Two Monarchies Sequence by W.R. Gingell

You may have noticed that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings.  So how about a whole series of them?!  W.R. Gingell delivers with the Two Monarchies Sequence, a lovely fantasy series with many fairy tale inspirations.  For the most part, these are not straight retellings, but rather stories that take a recognizable fairy tale concept and twist it all around.   The result is a series that feels comfortably familiar yet at the same time keeps you on your toes.

Also, if you judge books by their covers, these ones are gorgeous.

The series is set in the titular two monarchies, Civet and Glause, two countries whose history is…complicated to say the least.  There is also some time travel involved in several spots, which does not help clear things up! The series begins with Spindle, obviously inspired by Sleeping Beauty, in which Polyhymnia is awakened not by a prince, but by an absentminded-genius enchanter named Luck…and that’s just the beginning of her troubles.  Next follow Blackfoot (with some hints of Puss in Boots) and Staff and Crown, which follow unlikely hero Annabel’s path to the throne of New Civet.  

The last book, Clockwork Magician, will be released this week; it features Annabel’s friend and budding magician Peter, who is in truth a fairly annoying person, yet the author somehow manages to make him lovable.  That’s a kind of magic all on its own!

Also in the sequence is Masque, a murder mystery inspired by Beauty and the Beast; though this one is chronologically last, I actually read it first!  It’s one of my favorite BatB stories of all time. There is also a Little Red Riding Hood story, Wolfskin, in the same setting, though it does not cross over with any of the other stories.

What do all these great stories have in common?  Excellent quirky characters that will come to feel like friends, an intriguing system of magic, some mystery and thrills, and some lovely romance.  Occasionally it feels like the story or characters are moving a bit too fast to catch, but a touch of confusion is part of the charm of these books.

This series was my first introduction to Gingell’s writing, and it quickly made me a fan.  I’m sure it will do the same for my fellow fairy tale-lovers!

Review: Valentine’s Day at Glosser’s

If you are looking for a cute, warm, fluffy read this Valentine’s Day, check out Valentine’s Day at Glosser’s by Robert Jeschonek.  It’s like a Hallmark Channel movie in book form (and believe me, I’ve seen almost every Hallmark Channel movie).

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The story is part of a series that revolves around the Glosser Brothers department store chain from western Pennsylvania.  In this installment, the store is holding a Valentine’s poetry contest, which brings together the two store “mascots,” nicknamed Miss Gee Bee and Glossy, to act as judges.  Their journey together to find the best writer takes them through several ice cream sundaes, a lot of bad poetry, and one important secret.

I actually listened to the audiobook version of this because the narrator is a relative of mine.  I thought she did a great job, especially with the distinct voices of several minor characters.  It was a great way to pass my commute, starting off my day with a smile.  It’s a quick little story, so you could also read it in a evening curled up on the couch with some chocolate.

What are you guys reading for Valentine’s Day?

 

Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy by W.R. Gingell

I’m back with further recommendations from Tasmanian indie author W.R. Gingell.  I’ve already raved about her urban fantasy series, but if you prefer good old classic fantasy with elves and magic, check out her Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy.

This entertaining series of short novels has a lot to recommend itself.  It’s a very solid fantasy series, with a good system of magic and worldbuilding.  You’ll see some fairy tale tropes mixed in, but the stories give them some twists so that it feels more like original fantasy than a retelling.  In addition to fantasy, each has a bit of mystery/intrigue and romance. To break down each book a little further…

Twelve Days of Faery 

To start the series, an enchantress agrees to help a king stop the deadly curse that is being laid on any lady who catches his son’s eye. Her reward will be the prince’s hand, but is that what she really wants?  This book sets the stage for the trilogy by establishing some conflict between humans and fae, and uncovering the first shard of the titular broken sword. It’s also an engaging mystery with charming characters.

Fire in the Blood 

Next, a prince and his dragon must solve level after level of puzzles to free a princess from her imprisonment in a tower…but not all is quite as it seems at first. This one is my personal favorite, mostly because I loved all the puzzles in getting through the tower.  I also really liked how the dragons were done, as well as the subtle Asian/Middle Eastern influence. And I adored the princess’s crazy family and would love more stories about them.

