Off the Shelf: A Review of Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I officially kicked off 2017 by reading a book that I think will be a heavy contender for my favorite book of the year – Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I’m very picky about what book I read first in a new year, so I was very thankful to have the ARC for this one waiting on me. It delivered exactly what I was hoping for – an enchanting getaway to someplace magical. Garber’s debut is a truly immersive experience into the world of Caraval, a treacherous, dark adventure disguised as a game.

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RELEASE DATE: January 31, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

 

Things I Liked:
I was absolutely lost in the world of Caraval, probably as much so as Scarlett. You won’t know who to trust, what to believe, what’s real and what isn’t…and then it all gets tied together so perfectly that you have to wonder why you didn’t just trust your instincts in the first place. I LOVE when a book can make you question yourself, and when you learn things at the same time as the character whose head you’ve been living inside of for 400-or-so pages.

I’m also really drawn to the relationship between Scarlett and her sister, and the horrors that they’ve faced at the hand of their father. There’s a really deep bond established between them. Having a sister myself, whom I love more than anything, made Scarlett’s desperation to recover her sister all the more real. The sisters are also uniquely different in their personalities. I enjoyed Tella’s impulsiveness, determination, and craftiness, and I really liked how selfless Scarlett is throughout the story. The abuse they’ve faced together shapes their motivations in different ways which impacts each of their decisions.

There’s a slow building romance that I appreciated for the fact that (a) it wasn’t an instant love interest (b) there’s no stupid love triangle (c) you can’t be for sure that you can trust this relationship. The question of whether or not you can trust that they both have feelings for each other or whether this is part of the game hooked me and delivered many surprises.

Things I Didn’t Like:

At this moment, I’m wracking my brain trying to think of anything that I wouldn’t have liked about the book. What don’t I like? I don’t like that I don’t already have the next one…

Overall Rating:
5/5 
This was a perfectly magical way to begin the new year. I love the adventure, the characters, and the topsy-turvy twists, turns, and thrills. This is one of those books that you will feel compelled to read all at once, and you should! I couldn’t put it down, and so I went cover to cover in just a few hours. After finishing, I was stoked to read that Caraval has already been optioned for a movie. I have a feeling that the book is going to be a big hit among readers, and I look forward to seeing the magic of Caraval play out on the big screen one day.

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While supplies last, Flatiron Books is doing this wonderful preorder promotional giveaway. All you have to do is fill out the short form at the link below and attach a photo of your preorder receipt before January 31! Check it out here:

http://us.macmillan.com/flatironbooks/promo/caravalpreordergiveaway

Off the Shelf: RoseBlood Review & GIVEAWAY

When I was around seven years old, my parents took me to see a touring production of Phantom of the Opera. It might not be something you would expect a seven year old to enjoy, but I was captivated by it. I still remember the thrill of seeing the Phantom appear inside Christine’s mirror and the heart-stopping moment when the chandeleir crashes to the stage. My mother and I listened to the soundtrack (on cassette, no less, until the cd came out) any time we were in the car, and I can recall trying to mimic Christine on the high notes (unsuccessfully).

When I told my mother that I was reviewing a retelling of Phantom of the Opera, she was immediately taken aback. “Oh no, there’s nothing that can beat the original.” And I agree. There’s nothing better than the original story. BUT A.G. Howard doesn’t try to retell the original story. She plays off the characters and what might have happened if Erik’s story had continued. There’s no doubt that A.G. Howard has thoroughly researched the story and the lines that blur between fact and fiction of its history, and in turn she crafts a mysterious tale of love, obsession, and fate that answers the question – what would happen if the Phantom’s story continued into the modern day?

rosebloodRoseBlood by A.G. Howard
RELEASE DATE: January 10th, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known

Things I Liked:

I adored A. G. Howard’s Splintered series, an Alice in Wonderland retelling. She always has a unique perspective, and she writes in such a way that she makes the story her own. The beautiful, gothic settings that she builds in RoseBlood are totally immersive and almost as haunting as the characters themselves.

