Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Paranormal, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s something wicked in the wind on Ambrosia Hill and strength is held within a stone.

Zinnia knows nothing is as it seems in the witching world, and she realizes the aunts calling her back to the Fern House was not without consequences. Zinnia must embrace her witch abilities and undergo her biggest test yet. Can she learn to rely on her personal magic, the strength in others, and trust that what she sees isn’ t always reality? There’ s something wicked in the wind this Halloween on Ambrosia Hill and Zinnia must fight for those she loves most.

What might you find if you peeled back the stereotypes and looked at who someone really was?

The romantic subplot made me smile. I’ve enjoyed seeing it gradually develop from a friendship into a heartwarming romance since first meeting these characters in Amethyst. Not only was the slow burn approach perfect for them, it also gave me plenty of time to notice all sorts of similarities between them that make me think they’d be a great match. I can only hope that any sequels in the works will include more of this storyline as it’s such a nice contrast to the sometimes-scary work a witch must do.

Once again, I would have liked to see more character development. Yes, it is happening slowly, but I found myself wishing that Zinnia especially would be given more opportunities to show the audience how she’s changed as a result of coming out of the closet as a member of the LGBTQ community as well as accepting her identity as a witch. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a five-star rating.

I know I’ve mentioned the beautiful world building in both of my previous reviews of the first two books in this series, but it continued to impress me this time around. Ms. Henry has been doing a wonderful job so far of feeding the audience exactly enough information about witchcraft and witch culture in this universe to keep my interest levels high. Just when I think I have it all more or less figured out, she adds yet another layer to it that deepens my previous understanding of how it all worked and makes me eager to see what might happen next. As far as this reader is concerned, there’s still a ton of ground to cover for these characters, and I hope for many more updates to come in the future.

While the plot itself could technically function as a standalone work, this is the third instalment of a series that should be read in order to best understand the complex and memorable world the author is building here.

Bloodstone made me yearn for more.

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sometimes the truth has to be revealed in order to recieve love.

Ninth grade is everything Zinnia didn’ t want it to be at St. Hopes. Her life back in the city feels empty and Liv’ s groupies of popular girls are suffocating Zinnia with their daily taunts. As Halloween approaches, Zinnia craves the comfort and security of Ambrosia Hill and desperately wishes to be back with her aunts but especially Billie, the girl with the green eyes, who Zinnia can’t get out of her mind. Right when Zinnia thinks she won’ t be able to wait until the summer to see Billie, her mom shocks her with a spontaneous announcement. They are leaving for Ambrosia Hill to visit the aunts. But can Zinnia surrender her truth to accept love?

Everyone needs a place that makes them feel like they belong there.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored the many different options that were available to a witch. Not only did young witches decide whether they wanted to be on the side of good or of evil, the powers they had could vary quite a bit from one individual to the next. This meant that it wasn’t easy to predict in advance what someone in this group was like even in small ways like whether it would be safe to walk through their garden. I was fascinated by the diversity here and gobbled up every last description. It made me think of all of the Halloween stories I’ve read and watched about witches and wonder what a film based on this world might be like!

My review of Amethyst mentioned wanting to see more character development for Zinnia and the people closest to her. While it still happened much more slowly than I would have preferred to see, I was pleased to take note of the subtle but important ways in which all of the main characters had evolved since I’d first met them. I hope that any possible sequels in the works will speed up this progress as this was the only thing holding me back from giving a full five-star rating.

Once again, I was thrilled with the world building in this series. The first instalment did an excellent job of showing how magic worked in this universe and what it meant to be a witch. It was wonderful to see all of that hard work not only acknowledged in the sequel but used as a foundation to explore these topics in even greater detail here. I highly recommend beginning with book one in order to fully appreciate just how much effort the author put into this. She couldn’t have done a better job at it.

Obsidian was a satisfying read.

Amethyst by Rebecca Henry

Amethyst by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

She was sent away because of her feelings for another girl. But what she discovered at her aunts’ lake house was a birthright of magic.

Thirteen-year-old Zinnia is about to turn fourteen when her life is flipped upside down. With her parents on the brink of a divorce, Zinnia is sent to spend the summer with her eccentric great-aunts at their lake house away from her home in Manhattan. Zinnia arrives at her aunts’ massive Victorian house with a heavy heart after a recent falling out with her best friend Charlotte, who betrayed her trust by showing the meanest and most popular girl in school a letter Zinnia wrote confessing her feelings for Charlotte. The aunts rely on practical magic, acceptance and old family friends to help heal their great-niece in more ways than one.

What Zinnia discovers on Ambrosia Hill is more than just her birthright to magic—she meets Billie, a girl who conjures feelings inside Zinnia that she can no longer deny.

What’s better than a summer in the countryside?

It can be hard for kids to understand topics like divorce and marital conflict. Zinnia was a smart teenager, but even she struggled with the idea that her parents were fighting and might not stay together. Some of the most memorable scenes in this novella were the ones that explored her feelings on this topic and tried to explain her parents’ anger with each other in ways that were appropriate for a fourteen-year-old to hear. These aren’t easy things to discuss by any means, but they are quite important. The author did a great job of giving Zinnia a chance to understand her parents a little better than she had before and to learn about how adult relationships sometimes work.

