Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Kingdom of Runes series (so far!) review

After the Prince of Penryth saved her from captivity, seventeen-year-old Haven Ashwood spends her days protecting the kind prince and her nights secretly fighting the monsters outside the castle walls. 

When one of those monsters kidnaps Prince Bell, Haven must ally with Archeron Halfbane and his band of immortals to rescue her friend. Her quest takes her deep into the domain of a warped and vicious queen where the rules are simple: break her curse or die.

Lost in a land of twisted magic and fabled creatures, Haven finds herself unprepared, not just for the feelings she develops for Archeron, but for the warring powers raging inside her. 

Her rare and forbidden type of magic may be their only hope . . . but mixing light and dark comes with a steep price. Haven’s soul.

Faced with impossible love, heartbreaking betrayals, and a queen intent on destroying the realm, only one thing remains certain. Haven must shatter the curse or it will devour everything she loves. 

This series alone has made my Kindle Unlimited subscription worth it!

There are YA fantasy cliches aplenty here; heroine with a mysterious past and super-special magic, love interests left and right, a quest to save the realm...but the amazing worldbuilding and characters make this book feel unique.

Haven did initially come across as a little annoying at first since her confidence and sass can occasionally fall on the wrong side of arrogance, but she is revealed to have a much softer and more vulnerable side at the story goes on. I really loved Haven and Bell's friendship being just that. Not only did the story not need another love interest, but it's also refreshingly rare to read male/female friendships in YA that don't lead to anything more. Her interplay with the immortal Solis' on their journey to rescue Bell (Haven) or break the curse (the Solis') was really great too and, although Archeron felt a little bland for a love interest, the banter between them was great stuff.

The worldbuilding was fantastic and the author did a great job of crafting this vast world and its inhabitants through the story, without relying on big chunks of infodumps and exposition. There definitely feels like there's a lot more to be explored in the sequels! 

Haven survived the Devourers, but she isn’t any closer to breaking the curse. Meanwhile, her forbidden magic rages brighter and more dangerous every day.

To control her powers and stand a chance against the Shade Queen, Haven made a bargain with two enemy immortals. Now her waking hours are spent fighting alongside the Sun Lord, but her dreams belong to the Shade Lord.

Only the closer she ventures into the wicked Shadow Kingdom the more her magic shows itself—and the more she struggles with whom to trust. The golden but wounded Sun Lord or the darkly charismatic Shade Lord.

Both are off-limits. And both have the ability to save her . . . or destroy her.

With the Shade Queen closing in and Bell’s time nearly up, Haven will sacrifice everything to break the curse—but will it be enough to stop the mortal realm from falling into darkness forever?

Curse Breaker was a great book and definitely a worthy follow-up to Oath Taker. Was it as good? Eh...not quite, but it wasn't far off. 

This book definitely felt less tightly plotted than its predecessor, with Haven and co ticking curse items of the list in one set piece after another giving the book a much more episodic feel. Fortunately, these episodes are great, with tense trips to steal from a monstrous vorgrath and an action-packed visit to acquire a selkie scale from an underwater cave at least feeling different enough to break up any repetition. 

I wasn't a huge fan of Haven being a bit more of a damsel in distress this time around. I lost count of the number of times one of the love interests swooped in to save her. This book goes heavier on the love triangle than the previous one did, so your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about that sort of thing. Luckily, the excellent worldbuilding that I loved so much in the previous book is still present and correct here, with more lands and realms explored and more history revealed.

Bell's ordeals in the castle of the Shade Queen (who I will never stop picturing as Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones!) added a countdown element to the story this time around which meant I pretty much blew through this book in one sitting. Love triangle aside, it's that good! 

Haven and her crew may be considered heroes, but they arrive back in Penryth harboring dangerous secrets. Plagued by nightmares, Haven struggles to control her newfound magic while Bell shrinks under the weight of their shared lie.

When an emissary from Solissia shows up in Penryth and drafts Bell in a magical tournament, Haven is once again forced to follow the prince to foreign lands, this time to the bloodthirsty court of Archeron’s mother.

