The Stolen Kingdom (2021)

by Jillian Boehme
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250298836
Publication: March 2, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Mara goes from being the daughter of a well-known vintner to the heir of the Perrin Faye throne after her lineage is uncovered. Her appearance sets in motion a secret plot to free the kingdom from the Thrungraves, which includes killing the king and his two heirs.

The Stolen Kingdom is good but has the potential to be better. The plot is interesting with some twists I saw coming and others I did not. While I enjoyed the novel, especially as the magic system was slowly unveiled, I never reached that climactic moment where I thought it was too good to put down. I was, instead, continually thinking how great it would be as a duology or even a trilogy because there is a lot packed here that could easily be expanded had there been more details. For instance, with minimal descriptions, there lacked a sense of place with the world appearing generic even if the political intrigue and the magic system kept me interested in continuing to the end.

In addition to a lack of detail, there was little build-up to pivotal moments in the plot. I didn’t have to wait long to find out what would happen or how a problem was resolved. I only just inched toward the edge of my seats, and then it was over. While this wasn’t as much an issue in the beginning while the story was being set up, it was more apparent in the latter half when events happened one after the other. This also contributed to a pace I wanted to be slowed down so things wouldn’t just keep flashing by. Aside from these factors, I generally liked Boehme’s writing style, especially as it relates to characterization.

Mara and Alac, with their backstories and aspirations, are compelling characters even if I didn’t particularly connect with them like I have other characters in similar situations. They are similar in their desire to do something different from the paths open to them.  Mara is smart and has compassion for the people affected by Thungraves’ rule although her family has suffered less than most. She’s also quite frank. All these things have her fall into the “not like other girls” trope, but that isn’t a trope I particularly mind, and it’s also what draws Alac to her. Alac is “the spare,” and wants to get away from his princely duties secretly to have his own winery. Unlike his father and brother, he doesn’t appear to be particularly power-hungry and is considerate of others. His status hasn’t gone to his head either–his best friend is head of his guard. Mara and Alac seem like they’d be perfect for each other as soon as they’re introduced in the book. While their time together is sweet–the attraction is instant between them–I questioned how their feelings so easily overcame their common sense. 

I enjoyed the book. The book is written with all the pieces fitting together, which is good but almost too easy. I liked Mara and Alac even if the connection I had with them wasn’t entirely present. I look forward to more from Boehme, with hopes that future books will provide greater detail and keep me on the edge of my seat.  

Six Crimson Cranes (2021)

by Elizabeth Lim
ASIN/ISBN:  9780593300930
Publication: June 6, 2021
Series: Six Crimson Cranes #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.** (Loved it so much I had to purchase a copy though…just saying)

Six Crimson Cranes is a retelling of The Wild Swans that incorporates other legends such as Chang E the Moon Goddess and Madame White Snake. It reads as magical as a fairy tale with a princess, a kingdom in peril, and the deceptions of a stepmother. Lim’s descriptive prose, from the rendering of lush landscapes to the decadent food, immediately transported me to Kiata. I’ve always appreciated this nearly dreamlike quality that accompanies Lim’s novels that make them so enchanting.

After discovering her stepmother’s true identity, Shiori’s brothers are cursed and turned into cranes while she is forced to remain silent about their conditions lest she kills a brother with each word she speaks. Shiori begins as a headstrong troublemaker, used to being indulged by the family and getting her way. The curse forces her to be more thoughtful toward others while still retaining her headstrong tendencies. I appreciated that she didn’t completely transform into someone new because I liked her curious nature and willingness to stand her ground.

The sibling dynamics is another element I enjoyed. Despite their duties forcing them to spend most of their time apart, Shiori and her brothers all love one another dearly. There isn’t as much one-on-one time between her and each brother, but it’s easily discernible that her relationship with each is different, but she is cherished among all her brothers. (Being the youngest and the only girl can be so hard…hehehe.)The curse reinforces how much they love one another as they search for one another and work together to break the curse. 

