The Old Ways by R K Summers

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The night Thomas Rhymer’s young sister is stolen away by shadows and smoke, he discovers there’s more to life than the fields and forests he knows so well. If he has any hope of rescuing Alissa, he must first cross into a realm where magic is lifeblood, and where shadows dance with dragonfire.

With the help of the seelie faery Thistledown, Thomas embarks on a treacherous quest, deep into the heart of war-raved Albion. But getting his sister back means pledging aid to Mab, the usurped Queen of the Old Ways, against the tyranny of the Dark Prince.

Yet danger and deceit lie around every corner, and some secrets are better left untold.

RK Summers has woven her own particular magic into this adventurous retelling of Thomas Rhymer.  As a self-proclaimed enthusiastic as all things mythological, I am heartily dismayed at myself for reacting to the following sentence with revelatory surprise: “The Old Ways by RK Summers is a wonderful retelling-with-a-twist of the tale of Thomas Rhymer”. (inspired-quill.com)

The revelations were thus; first that Thomas Rhymer had a tale to retell and second that he was a real life person of some sorts from the old days (see what I did there?) of Bonnie Scotland. My self-disgust was soon assuaged with a huge wave of gratefulness to RK Summers and Inspired Quill for educating me and providing a new story bow for my folklore quiver. I think you should read it too, and here’s for why.

Thomas Rhymer is someone I think we can all relate to. He’s minding his own business, living his average life, trundling to market of a Wednesday, until he is enlightened about his family’s past. This swiftly plunges him into darkness before he begins to fight his way back to normality with the help of his loyal friends (and a sprinkling of magic).

I’m still undecided on Mab. She is the embodiment of magic, the loyal queen of her realm and leader of her magical folk. Yet, despite all of these strong accolades, she is weakened by the Dark Prince. She is in a constant downward spiral, resisting the magnetic pull of the prince while protecting her subjects.

Like Mab, I’m sure I shouldn’t, but I quite enjoyed the character of the Dark Prince. Severe mood swings and abusive behaviours aside, he did show a flash of occasional humility and a sharp, if a little warped, sense of humour. Maybe ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong word, but the tension created from his unpredictability was certainly intriguing.

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Like any fantasy worth its salt, The Old Ways submerges us into a whole other world, which means a whole world full of characters to get to know. You have your handful of main characters, of course and the hoards of extras (think warring armies a la LOTR/ GOT). Then there are the middling characters; those who are bequeathed a name but are forgotten pretty rapidly as the next slice of action begins. There was a little too much time given to these middling characters (or too little depending on how you feel about grizzly old men in guest houses, invincible monsters or murderous siblings). The Dark Prince has far too many offspring, which are difficult to keep track of as a reader, never mind at family gatherings. No wonder they went the way they did. Speaking of, I’m not sure that I believed said offspring’s reactions to what was happening considering who their father was. But I am treading very close to spoilersville and so I will shut up.

I was always going to love this one. It has faeries and talking horses and magical realms and everything. The Old Ways would make a lovely Christmas gift for fantasy fans and/or a selfish treat! You can buy The Old Ways here. Enjoy!

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Red August by H. L. Brooks

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On the cusp of womanhood, August Archer wakes up from powerful erotic dreams of werewolves to find her real life is even stranger, more violent, and more passionate than she ever could have dreamed in this modern-day telling of the Red Riding Hood story.

Hlbrooks.com

An adult retelling of beloved fairytale Little Red Riding Hood by author H. L. Brooks. Like the classic, there is a young girl named (August) Red, a grandmother living in a questionable, foliage bound residence, some pretty terrible parenting and of course the dangerous wolf with big eyes, big ears, big teeth and in this case, a rather large something else…

Unlike the story we all know and love, Red August contains a beast which is not entirely human nor entirely wolf, an errant mother who is definitely hiding something and an apothecary lady who deals in some rather unsavoury substances.

This is certainly a tale for the grown ups and not one that I would snuggle down to with my nephew and/ or niece of a Sunday eve. In other words there’s LOTS of sex in it. I don’t see this as a bad thing (so long as it’s true to the character, you can write whatever the heck you like my friend), but some people can be put off by this kind of fiction. If that’s you, Brooks has written a very interesting blog post explaining why there is quite a bit of sex in this book which you can read here.

