The Best Books I Read This Year (2020 Edition)

It’s been a good reading year!

It’s that time of year again! Time to look back on everything I read this year and pick out my favorites. I’m not going to limit myself on numbers in this post, but I will make sure to divide it into categories to make things easier on you. πŸ™‚

To recap, this year I read 90 books (and I anticipate finished at least 2 or 3 more by December 31). Of those, 8 were my own (I count them for the year I write, since I read them so many times, and I re-read Pie-Jinks to prepare for an upcoming full series next year). Finally, I beta read one of those books.

I also read in a variety of formats and genres including (but not limited to) audio, ebooks, and physical books. For genres, I read a lot of fantasy and young adult, but I also read some nonfiction, adult fantasy, manga, and general fiction.

If you want to see the breakdown of everything I read, you can find it over on my Goodreads page.

And now, let me highlight my favorites!

Just so you know, as an Amazon Associate, I earn on qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, the things I have chosen to share I enjoyed myself and either purchased or received through my library or as an ARC!

Fantasy (Adult)

Labyrinth of Shadows by Kyla Stone

This was one of the first books I read this year as part of an online book club I’m in, the Fellowship of Fantasy (you can find them on Facebook by that name). This book is an amazing retelling of the minotaur and the labyrinth, and it had the BEST ending (in my personal opinion). It was unique, exciting, and deeply engaging. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves unique fantasy and Greek mythology!

Throne of Sand by Elm Vince & Helena Rookwood

I’m not sure if this one was meant to be an Aladdin retelling, but it definitely gave me that feeling! It’s full of a cast of unforgettable characters and so much drama and emotion! Also, Zadie gives me so much anxiety. So yeah. I will be finishing this series for sure!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison

I love Jemison’s writing, and this was certainly no exception. Fifth Season is a fantastic high fantasy with a unique magic system and a world ravaged by nature. It’s intense and exciting and this is another series I will be continuing!

Ashen by H.L. Burke

I previously reviewed this one, but in case you missed it, this is a fantastic fantasy inspired by Iceland. It was so much fun with good characters and unique magic! I also loved how unique it was as a retelling of Cinderella. Definitely worth getting (I even got myself an autographed copy because I loved it so much!).

Wrought of Silver & Ravens by E.J. Kitchens

This is another one I reviewed this year, and it is such a good, solid high fantasy! It it set in a place reminiscent of Greece (I think), and it has an intricate magic and history system! It was another one that I highly recommend and enjoyed SO MUCH.

Shadow Hunter by B.R. Kingslover

This is one of the urban fantasies I read this year, but I share this one because it’s the first in a new (to me) series and is very good! The protagonist is a cinnamon roll assassin, the magic is cool, and it has all the elements of found family that I adore!

Young Adult

Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro

I read this one just last month after a long library hold. It is so worth it! It is a unique fantasy with a Mexican-inspired desert setting that takes a critical look at traditions and beliefs. It’s haunting and captivating all at once. It is also an LGBT+ read, if you are looking to expand your diversity in reading!

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

This is a contemporary starring a girl who loves the… well, the stars. She gets conned into a glamping trip with her ex-best friend, and then they are abandoned by their companions in the wilderness. There’s also some SERIOUS family drama and stuff for the main character to deal with and a discussion of step parents (in a good way). Also good for your diversity, the ex-best friend has lesbian parents. Warning for those of you looking for clean reading: this book contains sex.

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

This is such a ride of a book. Inspired by K-dramas, this is a tale of a gumiho, or fox spirit, who must eat men’s souls to survive. But when she loses her fox bead, which could let someone else control her, she must rely on her new friend and her own wit to recover it without giving away what she is to the world. Book 2, Vicious Spirits, is also out now!

Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

I fell in love with this one as soon as I started reading! It reads like a historical fantasy, but I’m not quite sure what inspired it. It follows two sisters, one chosen, and excited, to be buried with the king (who is near death) and the other determined to save the king’s life – and therefore also her sister. It’s such an interesting dynamic and an intense mystery within the palace walls. Bonus: book 2 just came out this month! I am reading it now. πŸ™‚

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Similar to Ashen, this is a Norse-inspired book. It follows a Viking shieldmaiden who goes into battle to come face-to-face with her brother – who was supposedly killed years ago. She sneaks away to find him and lands herself in a whole lot of trouble. It is so well-written and vivid. Warning: this book is very violent and gory.

Obsidian and Stars by Julie Eshbaugh

This is the conclusion to an Ice Age fantasy duology I started a couple years ago. It is truly a unique read. I can’t quite explain the feelings it gives me, but it is like nothing I’ve ever read before. This particular book (book 2) focuses on what people will do for their family and deciding how to navigate family and romantic relationships – particularly when both you and your betrothed are suddenly meant to inherit your own clans. So, so good! I am so happy with both of these books, and these are some truly beautiful covers. (Book 1: Ivory and Bone)

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

This book still haunts me. Like, seriously. I’d call it a psychological thriller. Basically, it involves the main character realizing her best friend just… disappeared. And no one seems to notice or care. It follows her searching for the truth and the unexpected answer to all her questions. Just be prepared. Like I said. Still haunted over here.

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Oh my goodness, I read this in a single sitting. If you love survival stories, THIS IS IT. It follows a girl with dreams of college track who goes to a party in the woods. When she comes across her cheating boyfriend (not a spoiler… this literally happens at the opening), her anger drives her to run away. But then she can’t find her way back and must both survive and find her way out of the wilderness. It is intense and powerful!