The romance is both expected and unexpected. I couldn’t help but smile at the direction the book takes in terms of love interests. It’s gradual, beginning soft and subtly, seemingly not like much until a few key lines made me swoon. The book hints at a potential love triangle, and I’m hoping if that becomes the case in the next book, it is short-lived. I dislike love triangles a lot.

Lim includes a letter at the beginning noting the different tales she includes in the book. I grew up with similar tales and also watched some as wuxia movies. Familiarity with the stories does not take away from enjoying the book nor should being unfamiliar with the tales. Lim creatively weaves them effortlessly into each other, although there are a few times when just a bit too much was going on. It was fun identifying details from the various stories as well as trying to figure out how different parts would play out in the novel. Although more still needs to be done, the increase in diverse books creates positive opportunities like this one, allowing readers to not only see themselves in the books they read but also the stories they grew up with. Six Crimson Cranes is now my favorite of Lim’s novels.

Caster (2019) / Spell Starter (2020)

by Elsie Chapman
Series Review

**This is a series review that may contain spoilers for Spell Starter**

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Caster

ASN/ISBN: 9781338332629
Publication: September 3, 2019
3h-stars

Aza is left to ensure her parents’ debt to the Tea District’s gang leader is regularly paid after her sister is killed. Although against the law, she resorts to using full magic to make money while also trying to learn what happened to her sister. When she stumbles upon an underground tournament for casters such as herself, the prize money is too much to pass up. 

Caster grabbed my attention right away. I liked Chapman’s writing style, which immersed me in Aza’s life, even though it takes place in a matter of days only. It’s an atmospheric read that will have you also thinking about the potential demise of our world. The world of Caster is dark and bleak, especially for individuals like Aza. Losing her sister and trying to protect her parents spurs Aza to put her life at risk daily by casting full magic to make ends meet. The magic system Chapman creates is a harsh one, where its use exacts a high price. Not only do casters such as Aza pay with headaches and bruises, but the earth breaks down each time. This made me question why individuals would still choose to cast. From Aza’s perspective, it’s both a matter of choice and survival, but there’s also a need to cast that is created by magic.

Aza is a flawed protagonist, which was why I was both drawn to her and struggled with some of her decisions. Lies easily leave her tongue if her survival depends on it. It isn’t necessarily that she’s only interested in looking out for herself, but her family’s well-being is also her top priority. Don’t expect her to go jumping into a fire to save someone; she’s more likely to look the other way if it means she can keep those she loves safe. I found it admirable but also winced a little each time someone’s life was forfeit because of her. While her actions throughout the book are reflective of her priorities, there are glimpses of her fighting against herself to not care about other people, showcasing that if life were different she had the potential to be the protagonist I wanted her to be rather than straddling the middle.


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Spell Starter

ASN/ISBN: 9781338589511
Publication: October 6, 2020

Aza deals with the aftermath of her decisions during the tournament. Left beholden to Saint Willow, she becomes an enforcer, shaking debtors for late payments, until it’s decided her skills are more useful in one of Saint Willow’s new endeavors. Compliance is mandatory because refusing to do Saint Willow’s bidding could spell disaster for her parents.

Spell Starter feels similar to Caster but more dangerous due to Aza’s new circumstances. Just as things seem like they can’t get any worse, they do. I thought this was clever of Chapman because her magic system already requires such a high payment. While the second book ups the stakes, Spell Starter isn’t nearly as intriguing a book because it was mostly already done (and done pretty well) in Caster. Parts of the book also feels cheaper, but it’s obvious it is meant to feel this way. If you read it, you’ll understand what I mean and that it’s not a jab at Chapman because I think she purposefully does it well. Aza’s story is still compelling, but it doesn’t hit the same way Caster does with loss and revenge at the forefront of her decision-making. 

The beginning of the book had me a bit frustrated because it didn’t make sense why Aza didn’t just think about incapacitating or even just destroying Saint Willow until it was too late. She has full magic! My best guess is the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. While she tries to protect her parents throughout both novels, it also gets tiring and even frustrating, especially in Spell Starter. I started to question their obliviousness at so much of what Aza was doing and everything else going on. They couldn’t be that unaware…could they?


