The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

About the book:

A young woman is both a bard–and a warrior–in this thrilling historical fantasy from the author of the Sevenwaters novels.

Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . .

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My review:

This was a fabulous read. Told from three perspectives, we glimpse the trials and triumphs of Liobhan, Brocc, and Dau, three warrior/spies in training. Three voices, one story; three tunes, one song: for Brocc it is the deep, resonant notes that thrum along his harp/heartstrings, guiding him to the truth of who he is and what choices he must make. For Liobhan, it is the whistle of a pipe, leading the march for the warriors, but also trilling a playful tune to teach her that life is about more than just war, it is tied to the heart. For Dau, it is the rhythm tapped out on the bodhran, steady and sure to show him that his past does not define him, but does strengthen him.

I so enjoyed reading this story and getting caught up in Marillier’s lyrical storytelling. She crafted both a beautiful world and thoroughly-fleshed characters which brought this story depth and breadth. I look forward to getting lost in her worlds again.

Many thanks to Berkley Publishing Group/Ace and NetGalley for the digital ARC of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

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Knight’s Rebirth by Sarah Ashwood

About the book:

“My name is Buckhunter Dornley, and I am dead.”

This isn’t your average fairytale, and Sir Buckhunter Dornley isn’t your average knight. He’ll tell you that himself. Winning tournaments, fighting cyclopes, and slaying dragons? All in a day’s work for the mightiest knight in the empire, but that knight is about to meet his match in Mercy, the charming and outrageous princess of Merris. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and Buck falls hard. What he doesn’t know is Mercy lives under an ancient, terrible curse. When he finds out, Buck swears he’ll do anything to break it.

There’s just one little problem.

He’s dead.

For there to be any chance of happily ever after, the knight determined to rescue the princess may need the princess to rescue him too.

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My review:

I’ll be honest: I did not think I’d like this little book. I’m not really big on the sappy fairytale: manly knight falls in love with dainty princess and all is right with the world. And while the overall structure of this story does equal that formula, there was enough other substance to make this a very enjoyable read.

I liked that Buck wasn’t too much like the typical fairytale prince, all shiny teeth, beefy body, and relative obliviousness to his effect on the womenfolk. Nor was he too Beauty-and-the-Beast-Gaston-esque: all shiny teeth, beefy body, and out to make every woman swoon over him. He landed pretty squarely in the middle: knowing he was handsome and manly, knowing he had many admirers, but open and honest about not wanting the bother of a relationship. I could connect with his desire to just be his grumpy self and have a little peace and quiet. His personality made for a much more interesting lead up to his big fall for little Mercy.

And the twist that both Buck and Mercy had to save each other, not just the manly man rescuing the damsel in distress, was wonderfully refreshing. And then she adds in books that can communicate and write down your thoughts for you? Wow! I’d love that! That would make things so much easier. Okay, but maybe not all my thoughts… 😉

I really did enjoy reading Knight’s Rebirth and would recommend you grab your own copy. Happy reading!

Life After: The Complete Series by Julie Hall

About the books:

Death was only the beginning.

I have a lot to learn after waking up in the afterlife. Never mind that my memories have been erased, but being assigned as a demon hunter, um…yeah, I don’t think so. Physical activity and I aren’t on speaking terms.

Making my supernatural headache worse is my infuriating trainer, Logan. Sparks fly between us immediately—the kind created by our swords and personalities as we clash in and out of the training center.

Just when I think my life—or rather, afterlife—is all punch, stab, rinse and repeat, I find myself the wielder of the most powerful sword in existence. Sure, it might be cool to ash demons with a single swipe of my weapon, but now Satan is gunning for me.

Logan is the only one I can turn to for help. But the guy has secrets. So until I figure out what they are, I might just be on my own.

My name is Audrey Lyons, and my afterlife is shaping up to be a hot mess and a half.

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My review:

I’d been hearing about this series for a while and finally decided to dive in and grab a copy of the box set so I could see for myself what all the fuss was about. Wow! I now know why there was a fuss!

Audrey’s story grabbed me right away. I was fascinated by the choices the author made in how she described the afterlife and a person’s entrance into it. At times I questioned those choices, but the author always (eventually) gave a sound and logical reason for each decision. So well thought out and wonderfully crafted to keep me reading and thinking! She brought a new perspective to what the future holds for those of us who have faith. 🙂

And, of course, the tortured love story was terrific. Book 3, Dominion, was my favorite of the set, and I read deep into the night, wiping unexpected tears from my eyes, and hoping things turned out the way I wanted them to. The entire series was a perfect combination of action and romance, of spiritual warfare and God’s unfailing love.

This series is one that will stay with me forever (in a good way), and I certainly look forward to reading more from Julie Hall. I highly recommend you check out the Life After series.

