Book Review – Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross

Genre: Fiction; Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / 5

The Bookish Box once again delivered a gem to my doorstep. Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross paints a gorgeous and captivating world filled with complex and intricate characters. From the moment I was introduced to Azenor, I wanted more. 

I remember sitting on my back porch and cracking the book open, unsure of how I would feel about it. After reading the first page, I ran back inside to read it aloud to my husband – in complete awe of Rebecca Ross’s ability to paint a picture in such an inventive and spectacular way. 

The dream world comes to life in Azenor every new moon, bringing the imagined into a harsh and terrible reality. Clementine Madigan and her father protect their small town from these monthly horrors until two magicians show up challenging them for the title of warden. 

After being forced to leave her town, Clem only has one thing on her mind – revenge – but as events unfold there are more twists and unexpected turns than I could predict. 

“Dreams often revealed one’s greatest vulnerability; dreams were doors that led into hearts and minds and souls and secrets.”

Rebecca Ross, Dreams Lie Beneath

The magic, characters, and plot in Dreams Lie Beneath are unlike anything else I’ve read in my 30-ish years of reading fantasy literature. This book is a flawless piece of art that will dig its claws in and never let you go. 

The true highlight was Clem – our heroine and all around badass. She reminds me of Jude Duarte, and I can’t think of a higher compliment than that. 

Now – the not-so-fun part – what didn’t work. 

This was an amazing story and I was enthralled, always wanting to read more. But I did not connect with the characters or story on a personal or emotional level. Not every book will change my life, and that’s okay. Unfortunately this falls in that category for me. 

If you haven’t read a Rebecca Ross novel yet, I highly recommend you pick up one of her many books next time you’re at the bookstore. She has a talent for bringing unique stories to life. You won’t regret it.

Book Review – The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

I purchased The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna months ago and it sat on my shelves (and then in boxes as my family moved from Virginia to Alabama at the start of the summer). I knew I loved the cover and the synopsis, but for some reason each time I went to select my next read, this one never grabbed my attention.

Then the buddy read – an engagement group I’m in selected this novel for July. I picked it up and didn’t put it down until I reached the last page.

I devoured this novel in two days, while on a family vacation. Before my husband left town for training (he’s in the military), we wanted to do something special with our daughter, so we headed off to Great Wolf Lodge. It’s Alice’s favorite place, and it was the perfect family getaway before my husband left for a couple of months. 

We played at the water park, arcade, and MagiQuest all day – while I read all night. I was so exhausted, but it was the happiest I have been in a while. The perfect weekend trip. 

The novel begins in Deka’s village as they prepare for the blood ceremony, where all 16-year-old girls are tested for impurity. If their blood runs red, they are pure, but if it runs gold they are deemed impure. This is where Deka’s story truly begins – when her blood runs gold.

As the priests in her village punish Deka time and time again, an unknown woman comes to give Deka the option to remain in her village or flee and chart a different course. Deka learns she isn’t alone and that there are other girls like her – the Alaki.  

The transformation we see in Deka as she begins to accept who she is and discover her real purpose is powerful and inspiring. As women, whether in fiction or reality, we are often labeled and judged, here it is no different. This story captures the struggle and journey to self-acceptance in a way I have rarely seen in the novels I read. 

And FINALLY we have a story where our female protagonist has a love interest but this is not the main driver of her transformation, journey, or anything else – it just simply is an element that enhances the story. Deka does not change or grow because a man believes in her – she does all of these things because she learns to believe in herself. It’s refreshing. 

It’s not a man who holds Deka up and makes her stronger – it’s her friends and the sisterhood with her fellow Alaki standing beside her, guiding her, and helping her as they discover the truth and fight for what is right. 

If you haven’t already, please pick up The Gilded Ones whether at your local bookstore or online. You will not regret it. I loved every moment of this novel. 

We also have a date for the sequel, so you have until April 5, 2022, to catch up before The Merciless Ones is released. 

Buy The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna here at Thank You Books (Birmingham, AL) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Gilded Ones? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram.

Book Review – The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

#BookstagramMadeMeDoIt – And oh boy were they right. 

Before we get into a plot overview, let’s start with – I read this one in 24 hours. I picked it up and COULD NOT STOP. It was the most important week of the year at work, and instead of making sure I was well rested in preparation – I read. 

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince starts off as all great hero stories, with the death of our main character, Jude’s, parents. Shortly after our characters – Jude along with her two sisters Taryn and Vivienne – arrive in Elfhame and their lives are changed forever. 