Overall Assessment

Caster is a gritty duology with a protagonist who isn’t always likeable. Aza goes to great lengths to protect her parents from the district’s gang leader and to find out the circumstances behind her sister’s death. The world is a bleak one, and Aza’s decisions aren’t always ones I readily approved of, even if I understood why she made them. The duology left me in a dreary state, with a less than positive outlook, as it moved from the impact of losing a loved one to the costs of a world where magic not only destroys the user but the world. Although I enjoyed Caster more than I did Spell Starter, the series is a worthwhile read, and there’s potentially more that can be added should Chapman continue Aza’s story. I’m all in.

Cinderella Is Dead (2020)

by Kaylynn Bayron
ASIN/ISBN: 9781547603879
Publication: July 7, 2020

I’ve been meaning to read Cinderella Is Dead since it was first published nearly a year ago, but being a mood reader means wanting and doing are two different things. I finally finished it yesterday. The premise behind the book is rather interesting, providing readers with a retelling of the fairy tale and what happens after Cinderella and her prince supposedly lived happily ever after.  While I did enjoy the book, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I built around it. 

Sophia is in love with her best friend Erin, and while Erin seems to return those feelings, she is unwilling to rebel. The laws are explicit that young women are to attend balls where suitors will choose them as brides. And just like the fairy tale, they are meant to then live happily ever after with some caveats. The happily is optional, women only have three tries at finding a suitor, and men can terminate the ever after if they choose to. The ball maintains the illusion of what Cinderella had to go through to find her prince including arriving in one’s best dress and finding a life partner at the end of it. For over 200 years, this has been the way of things, and women have been without rights. Forced to attend her first ball, Sophia makes a run for it, choosing an alternate path she carves for herself.

While Sophia is tenacious and daring, willing to risk her life not only for love but freedom for herself as well as those of other young women in her position, I found her character naively idealistic at times. I wanted to yell at her and tell her to consider the consequences including thinking through her actions more carefully before doing anything risky. Maybe it’s meant to be part of her character but I wanted more complexity from Sophia. With the plot moving so quickly, jumping from one thing to the next, Sophia hardly ever gets to think many things through. I was also bothered by how quickly Sophia moves on despite being adamant about her love for Erin and her willingness to risk everything to be with Erin. She jumps from one love interest to the next in a matter of what seems like days. This feeds into the too fast pace of the novel, which I was not particularly fond of. I didn’t get the depth I was expecting in a story with a premise that fascinated me. The lack of depth also extends to Constance, Erin, and a few other characters.

While it lacked depth, I did like the dominant themes in the novel. The recurring theme of empowerment was particularly done well. There are several lines from Sophia that highlighted this that I loved. One of my favorites is Sophia saying, “I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor. I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.” I also thought one of the most poignant lines in the book asks who the tale of Cinderella is really for. It highlights how problematic fairy tales can become and the book confronts this through the retelling.

Cinderella Is Dead offers a retelling of the classic fairy tale that turns it on its head. Rather than waiting for a prince or princess, the book emphasizes seizing the opportunity to be your own hero. While not all my expectations were met, those who look forward to alternatives to the stories they’ve heard or watched growing up may enjoy the book.


The Unbroken (2021)

by C.L. Clark
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316542753
Publication: March 23, 2021
Series: Magic of the Lost #1

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I started reading The Unbroken in early March but struggled to finish it. The book is long-winded, and I had to take multiple breaks in-between to read it. After nearly four months, I finally finished it a few days ago. It is character-driven with an overall plot that is interesting and provides a critical perspective of colonialism. The biggest drawback of the book is the painstakingly slow pace, which makes the already nearly 500 pages–over 500 pages depending on which edition is read–feel a lot longer than it is.

