Salt & Broom

By Sharon Lynn Fisher

Rating: 3 stars

This is a pretty straightforward retelling of Jane Eyre, but with magic. In this version Jane Eyre Aire is a witch, rather than a governess, but most of the other beats of the original story are present. Interestingly, the author decides to remove the big twist in the original and have Rochester’s wife die before the beginning of the book, doing away with the bigamist element of the original. Many of the locations and people from the original are present and easily identifiable, including Thornfield, Lowood, Mr Brocklehurst and Mrs Fairfax. The author definitely softens Mr Brocklehurst though, and even gives him a bit of a redemptive arc.

To be honest, I spent probably the first half of the book wondering if magic was actually a real thing in the book. It mostly consisted of herb work and minor doggerel verse that you might hear from an old wifey in a Regency or Victorian novel. I did wonder if they’d go down the Scooby-Doo route and that the “ghost” would be unveiled as Old Man Withers from the local funfair. But later on, it does become clear that the magic of this world is definitely real, just very understated.

It’s an enjoyable riff on the original, but I sort of wish it had strayed further from its source material and found more of its own story to tell. I want to go and read Jane Eyre again now…

Book details

ISBN: 9781662515682

The Sorceress Transcendent

By Casey Blair

Rating: 4 stars

Theira is one of the most powerful sorceresses of her generation, but has managed to find a way to get out of the war. Varius is one of the Empire’s greatest generals, but is disgraced when he refuses to attack his own people. Injured and forced out, Varius turns to Theira, once his greatest enemy, for help.

This is an enemies to lovers story, but without the enemies. Varius and Theira may have been enemies on the battlefield, but they’ve respected each other on the battlefield, and have had the hots for each other forever and there’s very little of the sparks that you’d expect from two enemies forced together. It’s a delightful little novella, and surprisingly gruesome at times for this author. My favourite death is probably the one who’s bashed repeatedly against a wall by a giant golem like a rag doll.

Definitely fun, and with a nice bit of world building for a fairly short novella.

Book details

ISBN: 9798985110180

The Fire’s Stone

By Tanya Huff

Rating: 4 stars

A thief, a wizard and a prince studiously avoid walking into a bar. Not the setup to a joke, but the basis of this thoroughly enjoyable fantasy novel. Aaron, our thief, gets caught trying to steal the royal emerald but saved by the prince, Darvish. They are both then sent on a quest to recover a magic stone that stops the volcano that the city is built on from rising up and swallowing it whole. En route, they team up with Chandra, the wizard and Darvish’s unwilling political fiancé. It’s a good, old fashioned quest, with added alcoholism (hence the studiously avoiding the bar) and a burgeoning romance between Aaron and Darvish.

Chandra is a very powerful wizard, but she’s also a sixteen year old girl, with all the turbulent emotions that come with that. She hides behind her status as a “Wizard of the Nine”, using arrogance as a mask for her fear and pain. Aaron is the son of a clan chief, fleeing his own pain by locking his emotions tight, and fighting the internalised homophobia of his ancestral religion. Darvish is the third son of the king, with no power and no position at court. He drinks to take the edge off his own pain. And together this motley D&D-style adventuring party fight crime steal (back) jewellery and figure out their emotions.

The story moves at a good pace and the protagonists are (mostly) sympathetic. I’m pleased that I figured out who the traitor was, despite the misdirection. I think the central macguffin is daft – who thought it would be a good idea to build a city on a volcano and then suppress the forces of nature using an eminently portable bauble?? – but there’s still a lot to enjoy. I came to this from Huff’s “Valour” MilSF series and while this is very different, I enjoyed it a lot.

Book details

A Witch’s Guide to Fake Dating a Demon

By Sarah Hawley

Rating: 4 stars

Mariel is prophetised to be the most powerful witch in generations. But instead she’s a laughing stock, looked down upon by everyone, including her overbearing mother. But she loves gardening (nature magic is something she’s actually good at) and baking. Trying to summon some flour, she accidentally summons a demon, who is then tied to her until she makes a soul bargain she doesn’t want to make. But Ozroth the Ruthless has his own secret shame, and it’s not long until the two unwilling housemates become something more.

This is a delightful paranormal romance set in a sunny world full of magical creatures that sit alongside unmagical humans. When we meet Mariel she’s a bit of a mess, with no self-esteem, despite the attempts of her best friend Calladia (who’s great fun, but has serious anger management issues). But their friendship and love is real and strong, and Hawley draws parallels with both their mothers and the sort of rivalry and bitterness that passes as friendship between them.

We switch PoV between Mariel and Ozroth as they try to figure out a way out of their predicament, and Ozroth helps Mariel realise her true strengths and stand up to the people who have been belittling her. When the big showdown with her mother comes, it’s a punch the air moment.

I was wondering what would trigger the inevitable third act falling-out between them, since there were no big secrets or anything. When it came, it was actually triggered by an external agent, and didn’t particularly last long. It felt like it was there because it was expected rather than the author particularly wanted to do it (Mariel learns something and immediately believes the worst, which didn’t really fit with the woman we’d come to know over the preceding 300 pages or so). I was glad for the quick resolution of that and we could get back to dealing with what passed for the Big Bad of the book and the happy ending.