I would have loved to see more character development in this piece. As intrigued as I was by the setting and plot, it was disappointing to meet characters whose personalities weren’t well defined and who didn’t seem to grow very much as a result of their experiences even when they were the main focus of the storyline. There seemed to be plenty of opportunities for them to do so. I simply needed more examples of them reacting to those moments, sharing their personalities in more complex ways, and showing the audience how they’d changed.

The world building was delightful. I loved the way magic was woven into every facet of the characters’ daily lives, from the messages that were left in the arrangements of soggy tea leaves in the bottom of a teacup to the spells the aunts cast to help their visitors reach any number of personal goals. It wasn’t always clear to me where the magic ended and ordinary explanations for certain events began. I reveled in how beautifully ordinary the author made certain scenes feel even if they included moments that can’t be explained with modern science or physics. There is something special about visiting a world that accepts these shades of grey and invites the reader to come up with their own explanations for them.

Amethyst was a playful read.

Queen of Shadows by Britt Cooper & Erin Dulin

Queen of Shadows by Britt Cooper & Erin Dulin
The Chronicles of Faybl, #1
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Chamomile

Why be a princess when you can rule the shadows?

Rejecting the senseless demands of her wicked stepmother, Ella of Locksley shares her family’s abundance with the people of her land. Yet, the desperation of her community has only begun.

When the nation of Llundyn is brutally attacked, Princes Ric and Johan begin to fight for their right to rule, leaving the kingdom’s very heart to hang in the balance as subversive forces emerge. Taxation drives the citizenry toward hopelessness, with the absence of leadership taking its toll.

Striking out on her own, Ella takes up the nation’s cause, making a name for herself as the infamous Hood, and leads her cunning crew, stealing from the rich to provide for the poor. But the return of the rightful heir, along with a forbidden romance, changes everything—with artifice and betrayal leading to an unlikely alliance that unites prince and thieves.

The passion and true love of a king leave Ella torn between duty and loyalty when, at the stroke of midnight, her identity is exposed. She’ll face the ultimate choice—enduring as the Hood or sacrificing it all for the ones she loves.

This epic debut by co-authors Britt Cooper & Erin Dulin will leave readers wanting more!

Queen of Shadows is a steamy Fantasy Romance story that pairs Robin Hood with Cinderella in an unforgettable whirlwind of excitement! The chemistry between these two was immediate and I loved finding the fun easter eggs along the way paying homage to their original tales while enjoying this amazing retelling!

This one definitely sets a dark tone from the start, and I loved it! Ella is the Queen of Shadows, and it shows in this brilliant blending of everything I love about this genre! Strong character types, sizzling chemistry, a reluctant hero, a good balance of action and romance, and a tantalizing slow-burn!

From the start, I was hooked! I loved getting to know this remarkable cast, and absolutely cannot wait to read more! I couldn’t put this one down and eagerly await the next installment of this extraordinary series!

Finding the Upside of Down by Dionie McNair

Finding the Upside of Down by Dionie McNair
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational
Length: Full length (161 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Broken by bullying, Tabitha volunteers and finds just what she needs to mend her life.

Being bullied has always been part of Tabitha Cockell’s life. Since first grade her tormentor, Amelia, has hounded her with cruel taunts, name-calling and nasty rumors both face to face and online. She attempts suicide, but is saved in the nick of time by the guy she has just started dating after he reads her suicide note on Facebook.
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Survival means she has to face life, but she doesn’t know how until she sees a crew of State Emergency Service volunteers at work. She finds the courage to join, and her decision soon has her seeing and understanding life from a whole new perspective.

When everyone has an idea about what you should do, but no one goes out of their way to stand with you, what do you do? Tabitha Cockell has been harassed and bullied since first grade. Her tormentor has always been there, lurking in the shadows and assaulting her verbally and physically whenever the chance arises.

Finding the Upside of Down is a story of hope and inspiration, of fear, distance and the struggle that pushing forward each day brings. Tabitha is a character that resonates with the reader. After years of torment and years of adult intervention which have failed to change the situation, Tabitha is tired and emotionally exhausted. When her childhood bully returns to torment her further in college and at her work, Tabitha feels she cannot continue on.

The author is amazing at portraying the painful suffering that Tabitha endures. The constant frustration of failed interventions, the constant worry that something will happen and the frustrating feeling that “if something did not happen this time, it will be twice as bad next time,” always weighs in the reader’s mind. The author realistically lays out a support network for Tabitha, one that is real in every sense of the word, yet seems to crumble when put to the test.

Finding the Upside of Down will be difficult for some readers who have experienced severe bulling harassment in the past. The realistic descriptions, the painful struggle and the constant checking over the shoulder fear that victims have felt in the past come to the forefront while reading this book.

Finding the Upside of Down is just that, finding positivity in the harrowing darkness of feeling as though you have failed everyone. I believe that every reader can identify with the struggles that Tabitha has encountered. Finding the Upside of Down is one book that can engage the reader and help break the feeling of isolation that is so common in victims of bullying.