Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses review

Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses Review Graphic

(Note: I received a free ARC in exchange for an honest review. This book contains brief scenes of non-consensual kissing and contact.)

This story is free to those signed up for the author’s mailing list.

Cute, swoony romance? Check. Kind, handsome prince? Check check! Serious underdog female MC with a ton of heart? Big ol’ check! All of these, plus an extremely engaging storytelling style (with plenty of action), are what made Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses a truly entertaining, well-written book I enjoyed reading every time I picked it up.
 
I had a brief introduction to Anastasis Blythe’s (formerly Anastasis Faith’s) writing through free chapters of her Kindle Vella series, Guardians of Talons and Snares, which is set in the same world as Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses. This was my first time reading a complete work by her, and I am officially a fan. Blythe excels at writing underdogs. Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses has a plucky, compassionate heroine at its helm, and she is great fun to follow, even through the darkest parts of the Academy.
Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses Cover With Background
The cover of Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses

Protagonist Song Liena begins Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses as the “half-barbarian” daughter of a poor millet-farming family in the north of Zheninghai. The Songs’ fate is tied to that of each harvest, and Liena never stops worrying about her family, long after a vision derails her trip to the matchmaker. The law requires Liena attend the national Academy for magic users, which means she has a chance to better her parents’ and grandmother’s lives.

Unfortunately for Liena, 16 is incredibly late for magic to develop, and she is more than a decade behind at the Academy. She loves learning and applies herself, but battle prowess (important for a low magic seer) is well out of her reach. The consequences of failure are huge: if expelled, Liena could end up a monster hunter, certain to meet a terrible end. When literally and figuratively warm Nianzu (and his dimples) takes an interest in her (along with mean girl Shu), Liena’s days get way more complicated, and not just because of her Magic Theory class. Nianzu is the equivalent of an ultra popular high school senior–and he’s also the Crown Prince of Zheninghai.
 
The world of the Zheninghai Chronicles is full of magic and mythology (protective or lucky creatures like dragons, phoenixes and qilin are fearsome monsters in Zheninghai). With its unforgiving academy for magic users, Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses reminded me of R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War (but far less grim) combined with Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter (but more romantic). And the romance is definitely squeal-worthy.
 
My one complaint is that Liena often reads as younger than 16 (prior to the end). She is sometimes described as whining or giggling, which made her sound a good bit younger to me. She also goes completely weak-kneed at the sight of Nianzu and talks herself right out of being the focus of his attention. She has a serious case of “who, me?” when it comes to the handsome prince. (On the other hand, the butcher’s boy back home didn’t notice her existence; her experience with boys is nonexistent.)
 
Otherwise, Blythe’s writing is smooth and descriptive. I particularly enjoyed her atmospheric similes and metaphors, like “knife-cold air” and “her mind was like a mushy bowl of rice.” She also excels at combat descriptions, never getting bogged down in minutiae that would ruin the sense of speed. Yet the scenes in which Nianzu helps her with her training are highly convincing. I felt sure the author had martial arts and self-defense experience.
 
This was a 5-star read for me, and I’ll be sure to dive into whatever comes next in the world of Zheninghai.

To learn more about this author (or sign up for her mailing list), visit anastasisblythe.com.

Book sale, this weekend only!

November 26 through 28, 2021, you can get a serious deal on my books.

Yes, that’s 2 books for 99c…total! I wanted to do a special sale for Small Business Saturday weekend, and you may never again see its like. If you’ve been thinking about starting the Tara’s Necklace series or have been meaning to pick up book two, now’s your chance!

This sale is on Smashwords only. Use coupon code AJ39W at the checkout. Find both sale books here!

Cheers to small businesses,

– CKB

Review of The Daughter of Earth (Pey)

A Review of The Daughter of Earth, by Callie Pey

The Daughter of Earth (The Dryad Chronicles #1), by Callie Pey (romantic Fantasy, Steamy fantasy; 2021)

(Note: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This title is for mature readers only.)

