ARC Review | The Stars We Steal

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Title: The Stars We Steal

Author: Alexa Donne

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 400

Publication Date: February 4, 2020

Categories: Jane Austen Retelling, Space, New Adult, Second Chance Romance

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin? 

But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself failing for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for giving me chance to read this eARC.

I did not realize this was a retelling of Persuasion, by Jane Austen, until almost the end. 🙆🏻‍♀️ I felt like it was familiar but for some reason didn’t put two and two together.

Princess Leonie, or Leo, is nineteen years old and single but she is about to take part in the Valg, which is an event that takes place every five years to bring together other young singles looking to make a power match marriage. Basically it helps them avoid marrying their cousins. 👀 At the end of the event, couples will announce their engagement. If Leo could avoid it she would but her family needs her to marry for money in order for them to survive because though they have royal titles, the money is basically gone.

And all of this happens in space! Yes, humans are now living on space ships which made this book even more intriguing to me. But just like Persuasion, someone from Leo’s past named Elliot, comes back and participates in the Valg as well. Can Leo bear to see Elliot marry someone else? Will she have to marry for money or can she make money for her family in another way? With space as the backdrop, there are balls, speed dating, gorgeous dresses, lots of drinking and dancing and of course, romance drama. The past comes back to haunt Leo and her future looks dire.

  • I love Jane Austen so the second chance romance between Leo and Elliot is great. Leo and Elliot was secretly engaged in the past but her family nixed it because he was too poor. He comes back rich and now her family and everyone else thinks he’s a catch. The attraction between Leo and Elliot builds again and I was just waiting for them to find their way back to one another!
  • Outside of the romance story is the tones of political intrigue. Princess Leonie’s aunt captains the Scandinavian, like it’s name, many of the residents there are Scandinavian or European descent. Learning about the different ships in space and the captains of the ships was interesting. We get a sense there is divide between the royals and the common people, who are starving on some of the other ships.
  • Leo and Elliot are both trying to help their people in different ways. Though Leo is “royalty”, because her family has no money she feels pressured to do everything to help her family get money, even if it means marrying someone she doesn’t love. Elliot is helping people on a bigger scale, though in an illegal way. He’s like Robin Hood but his scheme could endanger many people around him. I like them as characters, it definitely felt very “Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth” from Persuasion. Except Leo has more back bone than Anne Elliot I think.
  • One of my favorite characters in the book was Evgenia who was Elliot’s friend and was brimming with life. She was the life of the party! And they partied a lot in this book.
  • Just because the setting is in space, there is not much sci-fi in this book unless you count the scene where they do a space walk. So if you want a sci-fi book you will be disappointed.
  • The political intrigue part of the story felt weak. I felt there was no urgency – there was a protest and secrets Elliot was keeping but the issue of people with discontent and starving wasn’t resolved in the end. The love story between Elliot and Leo was fixed, yay, but the larger issues at hand? Not much – so will there be a sequel? The ending was rushed.
  • Some things about the world building made me pause. For example, this is set in the future, 170 years from now and they still have issues with gay relationships? Evangie had trouble finding a girl to meet on the Scandinavian. Were they just super conservative? I wanted more of the history of the ships and how people came to be on them.

This book has more romance than sci-fi. I adored that it was a Persuasion retelling and I definitely felt it with Leo and Elliot’s storyline but I think on the other spectrum, there wasn’t much urgency about the state of the people living in space though it’s mentioned there is a lot of trouble brewing. I wanted more of that. Maybe there will be sequel?

Overall, I think it’s still an enjoyable story and having it set in space was very interesting.

ARC Review | Ink in the Blood

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Ink in the Blood

Author: Kim Smejkal

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 448

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Categories: Fantasy, Young Adult

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

Thank you to HMH Books For Young Readers and NetGalley for giving me a chance to read this eARC.