Jude battles to prove herself as worthy of the Faerie and their world, defying everyone who stands in her way including her step-father and a Faerie Prince named Cardan. 

In this novel, Holly Black built a memorable, exciting, and terrifying world. Throughout the story, I pictured these young kids – Jude, Taryn, and Vivi – being pulled into this strange world and having to adjust to their surroundings along with the death of their parents. It is the stuff of nightmares but is also somehow gorgeous. 

Layer that on top of being raised by the man who murdered your parents before your eyes and I’d say this book borders on a horror novel. 

But it wouldn’t be the fae without some juxtaposition. While under the surface it’s ugly and gruesome, on the surface and all around us is beauty and the intoxication of being among faeries. This contrast is best seen between twins, Jude and Taryn. 

There’s so much more I want to say and discuss, but I promised no spoilers. Once I’ve finished all three books, I’ll write a discussion post and talk more in depth.

For now, I’ll tell you this book has it all – complicated family relationships; love triangles; unlikely relationships; and OH MAN a plot twist. This book is everything I hope for when I pick up a Young Adult novel. 

If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince and you enjoy Young Adult and High Fantasy – add this one to your TBR. #BookstagramMadeMeDoIt, and now I’m paying it forward. You won’t regret it. 

Buy The Cruel Prince by Holly Black here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Cruel Prince? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram!

Book Review – The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

Genre: Young Adult; Sci-Fi; Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

I consume a lot of fantasy and sci-fi literature, movies, television shows, and video games. While I love a good sappy sparkly vampire story, it’s rare that a world, story, or universe created by an author feels real and like home. The older I’ve gotten the less I’ve been able to completely disappear into the depths of Mordor or the halls of Hogwarts. They are wonderful stories, but I don’t find myself pulled to them in dreams like I did when I was a child. 

This novel did just that. Lisa Maxwell builds a beautiful new take on magic in this mixed Fantasy/Sci-Fi world. If you are a lover of young adult or fantasy literature, I highly recommend this book. When I wasn’t sneaking a few pages into my day whenever I could (yay motherhood!) I was walking the streets of New York City in my dreams. I was alongside Esta and the other Mageus, shying away from the Brink and plotting to take down the Order. 

Ultimately, this is a story about a young girl, Esta, eager to prove herself while trying to figure out who she is and what she really wants. (Like young girls do) she struggles between her personal desires and how she was raised. It was refreshing to have a strong female character whose struggle wasn’t centered around being a woman. So often stories are told because there is a woman and she is strong and she’s doing something only a strong woman could do, but I find it frustrating that it’s “special” when a woman conquers a challenging obstacle. 

I never felt like this story was only important because a woman was at the center. This is such an intangible element to attempt to describe, but this made me hopeful for the future of literature and storytelling. I am so tired of feeling like it’s a novelty to have a powerful female lead. Women are just extraordinary, everyday. It’s not a novelty, it’s just reality. 

Esta’s choices lead us on a journey with many twists and turns, but they happen organically. Lisa Maxwell was never forcing an Ah-Ha moment on us just for the shock factor. The story flows and feels genuine.

Like most novels that shift between narrators, it took me a few chapters to find the flow. But the narrators have unique voices and, when you meet each character, the transition between becomes seamless. I found myself eager to hear from the different points of view in the scene. The impact helps to round out the picture and build tension, which remains from the first page through the last.

The push-and-pull of tension (sexual and otherwise) throughout the novel created a sexiness without any real “sexy” scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for an erotic novel (hello Christian Grey), but, thankfully, Lisa Maxwell didn’t try to force it into the story. The tension is ever-present and not always romantic. It pushes the story along and makes you want to keep reading more.

The last note I have is related to the time travel this novel is centered around. Generally, time travel as a plot device makes me uneasy. There is always something that doesn’t sit right with me, a loophole not discussed or explored, or the move back into the past erasing the entire story you just read (looking at you School for Psychics Book 2). However, in The Last Magician, it works. There isn’t a lot of digging into the science and there are no multiple timelines. Do something – the future is impacted. The story keeps it simple, which I appreciate, but doesn’t ignore the impact of changing the past.

If you are looking for a novel (and potentially series – stay tuned) to pull you in from front to back, this is the one. The Last Magician is a beautiful story and a new take on magic. The sights, sounds, and people feel familiar but with a unique flavor. This book will remain on my “recommend-to-a-friend” list.

Buy The Last Magician here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

Have you read The Last Magician? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment or send me a message letting me know what you thought of the novel.