Trapped in a shifting landscape of dark politics, duplicitous immortals, and cruel sovereigns, Haven fights to keep Bell alive all without revealing their secret. But a terrible evil brews on the horizon. One that threatens the very fabric of the realm.

Haven might be their only hope of stopping the impending darkness. But first she must learn to accept her own darkness and follow her heart—no matter where it leads.

Given that this is the third book in a four (or possibly five) book series. I was expecting this book to be padded with filler. I wasn't expecting to launch back into this awesome world so quickly and with such a great plot!

Haven's character development from book one has been brilliant and the revelations about her past and what it means for her future have been really great. It's hard to believe the brash, arrogant character I was rolling my eyes at in the first chapter of book has grown into one of my faves.

My main issue with this book, and why I didn't rate it five stars I the love triangle element which I've not been a huge fan of from the start. Not my cup of tea, I guess. While I never really bought Archeron a viable love interest in this series (it's felt pretty obvious to me that the author had thrown her lot in with Stolas) I didn't particularly care for how he was thrown under a bus to push Haven more towards Stolas. Characters mature and change so having someone grow out of their attraction to the guy who was the main love interest book one is absolutely fine. It's not necessary to completely rewrite Archeron to make him a bad match now. The changes Haven has been through from book one alone are enough to explain why they're not suited anymore.

I was glad that we finally got some revelations about Haven's past and the history of the realm. Some I saw coming, some I definitely didn't! I can't wait to pick up the next book in the series!

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Reasons to work with a beta reader

What is a beta reader?

Just like beta testing ensures that all the bugs have been worked out of a system before it’s released to the public, beta reading is the process of reading and reviewing a book to identify any problems and areas for improvement before it’s published or sent to agents. Beta readers are the people who provide pre-publish reviews and feedback for your book to make sure it’s ready to be received as you intended by your readers, as well as flagging up any areas where you can improve the story you’re telling.

How do beta readers fit into the writing process?

This very much depends on what you’re intending to do with your book – whether you want to self-publish or query for traditional publishing – but, generally, beta readers come in when you’ve “finished” the first draft of your book. Their job is to read your story as your audience will and provide you with feedback on what’s working, what isn’t, and where you can improve things. Once you’ve made your beta reader edits, you may want to have fresh betas review it (if you’ve made significant edits) or you can then send it to an editor for polishing. From there, you’re ready to self-publish or begin the query process. 

Do I really need a beta reader?

In my humble opinion, beta readers are an essential part of writing a book (and I'm not just saying that because I am one, I promise!). I think my noodle sandwiches are delicious but if I tried to sell them I might find they're not as popular I think they'd be (in fact, I'm pretty sure I'd have no takers!). That's why impartial, honest feedback is so important. If you're thinking about getting a beta reader for your book, here are a couple of the main benefits:

Fresh eyes

To use a cliché I’d recommend removing from a book, sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. When you put your story together, you do so with all of the supplementary knowledge that you’ve built. You know your characters and their history, you know your world inside out and you know that the sneaky reference that you made in chapter five sets up the big reveal at the end. But does it all come across to your reader? A beta reader picks up your book with no prior knowledge, just as your readers will one day. This lets you know if important information needs clarification, if too much information has spoiled the flow of the story or if you’ve gone over-the-top with irrelevant details.

A different perspective

While critique partners read your manuscript for craft and editors polish your text, beta readers review your book with your reader’s eyes. This unique perspective gives you an additional viewpoint on your story, one that gives you early indications of how your book may be received by your readers.

Less work for your editor

As a rule of thumb, editors tend to be much pricier than paid beta readers. While a beta reader absolutely does not replace an editor, they can help you pick up errors and issues with your manuscript that can be fixed before it’s sent for edits. This means your editor won’t have to waste time correcting story issues that a beta reader can point out.

Honest, candid feedback

Friends and family are good sounding boards, but unless you have brutally honest relatives you might find yourself with a lot of polite feedback on how good your book is, with very little actionable feedback. Beta readers, particularly those who charge for their services, know that their job is to read your manuscript to help you polish your story, and the only way to do that is with honest, helpful comments.