Ink in the Blood caught my eye on NetGalley because of the cover and the concept of magic tattoos. What I got as I started reading was a story about religion and a theater troupe! Celia and Anya are “inklings” – unfortunately every time I read the word “inkling” it reminded me of the video game Splatoon 2. 😂🤦🏻‍♀️ Maybe that’s why my reading experience of this book felt strange. Anyway, inklings have the gift of creating tattoos for people through their religion Profeta. But Celia and Anya, realize as they grow older they are trapped in servitude in their roles as inklings and want to escape. They find a way to join the Rabble Mob, a performance troupe and they think they have escaped Profeta but they learn in a sinister way, they haven’t left it behind.

  • Diversity abounds in this book, there is queer romance everywhere and I like that it’s a normal part of this dark fantasy world. It isn’t questioned or explained, it just IS.
  • The world building is interesting – the religion Profeta has these inklings conjuring up tattoos to guide the masses, but through Celia and Anya’s memories of their childhood, they are tortured a lot by their superiors. It was almost like a mixture of Catholicism and Hinduism (with the statue of the Divine and Diavala peeking out beneath and 6 eyes). There is an order to Profeta with the mistico being the holiest and the inklings being the lowest level on the pyramid. Celia and Anya escape and join a theater troupe called the Rabble Mob. The setting reminded me of Venice with the masks, gondolas and houses on stilts.
  • I enjoyed Celia and Anya’s relationship, they had each other’s back to the surprising and bittersweet end. They balanced each other out and went through so much together from their childhood as inklings to running away and becoming part of the theater troupe.
  • Celia and Griffin’s relationship was what kept me interested in this book because there was amazing tension between them. Now this is a slow burn…there is a lot of distrust, and hiding behind masks and innuendos. But they were my favorite part of the book.
  • There was something about the story that just kept me unengaged. I felt like the explanation of the religion and magic in the beginning was confusing to me. Maybe my reality wasn’t suspended enough for me to be immersed in this world of the Divine and Diavala the trickster god.
  • Because the story didn’t engage me right away, it took me awhile to get into this story. I put this aside for two months! I picked it up again because I know it’s being published soon. But I did find the second half of the book moved much faster t
  • The tattoo magic wasn’t what I expected. I thought it was kind of weak because it was like painting a tattoo on a body part and transferring it through magic. I guess I wanted more blood and needles involved. 😅 The tattoos were the only magic in the book.
  • Triggers: physical abuse, torture

This was an okay read for me. I think the world building with the religious aspects and the tattoos was interesting but something was missing for me in the story. My favorite parts were between Celia and Griffin who brought the tension and intensity that stood out in this book. I think many people who enjoyed books like Caraval will enjoy Ink in the Blood.

ARC Review |Echoes Between Us

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Title: Echoes Between Us

Author: Katie McGarry

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 384

Publication: January 14, 2020

Categories: Grief, Brain Tumor, Addiction, Contemporary, Tuberculosis History, Ghost Hunting, Family, Romance

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Veronica sees ghosts. More specifically, her mother’s ghost. The afterimages of blinding migraines caused by the brain tumor that keeps her on the fringes and consumes her whole life haunt her, even as she wonders if it’s something more…

Golden boy Sawyer is handsome and popular, a state champion swimmer, but his adrenaline addiction draws him to Veronica.

A girl with nothing to live for and a boy with everything to lose–can they conquer their demons together?

Thank you to Tor Teen and NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this eARC.

After I sped through this book last night, I wondered why they didn’t release for October because it was the perfect fall read for me! Why? Because of the ghosts! The creepiness factor of this book was SO unexpected, I literally had some chills reading this late past midnight. I almost stopped but pushed on and I’m glad I did.

This is more than a story of Sawayer, the popular hot guy, who pairs up with Veronica, the quirky weird girl at school to do a project. I mean that’s the gist of it but no, ohhhh nooooo…their Senior project Veronica or V as her friends call her, want to do is to prove ghosts exists. Okay! I love a good paranormal activity story.

But this was more than just a story about hunting down ghosts as well. V has a brain tumor and she a reason for this project. Sawyer doesn’t believe in ghosts because he feels like his real life is scary and messed up already. He has secrets and these two teenager find a way past their first impressions to understand one another and help each other out in ways unexpected.

