ARC Review – ‘The Unspoken Name’ by A. K. Larkwood

Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT+
Word/Page Count: 464 (hardcover)
Publication Date: February 11th, 2020
RRP: $39.28 AUD (paperback)

The Unspoken Name

Blurb from Goodreads:

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

The Unspoken Name is an utterly captivating epic coming-of-age fantasy novel from a debut author who has immediately landed on my auto-buy list. The premise of an orc priestess destined to be her cult’s sacrifice who is instead swept away by a dashing ambitious wizard and trained to be his deadly right hand is bold and exciting, but I wasn’t prepared for how thoroughly this would enthrall me. It’s an early contender for my favorite read of 2020 and highly likely to top many other’s lists as well!

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Book Review – ‘Gods of Jade and Shadow’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Adult Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publication Date: July 23rd, 2019
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (hardcover)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

I requested this title because I’m addicted to the ‘powerful immortal & bold independent human girl’ dynamic and this is everything I hoped and wished for! This has ruined me for future books, I’m going to keep comparing them to how well that relationship was built up here!

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Book Review – ‘Heartwood Box’ by Ann Aguirre

Title: Heartwood Box
Author: Ann Aguirre
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
Word/Page Count: 336 pages (hardcover)

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A dark, romantic YA suspense novel with an SF edge and plenty of drama, layering the secrets we keep and how appearances can deceive, from the New York Times bestselling author.

In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried…

This book caught my interest with that gorgeous cover and the blurb which per the author’s pitch is Stranger Things meets The Lake House. I recently binge-watched season 3 of Stranger Things, I’m a massive fan, so those vibes got me excited, and I’m old enough to have watched The Lake House when it was released 13 (!!) years ago, which makes me feel decrepit as the main character notes “If my great-aunt knows about it, then it’s probably pretty old.

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Unfortunately the sci-fi thriller conspiracies didn’t mesh well with the time-crossed love story, with not enough attention given to either leading to both plots feeling inadequately developed in the story. The premise was excellent as I could see the bones of a great book here, which is why I kept reading even when I was tempted to give up, but it was frustrating to see the lack of sufficient follow-through on either of the main elements because it kept me from being emotionally invested.

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Book Review – ‘The Red Labyrinth’ by Meredith Tate

Title: The Red Labyrinth
Author: Meredith Tate
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publication Date: June 4th, 2019
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (paperback)

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

The massive labyrinth was built to protect Zadie Kalver’s isolated desert town. Unfortunately, living in the maze’s shadow makes her feel anything but safe. Even without its enchanted deathtraps and illusions, a mysterious killer named Dex lurks in its corridors, terrorizing anyone in his path.

But when Zadie’s best friend vanishes into the labyrinth-and everyone mysteriously forgets he exists- completing the maze becomes her only hope of saving him. In desperation, Zadie bribes the only person who knows the safe path through-Dex-into forming a tenuous alliance.

Navigating a deadly garden, a lethal blood-filled hourglass, and other traps-with an untrustworthy murderer for her guide-Zadie’s one wrong step from certain death. But with time running out before her friend (and secret crush) is lost forever, Zadie must reach the exit and find him. If Dex and the labyrinth don’t kill her first.

The blurb won me over with the similarities to David Bowie’s Labyrinth (I totally self-inserted as Sarah and swooned over the Goblin King as a teen!) and aside from that, I am a sucker for enemies-to-lovers plotlines, so I was super keen to read this. But unfortunately the book failed to hook me. It seems to have been popular with other readers so I hate to say that it missed the mark for me, but I’m going to be honest, I really struggled reading this.

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FYI, our heroine Zadie doesn’t enter the titular labyrinth until ‘Part 2’, which was 32% on my e-ARC. So if you’re impatient for the adventure that was promised, be prepared to settle in for the long haul as it doesn’t happen until a third of the way in, which I think is the definition of problematic pacing. I don’t need thrills and chills if there is solid world-building or strong characterization to latch onto instead, but The Red Labyrinth was a letdown on both fronts for me.

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ARC Review – ‘The Mansion’ by Ezekiel Boone

Title: The Mansion
Author: Ezekiel Boone
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: 4th December, 2018
Word/Page Count: 432 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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After two years of living on cheap beer and little else in a bitterly cold tiny cabin outside an abandoned, crumbling mansion, young programmers Shawn Eagle and Billy Stafford have created something that could make them rich: a revolutionary computer they name Eagle Logic.

But the hard work and escalating tension have not been kind to their once solid friendship—Shawn’s girlfriend Emily has left him for Billy, and a third partner has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. While Billy walks away with Emily, Shawn takes Eagle Logic, which he uses to build a multi-billion-dollar company that eventually outshines Apple, Google, and Microsoft combined.

Years later, Billy is a failure, beset by poverty and addiction, and Shawn is the most famous man in the world. Unable to let the past be forgotten, Shawn decides to resurrect his and Billy’s biggest failure: a next-generation computer program named Nellie that can control a house’s every function. He decides to set it up in the abandoned mansion they worked near all those years ago. But something about Nellie isn’t right—and the reconstruction of the mansion is plagued by accidental deaths. Shawn is forced to bring Billy back, despite their longstanding mutual hatred, to discover and destroy the evil that lurks in the source code.