This is an engaging, extremely steamy story (with fated mate context) that reads quickly. Yes, a little too quickly at times (and yes there are copy editing issues), but the story and other raw materials are all there, which counts for more to me (and is harder to achieve). If you feel the same and like a good portal fantasy adventure, you’ll enjoy The Daughter of Earth, too. (Note that a late scene involves unwanted contact and may be triggering.)

The storytelling starts at a break-neck pace that was too quick for me. 2 1/2 to 3 chapters in, it slows and lets the characters develop (while remaining fairly fast). Melissa is dropped through a portal just as everything is going wrong, and her reactions are sometimes lost in the swift pacing. I did feel like I wanted to hear her thoughts more, especially as she meets a blur of characters. Some you’ll get to know and love, like Cassie, but others remain in the periphery, like Ferox.

Daughter of Earth, by Callie Pey, book cover autumn graphic

As the pacing eases, Melissa finds more acceptance with her new friends, the Watchtowers, than she found in all her years on Earth. She doesn’t have to justify herself to them or explain her past. They’re like the perfect found family, though they expect her to learn to defend herself. In response to their warmth, Melissa develops a drive to be useful, repaying kindness with service. She also finds love, which is another area where the story really shines.

The MFM romance in The Daughter of Earth is graphic but sex positive, and wonderfully nuanced. I really liked the sweetly awkward early advances of Kelan, who is drawn to MC Melissa and can’t stay away (as a wood elf, he’s pretty fixated on presenting her with his “credentials”), and that her brief interactions with satyr Graak are like a one night stand that leaves both of them confused and hurt. The gods brought the three of them together, and not everybody’s happy about it. I can’t say enough good things about that dynamic.

Throughout the story, Melissa grows in every way possible. We see her go from an orphaned and powerless woman on Earth who’s reduced to an object to a physically strong one who fights monsters and makes her own family. With a world of dryads, nymphs, elves, fae and satyrs, The Daughter of Earth has familiar world-building with a modern twist. The ending was satisfying, too—though I’m already wondering what happens next, thanks in part to one heck of a preview for book two!

All in all, this is a great, unpolished gem of a romantic fantasy yarn.

To learn more about this author, visit her Facebook page or follow her on Instagram (@calliepeyauthor).

Review of Phoenix Heart: Ashes

Phoenix Heart Episode One #1 Ashes Review Graphic

I’m so pleased to see more books coming out with disabled and chronically ill protagonists these days. Phoenix Heart: Season 1, Episode 1: Ashes (yes, a mouthful, but these novellas are being released episodically) has a wonderfully realistic heroine in Sersha, a mute teen at the mercy of her inn-running family. Sersha, whose troubles will feel familiar to many chronically ill/disabled readers, worries about her place in the world, how she’s perceived and what will happen when her family can’t support her any longer.

Ashes can easily be consumed in one sitting (though I recommend savoring Wilson’s emotional writing, if you can stand not seeing what comes next). It follows Phoenix Hope, a free short story available to the author’s mailing list subscribers. I highly recommend reading Phoenix Hope, too, possibly before sitting down with Ashes (the moving story of Sersha’s unlucky patients upstairs at the inn, when their ill-fated journey began).

Phoenix Heart Season 1 Episode 1: Ashes Cover
Cover of Season 1, Episode 1: Ashes

When Sersha finds herself the unwitting friend of grieving phoenix named Kazmarev (described as “A name with an adventure inside it”), for once, someone knows exactly what Sersha wants to say. She identifies with Kazmarev, but has no idea what’s in store for her, or that flame riders even exist.

When Kazmarev perishes with the dawn, Sersha assumes her own brief adventure is over. “It was like owning a pearl necklace for a day. Couldn’t you just enjoy it instead of being angry that you couldn’t keep it?” Sersha asks herself. She then returns to her precarious, uninteresting life helping her relatives at the inn—just as raiders arrive on the nearby shore.

Ashes shows Sersha, an overlooked young woman and a keen observer, finding an unexpected place in the world, and unexpected friends—both of which put her at the heart of the action. Though there is a complete story arc in Season 1, Episode 1, it’s clear her adventures are just beginning.

