My Best of 2019 List

The Best Of The Best

This year I read approximately 200 stories/books, although I didn’t review them all. If you have been reading my reviews, both here and on my own blog, you’ll know I like quirky–books that do things a little differently than the status quo. They still have to make sense, connect with me emotionally, and tell a good story. I gave 5 Stars, without rounding up, to these book that were published this year:

Digging Deep, Digging Deep 1, by Jay Hogan
This book gave a realistic depiction of being in a relationship with a chronically ill person with humor, honesty, and dignity whilst still managing to be a romance. The author didn’t cover over the gross or inconvenient things about illness the way most books do.

The Ghosts Between Us, The West Hills 1, by Brigham Vaughn
People handle grief differently and sometimes they fall in love at completely the wrong time with someone others might deem inappropriate. Oh well, that’s their problem.

The Story Of Us by Logan Meredith
Literally, no one agreed with me about this book featuring an older prudish, judgmental man falling in love with a young student and porn star. With breaking the fourth wall and only one point of view, some people didn’t dig it.

Best Covers

The King’s Dragon cover by Natasha Snow, The Witchstone Amulet cover by Tiferet Designs, Anhaga cover by Tiferet Designs, Hell And Gone cover by Danonza, Ramen Assassin cover by Reece Notley, Earth Fathers Are Weird cover by Lyn Gala, Clean Break cover by Natasha Snow, Healing Glass cover by Miranda from Pavelle Art, and Taji From Beyond the Rings cover by Lyn Forester

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The Best Of The Rest

Best Contemporary

Arctic Sun, Frozen Hearts 1, by Annabeth Albert
Best Behavior by Matthew J. Metzger
Heated Rivalry, Game Changers 2, by Rachel Reid
Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford
The Other Book, Those Other Books 1, by Roe Horvat
We Still Live by Sara Dobie Bauer

 

Best Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction

Anhaga by Lisa Henry
Dead Man Stalking by T.A. Moore
Empire of Light, Voyance 1, by Alex Harrow
Healing Glass, Gifted Guilds 1, by Jackie Keswick
Space Train by David Bridger
The Shoreless Sea, Liminal Sky 3, by J. Scott Coatsworth

 

Best Holiday

A Faerie Story by Barbara Elsborg

 

Best Dark Themed/Taboo

Sick And Tragic Bastard by Rowan Massey
Please read the tags and get ready for a big, fat, ugly-crying meltdown if you have a soul. Then, read or watch the fluffiest, sweetest stories you can find for a week after.

Best Rerelease

Release, Davlova 1 and Return, Davlova 2, by Marie Sexton
This dark romance duology (pay attention to the tags) was originally released under the name A.M. Sexton. I don’t think there are any substantial changes. Expect rich, bleak, dystopian world-building.

 

Honorable Mention

The King’s Dragon, Fire And Valor 1, by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns
The Stone Amulet by Mason Thomas
I read so much fantasy this year. These two books stayed with me even though I rated them lower than the others. Why? Maybe I didn’t have enough coffee.

via More Best of 2019 and This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Honour by A.F. Henley

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

This is an historical romance set in a fictionalized England circa the late 17th century (at my best guess, owing to the clothing), but the speech is fairly modern with reference to the subconscious mind. If the author had called the country anything but England, I would have called it fantasy. There isn’t too much world-building, just enough to get a sense of place. First, the reader is thrown into the pivotal action sequence of the book without knowing what is happening. It then flashes back to four months earlier and the story unfolds to explain how things got to that point. Emmett is a merchant’s son who cares for people, yet he also seems to have been indulged and not learned the hard lessons of life. He is said to have a head for numbers in business, but obviously not the skill for diplomacy and trade negotiations that his father has. When his father’s ship lands in order to trade, he has a disastrous meeting with Prince Andrewe. This sets up an enemies to lovers scenario for most of the rest of the book. While Emmett’s duty to protecting Aleyn’s virtue and trying to help him establish a living is admirable, possibly honorable, Emmett’s honor comes into question soon enough when everything doesn’t go his way.