Rune and Thorn are both tortured souls that find each other in a most unique twist of fate. There are so many complexities behind their characters that will draw you in, and I found myself really enjoying the romantic elements in their story. The story was a bit slow to start, but once these two characters found each other, I couldn’t put the book down. Their story will seduce you, and it’s entrancing to watch as all of the layers finally come together.

There are fantasy/paranormal elements to this story that I can’t reveal to you, but I have to say that these are the factors that I believe really set this story apart. At first, I was a little unsure that I would enjoy the story going this route, but I can honestly say it brought in an entirely new perspective on the history of the Phantom.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Like I said, the story is a bit slow to start. I found myself more than a little confused at what exactly would happen to Rune when she would sing and about what secrets she was trying to hide from. It takes some time before you start to see the bigger picture, but I think the slow unveiling helps to build the story. I would have liked a little faster pacing at the beginning, but I also get that Rune had to get established at her new school and we had other characters we needed to meet to make this story work.

Overall, there wasn’t much that I disliked about this book. I still have some reservations about the ending, particularly with what becomes of Erik and his relationship with Thorn. Things are almost too neat and tidy in that regard; however, when it comes to the ending for Thorn and Rune, neat and tidy is exactly what I was wanting and it was delivered. The Phantom, while I would consider him a main character in the story, isn’t seen very much, and I found myself wishing for more of that. There’s a lot of his history, but I’d have liked a little bigger glimpse at the modern Phantom.

Overall Rating:

4/5 I adore the original story of the Phantom of the Opera, but this book is really stunning in its own regard. The history is so entwined in this story that it truly feels like an extension of the original. You can feel feel the music coming from within the pages, and the spellbinding romance will seduce you till the final page. A. G. Howard can truly WRITE – and I highly recommend that you check out not only RoseBlood, but her other books as well!

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GIVEAWAY DETAILS
RoseBlood Prize Pack Includes
– one hardback copy of RoseBlood by A.G. Howard
– RoseBlood bookplate SIGNED by A.G. Howard
– RoseBlood bookmark
– Phantom of the Opera necklace
CLICK HERE TO ENTER – RoseBlood Giveaway
No purchase necessary, but the contest is only open to US residents (no P.O. box addresses, please!). You can enter once per day until 12AM on 1/11. Good luck!
Wordpress won’t allow java widgets, so you’ll have to click the link to get to the giveaway, but once you do, you can earn entries by (1) just showing up – easy entry once per day! (2) leaving a comment on this blog post (3) Subscribing to this blog! (4) Following @amongtheauthors on Twitter (5) Tweeting about the giveaway.
CLICK HERE TO ENTER – RoseBlood Giveaway

Off the Shelf: A Review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I just could not finish this book. That’s not something I say often. It’s very rare that I can’t even force myself through to the end, but that was absolutely the case with one of my most anticipated books of 2016, Three Dark Crowns. I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I began reading that ARC July 2, and it’s now the end of September. I’ve lost count of how many times I tried to start over and give the book another chance, but it’s just not working for me, so instead of doing my usual kind of review (things I liked, things I didn’t like, overall rating), I’m going to talk about why exactly this book was such a struggle for me.

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Release Date: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

 

Why it Didn’t Work:

I think my biggest problem with this text was the point of view. It’s told in present tense but the POV is third person omniscient. There’s a lot of head hopping, and I don’t just mean between the three sisters. In any given scene, you’re getting insights into the minds of all the secondary characters as well, and trust me, there are a LOT of secondary characters. From a writer’s standpoint, it was all “telling” and not enough “showing”. It’s unfortunate, but I often found myself far more interested in some of the secondary characters rather than any of the sisters. I never really got a true sense of the characters, and they all sort of became interchangeable to me. I worried that the point of view was just something that confusing to only me, but I let a fellow librarian take a look at a small excerpt to see how she’d react, and I believe the exact words were, “How are you even supposed to read that?!” It’s difficult to keep track of where the story is going. I’m sure for some there will be no problem at all, but now that I’ve given up and looked at the reviews from fellow bloggers, I can see I’m not alone in my confusion. I anticipate this being a big reason other readers will have to mark this one DNF.