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I enjoyed the way that Brooks played with the well known story, bending the rules a little so that we could see alternate angles, and introducing us to characters and their backstories to enrich the experience.

My favourite element of the book is the setting. The deep dark woods with the flowing stream, which encompasses Grandma’s quaint if generously proportioned home. Then there are the occasional references to the family’s homeland, Scotland, which wasn’t explored nearly enough for me.

Like all good books, Red August is awash with mystery and intrigue. As we slowly unravel the family secrets, and learn more about Red’s past, her current situation does make more sense but I wanted more. I sometimes felt a little out of touch with what was happening, but I guess that’s how Red must have felt among her family for a little while.

For a writer, an amazing part of the storytelling process is to share an important message that transcends the superficial storyline and reaches readers on a personal level. Bearing this in mind, I think Brooks has missed a trick in this book. (Dear author, please do forgive me for the next paragraph if I’ve interpreted this wrong. I feel inclined to tell you here that I am on a very tight schedule what with me being very busy and important with work and studying. Also, last night my cat decided that I was not looking nearly fancy enough for slumber and so he rolled himself out into a furry wrap and donned my chest, stretching from shoulder to shoulder, and proceeded to purr with volumes to rival the deepest thunder, between the hours of 3am and 6am making me a very sleepy human today.)

What I mean by that is I feel that the author sometimes glosses over some of the heavier subjects. Allow me to illustrate. Towards the beginning of the book, following an intense bout of bullying, August is sexually assaulted in a most brutal manner by a boy from her new school. This whole episode is soon forgotten however when the rest of the story kicks in. There is no mention of this violent, sexually explicit experience later on, even in relation to August’s many sexual fantasies and later on in her intimate encounters with Faolon.

Whether this is to demonstrate August’s resilience to the mental effects of the attack (an attribute worthy of her new found family history?) or whether the whole incident is an example of unnecessary background information on the author’s part, I haven’t quite worked out yet. I’m inclined to go with the latter. The boy who attacked August is left out of the book altogether, once he has been ruthlessly dealt with. There is already so much going on in the book that this episode serves little purpose but to paint August as an unfeeling robot, which of course we know she isn’t. It could also be construed as a way to show August’s protective relationship with her mother (as she shields her mother from hearing about her attack) but their relationship is shown in various other ways anyway.

Either way, it adds a certain darkness to the story.

I enjoyed the whole concept of the Red August. You guys know I bloody love a fairytale with a modern twist.

I look forward to the next instalment of the Red August series, which I believe is due out in 2016!

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Thanks Heather for sending me a copy of Red August to read and review.

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

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There is no cure for being who you truly are…

In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.

One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.

And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?

carrienoble.com

I was first attracted to this book by its fairy tale influences and also mostly by its pretty cover. This is because I am a shallow human being and fully accept that dark side of myself that judges books (and all things in life) by their covers. I’m also going through a bit of a fairy tale phase at the minute. Can’t get enough. Sometimes you just need to immerse yourself in a world where dragons are pets and mermaids are credible beings. I think I read somewhere that this book was a re-invention of The Little Mermaid. (It is possible that I may have imagined this.) Aside from the fact that there’s a mermaid in the story that experiences some metamorphosis along the way, there is little similarity. This isn’t a bad thing. Noble’s story is much more inventive: she has dragons in her story, which Hans Christian Andersen failed to utilise. Rookie mistake. (Just kidding Hans. I adore you).

As would be expected, Maren the mermaid is devastatingly beautiful. Clara, her human sister, pales in comparison, or at least this is what we are led to believe by Clara’s first person narrative. At first I felt sorry for Clara. It must have been hard for her growing up with such a stunner as her sister.  Believing herself to be second best both physically and competently, Clara defensively clings to propriety and manners. But the favourable reaction that she provokes among the male characters indicate that she is being somewhat of a self-deprecating attention seeker. Because of this, I didn’t particularly warm to Clara but I did want her to succeed in her mission, if not for her, for the people around her.