Stolen as a child and raised to be a soldier by the Balladairan empire, Touraine returns to Qazāl more a stranger than someone coming home. As a lieutenant in command of the Sands, soldiers stolen as children just like her, Touraine’s loyalty is to those in her unit first, but she also has a longing to be accepted by Balladaire. Her behavior throughout the book is reflective of this desire. From experience, she knows the Sands will always be the first to be called to the front lines and will also likely be the first punished in any situation they take part in. Touraine’s story is the most compelling as she straddles the middle, looking for where she belongs. As a Balladairan soldier, she’s called a traitor by Qazāl, but she will never be fully accepted by Balladaire either. She is forced to tread a path where she will always be a scapegoat because she is a victim of imperialism. It’s difficult to watch her struggle and try to make the best choices when there isn’t a right choice to make if she remains in the middle. The longer she remains there, the longer she falters.

The story alternates between Touraine and Luca, the Balladairan princess without her throne. Luca arrives in Qazāl with hopes of quelling a rebellion so she may ascend her throne, taking it from her uncle who has cleverly placed himself there in her stead after her parents’ death. Luca is similar to Touraine in that she also hopes to find a balance somewhere in the middle. Of course, her somewhere in the middle also includes her being in power.  On the idealistic side, Luca wants peace between Qazāl and Balladaire, but it’s difficult to figure out who she can trust when there are those on both sides who would like to tip the status quo in their favor. Touraine and Luca are forced to work together when Luca comes up with a plan to try to establish peace with the rebels that may require treasonous actions. Luca is someone I wanted to root for because she appeared genuine in her desire for peace and had the qualities of what a good leader could be, with the understanding that good is relative. Is it possible to be a good leader if her desire for peace also requires she sits on the throne? Is it possible to be a good leader if those forced into becoming part of her empire desire to be free from her authority? When is enough going to be enough for Luca if sitting on her throne requires her to continue taking?

The book is well-written. The plot and Touraine’s journey to self-discovery were elements that I especially liked. Touraine’s story tugged at me and gave the book sad undertones that constantly had me questioning what it is like to lose one’s heritage. Although I recognize the necessity of many of the events that take place because they contribute to Touraine’s character development, the pace was a struggle for me. Another element I wanted more of was the magic Luca constantly talked about it. If you can overcome the pacing like I eventually was able to, this is a book filled with layers worth reading.

Wrath of the Tooth Fairy (2020)

by Sarina Dorie
ASIN/ISBN: B0851NDS9G
Publication: July 21, 2020

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Mira was a fairy godmother until she was found in a compromising position after falling in love with a godson, a Prince Charming. After losing her job as a fairy godmother and deemed a predator, she is relegated to a tooth fairy. After nearly a hundred years, she’s still trying to work her way back to being a fairy godmother. When she starts being visited by a bogeyman, she sets out to find a way to keep him away. The bogeyman, however, may be more than he seems when a prank he plays makes Mira suspect there may be shady practices going on within the company she works at.

Wrath of the Tooth Fairy can be classified as a romantic fantasy, but the romance is not as developed as I would like in my romance novels. Fortunately, the romance isn’t the draw of the book. Mira’s journey is what kept me reading. Mira loved her job as a fairy godmother and was on the way to holding a prominent position before falling in love with Prince Charming. She is determined to regain her fairy godmother status. She has a soft heart and bends the rules to help her clients beyond her teeth collecting duties even if being found out could lead to losing her job–becoming a toilet fairy does not sound fun. While she tries to keep her head down and stay away from trouble, the small ways in which she rebels against the system made her someone I rooted for. (You can do it!) But are these small gestures enough? What happens if you need to put more skin in the game?

The world immediately drew me in. Although there are different dimensions, the world we spend the most time in is the one that overlaps with humans and operates much like it as well. Individuals fulfill occupational roles ranging from bogeyman to Santas and Easter Bunnies. Not all fairies have wings. Unfortunately, cupids do have uniforms that look exactly like a giant diaper. Of all things replicated, it’s the oft-dreaded bureaucracies and their red tape that made me cringe. (Ugh! Not here too!) Joining Mira on her journey felt like it could be just another day at work: a lousy boss, incessant complaints, and commiserating with coworkers. Different world, the same problems. Heh…

Just like being on the clock, that darn minute hand doesn’t budge very easily. As much as I liked the setup of the novel and Mira’s journey, the pacing of the book had me checking how much more I had to go before the middle mark and then how much more until the end. It’s repetitive with Mira working, the bogeyman showing up many times over, and Mira trying to figure out what to do about him. It felt like so much happened, but also nothing happened at all. It’s not until the second half that the plot moves forward. When it did, I breathed a sigh of relief and was rewarded for overcoming the first half. It was an uphill battle for a while there. Then toward the end, it kept going when I was ready for it to stop.