First Chill of Autumn 

An epic conclusion that brings together characters from the first two novels, as a young woman tries to save her kingdom from a Fae invasion.  This one is the most complex, and the ending is bittersweet. For that reason I didn’t like it quite as much, though I think it is probably a stronger story for it.

As you may have inferred, each of the first two books can be read as a stand-alone, while the third one brings together themes and characters from each of the first two.  The characters are so engaging you will definitely want more of them. You can get the books individually or buy the whole series together (plus a short story) on Smashwords for $6.99.  There’s even a paperback version available on Amazon (but it’s expensive😢).

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Happy reading!

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War

Well, I don’t really know how to review this one.  This is How You Lose the Time War is a unique experience, and I think most people will either love it or hate it.  I was kind of in the middle: I was able to appreciate a lot of things about it, though it didn’t completely work for me.

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The premise is fairly simple: two time-traveling operatives on opposite sides of a war fall in love through letters.  Red works for the Agency and Blue for the Garden, and while the letters start as some slightly bored taunting between rivals on missions, they soon turn into something more and eventually they must decide what is more important: each other, or the time war.

The novella itself is a bit more complicated, however.   About half of it is epistolary, consisting of the letters from Red and Blue; the rest is the set up for the letters, describing the tasks these agents are performing on behalf of their respective groups.  A lot of details are left vague.

The style of the writing is what makes it unique.  The best way I can describe it is that it reads like it’s a short story, just at novella length.  This makes sense because the authors are noted for their short fiction, but for me it made it hard to get into (the beginning especially felt a bit choppy and repetitive).  It was awhile into the story before I could really differentiate between Blue and Red; while that may make sense thematically, it is a bit confusing for the reader. There are also many cultural references, everything from that Eiffel65 song to Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”  Many readers will enjoy the wry humor of these, but I wonder if the story becomes confusing if you don’t get the references.

Overall, the story is very philosophical, exploring what it means to be human, in spite of the fact that one main character is a kind of android and the other was grown in a pod.  

The Garden and the Agency each seem to represent one side of several dichotomies of human nature: natural vs. artificial and artistic vs. analytical. Even in terms of time, the Garden seemed to be more of the past, and the Agency more of the future, although that is just my impression.

I do love the trope of characters falling in love through letters; some of the things Red and Blue write are really touching.  Even though I am not a time-traveling spy, I was struck by how universal is the vulnerability that comes with falling in love. Falling in love is always a risk, though the stakes may be lower for us than for Red and Blue.

While I found the story thought-provoking, I did struggle a bit to get into it.  So if you like fast plots and action, I would suggest you skip this one. If you enjoy a clever turn of phrase, atmospheric settings, and a lot of thinking in your sci-fi, this one might be for you.

City Between series by W.R. Gingell

Hi. My name is Pet.

It’s not my real name, but it’s the only one you’re getting. Things like names are important these days.

And it’s not so much that I’m Pet.

I’m a pet.

A human pet: I belong to the two Behindkind fae and the pouty vampire who just moved into my house. It’s not weird, I promise—well, it’s weird, yeah. But it’s not weird weird, you know?

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The City Between series, consisting of five books with more to come, is W.R. Gingell’s most recent series and I think it is her best so far.  It’s a great place to start if you are new to her work. I’ve read the first two and am looking forward to continuing.

Unlike her more traditional fantasy or fairy tale-inspired stories, this series is classic urban fantasy.  There are vampires, werewolves, fae…and one human pet. Pet (we don’t know her real name) has been trying to get by, squatting in her old house after her parents are murdered there, when another murder takes place next door, and a strange set of investigators move in with her.  The “Psychos” as she calls them consist of two Fae and one snarky vampire, and they end up adopting her as their pet.  

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There are some great fantasy elements, like umbrellas that are really swords, and some spine-tingling action and adventure parts with just enough intensity and mystery, but my favorite thing is just how full of character the stories are.  From Pet’s regionalisms (like the author, she lives in Hobart, Tasmania) to Jinyeong’s sarcastic Korean, there are so many little details that draw you in and get you invested in the world and the characters. These are some of the most entertaining and page-turning stories I have read recently.  They are also relatively short, easy reads.

You can check out the first book in the series, Between Jobs, on Amazon for $0.99 until the end of January.  Flamin’ heck, that is a steal and you will get hooked.

(And just for the record, Athelas is my favorite Psycho, but I ship Pet and Zero.)