splay the threads wide.

Not a whole lot of repeated POVs.
As a buildup for the rest of the book to follow, Part 1 skips around a lot after leaving Stjepan and Erim outside Devil’s Tower. The story begins right after the events depicted in the Barrow, as the adventurers continue on, searching for Gause Three Penny as they hinted they might at the end of the last book. We spend a bit there, but following their departure, the overall plot zooms out a bit. POVs include the Nameless, the Guilds, the Council, the Lords and Ladies of the city, and another special guest.

Despite the time it took, it’s still the same Artesia
I confess to being a little worried the world would’ve changed after such a long absence. But as I read the Barrow right before this I can tell you for certain that it was just like stepping out of one story and into the next. The world around doesn’t change, nor does the immersion—so it’s back into the breach right away, just like no time has passed.
I’ve never read the graphic novels, but this was the same world I remember from Book #1, no problem.

It’s a good start to Book #2
When it comes right down to it, this is what matters. Whether the story is good or not. And, well, it is. The pacing is a bit slow at times, as we have to read through several new characters while the author builds up the world, but otherwise I had no complaints. Can’t recommend the entire thing yet as I haven’t read it all. But from what I’ve seen thus far, there was no reason to worry!

Coming next, Black Heart: Part II: In the Coils of a Horned Serpent!

Hidden – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #5

Urban Fantasy

Ace; September 2, 2014

293 pages (mass market)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

8.0 / 10 ✪

Please beware spoilers for Chosen, and minor spoilers for Books #1-3 of the Alex Verus series.

Following the events of Chosen, Alex Verus finds himself at odds with many of his former friends. Killing a bunch of teenagers—regardless of the reason—will do that. Both Sonder and Anne, two of his closest friends and allies, now refuse to talk to him, preferring to go it alone. With Sonder this isn’t much an issue; an up and coming mage on the Council, Sonder has his pick of allies. But with Anne—who is shunned by the Council and its mages and apprentices alike—this leaves her increasingly on her own, and unprotected.

So when Anne is kidnapped, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Despite Alex being on her bad side, he is still as desperate as anyone to find her. Even going so far as to work with the Council Keepers and Sonder.

But when it comes to light that Anne may have been taken by the dark mage Sagash, all that support suddenly dries up. Legally there’s nothing they can do—as a former apprentice to Sagash, he is well within his rights to reclaim her. Even Sonder, who regards Anne as a friend, gives up hope, leaving Alex with Luna and Variam alone.

The following rescue will take place with little supplies and nothing in the way of backup, half-assed and reckless—an Alex Verus special.

“Maybe that’s how it works in our world. The only heroes are the ones who die young.”
I gave Anne a disturbed look. “That’s a pretty depressing philosophy to live by.”
“Is it?” Anne didn’t meet my eyes. “I can’t tell anymore.”

Considering how long and how many tries it took me to reread and finish Hidden, I’d still consider it a good book—even head and shoulders above Jacka’s earlier work. I pretty much just burned out on the genre (which happens to me with pretty much anything, but especially urban fantasy) and had to take a break. That said, there is a bit of a lull in the early going, after Anne is taken, but before any real action is taken to retrieve her. And it was in this lull that I was lost.

The book starts off well, with the fallout from the previous book coming to light in Alex’s early comings and goings. We get to see his decisions reflected in the faces of his friends and family; some support him and his actions, others very much do not. It’s a quiet start, but it gets going quickly enough.

Following the kidnapping, there comes a bit of a lull. It’s not egregious—only about 30-40 pages, but if you’re impatient (in general, or to read something else) than it may make or break this for you. During this lull there’s some talking, some planning, some lore; not a whole lot of action. But then come page 90, everything kicks off again—and pretty much carries this intensity through to the endgame. Once I got over that hump, everything was fine. But seeing as how I did burn out there (despite coming back to it, despite having read and enjoyed it previously), it has to be taken into consideration.

