Book Reviews

Phoenix Unbound

I got lucky and received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I had already pre-ordered it, but couldn’t pass up a chance to read it before it got published.

The story is about a gladiator slave, Azarion, who hatches an escape plan which relies on the cooperation of a mysterious woman, Gilene, who uses illusion and fire mastery to survive the yearly sacrifices forced upon women of all the surrounding villages. Her sense of obligation to save the women in her village by taking their place each year is her own form of slavery. But she sees it as her duty to protect her family. So he has to use blackmail to get her to help him. As you can imagine, she’s not happy about the arrangement which results in a slow building enemies to lovers romance arc — my favorite! It’s very well done and believable as they grow to respect and care for each other. 

I really enjoyed the cultural world building done with Azarion’s clan. Once they reach his people, you are immersed in his world in such detail you feel like you are right there with them as they are dyeing clothes or trying to milk wild mares (lol on that scene!). Even the roaming free traders add that special spice of realism to the world. If you ever wanted to be immersed in more of Silhara’s people from Master of Crows, then you should really enjoy this story.

The side characters are also alive and distinct and have some good moments of their own. I enjoyed the interactions between Azarion and his sister and mother. I felt like each character had their own life and wasn’t just a name pasted in.

Sadly, the enemies are one dimensional without much intelligence or presence. I guess that’s probably the one weakness in the story. I was expecting more slimy backstabbing from one of them which never came to pass. On the other hand, you don’t know how the couple’s dilemma will be resolved since she’s still bound and determined to save her village which means separation. Gilene does see personal growth and makes a fateful decision based on that later on so I felt like there was enough other stuff going on to compensate for the lack of solid enemies.

When the ending came, it didn’t have an epilogue which made me sad. It seemed a bit abrupt without one. Don’t worry, the important things get resolved and there are no real cliffhangers. However, there are some lingering questions and I could see a book 2 or some short stories published later to address those.

Overall, this is a solid fantasy romance story and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Master of Crows or who likes the genre.

book cover

Secrets & Spells

This is a collection of six full length stories by some pretty popular authors. Check out the book’s contents:

•THE GALLANT (Wars of Light & Shadow prequel) – by Janny Wurts
•MAGIC OF THIEVES (Legends of Dimmingwood #1) – by C. Greenwood
•UNGUILDED (The Mage Guild #1) – by Jane Glatt
•AERISIA : LAND BEYOND SUNSET (The Sunset Lands Beyond Series #1) – by Sarah Ashwood
•BLACK ROSE (The Black Rose #1) – by K. L. Bone
•THE DEMONS WE SEE (The Dark Abyss of Our Sins #1) – by Krista D. Ball

I’ve followed Janny Wurts for many years, so I bought this book specifically for her new story about  Verrain*. You don’t have to read her Wars of Light and Shadow series to enjoy it as this precedes it.

*Funny story about the name Verrain. It’s very similar to Varian, which is one of the main characters in Before the Storm (its book review is right after this one). I was having so much trouble typing his name out, I had to look it up from the book. Normally, I know these character names. But not today!

Verrain was the son of a powerful trade factor. Also, the handsome darling of the well-connected circle at court. Even the most vicious rivals would shrink from poking a stick in that hornet’s nest. — excerpt from The Gallant

A faction wishing to stir massive unrest in the city discredits Verrain in a manner that would expose any secrets he’s ever heard and make him stark raving mad. There is only one person who sees what’s going on in time to get him away from trouble. But trouble soon follows them. Little do they realize massive trouble is also ahead.

This was a pretty intense story. I really enjoyed the woman who has always had a thing for him but never bothered because he’s a one lady I’m done kind of a guy. When he is in danger of revealing stuff, she expertly whisks him off and deals with outdoors-y camping stuff which she’s never had to do before. No whining, no saving this damsel; she’s the one doing the saving. And despite how messed up he is, you can tell Verrain grows to care for the woman who drops everything to save him. The end gets really emotional (at least for me, anyway). So you may want tissues handy.


C. Greenwood’s Magic of Thieves is book one in a series about a child who survives a kingdom-wide magic purge. Unfortunately, her parents didn’t. This place isn’t safe for magic people like her, so she’s sent off with a trader to get across the border. Only, she doesn’t make it. Instead, she spends her childhood with the thieves of the forest. At first, she’s accepting of her situation, but a series of events will force her to grow up and think for herself. It’s an excellent first book and if you enjoy it, you’ll probably enjoy the series.


Unguilded by Jane Glatt is another book I’ve already read. This is one of those cool stories where the main character doesn’t have magic and has to run away or else be used in a breeding program. (Yeah, screw that!) All she needs to do is get across the border. Only problem is, she has never been outside the city. Like Janny’s story, trouble follows this girl as she is forced to learn more about herself. Definitely a fun read.


