Review: “Charm” (A Cinderella Reverse Fairytale Book 1) by J.A. Armitage


Charm (reverse Fairytales) (Volume 1)

A review by Vanessa

What’s a girl to do when she suddenly finds herself the heir to a kingdom, in need of a husband and totally devoid of any romantic entanglements? First, she must mourn the loss of her older sister, and then she needs to take dancing and etiquette lessons fit for a Queen. The ball meant for Princess Charmaine’s older sister to find a husband among 100 applicants is still going to happen but Charmaine is going to have to do the dancing and the picking. It’s the last thing she ever wanted, especially since she sucks at dancing, but when she wanders down to the kitchen for a late dinner she finds help in the form of handsome, downtrodden, dishwasher named Cynder. He just happens to know how to dance, and he does magic. Romance isn’t something she can have with him, because he is a servant and a mage, but she just can’t help it. Cynder opens her eyes to so much, including love, and the tense state of the kingdom surrounding the subhuman treatment of magic users. But Charmaine needs to pick five potentials out of the 100, and over the next months, narrow it down to one. But when chaos erupts at the ball, and the magic users make it known how unhappy they are, things might just not go according to plan.

This book definitely had all of the meat and potatoes of a good story with enough depth of conflict and emotional gravitas to keep the readers’ interest. The twist of making the Cinderella character male, and the Prince a Princess, while throwing in the political climate surrounding magic and those who use it was interesting. Making his status as a magic user the source of Cynder’s downtrodden life was really intriguing. Princess Charmaine is actually an interesting character to follow, and the way she looks at and regards the other characters is an interesting lens through which to view the story. However, she herself at times seems a bit two dimensional. You want her to step up and be the hero of her story, as the Prince would be in the original story line, but she seems to end up flowing with the story rather than driving it along. She has great moments of intrigue occasionally, especially when plunged into romantic situations, but she lacks the gumption you would want from the hero of the story.

While the concept of this reversal of the fairy tale is an interesting one and it was overall a pleasant read, I couldn’t help being a little disappointed with the world building. Turning this classic fairy tale upside down and inside out presented a chance to create a whole new fictional universe, but I feel like it was a very large missed opportunity. Instead of being new it ended up being simply a modern day wherever, with modern technology like cameras and TV, but for some inexplicable reason they ride around in carriages, and there happens to be magic. It’s very difficult to get a mental picture of the kingdom. Are they a castle province in the middle of an American-like township, with modern apartments and businesses, etc? Or are they in an old timey British-like town with old architecture, and traditional crafters and artisans? It’s almost like Armitage took a bunch of elements of older fairy tale worlds, threw them in a blender with some modern day elements and hit frappe! The last thing you want to do with a first in a series is make it difficult to imagine how the characters fit into the world. I enjoyed this one enough to try the next in the series but I will be keeping my fingers crossed for stronger world building.

3 out of 5 stars

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Review: “Angel of Eventide” by Elle Powers

Angel of Eventide by Elle Powers

A review by Niraja.

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Seamus is an Angel of Death.  That is to say, he frees the souls of the dying when their time comes for them to move on to the eternal realm.  In his years of service to the dying, he has helped the elderly, folks in accidents, and children all move on.  He has performed his designed duties faithfully, trusting in the love and the story of his Da (Father). That is, until he is assigned to the drowning of a six-year-old redhead named Maren.  Instead of assisting in her death, he is overcome with emotion and saves her life.  Seamus must then decide: protect this girl and possibly become a fallen rogue, or go back and do what must be done to make things right?  But everything is not all that it seems in this eternal story of love, devotion, and acceptance.

I have yet to read any other book with a theme and story elements quite like this paranormal romance.  The book was unique to me not in its story of fallen angels or romance, nor in the theme of the divine love of God, but in the combination of the two ideas.  The story is written in the third person, which allows for us to experience the events, thoughts, and feelings from both Seamus (our Angel) and Maren (his redheaded lass).   I enjoyed being able to read each character’s perspective as this helps in understanding motives and relating to the characters.  At times the perspective would switch from one character to another and back again within the same paragraph.  This would cause me to become a bit confused and have to re-read the section. By the end of the story, I was used to it and appreciated how it could relate to the theme of a divine story that encompasses all of the world and God’s creations (angels and humanity). Seamus’s character was well defined in the story and we could see his growth, but Maren felt a little less solid to me even with the perspective switches.

Powers does a fantastic job of creating visual imagery with her words.  I was able to see scenes and visualize characters’ appearances strongly in my mind which added to the allure of the story.  There is a fair bit of angst and character growth and realization, especially with Seamus, that is common to this genre and that Ms. Powers does a great job of illustrating.  There were some conflicts that seemed to come to too simple of an end and some themes that I would have liked to see explored a bit more.  Some aspects of the ending were a bit confusing to me. However, it ends on a positive and joyful note that will be satisfying to folks who like their happy endings.  