Pre-publishing feedback from your audience

Most beta readers specialise in a couple of genres or at least have their preferences. By working with a beta who specialises in your genre, you're getting feedback on your novel directly from the people who will one day buy your book. Not only can you find out if your story works for the genre, but betas tend to be pretty well-read in their area so any similarities to other books or cliches that have been done to death can also get flagged up.

If you want to connect with beta readers, there are plenty of online forums where you can request a beta or order from one who's already offering their services. I tend to post my availability on the Goodread Beta Reader Group forums and take bookings through Fiverr, but there are lots of writers forums out there sharing recommendations and tips.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Cover reveals - Ashen and Met By Midnight


Stealer of warmth, bringer of death. What if Cinderella had a secret that kept her locked away?

Unable to make her own body heat, foundling Lizbete survives in the tavern kitchen, drawing warmth from the fires, the sun—and sometimes, other living beings. Her days are spent cooking alongside the tavern owner and avoiding the suspicious gazes of the villagers in her small northern village. While she quietly longs for the handsome Brynar, she knows she has no chance with the mayor’s son, even if he invites her to the First Frost festival.

When sudden earthquakes strike Brumehome, blame falls upon Lizbete, and not even her friendship with Brynar can protect her. She finds shelter in the mysterious caverns of nearby Ash Mountain. There she discovers mysterious people with her same ability to draw heat—and a fiery doom in the mountain that slowly awakens with every quake.

Now the festival Lizbete thought to avoid is her only chance to warn the villagers. Yet even with Brynar at her side, can the strange girl dubbed the Ash Lizard hope to save the town that fears her?

A rugged YA Cinderella retelling set in a fantasy world with light steampunk elements.


Ashen by H.L. Burke
Genre: YA Fantasy/Cinderella Retelling
Release Date: September 22 2020
Uncommon Universes Press

About the Author

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic. Her obsessions include dragons and tales about inner beauty and character overcoming extreme circumstances. Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.

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Met By Midnight

An outcast prince. A captive healer. A single night that changes their destinies.

She lives a nightmare.

As a Mender, Renna is held captive to an endless cycle of receiving and recovering from the physical ailments of others—a cycle that led her mother to an early grave. When her father becomes deathly ill, Renna is desperate to save her only remaining family. Even if it means allying with criminals and taking an illegal mission into the royal palace on the night of their greatest ball.

He’s haunted by dreams.

Unable to be Mended, Prince Jaric’s existence is a curse to his family’s façade of health and security. Marrying him off at the ball and sending him to a distant barony is the royal solution—but Jaric has his own plans. For years he’s dreamed of a young woman, a strong-hearted Mender he would give everything for. When she arrives the night of his betrothal, he’s determined to discover her true identity.

Met by midnight, their fates are entwined.

While escape seems the only answer, powerful forces conspire to keep Renna and Jaric within their cages. Forces that undermine the foundations of the kingdom itself—and threaten any hope of a future together.

This YA romance features Cinderella in an original fantasy world with a dystopian twist.

Met By Midnight
by Jeneen Ippolito
Genre: YA Fantasy/Cinderella Retelling
Release Date: September 22nd 2020
Uncommon Universes Press

About the Author

Janeen Ippolito believes in Jesus, true love, and the power of your unique words. She's a bestselling author of speculative fiction, writing resources, and poetry. She's also an editor, author coach, marketing strategist, and the president of Uncommon Universes Press. When she's not immersed in the geektastic world of words, she's helping her husband with his youth swordfighting ministry, exploring a slew of random hobbies, and posting up cute animal videos on social media. This extroverted writer loves to connect, so find her on Facebook, Instagram, and her website

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Thursday, 4 June 2020

The Girl Who Would Be King

The Girl Who Would Be King
Newsflash; I am in love with this book!