Like Mira, I had to figure out whether I should risk putting my skin in the game–so many books, so little time, right? And, time is something you never get back. (That’s a lot of skin!) Overall, I made a sound decision. The pacing wore me down some, but Mira puts up a good fight, well, at least in the second half, which is how the half star appeared. For the most part, I enjoyed it and can positively say time was not wasted. While I do recommend Wrath of the Tooth Fairy, you’ll have to consider if the risk is worth it as well.

For the Wolf (2021)

by Hannah Whitten
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316592789
Publication: June 1, 2021
Series: The Wilderwood #1

For the Wolf was a challenge to read because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I had to read it in blocks so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. My final verdict? It was worth the nearly year-long wait and the teasing from Whitten on Twitter.

Eamonn is our tortured hero, whose tenure as Wolf has made him more than just the keeper of the Wilderwood. As the woods begin to weaken, his desire to protect others from similar paths drives him to repair the woods by himself. Red is the sacrificial second daughter destined for the Wolf. Her entire life has been shaped by this single fate. When she enters the Wilderwood she eventually learns that some stories alter the truth while some stories are passed from one generation to the next because they aren’t just stories at all. Sometimes the things you’re scared of are less terrifying than what those things are keeping out.

For the Wolf is a reimagining of multiple fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but to solely call it that minimizes how wholly novel the book feels. It’s a dark adult fantasy rife with love, obligations, and sacrifice. Whitten’s attention to detail, from the plot to the landscape, transported me to the Wilderwood and Valleyda. Although the descriptions can seem lengthy, maybe even excessive at times, they contributed to an atmospheric read that allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the relationships. Furthermore, the complexity of the magic and the world we get a glimpse of is what contributes to this being such a good read. There’s a lot to the book but I am focusing on the relationships.

The relationships are one of the highlights of the novel with the most compelling one being Red and her older sister Neve. While they are destined to traverse different paths, their devotion to each other is moving. Can you imagine giving up one of the people you love the most in the world to a sinister fate? Neve’s character arc in the book is based on this need to get Red back. It serves as justification for Neve to embark on a mission to save Red even if she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting herself into. We get snapshots of how Neve is faring through Valleyda Interludes. These chapters also contain characters who are as painstakingly secretive as the Wolf, and it was frustrating.

The romance between Eammon and Red is a slow burn. They’re bound to each other because of their circumstances, and feelings gradually grow from there, including frustration, desire, and eventually love. As much as I enjoyed the their relationship, it was also frustrating. I tried to understand Eammon’s behavior but I was increasingly irritated with him and his unwillingness to provide Red with answers. Although he believed he was helping her, he instead took away her agency, or at least what she had left of it. She deserved to not only make decisions for herself but to make these decisions with the most information possible. I get why he did it but I hated that he deliberately made it so difficult for her. (Okay… I go back and forth about this relationship because I just keep wondering if there’d be anything there had it not been for their connection to the Wilderwood. Like, how much is it the Wilderwood and how much of it is them? Am I reading too much into this? Ack…)

Then there is the Wilderwood with its many complicated relationships. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. It would be fairly easy to describe the sentient woods as evil, and in the beginning, it feels that way. It is demanding and asks a great deal of those connected to it. It serves as both friend and foe, wholly immersed in its own survival. The Wilderwood takes more than many are willing to give, but it’s important to understand that in the larger context, it only asks as much as is required to maintain the bargains made.