The misunderstanding…where Emmett thinks his father has sold him to be a companion to the Prince is rather interesting to me. Did Emmett’s father want to get rid of him because he doesn’t think his son is right to take over the business one day? Did he think this experience would teach Emmett a lesson? Yet Emmett is as enamored with the Prince, as Andrewe seems to be with him, thus he becomes First Gentleman. This is not necessarily dubious consent…but the power imbalance is inescapable and used to salacious effect. Since this is Emmett’s point of view, it’s unclear whether he is an unreliable narrator because: he doesn’t understand interpersonal communications well enough, he is naive in the ways of court politics and intrigue, he lacks the life experience to deal with a real intimate relationship, or he is too swayed by his emotions rather than logic. Emmett willingly made himself a servant to the Crown, not understanding he was essentially making himself a slave, and then chafes at his lack of freedom.

Andrewe is completely uneven throughout the book, at times sweet and loving, only to turn vicious, cold, or distant. Lust can only allow Emmett to overlook the Prince’s behavior for so long, but the Prince isn’t the only problem and Emmett never takes any responsibility for their discord. At one point I did wonder if Andrew was mentally ill. Is he just unsure about how to behave in this relationship? Is he taking it out on Emmett, so that his parents will make him marry and produce an heir? Is he being mean and cruel on purpose to create distance to protect himself? Andrewe’s use of Aleyn against Emmett to keep him in line is repulsive. It’s also when Emmett finally loses his way and the lack of real communication and respect between them, causes dangerous circumstances to arise. This is where the book starts to go off the rails for me with the introduction of Thomas.

His dalliance with Thomas is not lust, more the rush of being able to be himself again–someone’s equal where he can say what he wants and do as he pleases. However, Thomas is not three dimensional enough to pull this plot off and it all falls flat. I was really enjoying this, even with all the questions I have about the other characters’ motivations, until I felt the author wrote Emmett into a box he couldn’t get out of. The whole last 20 percent of the book was completely unbelievable to me, and that was mainly down to not having the characters be more present and rounded out. All that sex and time spent with just Emmett and Andrewe made the plot suffer. The reader only sees the royal couple a handful of times and what is there in the characterizations doesn’t match from scene to scene. Did the King and Queen think Emmett would somehow tame Andrewe or make him easier to control? At one point the Queen threatens to get rid of Emmett, yet when the perfect time comes to do so, she shows mercy that is not warranted. In the end, even Emmett is contrary: the overindulgence and opulence he previously found so distasteful is in full force at the end, yet Emmett no longer minds. Even though Emmett is the central figure, the only consistent character is Aleyn, who on the cusp between boyhood and manhood, has a good reason to be inconsistent, yet seems to be the only one to actually understand what is happening and why. I’m left feeling really torn because so much of this was well done, but I had too many issues with the way the author chose to resolve the plot.

The cover design is by Written Ink Designs (written-ink.com). I admit to having no clue what the cover is about, maybe I missed a pertinent passage.

Sales Links:  Amazon |  JMS Books LLC

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, Second Edition
Published October 23rd 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published February 6th 2013)
Original Title: Honour
ASINB07Z7F3YHL

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Honour by A.F. Henley — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: The King’s Dragon (Fire and Valor #1) by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns

[This was one difficult for me to rate. I think I may have rated The Amulet Stone by Mason Thomas too low. If I had rated that one higher, I would likely have rated this one higher too. I been reading a lot of fantasy this year, so it’s difficult not to compare them all even though they are all very different.]

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

When King Edmund dies, Reynold becomes king. After several decades of peace and prosperity, this starts a cascade of events that will see the kingdom of Llangard in a more precarious position, and many uncertain who is friend or foe. Reynold’s cousin Tris is well respected at the castle, but hides his nature, afraid it will endanger his life. Bet, the king’s assassin, has his own secrets, and is a huge part of shaping the events at court with well done action scenes. As political machinations, ethics, and morals drive them apart, their long held attraction also pulls Tris and Bet together. Theirs is the main romance, if you can call it that. While the sex scenes are explicit, they are not titillating, just used for character and plot development. I would say the relationship is part of the book, not the point of the book. Tris is such a likeable, character with more depth as the book goes on. It’s quite the feat to make me feel sympathy and empathy for an assasin. For all the characters, their complex loyalties are twisted and tested until they find there is a difference between what is right, and what is honorable.

Since this is the start of a series with a full cast of characters and multiple points of view, it will require some attention to detail. While the various points of view help layer the world-building throughout the story, they also make it more difficult to get very attached to any one character. The heading for each chapter tells where the point of view starts, but be prepared for a change in points of view between scenes. Other important points of view besides Tris, Bet, and Reynold include: Reynold’s sister Gillian, Rhiannon and Hafgan as visitors to the castle, Sidonie as the King’s guard, and Prince Roland. As the Prince is nine, I am glad not too much time is spent with his point of view, but I did find it age appropriate.