After reading good things about The Girl Who Would Be King by Kelly Thompson while setting up my blog, I picked it for my second review, expecting to take a week or so to read and review it properly. Instead, I stayed up until the early hours of the morning reading because I simply could not put it down. It’s that good!

Featuring a pair of kickass female leads, TGWWBK tells the story of teenagers Bonnie Braverman and Lola LeFever, both gifted with god-like superpowers on the event of their mother’s deaths. While Bonnie is driven to help and protect, Lola is set on death and destruction. Drawn to each other by destiny and a history which goes far beyond the two of them, the two girls take very different paths with their powers, paths which collide in spectacular style in the lead up to the inevitable confrontation. 

Dual protagonist novels are notoriously difficult to write and usually difficult to read without the temptation to skip pages. But to call TGWWBK a dual protagonist novel would be untrue. What Thompson has done is even trickier; tell two interwoven stories through the eyes of a protagonist and an antagonist. The story itself may not be ground breaking - it’s your classic good vs evil, with a helping of “teenager with magical powers” thrown in - but the characters of Bonnie and Lola are what makes this book come alive. Relatable even when they’re punching helicopters out of the sky or setting their broken bones, both girls are damn near close to character perfection. The inner dialogue and first person point of view storytelling paints each character with her own vivid personality, there’s certainly no danger that you’ll forget which character you’re reading! Thompson is a truly gifted author (one who makes me positively green with envy!) who does a fantastic job of writing in two distinct voices. There are symbols to tell you which girl is narrating, but you likely won’t need them. The care that's gone into creating these girls as three dimensional characters, rather than just "skins" that the reader can slip into to experience the story, is clear to see. There's also some fantastic artwork online which is worth checking out.

As with all novels that feature more than one lead character, it’s hard not to play favourites, but whether you lean towards good or evil, this book has you covered. Bonnie is your more traditional YA novel heroine. Her gift is her curse, and she takes a while to accept what she is and decide to use her powers for good. She’s introverted and guarded, but ultimately kind and selfless, rising up to become what she was born to be. Maybe it says something about me though that my favourite character was Lola. Hand on heart, I found her to be one of the finest characters to come out of YA lit in a long time. She begins the book by killing her own mother for her powers, then driving off to Vegas on a motorcycle with a black cat suit and a vague plan to set up an underworld empire. She’s twisted, she’s evil and she’s seriously screwed up, but good lord is she fun to read! Brutally honest (as well as downright brutal) and utterly clueless at times, she’s like a comic book supervillain who grew up in Hollywood, and her descent into madness is utterly riveting. If the book had one flaw, it’s that Lola was such a fantastic character that she left Bonnie a little in the shade. I found myself rooting for the bad guy! That’s not to say at all that Bonnie’s chapters left me cold, but they were much more familiar territory for an avid reader of YA books.

Speaking of which, the book is a little edgier than most YA, with more graphic violence and a sprinkling of PG 13 sex, but that’s just another thing that sets it apart from the rest of the pack. There’s always the risk when setting this type of story in the real world rather than some mythical kingdom far, far away that a fair bit of suspension of disbelief will be required, and this is certainly true of TGWWBK. But the storytelling, and most importantly the characters, are so enthralling that you won’t even notice!

In summary. Five stars! Loved it, and cannot rate it highly enough! If you like ass kicking female leads, comic book violence, superpowers and an old fashioned good vs evil throw down, then this book is for you. Oh, and if you’re a guy? Please don’t be put off by a female lead, trust me when I say you will not be disappointed by TGWWBK. The only problem is I’ll need to clear my diary when Thompson’s next book comes out. I certainly won’t be getting much sleep!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Siren's Song

With the loss of Tulla still fresh in mind, Rasha’s fate unknown, and Lord Myles taken over by the dark ability, Nym and the few Bron soldiers rush to warn Cashlin’s queen. As the Luminescents are sifting through Nym’s past memories and the queen is reading into her future, Nym is given a choice of how to defeat Draewulf, but the cost may be more than she can bear. And even then there are no guarantees.