Hidden continues to expand on the lore and depth of the Alex Verus series. The world by now includes well more than simply Camden, and while it’s not completely filled in everything, you’d expect that from a series told entirely in first-person. Still, everything is as immersive as before, and there’s no break in the narrative or story. In fact, it’s all better than normal as there’s been four books of build-up before now. In terms of the overall arc, Hidden continues this quite nicely. Obviously in the interest of spoilers I’ll skip going into any detail, but I felt like it worked, and that’s what matters most.

All in all, Hidden is another great Alex Verus adventure. Yes, it has its highs and lows, but the series continues to improve from its most humble of beginnings. The series continues with Veiled, Book #6.

TBR – Autumn 2022

I used to do a monthly TBR back when I first started blogging, but discontinued it over a year ago as I felt it was putting pressure on me to read things—and reading should be fun!

And so, at this time, the TBR is back on a temporary basis. Below are eight titles I’d like to get to (though I’m under no illusions that I’ll read them all this year).

So this season, for TBR we’re focusing on series conclusions! After all, there are so many series out there to start, but it’s so hard to finish them. First you have to find something you WANT to read more of, then you have to find the time for it (and if you get a lot of new ARCs like I do, this can be its own challenge), and finally you need the motivation. I struggle with all of these and so don’t finish nearly enough series as I’d like to. So that’s what this post is about. Series’ that I haven’t read the final book for, but still want to!

1 – the flames of shadam khoreh – by bradley p. beauliu (lays of anuskaya #3)
2 – the spider’s war – by daniel abraham (dagger and coin #5)
3 – the gates of the dead – by james a. moore (tides of war #3)
4 – the last mortal bond – by brian staveley (unhewn throne #3)
5 – red tide – by marc turner (chronicles of the exile #3)
6 – locklands – by robert jackson bennett (the founders #3)
7 – all of our demise – by amanda foody & christine lynn herman (all of us villains #2)
8 – legend has it – by elliott james (pax arcana #5)

The Flames of Shadam Khoreh completes the Lays of Anuskaya, a trilogy that I’ve yet to finish six years after starting. You should see my reviews of the first two around as I remind myself what’s happened without the need for a full-blown series reread.

I may’ve just finished All of Us Villains—don’t even have a review for it up yet, yet I already NEED the second one on a purely primal basis. I was such a good read; twists and turns where I expected, but also where I didn’t expect. A love story that wasn’t a love story and was filled with horrible people that couldn’t quite escape the whole killing-one-another thing.

How many years has it been since I finished the Widow’s House? I don’t even remember. In fact, I can barely remember the story. No surprise really that I haven’t wrapped this up yet. The Spider’s War I know features Geder against the world, as revenge on wosshername for denying him. You know I could probably make a go of it soon, just from that. Hmmmm…

Gates of the Dead seriously needs some love. Under a hundred ratings and less than twenty reviews on Goodreads, giving the series a cumulative total of around 500 ratings and 80 reviews. And you know, it really has been a pretty good series! I mean, dark and dismal, but it’s grimdark innit? So that’s kinda the point.

Red Tide isn’t exactly the series conclusion that you might’ve hoped for—just like Legend Has It—but as their respective authors have disappeared down a well somewhere, they’re the de facto endings.

I’d probably say the most likely reads for this quarter are… probably the final Lays of Anuskaya, the second All of Us Villains, and either the third Tides of War or fifth Dagger and Coin. The first would be kindle, #3 audio, and #2 and 4 physical.

If you’ve read any of these, let me know? How were they, and would you recommend them to me? Yes, I’m sure there’re more that you’d recommend too—honestly I had to cap this at eight otherwise I’d’ve been here far too long and started to feel bad about how long my list is lol.

Again.

Spells for Forgetting – by Adrienne Young (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Romance, Supernatural

Delacorte Press; September 27, 2022

352 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

10 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Ballantine Books, Delacorte Press, and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

A mist-cloaked isle steeped in folklore and tradition, no one goes to Saiorse island to stay. Everyone who’s local already lives there, and the island doesn’t take well to outsiders. Despite this, hordes of tourists flock to the islet in fall to see the trees, to visit the Salt Orchard in all its autumn finery.