Phoenix Heart promises to be a relatively expensive series, which makes me want to ration each episode (readers who get in on the pre-orders will get a better price; as of writing, the first episode of season 2 still up for pre-order). Though uniformly short, the length of each episode varies. The bother comes because I’d love to consume them all at once without worry about the cost. Still, I look forward to reading more of Sersha and Kazmarev’s adventures, even if I wish they could each last—even just a tiny bit—longer.

To learn more about this author, visit Sarah K.L. Wilson’s website.

Girl of Shadow and Glass is almost here!

I’m happy and relieved to say I just turned in my manuscript for the Kindle edition of Girl of Shadow and Glass! Woo! The ebook is available for 99c for a limited time.

In the coming days, Girl of Shadow and Glass will be available on other retailers, but you can check out this handy universal book link and see where to get it now.

For those of you who don’t know, Girl of Shadow and Glass has its humble beginnings in my first foray into epublishing, the novella A Shadow in Sundown. This release is a completely redone coming of age tale, and will be my first novel.

Also to come, I’ll be making the first several chapters available for those who sign up for my mailing list. Till then, take care.

Go Bills!

-CKB

Girl of Shadow and Glass Cover Reveal!

Available for Pre-Order on Amazon soon!

So…what do you think?

To me, this cover is much sharper than my novella cover, and fits the New Adult genre better. I love that it reflects the sci-fi elements of Girl of Shadow and Glass, what I’d call a world-hopping coming-of-age fantasy.

I’m so excited to share it with you all…but you’ll have to wait until January 15th, 2021! 

Till next time. Cheers!

-CKB

Indie Book Spotlight: Sting Magic (Wilson)

It’s time for another Indie Book Spotlight!

Note: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sting Magic, the first book in the new Empire of War and Wings series by prolific author Sarah K.L. Wilson, is a typo-dotted triumph. There are three reasons for that: world-building, a unique magic system, and the fact that it is never boring.

Main character Aella lives in a wild colony, the Far Stones, where residents have freedom and hardships alike. They’re poor and backwards by Imperial standards, but most of their time is spent farming in a land that likes to turn upside down and murder them—the Forbidding, a strange, viney magic that corrupts trees and bears and whatever else it can find. Aella’s family is her everything.

And then the heir to the Empire shows up.

That’s when Aella finds out that she has the same winged, creative twist on familiars-style magic as the Empire’s most celebrated warriors. It’s a dream and a nightmare for her. Except, instead of having birds like literally everyone, Aella hatches golden, magical bees. Heresy!

Aella is forced to leave her family to become property of the ruthless Le Majest, Juste Montpetit. In the course of a few hours she loses everything, with only the warm glow of her cute and happy bee familiars to comfort her. Aella has a litany of horrors to face as she travels through a perilous land alongside violent Imperials, and more than few mysteries to solve as she tries to save her family and weighs joining the rebels.

Familiar magic: Readers will love to hate Sting Magic‘s ruthless villain and adore Aella’s bees.

Sting Magic is a shorter novel that moves at a brisk pace. The cozy but disgruntled domestic scenes at the beginning are the closest it ever gets to slow, plus the “let me barge in and spend a long time asserting my authority even though I clearly have other houses to get to” encounter with the cruel prince that immediately follows it. The latter scene could have been more concise and still left the reader wanting to punch Juste Montpetit if given the chance. He’s pure villain, but it works.

An early exchange with Ospey also feels a touch long, and there’s a bit of bouncing around the timeline here and there that can be confusing. But the high stakes for the main character, combined with the mysteries of her magical and dangerous homeland, keep things moving.

That being said, Sting Magic wasn’t fully my cup of tea. One of its biggest weaknesses is its main character, not a weak female MC at all but a broadly sketched one. Aella is more reactive than anything, and replies angrily to her captors when I would’ve expected a brooding, calculating silence, given her goals. She’s a contradiction that way, flying off the handle despite repeatedly being told she could endanger her family, the absolute last thing she wants. She doesn’t read like a person with a hot temper, either.