Between Jobs by W.R. Gingell

This is another found family sort of story, and an urban fantasy. It combines so many Selina-catnip items! But seriously, it’s so good. It’s set in Australia (or New Zealand… sorry, I can’t quite remember) and involves some fae and vampires, as well as an orphan girl hiding in walls until she can buy her murdered parents’ house. Recently, I won the rest of the series in a contest, so you can bet I will be continuing this one!

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a contemporary fantasy, but more importantly, it is a powerful story of grief, suicide, and those left behind. It is beautifully written, set outside of the US for most of the story, and is one of those works that just stays with you.

Manga and Graphic Novels or Collections

Seven Little Sons of the Dragon by Ryoko Kui

My husband bought me this collection of 7 stories for Christmas because it’s by the same person who made one of my favorite manga (Delicious in Dungeon). Overall, I loved all the stories! They are full of humor, unexpected twists, and fascinating thought experiments. I am so happy to own this, and I’m sure I will read it again!

Fangirl Vol. 1 by Rainbow Rowell & Sam Maggs

Fangirl is undoubtedly one of my favorite books of all time, and they are turning it into a manga! The first volume came out this year, and I loved every minute of it. Can’t wait for the next one!

Laid Back Camp by Afro

I have been searching for camp/camping stories for about a year and a half, and my husband randomly stumbled across this. It is slice of life, it’s calm, and it’s all about camping and friendship! I ADORE this series, and I’m up to 5 volumes already! (Still need to read the last 3 though, as I just got them)

Made in Abyss by Akihito Tsukushi

This is another one my husband bought for me (he likes to get me different ones to try out). It’s a really cool fantasy world where people dungeon dive in this pit of monsters and treasures to make a living. But, the deeper you go, the harder it is to come back. And trying to come back from the very bottom kills people. It’s really a cool concept!

General Fiction

Beach Read by Emily Henry

This was another family drama/secrets story, but also a really unique romance between two competing writers. I deeply enjoyed this, as a writer and a person, but this is another one that’s got some sex, so beware if that bothers you.

Pumpkin Everything by Beth Labonte

This is also a romance, but it’s EVERYTHING fall. And… coincidentally stars another author? Weird. But it’s all about a woman who travels back to her hometown to keep her grandfather out of a home. The twist? Her bestselling series trashes the residents of the town, and she abandoned her high school sweetheart there after he broke her heart.

Nonfiction

Romance Your Brand by Zoe York

This is a good book for indies looking to build a marketable, profitable brand. It’s a step by step guide to building your next series in a way that readers (and you) will love. I highly recommend this to every indie author!

Dear Author by Laura A. Grace

Finally, this is a cute, sweet, heartfelt little collection of hypothetical letters to you, this reader’s favorite author. It’s full of encouragement, joy, and heart, and if you need a pick-me-up for your writing, give this a read! (also, the ebook is so cheap, there’s no reason not to get yourself a copy!)

Final Thoughts

I read so many good books this year! And there are so many others I can’t wait to read on my list!

Personally, I love doing these posts at the end of the year to really reflect on the joy I got this year from what I read and remember my favorites. Do you do anything like this?

I also would love to hear about your favorite reads of 2020. Did you find anything good? Any new books or series you love? Share them with me down below, and let’s talk books!

And until next time, happy reading! ❀

Book Review: Ashen

I recently finished H.L. Burke’s Ashen. Here’s what I think of it.

So if you’ve been around for at least a month, you may already know I have a slight obsession with Iceland. I discussed it a bit back when I helped with the release tour for H.L. Burke’s Ashen, but let me just give you a quick overview. πŸ˜‰

Hubs and I went to Iceland for our honeymoon back in April of 2018. And I fell in love with it. The ecosystem is so different from anything I’ve ever been familiar with here in Pennsylvania (hello, volcanoes, glaciers, and lava fields!). The whole country is quiet and peaceful. Sheep outnumber the population of people. The country is filled with fascinating folklore, particularly tied to trolls and elves (who are said to live in the lava fields). There’s a fermented shark delicacy (I did not eat it, but hubs did… he says it was as horrible as they hyped it up to be).

And it is absolutely gorgeous. When they say it’s the land of waterfalls, they’re not kidding! In fact, if you take a look at the picture in today’s blog image (the one with Ashen’s book cover), you may see a waterfall. That’s a picture I took in Barnafoss and Hraunfossar (Hraunfossar is the one/many in the picture), and it was one of my favorite waterfalls. It travels from the LangjΓΆkull glacier over 25 years under the lava fields, where it is filtered by the lava rock before emptying into this river (or so our tour guide told us).

But I digress.

In the literature world, I’ve been looking for books to remind me of my trip ever since we returned. I recently read Sky in the Deep, which did a pretty good job, but it was very Vikings and less fantasy (I am ALL ABOUT that fantasy!). I’ve even been planning two separate books/series inspired by Iceland and its lore (you’ll find out eventually) and have been reading the folk tale books I bought there (that’s what I collect whenever I go somewhere out of my normal experiences).

So I was absolutely THRILLED when H.L. Burke announced the release of Ashen! It’s a fantasy set in a world inspired by Iceland! And while she did admit to taking a few liberties, I could not wait to get my hands on it!

Friends, I was not disappointed.

So let’s just dive right on in.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, I purchased this book and am sharing it out of my own love, not any personal gain!)

Ashen by H.L. Burke

Ashen is a fun, exciting, heartrending standalone featuring Lizbete, a young woman who has never quite fit in with her hometown of Brumehome. Her peers call her Ash Lizard, as she likes to spend her time in Auntie’s kitchen where she can stay warm because she cannot produce her own heat and steals it from anyone she touches. Auntie seems to be the only person who truly loves her, other than the little, and wonderfully snarky, Elin, the sickly younger sister of her once-best-friend, Brynar – the town’s next mayor.