August Salt isn’t headed to Saiorse as a tourist, and he isn’t going there to stay. But it still feels like he’s headed home.

Decades before, August left Saiorse in the dead of night with his mother, never to return. The Orchard Fire—and the death of Lily Morgan—precipitated their departure, while another death results in August’s return. That of his mother, Eloise. No, August hasn’t come home to stay; he knows he isn’t welcome here, not after the night that provoked his departure. He’s come to bury his mother.

Emery Blackwood once dreamt of leaving the island, running away with August and exploring the world. But after the Orchard Fire, everything changed. Now Emery lives among the ashes of her former life. She runs a teahouse—as her mother did before her—and lives in her childhood home. It’s not the life she thought she wanted, but it is hers.

Now, fourteen years after that fateful day, Emery’s reality threatens to shatter once more. As August Salt once again walks Saiorse’s shores. She can’t look at him: his departure stole everything from her—her heart, her future, her best friend, almost her own father. But neither can she stay away: August is the only man she’s ever loved, and she’s dreamt of him ever since he left—his smell, his taste, his scent, his touch.

But August’s return affects more than just Emery, more than just the town—the island itself notices his arrival. And secrets that have remained buried for the last fourteen years will finally come to life.

There are spells for breaking and spells for mending. But there are no spells for forgetting.

I often mention how I’ll get so immersed in a book that literal hours pass without me noticing. I mean, it doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it’s both an amazing and surreal feeling—of belonging in a world that isn’t my own, but is one I can picture so vividly that I’m transported there.

I think you probably know where I’m going with this.

Spells for Forgetting is a story of true love—and, at the same time, a story of love unrequited. It is a book full of secrets and lies, of the possible and the impossible, of the supernatural and the unknown, of love and envy.

It is also an amazing read.

Saiorse Island is a fictional islet hidden in the shadow of Seattle, in Puget Sound. But it legitimately feels like an entire world on its own, instead of an enclave on the world’s edge. Sometimes a setting like this feels cramped, claustrophobic—but I never noticed that with this. Instead, Saiorse feels cozy, comfortable, and—although I’ve never lived within 500 miles of the ocean—it feels like home.

But for all its comfort, the mystery at the heart of Saiorse burns bright. The past, hidden in lies and steeped in the supernatural, has yet to come out, though one can feel that it desperately wants to. All it needs is a little push.

One thing that bothered me was the tale of true love—and in particular the side-plot of love unrequited. Because I’ve been in that spot before, and so it was so hard to read about it. Yet at the same time… Adrienne Young nailed it. That feeling: that some things are just predetermined, fated, and while they were meant to be for some others will just never have them. Something you cannot fight, though you will anyway.

The way that this bothered me… did not ruin the story. In fact, I think it made it better. It made the story feel more real, more tangible—in a way that it truly did not need. From the setting to the mystery to its characters to true love—it was a tale that hit close to home. Parts of it might have been difficult to read, but all of it was incredible.

TL;DR

I’m honestly having trouble expressing just how much I loved this novel. From the story, the setting, the characters—everything seems so much more than I can put into words. I even loved the romance, even though sometimes the thought of it hurt worse than heartbreak ever has the right to. I can’t recommend Spells for Forgetting enough, not just for creating a world you can get lost in, but for giving you a reason to return once you do.

September 2022

Well, it’s September.

Huh, that happened quick.

I’ve had some digestive/stomach issues lately, (also insomnia, yay) so I haven’t done quite as much with my late summer as I’d’ve hoped. Did get a lot of reading done, though.

A reasonable haul this month—4 arcs, 3 of which I’ve already finished. So September will likely be used to prepare for the fall haul (yay, rhymes), catch up on overdue summer reads, and maybe finish some series! Or… not. Maybe September will be my burnout month, who knows?