Throughout the novel, I felt a certain amount of anxiousness, and I largely attribute it to my anticipation of the novel and the unknown. I had guesses, but I didn’t always figure out what was going to happen next. Additionally, I desperately wanted parts of the book to move along faster so I could get to the end. And the end is worth it. I realize that I continually remark about how frustrated I was with the book but as much as it frustrated me, I enjoyed it a lot. While it may be the allure of an adult version of known fairy tales (and the lovely cover) that compels individuals to first reach for the book, Whitten’s novel stands well on its own as an original taleFor the Wolf is only the beginning, and I cannot wait for the next book slated for Summer 2022.

Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag

When Etta at Chonky Books tagged me, I was really excited because the tag looked like a fun one. Chonky Books is a blog I regularly hop onto. Several of the books from my TBR come by way of the fantastic reviews from the website. Please check out the blog when you have a chance to! Also, I crave donuts every time I go there. (You’ll know what I mean once you head on over there.)


Rules:

  • Make sure you give credit to the original creators of this tag – this tag was originally created by Bree Hill.
  • If you want to, pingback to the post you first saw this tag
  • Have fun!

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What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)

The very first fantasy book I can recall is Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. This solidified my love of dragons and smart heroines who refuse to succumb to societal pressures about appropriate behavior. Cimorene can live with a dragon rather than want to be rescued if she wants!

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Stacey Lee mainly writes YA historical fiction novels. She creates these compelling, strong female leads, and I need her to make me both compelling and strong. My novel would be Lee’s foray into romantic medieval fantasy with a rivals-to-lovers trope about two individuals (me and my love interest) who have to figure out how to not butt heads long enough to combine their strengths to overcome a plot they stumble upon to replace the newly crowned king’s betrothed with an imposter. The one bed problem is welcomed. Spoiler Alert: The imposter is the real betrothed and she’s just trying to get her rightful place back as the true heir to the throne. The imposter was there along put there by the newly crown king so he could take the throne. It’s still a work in progress. Heh…

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What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

Anela Deen’s In the Jaded Grove (my review)is the first book in the Kindred Realm series, and it deserves more love! It’s a beautifully written fantasy that is fast-paced. The two main characters Jessa, a woman who has suffered great tragedy, and Simith, a pixie who is tired of his realm’s on-going war, have great chemistry together. I enjoyed Deen’s writing, which is full of vivid descriptions. I’m eagerly awaiting the next in the series!

What is your favourite fantasy subgenre?

Medieval fantasies have always been my favorite with magic, dragons, and swords. I do, however, prefer damsels who may be in distress but are actively working to get out of the distress themselves instead of waiting for a knight in shining armor. Kick-ass female protagonists are my favorite!

What subgenre have you not read much from?

I consulted with the list of subgenres linked from Etta’s tag responses for this question to find subgenres. There are so many!! I don’t think I’ve ever read a weird west fantasy. I certainly was not aware this was a subgenre.

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Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

I don’t think I’ve found an auto-buy fantasy author yet. I plan to get the rest of Andrea Stewart’s The Drowning Empire trilogy and Lori M. Lee’s Shamanborn trilogy. Does that count?

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)

I’m a regular blog hopper. Blogger reviews have contributed to more than half of the books on my TBR and it just keeps growing by the week. For instance, I have Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King on my reading app because I came across the reviews on Chonky Books. I might have skipped it otherwise. Bloggers are awesome! (Not that I’m biased of course…heh)

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

I’ve repeatedly gushed about it on posts here and there but I’m eagerly awaiting Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf (June 1) and Lori M. Lee’s Broken Web (June 15). Of course, I need more Mephi from Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Emperor (November 11). I’m super excited!

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

Fantasy is all dwarves, elves, and an all-seeing eye. Sure, Tolkien can be a starting point but the perception that fantasy is a single subgenre undervalues the richness of a genre that is nearly limitless in possibilities. The list of subgenres is fairly long and the books I’ve mentioned in the post range from elves to witches to magical scissors to magical books. It’s not just Tolkien. There’s more out there.