Yet everything changes with one great quake that rocks tiny Brumehome, and Liz suddenly finds herself in danger from the villagers. She runs away, learning some very, very dangerous things that are putting the entire town at risk – and a lot about who (and what) she is. Don’t worry, this is spoiler-free! But suffice it to say, the stakes build fast!

So now that you have a little background, let’s talk details.

First off, I absolutely LOVED Liz. Her condition of heat-stealing was so unique to me and so interesting that I was drawn right in to sympathizing with her and wanting to know as much as possible about what was going on.

I also bonded a little bit with her experience of her first pair of glasses. I remember well that feeling: putting on your first ever pair of glasses and having the world suddenly snap into focus. You really can’t stop looking at everything! It was delightful to see that in a story. (Side love: I LOVED the character that gave her the glasses, Widow Gri the Scholar. I would have loved to see more of her at the end, but alas, ’twas not to be.)

I also really enjoyed the way the plot came together. It was so easy to get lost in this world of cold and magic. Once I started, it was hard to put the book down. The pacing was fantastic, keeping me engaged throughout, and the revelations all came at the right places. It was awesome seeing Liz come into her own and stand up for herself, as well as seeing justice served by the end (I love a good, satisfying ending!).

And the feels! Very few books can bring me to tears, but this one? Burke seems very good at making her readers cry. Let me put it that way. But I truly felt everything the characters did, and boy was it an emotional roller coaster.

There were very few things that detracted from the experience. There were a few places where I found typos or similar issues, but overall I found them to be minor; it wasn’t enough to take away from enjoying the story.

My biggest complaint was that I had been promised Iceland, but this felt much more like a general Norse-inspired setting than Iceland to me. I kept waiting for trolls, and while there may be a version of trolls in this story, it wasn’t similar enough to the tales I’d heard and read to be clear. And there were steam vents in the story, but that didn’t really track with my personal experience there. There were no lava fields, though Brumehome seems to be next to an active volcano, but I think the steam vents were almost lava tubes. And I can live with that. But honestly, if I hadn’t been as invested in Iceland itself, I would never have noticed. So my biggest complaint will also probably not bother any other readers.

Short version: you need to read this book! Overall rating is 4.5 stars, and if you’re looking for unique magic, engaging story, and consuming worlds, this is the book you need.

~~~

If this piqued your interest, you can grab a copy of H.L. Burke’s Ashen here.

Also, if you are interested in other things Icelandic-feeling, you can get a copy of Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young or a classic Icelandic sweater (these were too expensive during our honeymoon, but I am DEFINITELY getting one when we go back!). But definitely make sure to pick up Ashen.

Anyway, that’s all for now! I hope if you read this book you love it as much as I did, but until next time, have a wonderful Halloween and November!

Happy reading! ❀

3 Ways You Can Have a Fun Halloween In This Year

Planning on staying in for Halloween but not sure how to celebrate? I got you covered!

This year is weird. You know that, I know that, the whole world knows that. And Halloween is a bit different. Trick-or-treating may be affected in your area. You may not have the normal costume parties you’re used to this time of year. You may be wondering how you can enjoy the season if you plan to stay in for the holiday.

And that’s why it’s time to figure out how we can have a fun, safe, bookish Halloween. So today, let’s look at three ways you can embrace the season without leaving your house – and do it in a way that celebrates books! I know I plan on enjoying some good media, setting my mood up, and dressing the part!

So let’s dive right on in!

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, the things I have chosen to share either I have tried and enjoyed myself or it’s something I would buy for myself!)

Set the Mood

The easiest way to get into the spirit of the season is to surround yourself with things that put you in that spooky frame of mind.

Personally, I think the biggest thing you can do to set the mood is find a smelly thing. Before I met my husband, my favorite fall candle was Warm Caramel Cider from Bath and Body. But it turns out he doesn’t like that scent so much, so I’ve been burning my last one in bits and pieces when he’s not around.

Ultimately, that led me to seek out some new scents. High on my list are Yankee Candles – they have good burn times, and they’re super fragrant, so the scent fills the room really well. They have a couple that are on my list to replace my Warm Caramel Cider: Mulled Cider and Apple Cider. I’m hoping one of those will be agreeable to both hubs and me!

But more than smelly things, you need some good decorations. Last year, my sister got married in the fall. That meant I had the chance to get about a million (this is an exaggeration) pumpkins for her shower. I highly recommend checking out your local dollar store for pumpkins to display around your house. Or, if you don’t want to get out of the house for decorations, you can find some options on Amazon.

Another of my favorite things is placing battery-operated candles everywhere. When you have a lot of them, you can turn off all the lights and still have enough to wander in the spooky atmosphere without keeping your lights on. Though, if you get to the entertainment section and need a lamp to read… well, that’s ok, too.

Dress the Part

Once the mood is set, I like to dress for the season. Last post, I shared a cozy cardigan that I absolutely love. You can certainly wear that here, too!

But I’m also thinking things like jewelry and shirts (unless you want to wear a costume, in which case, GO FOR IT.). Personally, I love the shirts at Tee Turtle, and this year I finally got myself a couple of fall ones. Both with foxes, because foxes.

But besides that, I LOVE accessorizing, particularly with earrings. And if I don’t feel like wearing a costume to celebrate Halloween, I definitely wear earrings. Here are a couple sets that look like fun to me (unfortunately my current sets don’t have great options on Amazon, but they are simple clear orange fall maple leaves!).

Find your Entertainment

I know we’re all here because we love to read (and I’ll get to some book recs soon!), but I also know that some of us have overwhelming TBRs or need a break from reading. That’s why I say to find your entertainment, whether it’s a game with a housemate or close friend/family, a movie night, or books.

Games!

So let’s start with a game. I have the game Unstable Unicorns, a silly, fun card game all about building a unicorn army. And it has so many expansion packs, including some that would work great for Halloween! I have only played the base game, though, so I can only personally vouch for that one. But my family loves the game, and I bring it to family gatherings often.

Another great option (with a ton of versions) is Munchkin. My family also loves to play this one, which is a card version of role-playing games that goes to ridiculous lengths. Basically, you explore a dungeon, kill monsters, get better equipment, and try to be the first to make it to level 10.

Or, if you want something a little scarier, there’s Betrayal at House on the Hill. I only watched this one being played, but IT IS SCARY. Def a good Halloween game.

And/or Watch a Movie!

But, if games aren’t your thing (or if, like me, you like things on in the background), there are a ton of Halloween movies. But today I will share my own favorite: The Little Vampire, all about a little boy who moves to Scotland with his family, only to find an entire family of vampires and an ancient curse. It’s so cute and so seasonal, and every year I want to watch it.

I also have a dear place in my heart for Disney’s Coco. It’s a great watch and has such an important, positive view on death. It’s so great for Halloween night or your own celebration with friends and/or family.

And, finally, BOOKS!

First, check out last year’s picks for spooky reads here (note: none of links in last year’s post are affiliate links; they link only to Goodreads. However, all the links on this page with the exception of The Patch at the bottom, are affiliate links. Be aware I NEVER use an affiliate link to my own books).

And here are my new recommendations!

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

I read this over the summer, and I have two words: murder mermaids. If you’re looking for something horror-y, this is a great pick! It’s so spooky and scary and exciting! It also has a lot of good representation, including neurodiverse and LGBT+ characters. It’s a long one, though, so if you plan to read this, you may need to block off a few days of binging!

Ghost Academy by E.C. Farrell

This is, just as it sounds, academy fiction, but with ghosts. There’s a lot to take in here, but if you want a little less spook with your spirits, grab this one! It’s got a lot of good characters, strong storylines, and an interesting take on the afterlife.

Dead Girls Don’t Dance by h.g. Lynch

If you’re looking for something quicker to read, how about a short story based in Day of the Dead mythology? Follow the main character as she wakes up dead and has a mystery to solve and her own death to come to terms with before she can move on.

Are you ready yet?

Those are my biggest recommendations for celebrating a safe, fun Halloween IN. I hope you’ve found some entertainment, decorations, and/or attire to put you in the mood and let you enjoy the season, no matter what is going on in your community right now.

I know I don’t talk about the outside world often, but holidays are hard. I know. I understand. I’ve lost events and celebrations, too. But keep strong, keep safe, and take care of each other. And, just maybe, these little tips I’m sharing with you can give you some bright lights, some joy, in the midst of whatever you’re facing. I want you to know that I sincerely care about you guys. I know how rough it’s been; I’m in it with you.

So let’s enjoy October, do things that make us smile, and celebrate, safely, together. ❀