Without giving too much away, relations between the dragons of the Mawrcraig Mountains and Llangard are contentious from a war fought long ago. Still, the kingdom relies on the dragons to turn back invaders from the north, and the dragons expect to be left alone. They want to improve their situation so a dragon goes to meet the new king. They may have been a threat to humans once upon a time, but they have no greed for human lands. Yet, dragonkind won’t stay hidden in the mountains forever. People of Tornheim are encroaching in the mountains. Usually a nation of tribes that don’t work together, something may be changing as they are growing bolder. The Torndals may also be creating intrigue to move against Llangard. While there is an elf in this story, the reader doesn’t know anything about the elves at all at this point. Too much care has been taken to set up this world and its politics for it not to have a much larger story arc coming. Even though this story, as it is, has a satisfying ending, there are four plot points left dangling to build upon.

If there was a stumble, I would say it’s in the development of the relationship between Sidonie and Rhiannon. They barely spend any time together at all and attraction alone between strangers wasn’t enough for me to believe how their plot point develops, even though the end is so, so good. The scene between Tris and Hafgan also seemed forced and too soon in their acquaintance for that level of exchange. There are dragons that are introduced near the end, but there was not enough done to make me intrigued by them. I would expect the next book to feature more about them and their culture; I welcome this as I would love to have their points of view too. I’m just saying dragons are written into relationships where time wasn’t taken to build them, or introduced briefly to position them for the future, rather than to add to the story already in play. This is an ambitious, action packed fantasy adventure that carries the reader merrily along. There is magic, elves, dragons, and plenty of historical lore, which may or may not be fact–every side has their own view of war, after all. My only concern is the next book will need a lot of world-building also and I hope there are more intimate scenes (like with Bet and Roland, or Tris and his mother) between the characters so I can check in with them more emotionally, rather than those getting lost in all the politics and plot twists that I intellectually enjoy. I look forward to the next book to see where everything goes, especially because the authors have made me a bit bloodthirsty and have proven they’re not afraid to surprise and delight.

Cover art © 2019 by Natasha Snow Designs. The cover is so striking with Tristram front and center, which is as it should be since he is the rallying point and glue that holds things together.

Order here:

Universal: http://mybook.to/thekingsdragon

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XC67S95 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47945724-the-king-s-dragon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 295 pages
Published September 26th 2019
ASINB07XC67S95
Edition Language: English
Series: Fire and Valor

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The King’s Dragon (Fire and Valor #1) by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: The Exile Prince (The Castaway Prince #2) by Isabelle Adler

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This is a short novella starting six months after the previous story, The Castaway Prince. You could read this as a standalone with no issues, but it would be more enjoyable read in order. Prince Stephan of Seveihar is living in the southern kingdom of Segor with his lover and former servant, Warren. They’ve sold Stephan’s jewels to set up a Mercantile business. Revelling in the openness and acceptance of Stephan in Segor, they have not been discreet. The previous story made clear Stephan is a crossdresser. He identified as male. This book is a bit murkier in the gender bending. Stephan’s brother Robert has ascended the throne and declared war between Seveihar and their rival Esnia. He sees Stephan as a threat, even in exile.

The annoying part of this is, once again, Stephan dismisses Warren’s concerns for his safety. Warren also has concerns about Stephan being too young and that the peril may be the reason they are together. This story solidifies their relationship, moving beyond friendship and lust, to a deeper love where they choose one another above all else. Their choices become their life, as they flee from Robert’s wrath. This doesn’t have a lot of detailed world-building, just enough to understand the surroundings in term of a seaside town with an Indian or Middle Eastern feel. In the epilogue, the reader gets a view of King Robert that signals this story is not over. I couldn’t help but think people get the ruler they deserve when they let hate and intolerance reign. I fully expect at least one more story to wrap up this story arc. Would people rather have an unstable tyrant or a caring cross-dresser as their king? Time will tell.

