Heartborn – Terry Maggert Review

Her guardian angel was pushed.

Keiron was never meant to be anything other than a hero. Born high above in a place of war and deception, he is Heartborn, a being of purity and goodness in a place where violence and deceit are just around every corner.

His disappearance will spark a war he cannot see, for Keiron has pierced the light of days to save a girl he has never met, for reasons he cannot understand. Livvy Foster is seventeen, brave, and broken. With half a heart, she bears the scars of a lifetime of pain and little hope of survival.

Until Keiron arrives.

In the middle of a brewing war and Livvy’s failing heart, Keiron will risk everything for Livvy, because a Heartborn’s life can only end in one way: Sacrifice.

Fall with Livvy and Keiron as they seek the truth about her heart, and his power, and what it means to love someone who will give their very life to save you.

Why did I pick this up?: It had a gorgeous cover. Honestly, this is the main reason. That and the tagline ‘her guardian angel was pushed’. It sounded interesting.

Good points: Okay, so I really liked the character Dozer, I thought he was funny and relatable and loved him.

Quibbles: Everyone else bored me. There were so many tropes, there was so much insta-love nonsense, there was just… it really wasn’t for me. Even the bit in the clouds, with the angels, which for some people redeemed the whole book, just wasn’t of interest to me. I genuinely almost did not finish this book simply because it bored me. It had a good idea going, but it didn’t make it.

Overview (TL;DR): Almost DNF. Bored to tears.

-K Hart

The Wishing Heart – J. C. Welker Review

With a book in her bag and a switchblade in her pocket, Rebel’s been thieving her way through life while hoping for a cure to fix her ailing heart.

But when the bejeweled vase she just tried to hawk turns out to be a jinni’s vessel, Rebel gets lost to her world and dragged within another. Now every magical being in the city wants the vase for himself.

Thrust into a game of cat and mouse in a world she never knew existed, Rebel must use her uncanny skills to find a way to free Anjeline the Wishmaker.

But wishes have consequences. And contracts. Anjeline’s freedom could unravel a love like Rebel has never known, or it could come at the cost of Rebel’s heart…

Why did I pick this up?: Honestly? I heard the word ‘jinni’ and I was in. Thieves, magic, jinni stuff… All immediate pick-ups for me. A definite interest.

Good points: It did all of what I expected and more. F/F relationship? YES PLEASE. It was so cute, too. At times it got a little trope-y, but that was all part of its charm. Magical creatures, sirens, werewolves, magicians, all looking for this jinni and the vase some girl thief picked up by accident. It read a little like a modern fairytale – perfect.

Quibbles: Like I said above, sometimes it got a little trope-y. I also lost the plot of it a couple of times and missed out on the smaller details. But other than that, a very good read with a very sweet story.

Overview (TL;DR): Cute, with a properly explored f/f relationship, modern fairytale vibes from this book. Worth a read.

-K Hart

Labyrinth Lost – Zoraida Córdova Review

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Why did I pick this up?: I’d heard so much about this book, and it sounded perfect for me. Diversity, check. Brujas? Check.

Good points: This story was beautifully told. Rishi was adorable, and we had a BISEXUAL PROTAGONIST yay. Los Lagos was beautiful, dark, rich and morbid all in alternate places – it was perfect. I’ve heard constant comparisons to Alice in Wonderland, which I adore, so it’s only natural some of the love I have for one book would have passed on to the other. The bird people were awesome, as was the intricate description of the rest of the world. Latin mythology, too? YES PLEASE.

Bad points: I have to say, it didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped from hearing about it. I was honestly hoping for an f/f pairing that was more than just a little at the end of the book and a few moments throughout to give it confirmation. I could have also dealt with a little more characterisation of most if not all of the characters. It started off amazingly with that, but trailed off for me towards the end.

Overview (TL;DR): A beautiful book with some amazing mythology incorporated, but at times loses it on the characterisation front. F/F relationship not as explored as I might have liked.

-K Hart

Deviations – Anma Natsu Review

Not all love triangles require choosing between two sides…

For seventeen-year-old Miho, the long war with her own mind is becoming too much to bear. Between the unending nightmares, PTSD, depression, and isolation, the mental skirmishes never end. Those sweet whispers of the dark wisps promise freedom from the pain, and it’s getting harder to say no.

When she witnesses a tragic accident, she catches the interest of her classmates Taka and Shinji, two boys with reputations for being casual playboys. But they let Miho see what no one else bothers to notice, like the regular abuse Shinji hides behind a sweet smile and easy-going laugh and Taka’s barely leashed rage and frustration over his inability to protect his best friend or even control his own destiny.

What starts as a hesitant friendship becomes a deep connection the three can’t ignore, but do they dare dream of happiness when the world around them seems bent on destroying them?

Why did I pick this up?: Mental health representation, positive representation of alternative relationships? Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

Good points: I really, honestly and truly loved this book at first. The characters are well-written, there’s some great mental health rep, and I could see this really beautiful relationship forming between the characters that kept me wanting to read on. I even spoke about it to friends when I was about half-way through to say how awesome it was and how excited I was to see polyamory representation.