Overall the book explores some interesting themes related to love, romance, death, and God’s eternal story and plan.  So if you like Christian romance and paranormal romance, this may be the book for you.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

A review by Emily.

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, is a story that eerily parallels events in our world today… but goes a step further to describe our worst nightmares turned reality. In the tale, the United States is at war with Islamic Radicals who have laid out chemical attacks leaving 25 percent of the population sterile. The new regime of the U.S. ironically decides to oppress its women in order to propagate the human race by making it illegal for them to read and hold jobs or property. The fertile women called “Handmaids” are ordered to be clad head to toe in red puritan robes and bonnets and are assigned households to serve a master. They are abused and submitted to servitude by putting the fear of God in all of them. It is a dystopian society where the women are forced to be suspicious of each other so they can never unite against their oppressors. Their identities are anonymous, being named after their household’s master and are renamed when their ownership is exchanged.

The tale is written as a stream of consciousness that jumps back and forth between story plot and its main character Offred’s ruminations. This makes the main character relatable and underscores her loneliness and isolation but leads to a storyline with no real momentum. The story lacks backstory which would have helped to explain the main character’s motives and emotions. A more in-depth backstory also would help us feel perhaps a little less disappointed in a character that is less than a heroine and at times seems pathetic; character development that would have added tremendous value to it as a way to contrast and highlight the main character’s present suffering.  Also, character development of the people she interacts with would have added another layer to the story and may have led us to feel the true depth of Offred’s helplessness as those close to her disappoint and betray her.

Atwater’s work lays the foundation for the abysmal and intriguing new world order which MGM/Hulu’s TV series The Handmaid’s Tale adapts. It satisfies the character building and backstory that the book lacks and casts Offred in a more heroine-like role that we can admire. The MGM series takes us on a more fulfilling journey into her world and moves us beyond the stage that Atwater has set.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: “Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1)” by Steve LeBel

Review- Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1) by Steve LeBel

A review by Amanda.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for a fair and objective review.

Bernie is a teenager who holds the world in his hands, literally. He belongs to a race of self-described gods who create universes from scratch. Their entire society revolves around building multitudes of worlds, just because they can. Children learn the basics of building in school, leading to various specialties and supporting careers; not everyone has what it takes to become a Builder. Bernie has run into a few obstacles along the way, including a bully, his parents’ divorce, a chaotic cloud that follows him everywhere, and an unwillingness to follow certain directions that he disagrees with. Nonetheless, he has been given an opportunity to show his potential employers what he can do, if he can overcome the new obstacles being thrown his way.

The concept of this book is unique and compelling. The details for the universe creation process are thorough and logical, with some whimsy thrown in here and there for good measure. The story has plenty of heart and humor to keep readers entertained and invested in the characters. The world-building and the overall plot are enough to keep one reading despite the novel’s pitfalls.

Bernie is a likable character, if not an exceptional one. He is a misunderstood geek, an outcast with few friends. Although he is smart and talented, still comes across as a bumbling, absent-minded type. Many of his successes are due to luck and accidents, or because someone else has helped him in some way. The supporting characters feel one-dimensional, especially the female characters. The two women who contribute most to the plot and dialogue only exist as love interests. They do not appear to have any agency beyond that. Other women only appear as needed to help Bernie. Even his mother exists only as part of an explanation Bernie’s circumstances. Women are described as “unfathomable” and naturally manipulative, especially when trying to attract a guy, which plays into misogynistic stereotypes about women.

The writing style seems geared towards a younger, middle-grade audience. There is a lot of exposition and not a lot of room for readers to come to conclusions on their own. Readers are privy to the inner thoughts of almost every character, which can be helpful but feels unnecessary at times. A couple of minor plot points build up and then fizzle out, although there are more books in the series so those could be addressed later.

Fans of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan may enjoy this book.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “The Dating Bender” by Christina Julian

A review by Amanda.

Samantha Serrano is a twentysomething divorcee whose life has gone off the rails. Raised in the Catholic faith by cruel and hypercritical parents, Sam has been so sheltered from the dating world that she leaps into marriage just to get out from under her parents’ thumbs. Unsurprisingly, her marriage loses its newlywed bliss almost immediately. Still, Sam tries to make it work for more than a year before asking for a divorce, much to her parents’ disappointment (despite the fact that they disapproved of the marriage in the first place). Now, on the advice of a friend and mentor, Sam agrees to give the dating world a spin. First, she has to overcome years of guilt and shame regarding sex, and then she has to figure out exactly what it is that she wants. This is the story of one woman’s journey to a better understanding of her needs and desires, complete with wacky mishaps and unexpected discoveries along the way.