The cover art by Natasha Snow matches the first book in the series, but echos the colors of their more sunny, southern location.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published July 22nd 2019 by NineStar Press
Original Title: The Exile Prince
ISBN 139781951057077
Edition Language: English

Series: The Castaway Prince

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The Exile Prince (The Castaway Prince #2) by Isabelle Adler — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Release Day Review:Anhaga by Lisa Henry

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This is written in the third person point of view of Aramin, or Min, who I wasn’t sure had anything to recommend his character except his adopted nephew Harry. This is the first clue that he has a heart in his cynical, morally flexible shell and if he lashes out in anger or bitterness, well it’s better than fear. His sass and wit are part of his charm. When Edward, the head of the Sabadine family, curses Harry to coerce Min into retrieving his grandson Kazimir from a seaside village called Anhaga, it starts a series of series of events that lead to tensions between the King of Amberwich and the Hidden Lord.

A large part of the book focuses on the morality or even fairness of what’s happening. I can’t help but think if the journey had taken longer, if the love had been fully actualized between Min and Kaz, it would have been more heart wrenching and interesting: a Sophie’s Choice, where random chance is morally preferable in the moral dilemma Min is caught in. It’s so close, but doesn’t quite get there because while there is lust, guilt, fascination, and attachment…it is not quite love yet in my opinion. Edward’s son, Robert, is also stuck between doing something reprehensible while doing his duty and being loyal to his father, or protecting his daughter. At first I wondered why Talys was even allowed/made to come on this journey and then I realized Robert probably thought it was the lesser of two evils rather than leaving her with Edward. There is a side love story with Talys and Henry. Of course, she is convenient for moving the plot along as are all the women in this story; they are strong, brave, and resourceful. Henry is sweeter than Min ever had a chance to be, and Min tries to keep him that way. Large parts of this show Robert in a bad light, but is Robert doing any less for Talys?

This book…was not what I was expecting. I was expecting high fantasy. I think it’s really a fairy tale. Sometimes I felt like it was trying to do too much and so it missed the opportunity to be great at any one thing. For instance, the scenery is described well, but not well enough for those who love fantasy world-building. There is nothing except what needs to be there at any particular moment. There is one well done love scene that shows you the possiblity of what Min and Kaz could be to each other, but the circumstances are not romantic. If looked at through the lens of a fairy tale, maybe I should just accept it is love, although to me that is what comes after the adventure. I thought this book was going to show the fae as beautiful and terrible as the lore does, only to have that change in the last chapter. Having said that, the creepy scenes are my favorite in the whole book–that feeling of catching your breathe and holding it. Once it gets going, the pacing is fast, as the plot moves from one point to the next. The book is foreshadowed well, but still manages to have a few surprises that are logical. Fairy tales get away with many things other stories do not, and this is so charming and satisfying as each layer of the story is revealed, I decided it was my expectations that were the issue, not the story. By the time of the final confrontation I was satisfied and if it was a little unbelievable, I didn’t even care because it is a fairy tale ending. The final chapter, which takes place four months later, gives the HEA everyone will want. I’m definitely going to reread it.

The cover art is by Tiferet Design. It is beautiful and striking. Now that I’ve read the book, it makes total sense and rather than just paying attention to the real buildings to give me a glimpse of setting, I should have also payed attention to the pastel, dream-like quality to give me a better hint of the story.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook, 220 pages
Expected publication: July 23rd 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781644054642
Edition Language English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review:Anhaga by Lisa Henry — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Possibilities by Nicole Field, A King’s Council 1

possibilities400

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

This is a new to me author and I bought this based on the blurb. I would say this takes about 90 minutes to read. The writing syle is crisp and focused. It’s the story of a king who doesn’t want to be, was never intended to be, actually king. Hiring his jester is one of his many new duties, but it’s the one that ends up being his most personal. I love the idea of the King’s Jester being a trusted friend and confident. This author is great at building tension: court politics, longing for someone, establishing trust, and navigating power dynamics (not BDSM). Fairy tales can get away with many things that other books can’t. For instance, yes I did find it shocking they were left alone so soon. What if they were an assassin? What if they were a spy? But in this world, the jester school is well respected and trusted. This is meant to be a sweet fairy tale, so there is no room for that here. It’s a personal tale between two people based on mutual respect, a peek into their bubble. I am torn about whether I want another book, because this is perfect as it is in my opinion.