  • I love the ghost hunting! I love when they had to research for their project, it even scared me. Yes, I used to binge ghost hunting shows like Paranormal Activity haha and in high school, it was all about going to haunted spots with friends, just to get that thrill of maybe seeing something. But um this book did too good a job at scaring me….🙈👻
  • We get dual POV in this story. Sawyer is a complex character with his role as caretaker, and swim star. The pressure and depression he feels from every aspect in his life and his dangerous coping mechanism was taking a toll on him. I seriously felt for him, so glad he gets help. I liked seeing him attend the AA meetings and basically just trying his best to be better for himself, and his sister.
  • Veronica is special and the ones who realize it protect her. I love that she had a protective circle of friends since others in their community just thought she was super weird. She has these horrible migraines because of her tumor and just seeing her go through it, it’s tough. Her grief over her mother though, broke my heart.
  • Sawyer and Veronica’s love story is beautiful ❤️. At one point I said aloud, “I love you, Sawyer”. 🤣😱 I was like, whoa where did that come from? HAHA…even though Veronica is this shining light and the person who shows him life can be thrilling in a different way…he is the thing that grounds her. They struggle with their relationship and feelings as well…but he was mature enough to make some hard but right decisions and I was like, go Sawyer. I didn’t mind their relationship drama in this, I thought it fit in well and was believable. Their love wasn’t all consuming, it was deep but I liked that family came first too. And V stepped up to the plate too…I love how they decided to be all in. All in.
  • There are heavy topics in this story like addiction. Sawyer’s mom is clearly an addict, and Sawyer is addicting to adrenaline. Veronica is dealing with grief. Heavy topics all around but it works even as it’s interwoven with this ghost hunting project. It’s written so well.
  • There is a historical angle as well to this story with the TB Hospital in Kentucky. I googled it and just looking at the photo of the sanatorium scares me! Haha, I would have not been brave like Veronica and her friends to be hanging out that place. But there is a diary that Sawyer reads, a diary of a girl named Evelyn Bellak who was a patient at the hospital back in 1918. According to the author, the diary is real. Sawyer reads the diary and relates to Evelyn in many ways.
  • Sawyer’s mom… 😔 I know it’s part of Sawyer’s story but wow. It shows his mom spiraling into her addiction and Sawyer cleaning up after her but there is one thing that she does that affects his younger sister and it made me livid. But his mom was hitting rock bottom…and rock bottom is not pretty to see. I was hurting for Sawyer…I mean what’s a kid to do, he was trying so hard.
  • Sylvia his best friend – she was only trying to help him but at times she frustrated me. But she had her own insecurities too so…🤷🏻‍♀️
  • Just a few triggers: grief, cancer, chemo, depression, addiction

This story blended ghost hunting, grief, brain tumor, and addiction so seamlessly. I was getting chills from the ghost hunting scenes and Sawyer’s penchant for jumping. I was scared from both things. I was afraid for both Sawyer and Veronica and hoping both would confront their ghosts and make it out okay. But I also fell in love with with Sawyer and V falling in love. ❤️ Overall, it was an emotional rollercoaster and I enjoyed Echoes Between Us very much. Don’t read it in the dark though (I was on my fire tablet lol), because you won’t only be tingling from the love story but getting chills from the ghost stories too! Or maybe it’s because I scare easily…haha.

Book Review | Emergency Contact

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Format: Paperback (owned)

Pages: 391

Categories: Contemporary, Coming of Age, Young Adult, Romance

For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. 

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Emergency Contact is the first book from Mary H.K. Choi. I read Permanent Record first and then saw Emergency Contact on sale and decided to buy it. Don’t be fooled by this gorgeous pink and gold cover, this story gets deep into issues I wasn’t expecting.

Penny is an antisocial, snarky, judgmental freshman in college but underneath she’s got issues. She was raised in a single parent home, with a mom who is very popular in town – which Penny despises.

Sam has a past too, with an alcoholic mom who didn’t do much mothering. He’s barely making ends me, struggling to take college classes and survive while dealing with ex-girlfriend drama.

Penny and Sam become each other’s Emergency Contact in this coming of age story.