Sand and Storm by Stella Dorthwany

About the book:

A magical super-weapon. A deadly cult. An arranged marriage that could destroy the world.

Faryn Montphish is on track to graduate with honors from the Academy of Magic—until her dream internship blows up in her face. She thought she’d been recruited to excavate ruins in the enchanted Caladoner desert. Instead, she’s expected to rob a temple and steal the Ring of Twelve, an artifact with the power to control natural disasters. It’s also the only thing standing between the explorers and a cult of mages raising a storm that will destroy the world’s magic—and usher in a new order forged in forbidden blood arts.

Even if Faryn manages to avoid the temple’s traps and retrieve the ring, wielding it will require a mage of unique and terrible ability. Someone like Faryn’s cousin Cora.

Cora thinks she’s going on her honeymoon until her husband reveals their marriage is a sham and forces her to join the temple expedition. There, the magical bond legalizing their marriage mingles with the desert’s own enchantment and stirs Cora’s slumbering powers to life. Cora has the strength to conquer the Ring—but only if she reconciles her relationship with the husband who has rejected her.

Facing the end of the world, Faryn and Cora must test the limits of courage and sacrifice—or face the destruction of everything they love.

Perfect for fans of Naomi Novik or Emily R. King, Sand and Storm will sweep you away on an adventure of lush romance, dazzling magic, and ultimate sacrifice.

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My review:

I had no idea what to expect with this book. It was chosen as the book of the month for an online book club I’m a member of, so I grabbed an ebook copy and started to read. I found myself swept away by the fascinating magic system and the terrifically complicated lives of the four main characters: Faryn, Shaun, Cora, and Damorin.

The design of the elemental magic system was nothing short of intriguing: thaumaturgy, sand magic, wind magic…this story seemed to have it all. And it all worked together and made sense! Fascinating.

And I truly enjoyed how the author explored multiple points of view for the same scenes. That is not an easy task to undertake as a writer, but she did it wonderfully. It brought a lot of depth to the story and to the characters.

This was such an enjoyable read. I definitely encourage you to check out Stella Dorthwany’s work and grab your own copy of Sand and Storm.

Happy reading! 🙂

Vow of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

About the book:

Kazi and Jase have survived, stronger and more in love than ever. Their new life now lies before them―the Ballengers will be outlaws no longer, Tor’s Watch will be a kingdom, and the two of them will meet all challenges side by side, together at last.

But an ominous warning mars their journey back, and in their rush to return to Tor’s Watch, just outside the fortress walls, they are violently attacked and torn apart―and each is thrust into their own new hell.

Unsure whether the other is alive or dead, Kazi and Jase must keep their wits among their greatest enemies and unlikeliest allies. And all the while, Death watches and waits.

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My review:

If you have not delved into the world of the Remnant Chronicles, you are so missing out! I truly love getting swept away into Mary E. Pearson’s world and highly recommend that you do too. This latest installment, Vow of Thieves, is one of the best of the saga.

Kazi and Jase’s story began in Dance of Thieves, and Pearson left us all desperate to know what would happen next. Kazi is an awesome heroine: a skilled fighter, with a heart of gold, who puts everyone else first; and Jase is her perfect complement. Which, of course, means that they end up making things more complicated by trying to solve the kingdom’s problems by themselves, creating a wonderfully complicated plot, full of ups and downs. The story sank its talons into me immediately and carried me on a grueling, twisting, action-packed ride, one in which I didn’t want to land. It was definitely the type of book that I wanted to read more and more, but never wanted to finish! 🙂

I love how the world of the Remnant Chronicles grows more detailed as the series evolves, how Pearson has taken us into an entirely new area of this world, along with an alternate history, opening up unlimited possibilities for tales of the Remnant. So much promise for the future of the Chronicles!

Trust me, however, you want to read the other books (at the very least, start with Dance of Thieves) so you can truly understand what is happening. Though she does refer to activity from the first trilogy (The Beauty of Darkness, The Heart of Betrayal, and The Kiss of Deception), you could still definitely get lost in this book without knowing all of the details. But they are so good, you’ll want to read them anyway. 🙂

So many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Publishing/Henry Holt and Co. and NetGalley for the digital ARC of this novel for review purposes. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own! 🙂

The Hound of Hell by Rory D. Nelson

About the book:

He is Renault, Merlin’s unofficial leader of his spy network. Refined. Loyal. Tenacious. Resourceful. Cunning. Mercurial. Deadly and sadistic, he’s as complicated as he is cruel and remorseless. He’s also the only hope Merlin has when it comes to doing the impossible. His current mission: rescue General Crixus of the Sandanistas aboard a train that has been commandeered by about seventy Sene-Gaulian soldiers. For him and his deadly crew, it should be a fairly straightforward objective- at least it would have been if half his crew hadn’t sold him out. With his objective at stake, the lives of several innocent people on the line as well as the lives of his loyal brethren, Renault has little choice. He must push headlong into a difficult mission that now has become an impossible one. When a deadly enemy from his past resurfaces to settle an old debt, his position becomes even more precarious. In an unbelievable act of charity, he has created a haven for the unfortunate- but that haven has also been breached. Just what will become of those innocent souls? With an elite group of assassins on his tail, half of his men gunning for him and an army at his doorstep, just what is the greatest spy in Round Table history to do?