Right, pessimism aside, let’s get into it:

ARCs

One Dark Window – by Rachel Gillig (9.27)

Unnamed Series #1

GoodreadsStoryGraph

Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.

But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.

Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

Excited to start this one! The press release states that Orbit acquired the rights to this and its sequel, so presumably this will begin some sort of as-of-yet unnamed series.

Spells for Forgetting – by Adrienne Young (9.27)

Standalone

GoodreadsStoryGraph

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

I had an issue with the premise of this one; it was a personal reason, nothing more—but you wouldn’t know it from my review. This was one of my favorite books thus far this year for so many reasons. Please come back to hear me gush about it! Review coming September 5th.

Friends Don’t Lie – by Nell Pattison (9.29)

Standalone

GoodreadsStoryGraph

My name is Isabel Butterworth. Your name is Isabel Butterworth.

We’re around the same age. We live in the same town.

But your life is more exciting than mine, isn’t it? Richer, dramatic, more fulfilling.

Imagine if I’d never found out about you…

But I have. Because someone mistook me for you.

And now I can’t stop thinking about you because I know you’re in trouble. You need my help.

And I need a way to get to know you.

To save you.

To be you…

An all-consuming thriller with one problem—a twist that was too big! I know, right? If this has piqued your curiosity, be sure and check back for my review of Friends Don’t Lie, coming September 25th! Bonus points if your mind went to Stranger Things just like mine did:)

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan (9.30)

The Seven Swords #4

GoodreadsStoryGraph

GUYIME—DEMON CURSED WIELDER OF THE NAMELESS BLADE—FOLLOWS THE TRAIL OF THE FABLED SEVEN SWORDS INTO THE TROUBLED NORTHLANDS, A REALM WHERE HE WAS ONCE CALLED KING…AND RAVAGER.

Magically guided to enlist in the retinue of a lovesick knight, Guyime and his companions journey to the haunted ruin of Blackfyre Keep, a castle legend tells cannot be held. But a far deadlier threat than mere ghosts awaits. An ancient evil has been conjured and to defeat it Guyime may be forced to become the monster he used to be—the Ravager reborn.

Continuing the epic adventure of The Seven Swords, To Blackfyre Keep is an enthralling tale of creeping menace and pulse pounding action from New York Times bestselling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria trilogies.

Another great entry to the series! If you enjoyed the first three up to this point, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t like this. A bit episodic, but there’s no reason that must mean “bad”. Check back for my review on September 22nd!

Additional Releases

The Godbreaker – by Mike Brooks (9.27)

The God-King Chronicles #3

GoodreadsStoryGraph

The triumphant third and final part of the God-King Chronicles. The Godbreaker is the unmissable culmination of the series, filled with war-dragons, armoured knights, sea-faring raiders, dangerous magic and battle scenes.

War comes to Narida and Nothing Will Be The Same Again. 

As the Black Keep Council prepares for war, journeying far to protect their lands and friend, The God-King and his sister try to keep Narida together in the face of betrayal while the Splinter King remains at large.

The Golden and his hordes of raiders press their advantage and sweep across the land with unholy powers.  

Sacrifices will be made, and not everyone will make it back to Black Keep alive… 

I’m only part-way through volume #2 of this (as in… 5%?), so no Godbreaking (Godbreakering?) for me yet! Had no idea this would be the end of the series, though. I could’ve sworn he said it’d be a large scale fantasy on par with GoT or Stormlight or such. Note: This is the US release. It’s been out in the UK/EU since the early summer, I believe.

Purchases

Didn’t buy many books this month, but I picked up Black Heart: Part II: In the Coils of a Horned Serpent, and will hopefully get to it soon. I quite enjoyed Part I—though the pacing was a bit inconsistent—and I’ll post a quick summary of my thoughts sometime soon. It won’t be a full review; I’ll save that til I finish all three parts.

Currently Reading

Got an early start on Station Eternity, by Mur Lafferty. Early signs indicate that I probably won’t love this quite as much as Six Wakes, but it’s definitely interesting and entertaining thus far! Instead of the hard-boiled thriller, the author seems to have gone more light-hearted this time around, and I’m curious to see where it takes her.