~~~

PS! I just submitted the final version of The Patch (this is not an affiliate link) to all retailers today! If you want to know when it’s up for purchase (hopefully within 3 days), subscribe to the newsletter! (You’ll also get two free short stories just for signing up, and you’re free to unsubscribe at any time).

The Patch (this is not an affiliate link) is my spooky Halloween novella all about a girl desperate to save her family’s farm… and a mysterious magical pumpkin patch filled with ghosts and a hundred-year-old curse.

Don’t forget to subscribe for updates!

5 Fantastic Books to Welcome Fall

Need some fall reading? I got you covered.

Hello, readers! This weekend has felt more like fall than any other day yet! And I am so happy about it. ❀ In fact, hubs and I have been burning fall candles (Pumpkin Apple Chai and Smoked Pumpkin Apple) nonstop all weekend, and I pulled out the leggings, maple leaf earrings, and fall leaves t-shirt, too. AND I decorated the main floor of the house and am sipping a pumpkin spice coffee.

So yeah. I love fall.

I also love to read things that put me in a fall mood. So today I’m going to share a few of those books! And don’t worry; I’m not going to be overlapping with last year’s books for Halloween post… though there may be an update on that next month!

And now: 5 Fantastic Books to Welcome Fall.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the links on this page. However, I have selected these books because I personally read and enjoyed them or am looking forward to reading them. Please note that NO associate links are ever linked to my own books.)

Ghosted by H.L. Burke

I beta read this little story just last week, and it was delightful! Imagine a world where ghosts must haunt to have energy to exist. Now imagine that you’re a ghost assigned to someone un-scare-able! And you have Ghosted. πŸ™‚

Ghost Academy by E.C. Farrell

I read this one over the summer, but there’s a couple reasons it’s a good fall book: 1) it’s an academy story, and 2) all ghosts! Not bad to start welcoming spooky seasons with some ghosts! The story was fun and engaging and there’s a fox shifter ghost… I have such a weakness for foxes!

Bones of the Witch by A.L. Knorr

This is part of the Earth Magic Rises trilogy, an extended series related to A.L. Knorr’s Elementals book, and follows Georjie, our Earth Wise. She has some really cool powers linked to plants, healing, and, of course, earth, and in this series she accidentally awakens an evil witch bent on consuming the power of all Wises. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but if you want something atmospheric (set in Scotland with all the cozy fires and cold weather of fall) and spooky, this is a great read!

The Raven Cycle Series by Maggie Stiefvater

Ok, I cheated here. This is 4 books. And they fit in a lot of seasons. But we’ve got some fascinating magic realism here and four academy boys who become friends with the daughter of a clairvoyant. And they’re searching for a lost Welsh king who, according to legend, is buried somewhere nearby and full of magic. I would also describe this as atmospheric, and the whimsy and exploration of nature and bits of school sprinkled in here feel like fall to me!

