Reading Fanatic Reviews

Fantasy

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.

Stolen Spirts by Jen Valena

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NOT with Kindle Unlimited

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.

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.

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.

Three of Swords by Michael Jason Brandt

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Free with Kindle Unlimited

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.

Stone and Ash by Marie Robinson

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Stone and Ash*

No Mid-Series Slump!

I am so enjoying this series. I appreciate that the author has written four books in which each book focusing not only the heroine and the story but on one of her dragon-shifter protectors as well. For instance, the first book is told from Maeve’s and Trystan’s perspectives, the second book is told from Maeve’s and Caliban’s perspectives, and this book is told from Maeve and Septimus’ perspectives. This allows us to see Maeve’s growth arc over all of the books and gives the spotlight to one of the men in each book. All this just adds to the richness of the storyline, the characters, and the world that the author has created. I thought this book started a little slow, as it seemed to be mostly just Maeve and the boys back at the castle adjusting to their new roles and having some amorous encounters for about the first 20% of the book. But after that, things heated up. Much happened after this point. There were definitely some twists and turns, and what a cliffhanger to leave us with! This book definitely dealt with themes of trust and betrayal on several levels. As always, I enjoy this author’s writing style; it pulled me right into the book and the fantastical lives of the characters. I regret that I have just one book to go in this series, but I am looking forward to seeing the resolution of the cliffhanger as well as how or if the marriage will affect the relationships between Maeve and the men. I highly recommend this series, though I do suggest you start with the first book.

Grimm’s Dweller by Arizona Tape

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Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, and Bol.de

Grimm's Dweller*

Not a Retelling, But a Remarkable Story

I have read a book or two of Arizona Tape’s, and I had mixed feelings about them. But I was very curious to see what she would do with a spin on Grimm’s fairy tales, as I love any sort of retelling of the classic old stories. I am so glad that I took a chance with this book, which is actually a compilation of three novellas that are all based around the same two characters. Let me say right off the bat that this is not a retelling of any Grimm fairy tale. Instead, the author has created a framework for Grimm’s tales that feature an otherworldly, immortal muse and protector of Wilhelm Grimm and his stories as well as the man himself. I don’t want to give too much away because I think this book is best experienced. This collection follows these two, a Dweller who protects stories but doesn’t write them named Grisella and Wilhelm Grimm. The first book covers their meeting and initial interactions, the second book follows a period after he marries where they don’t have much direct interaction but the dweller protects his stories and inhabits their universes, and the final book is an emotionally gripping look at the time around Grimm’s death. I found the second two books to be particularly emotional, the second book because one can truly sense Grisella’s profound loneliness as she is separated from Wilhelm and the third because Grisella’s grief at the impending death of Wilhelm is so palpable. We do see a little of the infamous tales as Wilhelm Grimm creates them and as Grisella visits their universes. A very unique spin that pays homage to one of the great storytellers in Western literature.

The Other Duet by Jessica Lynch

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Free with Kindle Unlimited

The Other Duet*

Excellent, Immersive Fantasy/Supernatural Read

Whenever I choose to review a box set like this one that tells a couple’s complete story over the course of a couple of books, I am never sure how much to give away of the story. I always like to say something, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for you if you choose to read the books. I found this to be a fun and totally immersive romantic fantasy/supernatural read. Now, not everyone might not see it as fun, but what I found to be so was that the author was able to write this book in such a way that it almost felt as if you were inhabiting the body and mind of the heroine as she first went through her normal daily life before she bought the mirror and then when it all went sideways after she fell through the mirror to the Other. We are literally with the heroin step by step as she moves from her ordinary world to this fantastical one, and we see it through her eyes and her thoughts so clearly. Hers is not the only perspective in the book, though. Hunter, the hero, is also a viewpoint character as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the supernatural aspect of it and how the Jersey girl heroine just could not believe that she was Artemis. The author has done an excellent job creating the world of the Other and its supernatural inhabitants. The heroine definitely shakes up that world. I enjoyed watching the evolving relationship between the hero and heroine. I loved that, in this box set, the author gave us a short story about Duds, the heroine’s cat. A thoroughly enjoyable duet.

Dragon Prey by Hannah Steenbock

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Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de

Dragon Prey*

Dragons Aren’t All Cute and Cuddly

This book is a part of a greater universe called Cloud Lands, but I have not read any of the others of this series/universe. In fact, this is the first book by this author that I have read. Let me say right off the bat that you don’t have to have read any other books in this universe to understand this one. I enjoy fantasy and don’t read straight-up fantasy as often as I would like. I think fantasy is such a complex genre, and oftentimes independent authors don’t do it well; so I have been turned off by it at times at my favorite book review sites.

I am so glad that I was drawn to give this one a try. It is so well written. The descriptions and depictions of what is happening make you feel like you are there. The author pulled me right into the story with a dramatic event; I love that. The characters, particularly Sidren and Kreysha, were complex and well drawn. The danger to Sidren and her people, as suggested by the title, was palpable and kept me turning the pages. I found myself intrigued by Sidren and Kreysha’s evolving relationship and Kreysha’s interactions with the members of Sidren’s clan. The author has created a complex world and complex characters here, but she makes it feel realistic. Sidren and members of the clan react in completely relatable human ways, which doesn’t always happen in fantasy. I like the way that the author demonized only some dragons, subtly bringing up the concept of prejudice. This book is full of action; it will keep you turning the pages to see what will happen. This is a delightful introduction to this author and this universe. It won’t be my only foray.

Rolf’s Quest by Aubrey Wynne

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Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de

Rolf's Quest*

Fact and Fantasy in a Delightful Mix

I have read some other works by this author, and I found this one to be a particular delight. It is a slow-moving character piece for the most part, so if you are expecting some kind of massive action and drama, you will need to adjust your expectations. The author has artfully combined the real history of Henry II with a magical, fantastical storyline involving a direct male descendant of the wizard Merlin. In fact, Rolf is trying desperately to break a curse that involves both Merlin and the men in his line. Merlin is still alive, after a fashion, but living trapped in a rowan tree, cursed by a former lover. This woman in the distant past cursed not only Merlin but also men directly descended from him, especially the first-born sons. I won’t go into any more detail about the curse, but suffice to say that Rolf is Merlin’s last hope. His success hinges upon whether or not he can get the woman he loves through non-magical means. He has seen this woman in his dreams, so he knows who she is. However, when he meets the lady, she is on her way to meet the man she has been betrothed to since she was a child.

The book is actually a fascinating look at medieval times, including courtly life and the role of women. The heroine of the novel is rarely given any choice in anything, from who she is to marry to which kirtle she should wear. I enjoyed watching the slow unfolding of the story and that the heroine truly seemed to be a product of her times. I did find myself curious how this young woman was going to react when her heart led her one way but duty—which seemed truly ingrained in her character—required another. She is definitely different from most heroines in historical romance, where authors tend to give them almost more modern ways of thinking and acting. I appreciated that the author took the harder road for this one. This is an excellent story. If you like historical romance that includes true history mixed with a little magic and fantasy, you will most likely enjoy this book.

Disclosure

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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