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My review:

I must admit that I was very misled by the description of this book. I thought it would be a sort of Arthurian Knights of the Round Table story in a western setting. Nope. The only thing “Arthurian” about this story was the name Merlin.

And while I truly dislike having to give a bad review of someone’s work, I must be honest and say this was a poorly written (seriously in need of editing), ridiculously violent (bloody, gruesome murder on nearly every page and the same, few stupid methods of killing over and over), and overly foul-mouthed free-for-all — like a teenaged boy’s fantasy spewed across the pages. I couldn’t even tell if the misspellings were intentional or not, since the spelling of some words would change randomly.

There wasn’t much of a plot (except blood, body parts, and f-bombs flying everywhere), and what little story line there was seemed to have no real motivation or logical reasoning behind it. I never actually figured out why they were springing Crixus from the train, other than Merlin told them to and it was an excuse to kill a bunch of people and destroy a train.

It took everything I had to finish this book, but I kept going, hoping it would eventually make sense and have some redeeming quality. Unfortunately, it really never did. Maybe I’d need to read the original Brotherhood of Merlin series to understand what’s going on. However, after slogging through this mess, I can tell you that’s not going to happen.

I always try to find something good to say about a book, but it’s very difficult to do with this one. I guess I could tell you that one female character (which, by the way, are all over-sexualized) cared about her kids. That’s about the nicest thing I can come up with. Okay, and the cover is pretty cool, but that’s it. Sorry to say, but this is one I highly recommend you don’t buy. The author could truly benefit from an honest group of beta-readers and a well-paid editor to clean this up and make it even remotely worth reading.

I picked up a complimentary digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. I was not required to give a positive review. All opinions are my very own.

How Happiness Happens by Max Lucado

About the book:

In a world searching for happiness, bestselling author Max Lucado provides a personal plan for a life filled with lasting and fulfilling joy, supported by Jesus’ teaching and modern research.

Do you feel happy?

How long has it been since you felt a level of contagious, infectious, unflappable, unstoppable happiness? Maybe your answer is, “All the time.” If so, God bless you! (And consider suggesting this book to someone who needs it.) For many of us the answer is, “Well, it’s been a while. I used to be happy, but then life took its toll.”

Only one-third of Americans surveyed said they were happy. How can this be? Education is accessible to most. We’ve made advancements in everything from medicine to technology, yet 66 percent of us can’t find an adequate reason to check the “yes” box on the happiness questionnaire.

Worldwide, people profess that happiness is their most cherished goal. Marketers get this. “Want to be happy?” they ask. Eat at this restaurant, drive this car, wear this dress. Happiness happens when you lose the weight, get the date, find the mate, or discover your fate. It’s wide, this way to happiness. Yet, for all its promise, it delivers a fragile joy; here one day, tomorrow scattered by the winds of comparison, disappointment, or unmet expectations.

Max writes, “There is another option. It requires no credit card, monthly mortgage, or stroke of fortune. Age and ethnicity aren’t factors…an unexpected door to joy.” 

In this book Max shares the unexpected path to a lasting happiness, one that produces reliable joy in any season of life. Based on the teachings of Jesus and backed by modern research, How Happiness Happens presents a surprising but practical way of living that will change you from the inside out. 

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My review:

I was blessed to be part of Max Lucado’s launch team for this book and got to read the first five chapters early. I flew through those pages, and I must say, this book has already touched my heart deeply. I’ve always thought of myself as a relatively happy person, but this book has opened my heart to see how much more joy I could bring into each moment, and just how easily I could accomplish that. 🙂

As a long time fan of the author, I’ve always appreciated his down-to-earth, laid back style of writing that holds such profound truth. This book is no different! The subtitle of the book is “Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations,” and he does a marvelous job of helping readers do just that. In How Happiness Happens, Lucado takes 10 “one another” statements directly from the Word and explores them with his trademark humor and intelligence, showing practical ways to easily fill your life with more joy every day.

I’ve preordered my own copy to relish and then share in my church’s library, and I highly recommend you grab your own to read, ponder, embrace, and enjoy! How Happiness Happens releases September 17th. 🙂