Iron Cast by Destiny Soria. ★★★★1/2
I loved this book a lot more than I ever could have predicted. If you have any interest at all in a YA historical fantasy with a focus on female friendship, you should read this book.
Ada Navarra and Corinne Wells are best of friends who preform together at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, the year of 1919. But their performance is no usual routine, for Ada and Corinne are hemopaths – people who’s afflicted blood gives them magical abilities based on the arts. Ada can affect people’s emotions with her music and Corinne can use her poetry recital to craft illusions. But it’s not easy to be a hemopath in Boston of 1919. Performances have been outlawed and while the club still performs illegally, Ada and Corinne have been running cons to make ends meet. At the beginning of Iron Cast, Ada has been captured and imprisoned in one of the institutions designed to be the “humane” solution for the hemopath “problem.” But that’s only the start of the pair’s trouble.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. ★★★★
It’s hard to review a book which is so closely associated with my childhood. I have clear memories of sneaking pages of Howl’s Moving Castle during mandatory 5th grade camp, desperately trying to air conditioned places to read in. I’m happy to say that even reading it years later, Howl’s Moving Castle is still a book worth loving.
Sophie Hatter is the oldest of three sisters, and she knows she won’t amount to much. Her youngest sister will probably go off and seek her fortune, having great adventures, but Sophie? Her future holds nothing more than hats. Then the infamous Witch of the Wastes comes into the hat shop and curses Sophie, transforming her into an old woman. In a state of shock, Sophie wanders out of the hat shop and off into the hills, where she comes across Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl is nearly as infamous as the Witch of the Waste, and Sophie’s always been told to stay away from him since he devours young women’s hearts. But Sophie’s no longer a young woman, so what does she have to be afraid of? She barges her way into Howl’s castle and makes a deal with a fire demon – if she breaks the demon’s contract with Howl, the demon will free her from the curse.
Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell. ★★★★
Lychford is a sleepy English hamlet currently divided by the proposal of the addition of a new supermarket. However, dark forces are at work behind the supermarket, and only Judith Mawson, local crabby old lady, knows that Lychford is the key point at the boundaries between worlds… and those boundaries are growing weaker.
However, Judith does not find herself alone in her quest to save Lychford and thus the world. To aid her, she has the help of the village reverend, Lizzie, and the purveyor of the town’s New Age supply shop, Amber. Together, these three women will fight to save Lychford.
Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani. ★★★★
Memories of Ash is a full, novel length sequel to the YA fantasy novella Sunbolt. In my review of Sunbolt, I noted that I was waiting to see where the sequels would take the series. Well it was worth the wait! Memories of Ash was even better than the first installment. It’s so much of what I want in a fantasy novel – a focus on adventure rather than romance, amazing world building, and a clever and kindhearted heroine.
While I suggest reading Sunbolt before Memories of Ash, you might be able to go into it without having read the novella. But why would you? Sunbolt is a lot of fun. Anyway, it was over two years since I’d read Sunbolt, and I didn’t find myself getting confused. Do note that there will be spoilers for the novella in the rest of this review.
Sea of Sorrows by Michelle West. ★★★1/2
Sea of Sorrows is the fourth book in Michelle West’s Sun Sword series, and you absolutely need to start from the beginning. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s a traditional epic fantasy series with plenty of female characters and begins with The Broken Crown.
Like all other installments in the series, Sea of Sorrows is long, numbering some 800 odd pages. My experience with this series has been that the beginnings might feel like they’re dragging, but by the half way mark things speed up. Unfortunately that wasn’t my experience with Sea of Sorrows. There were large sections that I felt like I was slogging through.
The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier. ★★★★
The Mountain of Kept Memory is a stand alone fantasy novel that reminded me of City of Stairs. The gods died long ago, but the Kieba has retained some of their power, which she’s used to protect the people of Carastind… until the king manages to anger her. With the kingdom on the edge of invasion, the prince and princess of Carastind are desperately trying to salvage their kingdom’s independence from the forces arrayed against them.
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith. ★★★★
Trigger warning: self harm, suicide
Reiko is carving a path of hatred. After a stint in a psychiatric hospital, Reiko’s been sent to stay with relatives in Japan and work on her emotional issues. But Reiko is still consumed with hatred and anger for all those who she perceives as having wronged her – her ex-girlfriend, her brother, and her cousin who’s forcing Reiko and the other employees at her uncle’s graphic design firm to help her build a lifestyle brand.
When Reiko’s cousin Akiko decides the next step in building her brand is a culture festival at a historic village preserved to reflect the Edo period, Reiko is dragged along as a photographer. But she soon finds herself slipping backwards in time, into the life of Miyu, a young woman who shares Reiko’s obsession with vengeance.