I was relieved when Aella finally did something proactive toward her goal, and it filled in some of her missing personality. Still, I left the book with only a weak sense of who she is. (I hope Aella will be fleshed out more in the rest of the series.)

One of the reasons Aella’s weak personality stands out so much is because the other characters are so well-rendered: the irredeemably villainous prince, Juste Montpetit; the snooty society gal who just might be a friend, Zayana; the mentor with the huge personality, Ivo; and Osprey, the toothpick-gnawing would-be ally she can’t fully trust. They are never described extensively (Osprey gets a little extra detail so you’ll know he’s handsome), but the things these characters say and do gave me a clear picture of them and their personalities.

The magic system and world-building of Sting Magic are, of course, superb. I wished the writing was a bit more polished (those typos and repetitive phrases!), but the interesting world Wilson created kept me turning pages.

This is a quick read I recommend picking up, in which you can despise the villain, root for the heroine to accomplish her goals (“Be relentless.”), and lose yourself if an intriguing and dangerous world of fabulous magic.

New cover, new title…coming soon!

My first full-length novel is on its way!

Girl of Shadow and Glass will be the first novel in the New Adult Tara’s Necklace series (formerly the Open World Series). For those of you who might’ve read A Shadow in Sundown, it will sound familiar and new all at once.

The description:

Six days. Two worlds. When it’s through, Kith Canto’s life will never be the same.

Born into a world of droughts and fading magic, Kith is destined for an unremarkable life, but for one thing. Six days a week, she crosses the gate between Sundown and its neighboring world, where she breakfasts with shadows.

The shadows teach Kith, telling her stories of worlds abundant with life. But Sundown is different. There, Kith is a shade-child, a fragile-bodied outcast with no hope of finding love or leaving her parents’ home.

Then a handsome young man shakes up Kith’s life, just as the shadows begin to teach a forbidden subject. They have their sights on her world, and the girl considered too weak to do anything is suddenly responsible for everything—including saving Sundown.

Proving the worlds wrong has never had such high stakes.

Stay tuned for a first look at the brand new cover. Or, better yet, sign up for my mailing list for the chance to get an advanced copy.

New comics and reviews on the way!

Hola!

I just served up a brand new episode of Princess Disasterface, titled Bunny Slippers and Truth. (Not to be confused with the bunny slippers OF truth. Sounds like my kind of superhero accouterments.) I’ve been a bit stuck on what will happen next lately…and the answer turned out to be a plot twist! Episode 2.6 also turned out longer than most (funny how that works). I hope you all enjoy it.

Growin' Pup #5, made with Comic Draw

In other news, I’m learning to use a new comic-specific app, Comic Draw (not affiliated). It’s not as intuitive as Tayasui Sketches (still not affiliated)…except when it comes to coloring in my drawings. So I’m using Comic Draw to make a special in-color edition of Princess Disasterface, but it is taking time. I currently have no timetable for release, and my current thinking is to make it available to mailing list subscribers. It’s a lot more work this way, and there will be some exclusives in the special edition (like actually seeing the king! And not just his bunny slippers) to sweeten the deal.

You can see the polished look Comic Draw offers in my latest edition of Growin’ Pup (pictured), and in a forthcoming Social Isolation. (That’s right…I’m still working on that one, in life and in comics.)

In book review news, I just got an advanced copy of Sarah K. L. Wilson’s Sting Magic. It’s available for just a few more days for those on her mailing list. If I like it, it’ll be this month’s Indie Book Spotlight. I have her Bridge of Legends compilation on my Kindle, just waiting to be read, but for now that will wait.

And now for some book recommendations!

I’ve been fortunate to read three exceptionally well-written books in a row. The first was Anna Velfman’s Snowblind, then The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. And right after that, a book I’ve had my eye on since it was in hardcover came up on my library waiting list: Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I loved all three, but the last two made me wish there was a bit more to the post-climax wrap up. I won’t hesitate to pick up subsequent books by any of these three authors, though (Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is already on my Holds list).