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

And speaking of spooky, how about a dark carnival story? The main character of this story has magic of illusions and is part of a traveling dark carnival. There’s so much more to it than that, including mystery, danger, and maybe romance, but I can’t give away too much. You’ll have to read it yourself!

Bonus unread story!

Pumpkin Everything by Beth Labonte

So, I came across this one just this week in one of the free book newsletters I get. It’s set in New Hampshire, the main character is a horror novelist, there’s a failed fall wedding… yeah, I’m all over this one. I can’t wait to get to it after finishing the ebook I’m currently reading and wanted to pass this romance along to you as well!

Bonus: Seasons of Magic!

(This section DOES NOT contain affiliate links)

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks by Selina J. Eckert

How could I talk about welcoming fall without talking about Pie-Jinks??? There’s a baking contest at a harvest festival, the Autumn Court of Fae, some sweet, cute romance, and mischievous sprites! And of course, all things pumpkin spice.

Here’s a special hint from me to you: I may or may not be working on a full urban fantasy series to start coming out next fall…

The Patch by Selina J. Eckert

And guess what else is on its way??? The next Seasons of Magic is coming in October! For now, be sure to add it to your Goodreads, but if you sign up for the newsletter, I’ll be able to send you the cover reveal and announce when it comes out (I also just shared a brand new short story prequel for the This Curse series… free to my subscribers! You can still get it for signing up!).

