2.5 star, YA

ARC Review: Wishtress by Nadine Brandes

She didn’t ask to be the Wishtress.

Myrthe was born with the ability to turn her tears into wishes. It’s a big secret to keep. When a granted wish goes wrong, a curse is placed on her: the next tear she sheds will kill her. She needs to journey to the Well and break the curse before it claims her life–and before the king’s militairen track her down. But in order to survive the journey, she must harden her heart to keep herself from crying even a single tear.

He can stop time with a snap of his fingers.

Bastiaan’s powerful–and rare–Talent came in handy when he kidnapped the old king. Now the new king has a job for him: find and capture the Wishtress and deliver her to the schloss. But Bastiaan needs a wish of his own. When he locates Myrthe, he agrees to take her to the Well in exchange for a wish. Once she’s fulfilled her end of the deal, he’ll turn her in. As long as his growing feelings for the girl with a stone heart don’t compromise his job.

They are on a journey that can only end one way: with her death.

Everyone seems to need a wish–the king, Myrthe’s cousin, the boy she thinks she loves. And they’re ready to bully, beg, and even betray her for it. No one knows that to grant even one of them, Myrthe would have to die. And if she tells them about her curse . . . they’ll just kill her anyway.



**Wishtress comes out September 13, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

An interesting premise with lots of potential, Wishtress presents itself as a wonderful allegory in the battle between the light and the darkness in each of us, but ultimately didn’t develop the idea beyond its basic principles.

I will have to first say that I really like Nadine Brandes as a person. I love what she stands for and the grace she exhibits in everything she says or does. However, this isn’t a review about her but about her work, and sometimes there really is a distinction present.

If I had to sum up this book with one word, it’d be slow. Everything took its time. Myrthe is the Wishtress but due to a curse, her next tear will kill her. We all know that from the synopsis, but it takes a decent number of chapters to get to her cursing and the information prior really wasn’t all that interesting or altogether necessary.

The quest for the Well of Talents to help Myrthe with her curse (and also for the whole kingdom) was supposedly going to be interesting. There are Trials that judge an individual’s worth to reach the Well and thus be granted a Talent, some sort of powerful ability. Given that all maps to the Well itself were destroyed long ago, even finding the Trials wouldn’t be easy. However, it felt like the journey was hardly an issue and the Trials itself seemed inconsequential as Myrthe looked for loopholes rather than being truly tested. Everything I thought would make this book great was just mediocre.

From a character perspective, Myrthe and her love interest, Bastiaan, should have been interesting considering the amount of time given to each. This story is most definitely a character-driven one instead of plot. However, I couldn’t fathom their love for one another with their limited interactions. Does she like him because her family members barely treated her like a person instead of an object to dole out wishes for profit? Does he like her because she was once kind to him for no reason? Either way, it never made sense to me how their attraction grew. I felt no chemistry, and the rhythm of their relationship was too instant. Don’t tell me you love each other, show me.

Their individual growth arc and personal battle between choosing what’s good or right (the Talent Well water) and what’s self-serving and power-hungry (the Nightwell water that gives powers called Banes) was okay. I can’t think of a better word. I can see where Nadine is going with the idea and I appreciate the sentiment, but overall I don’t think it was executed the best. Many stories feature this trope, the fight between good and evil and the choice one can make between the two, but it was too simple here. Even when a character was tempted and chose wrong, the realness of the struggle was made too…easy? Like they could’ve easily switched back over to the better choice and it was almost like they never chose wrong in the first place.

I wanted to really love this one but it took me forever to finish and probably placed me in the reading slump I was in for the last month. The ending was actually the only piece I really enjoyed. It surprised me, the only thing that didn’t feel predictable or too easy. I loved that it was kept open-ended – really open-ended – but it felt like it was fitting. I don’t believe this is anything beyond a standalone so I applaud that bold choice for ending it there. It’s an ending filled with hope and a sense of continuation which works for a book that otherwise didn’t make me feel much of anything.

Overall Recommendation:

Wishtress had the potential to be an epic adventure for the powerful Well of Talents that squandered the plot for a character-driven story about the battle between good and evil. That’s not a bad idea to focus on, but its execution was a little too clean and perfect without the grittiness of real struggles people go through. While this may not be a fast-paced read for YA, perhaps its simplistic view of good versus evil would provide a better reading source for younger audiences. Its ending may be a little surprising to some, but personally I found it offered a hopeful note that made the story overall better.

4 star, YA

ARC Review: This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede

Series: The Last Finestra #1

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?



**This Vicious Grace comes out June 28, 2022**

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

It’s no wonder This Vicious Grace is one of the most highly anticipated books of the year. A remarkable fantasy that follows a lonely heroine who seems to kill everyone with her touch, this tale is one meant to be savoured.