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Fantasy novels have always been diverse in the beings or creatures (e.g. humans, elves, fairies, trolls, etc.) that exist, but I would like to highlight how characters have become diverse in other important ways. We have BIPOC representation, and I hardly ever got to see characters that looked like me in fantasy novels. Leads having social anxiety were less likely as well. Inclusion is slowly but surely happening!

Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I’d really love to give a shoutout to authors for providing me with magic and adventure in what otherwise be a mundane life. Bloggers are awesome for the love and time they devote to creating content and subsequently fueling my ever growing TBR.


I TAG: Alienor @Fox’sWanderings, Andrea @Andrea’sBookCorner, Julie @OneBookMore, and if your name or the name of your blog has the letter “O” in it. If I didn’t tag you, you should still do it. It was fun.

This is a great tag! Thank you again, Etta, for tagging me! I had fun figuring out my novel and who would write it. I hope you choose to partake in it. I look forward to reading your responses!

The Firebird Song (2021)

by Arnée Flores
ASIN/ISBN: 9781547605125
Publication: June 1, 2021


Goodreads
Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indigo | Indiebound


DESCRIPTiON

Debut author Arnée Flores spins an exciting and original tale about hope in even the darkest of places, perfect for fans of Shannon Hale.

The Kingdom of Lyrica was once warm and thriving, kept safe by the Firebird, whose feather and song was a blessing of peace and prosperity. But the Firebird disappeared, and Lyrica is now terrorized by the evil Spectress who wields her powers from within a volcano. All that remains is a mysterious message scrawled on the castle wall in the Queen’s own hand: Wind. Woman. Thief.

Young Prewitt has only known time without the Firebird, a life of constant cold, as his village is afraid to tempt the volcano monsters with even the feeblest fire. But he has heard whispers that the kingdom’s princess survived the attack . . . and he is certain that if he can find her, together they can save Lyrica.

Princess Calliope has no memories beyond living on her barge on the underground lake. But as she nears her twelfth birthday, she is certain there is more to life than the walls of a cave. When Prewitt finds her, he realizes that she is the missing princess: the only hope for Lyrica. Determined to decipher the meaning of her mother’s strange message and find the Firebird, Calliope and Prewitt set off on a quest that puts them in more danger than either of them ever anticipated.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arnée Flores author picArnée Flores spent her childhood shifting across rural Washington towns, lugging along boxes of books, and switching schools nine times before her family finally settled down on a wheat farm in the tiny town of Reardan, Washington.​

Arnée identifies as Vietnamese American, but as a transracial adoptee raised by a Caucasian family in small-town America, she grew up feeling displaced.

It took a long while and a winding path for her to find herself. She spent a few nomadic years exploring, working odd jobs, and studying subjects from Piano Performance at Washington State University to Pre-Law and Political Science at Gonzaga before she finally understood that all she really wanted was to stay in one place and write the kinds of stories that had helped her feel safe during her chaotic childhood. 

Today, she can be found collecting rocks, shells, and other curiosities on the beach near her Seattle apartment, all the while dreaming up wild and magical tales, her little white dog splashing along behind her through the tide pools.

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REViEW

**I was provided a copy of the book through TBR and Beyond as a Tour Participant . I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I was immediately hooked as soon as I started reading because the book begins with the legend of the Firebird and hope so true that sprang forth from a small girl to save the world. The story revolves around the legend as Calliope, the Lost Princess is no longer lost but trying to bring back the Firebird to defeat the Demon that has taken all the light from the world. Prewitt, the Bargeboy, accompanies her so they can restore the world to what it once was. The Firebird Song is a wondrous adventure, filled with courage but most of all hope. There is so much packed into the story and so many elements to enjoy about the book but I liked the sense of hope it inspires all because a boy and a girl believed anything was possible.

Prewitt is stubborn, but it works in his favor because his stubbornness leads him to the Princess. It also helps him find the courage to do something about the present situation he is in and to not accept defeat. Had he been less determined, things might have turned out differently. Calliope, despite not having much experience on the outside, takes on her duty in strides and is intent on fulfilling her destiny. At times she seems naive, Prewitt as well, but it’s this belief and this sense of wanting to do what is right that allows her to do what adults may have deemed impossible. Where the adults had so many fears and doubts, Prewitt and Calliope are still able to see beyond their present, they are at the age of hope where anything is still possible.

