Book Review: House of Marionne by J. Elle

I loved this ARC so much that I pre-ordered the hardback; the first time I’ve done that with an ARC. House of Marionne hit all my boxes and executed them to perfection. I haven’t read much YA in my past but some of the new releases, like this one, are so exciting that I am starting to change my mind on the genre.

House of Marionne is dark academia done right, a magic school that’s fresh and far from the usual derivative takes. Quell Marionne has spent her childhood on the run with her mother from the opulent, hidden-in-plain-sight magical world that sired them. That’s because Quell has forbidden death magic running through her veins, called toushana, which turns everything she touches into ash, or so she thinks, at first. There is more to toushana than the Order wants their members to believe.

People found with toushana in their blood are marked for death, stalked by a sect of assassins known as the Dragun. One such assassin is on Quell’s tail. When he finally catches up to her after years of poverty and countless moves, Quell separates from her mother and does the only thing she can think of – hide in plain sight right in the dragon’s den.

She enrolls at a school that trains people how to use their magic, a veneer of wealth and power interlaid with our real one. It’s run by her grandmother, who expects her to become her heir when she finishes her training, but all is not as it seems. After her life on the run, she’s thrust into this luxurious academic world full of secrets and betrayals, all while fighting a growing attraction to her mentor, a brooding, grumpy Dragun who is duty-bound to kill her if he discovered her true secret.

The characters in this were all wonderful, the writing style vivid and engaging. I loved the growing chemistry between Quell and Jordan, her mentor; enemies to lovers with a very satisfying slow burn arc full of smoldering glances, stolen kisses and intrigue. I was most intrigued by the universe that the author created; fresh, different, rich and visceral. A mix of urban and high fantasy blended together, a twist on the usual tropes.

Definitely one of my favorite books of the year; I highly recommend this one. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series already.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review: The Blighted Stars (The Devoured Worlds, #1) by Megan E. O’Keefe

I spent about the first 40% of this book not sure that this was the right book for me and almost DNF’ed, but I turned back to it later when I was in a different mood because I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters. I decided my problem was my expectations. I was thinking this would be like The Expanse with a romantic subplot and it was really more of a romance set in space. The political intrigue and the romance were incredibly slow burn and made more sense by the time the book ended as well as I am sure over the course of the series.

“The Blighted Stars” is set in a future in which Earth does not exist any more and corporate families like the Mercators control body-printing through mining for precious metals needed to genetically enhance the bodies that are connected to some sort of original neural map. I didn’t really understand the science of how printing works and I wondered why anyone would sign up for such a thing unless they were absolutely desperate or enslaved, something I wanted more background on. If humans could die over and over again, why would you see them as people anymore? The book only briefly touched on this in the second half, but I wanted to understand the ethical quandaries a little better; I thought that was an interesting part that didn’t get explored in depth.

However, I understood why there were so many unanswered questions about body-printing at the beginning, because the way that body-printing works is tied to major spoilers.

Set against this backdrop, Naira Sharp, a former bodyguard of the leader of Mercator turned revolutionary, is trapped on a dying world after something went terribly wrong on a mining expedition with the Mercator’s son and an expeditionary crew. Only she was printed in the body of the Mercator’s actual bodyguard and no one knows she’s really the rebel whom Tarquin Mercator testified against at her trial that put her mind on ice.

In Tarquin, however, she finds a sheltered, good-hearted kid who has a pet robot named Pliny, a scientist who just wants to do the right thing and doesn’t understand the full truth of his family’s underlying darkness. I found their relationship to be the most compelling of the book and if you don’t like their relationship you probably wouldn’t like this book since it’s such a large part of it. The first half of the book focuses on their relationship as they’re stranded on this strange planet and discover that the fungal infection they think is the problem isn’t what it seems; the second half of the book focuses on the political intrigue.

I wish we’d gotten more back story to these characters; I wanted to hear more about Tarquin’s childhood. In one brief scene it’s mentioned that he’s trans and his father had his preferred body printed for him, and it’s also mentioned that he has illicit pathways to give him added strength and agility, but other than that it’s barely touched on. I suppose this is refreshing because if people can get new bodies whenever they want, they just inhabit their preferred form, but I wanted a bit more character development.

