Reading Fanatic Reviews

All Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Paranormal Reviews



Old Magic by Tiffany Shand

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Old Magic*

Surprising Twists in this Installment

I have been reading this series and have completely enjoyed the complex world that the author has created. After the defeat of Urien and the rescue of Xander in the last book, this book seemed to be non-stop action with some rather shocking twists. It is the kind of book that is hard to put down, gripping because you want to find out what happens next—as it is usually not what you think it will be. That doesn’t happen often enough in fiction in general and certainly in this kind of fantasy and magic story; too often they are predictable. I don’t want to give away too much, as this book is one to be savored by the reader as they experience it. I’m looking forward to the next installment of the story.

SEER by Ryan Beck

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One Could Almost Imagine It Happening…

While I enjoy the genre, I don’t read science fiction as often as I would like. I am continually on the lookout at my favorite book review sites for novels that I think will be interesting. I tend to like full-out space opera, humorous sci-fi romance, or technology-driven dystopian urban fantasy that is just a click or two off of our own capabilities. Yes, that is an odd grab bag of sub-genres to like, but what can I say? This story is one of the third variety. In this novel’s world, there is a ubiquitous technology that seems to anticipate an individual’s every want and need. This creates such a pleasant environment for people that they do not think about all the data that is being collected and what is being done with it. Having had some fairly recent scandals about what big companies do with our data, this particular plot seemed very on-point and applicable to our world. The author has added levels of technological complexity to it, compared to our world. (But I could totally see this kind of technology happening; it actually does in some limited applications.) The book focuses on one young woman who becomes a part of the rebel movement, though she does have some qualms about it. For a science fiction story, I thought that the characters were well drawn. Aside from the fascinating technology and modern relevance, I thought the author did an exceptional job with the plotting. The pacing was just right, with all the reveals and action seeming to happen at the precise time in the story to keep you turning the pages. I quite enjoyed this book, and if you like technology-driven dystopian sci-fi, you will most likely find it an engrossing read.

Stolen Spirts by Jen Valena

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Stolen Spirits*

So Many Ways It Could Be Better

I picked up this book because I was intrigued by the book blurb that stated that this was essentially going to be a fantasy in which the power structure was a matriarchy and not a patriarchy. I don’t think that concept is done often enough in fantasy, which is a perfect place to explore what it could look like if women ruled and not men. Yes, some stories are focused around strong queens, but they are still usually seen as inferior and requiring a man to co-rule, or—at the very least—others will oppose her rule because she is a woman. So, I had high hopes for this book.

Unfortunately, in the very first scene—which was actually a dramatic and good one—it is clear that matriarchy in this book is no different than patriarchy as depicted in other books. The women are harsh, ruthless, and power hungry in various degrees depending on their role in society. In fact, it might be worse for the men in this book compared to how women are often treated in the more patriarchal books. I found myself getting frustrated with this as I continued to read the story. When an author chooses to flip the power structure like this, he or she has a great chance to show how power could be different in a world that is governed by women. I actually believe if a true matrilineal, matrifocal matriarchy existed, in fiction or in real life, it would be inherently different from the patriarchal structure that we all no. Why bother to write a gender-switch power structure if you going to just have the women act like the men would in that situation? I think one of the answers is that it allows for the brutal treatment of men such as the predominantly female readers of fiction would not like to see in a traditional fantasy story that was more patriarchal. This just rubs me the completely wrong way. I am a female who is proudly feminist, but that doesn’t mean that I like to see men, even fictional ones, mistreated by ones in power. I’d like to think we’d be better than that if we ever truly had real matrifocal, matrilineal, and matriarchal power.