The story moved at a fast pace, and there were times I wished it would slow down just a bit so I could enjoy the magic of the adventure. A lot is going on but I enjoyed it immensely. With one of its themes that being “just a girl” actually means being able to do anything, I know my nieces will enjoy it as much as I did.

The Awakening (2021)

by Nora Roberts
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250272614
Publication: November 24, 2020
Series: The Dragon Heart Legacy #1

Breen Kelly is riddled with student debt and working in a job she doesn’t like. After discovering her mother has been keeping an investment account in her name with money sent from her dad that she never knew about, Breen decides to take charge and use some of it to change her current situation. She sets off to Ireland with her best friend in search of herself, to understand her past, and possibly to find her dad. She finds more than she expects: a portal to another world, a grandmother she didn’t know she had, and more weight placed on her shoulders.

This is my first Nora Roberts novel. I’ve been itching to get my hands on it after reading many positive blogger reviews. When the library finally alerted me it was available, I quickly jumped at the chance to explore Ireland and Talamh with Breen. While it’s not the amazing read I expected, it’s also better than average.

The Awakening is a slow build-up to what’s to come in the next books of the trilogy. When I say slow, I really mean it because nothing particularly “exciting” happens in this book. There are minor skirmishes here and there but they are nowhere near the scale I was hoping for. As the title suggests, it’s an awakening of sorts: the beginning of a trilogy, an introduction to a whole other realm, and, most importantly, the beginning of Breen’s journey toward self-discovery.

Raised to believe that her father abandoned her and that she is less than, the Breen first introduced is insecure, has low self-esteem, and is more than a bit miserable. By the end of the book, although remnants of who she used to be are still present, she carries herself with more confidence. Breen is a dynamic character with her transformation a powerful one as she learns to take charge of her life rather than allow someone else to dictate her worth.

I enjoyed the beginning of the novel because it starts quickly with Breen finding the financial documents that set off her adventure to Ireland. However, it slows immensely once Breen arrives in Ireland. While I appreciated the lush landscape of Ireland and the fun Breen was having with best friend Marco, I was ready to jump or dive or whatever I needed to do to find Talamh and its inhabitants. The book doesn’t get there until a third of the way through. Talamh is where things get interesting; however, it also becomes repetitive with the constant training and Breen’s back and forth between her cottage and Talamh.

The relationship she has with her best friend Marco is a highlight with the amount of love and support they provide for each other. Another highlight is her relationship with her grandmother, Marg. The opposite of Breen’s mother, Marg is loving, compassionate, and supportive. Then there is Keegan, the ruler or protector of the realm. Because of a promise to protect Breen, he’s bound to her, and he’s also set on ensuring she can protect herself.  Where Marg has a soft and reassuring touch when teaching Breen, Keegan has no qualms about making sure Breen knows what she is up against. Their training often leaves her with bruises.

The romantic pairing between Breen and Keegan is also being established, scratching the surface of their potential as romantic partners. Their pairing is both expected and unexpected. It was obvious they are being set up to be a couple, but there is no hint of an attraction. Their majority of their interactions with each other seemed non-romantic at best, with limited introspection about their feelings–no heated glance, no slight touch, nothing much to make my heart beat for their pairing. They spend a lot of time training, a prime time for building the attraction through descriptions and angst, but neither was present. When Keegan suddenly declares his attraction to Breen, it felt unnecessary and not quite believable. I like their pairing but hope more is in store to further develop the relationship in the next book.

In its entirety, The Awakening is solely an introduction. The world is being built here, establishing an understanding of why Talamh is in the state that it is, the rules, who comes and goes, why they’re still tilling with horses, and why Breen is important. While it’s an amusing and often entertaining experience as Breen learns about her heritage, it also became repetitive in parts. Overall, I found it was a good book. While I’m not quite invested in the characters, I am interested in where the story will lead.