The premise gives us promises of a bloody battle and deceit between sisters, but really, there’s not much of anything going on. The story bounces around from one training session to the next, which isn’t exactly the dark game of life or death that I had been so looking forward to. Mostly we just get two sisters lamenting about the fact that their powers are nonexistant and the other sister just sitting around making some nasty weather. That’s about it. No real excitement. Nobody getting their hands dirty. Nobody really making me care whether they live or die.

I made it over a quarter of the way through this book before I absolutely had to give up and just mark it as “did not finish”. It’s disappointing, to say the least, because when a book is really, really good, I finish it in a matter of hours. Three months and multiple attempts later, I just couldn’t make this one happen. I think that speaks volumes.

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Waiting on Wednesday #10

Have you ever read a synopsis of a book and been left not knowing anything about what the book will actually be about? Not in a bad way, but in an utterly mysterious, enchanting way. I have been regularly checking Goodreads over the past few months to see if a new summary will be posted for Strange the Dreamer, something that would give me just a little more of a hint about how incredible this book is going to be, but it’s still the same summary every time. It’s so vague and cryptic that it has me dying to get my hands on this book just so I can know all the depths behind this story.

strange
Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Why I’m Waiting:

I’m a little sad because when I first discovered this upcoming book, I marked the release date on my calendar as September 27th of this year. Checking on the release date now as I write this post, it appears they’ve pushed it back to March 28, 2017. Maybe it was my mistake, but my hopes and dreams just plummeted. Now, I must wait even longer to know what happens. But who knows? Maybe they held it back for one more revision just so they could pack a little more awesome into its pages. Either way, I can’t wait.

You also have to know by now that any YA story that incorporates a librarian as a character is going to find its way to my shelf. You combine a librarian, war, alchemy, and all kinds of mystical chaos? I’m sold.

Mark this one on your calendars, ladies and gents, and we can ride out this long wait together.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights highly anticipated upcoming releases.

Off the Shelf: A Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

It’s a wondrous feeling when a book burns so brightly in your mind that it’s all you can think about for days and days. I’m especially drawn to books that combine fantasy and magic, and in particular, books that can do so with an exciting and unique premise. A Shadow Bright and Burning is exactly that kind of book. It has a wealth of intriguing characters, hair-raising battles with terrifying monsters, and an abundance of twists and turns which are sure to make this a series you won’t want to miss!

 

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RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Things I Liked:
There are several things about Henrietta Howel that I absolutely admire. She’s strong, passionate, and will do anything to protect her friends. A lot of this book is Henrietta finding herself and coming to terms with who she really is. She also has to deal with a lot of discrimination based on her gender, her magic, and her low birth. Henrietta handles all of these with a head held high and efficiently puts those who look down on her in their place. Her interactions with the other characters are both witty and clever, and I found myself taking a screenshot of quite a few humorous quotes from Henrietta and the other characters just so I could giggle at them again later. I think I fell in love with every scene where Henrietta truly used her power, setting herself ablaze, because you get a sense of how fearsome yet beautiful she is, and you feel the passion behind her desire to save people. She’s obviously one of the only females in a cast of characters that’s mostly male, but while the interactions with her fellow trainees are fun (especially the charming and sarcastic Magnus), I really enjoyed her conversations with the older characters like Master Agrippa, who first discovers her power, and the magician Hargrove, who at first I thought I would dislike but then rapidly became one of my favorite characters.

There’s also what some might call a love triangle. In my opinion, I foresee it being a love square, but we will get to that. The romance doesn’t take a leading role in this book. There’s so many other things going on, that I would have been turned off to the book if Henrietta was solely focused on a boy(s) and his opinion of her. Luckily, the romantic moments take a backseat to the story, and what moments are mentioned actually do a lot to further the plot and Henrietta’s motivations. As for it being a love square, I have to say that there’s one of Henrietta’s fellow sorcerer trainees that stands out above the rest to me –  Blackwell. While the relationship between the two right now might not seem more than just a strained friendship, I picked up on some heavy Pride & Prejudice vibes between the pair. I think this is something that will play out more in the next book (hopefully), and it’s definitely the ship I’ll be rooting for.