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Review: Healing Glass (Gifted Guilds #1) by Jackie Keswick

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

This is an intriguing fantasy novel about the political machinations amongst the Craft Guild. Most of the story revolves around a city made of glass that is suspended over the ocean. When the Craft Guild arrived and needed shelter they took it over, but the glass in the city is failing and no one knows why, or how to fix it. Between the need for Minel’s skills as the glass master, and the strange obsession Regent Wark has for him, Minel is unwittingly made into a pawn of the corrupt councillors. When Minel is taken strangely ill, his friend Captain Falcon tries to help him. He is not the only male craftor suffering from a lung evil and he must be pairbound to save his life. Regent Wark tries to force Minel to be pairbound by any means necessary, forcing Minel to flee the city.

I had my doubts–I thought this was just going to be an excuse that forced Minel into having sex with Falcon. I’m glad that was not the case; not because I would have minded that as a plot point per se, but that the rest of the book would have gone in a completely different vein. I would have missed reading what is there. Although sex does ease the symptoms of his illness, the author worked hard to remove concerns of dubious consent for the main characters. There are bleak references to dubcon/noncon for other characters (off page). It’s a tale of greed, power, sorrow, pain, and betrayal. Thankfully, the author makes the relationship between Minel and his warrior Falcon the touchstone, giving the book love, hope, and friendship. I enjoyed seeing flashbacks of moments of their friendship, while watching them carve out a future amongst all that life had to throw at them. With the way his character is described in the beginning, I worried how Minel would be able to be the mate of a warrior. The author crafts Minel’s character in a believable way throughout the story, showing how adapting to this new culture and way of life brings out the best in him. Falcon’s adjustments are there too: how to live with someone else, how to communicate effectively with a loved one, how to let go of pride if it’s in the way, and how to work through fear of danger for someone else. Minel too has to learn to bend his priorities to include others.

There are many layers to this story, spanning three generations. Warriors, craft masters, and merchants have different gifts (talent, magic) in general, with variety among individuals. Elements of spirituality are subtly incorporated here. This isn’t world building in the traditional science fiction sense–no description of flora or fauna, minimal history, and only the politics pertinent to the story. This novel is more focused on human factors and infrastructure for the city since the city is a main character. For an exciting change, all the female characters are strong, smart, and talented. It was easy to picture the world created here, without being overwhelmed by wordy descriptions of the terrain. The social commentary about personal choice and freedoms, political corruption for personal greed, people in power who don’t have the knowledge or skill to govern, and giving them free rein without proper oversight packs a wallop. Still, there are individual moments in this that are filled with joy and quite enchantingly described. With the way the warrior talents are used as a major plot point, I would have liked to have felt a little more of their brotherhood.

I think fans of the author’s Dornost stories will like this too. I hope there are other novels set in the Warriors’ Guild and Merchant Guild, or even more stories in the Craft Guild since this author likes to play in different timelines. I’d love to see more about talent and shapings, with some of the side characters involved; and more of the history of this world, which I expect will be layered in with other novels. I enjoyed this story and all of its characters.

The cover was done by Pavelle Art. It is perfect for this novel, depicting an important scene from the book.

Sale Links: iBooksAmazon | Nook

ebook, 229 pages
Published: May 13, 2019, by Jackie Keswick
ISBN: 9781386061410
Edition Language: English

Series: Gifted Guilds
Series: Healing Glass

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Healing Glass (Gifted Guilds #1) by Jackie Keswick — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Lord Seabolt (Four Families #2) by Megan Derr

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

I think this could be read on its own without missing anything, but the emotional impact would be greater if Finder Tolan was read first. This takes place eighteen years later. Goss is now twenty. His father Tolan is now Master Mage for the Crown. His other father Shaw has retired and teaches basic magic classes. Lords Sealore and Moonrise now have a son named Kerra, whom Goss has an ill advised crush on. Some traumatic event happened three years ago that derailed Goss’ future. His master dismissed him after the incident, so he is no longer an apprentice Binder. He is widely disliked and bullied. Tae Min is a foreign Prince visiting the kingdom for three months for academic lectures, to secure trade, and to arrange marriage contracts for his relatives. The best thing that could happen to Goss, with his infamous origins, powerful noble guardians, and this past event hanging over his head, is for an outsider to see the real him. This is told from Goss’s POV, so the reader’s sympathies will lie with him.

This is a fun short story with a fast romance where everyone gets what’s coming to them. It doesn’t have the detail of the author’s longer works, so I feel like many things could have been added to make this utterly amazing. I felt that way about Finder Tolan as well. But, that’s not fair because that’s not what this is; this is a fairytale you read on a rainy day to cheer you up when you don’t have time to read a novel. It has angst, love, sex, and the villains get their comeuppance. I still want to know what the motto of Seabolt is, so I can only hope there will be another story.