Upcoming Posts

In addition to the ARCs listed above, I have a few reviews that I should be posting soon. Black Heart: Part I, The Straits of Galahesh, Alone in the Wild, City of Stairs, and more. Books that I read over the summer and didn’t review, along with more series stuff that I’ve been hoping to finish up; hopefully these reviews/summaries will serve as a recap for you and me both.

I’ve also some posts I’m hoping to get through—more stuff I wanted to have out this summer but delayed when I didn’t have the time or energy to get to them. Included in these are a TBR for Autumn, some of the strange DNFs I’ve had this year, and maybe even a couple outdoor/gardening things. We’ll see.

Music

I’m usually the kind of person that learns about music only after it’s already come out. Now in the past I’ve posted some of my anticipated albums of the month, but these usually result in me doing a 1-2 hour search through various band sources while writing said post. This month, I don’t even have to bother. There are several releases I’ve been waiting all summer for out in September, and I’m excited to share them!

We start with Rumble of Thunder courtesy of The Hu, out for streaming on September 2nd (though physical copies aren’t due for another two weeks). While I haven’t pre-ordered the entire album, I’ve picked up Black Thunder Extended which I’ll share here. Early indications are good, but I found their debut, The Gereg, a bit hit-and-miss, so we’ll have to wait and see. If you haven’t heard of them before, the Hu incorporates classic Mongolian music into their metal for a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Smash Into Pieces comes in next with their album, Disconnect, dropping on September 9th. Not a ton of info regarding this one yet, like number of tracks or included EPs, but the band has repeatedly assured that the album will come out as planned. While I like Smash Into Pieces, their albums have the issue of seeming a bit filler-y—with strong singles surrounded by weaker filler tracks. It helps that they seem to release something every year or two. Disconnect joins A New Horizon, Arcadia, and Evolver as the band marks their fourth consecutive year with an album. Smash Into Pieces is somewhere between electronic rock, hardcore, and alternative on the general scale (don’t ask me what all these things mean).

Band-Maid fills this next spot with their EP Unleash, due out on September 21. This 8-track release is set to include two recent singles and six new songs. Band-Maid albums have been pretty solid listens when compared to the other two bands on this list, as I can usually listen to an entire album on repeat for weeks before weeding out anything. Band-Maid is classed as rock, or J-Rock.

The Reckoning is the 5th album from alternative rock band Icon for Hire, legitimately one of my favorite bands. If you haven’t heard of them before, I’d definitely recommend checking them out—starting with their sophomore effort, the self-titled Icon for Hire, out since 2013. The Reckoning is set to release September 30th, and includes four previously released singles and nine brand-new tracks.

Gaming

Not much on the whole gaming front. My to-play list is still pretty long, but I just haven’t been in the mood lately. Earlier in August I finished Journey to the Savage Planet which was good fun despite it being somewhat repetitive and having an instantly forgettable story. Still, I enjoyed the idea of some random person being sent to a random planet with no training and just told: Have at it.

September (and late August) marks the release of I was a Teenage Exocolonist, a game I discovered from Caitlin at Realms of My Mind, which… I can’t play, because my computer is too old. Ah well.

Also supposedly Tunic releases on console.

Life

Not too much to say on the personal side of things. Autumn is usually my favorite time of year, but I’ve been having some health issues lately that have kept me from enjoying it quite as much. But hopefully I’ll get over this enough to do some of the things I’ve been wanting to all summer. Stay tuned, I guess.

At least the reading side of things is going well.

How was your August? What’re you excited for in September? Music/book/ game recommendations are always welcome!

Beautiful World of Books – The Middle Third of 2022

If you missed the first one of these, I laid out all the covers of the books that I read January through April. Why did I pick thirds instead of quarters you ask? Because I didn’t think of it until the beginning of May.

Anyway, not a whole lot of explanation needed for this. These are all the books I read May through August!