For now, The Patch is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk and involves a haunted pumpkin patch and a ghost cat…

~~~

I hope you guys find some new favorites in today’s list of books, and if you have any other suggestions for books for me to read, let me know in the comments! Until next time, happy reading! ❀

Wrought of Silver and Ravens: Full Review

I just finished Wrought of Silver & Ravens! TL;DR: You should read this book!

Hey all! If you recall, last month I had interviewed Author E.J. Kitchens about her new fantasy release inspired by the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, Wrought of Silver and Ravens. Well, today, I have the full review FINALLY ready for you.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the link at the bottom of this review. Additionally, I received an advanced copy of the book for review. However, this review contains my honest opinions of the book.)

Wrought of Silver & Ravens by E.J. Kitchens

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Christian High Fantasy

Recommend? YES

Wrought of Silver and Ravens by fantasy author and microbiology E.J. Kitchens is a captivating story of secrets, intrigue, and, of course, MAGIC.

Athdar Owain Leonidas is part of a once-hidden group of magical people, hidden away for their own protection until they learned how to control their magic. But now, their hiding place is vanishing, forcing them to reintegrate with the rest of the world. As the grandson of one of the most prominent elders, he is entrusted with the secret of his people as well as the care of four very special magical lions. But when he encounters the prince of Giliosthay, attacked by bandits and gravely wounded (cursed), he finds himself drawn into the affairs of another kingdom and recruited as apprentice to their most elite force soldiers, the Silver Guard.

Princess Thea of Giliosthay is the oldest of the seven princesses of the kingdom, a woman gifted with the rare magic of Realm Walking and a special magic artifact made for Realm Walkers. However, the princesses have secrets of their own: they’ve been cursed by the prince of the kingdom of Rusceon, Prince Cerav, who forces them to join him in the Realm of Caves every night for a magical dance with dragons. The meaning of the dance is unclear, yet they are unable to tell anyone about the curse, leaving them to fight back alone.

This story follows the journey of both these individuals as they discover secrets about their world and magic and forge new relationships needed to save Giliosthay from conquest by Rusceon. That’s all I can say to avoid the spoilers. πŸ˜‰

Overall, I really enjoyed this beast of a book! The intrigue was well-crafted, and the relationships were entertaining, heartfelt, and engaging. I found myself rooting for Athdar to accept new friendships and trust the other guards. And Thea… I am so impressed by how strong a character she is, both with her power and as a female fantasy character with true agency. She fights so hard to protect her sisters and free them of the curse while also protecting her kingdom from Cerav.

The kingdom was meant to be inspired by Greece, but I do have to say I often forgot that until the mention of sandals or the bright blue water. I believe once the kingdom was described, but personally I could have used a few more clues to hammer home the inspiration for the setting.

As far as the magic, I really loved the idea of half-magics (like Athdar) and enchanters. And those lion cubs! *swoon* However, this is also my biggest complaint of the story. There was a page at the beginning explaining the differences in the magic peoples, but it was difficult for me to digest. I feel like there could have been more explanation in the book itself to make it easier to understand and remember. Also, the raven-eaters, some bandits off in the mountains who are Athdar’s people’s enemy, didn’t have much role in this book. But! It seems like they’ll have more role in the next book…

Despite my difficulty with the learning curve of the world, I was able to thoroughly enjoy this book. It was so beautifully written and I absolutely connected to the characters and their lives. I loved the descriptions of the magic use, the excitement in the different encounters, the touch of romance.

If you love fantasy with deep worldbuilding and engaging characters, this is definitely the book for you! Personally, I can’t wait for book 2 to come out, and I’m so looking forward to meeting back up with Athdar and Thea as well as learning more about the world outside Giliosthay!

If you’re interested, you can purchase the book here. Thanks for reading!

5 Great Beach Reads (and 5 Honorable Mentions)

Dreaming of the sand and waves? Take a step closer with some beach reads!

This has surely been a summer like no other, but somehow I still managed to make it to the beach (socially distanced, of course). But for anyone who’s dreaming of the beach and can’t get there, whether you’re landlocked or don’t want to take the risk heading out, I figured now would be a good time to share some books that will give you that beach feel!

So without further ado, let’s dive into some beachy reads.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through these links. However, I have chosen these books because I read and enjoyed them by purchasing them myself or borrowing through the local library.)

Top Picks

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

If you like a bit more literary fantasy, this is perfect! In this story, you follow Clara on her epic quest to save her mermaid sister’s life. It’s full of adventure, magic, peril, and found family. Lots of fun and very lyrical!

Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle

This is a YA contemporary that takes place in the Outer Banks, NC (if you saw my survival recommendations post, this book was on it). The main characters, Sophie and Finn, are stranded on the islands and must survive a hurricane and reunite with their families. A great tale of missed connections, survival, and the beach!

The Siren by Kiera Cass

This is absolutely one of my favorite mermaid books! Follow Kahlen and her siren sisters as they struggle with their call to kill humans. I’ve never read a book with a better ocean character – and yes, the ocean itself is a character – and such a deep moral struggle. Fantastic writing and such a strong set of characters.

Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

This is basically a river pirate book (and there is a second book out now; it’s a duology!). Caro sets off to rescue her father, who has a booming river trade and is favored by the god of the river, and finds herself embroiled in political intrigue and deep questions of her own destiny and desires. Also, the hardcover of this book has a really pretty cover: it’s soft and has streaks of GLITTER!!!

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

This is what I’d call a science fantasy (and it is a long, scientific one!). If you like science and sirens, like I do, this is the perfect read for you! Imagine that a ship goes to the middle of the Mariana Trench and all hands disappear. Then imagine you’re part of the expedition that sets out to find out what happened. Just be ready for some mermaid horror.

Honorable Mentions

Say It’s the Sea by Kristina Mahr

This one is an awesome poetry collection by a very prolific poet. I put this one in honorable mentions because while it does include some oceanic vibes, those poems don’t make up the entire collection. But there are some real gems in here!

Tears of the Sea by Savannah Jezowski

This is yet another mermaid story (I’m sensing a theme), honorable mention because of the length. It’s only a short story, but the writing is so clear and beautiful, and it evokes such strong emotion as we watch LeRae yearn for humanity from her place in the water.

Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

This one isn’t the ocean, but it is a resort on the edge of a lake…in a world run by terrifying supernatural creatures. It’s book 6 in The Others series, but it absolutely stands on its own. I fell in love with these characters so much, and it was such an amazing read, just like all the other books in this series.

A Chance for Sunny Skies by Eryn Scott

This one is honorable mention because it also doesn’t actually have ocean. What it DOES have is an adorable romance, lots of weather talk, and such a lovable, feels-filled story! I love the What’s in a Name series by this author – it’s full of adorableness, humor, and feels!

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

This is the only nonfiction selection on this particular list, but it’s a good one. If you’re interested in surfers looking for the wave of a lifetime or learning how waves (and rogue waves) work, this is a fantastic read! There’s lots of science and human interest in this, and it was a super fun read.

Closing Thoughts

There are plenty more books I could put on this list (like more mermaid stories because mermaids), but I think this list covers it pretty well! I hope I’ve provided a good variety of reading material, with nonfiction, poetry, contemporary, and, of course, fantasy.

There’s also that book actually titled Beach Read…def on my list, but I have not yet acquired it. Has anyone read it yet?