I can’t see where it says who did the cover art. It looks a little modern to me, but shows Goss likely at the Seabolt Palace.

 

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 65 pages
Published January 23rd 2019 by Less Than Three Press, LLC
ASIN B07L7J1SVZ
Edition Language: English
Series: Four Families

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Lord Seabolt (Four Families #2) by Megan Derr — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: A Deceptive Alliance by Sydney Blackburn

adeceptivealliance-cover

The cover art is by Natasha Snow.

 

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

The book starts out with Kel marrying Princes Darian’s proxy, Duke Savoy, dressed as his sister who has run off. But this was Kel’s solution to the crisis, and it might have been an unwise one. I’m sure you see the problem right away–if Kel falls in love with the Prince, the Prince is still actually married to Isabel. This has a touch of Shakespeare to it that is quite fun, but the idea that his sister would be able to sneak up on a royal guarded caravan and switch places with him en route to the other kingdom seems ridiculous.

What I didn’t like was Kel’s justification that it was a better situation for Isabel having an arranged marriage since she might at least have the chance of falling in love with her husband (since she is heterosexual) whereas in his arranged marriage he had no chance (since he is gay and not bisexual). She could also be married to a violent man would would abuse and control her so, that is a crappy thought to write for Kel to have–especially since he is about to become the lord and master of his own estate. I’m unclear here whether the author means to make a statement on how some cis, gay, rich, white men think about women, or if this is entirely thoughtless. It’s a few sentences, but I didn’t like it and it took me totally out of the book. Gratefully, much of the book focuses on Kel realizing how much his sister was constrained by societal expectations and he experiences his own sexual assault, which hopefully makes him more sympathetic.

Over the journey to the city of Seagate in Pervayne, Kel as Isabel, becomes close with Dare, the Prince’s esquire. But Dare is not who he seems either. While I was happy with the way everything happens when it is discovered that Kel is a man, it was also strange that they act like they are actually married rather than acknowledging the prince is actually married to Isabel. This is eventually brought up upon the arrival of the real Isabel, but quickly dismissed.

There is no getting around that Kel is in the traditional female role of giving up his name, property, title, and his job, for this marriage. That’s why when everything doesn’t go as planned, I liked getting to see Kel as himself. Even though there is a place for the non-binary in this society, known as Kindred, that is not really who Kel is.

There is so much to like here that I find myself being critical because it could have been even better with just a little tweaking. Still, I enjoyed what was here and could see myself reading it again. There is a charm about it. If you like romance books set in a medieval type fantasy setting such as those by Megan Derr, I would recommend trying this.

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Author’s Website

 

Review: Shadow Realm by Jackie Keswick, Dornost Saga, Shades 2

shadow realm cover
Cover Art by Emma Griffin

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Here is the link to my review of the first story, Sword Oath, which I thought was a prequel, but turned out to be book one. It was a short read and I would recommend you read it first as it establishes who Madan and Serrai are and how they came to be where they are. There are worse things than death, it seems.

When Madan and Serrai were given their choice by the Fates, they didn’t get to read the fine print. Now, their afterlife is not quite what they expected. They’ve been in the Shadow Realm three years. The details are teased out as the reader is thrown into the action. There are so many interesting ideas here that could be explored, but are presented like tapas. I wouldn’t mind dinner.

Given a dangerous task by Grace, the youngest Fate, Madan and Serrai each have their own part to complete. The alternating POV help us understand each characters thoughts and motivations as well as building the tension. While Serrai holds the veil open, Madan has to find the Shades who have escaped. This reminded me of a medieval, pagan, fantasy version of that tv show named Brimstone with Peter Horton, only Madan only has to find 4 Shades and not 113 souls. Once again, I enjoyed that epic high fantasy feel, in a short story. Normally I don’t like so much of a book being in the characters’ (or the author’s) heads with little dialog–here it is essential as most of the battles they face are psychological. The Fates also like to mess with them and have their own agenda. Again, it comes down to the love they have for each other and the author shows that well in a way that makes me root for them. I can’t wait for the next adventure. I also wouldn’t mind other adventures as the world building continues. These could easily be keep as short stories set in different realms/time periods, or interwoven between the living and the dead as novels.

The cover art is by Emma Griffin and fits in with the series, put looks more spooky than the cover of the first book, which is fitting.

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