Married by Fate review

A review of Married by Fate, by Jenny Hickman

Note: I received an ARC and this is an honest, voluntary review.

I’d never read a book by Jenny Hickman before, and I’m now a fan! Married by Fate was an awesome enemies to lovers fae romance, with similarities to Tessonja Odette’s To Carve a Fae Heart.

The magic in this story is limited to the far and fits more of a low fantasy model. The character dynamics are so well-executed, and it’s easy to root for the two leads who are drawn to each other despite themselves. There’s even an optional spicy scene offered in a link at the end!

Married by Fate mockup

This a true romance, with no strong external conflict to make up the climax of the book, focusing more on the couple and their relationship as it develops. The writing in Married by Fate was great and the story carefully crafted, and I practically cheered at so many moments.

My rating:
5/5

To learn more about the Arranged Marriages of the Fae event, visit arrangedmarriagesofthefae.com.

To learn more about this author, visit jennyhickman.com.

Rise of the Fire Queen review

A review of Rise of the Fire Queen, by Alisha Klapheke

Note: I received a copy and this is an honest, voluntary review.

The hunkiest brooding king in the Underworld, Kynan, is back with a delightful ensemble cast and his own perspective this time, which was a great addition. Rise of the Fire Queen has some wonderful Voyage of the Dawn Treader vibes, as well as Maren’s quest to escape from a castle.

Rise of the Fire Queen Hardcover
The hardcover version of Rise of the Fire Queen

I thought the writing in the second installment was fantastic. The banter is better developed and well-placed in scenes, the heroes are endearing–and the villain is very, very villainous. This was an entertaining and page-turning read, driven by the reader’s desire to see Kynan and Maren together again.

Have I ever rooted this hard for a book couple? I’m not sure I have! Kynan and Maren are very worthy of this distinction, and the romantic tension is THICK. I thought Rise of the Fire Queen made for a fantastic conclusion to this duology, and is hands down my favorite of the two books.

My rating:
5/5
Rise of the Fire Queen digital cover
Rise of the Fire Queen digital cover

To learn more about this author, visit alishaklapheke.com.

Stolen by the Shadow King review

A Review of Stolen by the Shadow King, by Alisha Klapheke

This book had me majorly rooting for its main characters by the end. Since I haven’t read the Kingdom of Lore series before this, it took me a minute to get used to all the characters and their banter. The pacing was also quick, leaving little time to catch up. But Stolen by the Shadow King is one of those books that gave me faith it was going somewhere good, so I strapped in for the ride to the Underworld.

Stolen by the Shadow King cover
The hardcover version of Stolen by the Shadow King

MC Maren’s ability to speak to spirits is heartwarming (not spooky), and it makes her very easy to like. High Shadow King Kynan is gruff at first but an extremely honorable character–like a romantic version of Ned Stark. He proves to be a character I couldn’t help shipping Maren with.

With a complex battle scene so well-written I had a clear picture of everything, plus real chemistry between characters, this is a fun and highly enjoyable read. By the end, I was so glad book two is out now, because I really needed to know what happened next.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit alishaklapheke.com.

The Crown Plonked Queen review

A review of The Crown Plonked Queen, by Andrew Einspruch

Note: I received an ARC and this is an honest, voluntary review.

How could such a good-natured, funny series have so much to say about grief and not feel like a curve ball? But that’s exactly what The Crown Plonked Queen does, and it’s a more complete, yet still silly story (thanks to town names like Festering Resentment and Eloise’s ever affable sidekick Jerome de Chipmunk) because of it.

The Crown Plonked Queen cover

As Eloise works to solve a couple big mysteries and figures out how to rule, this always heart-filled series takes on issues like self doubt, grief and responsibility when you just aren’t ready for it. It never covers Eloise’s struggles with humor. That seems like a hard line to walk, but the humor always stands in compliment to the plot, even as it heads in a more serious direction. And who wouldn’t love the magical Sparky?

I do feel a bit grumbly about all the ceremonial scenes, but I flew through the final third of the book, turning pages well into the night. After many chapters of me wanting to yell “Figure it out, Eloise!” as she came so close time and again, The Crown Plonked Queen ends with what I’d call a satisfying cliffhanger. Even so, I’m very glad the next book comes out soon.

My rating:
4.5/5

To learn more about this author, visit andreweinspruch.com.

The Gods Must Clearly Smile review

A review of The Gods Must Clearly Smile, by Aaron Christopher Drown

Note: I received an ARC and this is an honest, voluntary review.