With that reality burrowing into her bones - along with the guilt of the lives she will sacrifice - Nym returns to her homeland of Faelen to raise an army of peasants through promises of freedom. But when the few friends she has left, along with the world and citizens she loves, are staring down the face of a monster and his undead army, will Nym summon every element her blood is capable of controlling, or surrender to a different strength - one of sacrifice? Because in the end, death may be more merciful for them all.

*** I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, but this has in no way influenced this post. Honestly, it doesn't need to, because this book is frickin' amazing!***

I had mixed feelings about finally reading the final book in the Storm Siren trilogy. One one hand I was dying to get my hands on an ARC so that I could start it as soon as possible, and when I got approval I almost did a happy dance. 

On the other hand, I didn't want to read it for two reasons. One, I've loved this series and these characters so much that I don't ever want it to end. And two, I wasn't sure my fragile constitution could take the ending I was fearing.

My fears were unfounded. This book, this series, is absolutely incredible. If you're thinking about maybe, possibly at some point checking it out ... please, please, please do it! I'm lucky to read a lot of books. Most I like, some I love, and others are ok. And then there's that one book that you can't stop raving about. The one that you want to give 10 stars to even though your rating only goes up to five. Books and series that make you remember why you read. Siren's Song is one of those books, and the Storm Siren trilogy is one of those series.

After narrowly escaping Draewulf at Tulla, Nym and her allies race to build an army to stop him before he can absorb the five bloodlines of the Hidden Lands and claim infinite power and immortality. From the crystal castle of Cashlin with its mind-reading Luminescents to the dreamy Valley of Origin with its dirt poor peasant farmers, every land, every character is lushly imagined and realised. I've loved the idea of five kingdoms with five powers in this series, each land and its people unique. Where Cashlin and even Faelen have gotten a bit of a short shrift until now, this is well and truly remedied here. This in one of my ultimate favourite fantasy worlds! It wasn't entirely perfect, there was one aspect of the story that kept bothering me by rearing its head time and time again. It seems unlikely that the king of Faelen would offer to step aside so easily for a seventeen year old girl with zero political experience, even if she is an Elemental. We're told that the throne of Faelen is Nym's birthright because she's the last Elemental, but there's no suggestion that her father was royal and her mother was a mortal, so does that mean anyone with the magic of a kingdom can be in line for its throne? If Colin had been the last Terrene, would he have been handed the crown of Tulla? Are all the Luminescents lining the crystal palace of Cashlin somewhere in line to inherit it? It's a frustratingly fuzzy logic in such a vividly painted world. But it's a minor quibble in an otherwise epic story.

As for the characters ... oh the characters! After spending much of the second book under Draewulf's control, I was so glad to have Eogan back! He may be the king of Bron rather than a humble trainer like he was in book one, but he's still the same wonderful character he was in Storm Siren, the same perfect contrast. His fledgling relationship with Nym against the backdrop of an approaching war that neither are sure they can win is just beautiful. I have to admit I prefer my romances with a little more action and a little less restraint, but it works perfectly in this story. With Rasha missing for a big chunk of the book, it's left to Nym's ragtag group of soldiers to fill the gap in the friendship department. They don't quite manage it, most are fairly interchangeable and nameless, although seven year old Kel is just adorable! I do kind of miss the deliciously slimey Lord Myles too! There's something to be said for the bad guy turned good, but I loved him as the secondary villain in book one!

And then there's Nym. I love her so much! She's the heart and soul of this book, this series, and the journey she's been on from the opening of Storm Siren to the end of Siren's Song is beautiful, heartbreaking and enthralling. The story's central themes of choice and freedom play out through her. After everything's she's been through she'd be totally within her rights to run away and hide, leaving the people who've shunned her to face Draewulf alone, but it's a testament to the strength of the story that you believe that she would stay and fight, that perfect strangers would flock to her banner and that maybe, just maybe, this is a fight she can win. She's a perfectly imperfect character and I'm genuinely so disappointed that I won't get to read any more of her adventures now that this series has ended.