If you’ve read the synopsis, the plot itself isn’t all that dramatic or complex. The end of the world is coming (again, kind of) and a new heroine called the Finestra – apparently it means literally “window”? – has risen to once again fight off a horde of demons in the shape of giant beetles. Oh, and this is because the gods are feuding and one believes mankind is worth saving but only if they prove themselves in such battles.

Seems familiar enough right? It’s The Chosen One archetype who saves the world. Or at least, has the weight of the world on her shoulders. What makes this more exciting then?

Personally, I admire Thiede’s writing as this is her debut. Lush and filled with quotes I wanted to highlight, it truly drew me into the world and the story. What made it more outstanding, though, is the characterization of our protagonist, Alessa.

For the most part, this book is stuck with Alessa. She’s isolated with very few interactions as, well, her touch clearly kills people. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to her at a funeral of her third dead partner (in the battle sense but still) and helplessness is an understatement here. The progression she makes from this frustrated and guilt-ridden girl who carried the weight of the people on her island to someone who believed in herself and her ability to fight for them was truly the highlight. It’s why I love YA because there’s nothing quite like it elsewhere in literature that does this characterization as well.

But of course, what’s equally great – if not even better – about this book is the wonderful love interest. Ah, Dante. Can we just take a moment and admire how wonderfully crafted he was? I think I need a fan.

Everyone wants the brooding bad boy with a soft, gooey heart deep, deep inside as the love interest. Well, I’m happy to say he fits that bill perfectly. Dante reluctantly gets dragged into protecting Alessa as he has no agendas about her role as saviour for their island. He had his own troubles to deal with to care. While he fits the stereotype we all want to read about in a love interest, I liked that he still had surprises in him. Like his penchant for proverbs, including the really obscure ones. Go figure. He has the brawn and the brains.

Often I find in books that the authors want us to believe in the love that forms in their characters simply by telling us they feel these things. But there’s not enough substance to really believe it as the reader who hasn’t spent much time around these characters and is limited to what we see on the page.

This is so far from that and I’m so happy to say I felt the love grow between Alessa and Dante. This tale may focus on self-growth and learning to love yourself even when all the other voices tell you how you’ve messed up, but it’s also a ridiculously beautiful love story between two people who are quite different on the surface but perhaps are the two loneliest people who really needed one another. Isn’t that already so exciting to see on its own to drive you to pick this book up?

I wanted to give this book full rating for most of my read through. Without giving anything away, I will say the climax was a little disappointing to me. It built up so much throughout as Alessa prepared to face the battle she knows is coming, but I guess the resolution felt a little too predictable and neatly wrapped. I kept wondering how there would be a book two but it does leave us with threads for what’s to come.

Perhaps I’m just being picky. This book really was a fun dive into the world of Saverio and I can’t wait to see where we go next from here.

Overall Recommendation:

This Vicious Grace showcases the way to go for an astounding fantasy that doesn’t require a super complex world or plot yet still packs a mean punch to the heart. If you love the bodyguard romance, go no further because Dante is set to steal your heart from all the rest with his stoic and brooding exterior that hides a heart of gold. The Chosen One archetype is strong in this one but it carries enough differences to give the oomph factor that is uniquely its own. Emily Thiede’s debut was unputdownable and you should grab it when it comes out.

4.5 star, YA

ARC Review: The Song That Moves the Sun by Anna Bright

This sweeping YA fantasy romance full of star-crossed love, complex female friendship, and astrological magic is perfect for fans of Laini Taylor, Alexandra Bracken, and V.E. Schwab. From the acclaimed author of The Beholder.

Best friends Rora and Claudia have never felt more like their lives are spiraling out of control. And when they meet Major and Amir–two boys from one of the secret cities of the spheres, ruled by the magic of the astrological signs–they discover they’re not alone. There is a disruption in the harmony between the spheres, and its chaos is spreading.

To find the source of the disharmony, Rora and Claudia will embark on a whirlwind journey of secrets, romance, and powerful truths–about themselves, each other, and two long-ago explorers named Dante and Beatrice, who were among the first to chart this course toward the stars.

Inspired partly by the classic works of Dante Alighieri, this gorgeous stand-alone contemporary fantasy will captivate readers of Lore and Star Daughter



**The Song That Moves the Sun comes out June 28, 2022*

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Have you ever had a thought just needle its way into your mind like nothing else can? Like the more you try to not think about it, the more it sticks stubbornly inside until there’s nothing else you can think about?

The Song That Moves the Sun did exactly that to me. Since I read its synopsis for the first time, I initially thought to myself this probably wouldn’t be up my alley. I’m not much of a believer in astrology in any way. I mean, all I know is I’m a Capricorn based on when I was born, but I don’t even know what that really means.