Aaron Christopher Drown has made an art form out of subverting expectations. From the opening story of The Gods Must Clearly Smile, it was obvious all the quirky plot twists I could want would be in this collection, which features everything from aliens and demons to superheroes and meta-fiction as topics.

Path of an Arrow, one of the longer stories, was one of only two short stories in the collection that just didn’t work for me. Though the concept was interesting, with so many clever stories surrounding it, its heavy use of back story (and an unlikely calm and methodical reaction from a woman whose house was broken into while she slept), stood out in an otherwise well-executed collection. There were also noticeably fewer female characters than I would’ve expected, with none appearing as a protagonist until a third of the way in.

The Gods Must Clearly Smile book cover

Some of the stories, like the namesake of the collection and The Milkshake Story, really kept me thinking long after I finished them. In the case of The Gods Must Clearly Smile the short story, I wanted more world-building details, because the murky beginning led to concepts that were absolutely fascinating. If the same world and setting existed in additional works I’d grab them in a heartbeat because I wanted to know more.

Overall, these stories ran the gamut of speculative fiction in a totally unique collection, full of clever twists and thought-provoking concepts. Sci-fi fans may especially appreciate this one.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit seventhstarpress.com.

How to Write a Successful Series review

A review of How to Write a Successful Series, by Helen B. Scheuerer

Note: I received an ARC and am leaving an honest, voluntary review.

What a helpful read this turned out to be! At first, I just found advice applicable to me here and there. Then the nitty gritty of series writing kicked in, and I found myself plotting spin-offs and exit strategies–two things I’d never considered before reading How to Write a Successful Series.

Quotes from multiple sources (usually popular authors) start each chapter in this book, plus some notes from author Helen Scheuerer’s own journal where she recorded her publishing journey. These were helpful little morsels that carried me through the slower earlier chapters, which had information suited for stone cold beginners. Still, I found useful bits within the earlier sections here and there. This often came in the form of questions, such as whether your series has enough characters in it, and caveats (don’t cram too much into book one!). I sometimes wished the author elaborated on how to find the answer to the questions she listed, but it was a lot of food for thought regardless.

How to Write a Successful Series cover

Because of the later sections of this book, I’m looking at my series with fresh eyes and a new arsenal of strategies. The two sections I had the most highlights in were “Combatting Series Fatigue” and “Write Nail-Biting Sequels and Later Books.” I also found the Commonly Asked Questions sections helpful. I feel more in command of my series strategy now–including that I now have one!

My rating:
4.5/5

To learn more about this author, visit helenscheuerer.com.

Heart of Cinders review

A Review of Heart of Cinders, by J. Darlene Everly

Note: I received an ARC and am leaving an honest, voluntary review

I picked up this book looking for a fun, exciting Cinderella retelling with a kick-butt heroine, and that is exactly what I got–plus a pair of touchingly loyal friends and modern Red Carpet-worthy gowns. Heart of Cinders is the story of a steely assassin who finds her heart softening and starts to question what she’s been taught.

Once MC Cinder headed to the palace, this book really picked up and was hard to put down. And what is a fairy tale retelling without a cheeky nod? Cinder’s ladies-in-waiting are Gus and Jacquetta, and it was so fun and lovely to see the friendships developing and see Cinder kick butt in a whole new way, this time as the lady she was meant to be (with knife skills and archery lessons on the side). I rooted for Cinder and her friends at every turn.

Heart of Cinders Book Cover

But the ending of this book! Heart of Cinders ended on the bad kind of cliffhanger, the kind that left me exclaiming “What do you mean it’s done?!” I actually enjoy a well-executed cliffhanger ending, but this one ended in mid-scene. The worst part is it worked and I wish I could grab book two right away. There were enough breadcrumbs along the way to make me extremely curious about where this series will go next, too.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit jdarleneeverly.com.

Frozen Hearts and Death Magic review

A Review of Frozen Hearts and Death Magic

Note: I received an ARC and am leaving an honest, voluntary review. Parts of this book depict a violent, abusive situation.

This book was so much fun! Though Frozen Hearts and Death Magic is inspired by telanovelas, I didn’t find it overly dramatic. The characters, each a royal of kingdoms living in fear of a fae invasion or, in River’s case, an actual fae, were so lovely to get to know, and the intrigues were all interesting and absorbing (better still, readers are on the side of the one kingdom that suspects the bad guys). Because of the modern language and characters, this was a great book to read after Ashley Shuttleworth’s A Dark and Hollow Star.

