Reading Fanatic Reviews

All Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Paranormal Reviews



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.

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.

Genetic Imperfections by Steve Hadden

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Genetic Imperfections*

Love and Redemption Overwhelmed by Greed

I was intrigued by the medical thriller aspect of this book, which is why I chose it at my favorite book review website. While the medical thriller part was certainly present, I felt like the novel had issues on a variety of fronts. First, it seemed like every time we met a new character, we got a very large information dump about them, their story, and how they related to the bigger story. I hate data dumps in novels in general, but to just keep running across them every time there was a new viewpoint character or a new character got a little wearisome.

Second, I am an RN, and I found the way that the author portrayed the hospital setting was grossly inaccurate. I hate that in stories. Given our ever-connected, networked world, it seems to me like authors could simply go on nursing groups on Facebook or other forums and ask if anybody would be willing to share their knowledge so books can be accurate. I know I would help an author out. There are so many things that are inaccurate, but I think the one that bothered me the most is that a nurse would just let a patient who survived an airplane crash just walk out of his room on his own. We actually have some pretty strict protocols in the hospital for mobility. A patient like him would have had to have been signed off by PT as able to walk around the unit independently. A nurse couldn’t make this decision and just let him go. And given what has happened to him, a good nurse—even with such permission—would have walked with him or had a nursing assistant walk with him to make sure he was safe on his own. I could go on about the medical, but I will not.

I also had issues with the characters. I had really hoped that this would be a story of redemption and love, as promised in the book description. But most of the characters were motivated by such greed and were so ugly that any positive themes felt completely overwhelmed. Too, probably because of the information dumps, I never felt like I connected with the characters, especially those at the heart of what should have been the romance and redemption. So I never really bought those themes for them anyway. I also did find issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage. All in all, I found this to be a disappointing book.

Grimm’s Dweller by Arizona Tape

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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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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.

Million Miles Away by Alice Bane

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Million Miles Away*

Sci-Fi Romance with Serious Twists and Turns

Well, this book had some surprising twists and turns! I don’t read a lot of sci-fi romance, because I find it’s usually pretty—pardon the pun—out there in terms of the romance. (I usually read historical romance.) This one appeared to be different when I first saw it on my favorite book review site, and it is, indeed. The heroine finds herself with an array of maladies she can’t explain but is impacting her life more and more. Very near the start of the book, while napping, she senses herself being some place else. Come to find out, she sometimes travels to an alien ship that is near Earth, previously unbeknownst to her. She comes to know the doctor who takes care of her there; he says she is being treated for a particular parasite. But, as we find out a little after the midpoint of the book, he has not been truthful with her. It definitely comes as a surprise. The evolving relationship between the heroine and hero, this alien doctor, is fascinating to watch as they learn more about each other and their different species and eventually fall for each other. The book has another shocking twist at the end, and very unfortunately, ends on a cliffhanger. I so hate it when books end on a cliffhanger! In fact, I might not have picked up this book if I had realized that, though I am glad I did as I found this to be a good read. I’ll be watching for the second half as I’m very curious to see how this all turns out.

Un-Familiar Magic by Belinda White

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Un-Familiar Magic*

Magic Under Wraps

I am so enjoying this paranormal cozy mystery series. It is definitely one that should be read in order. Amie is a very powerful witch even if she doesn’t have control of her powers yet. The power is dependent on the type of witch she is. In fact, her kind of witch is so powerful that if the council found out, they would force her to live in a box, so to speak, that would drain her powers, which they could then use for their own benefit. The choice is either to live in this box or be killed. So Amie and her family do not want the council to find out about her powers. Those who care about her are trying to teach her how to control her magic but on the down low. Murders, unfortunately, keep happening in this small town, and Amie wants to help. But, of course, if she uses her powers, the council will find out. Will she be able to help without bringing harm to herself?

I like that the author has created a delightful deep point of view for this series. Being in Amie’s head is like watching a friend muse about her day. It feels intimate and personal. I don’t think that is easy to achieve, especially in a paranormal cozy mystery. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Dragon Prey by Hannah Steenbock

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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.



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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