The story itself is fairly standard. In the face of an approaching army that gets bigger and stronger at every turn, Nym is left to rally what's left of the Hidden Lands' nobility and their people under a promise of freedom. But somehow, even though I've read that story what seems like a million times, this time it feels brand new. There's a bit of an overload of prophecy and half-revelations - honestly, this book would clock in at about 10 chapters if characters just said what they knew instead of spouting crytic talk and giving no answers! - but there's something about Mary Weber's writing and the incredibly vivid characters that makes everything feel unique to this series.

I won't spoil the ending, but suffice to say I feel like I've been on an emotional rollercoaster reading this book, and I loved every minute of it. The final chapters in particular are a breathtaking whirlwind where storms rain down upon wraiths, mirages flutter across the battlefield, bombs drop from airships ... it has the potential to be a horribly confusing mess. But instead, it's utterly brilliant. If I was being nitpicky, I'd raise an eyebrow at the convenient powers and plot points that show up in the final act. But honestly, I loved this book too much to care! The conclusion is beautifully fitting, and I'll say no more because once I start raving I won't be able to stop.

I never thought I'd find a fantasy trilogy I loved as much as Laini Taylor's Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, but I have found my new favourite series. I want to shout about Storm Siren from the rooftops, but my neighbours might think I'm crazy and call the police. Instead I'll have to make do with raving online, because this series is awesome. It's imaginative, it's gripping and it's up there with some of the best YA fantasy I've ever read. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

Monday, 10 December 2018

Paper Girl - Blog Tour

I haven’t left my house in over a year. My doctor says it’s social anxiety, but I know the only things that are safe are made of paper. My room is paper. My world is paper. Everything outside is fire. All it would take is one spark for me to burst into flames. So I stay inside. Where nothing can touch me. Then my mom hire a tutor. Jackson. This boy I had a crush on before the world became too terrifying to live in.

Jackson’s life is the complete opposite of mine, and I can tell he’s got secrets of his own. But he makes me feel things. Makes me want to try again. Makes me want to be brave. I can almost taste the outside world. But so many things could go wrong, and all it takes is one spark for everything I love to disappear...

About the Author
Cindy lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and loves using Colorado towns and cities as inspiration for settings in her stories. She's the mother of three girls, who provide plenty of fodder for her YA novels. Cindy writes speculative fiction and YA fiction, filled with a healthy dose of romance. You'll often find her hiking or listening to any number of playlists while she comes up with her next story idea.

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Paper Girl was a sweet, beautifully written story. Zoe suffers from severe agoraphobic anxiety and hasn't left her family home in a year. Jackson is homeless despite his high flying public persona. The two interact in their mutual escape of online chess and their virtual and real world collide when Zoe's mum hires Jackson to be here tutor. It might sound twee and more than a little cliched, but you'll be so swept up in Zoe's paper world that you won't hold it against the book.

The descriptions of Zoe's paper world were awe-inspiring. It was an interesting touch for her character - I would pay money to see that paper galaxy! - and I absolutely loved the chapters of her online chats with Jackson. Neither knows who they're speaking to so they're free to be as honest and open as they like which made for a nice contrast as the two gradually opened up to each other. I did enjoy Jackson's chapters a little more than Zoe's though, simply because I've read plenty of contemporary YA books from the pov of a female character suffering from mental health issues, but far less from the pov of a male character experiencing homelessness.

It was nice to read a book where the author didn't go for a "love cures mental illness" cop-out which is what I was fearing. Zoe herself does plenty of hard work with her therapist to overcome her fears and take her first steps towards normality and the book is refreshingly pro-therapy. There's no quick win or big revelation that causes Zoe to suddenly "get over" her issues; mental health recovery takes times and hard work and Paper Girl doesn't shy away from that fact. That said, Zoe's recovery was more than a little rushed and she was seemingly comfortable in situations that would give a person without agoraphobia anxiety. Still, the author had a story to tell and struck a pretty good balance between realism and storytelling.

Paper Girl is a strong debut - with an absolutely gorgeous cover! - and a must-read for fans of contemporary YA.