The world building is another excellent factor to this book. From the first page to the last, I felt like I was living inside this alternate world in Victorian London, plagued by demons known as the Ancients. The descriptions are vivid, and the author makes clear distinctions between the types of magical people and how those inside/outside the protective ward live. I’m looking forward to exploring this world further in the next book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen a few people complain that this book uses the same old tropes, and if you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all so you may as well forget this one. FALSE. I’ve read so many fantasy novels that take the idea of a “chosen one” and it plays out on repeat across the board. Nothing new or exciting. A Shadow Bright and Burning took that idea and twisted it, something I rather enjoyed, because it shows you don’t have to be “chosen” to do great things.

So, sorry, not going to hear any complaints from me. I loved this book the whole way through.

Overall Rating:

I reserve 5 star ratings for books that truly deserve it, and this book is a well earned 5 star for me. It’s exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, and it’s a magical adventure from start to finish! It’s exciting, empowering, and absolutely enchanting. You’ll race to the finish, be left stunned by the twists in the ending, and then we can all commiserate about how long we have to wait until the next book in the series comes out.  Add this one to your TBR list IMMEDIATELY. Seriously! You don’t want to miss out.

Add A Shadow Bright and Burning to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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My Waiting on Wednesday Reading List

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights highly anticipated upcoming releases. Normally, when I post my Waiting on Wednesday pick, I select only one book to feature. However, I have some pretty incredible ARCs in my reading list right now, and I thought that this week I would change things up and give you a little preview of some of the books I will be reviewing in the near future. Keep your eyes on these six books which are sure to be a hit when they reach the shelves!

shadowA SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING
By Jessica Cluess

Release Date: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she’s brought to London to train with Her Majesty’s sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she’s the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

Why I’m Waiting:
I’m currently reading this ARC, and I am about to hit the halfway point. Let me tell you this – I cannot WAIT to rave about this book! I’m completely enraptured by the protagonist, Henrietta, who is essentially a Victorian lady human torch! I know it’s going to be a series, and I’m already dreading the wait for a sequel.

Add A Shadow Bright and Burning to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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Continue reading

Off the Shelf: A Review of Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh

One of my favorite things to do after finishing a book is to find out more about the author. I like knowing a little more about the person behind the pen. To me, it makes them feel more like an everyday person. Someone I might know. It also makes me think about how I’d want to describe myself to readers in the future (if I ever get on the ball and make my book happen). Reading Sarah Glenn Marsh’s bio on Goodreads, I feel like we would get along swimmingly:
Sarah Glenn Marsh writes young adult fantasy novels full of danger, mythology, and kissing. Sometimes she writes children’s picture books, too.
She lives, writes, and paints things in Virginia, supported by her husband and four senior greyhounds.
If she could, she’d adopt ALL THE ANIMALS.

See? We’d totally be friends, bonding over our favorite picture books while exchanging photos of all of our rescue animals. Speaking of adopting all the animals, guess whose fur family just got bigger? That’s right. We’ve added an abandoned husky to our pack, one who thinks she’s the same size as the pug and has just as much desire to be in your lap… which of course can be mighty distracting while trying to type, so let’s get this review going so I can get back to husky cuddles!

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Summary (via Goodreads)
Witch’s apprentice Bridey Corkill has hated the ocean ever since she watched her granddad dive in and drown with a smile on his face. So when a dead girl rolls in with the tide in the summer of 1913, sixteen-year-old Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her granddad to leap into the sea has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, villagers are vanishing in the night, but no one shares Bridey’s suspicions about the sea. No one but the island’s witch, who isn’t as frightening as she first appears, and the handsome dark-haired lad Bridey rescues from a grim and watery fate. The cause of the deep gashes in Fynn’s stomach and his lost memories are, like the recent disappearances, a mystery well-guarded by the sea. In exchange for saving his life, Fynn teaches Bridey to master her fear of the water — stealing her heart in the process.