However, I loved these two characters, and enemies-to-lovers is so often poorly executed but I liked the rhythms of their arc. I completely fell in love with Tarquin. More nerds in space, please! I also loved the complexity of the antagonists; shows maturity in writing to show the villains as monsters and simultaneously capable of deep love for their family.

I’d buy this book and read more in this series. I am intrigued enough to want to know what happens next.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review: The Pomegranate Gate (The Mirror Realm Cycle, #1) by Ariel Kaplan

I absolutely loved this book! It was a bit uneven in its pacing and narrative tone, vacillating between charming irreverence/dark humor and unrequited love and genocide, so I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first, but the characters were wonderful and I learned quite a bit that I didn’t know before about Jewish folklore and mysticism. 

“The Pomegranate Gate” by Ariel Kaplan is the first in a series about the adventures of a girl named Toba whose grandmother is hiding her secret of her half-Mazik (a type of immortal being with magic) identity with the use of a sapphire amulet that she can never take off. The amulet renders her unable to scream and unable to run. These traits are not useful when all Jews are evicted from their homeland or forced to convert to Christianity. Toba and her family elect to flee. 

On the journey, Toba stumbles into a gate between worlds, a realm where the Mazik live that can only be accessed by them on the full moon, and becomes lost in that other realm, where she discovers the truth of who she is and complications ensue. In the mortal plane, Toba’s grandmother Elena joins forces with Naftaly, the fumbling son of a tailor who has visions and dreams of the Mazik realm. 

The universe was so intriguing and a fresh take on the tired fairy tale/mythology retelling genre, and that kept me reading. The characters were also compelling and well-developed, with thoughtful motivations and complexities. 

This was a fascinating story of love, loyalty, family and faith, and I’d pick up the next book in the series. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Book Review: Riding the Storm by Franci McMahon

This was such a beautiful book. I came into it expecting a romance and a family struggling with alcoholism but “Riding the Storm” by Franci McMahon had so much more depth than your standard genre expectations. It was a love story in more ways than one – love for racing, horses, family, the land, the ties that bind. 

This is the story of Kate Duncan, the daughter of a horse trainer who’s also a drunk and behind the scenes, possibly involved in shady race fixing, and her slow-burn romance with the ranch’s jockey, a Blackfeet Nation who’s also a two-spirit, akin to a genderfluid person in a woman’s body. I picked this up because of the sapphic vibes and I want to see more nonbinary representation in romance and that part did not disappoint. 

I expected the usual stereotypical portrayal of alcoholism, too, but that was sensitively handled, showing Kate’s evolution from denial and making excuses for her father to standing up to him and showing empathy and compassion throughout. 

Where the book really shone was in its vivid descriptions of ranch and racing life. Felt like I was right there in the barn torn between difficult choices. 

I’d definitely read more by this author.

Book Review: Giving In by Rue Whitney

I’m a sucker for a well-written bi awakening story, office romances and bossy authority figure types, and “Giving In” by Rue Whitney had all those in spades. This was a breezy, tension filled romance with two characters that had an almost improbably rocky meet cute at the beginning, but the way the author handled the character motivations that helped your suspension of disbelief made up for it. I have also read enough awkward, clumsy bi awakening and straight-to-gay kinds of stories that the sensitive way this one was written was a breath of fresh air.

This is the story of Luka, a middle school art teacher who hopes to land a graphic designer gig at an advertising agency, who’d always thought he was straight until he meets his potential new boss, the arrogant Morgan “Fitz” Fitzgerald, who mistook an interview with his friend’s son with his call boy hookup and unexpected sparks fly.

Improbably, Luka doesn’t sue, and he’s back for more bossy Fitz, the only guy he’s ever felt an intense attraction for.

Loved the back-and-forth sexual tension in this story, the character development and the fast-paced plot in combination with the slower burn pace of their relationship. I would read more of this series and more of this author’s work for sure.