  • The cover is so pretty but the story itself has more going on beneath the surface.
  • Penny is an interesting character and even can be described as “unlikable” – but I think that’s what I liked about her! She’s snarky, judgmental about others and herself, and antisocial. But she also judges herself due to life experiences – a few of them traumatic. Penny doesn’t even feel like there is anything about her to like and that made me sad. I LOVE that she had an emergency pack on her at all times! And she is passionate about writing. When she gets into college and lives with a roommate, we see her open up little by little – she’s awkward and fakes it sometimes but that’s real.
  • Sam, on the other hand, I just wanted to reach in the book and help him out. He cries a lot, but it’s because he’s not in good shape, he had a horrible childhood, he’s addicted to his ex-girlfriend and maybe he’s an alcoholic too though he’s quit since he quit her. Sam is barely making it on his own but he doesn’t give up, because he finally is texting someone, his emergency contact, Penny. Sam has panic attacks, he’s depressed, he’s stressed but texting Penny is a lifeline for him.
  • Like her other book, Permanent Record, anxiety is present in Emergency Contact. We see Sam go through a panic attack to the point he thinks he is dying. I love that the author brings up anxiety in young people, especially in college aged students because they are adults but learning how to adult. And for kids like Sam who totally get off track and try to get back on…it’s hard.
  • Penny and Sam’s relationship is a slow burn romance. Clearly she’s crushing over him badly, but he has an ex-girlfriend that he’s trying to cut off ties with so they keep it safe with the texting friendship. I liked seeing how their relationship develops in a safe space and then finally taking the next step at the end.
  • Triggers: Rape, anxiety, panic attacks, toxic relationships, depression
  • I wish Sam could have reached out to Jude more since they are or was, semi-related. But I get it, that’s a complicated relationship too but I definitely felt for Jude. By the end of the book, I kind of want to know more of Jude’s story and hope she gets her own book.
  • The mom/daughter relationship really hit me in this book. Penny comes off like a brat to her mom, but it goes way back for Penny, she has abandonment issues! Mallory of all people gives her insight into moms and the way they act. I’m a mom now, my daughter is only three but that moment Celeste (Penny’s mom) says she was dreading the day her daughter would hate her…😞. Ugh, my fear.

I love this book because I think it’s characters and situations are so real and messy. I felt like I knew these people, and in my life yes I’ve known people just like them in identical situations! It shines a light on the anxiety those eighteen and over can feel as they become “adults” but still need help from their parents and for those who have no help? 😞 It’s a hard road. On top of that dealing with family problems, self-esteem issues, trauma and everything else? We ALL need an emergency contact. I’m so glad Penny and Sam had each other, in their safe spaces on their phones, even if it was just to say hi or just nonsense. Just knowing someone is there on the other side willing to respond sometimes feels like everything at that moment. I’m definitely glad I bought this one.

ARC Review | The Queen's Assassin

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Title: The Queen’s Assassin

Author: Melissa De La Cruz

Format: Paperback (Won from Bookishfirst)

Pages: 372

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Disclaimer: **I won this book from Bookishfirst in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

Caledon Holt is the Kingdom of Renovia’s deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in brawn or brains, which is why he’s the Guild’s most dangerous member and the Queen’s one and only assassin. He’s also bound to the Queen by an impossible vow–to find the missing Deian Scrolls, the fount of all magical history and knowledge, stolen years ago by a nefarious sect called the Aphrasians.

Shadow has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunts–to become skilled enough to join the ranks of the Guild. Though magic has been forbidden since the Aphrasian uprising, Shadow has been learning to control her powers in secret, hoping that one day she’ll become an assassin as feared and revered as Caledon Holt.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they’re forced to team up as assassin and apprentice to hunt down a new sinister threat to Renovia. But as Cal and Shadow grow closer, they’ll uncover a shocking web of lies and secrets that may destroy everything they hold dear. With war on the horizon and true love at risk, they’ll stop at nothing to protect each other and their kingdom in this stunning first novel in the Queen’s Secret series.

Thank you to G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Bookishfirst for giving me a chance to win an arc of The Queen’s Assassin.

Cal is an assassin for the queen and Shadow wants to join the Guild. The two are thrust together to find out who is planning to take down the kingdom of Renovia.