The Vangel by Tatenda Creed

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The Vangel*

More Supernatural Happenings

I have read the other books in the series, and the author has truly created a gripping supernatural world that is easy to get lost in. I particularly enjoyed the prequel, which sets up the series. This particular book felt a little off in its pacing. It is a long book, so it needs to have a lot going on to keep interest up. For the first part of the book, I felt like not enough action was going on, and much of it seemed repetitive. I didn’t get a sense of the build that I like to see through the first and middle portions in a novel. More twists and turns came later, but it almost felt a little too late. But enough happened near the end that I am curious to see where the story goes from here. The book is written in the first-person present, a point of view that I am not a particular fan of. I think authors believe it to be more intimate than other viewpoints, but I find it distancing. Perhaps I’m just too accustomed to third-person past, but I do find the viewpoint in this book distracting, often pulling me out of the story. If you have enjoyed the other books in this series—and you should definitely read the series in order even though each is complete unto itself as each builds on the previous novel—you will most likely enjoy this installment.

Stone and Iron by Marie Robinson

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Stone and Iron*

Fitting End to Awesome Series

I have so enjoyed this series, and I am sorry to see it end. The author has created an amazing cast of characters whom we got to know more and more deeply as the series progressed, which I think is important in an episodic series like this one, but it is not always attained by authors. Each of the characters is just incredibly well drawn and very complex. Over the course of the series, I truly enjoyed watching the various relationships evolve. Maeve and her group of dragon-men are truly special, and I love both the personal story and as well as the outside-world story. Maeve, especially, grew and changed over the course of the books; at first, she was a naive girl, but she grows into a powerful woman who commands respect and has earned her powers (both magical and mundane).

But more about this specific book. The book starts much like the two previous ones, where the first part of the book deals with the aftermath of the end of the previous one and has a few sexy, steamy scenes. But then the action picks up. And boy, did it pick up in this book! This novel certainly did have some twists and turns that made it a real page-turner that I didn’t want to put down. I especially enjoyed getting to know Gwayne better. He has been a bit of a shadowy character in the other books, but I think that was necessary to maintain a certain level of mystique with him. So I particularly enjoyed the sections that were from his perspective. He has a mental and emotional depth that was only hinted at in the previous books. Surprisingly, I found this book to be quite emotional in parts and in different ways. I definitely needed a tissue or two along the way, and I love a book that fires up my emotions. I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys RH stories or epic fantasy told over the course of several books.

Black Widow by Lucy Leroux

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Black Widow*

Good at First, Then Goes Off the Rails

I am not quite sure what to write for this review. I was surprised by this book, but not in a good way. When I read the book description, I just read the summary, not the quotes from other reviewers within the blurb; I never read those or other reviews before I read a book. From the couple paragraph description, I was expecting a somewhat standard historical romance. And the first part of the book and delivered on that, along with a little romantic suspense—which I also enjoy. The heroine has a variety of secrets that neither we nor the hero is privy to for a while. We learn from the first chapter that the heroine is not a murderer, as first suspected by the hero. I actually enjoyed watching their initial dance, shall we say, as they became reacquainted with each other and he tried to figure out if she had anything to do with her husband’s death.

But then it got weird. And, frankly, I didn’t see it coming. I read a variety of books, so I don’t have anything necessarily against weird so long as I am prepared for it. I certainly did not expect the book to go the way it did in the last roughly 40%. Actually, I kept thinking it would straighten back out into a standard story instead of going into a paranormal aspect that wasn’t appropriately foreshadowed and therefore felt entirely out of place. It almost felt like a deus ex machina move, which I never like in a story as it feels like a cop-out. I did enjoy watching the push-me, pull-you relationship of the hero and heroine at first, and the heroine’s naivete was surprising (in an intriguing way) in a story about a widow (and I liked watching the hero’s education of her). I do feel that there were too many intimate scenes after a certain point in the story; they did detract from the rest of the plot because, at times, it felt like the plot existed as something to happen between the intimate moments so it wouldn’t be just all that. So, I actually enjoyed the first part of the book, but the second half fell apart for me once it appeared as though the paranormal aspect was meant to be real.

Henry and Sophie by Grant Eagar

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Henry and Sophie*

Elements Out of Place

I was not wild about this book. I’m having a hard time putting a finger on precisely why I didn’t like it. Maybe part of it is the opening scene where there was a catfight, brief though it was, that didn’t seem to fit with the story. I felt other elements seemed out of place. I was so looking forward to digging into a steampunk story, as I don’t read them that often and I usually find them quite fun. The book does have some action, though, so if you read it, you won’t be bored. And perhaps you won’t find it to be such an odd combination as I thought it was.

