Title: Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher
Published by Tor
Published: August 15, 2023
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Thornhedge is the tale of a kind-hearted, toad-shaped heroine, a gentle knight, and a mission gone completely sideways.
There's a princess trapped in a tower. This isn't her story.
Meet Toadling. On the day of her birth, she was stolen from her family by the fairies, but she grew up safe and loved in the warm waters of faerieland. Once an adult though, the fae ask a favor of Toadling: return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Simple, right?
But nothing with fairies is ever simple.
Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He's heard there's a curse here that needs breaking, but it's a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold…
Everything I’ve ready by T. Kingfisher has been excellent, and Thornhedge
is a Sleeping Beauty retelling that I keep thinking about even though I read it back in June. This reimagines Sleeping Beauty
from the perspective of the ‘evil fairy’ of the tale we’re probably most familiar with, and it’s a twist I enjoyed a lot, especially now having read one of her The Saint of Steel paladin romances. Toadling, our fairy who has cursed the princess, was taken by the fairies at birth and given her name by the greenteeth and taught by the hare goddess.
The story opens after two hundred years of Toadling standing sentry of the castle surrounded by a thorn hedge, protecting what’s inside and protecting the world outside. She meets Halim, a soft-spoken paladin who tells her that he ‘mostly came for answers or maybe just the story,’ and the entire book is a reflection on the how truth becomes a story and how story holds threads of truths, and how we reconcile that with ourselves.
Even though the worldbuilding seems small, it is constrained by Toadling’s own view of the world, stuck in the same area for over two centuries and no real interaction with anyone over those two decades until Halim the paladin makes the effort. It wraps up neatly, with sharp violence contrasting with a sense of comfort, but it left me wanting more set in this world and more about Halim, more about Toadling, more fairy tales reimagined in such a way. This has a similar vibe to Paladin’s Grace, so if you enjoy the softer, slower, cozier kind of story that explores something in a vast world from a limited perspective, then I’d recommend The Saint of Steel series that I’m currently reading.
Overall, this is one of my favorites of the year, and one of my favorite reimaginings of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.
Title: One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig
Series: The Shepherd King #1
Published by Orbit
Published: September 27, 2022
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Elspeth needs a monster. The monster might be her.
Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.
But nothing comes for free, especially magic.
When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.
Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.
Rachel Gillig’s One Dark Window is a fantasy series opener of a kingdom in which a dark magic is spreading like an infection. Magic in this realm is facilitated by Providence Cards, in the vein of tarot cards, and the magic has a price. These Providence Cards were created by an ancient king with magic bestowed upon him by a primeval forest spirit, and this magic caused a rift with the spirit, who in turn cursed the realm with a foreboding mist that’s eating away at the realm’s lands and causing fevers in its people.
In order to stop this mist, twelve of the cards are needed to break the curse and one of them is missing. Elspeth, the main character, had the fever as a child and was possessed by the Nightmare, and, as a result, she has powers she does not know how to control.
I enjoyed the characters so much, especially the slow burn of a relationship between Elspeth and Ravyn and the banter between Elspeth and the Nightmare. The possession of the Nightmare in Elspeth reminded me a bit of Artemisa and the Revenant in Margaret Rogerson’s Vespertine (which was a surprising read for me, and has fully marked Rogerson as one of my favorite YA fantasy writers). The use of the Providence Cards in a dark fantasy setting threw me back to the Gamecube game Lost Kingdoms in which a dark fog begins to consume a kingdom and the character uses magic cards to summon spirits and monsters. It’s not a game many I know seem to remember, but it was one of my favorites that I rented several times over (I could never find a copy that was affordable to me at the time)!
This is a lush, dark fantasy debut that hints at what’s to come while offering an engaging and romantic story that left me ready for the sequel!!
Title: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: August 5th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Yangsze Choo’s stunning debut, The Ghost Bride, is a startlingly original novel infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, and unexpected supernatural twists, reminiscent of Lisa See’s Peony in Love and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter.
Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but her father has lost his fortune, and she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family urges her to become a “ghost bride” for their son, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at what price? Night after night, Li Lan is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where she must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family.
I started my spooky season reads a little early this year, and The Ghost Bride
is one of those I’ve had on my shelves for a while that I picked out to round out some personal challenges this year.
I chose The Ghost Bride for my challenges because it has been on my shelves for a while, and it got a little bit of buzz when it was released and around the time Choo’s second novel was released, and I am sometimes one of those people who like to read books by authors in publication order. On top of that, the concept of Li Lan having to solve a murder in Death highly appealed to me, especially as a first read of ‘spooky’ season.
What I loved most was the attention to world detail, especially as a non-Chinese reader unfamiliar with some aspects of Chinese/colonial Malaysia culture, and I felt completely engaged with the worlds of the living and the dead. The story itself was straightforward, and this is something that would be a great bridge from readers of YA to readers of adult fiction, as thematically, I see a lot of the same themes and concepts in YA, but in Choo’s novel, the storytelling, language, and characters are a bit more elevated and complex. The villains are believable and not fully evil, the main character grows and shifts her perspective on ghost brides, marriage, and her role in her life and in her family’s life.
Overall, I enjoyed it! I thought it dragged a bit in the middle with repetitive narrative plots, but the resolution was satisfying and I don’t feel like I was missing anything from the story once it had finished. I’ll also be checking out the series on Netflix as well! I hadn’t realized the series was a thing until I unpacked a book at work with the Netflix sticker on the cover. If you want a bit of non-Western historical fiction with a spooky twist, look into this one!
Title: Until We Meet by Camille Di Maio
Published by Forever
Published: March 1st 2022
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Format: Trade Paper
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Until We Meet
A poignant and page-turning story of three women whose lives are forever changed by war.…
New York City, 1943
Can one small act change the course of a life?
Margaret’s job at the Navy Yard brings her freedoms she never dared imagine, but she wants to do something more personal to help the war effort. Knitting socks for soldiers is a way to occupy her quiet nights and provide comfort to the boys abroad. But when a note she tucks inside one of her socks sparks a relationship with a long-distance pen pal, she finds herself drawn to a man she’s never even met.
Can a woman hold on to her independence if she gives away her heart?
Gladys has been waiting her whole life for the kinds of opportunities available to her now that so many men are fighting overseas. She’s not going to waste a single one. And she’s not going to let her two best friends waste them either. Then she meets someone who values her opinions as much as she likes giving them, and suddenly she is questioning everything she once held dear.
Can an unwed mother survive on her own?
Dottie is in a dire situation—she’s pregnant, her fiancé is off fighting the war, and if her parents find out about the baby, they’ll send her away and make her give up her child. Knitting helps take her mind off her uncertain future—until the worst happens and she must lean on her friends like never before.
With their worlds changing in unimaginable ways, Margaret, Gladys, and Dottie will learn that the unbreakable bond of friendship between them is what matters most of all.
is one of my favorite styles of historical women’s fiction/romance incorporating interesting and realistic characters, strong friendships, and a romance developed through letter-writing. Three best friends who live and work and aid the war efforts through working in the naval yard, working on the USS Missouri, and knitting socks for soldiers overseas try to make sense and stability through the difficulties the war has brought to themselves and their families.
One of the things I absolutely loved about the structure of the book is the easy flow between Margaret and the man to whom she is writing. The multiple perspectives bring into focus both the immediacy and the distance war puts between home and the self. And while the book is a well-paced and easy read, it doesn’t shy away from the truths of war and the truths in what happens to the individual during war. The characters and setting are incredibly well-crafted, and I felt all of what the characters felt along with them. The friendships among Margaret, Dottie, and Gladys felt so real with their ups and downs, the efforts they put to help each other through their own personal and professional challenges, and it felt like a true representation of what good, supportive friendship between women is supposed to be. I also loved the developing romance between Margaret and Tom, whose true identity is revealed later, and that they seemed to recognize each other at first sight upon his return. Aside from a connection built through the written word, I absolutely love that at first sight, I knew trope.