I haven’t yet had the chance to read the last three. However, the first three alone are well worth the price.

Before the Storm

Christie Golden is my favorite author in the World of Warcraft book writing franchise. The way she writes the characters will have you weeping when bad things happen to them, or cheering for joy when good things happen. (Wait, do good things ever happen? I kid… maybe!)

First of all, if you haven’t read Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, you should do so before starting Before the Storm, since it spills the beans about what happened to a few book-created characters from Tides.

If you are currently playing World of Warcraft, this story takes place right after Silithus gets stabbed by a giant titan sword. It covers both Horde and Alliance factions as they scramble to gather the powerful substance oozing from the wounds in Azeroth. Others are scrambling to discover what needs to be done to save the planet titan before the entire world is destroyed. It diverges from the in-game story arc, adding a nice extra bit of content for gamers.

And with her usual flair, Christie Golden has added two new side characters who are on opposite sides of just about everything. To top it off, they hate each other from a bad, past relationship. This couple adds a sorely needed lightheartedness to the story as things go from bad to worse to I think I need more tissues.

You don’t have to have played Warcraft or World of Warcraft to enjoy the story, though for gamers it’s a nice addition to the Warcraft lore.

 Madfall: A Duo of Dragon Shifter Novellas

I already read Grace Draven’s short story and loved it, but the one by Dana Marton was new, though I’ve enjoyed her Reluctant Concubine and Accidental Sorceress books, so I was expecting a good tale and wasn’t disappointed. While the story is short, it’s humorous and satisfying.

Draknart, a dragon, is seen as the scourge of the countryside. So when bad things happen, the village naturally thinks virgin sacrifice is the answer.

Einin volunteers, but she’s not going to go without a fight. Donning her brother’s clothes, she goes into the dragon cave. The end result is not what she expected! It seems the dragon is under a curse. By day he’s a dragon but at night he’s a man. And he’s lonely. Draknart offers the spunky maiden a bargain: he’ll help her, but she has to return. So begins an interesting story of a dragon wanting to get rid of his curse, and a woman seeking to find her place in a world where she doesn’t belong.

Both stories have strong female heroines who hold their own against the arrogant male dragons they fall for. Both dragons obviously love their women, but need that extra special nudge to admit it which leads to fun antics. I liked the balance of fantasy and romance in both stories. Well done ladies!

I recommend this for anyone who enjoys short stories about steamy dragon fantasy romance.

In the Darkest Midnight

Once again, Grace Draven doesn’t disappoint. While on the short side, this story didn’t feel rushed or incomplete. It starts with the heroine at 15. Persecuted for a birthmark, she’s shy and hides in shadows until the sword master hired to train her brother befriends her. He helps her come into her inner strength and boy does she shine when that happens!

The story has gaps in time to show the heroine growing up into a woman. As she does, her feelings for the sword master grow stronger and naturally over time. Her relationship with her brother also felt believable. While her brother was a side character, he had his own mini-growth arc, helped along by the sword master.

As a hero, the sword master was probably too perfect, but he was so awesome, I forgive his lack!

There wasn’t really much of an enemy in this one. Mostly the heroine’s low self esteem due to being rejected because of her looks. That’s probably the only real weakness in the story.

The story is set mostly inside, so no Grace Draven epic scenery descriptions, sadly. However, I enjoyed learning about the festivals and feats of battle that were sprinkled throughout. That did much to make up for the lack of travel.

Overall, this was a fun read and a boon to those of us who are Grace Draven junkies to help tide us over until her next book releases!

The Deadly Daiquiri (Enchanted Coast Magical Mystery Series Book 1)

When a water witch’s terror of a boss drops dead, all clues point to her: she had the motive, she had the means, and she had just threatened him with death minutes before he keeled over. She’s going to have to solve the case within the week if she wants to avoid execution.

This was a fun, light-hearted story about a heroine racing against time to clear her name. She also tries everything to avoid her ex boyfriend who runs the paranormal resort, when he becomes involved in the investigation. She also has to determine if the sexy werewolf is really a dangerous foe, responsible for the murder, or totally trustworthy.

This has a hint of romance with a load of mystery that is only partially solved at the end, leaving more for book 2. I definitely enjoyed the different paranormals presented: gorgons, gargoyles, stone statues, mermaids, vampires, and more. Each had different, interesting personalities and left me wanting to read more about this place and its inhabitants. I definitely recommend it if you enjoy light urban fantasy and paranormal stories.

It’s currently available in Kindle Unlimited.
Book 2 is out in August.