Stay tuned for many more reviews! And in the meantime, please stay well and take excellent care of yourselves.

-CKB

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Indie Book Spotlight: Snowblind (Velfman)

At long last! A fantasy about a character with chronic illness, whose affliction isn’t treated like something to be overcome and isn’t there to inspire anyone.

Lanna is a Southerner, born in a cold, harsh land full of rules. She also suffers from seizures. In a place where survival is anything but a guarantee, she’ll never be considered a full adult. It’s one of many reasons we first meet Lanna and her equally tough-as-nails family on the road to the more plentiful Empire.

Look at an Amazon preview (I’m not affiliated), and you’ll instantly know that Snowblind is exquisitely written. The details and descriptions are never rushed but don’t hinder the story flow, either. Those careful descriptions create an immersive world I felt I could walk around in.

In fact, Velfman does twice the world-building by creating two very different settings. The outer village Lanna first resides in, falls in love in (also perfectly rendered; she makes him work for it), and the Imperial capital (the hall that houses the concubines is its own world, with its own flower language) are like characters themselves. And all the characters in Snowblind are well-developed.

Lanna is a sort of goldilocks female MC. She has a heart, and it is available to her suitor, if he can earn it. But she also can give an ox a run for its money with her work ethic and strength. She is practical, savvy, and never silly, even in the thrall of a romantic storyline with Pride and Prejudice qualities (though, thanks to Lanna’s culture, it’s not as restrictive or chaste).

Unfortunately, Snowblind did need more copy-editing. There are more typos than in W.R. Gingell’s Spindle (also loved and reviewed here), but it does surpass those issues and continue to be an amazing, well-written story. There is also a chapter or two that made me squeamish, in which a slave sings the praises of the Empire’s supposedly benevolent form of slavery to Lanna, who is horrified. I would have preferred it be called something else, since it isn’t slavery at all. She is told slaves can leave whenever they like.

All that is a part of a this is the Empire and what you learned in the South is totally backwards theme, but it was too close to real-life revisionist history for me. It’s thankfully brief. Lanna also curses a gay character who drugs her by calling him a pervert and corrupter of men, though before and (eventually) after this they are friends. These are very small episodes in the book, but as I am recommending Snowblind I wanted to share this for full disclosure.

Another remarkable thing about this book is how well the tension and intrigue was layered (the complex characters play no small part in this). Lanna is ripped from everything and everyone she knows and loves, and has no choice in the matter. We always know what’s in her heart. The people who surround her are sometimes kind, sometimes not, and there are always hints at a deeper agenda.

A lovely, Pride and Prejudice-esque romance, Machiavellian characters, great world-building, court intrigue and a fine representation of the chronically ill: a lot of good things are packed into this debut fantasy.

An antagonist in the capital is the only character with overt goals, and she tries to thwart, disgrace and generally ruin Lanna without qualm. But the others aren’t so easily pinned. In Snowblind, the real “villains” are more ambiguous, and a heck of a lot better at concealing it. These are no mustache-twirling bad guys tying maidens to a railroad track. They might manipulate the maiden, though, or toss her aside if she gets in the way of their true aim. They’re a lot more Machiavelli than, say, Voldemort.

Amidst all this is the repeated interruption of Lanna’s seizures, the thing that has always kept her from the life she wants. The powerlessness of chronic illness is captured so well and so sensitively that I could’ve cried. “All her life there had been a wall,” the book says of Lanna. “Her sickness had been a barrier to so much. Angry at her own mind for being defective she clutched her head, and something in her snapped…Then the tears came: hot, regretful and bitter.”

As people who (possibly) mean well make her illness worse, as it changes and complicates her life and keeps her from her simplest, most essential needs (love, family, productivity and the ability to choose where she will go), this book spoke to me. This is the kind of representation I’ve been waiting for. I hoped it would be what it looked like in Snowblind’s description, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Flaws and all, this is a wonderfully written book, and I very much look forward to snatching up the rest of Lanna’s story.

Want to know when the next review will be out?