Do you have other suggested beach reads? What stories make you think of the ocean? Share them in the comments, I’d love to build my list and help you build yours as well!

Until next time, happy reading! ❀

Survival Part 3: 5 Survival Story Recs

It’s time for some book recommendations.

Hey there, word nerds! I know I missed last week, but I’m back now with those promised book recommendations.

Last month, I shared reasons why I love a good survival story as well as what makes for good survival story writing. We discussed the perseverance of the human spirit, ingenuity, and hope as successful elements of the story, as well as the need for tension and layers of conflict. All the stories I’m sharing with you today have bits and pieces of those things, and they range across genres…including a nonfiction selection that’s light on the tension but high on the page-turning!

Let’s dig in. πŸ™‚

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

I just recently read this, as it only just came out this year. It was a bit shorter than I expected, but that just meant I could consume it in a sitting…and honestly, I wasn’t able to put it down once I started. It’s got the self-discovery, the high stakes, and the ingenuity. Seriously, I couldn’t believe some of the things this girl thought to do in order to survive! And it ended on such an interesting note, including some crushed dreams while rerouting to new ones. It was a story with real consequences and had me questioning the whole time if she’d make it or not.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

This is by far one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read (and if you’ve been around a while, you’ve definitely heard me talking about it!). Set just after the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, it follows the journey of a kid named Alex, separated from his family just before the eruption and trying to survive and find them again in a world devastated by volcanic winter. There are intense highs and lows in this trilogy, following the best and the worst that humanity has to offer, and it has one of the best, most hopeful and inspiring endings I’ve ever read in a trilogy.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book, if you haven’t heard about it or seen the movie yet, is a near-future sci fi adventure following astronaut Mark Watney after an unfortunate series of events leaves him stranded on Mars, alone. Much like Be Not Far From Me, it showcases both ingenuity and the perseverance of the human spirit, but in a new setting on another planet. The voice is entertaining and full of gallows humor, and ultimately, this book left me with such a warm fuzzy at the end that makes me fall in love with it every time I think about it.

Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle

This one is probably a lesser-known book, but it is a young adult novel following Sophie and Finn, a couple of teens reconnecting after years in different schools and thrust together after Sophie is separated from her family and stranded during an evacuation. Together, they must survive a hurricane in the Outer Banks and get Sophie back to her mom.

If there’s one thing that can make me love a survival story even more, it’s throwing in a nice, big storm. πŸ™‚

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

And for the nonfiction pick, though I could pick a few (see the lightning round!), nothing quite compares to Bill Bryson’s tale of his attempt at the Appalachian Trail. It’s got his own experiences on the trail, good and bad, as well as a bunch of the history and science of the trail and everything along the way. I also enjoyed that one of his stops was Palmerton, PA…just a stone’s throw away from my own hometown! I won’t give away any spoilers, but I also appreciated the thoughtful ending with unexpected events.

Lightning Round!

Finally, I’ll give you a few more bonus picks that I personally enjoyed, but with less info (I will give you the genre, though).

Antarctic Tears by Aaron Linsdau (nonfiction)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (nonfiction)

Stormsurge by Shawna Lynn Brooks (Romance novella)

No Safe Haven by Kyla Stone (Post-apocalyptic)

Labyrinth of Shadows by Kyla Stone (fantasy Minotaur retelling)

Final Thoughts

Thanks so much for coming with me on my survival story kick! If you love or hate these kinds of stories, I’d love to know why. And if you have any more recommendations for me, please let me know! I’m hungry for them.

Let’s chat in the comments or over on Twitter!

PS: I have a new reader group just for you guys! Head on over to Facebook if you’re interested in talking about all things fantasy or my books specifically. Also, this is where I’ll be sharing links to eARCs, so if you’d like a chance to read one of my books for free, you’ll need to be part of this community!

Let’s chat in Readers of the Realms!

8 Books to Celebrate Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month. How about a list of reads all about it?

Hello again from quarantine! If you didn’t know, May is mental health month, and honestly I think we could all use a little help there, especially right now. Mental health is something I’ve been passionate about for a while, both as a neurobiologist and as a person who has struggled with mental health issues. And one great way to see through someone else’s eyes, especially if you’ve never experienced any mental health issues, is to read other people’s stories.

So, to celebrate and spread the word about some of my favorites, here are ten books with strong mental health themes that I enjoyed. Disclaimer: just because I enjoyed them doesn’t mean everyone will. If you loved or hated them, let me know in the comments! And if you want even more recommendations, here is a list of 40 great YA books that deal with mental health.

1. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a book I read within the last few months, and I was absolutely blown away by the beautiful, fantastical storytelling. This book tells the story of Leigh, a teenage girl who recently lost her mother to suicide after a long battle with depression. Unlike many mental health stories out there, this one focuses on the people left behind after suicide and depression and is a deep look into one girl’s grief.

2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

If you’ve followed me for a while, you may know that Fangirl is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s emotionally intense and ends on a warm, fuzzy note. But for this list, I’d like to highlight what this book brings to the table: it tells the story of two sisters moving into college and growing apart, a father with mental health issues, and a main character who deals with severe anxiety.

3. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Okay, so this one is really similar to Fangirl…a shy, anxious girl in love with a world she built, and no one knows she’s the author. But this one focuses on what happens when her anonymity is broken and suddenly everyone finds out who she is. So, so good, and if you like Fangirl, you’ll like this one, too!

4. Something Real by Heather Demetrios

This one is a little different, as it deals with the aftermath of growing up in the spotlight. The main character was a child on a reality show that went off the air – something she was all too happy to leave behind. But after she’s finally learning how to cope with life as a normal teen, her family suddenly wants to bring the show back. A very interesting and unique take on child stardom.

5. The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

This is definitely a bit more difficult to read, particularly if you’re dealing with depression, but if you’re able, it’s so good. This story starts after the main character attempts suicide and follows her journey through recovery. And it doesn’t lie about how hard it is to get through something like that, which is one reason I love it. This book also happens to have one of my all-time favorite covers.

6. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

My last three picks are all by the same author, but she writes many well-done mental health books. This one in particular grabbed me for its dive into what it can be like to be family to an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. Like The Astonishing Color of After, it’s nice to see a book where the main character is family to someone who is struggling, a good reminder that family of a struggling person need just as much support.

7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I will admit that not everyone likes this book as much as I do, but this is an interesting intersection of issues: eating disorders, hallucinations, and grief. I think it does a really great job at showing how multiple issues can be interconnected, and like The Memory of Light, it offers a realistic view of therapy while still ending on a hopeful note. I really appreciate that in my mental health fiction.

8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I can’t end without mentioning this classic, award-winning book. Speak is the story of a high school girl in the aftermath of sexual assault and the way she must cope with what happened and with her classmates and the adults around her. As I said, this is definitely a classic, and it’s won its awards for a reason.