Samantha is a contradiction of a character. On the one hand, her naivete about relationships occasionally borders on the ridiculous. She constantly references popular magazines in regards to fashion, makeup, and relationship advice. She takes the word of relative strangers at face value and seems to have some trouble maintaining female friendships with any depth. On the other hand, she also seems to have a great mind for business and achieves various successes in a male-dominated field. This aspect of her character is unfortunately glossed over and mostly serves as a vehicle for her sexual adventures. While the stories of her dating experiences are both entertaining and cringey, the lack of development in other areas of her life throughout the majority of the book gives the story a shallow feel. A little more backstory for Sam as well as the supporting characters would have gone a long way. A few extra details, such as how she met her ex-husband, anecdotes from her childhood (besides her parents’ cruelty), or about her friendships with women would have filled out the story quite nicely. As it is, Sam evokes rotating feelings of sympathy, frustration, and bemusement. Readers may find themselves rooting for her to gain independence and maturity, rather than hoping that she finds true love and a fairy tale happy ending.

As Sam works through her Catholic guilt and searches for some new sexual experiences, she has her ups and downs. She makes mistakes and learns from them, has some great sex, and makes a fool of herself on multiple occasions. There is nothing shameful about women’s sexual desires and more stories about women gaining and enjoying sexual freedom are necessary, and appreciated. The sex scenes are semi-graphic.

This book is a quick and casual read for those in need of a romance with an awkwardly funny protagonist.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Bannerless” by Carrie Vaughn

A review by Amanda.

I read this book for free as part of the Prime First program, offered to those with Amazon Prime memberships.

Bannerless is a post-apocalyptic tale, set along the west coast one hundred years after the Fall of civilization as we know it. Communities have been formed, run by committees, and populated with people who know the value of hard work and family. Several family units live together in households, working together to make their household prosperous. Every household works for the good of the community, with quotas to fill. Intentionally surpassing quotas and hoarding goods is illegal. Most technology has been forgotten, in favor of a precious few that would make rebuilding easier. One such item was the birth control implant. Households must earn banners to show that they can provide for a child. If someone has a child without a banner, they and their entire household will face grave consequences.

Enid is a twenty seven year old woman who has just started a household with three others. She works as an investigator, traveling to different communities as needed to settle disputes and investigate reports of bannerless pregnancies and suspicious deaths. Investigators also assign punishments as they see fit, and are looked upon with fear and wariness. Nevertheless, Enid is proud of her position and enjoys the travel as much as enforcing the laws, ensuring that everything is fair and just. When she and her partner, Tomas, get a message regarding a suspicious death in a nearby town, she is eager to get down to business. Upon arrival, however, things are clearly not what they seem and Enid’s job may be harder than she had imagined.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic world is not a new one but this author brought interesting elements into an established genre and made it feel new. The idea of earning the right to have children is also not a new idea but it is intriguing when combined with other aspects of the world building. Enid is a solid character, devout in her beliefs. She believes strongly in doing whatever needs to be done to keep things fair and balanced for everyone. The book goes back and forth between the present and Enid’s past, leading to the mystery that starts the story.

Although this book had potential, it was a bit of a disappointing read. Enid, who is our protagonist and narrator, is not a deep character. She is predictable, even during exciting moments. The majority of the supporting characters are even more shallow and less interesting. The plot is mediocre, with the mystery being the only thing propelling it forward. There are a few surprises that may keep a reader interested, and world the author has built is worth more exploration, but the overall story is mediocre.

The author has an urban fantasy series, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, which I greatly enjoy. She also has several fantasy standalones, including Steel, Voices of Dragons, and Discord’s Apple, which I highly recommend.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Souljacker: A Lily Bound Novel” by Yasmine Galenorn

A review by Amanda.

Lily O’Connell is a Fae woman living in Seattle’s Blood Night District. The Fae, along with Weres and vampires, revealed their existence to humans several decades ago, mostly to everyone’s benefit. Lily’s closest friends are a witch named Dani and a human called Nate, as well as her cat Whisky who isn’t exactly what he seems. She runs a private salon called Lily Bound that allows her to feed her succubus appetite without killing anyone. When a prominent, married, Were-client is murdered in her home, which is also her place of business, the trouble has only just begun. Now she must contend with the wrath of a grieving widow, as well as the shock of discovering that the killer is not finished yet – and Lily and her friends may be on his list of future targets. Is teaming up with a private investigator, who also happens to be a chaos demon, a good idea or a recipe for disaster?

This was the first book in the Lily Bound series. The most interesting aspect of this story, without giving spoilers, was the circumstances surrounding the murders. The world-building of human and non-human society was well done and made sense. The characters were very superficial; what you see is what you get, with perhaps one exception. There were no hidden agendas or suspicious motives anywhere, which was a bit disappointing. Since this was the first in a series that, of course, may change in later books. The overall plot was predictable for anyone who has read an urban fantasy series. Fans of Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld and Indigo Court series may enjoy Souljacker, as well as those who like Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, and Seanan Maguire’s October Daye series.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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