There are lots of clever little twists in the plot that link each character, whether they are main players or background fixings. Noble puts equal depth into all her characters, good and evil alike, creating a well-balanced narrative. She allows an empathetic experience across the board, exposing cruel Soraya’s compassion, and devoted O’Neill’s spineless indulgence.

The use of a first person narrative allows a steady, sing song like feel, which Noble sometimes steps out of with the use of dialogue and/or, (my favourite) when a character within the story tells a story of their own.  This is how we learn about Auntie’s past and how she came to live on Llanfair Mountain; a fairy tale within a fairy tale if you will. Very nice. All in all, an exciting, imaginative fantasy somewhere between the realms of The Night Circus and Shrek.

Can I just say (I can, its my blog) that there are a few negative reviews of this book on goodreads by people who have admitted to reviewing it despite only getting about 30% through. Not clever, people. Especially as a lot of the comments don’t even hold up if you read the whole book. I’m not against negative reviews, but I am opposed to bad reviews and bad reviewers who can’t even finish a book before ripping it to shreds. That is all.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank me for buying this book so that I could read it and write an honest review about it. You’re welcome.

Truth: The Oleah Chronicles by Michelle Johnson

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What would you do if everything you thought
to be true in your life was a lie?
Sixteen-year-old Angel Seriki must face overwhelming truths about her family when she meets Zander Black, a new student to her high school who is smart, charming and devastatingly beautiful. The revelations he uncovers to her about her family’s past changes everything, and as her relationship and feelings for Zander deepen, so do the risks involved. She must now accept her fate and face the true reality of who and what she is. Even if that means giving up everything, including being human.
 oleahchronicles.com

 

Truth is the first in a series of books by Michelle Johnson, an imaginative young writer with a penchant for mythical creatures and all things creative.

In Truth, Johnson has created a very interesting cast of characters, made even more so by introducing some of them in one world, before ripping them away and depositing them unceremoniously in another. This displacement is for good reason; if an evil queen threatened you and the entire population of your home planet, you’d probably jump ship too. No? Then you clearly have never crossed paths with Satan’s little sister before.

Truth is essentially a vamped up story about coming of age. We watch Angel grow from a regular teenager into a fierce heroine as she survives persistent vampires, homicidal demons, earthquakes, an unwanted 17th birthday party and worst of all, high school boys.  Despite all the other-worldly characters, and planet hopping, Truth is a very down to earth book. The characters are believable, which is made apparent in the closing chapters: when Angel is forced to give up her whole world, literally, the reader can’t help but feel her agony, particularly at the loss of her friend who she will do anything for. It is this deep friendship that spurs our reluctant heroine on to save the world, rather than the throngs of Oleahs bowing before her on her home planet.

The story kept my attention from page 1. I enjoyed the relationships depicted and the believable tensions and ensuing arguments that arose throughout. Johnson has got the balance between sci-fi, fantasy and the plausible spot on by dealing with everyday issues in a supernatural reality.

I look forward to the next installment!

 

The Quest of the Unaligned by A.L. Phillips

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In the city of Tonzimmel, where hover-cars zip over anonymous crowds, contracts are king, and education is everything, Alaric has worked hard to make a decent life for himself. As a level nine security chief, he needs no one and nothing, and is in control of his fate. Or so he thinks.

When a stranger from neighboring Cadaeren suddenly appears, however, babbling of magic, quests, and long-lost princes, Alaric finds himself contractually obligated to undertake a journey that his training hasn’t prepared him for: the Quest of the Unaligned. Accompanied by Laeshana, a Cadaerian native who has reasons of her own for helping him on his quest, Alaric is soon plunged into a perilous adventure that will force him to confront a seemingly impossible truth and embrace his destiny, even as the fate of Cadaeren hangs in the balance.

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Now with a title like ‘The Quest of the Unaligned’ you could be forgiven for expecting a biographical account of one book blogger’s mental health (how very dare you). As it is, the story that A.L. Phillips tells is much more adventurous and has almost as much magic.