I really enjoyed the magic system, which is hereditary and usually limited to one ability per character. Ironworkers can manipulate metal (Fel is so accomplished, he can fly; he also was born without hands and has learned to use metal ones seamlessly; he deals with ableism in a bit of fantasy representation). Leah is a necromancer grappling with fascinating dream magic. Naia is just beginning to discover her magic, and her relationship with mysterious fae River gave me the tingles from chapter one.

I would easily rate this book higher, but the writing changed in one of the storylines and there were flashbacks inserted late in the plot, interrupting all the exciting things that were happening. Combined with a lot of copy editing issues there that got distracting for me, I found myself getting a bit frustrated.

Frozen Hearts and Death Magic

A controlling, abusive situation that another character found themselves in was an extremely stressful surprise that others may also find hard to read. (Thankfully, the characters are awesomely magical enough that it doesn’t last long and they otherwise have plenty of agency.) It was well worth reading through these parts for me because I enjoyed everything else so much.

If you are the kind of reader who minds modern language in a high fantasy setting, this may not be for you (I did find it particularly well-suited to the teenage characters, and bristled a bit when the adults slipped into it at times). All that being said, I will happily pick up book two and see what happens to these wonderful characters and their developing magic.

Overall, I thought Frozen Hearts and Death Magic was un-put-downable.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit dayleitao.com.

A Darkness at the Door review

ReviewADarkness

Note: I received an ARC and am voluntarily leaving an honest review. Triggers for this book include child abduction, violence, execution and torture.

What a ride this book takes you on, and what an amazing arc for Rae! Better still, the outstanding plot points from Thorn return in A Darkness at the Door, in a way that isn’t forced and that I found very satisfying.

I didn’t get the whole “book boyfriends” thing until I read this book and Bren came along. In the early chapters of The Theft of Sunlight, we’re assured Rae will never get a match because of her turned foot and mobility issues. In A Darkness at the Door, Bren frequently laments that Rae is hard to keep up with. She’s a force for sure, because of both her determination and her goodness, and it is fantastic to see a person who sees that falling for her, and vice versa.

Slowly, Rae recaptures every scrap of dignity she lost in The Theft of Sunlight, redefining what it means to be a country girl in the city (hint: it means being more capable and grounded, now that she’s free from the pretenses of palace life). We also see her practice self-acceptance and body positivity, and coming to terms with the benefits of using a cane. In one scene, Rae thanks her body for how far it carries her, including the foot so often referred to as a limitation. She even uses opponents’ ableism against them. The disability representation is exceptional here.

This is an action-packed book with plenty of heart to balance its darkness. I can’t help but rave about the entire series, and the wonderful heights its heroine reaches in this last installment. Because I have the sense of there being so many more stories to tell in Rae’s world, I can only hope we’ll return to Menaiya again someday–or at the very least to wherever Bean is.

My rating:
5/5

To learn more about this author, visit booksbyintisar.com.

The Fox and the Briar review

The Fox and the Briar review

Note: I received a free ARC and am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

I’m so taken with this incredibly gentle, understated fantasy retelling! The Fox and the Briar is a fae retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a reserved, Darcy-esque fae prince who can’t seem to find the right words to tell his princess how he feels.

Fans of the miscommunication trope will like the initial premise. Those who don’t will be pleased (and maybe squee a little) when it ends with the first quarter or so of the story. There’s an arranged marriage, a prince in magical disguise and Tristan, a wicked fae king with boldness for days. And who doesn’t love a villain with swagger?

The Fox and the Briar cover

The more I read of Tristan, the more I loved this story. While the (loveably) bumbling Seelie prince can’t find the nerve to express himself, Unseelie King Tristan casually worries about keeping a courtier from falling in love with him. The guy’s got confidence.

I really liked where the story was left, and hope to hear more from the characters, just like characters from author Chesney Infalt’s previous retelling, The Heart of the Sea, make an appearance in The Fox and the Briar. And if the Cheshire Cat is involved–included here as a denizen of faerie–you know it has to be good.

My rating:
5/5

To learn more about this author, check out the interview, 10 Questions with Chesney Infalt (live 6/3/22), or visit chesneyinfalt.com.

Want more fairytale retellings?

Retellings to Thrill Any Fantasy Reader (review list with links)

Enchanting Fate review

Throne of Sand review