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I really slowed down my reading in April. I read six books this month compared to last month’s ten. The garden took a lot of my free time, but I did get to read a few good books and two ARCs from NetGalley!
April reading was full of stories of fantasy, sisterhood, and resistance.
Scroll on to read what I loved and suggestions for what to read next.
The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley
What I love: I really loved The Winter Sea. This was my first Susanna Kearsley novel and I forget who first suggested I read her (I think my friend Susan), but Kearsley writes historical fantasy and it’s right up my alley. The Winter Sea is split between a present day heroine and the character she is writing in her current novel who just might be her ancestor. The story takes place in present day Scotland and in the past during the early years of the Jacobite rebellion. At first, I was concerned this would feel like another verison of Outlander, but it did not. Even with the Jacobite rebellion, the story presents a side not seen in Outlander.
A hauntingly beautiful tale of love that transcends time. A modern American woman travels to Scotland to write a novel about the Jacobite Rebellion— only to discover that the vivid scenes and the romantic hero she’s imagining actually exist…
In the spring of 1708, invading Jacobites plot to land the exiled James Stewart on the Scottish coast to reclaim his crown. When young Sophia Paterson travels to Slains Castle by the sea, she finds herself in the midst of the dangerous intrigue.
Now, American writer Carrie McClelland hopes to base her next bestselling novel on that story of her ancestors in the dim, dark past. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she starts to write.
But as Carrie’s mind slips back in time, she learns of the ultimate betrayalthat happened all those years ago, making her the only living person who knows the truth—and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her.
Carrie, our modern day heroine, is a writer and it was so fun to see Kearsley slip in her writer’s process. (I wish I could book a small cottage for a couple of months to go write at.) I also enjoyed the beginning of a romance without having some huge drama keeping the couple apart…well, at least the non-fictional couple. The idea of ancestral memory was fascinating!
The Queen’s Rising, by Rebecca Ross
What I love: The Queen’s Rising had a slow start for me and, at first, the idea of different passions and patrons felt a little chessy. But it grew on me and, as a writer, I can see the necessity of laying the framework for the world so the reader can better understand it.
I loved the element of mystery in this novel. There’s not much that I can say without giving away the plot and its twists. I appreciate how Ross didn’t automatically make her heroine a natural kick ass fighter. Some of it she had to learn, but she was never highly skilled. There’s just a lot of different layers in relationships and family history that were really well done. Also, ancestral memory shows up in this book too!
I really enjoyed the relationship between Brienna and Cartier and it’s development. It’s sweet to see them grow from pupil/teacher to friends and then maybe more. There’s also a strong theme of female friendship and sisterhood throughout The Queen’s Rising and carried into its sequel The Queen’s Resistance. And the idea that Maevana should be ruled by only a queen! That sets traditional patrichary on its head.
Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron. Growing up in Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her. While some are born with a talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she chose knowledge. However, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true: she is left without a patron.
Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, she reluctantly accepts. But there is much more to his story, for there is a dangerous plot to overthrow the king of Maevana—the rival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the throne.
With war brewing, Brienna must choose which side she will remain loyal to: passion or blood.
What to read next: The Queen’s Resistance by Rebecca Ross
The Queen’s Resistance, by Rebecca Ross
What I love: I loved that we get to see what happens after the revolution, so few stories do that. If we’re lucky, we get an epilogue, but here in The Queen’s Resistance Rebecca Ross has given us a peek into the stuggles and issues of ruling and returning to a home the characters haven’t seen in twenty years.
It was good (realistic?) to see how hard returning home can be from the physical overgrowth of lands, regaining the people’s trust, the brokenness and trauma left by the previous tyrannical rulers, and whether mercy will be shown to the oppressors and their children. There were so many good viewpoints considered in this story, while still filling it with magic, action, and romance.
We also get to read from Cartier’s perspective–yay!
Book Blurb (SPOILERS!):
Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is beginning to settle into her role as the daughter of the once disgraced lord, Davin MacQuinn. Though she’d just survived a revolution that will return a queen to the throne, she faces yet another challenge: acceptance by the MacQuinns.
But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s House as well as her country.
Then there’s Aodhan Morgan, formerly known as Cartier Évariste, who is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia and his current one as lord of a fallen House. As he attempts to restore the Morgane name, he let his mind wander—what if he doesn’t have to raise his House alone? What if Brienna could stand by his side?
But Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside, as there are more vital tasks at hand—the Lannons’ trial, forging alliances, and ensuring that no one halts the queen’s coronation. Resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces.