There is political intrigue, history of magic, and a brewing romance between Cal and Shadow in this story. But is it enough to keep my interest?

  • I like that the story read like a fairy tale but with many things going on. We have Cal who is bound to the queen by magic, to be free he has to find the missing Deian Scrolls. Then there is Shadow who is this mysterious girl raised by aunts (but I kind of figured out who she was in the beginning or had an inkling). They have to find who is threatening Renovia and go under cover as brother and sister to accomplish their goal.
  • The attraction between Cal and Shadow was predictable and sometimes even cute, especially when they are under cover as brother/sister. There is funny banter between them and of course the usual “we can’t be together” trope for reasons I won’t mention.
  • This felt like a light fantasy story to me and maybe it’s because I read a lot of YA fantasy so after awhile, storylines kind of sound the same. But I couldn’t really connect to this story or characters. I didn’t feel the danger or urgency of Cal and Shadow’s quest. I felt like I skimmed this book even though I read it, I wasn’t immersed in this world of Renovia at all.
  • I wanted to see more assassin skills from Cal or even Shadow since she was training but…nope. There was Cal and Shadow pretending to be a Lord and Lady though. 🤷🏻‍♀️ I mean the title said The Queen’s Assassin but it was talking more about his role than skill.
  • The story is told in dual perspectives – Shadow’s being in first person, and Cal’s in third person and I think sometimes that threw me off.
  • The actually passages from the scroll didn’t interest me. I don’t know why but I’d start to read the page and skip it.

This story wasn’t for me. I wanted more of Cal’s assassin skills to be on display but there was more political intrigue and flirting than fighting. I think there will be many people who will enjoy this book but it fell flat for me.

Book Review | Winterwood

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Winterwood

Author: Shea Ernshaw

Format: Hardcover (owned)

Pages: 323

Categories: Witches, Mystery, Romance, Young Adult

Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.

I am a fan of Shea Ernshaw’s books. This is now the second book I’ve read from her and I have to say I love how she writes these witchy stories. By coincidence I always start reading them near a full moon and not even by choice…it just happens that way! If that isn’t magical, I don’t know what is.

Nora Walker is a “Walker”, she is descended from witches. She lives in the town of Fir Haven which is surrounded by woods. There is a boys camp, called the Camp for Wayward boys near her home and a boy went missing in a snowstorm. Nora finds the boy in the woods and she learns how he came to be lost, but it’s not what she expected at all.

  • The author has a distinct style to her writing. Once I read the first sentence, my world disappears and I’m in the world she has created. I love that both books I’ve read now have been about witches, she’s very good at it. Her writing is atmospheric. I felt the creepiness of the Wicker Woods especially when Nora explains things about the woods like how you can only take things from the woods during a full moon when the trees don’t see you do it! 😳 The trees are watching. This story is told like a magical, haunting, supernatural, eerie, fairy tale.
  • I love the setting of the story: a town that is alive in the summer because of lake life, and dead in the winter because the cold is fierce. Nora lives for the winters and the isolation it brings and when I say she is alone, she is ALONE. Her mom left the town, and her grandmother has died. I can’t even imagine living in a place like that all by myself. But just the vibe of the story comes through in the writing: the eerie town, the scary woods, the isolated feeling Nora experiences and a sinister event taking place at the boy’s camp was a recipe for making my spine tingle.
  • I kind of had an idea where the story was headed with Oliver and the dead boy at camp. There is a mystery that Nora is trying to uncover. I liked that this mystery was tied to these boys at camp and it brought the feeling of danger to the story, at least danger around Nora. I enjoyed trying to guess at what happened.
  • Nora is a Walker and all Walker women are witches. I absolutely adored the black pages dedicated to a Walker woman between some chapters. I thought it was done beautifully because it was a family tree and spell book at the same time. And we get to see Nora’s entry. 😍
  • That ending with Oliver and Nora. ❤️
  • Also I have to mention the book cover is beautiful (I have the white OwlCrate version), the naked cover is gorgeous, the pages that are black with the branches…I love all the little details. 😍
  • Some things were a bit repetitive, like Nora saying there was a dead boy. Also she said she was a Walker, a lot. Haha…we know Nora! You Walker women are pretty amazing.
  • The romance is a slow burn almost to the point it felt a little forced to me when they let their attraction take over. But it still made me enjoy the twist at the end – actually that twist made my heart just thump a bit harder.
  • Triggers: drowning

I’m in love with Shea Ernshaw’s writing. She just knows how to set the mood perfectly for a full moon, witchy, reading night and what a coincidence that I’ve read her books on these nights! Winterwood is haunting and it wove its spell around me. I look forward to reading more books from this author!