Quibbles: Here’s where I start worrying. The moment I realise the title, ‘deviations’ is not just a casual title but a name that the characters refer to themselves as (‘deviants’), and a theme throughout the second half of the book. I won’t give away any details but I do like how it ended, I just… that word makes me really uncomfortable. Polyamory isn’t ‘deviant’. It’s just a relationship like any other. And for someone who, as far as I know is neither Japanese nor necessarily polyamorous to write about polyamory in Japanese society… it’s very difficult not to trip up. And I think calling polyamorous people ‘deviants’, no matter how it’s done, is a way of doing that. I also found that there were some very graphic sex scenes later on that may not be a turn off for some, but are for me! Not to mention some scenes that talked about the guys wanting to ‘force themselves’ on Miho, something I am SUPER uncomfortable with.

Overview (TL;DR): The book is really well written, but made me uncomfortable because the otherwise good representation was made darker by characters references to themselves as ‘deviant’ and some very sexual scenes.

-K Hart

Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho Review

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.

But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Why did I pick this up?: Honestly, I picked it up because I KEPT hearing about it. So often that I eventually caved and thought ‘why not just buy it and see?’

Good points: Okay, there is this gorgeous idea within it where characters use clouds as transportation. I LOVE THAT. I also love Prunella, and Rollo, who are great characters with huge potential.

Quibbles: I haven’t got that many, but yet again this was a book I was reading that was very slow to start. It reads a little like Austen, as several people have said, and this sort of thing often puts me off. However this time it didn’t. I’d say it was a steady 4/5. It also reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I love, so there was always going to be at least some positive points there.

Overview (TL;DR): Super short review, but… it was a good book, nothing to scream and rave about for me, but definitely worth picking up.

-K Hart

Grey Magic – J T Lawrence Review

No one appreciates the irony of her situation more than Raven Kane: she’s a burnt-out witch. Raven is a hip, hexing-and-texting sorceress – or at least, she used to be. Now her ancient timber house is falling down around her, and the bank wants to repossess it. Nothing would make her cantankerous neighbour happier than seeing Raven and her messy menagerie out on the street. To add to her stress, the reckless Wicked Witches are causing mischief and it’s her job to reign them in. Worst of all is that her magic seems to be fading. Just as everything seems to be too much to handle, there’s a knock on the (splintering) door. A not-unattractive man appears in her life: not to save her, as a fairytale would have you believe, but to arrest her for the murder of one of her clients. It wouldn’t be that bad for Raven, except that she knows she’s guilty.

Why did I pick this up?: The plot sounded intriguing, and a modern take on witchcraft sounded like exactly my sort of thing. I also loved the simplicity of the cover.

Good points: Well, it did what it said on the tin. It was very much a modern witch story, with some great humour throughout.

Quibbles: Honestly, it took me SO LONG to get into and I’m not sure it was worth it. I’ve seen some very good reviews of this book, so maybe it was just me, but I think this book and I were incompatible. It was very nearly a DNF for me. Part of that, I think, was the use of present tense. It took me so long to get over that. I rarely like books in present tense – it has to be really good to grab me, and this one missed the mark, sadly. I loved the theory behind it, and the sense of what the story could have been, but I found the MC’s conversations with herself distracting rather than endearing, and the length of time it took for me to show interest at all was far too long for me.

Overview (TL;DR): Really not for me, which is a shame. To anyone reading this, it might be better for you, and by all means check out other reviews, but not for me.

-K Hart

House of Binding Thorns – Aliette De Bodard Review

As the city rebuilds from the onslaught of sorcery that nearly destroyed it, the great Houses of Paris, ruled by fallen angels, still contest one another for control over the capital.

House Silverspires was once the most powerful, but just as it sought to rise again, an ancient evil brought it low. Phillippe, an immortal who escaped the carnage, has a singular goal – to resurrect someone he lost. But the cost of such magic might be more than he can bear.

In House Hawthorn, Madeleine the alchemist has had her addiction to angel essence savagely broken. Struggling to live on, she is forced on a perilous diplomatic mission to the underwater dragon kingdom – and finds herself in the midst of intrigues that have already caused one previous emissary to mysteriously disappear . . .

As the Houses seek a peace more devastating than war, those caught between new fears and old hatreds must find strength – or fall prey to a magic that seeks to bind all to its will.

Why did I pick this up?: Okay, so this one is the second book in a series and I read the first a while back, where it is now sitting on my shelf smugly demanding to be joined by its partner. I picked up the first because Paris, fallen angels, magic, LGBT, dragons, fantasy? You’ve got me there.

Good points: I have to talk about it… Madeleine’s addiction. That was done SO WELL. So well-written, in fact, that I could see bits of people I’ve known within it. (For reference, I used to volunteer in addiction services, so I know where I’m coming from). The relationships between characters were incredible. I won’t give spoilers, but there’s something that happens throughout the book, accumulating right at the end, that is so much a twisted and so easily toxic and dark relationship and I hate it but I love it at the same time. Thuan’s growth throughout is amazing, as is the determination of Phillippe… the ruthlessness of the Hawthorne house… I could talk for hours, but this is supposed to be a short review.