Now, Bridey must work with the Isle’s eccentric witch and the boy she isn’t sure she can trust — because if she can’t uncover the truth about the ancient evil in the water, everyone she loves will walk into the sea, never to return.

Publication Date: October 4, 2016
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Things I Liked:

I’m picky when I request ARCs. My free time that I can spend reading at my leisure is limited, so I request only a few ARCs at a time, and only the ones that truly stand out to me as something different. For me, Fear the Drowning Deep hooked me not only with its mysterious description of the plot, but also with that absolutely GORGEOUS, haunting cover.

Once I got past that beautiful cover, I discovered that Sarah Glenn Marsh has a fantastic way with words. She paints such a beautiful, eerie setting and crafts her story rich with culture and mythology. I felt like a part of Bridey’s family. You get to know the ins and outs of their daily lives, their struggles, their customs, as well as their relationships with the other town folk.This book really delivered when it comes to immersing the reader in the location’s history. Bridey is a strong character, plagued with a fear of the sea that stole her grandfather, and her suspicions have plenty of merit. I loved that the monsters in this book weren’t the typical, overdone sea monsters, and instead had depth in mythology.

Fynn, the stranger who washes up on the beach without a single memory of his life before, was definitely a highlight for me. His voice and mannerisms were a delight, and he’s one of those characters plenty of readers will soon have a major “book crush” on. I was hooked on his interactions with Bridey and how he challenged her to overcome her fears. If Sarah Glenn Marsh ever plans to revisit this world in a sequel, I hope it’s one that is told in Fynn’s point of view.

Things I Didn’t Like:
I knew going into this book that Morag, the local “witch”, would be one of my favorite characters. Throw a witch into any story, and she’s probably going to be my favorite. It seemed to me from the summary though, that she would play a much larger role than what she actually did in the story. Bridey is supposed to be her apprentice, so I expected their encounters to be mysterious, creepy, and mystical. What they actually were was almost nonexistent. A lot of the time either Morag was avoiding Bridey, or Bridey had something else to do that made her avoid Morag. It was a little bit of a let down in that regard, but that’s what I get for coming into this book with preconceived notions from the summary.

The ending was unfortunately where this book hit a low point with me. The story had such a good build up that it was a shame that the final scenes weren’t treated with as much care and delicacy. It was a hodgepodge of loose ends and plot holes. To illustrate my point, I will try to describe one moment that bothered me profusely without getting too *spoiler-y*….While battling a deadly sea creature, Bridey drops the one item that could clinch her victory (an item that kept being stressed in the story for its importance) into the water. She also happens to be wearing a charmed necklace which will absolutely prevent her from drowning. This is where I would fully expect her to rise to the occasion, put her newfound bravery to the test, and dive in after the object. Does she? Nope. It’s never mentioned again once it drops into the water. The ending felt rushed and not as well written as the rest of the book.  I guess endings can’t be everything we expect them to be or it would just get predictable, but I was really hoping for more here.

Overall Rating:
Somewhere between a 3.5 and a 4, so let’s just go ahead and round up in regards to stars. I really enjoyed the story most of the way through, and would have definitely given it at least a solid four or more… but the ending just lost me. The book is a standalone novel, yet I still feel incomplete. It makes me wish for a sequel so that the loose ends may be tied up. Maybe we can all beg and plead for the author to revisit this world? It’s definitely worth a read though, so don’t skip over it just because I had some concerns about the ending. Not everyone is going to like every ending. Fear the Drowning Deep has enchanting characters, intriguing mystery, and shows that we are all capable of putting terror and uneasiness behind us when the things we hold dear are at stake. You shouldn’t miss out on this unique and exciting story, so be sure to check it out when it’s released! For that matter, be sure to keep Sarah Glenn Marsh on your radar as well. I’m greatly looking forward to future books from her!

“And with the melody came the unmistakable sound of water slapping against the rocks far below us, slowly eroding the foundation of Port Coire and everything I loved.”
  – Sarah Glenn Marsh, Fear the Drowning Deep

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Luna would like to know if I’m done typing yet.

 

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