Also, Dante? Sure, he’s super famous and many works have been inspired by his work (hello, Dan Brown anyone?). Am I particularly interested in his journey, or what inspired him to write about Heaven, hell and purgatory? Not in particular.

So what is it about this book that drove me towards it? And more importantly, why did I end up absolutely LOVING it?

Surprises, surprises

Let me be up front and mention that I thought this world would be completely separate from the contemporary world we live in. To my surprise, the opening pages plopped us into Washington D.C. in the most ordinary of ways, with Rora nannying some kids. Did this absolutely blow my mind? Yes. How were Rora and Claudia going to connect with these elusive boys of the “spheres”?

The story also takes deep look into mental health and the spiralling that comes with it when we feel a lack of control in our lives. Having anxiety myself, I could relate and wrestle alongside Rora who was immediately upfront about the 31 fears she had, 1 for each day of the month. Some were fears that most people have (I mean, who wants to be mugged?) while others may have been very specific things she did not want to face. I loved that this story was able to take a look at dark thoughts, anxiety and spirals through the lens of a fantasy world where some of the darkness came from magical disharmony in the spheres.

The uniqueness of the world

I’m all about really interesting world building that is also explored thoroughly. Don’t you hate it when a book has this beautifully drawn out map at the front that you realize is barely touched upon by the end of the book? Did I really have to know where Country X was located if it is only mentioned in passing once or twice in a 400+ page book?

There’s definitely NOTHING ordinary about this world. The science geek in me who loved astronomy was fascinated by the geocentric model of the solar system at the forefront of the spheres. This was back in the olden days when people thought the Earth was the centre of the universe instead of the sun, with the planets, moon and Sun circling our little planet in a very specific order. I liked how Rora and Claudia were drawn into these secret planet cities, guided by sweet Major and stoic Amir, and the characteristics of each planet based on the astrological sign associated with the place.

It’s super hard to explain what each place was like, but Anna did an amazing job giving that information to orient us every time they travelled to a new planet (including the Sun!), all the while being very relevant to the story and not just being waylaid with useless information.

Give me ALL the romance

Of course, being me, the romance is always the icing on top of the cake for a good fantasy. I wasn’t sure at first how I would feel about the pairing of both girls and guys with one another, but it just worked, you know?

Both couples had a spark and chemistry from the get-go. Rora was a complete mess inside, beyond just her 31 fears, and Major was the kind of calming presence who could steadfastly offer some of his stability to a racing heart and mind. Amir, on the other hand, challenged Claudia’s way of thinking, both people yearning to belong to those they loved but with each having something holding them back from feeling fulfilled by it.

It didn’t feel forced, like they HAD to get together. It felt like these were the kind of people they needed in their lives and the situation that brought them together was like fate. These are the best kinds of romances, the ones that feel organic and stem from more than physical attraction alone. I felt it because I believed the feelings that they said were brewing under the surface.

Music of the spheres?

There’s a lot about music in this book. I think it’s very clear based on the title. While a lot of it was a little confusing and went over my head, it was a unique theme that connected everything together. Each planet had its own song, and the people who belong to that planet based on their sign belonged to that song also. There was disharmony in the music of the spheres that was causing major issues in all the spheres, including Earth at the centre.

I liked the journey they took to solve the issue. Was it a little anti-climactic in its resolution at the end? I felt a little of that after all the build up, but the world building from all of this really drove me forward. I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to understand more of how the spheres worked, how it linked to people, what was wrong with Rora. It was like a mini mystery I wanted to solve and I could only figure it out if I just turned the next page. This made for excellent pacing.

Besides the resolution, the only other thing I may not have loved was the many flashbacks to Dante’s life with Beatrice in the 13th century. They were almost as much a main character as Rora and Claudia, although their chapters were shorter. I understand those chapters brought relevance to what was happening in the present day as Dante and Beatrice’s explorations of the spheres may be the key to what was going wrong now, but sometimes I wished it was a little less focused on them.

Bottom line

I know, this is a long review, but I just had to put it all out there. I was picky about the ending but otherwise there was so much potential explored in this world of magical, musical spheres I almost didn’t want to leave. This is probably one of the only standalone fantasies I’ve read, but it’s making me wish it was a series or duology because I enjoyed my time here so much.

If you want romance, magic, and the strangest and wholly unique world building based on astrology you’ve ever seen? This book checks them all. I can’t recommend it enough for the experience alone.

Overall Recommendation:

The Song that Moves the Sun surprised me with its interesting solar system worlds that were connected to our contemporary/modern universe. I loved how it could potentially grow into more if the author ever chose to revisit, but that’s a good sign the story was memorable and enjoyable. The romance was everything! Both couples brought the angst and the feels. This stand-alone was truly “out of this world”.