A.L. Phillips hails from Pasedena, California and has a B.A. in Sociology. This little bit of background information about the author is quite interesting when reading ‘The Quest of the Unaligned” which revolves around the reluctant prince Alaric who stirs up a bit of trouble when he is ‘tricked’ into leaving one world and jumps head first into a very different one. Throw in an evil, disgruntled Cadearen-ite, a disillusioned monarchy and a beautiful love interest with the brains to rival Hermione Granger and you’ve got yourself a book!

‘The Quest of the Unaligned’ is very much about exploring social norms and expectations. The contrast between futuristic Tonzimmel and ye olde worlde Cadearen, transcends topography and fashion. There is also a distinct difference in the way people are treated and discriminated against; in Tonzimmel a person is respected for their achievements no matter their background; in Cadearen, there is a clear cut hierarchy that no amount of talent can change. Or so it is believed by the good folk of Cadearen. In walks Alaric …

‘The Quest of the Unaligned’ was very enjoyable to read. It feels like a classic adventure fairy tale with some spine tingling mishaps along the way and a happy ending. A heady mix of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, if you like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Shrek, Once Upon a Time etc. I think you’ll enjoy this book.

I would recommend reading this book curled up in your fave coffee shop of a quiet Saturday morning. With a pastry. Obviously.

The Quest of the Unaligned is available to purchase here. There are also some short stories available on Phillips website in which she delves further into the world of Tonzimmelian and Cadaeren. Should you wish to, you can follow A.L. Phillips on twitter and tumblr.

Thank you to A.L Phillips for sending me a copy of your book to read and review! It was a joy.

Shadow and Shade by Matt Gerrard

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Matt Gerrard is a blogger from Boston. On his blog, The Daily 400, Matt sets himself the impressive challenge to write 400 words every day. His first novel, ‘Shadow and Shade’ is a heady mix of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, wolves and mayhem with a few slitherings of the real world about it.

Here’s what you need to know about ‘Shadow and Shade’ (taken from The Daily 400):

Logan doesn’t just hunt with wolves. He talks with them. He can also see in the dark, heal, and feel the emotions of the forest itself. If only dating were so easy.

Marissa, the missionary’s stepdaughter, captivates him with her fiery spirit. Logan’s taste for trouble and strange ways fascinate her. Marissa’s stepfather fears that Logan will drag her into darkness with his heathen ways. Logan’s mother is outraged because she thinks Logan is abandoning the blood of their people.

Angry words turn to vengeful deeds. Logan and Marissa become ensnared in a web of bitterness that was spun hundreds of years before they were born. Blood demands blood, and it refuses to be denied.

The book is described as a fantasy novel with supernatural themes and otherworldly experiences. I found this to be accurate but it sometimes got a little bogged down with belief systems of the real world, particularly with reference to organised religion and the prejudices that it emanates into a community that doesn’t follow its rules. There are some very big themes in this book; religion, belief, love, being caught in a witch hunt (literally) and family all wrapped up in the workings of a community.

I enjoy the themes within the book; Gerrard talks about some important issues within his fantasy novel, but for me, this is eclipsed a little by the presentation.   This is definitely a YA book. Regular readers (hello to you) will know that I’m not a huge fan of this genre. To me, the simplicity of the language used can come across a little patronising. Events are often over-explained, leaving little for the reader to discern for themselves. I think particularly in ‘Shadow and Shade’ some of the themes are a little laboured. For example Marissa’s choice of living arrangements or Jon’s control issues. But then other more serious areas involving life and death (I won’t drop a spoiler) seem to be lightly skimmed over. This is not a personal attack on Gerrard’s writing, it’s just my opinion on the genre. Although I do think there is an over-use of the word ‘lad’ here. Also, it read more like a screenplay to me than a novel. There is too much dialogue, peppered with stage directions rather than prose. But don’t take my word for it, give it a read and see what you think.

If you enjoy your fantasy hero caked in mud and always ready for a fight, then ‘Shadow and Shade’ is for you. Its a good story, with a bitter sweet ending that resonates with real life.

Thank you to Matt Gerrard for sending me a copy of his book straight to my kindle. ‘Shadow and Shade’ is now available for you lovely readers to snap up here. Enjoy.