BONUS: All That Glimmers by Selina J. Eckert

This novella, releasing on May 15, is an exploration of grief and moving on, set in the fantasy world of contemporary Fae. Hallie is two years out from her best friend’s death, but she is determined to bring her back…especially when she finds a Fae secret that could mean putting her world back together again.

You can get it on Amazon or any other retailer.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’ve struggled with mental health before or not, I hope this list gives you a strong set of reads for the month of May. If you’ve read any of these, please feel free to let me know what you thought of them in the comments. And if you have any other recommendations, let’s chat about them!

See you in the comments. ❀

Awesome Books for Writers

Looking for some great books for writers? Look no further!

If you’re anything like me, you’re always on the lookout for a good craft or business book to grow your knowledge. This week I took a look over all the writing and art books I’ve consumed since I started seriously writing, and I figured why not share my up-to-date favorites list with all of you?

So without further ado, let’s dive in!

Writing Craft, Business, and Life

The first category is my favorite books on writing craft, books that teach elements of writing itself or what’s involved in the writing life and business. And boy do I have some excellent (and classic) favorites!

On Writing by Stephen King

This one is, of course, one of the biggest classics! King tells it like it is, in a relateable, down-to-earth voice. In fact, I might be due for a reread!

Bird by Bird by Anne lamott

This is an encouraging and entertaining look at how to write a book. Definitely one of my favorites, and it’s so quotable!

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

This is another classic, a collection of essays by classic writer Ray Bradbury. Definitely some interesting food for thought here!

Wired for STory by Lisa Cron

As a neuroscientist and a writer, I’ve loved this particular book. It delves into the neuroscience and psychology behind elements of a story and why certain things work so well…and how to improve your own writing with those ideas in mind!

THe Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

This is an excellent overview and must-read for any author looking to make a career from their writing. Friedman goes through things like how publishing works, your publishing and career options, platforms, and more resources for delving deeper.

For Christian Writers

This section is specific to Christian writers, but the books are packed with so much to think about regarding spirituality, mental health, and art and creativity.

Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

This is another collection of essays by a classic author. It discusses what it means to be a Christian artist and how faith and art are related.

Unlocking the Heart of the Artist by Matt Tommey

This is an incredible look at how to deal with your issues to become the artist God created and to help you create as best you can. It also does some work to dispel the myth of the starving artist. It’s such a powerful read!

For Encouragement

There are also a couple short reads that do such an uplifting job of encouraging writers to keep going and dream about how what they do affects readers. If you need a lift, pick one (or both) of these up! It won’t take long, and you’ll end up feeling validated, appreciated, and, hopefully, excited to keep writing!

Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl by Laura A. Grace

This book is a collection of letters from a hypothetical fan to you, the author. It covers a range of scenarios and is so heartwarming!

For the love of a word Ed. by Annie Louise Twitchell

Disclaimer: I have a couple pieces in this anthology. But it’s such an encouraging and motivating collection of essays, poetry, and art. Definitely give this one a read if you need a bit of a pick-me-up.

My Upcoming Reads

Finally, I can’t complete this list without addressing a bunch of books on my list that I’m either currently reading or excited to dive into next. I won’t have too much info here, but feel free to follow the links to learn more!

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making

Romance Your Brand: Building a Marketable Genre Fiction Series

Become a Successful Indie Author: Work Toward Your Writing Dream

Writing the Other

The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults

The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write with Emotional Power, Develop Achingly Real Characters, Move Your Readers, and Create Riveting Moral Stakes

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

Closing Thoughts

There are so many good resources out there for craft, business, and life of a writer! I’m always on the hunt for new, good titles to consume. If you know of some not on my list, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Or, if you’ve read any of these, what are your own thoughts? Did you find them helpful? Let’s chat about it!

See you in the comments. πŸ™‚

The Best Books I Read This Winter (2020)

Read any good books lately? I have!

I don’t know about you, but my e-reader is filled to overflowing from the generosity of so many authors out there! And so far this year, I’ve managed to complete 29 books ranging from contemporary to nonfiction to fantasy. So I figured why not have a recap of which books I’ve really enjoyed so far?

And by the way, I am offering my Rapunzel novella, “Of the Clouds,” free to newsletter subscribers, along with a contemporary fantasy short story titled “Queen of Mist and Fog.” You can pick those up here, and don’t worry…you can unsubscribe at any time.

Now on to the books! (And you can see EVERYTHING I finished this year here!)

Fantasy

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a young adult contemporary magic realism that takes place largely in Taiwan and follows the aftermath of the main character’s mother committing suicide. It’s a beautiful exploration of depression, suicide, and the people left behind . One of the most beautiful books I read this year for sure. You can learn more here.

Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

This is another young adult fantasy, and it is also beautifully written. It’s a debut for a duology that’s finishing in October 2020, and it’s a unique world where two sisters are torn apart by the customs of their people: one who is desperate to redeem her healer father’s reputation, and one who was chosen to die with their leader and accompany him into the afterlife. It’s amazing lore, great intrigue, and fascinating worldbuilding…and the author is also pretty nice and will chat with you on social media. πŸ™‚ You can pick up a copy here (and take note of the AMAZING cover).

The Earth Magic Rises Trilogy by A.L. Knorr

I finished this trilogy this year, though I read book one last year. It’s a fantastic expansion of the Elementals world starring Georgie and the beautiful Scottish landscape, and it’s a nail-biting adventure of magic and discovery. Scary, atmospheric, and intense…I loved every minute!

Contemporary Young Adult

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This was such an amazing book of friendship and PIZZA. Sydney is learning who she wants to be after her golden-boy brother is incarcerated for hitting someone when driving drunk one night. Now her parents’ attention is all on her as she copes with the guilt over what her brother did. A beautiful coming-of-age story. You can check out more here.

Sadie by Courtney Summers

This was a really well-done story…and might I just add that it’s worth listening to the audiobook? This book bounces back and forth between Sadie searching for her missing sister and tracking down the man she KNOWS is responsible for her disappearance and the podcast exploring the disappearance. And the audiobook really does this justice. You can learn more here.

Manga

Hakumei & Mikochi by Takuto Kashiki

This year, hubs bought me a new manga to try for my birthday. And he picked so well! Hakumei & Mikochi is an adorable story of two forest-dwelling spirits. It has everything I love: cute things, food, and all things tiny! You can learn more here.

Children’s

Floral Frolic by Cari Corene and Amanda Coronado

I don’t read too many children’s books, but I’m on the lookout for good ones now that I have a nephew and hubs and I are thinking about starting our family. This is a gorgeous book with watercolor art and foxes (two of my favorite things) and tells a really cute story involving flowers. Definitely a pretty, pleasant read for the young ones AND you. You can learn more here.

Nonfiction

Dear Author by Laura A. Grace (Illustrated by Hannah S.J. Williams)

I read a few different nonfiction already this year, but this one is definitely the best! It’s an encouraging and inspiring collection of letters written to their favorite author in a way that any writer can relate to. I found it to be so motivational, heartwarming, and inspiring for my own writing. Every author needs a copy of this book! You can find out more here.

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So what about you? How are you doing on your reading goals? Do you have any standout favorites for the year yet? Share below! πŸ˜€