Overall, this is a solid historical fiction/romance with a great cast of characters that will have you feeling everything from joy to dispair to hope, and it’s perfect for your summer reading bag!!
Many thanks to BooksForward and Forever for sending a complimentary copy my way! All opinions are my own.
Today’s Little List of Reviews features three historical romances that I’ve recently read! All three are new to me authors, and two series I will continue with and one I will not!
Title: Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory
Series: All the King's Men #1
Published by Forever
Published: July 1st 2009
Format: Mass Market
FEARLESS IN BATTLE
His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.
TENDER IN BED
Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets, and dare not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.
I had an omnibus of the first two in this series, but I decided I liked the original covers and I don’t think the third book was going to be released in the newer format, and I’m a completionist. So. I enjoyed this for the most part. I think it was more due to the setting and the history involved with the medieval setting than the actual characters themselves. The heroine was true to form, discovering herself after being married to a terrible man who held no regard for her. But the hero got annoying after a while. Like yes, you’re a decent person for not forcing yourself on her, but he kept complaining about the heroine’s trauma repeatedly, and it got tiresome after a while. Overall, I’m going to continue the series and hope the heroes get better in the subsequent titles!
Title: Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #1
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Published: August 1st 2010
A man controlled by his desires . . .
Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London's most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand-she's spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk . . .
A woman haunted by her past . . .
Caire makes a simple offer-in return for Temperance's help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London's high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control-one that may well destroy them both.
A bargain neither could refuse.
I didn’t really care for this one. I liked the heroine and her work the most and that she felt torn toward duty and her desires, but like…………… so much of this was over the top for me, even for a historical romance. I don’t know what it was, honestly. I kept reading it though, I enjoyed the writing itself, but the story wasn’t for me. The hero was pretty terrible to the heroine and never makes any effort to forgive himself towards her for it. There was also a buildup to bondage but nothing was ever fully committed to on the page, so it’s teasing but in the not fun way?? I don’t think this series is for me either, because I read the first couple of chapters from the second in the Maiden Lane series and didn’t like where the story was going to go. I have another first book in a series by Hoyt, so I’ll give that one a go soon to see if it’s just me with this particular series or if it’s the author I don’t mesh with.
Title: Never Kiss a Duke by Megan Frampton
Series: Hazards of Dukes #1
Published by Avon
Published: January 28th 2020
Format: Mass Market
A disinherited duke and a former lady are courting much more than business in the first novel in Megan Frampton's newest titillating series, Hazards of Dukes.
Everything he had ever known was a lie…
Sebastian, Duke of Hasford, has a title, wealth, privilege, and plenty of rakish charm. Until he discovers the only thing that truly belongs to him is his charm. An accident of birth has turned him into plain Mr. de Silva. Now, Sebastian is flummoxed as to what to do with his life—until he stumbles into a gambling den owned by Miss Ivy, a most fascinating young lady, who hires him on the spot. Working with a boss has never seemed so enticing.
Everything tells her he’s a risk she has to take
Two years ago, Ivy gambled everything that was precious to her—and won. Now the owner of London's most intriguing gambling house, Ivy is competent, assured, and measured. Until she meets Mr. de Silva, who stirs feelings she didn't realize she had. Can she keep her composure around her newest employee?
They vow to keep their partnership strictly business, but just one kiss makes them realize that with each passing day—and night—it becomes clear to them both that there's nothing as tempting as what is forbidden…
While I liked this one, liked the characters, liked the writing, nothing much happened
. This was definitely the set up to the series, had a lot of supporting characters that I’m looking forward to reading about in the rest of the series, and Frampton’s writing is engaging! The chemistry between the hero and heroine was believable and sparkling, but aside from the development of themselves and their relationship, the heroine hires the hero to work in her gaming den, they fall in love, the hero finds out some things about being and not being a duke, and it’s a happy ending. I’m not sure I’ll purchase the rest of the books aside from the fourth I bought thinking it was part of a new series, but I’ll definitely read them from my library!!