Runeforged (Ascension Book 1)

This intriguing world was sundered into different pieces (or maybe was made that way?). The only way to visit different shards is via magical portal structures which the emperor keeps under his thumb along with the populace. There’s no famine or war, but no lands of plenty either. Due to clever economics, each shard and town are kept toiling away which doesn’t give them any time to plot uprisings.Also, any magic people are taken away and kept under control or eliminated. Despite all that, there’s resistance. And a young girl with special abilities is the key to the resistance leader’s plans. Too bad he didn’t ask her what she wanted.

I really enjoyed this story. The characters are very distinct from one another and well rounded with strengths and weaknesses. Even better, the antagonists have realistic motives behind what they do and have some pretty clever plans in place. Allies may not always seem like allies because they have their own plans, and enemies might not really be. It’s awesome to be unsure which way people will go. No stereotypical villains in this story!

The world building is only moderately sketched out with the sharded worlds that have different climates and terrain. However, there are two races that were very well done and unique. One is a ghost like race that is powerful in some ways but barely able to influence the physical world. Another is a crystal headed people that are the emperor’s fearsome slaves. Both play important roles in the story and aren’t just background filler.

There are multiple POVs, so you get see different glimpses of what’s going on with people on various sides. However, it didn’t lessen the mystery of what was going to happen next and I didn’t feel like it was too jarring swapping between the different people.

This story kept me up way past my bed time and I’m looking forward to book 2. The ending wrapped up the first book’s events nicely and left enough of an ‘uh-oh’ ending to tantalize, but no terrible cliff hanger.

I definitely recommend this book for people who enjoy fantasy with multiple POVs.

Vengeance

I’m a huge fan of characters who are emotionally damaged and both main characters in this book have that in spades! Imagine losing someone who was vital to you and hurting so bad you have to remove those memories to go on living? That’s what happened to this ancient battleship AI when he saw a ship crash into a planet, killing the little girl that was going to be his future link. Years later, he meets a lowly engineer and is drawn to her and begins falling for her despite his armor against loving anyone since they all leave him. She has secrets and fears discovery so she pushes him away. She also has terrible childhood scars that block her ability to let anyone in even though she loves the battleship AI. So there’s a nice amount of push and pull in the romance aspect of the story. This leads to some heartbreaking moments and angst. But, also a lot of humor as the AI can sometimes be awkward because while he’s surprisingly human, at times his AI-ness comes out.

There’s also a decent amount of world building for this universe with AI’s, telepaths, and humans forming an interesting governmental hierarchy vs pirates and rogue AI’s who want to change all that. However, most of the story concentrates on space and telepathic battles between the rogue AI pirate force and our protagonists. It doesn’t go too heavy on the battle stuff, so it’s more like space opera with the romantic flavor.

I really, really, really, (repeat a lot more times) enjoyed this story and can’t wait to read more about these telepaths and their ship AI’s. This story reminds me a lot of a cross between Anne McCaffrey’s Ship Who Sang and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.

Third Power

I really enjoyed this story. As others have already mentioned there are a few grammar mistakes but overall the writing was vibrant, descriptive, and varied enough to keep my attention despite the occasional flaws.

I don’t normally read books about ‘human gets snatched from Earth to a magical kingdom to become a great world saving wizard’, but something about the description of this book lured me in and I gave it a chance despite some of the warning reviews about grammar. I read the preview and even though some of the grammar might not be perfect, those first pages lured me in. In fact, I skipped buying a better written book because its intro didn’t capture me like this one did. So my best advice is to read the free preview and judge for yourself.

I’m happy I gave this story a chance. It started off with a traditional boy gets fingered as ‘special’ and gets teleported to another world. However, he’s not so happy about that and wants to go back. Woot! Differing already. He also has a darkness inside which can rear its ugly head when he gets really angry. Yay! Not a Mary Sue! When things start looking dire for those he cares about, he makes the sacrifice to leave his home to be this savior the prophecy says he is even if he doesn’t believe in himself. He’s one of those guys who does whatever it takes to protect others and make others happy which winds up leaving him very unhappy. Some reviewers called him whiny but I thought he felt pretty real, especially since he’s still young. He’s also not all powerful and has to work at learning control and he’s still afraid to face the big bad guy which is good – I like heroes to work at it.

So things go sort of like you’d expect until the wrench is thrown in and maybe he’s not really what he thought he was after all. I loved this aspect. Then other things happen and even though the revolutionaries make the best of plans, the evil dude has better plans that they have to struggle to overcome. So the enemy isn’t totally stupid, though he could have perhaps been a bit more proactive. I felt he should have probably slaughtered the entire world by now. He’s also pure evil so a little bummer about his cartoony nature and why I dinged one star from this story. The ending didn’t happen the way I or our heroes thought it wound happen which was a nice change. Oh, some bits are predictable but others are a surprise.