I absolutely adored Ezekiel Boone’s ‘The Hatching‘ trilogy, which is incredible given how I’m terrified of spiders, but that series was perfectly written with well-developed characters, fast-paced action, stunning twists and TONS of death and mayhem. I knew going into The Mansion that this wasn’t going to be on a similarly apocalyptic scale of disaster, but I hoped the same magic would be at work here and that just wasn’t the case. :/

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ARC Review – ‘The Echo Room’ by Parker Peevyhouse

Title: The Echo Room
Author: Parker Peevyhouse
Genre: YA, Sci-fi
Date of Publication: 11th September, 2018
Word/Page Count: 320 pages (ebook)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Rett wakes on the floor of a cold, dark room. He doesn’t know how he got there, only that he’s locked in. He’s not alone—a girl named Bryn is trapped in the room with him. When she finds a mysterious bloodstain and decides she doesn’t trust Rett, he tries to escape on his own—

Rett wakes on the floor of the same cold, dark room. He doesn’t trust Bryn, but he’ll have to work with her if he ever hopes to escape. They try to break out of the room—

Rett and Bryn hide in a cold, dark room. Safe from what’s outside.

But they’re not alone.

This wasn’t a bad book, but it’s a case of expectations shaping my reading experience – from the cover and blurb, I assumed this was a horror/thriller and was in the mood for an entirely different story from what it shaped up to be in the end. It didn’t help that on Netgalley, it was only filed under YA and the description was of ‘a smart, claustrophobic, speculative young adult thriller with an immersive psychological mystery‘, which backed up my assumptions. However, if you take a look at the Goodreads page, (spoiler alert) its genre is listed as YA science-fiction/time-travel which is much more accurate.

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ARC Review – ‘Beneath The Citadel’ by Destiny Soria

Title: Beneath The Citadel
Author: Destiny Soria
Genre: YA, Fantasy, LGBT
Date of Publication: 9th October, 2018
Word/Page Count: 480 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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In the city of Eldra, people are ruled by ancient prophecies. For centuries, the high council has stayed in power by virtue of the prophecies of the elder seers. After the last infallible prophecy came to pass, growing unrest led to murders and an eventual rebellion that raged for more than a decade.

In the present day, Cassa, the orphaned daughter of rebels, is determined to fight back against the high council, which governs Eldra from behind the walls of the citadel. Her only allies are no-nonsense Alys, easygoing Evander, and perpetually underestimated Newt, and Cassa struggles to come to terms with the legacy of rebellion her dead parents have left her — and the fear that she may be inadequate to shoulder the burden. But by the time Cassa and her friends uncover the mystery of the final infallible prophecy, it may be too late to save the city — or themselves.

I’ve been having a streak of good luck with my Netgalley ARCs – this is yet another that has fallen in the category of ‘addictive enough to keep me up all night reading’! I’m really in love with this one, I need to add it to my collection once it’s published! ❤

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ARC Review – ‘The Cursebreaker Countess’ by Sasha L Miller

Title: The Cursebreaker Countess
Author: Sasha L Miller
Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publication: 15th August, 2018
Word/Page Count: 42,000 words/106 pages (ebook)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Kas is a wanderer, exploring the country and keeping out of the reach of her stepfather’s plots to marry her off and steal her fortune. When she stumbles across a field of towers one stormy night, she promptly takes shelter in the sturdiest-looking of the bunch, only to find a woman trapped in a bespelled sleep.

Breaking the curse takes seconds, but dealing with the aftermath may force Kas to return to the home she’s been avoiding—and right into the sights of the mage who cursed the princess sleeping in the tower…

This is a sweet fairytale featuring a well-written f/f romance, which I am the target audience for, so it was a no-brainer that I loved this! ❤

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I went in thinking that it was a genderbent retelling of Sleeping Beauty but aside from Princess Anika being placed under a sleeping curse, there isn’t any other connection as the author has created an entirely fresh new plot. Kas wakes up Anika not with a kiss of true love, but her ability to break curses (roll credits!) which frees Anika from her slumber after sixty-six years. Normally that would be the end point or at least the climax of the story, but their adventure is only just beginning as they discover that Anika’s tower was merely one in a cluster of many towers which imprisoned other women with magical abilities, with no clue as to who was responsible or why.

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ARC Review – ‘Rogue Protocol’ by Martha Wells

Title: Rogue Protocol
Author: Martha Wells
Genre: Sci-fi
Date of Publication: 7th August, 2018
Page Count: 160 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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SciFi’s favorite crabby A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

I absolutely adored the first two installments in The Murderbot Diaries, and this third novella lived up to my high expectations, what a fantastic read! ❤

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ARC Review – ‘Jinxed’ by Amy McCulloch

Title: Jinxed
Author: Amy McCulloch
Genre: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy
Expected Date of Publication: 9th August, 2018
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

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Lacey Chu has big dreams of becoming a companioneer for MONCHA, the largest tech firm in North America and the company behind the  “baku” – a customisable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion too. When Lacey finds out she hasn’t been accepted into Profectus – the elite academy for cutting edge tech – it seems her dreams are over. Worst of all, rather than getting to choose one of the advanced bakus, she’s stuck with a rubbish insect one.

Then, one night, Lacey comes across the remains of an advanced baku. Once it might’ve been in the shape of a cat but it’s now mangled and broken, no sign of electronic life behind its eyes. Days of work later and the baku opens its eyes. Lacey calls him Jinx – and Jinx opens up a world for her that she never even knew existed, including entry to the hallowed halls of Profecus. Slowly but surely, Jinx becomes more than just a baku to Lacey – he becomes her perfect companion. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his code or built into his motherboard. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet. He seems … real.

This is the very first book I’ve been unable to choose between 3 or 4 stars and HAD to go with a half-rating to split the difference!

I want to give it 4 stars because ‘Jinxed’ is the definition of ADDICTIVE. I stayed up past midnight finishing this in one hit because I was hooked on the story and couldn’t put it down. I knew I’d regret it in the morning when I had to get up for work, but still I continued to the very last page!

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