Quibbles: Seriously? I’m struggling hard. All I can say is that it’s very political. Which to me is a good point, but to some of the people who like similar things to me, might get boring. Honestly, though, it was done so well it didn’t matter.

Overall (TL;DR): Do read. Maybe read the first book first (The House of Shattered Wings), but absolutely this book did not disappoint!

-K Hart

Stolen Ink – Holly Evans Review

I’m Dacian, a tattoo magician, and my life went from my biggest concern being finding a pretty guy to fall into bed with at the end of the week to everything falling apart around me.

There are two problems in my life.

Number one – I’m an ink magician, the thing of myths. A lot of very powerful people would love to get their hands on me, and I have no intention of letting that happen.

Number two – A tattoo thief came to my city, and the magical community has decided that I’m the guy to stop them.

Somehow, I have to catch the thief without letting my secret out of the bag, and that’s even harder than it sounds.

Why did I pick this up?: LGBT+ ink magician? Urban fantasy? OF COURSE I was going to pick this up, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. I got what I came for and more.

Good points:  Isiah! I fell in love with this character from the first moment he appeared. Elves! Magicians! Tattoo magic! Vyx! Potentially asexual representation! Gay characters! Badass vixen hybrids! Snarky sarcasm. This was practically my perfect book. Vyx and Isiah I particularly fell in love with.

Quibbles: I had a panic mid-book thinking that there was going to be a sex scene, but there was all of the lead-up to sex and then a fade to black. THANK YOU SO MUCH HOLLY EVANS. I LOVE fade to black, because it saves me from having to read the gross details. So anyone like me, who moves away from sex automatically, know that this book is mostly safe for you!

Overall (TL:DR): READ IT. I absolutely loved it and have already prodded several friends to read it.

-K Hart

Red Right Hand – Levi Black Review

Charlie Tristan Moore isn’t a hero. She’s a survivor. On a night when her demons from the past are triggered, she arrives home to something even more harrowing-an attack by three monstrous skinhounds, creatures straight out of nightmares. She fights but is outmatched. Just as hope seems lost, in sweeps The Man In Black, a rescuer even more monstrous and unlikely, dressed in a long, dark coat that seems to have a life of its own and with a black-bladed sword held in his terrible, red right hand.

Her rescue comes at a cost. She must become his new Acolyte and embrace a dark magick she never knew she had inside her. To ensure she gives it her all, he takes her friend and possible love, Daniel, in thrall as a hostage to her obedience. The Man in Black, a Lovecraftian chaos god, claims to be battling his brethren gods, other horrors who are staging an incipient apocalypse. But is he truly the lesser of all evils or merely killing off the competition? Either way, will Charlie be strong enough to save herself, Daniel, and possibly the entire world?

I really liked this book in the end. Lovecraftian monsters, a ‘heroine’ with a survivor attitude and a hell of a kick. I usually like ‘mysterious guy/girl turns up out of nowhere’ stories, too, and this one fits the bill. For me, it was a short, easy read with enough to keep me reading on and enough characterisation to make me decide who I liked and who I didn’t, which is pretty key for me. I probably will read the next one, but it’s not a must like some others I’ve read. I’d be willing to wait a little.

-K Hart

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – Emily Croy Barker Review

An imaginative story of a woman caught in an alternate world—where she will need to learn the skills of magic to survive

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic has been described as Pride and Prejudice meets Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Nora is a graduate student in her thirties kidnapped from our world, where her boyfriend has just left her for another woman, and brought to a world of balls and parties. There, she seems intended for the beautiful Ilissa’s son, Raclin, who is equally handsome and charming. Here, you can begin to see some of the Pride and Prejudice elements. And it’s true, that the society she becomes a part of has many of the values of Austen’s. It’s also true that the book features as part of the story. But there the resemblance ends. Only relatively short amount of time is spent in this Austen-esque creation before the ‘darker’ existence mentioned in the book’s blurb strikes. The rest is spent with the magician, Arundiel, who is apparently Mr Darcy-esque.

I didn’t see it. Although there were comparisons between the moody magician who reluctantly tutors Nora and the moody Mr Darcy, but they are few and far between. And as for the Magicians comparisons, I don’t see them. Yes, she learns magic, and yes, there is a certain group of books, with disillusioned protagonists introduced to a magical world, which both books belong to, but that’s where the similarity ends. I adored the Magicians. I… finished reading this. And I don’t think I’ll be reading the next one.

I will say a few things for it. The writing style was good. But the character development was nowhere near enough for 600 pages of writing, and the same with the plot. Perhaps this could have worked a lot better in a shorter book. The main focus seemed to be on the attempts at romance, which of course anyone knows is a no-go for me. There simply wasn’t enough to keep me interested. And large amounts of plot seemed to be jammed into the end of the book when they could have been further spread out.

Maybe if you like the romance side, there would be a lot more to this book. But for now… it’s not for me.

-K Hart