ARC Review | The Unwilling

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Title: The Unwilling

Author: Kelly Braffet

Format: eBook (NetGalley)

Pages: 400

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Categories: Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival…and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban—a lord as mighty as he is cruel—has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.

Thank you to MIRA and NetGalley for giving a chance to read this eARC.

My reading experience of The Unwilling was not what I expected. I was intrigued and kept reading it, but halfway in I was getting restless. I kept reading to see why our main characters: Judah, Gavin, Theron and Elly were all suffering so much and I was hoping for somewhat of a happy ending. I didn’t get that.

Judah was born on the same night as the future Lord of the City, Gavin. Being born on the same night created some magical bond between them. They can feel each other’s pain and can communicate in a way no other two people can. Elban, Gavin’s father is a very cruel man who finds pleasure in torturing his children and foster child. He exerts his power through cruelty and Judah, Gavin, Theron (Gavin’s younger brother) and Eleanor (Gavin’s intended) all suffer because of him.

There is also political intrigue in the kingdom and someone is planning Elban’s downfall, but who? Then there is the newcomer Nate, the magus – he’s a healer with a hidden agenda. Everyone wants a piece of Judah and she has no idea why – but will she find out before it’s all too late?

  • Something about this book kept me reading it – and mostly because I needed to know what was so special about Judah. Why did the magus need to get to her so badly?! She had powers obviously but she hardly…and I mean HARDLY uses them in this book because she doesn’t know she has them. 🤦🏻‍♀️
  • This book is depressing so the only shining light about it is the bond and love between Judah, Gavin, Theron, and Elly. They suffered together and became their own family and relied on each other. Their love for each other really came through in this story.
  • There were a few twists in the story within the political environment of the kingdom but…again…the twists benefited everyone else, not the four abused people in this story.
  • Triggers: Almost EVERYTHING. Torture, graphic scene of a deer hunt, graphic scene of feral hounds torturing someone (think Ramsey from Game of Thrones), cutting (it’s blood magic), drug use, physical and mental abuse…so much abuse.
  • I had to reach 75% into the book to find out what Judah’s power was? Ugh…Why couldn’t it be explained earlier? Nate’s relationship with Derie (his abusive mentor)…didn’t even really explain why their people needed Judah until the end! So frustrating. 😑
  • I’ve read books with torture in it, but in the end – someone is usually a hero. Someone turns the tide…this kingdom was ruled by one mad man to another. There was no happy ending in sight for Judah, Gavin, Theron and Elly. There was seriously no HOPE for these four children, now adults, trapped together in misery. They were unwilling to become like their father Elban, I get it…they were unwilling to let their family be broken apart…but it was.
  • When Judah’s power explained by Nate who’s head is scrambled by Derie so he can carry out this mission of ending Elban’s line and unleashing Judah’s power – by then he’s a madman too. This whole story was about people who needed Judah for something. They all preyed on her even Nate who was supposed to “help” her, even Gavin who wasn’t supposed to hurt her.
  • The ending was frustrating. 😒 And this is categorized as Sci-fi on NetGalley…what was sci-fi about it? The part where Theron tinkers as an inventor? Did I miss it?

Despite all the things that turned me off about this book, I read this book in three days! That means something about it kept me interested and I think it was the mystery of Judah’s power. But by the time it is explained I was just so frustrated with this story and the ending left me even more unsatisfied. Judah’s dilemma seemed so impossible to fix, here was a girl who was bound to another, not by choice. Bound to a kingdom not by choice and here were this people, trying to keep her bound. This book wasn’t for me but I did finish at least.