The world building isn’t too bad with nice scenic descriptions of several places as well as different races – humans, avians and werewolves. There are other races mentioned in the world but they didn’t get involved in this battle. I guess the only flaw here is that the Earth people should have probably felt more out of their element with the different clothes and cultures, though the hero instinctively trying to glance at his watch for the time was a nice touch.

The princess as a love interest made me grind my teeth. I think our hero put up with her way too long and she wasn’t a likeable character having no use in their society other than having people wait on her. I was hoping to see some character development for her, especially after their first confrontation, but no, she remained stuck. Fortunately, the other two female leads were strong and fun to read about. Though I wish we had more from the POV of the female from Earth, especially when she went into the magic forest to find herself.

Overall, the book could use a bit more polish but it stands well enough as is to be entertaining. When it came time for me to put it down, I didn’t want to, so that’s a good sign. I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun fantasy read.

Nocturnal Magic (book 2)

I really love the mystery of just what the heroine could possibly be – she’s not a normal hellhound. I think we all are dying to know exactly what she forgot and what she is. This story gives us a little more hinting along that mystery, but not a whole lot. So there’s loads left to reveal in the next book.

The heroine is strong and has flaws to overcome which I always like. She picks up things very quickly which adds to the mystery of what she was before she forgot. She also is able to use her surroundings and intelligence to get out of tight spots. A very satisfying heroine to read about.

The hero also has a mysterious past and reasons why he’d like to forget. We get an inkling of one bit of that, but hints also reveal that he’s got a lot more stuff that makes him broken than just his cut off wings. So yep, more for next book (wahoo!). He doesn’t want to be responsible for the heroine and wants to hate her, but you can see the smoldering attraction on both sides as the story progresses and they learn to respect/like each other. That ramps up the tension quite nicely when they are both tossed into the same fight where only one will live.

To add to all that you have some pretty nasty villains, lots of action, some cool side characters, and great world building (an entire civilization on the moon!) Plenty of exciting stuff to keep you up late at night to finish the story.

Fair warning – the ending leaves you craving the next book. It’s not a brutal cliff hanger but dang, I want book 3 now.

Ella Dethroned

I discovered this book from an Instafreebie group giveaway and liked the cover and blurb well enough to get it. I’m so glad I did. I really enjoyed this story. It’s a 90 page prequel to a series that looks to be a blend of fantasy and light science fiction.

In Ella Dethroned, Ella has to flee with her most devoted guard or be killed by the usurper to her throne. Based on a prophecy given to her by an old seer, she must evade capture and give a relic, not of their world, to an old hermit in the next city over. The woods are crawling with the usurper’s searchers, and word gets to the city ahead of their arrival which requires a lot of evading, fighting, and crafty plans to fulfill her task.

It’s pretty much non-stop adventure with some really vivid prose that does a great job of portraying the world with hints of worlds beyond a gate that are also involved in this whole prophecy thing. Very intriguing, and I recommend checking it out.

The Alchemists of Loom

I’m always a sucker for stories that involve two people with mortal hatred having to work together. It makes for some fun interactions as they slowly learn to respect and even (gasp!) like each other. I enjoyed watching the development of the main characters as they progress through the story.

The world was well developed with plenty of imagination to satisfy the fantasy lover in me. The author does a great job of describing different places (at least above ground ones). The underground wasn’t as well defined but fortunately we didn’t spend much time there. The magic and even the technology was given unique twists that made it interesting to read about and there were enough limits that it felt believable. There are imbalances in the fights but not because of overpowered magic.

The grammar and writing style is decent though there were a couple of places where the author was probably trying to get too fancy and I didn’t understand what meaning was trying to be conveyed by the sentence. I did a huh, what double take before shrugging and moving on. It was only in a couple of spots and didn’t impact the enjoyment of the story.

Though the villains tend to be one dimensional, I like that the woman dragon tried to be smart about where to find her enemies, though she fell on the dumb side when confronting them and probably didn’t live up to being bad enough to give you that YAH! rush when she’s overcome.

That leads me to the one major flaw in this otherwise delightful story, which is the ending. The final battle was way too short and anti-climactic to be considered the epic final confrontation. In fact, one of the enemies dies off screen. The battle was too easy and didn’t require the other protagonists to get involved even though the main villain knew what she was up against from a past fight. I found earlier fights to be more fulfilling than this one. Also, after the battle, the story lingers long past when it should have ended and winds up becoming the slow ramp up (with some thumb twiddling) that you expect to see only at the beginning of a book. Then it gets hacked off to form a rather weak cliffhanger.

Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the story and will read the next book. If you enjoy steampunk type worlds then you’ll probably enjoy this one.