Dragon Fairest by Amberlyn Holland

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Dragon Fairest*

Snow White and Dragons

This is a fantasy retelling of Snow White, minus the seven dwarves, with a dragon twist. The heroine’s fascination with magic has unwittingly unleashed her evil great-aunt who subsequently plays havoc with all members of the royal family. This sends our princess heroine on the run, unsure of what to do next. She aligns with a group of treasure hunters who are also dragon shifters. The book looks at her attempting to get her family and her kingdom back to the way it ought to be. Along the way, she develops a deeper relationship with one of the dragon shifters.

I do enjoy retellings of the classic fairy tales, and I found this one to be mostly enjoyable. There were times I felt like something crucial was missing—like a key scene that would be a bridge between others—but the characters were enough to keep me interested and reading to see what would happen to them next. I know there are more books in the story, and they appear to be about the brothers of the princess as they each engage with a new heroine in another fairy tale retelling. This book is enough to make me want to check out the second book.

The Secret of the Spellbook by Isabel Riley

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The Secret of the Spellbook*

Magical Female Academy Meets Victorian Steampunk

This is a fascinating paranormal novel that combines the idea of a magical academy with Victorian steampunk. The heroine is an orphaned young woman who has magical powers. When she accidentally unleashes these on the orphanage’s tyrant caretaker, a maid and good friend of the heroine sends her away to London to seek sanctuary at a special school for young women with magical powers. Because she specifically sought sanctuary, she is bound to this academy for three years, during which time she will study and learn more about magical ways. But there are rules that she must follow, or her residency will be terminated. If she breaks these rules, then she will be turned out and gradually lose her magical powers and ultimately her life. The young women at the academy are forbidden to interact with the young men across the way at the Embers Society who are training to be alchemists and engineers; these young men are the ones who bring the steampunk element to this story, as they make magical mechanical objects and other things. One of the graduates of the magical academy has been working in secret with these young men and encourages the heroine to do so. She does not want to break the rules because of the dire consequences, though she feels like she knows one of the young men.

This novel has some elements that we often see in magical academy books. For instance, there are rivalries between the girls, one particular bad seed, and a pecking order. The headmistress of the school is at times a bit of a terror, but she does have the girls’ best interests at heart. I was quickly swept up in this world and was fascinated by the way that magic worked in its universe as well as the way the steampunk aspect was incorporated in. If you enjoy books about magical academies, you may very well enjoy this book.

Three of Swords by Michael Jason Brandt

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Three of Swords*

Excellent Start to a Complex New Fantasy Series

I have been reading more fantasy than usual lately, so I was curious about this book when it came to one of the book review sites. I will admit to a little trepidation when I saw the rather long descriptions of roles in this world as well as a detailed, but not complete per the author, dramatis personae. However, I’m happy to say that the author did juggle all these characters and the  variety of roles well. This book is a combination of three intertwined stories, each with their own set of characters, so it is a little easier to keep track of than I had imagined. I thought the main characters were well drawn, and even the secondary characters were more than just stock figures. The pacing seemed slow at first, as we got to know the characters and the world. I do appreciate that the author did not do a massive world data dump, as is often seen in fantasy, although there were character data dumps when we are introduced to some of the characters. At least in terms of the world-building, the author revealed it naturally, giving information as it was needed. Gradually showing a world like this actually tantalizes and makes you curious about the rest of it. I definitely find myself curious to see where the story goes next, and I hope that the author continues to develop the characters, as he has given them a good foundation. As a freelance copyeditor, I appreciated that the book was relatively free of any errors with grammar, punctuation, and usage. That is definitely a problem in this world of independently published books, but at least it is not an issue in this book. If you enjoy fantasy, you may enjoy this introduction to a new series.


The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or directly from the author.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

The Amazon book links on this site are affiliate links, which means I make a tiny percentage if you choose to buy a book linked from this site.

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