Den of Shadows – Christopher Byford Review

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One…

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One night to forget all your troubles. But once on board there is more to the show than meets the eye: enter Franco, the elaborate ringleader, Wyld the stowaway thief and Misu the fire breathing showgirl.

In a kingdom ruled by the law Franco ensures his den remains in line, ruling with an iron first. But when he’s faced with saving the fate of the train, and those on board, he may be forced to break his own rules. Life on the den isn’t just a job but a way of life. And now you’re about to find out why!

Welcome to the den…

Why did I pick this up?: Comparisons to the Night Circus, a train running across the desert with an elaborate ringleader aboard? Sounds like my cup of tea.

Good points: The Gamblers’ Den is a Vegas on wheels, but better. Beautiful descriptions of the casino, the show they put on for the customers, everything. The flamboyant manners of the characters are exactly my style, and it’s got such a unique premise that the idea swept me along immediately. It’s one of those ideas that as a writer I wish I’d thought of first!

Quibbles: It takes a long time to get started. And I mean a long time. I was wondering what was going to happen well into the fourth and fifth chapters of a twenty chapter book. And, beautiful as it was, it failed to catch me and make me desperate to read more, something I look for in books I add to my shelves.

Overview (TL;DR): A beautiful book with an exciting premise that just missed the mark for me and my shelves. Someone else may find it exactly to their taste.

-K Hart

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

Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell Review

“There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.”

Kellen’s dreams of becoming a powerful mage like his father are shattered after a failed magical duel results in the complete loss of his abilities. When other young mages begin to suffer the same fate, Kellen is accused of unleashing a magical curse on his own clan and is forced to flee with the help of a mysterious foreign woman who may in fact be a spy in service to an enemy country. Unsure of who to trust, Kellen struggles to learn how to survive in a dangerous world without his magic even as he seeks out the true source of the curse. But when Kellen uncovers a conspiracy hatched by members of his own clan seeking to take power, he races back to his city in a desperate bid to outwit the mages arrayed against him before they can destroy his family.

Why did I pick this up?: First thing, I loved the cover. I have a thing about playing cards – I absolutely love them. Don’t know why, don’t know how, but I just bought six decks myself because they were pretty. So the cover, and the title, drew me in straight away. I wanted to know more about any story that has playing cards in it.

Good points: Where do I start? I loved this. I really did. Ferius I adored. I want to be her. She talks smart, and she has CARDS, what more could you want? I loved how Kellen developed through the story, too, as he understood more about his people and the things that had happened. Also, squirrel cats? Annoyed, grouchy squirrel cats? Why not? They’re not supposed to be, but they still sound sort of cute to me. This was also so much darker than I expected it to be, and I love that. Dark is my thing. The magic of the Jan’Tep was fascinating, and I’d love to learn more. All in all, I don’t really have much bad to say about this at all. I loved almost everything. Which brings me to…

Quibbles: I’m not sure what to say here. I’m honestly not. I expected to dislike this story as it was a chance pick, but I utterly loved it and plan on getting my hands on a print copy asap to add to my shelves.

Overview (TL;DR): It’s gained an honourary place on my shelves!

-K Hart

Blood and Ink – Holly Evans Review

It turns out that saving the day comes at a cost. In this case, my home in Wildrun. Oh, and my freedom.

Keirn called in a few favours with his friend, Fein. In return for a new life and some help hiding the fact that I’m an ink magician, we belong to the elf that runs half of Prague. Some rumours say he runs half the continent.

There’s an art thief in town, and Fein’s decided it’s my job to find and stop them. I didn’t dare point out that I’m a tattoo magician, not a detective.

The real problem is, I’m terrified that this is a slippery slope, and I don’t like where it’s going.

Why did I pick this up?: This is the second book in Holly Evans’ Ink Born series, which I was lucky enough to get an ARC of from the author after reading and loving the first.

Good points: Keirn and Dacian = perfect. Tyn is adorable. Vyx is incredible and awesome and I wish I was more like her. Characterisation throughout this book is REALLY good. You really get into and feel for each different character as you read on. I read this book in the space of two days, happily between working on my own writing as a break, and it was the best break I could hope for. Urban fantasy at its best! It’s also set in gorgeous Prague, which is just perfect!

Quibbles: None that I can think of, really. Sometimes the plot moves very fast and I ran to keep up, but I sort of LIKED that.

Overall (TL;DR): Read it. Well, read the first one first. But still… definitely a great sequel.

Keeper of the Dawn – Dianna Gunn Review

Sometimes failure is just the beginning

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Why did I pick this up?: There was a call on Twitter for people to read an ARC of this, especially bloggers who are on the aromantic or the asexual spectrum (or both, like me!). I jumped in and ta dah! ARC.

Good points: This is a cute little story, nicely written, reminiscent of the likes of Tamora Pierce and that vein. Perfect for me, of course, since I love Tamora Pierce. There was nicely done asexual representation that may even have been aromantic as well, although the words were never used. I loved that there was a discussion between the characters about boundaries and what they wanted. Also, cute female/female relationship, yes please!

Quibbles: Few, really. I think perhaps the story could have been expanded further, but then, I’m not used to reading novellas, so that could be the novel reader in me talking. Other than that, nothing. It was an interesting read that I managed in the space of a few hours.

Overview (TL;DR): A nice, quick fantasy read with some asexual and same-sex relationship rep. What more could a girl want?

-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