And what makes one more vulnerable than love?
What to read next: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Woven in Moonlight, by Isabel Ibanez
What I love: I had been looking forward to reading Woven in Moonlight since I first saw it on Instagram in the fall. I love that we are getting more and more fantasy novels from #ownvoices. It’s exciting and needed.
The cover is gorgeous and I love that the author designed it herself. The food descriptions are vivid and will make you hungry. I loved that Ximena’s weaving comes to life when she weaves with the moon threads. I enjoyed how what Ximena thinks she knows as truth is shaken and she has to reevaluate what she has been taught to believe her whole life. There’s definitely a “the colonizer begins to see what they’ve really done” vibe going on.
Maybe it wasn’t the right time, but Woven in Moonlight fell a little flat for me. There was a lot going on and a lot of explaining that didn’t always make sense. There weren’t clear bonds on the magic system. It seemed to do whatever the author wanted. For example, Ximena can weave the moonlight, but the moon dust from her weaving can also put people to sleep. I want to know why and how. The second half of the book definitely picked up and, I felt, in general was better.
Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.
When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.
She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princesa, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge―and her Condesa.
What to read next: Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Sisters of Sword & Song, by Rebecca Ross
What I love: Yes, another Rebecca Ross book. I have now read her entire canon. There’s big ancient Greek vibes in Sisters of Sword & Song with a well-built Greek/Roman inspired history and mythos.
The story alternates between the two sisters perspectives as they split the punishment for a crime Halcyon committed that leads them into greater danger and a higher calling. While I felt more kin to Evadne, I appreciated Halcyon’s struggle and how even as a strong warror she still has her physical and emotional limitations. Realistic warriors are better than ones who never bleed (or can still walk after being stabbed). Even Evadne has her own physical limitations that she has to struggle against to do what must be done.
I loved the connection between siblings, not just the sisters, but how Evadne has to work with Damon, a mage and the brother of one of Halcyon’s comrades, and how their relationship is complicated by the situation. Also, slow burn romances are some of my favorite. And the ending! Hold your hearts.
In keeping with Ross’ other novels, there’s a strong theme of sisterhood and the lengths sisters are willing to go to protect and care for each other and their families as they pursue what is right and true. I loved that the differences in the sister’s strengths weren’t pitted against each other (even though there was an element of jealousy that some characters dealt with), but that each had something to offer that was needed. But I loved, truly loved, that it was the mage and scribe who were elevated in this story. Not all heroes are hardened warriors. Sisters of Sword & Song is a celebration of different kinds of strengths.
You can pre-order Sisters of Sword & Song on Amazon! It comes out June 23, 2020!
*I was given a free copy of Sisters of Sword & Song by Edelweiss for an honest review.
After eight years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon unexpectedly appears a day early, Eva knows something is wrong. Halcyon has charged with a heinous crime, and though her life is spared, she is sentenced to 15 years.
Suspicious of the charges, brought forth by Halcyon’s army commander, as well as the details of the crime, Eva volunteers to take part of her sister’s sentence. If there’s a way to absolve Halcyon, she’ll find it. But as the sisters begin their sentences, they quickly learn that there are fates worse than death.
What to read next: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
A Song Below Water, by Bethany C. Morrow
What I love: THIS COVER!!! Isn’t it gorgeous?! I love mermaids, sirens, mystery, and magic. A Song Below Water is urban fantasy with elements of today’s racial and political climate for a story that rings hauntingly true.
A Song Below Water is a story of family and chosen sisterhood, of fear of being your true self and the freedom of fully walking in who you are. I loved the juxtaposition of the mythos we are familiar of sirens and mermaids with the black experience in America. It was interesting to see how the author, Bethany C. Morrow, relates being a siren to being a black woman silenced and how one television personality willingly chooses to be silenced (with a ringed collar to prevent her from using her siren voice) to be accepted and seen as safe by white America. Even with the eloko, another magical type who are beloved and accepted within the culture, where Tavia and Effie have to hide their magical selves.
While there were parts that felt slow, I found the story well-paced and compelling. It’s a slow build as the sisters both grow together and apart as they discover more about themselves and their gifts, their families struggles with their gifts, and who they are becoming. It’s definitely black girl magic.
Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.
But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.
You can pre-order A Song Below Water on Amazon! It releases June 2, 2020!
*I was given a free copy of A Song Below Water from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What to read next: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo for more siren and mermaid vibes.