It’s a warm-hearted, funny, and sexy book (although I think it works best as a standalone, and after reading the sample of the sequel at the back, I’ll probably not be rushing out to pick it up).

Book details

ISBN: 9781399608893
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2023

The Only Purple House in Town

By Ann Aguirre

Rating: 4 stars

Iris feels like she’s a hot mess, never entirely sure what direction to take her life and never entirely able to make ends meet. Then she inherits an old house in a small town and starts renting rooms to try to pay the bills. Meanwhile, Eli has had a crush on Iris since they were kids and when they meet again by accident, he ends up renting a room from her. Between them and the others who move into the house, strong bonds start to form and they can hopefully start to heal.

I know other reviewers found the way that Eli kept up with Iris’s social media accounts creepy and stalker-ish. And yes, it is, but it’s not something I picked up on as a red flag, especially since he is one of our PoV characters and you can see how sincerely he only means well. The issue of him not being truthful with Iris before moving in with her is one of these things that makes me roll my eyes and just wish people would stop being so stupid. It’s such a small thing to have said at the start, and later heartache could have been avoided (something that bothered me about The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy too).

But putting that to the side, this is a story about found family, as Iris collects the waifs and strays into her home and everyone starts to care for each other, not just the romantic tension between Iris and Eli. Henry Dale is a classic grumpy old man, with a heart of gold. He’s got a thing about being useful and his building and carpentry skills come in useful in maintaining an old house. Sally is an older woman who’s left her husband after many years of marriage and is a bubbling pot of energy. Mira broke up with her girlfriend and needed somewhere to stay quickly, while Rowan needed to get away from her biological family. We don’t get as much time to spend with some of these as I’d have liked, especially Mira. The relationship ties between the others are stronger, and there’s a great grandfather/granddaughter energy between Henry Dale and Rowan. I suppose with so many characters, some were bound to do better than others.

There’s also a fantasy element, with Eli being able to shapeshift into a hawk, and Iris being from a family of psychic vampires (they drink emotions, rather than blood). Iris’s powers haven’t manifested yet, and her sisters and mother all look down on her for it. Like with Rowan, Iris’s biological family are very much set up to contrast with her found family.

The end feels very rushed, with a pretty hefty deus ex machina pulled out of nowhere to solve the major problem put in front of the characters in the last act. The traditional romance breakup over secrets (see above) and reconciliation also felt a bit rushed, but that didn’t bother me as much as some. The deus ex machina was more of a thing, but I’m a sucker for a happy ending, and I’ll still take it.

This is, apparently, book four in a series. I’ve not read the others, and this feels entirely standalone to me. I think some characters from previous books show up in cameos, but I never felt like I was missing anything important.

I think the book did have some issues in terms of the deus ex machina and Eli’s stalker tendencies, but I still loved it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781728262499
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Year of publication: 2023

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human (Mead Mishaps, #3)

By Kimberly Lemming

Rating: 3 stars

The main moral of this story is to not drug a strange man you’ve only just met in the hope that he helps you escape from your dragon captor. Try asking first. But our protagonist here ignores that advice and ends up being marked by said man (or, rather, dragon) as his mate, in his drugged state. Cue lots of agonising over the whole situation, before the final, inevitable, happy ending. That setup means there’s less sex in this book than previous ones, although still plenty of pent-up desire and almost-sex. But it does leave a bit of space for the characters to develop a bit. Our protagonist (who I’m not going to name, since if you’ve read the other books in the series, it’s a spoiler) has spent years in captivity and just wants to see the world, something which her mate, Dante, the other dragon from previous Mead Mishaps books) is happy to oblige her with.

The whole thing is fun, but the way that our Protagonist kept almost, but not quite, telling Dante about herself was vexing for the reader, who is more clued in on what’s going on. It took the whole book to get to the climax (ooh er!) I wanted (actually, no, I’m not talking about the sex, in this case).

I’ve no idea if there will be more books in this series, but if not, this seems like a perfectly good ending to it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529431292
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2023

That Time I Got Drunk And Yeeted A Love Potion At A Werewolf (Mead Mishaps, #2)

By Kimberly Lemming

Rating: 4 stars

Set after Cin (hero of the first book) returns to her village after killing the lich posing as a god, and brings a boatload (literally) of demons with her. This one follows her best friend Brie (the cheesemaker – yes, really) who accidentally lobs a love potion at werewolf Felix. Felix insists that he’s just found his mate (the trope appears to be called “fated mates”“; I’m learning so much new jargon through these books!) and it’s nothing to do with the love potion. Brie insists on trying to wait until the potion wears off before they try anything together, although if Felix’s life might actually be in danger, she’ll take the hardship of sleeping with this man she finds wildly attractive. Just, you know, for medicinal purposes. Oh, and while Brie is trying to figure out her love life, young women from the village start going missing, and the villagers suspect the ship of demons that’s just arrived at their shore to be responsible.

I think I might have enjoyed this more than the first book in the series. This time, the narration is from both Brie and Felix’s PoV, alternating chapters as the plot requires. The meta-fiction of Brie being into paranormal romance is funny, especially when she starts talking about the Omegaverse and hentai to an ancient spirit of incredible power.

I like Brie as a character a lot, and Felix is mostly just a big golden retriever in human form. The peril that they face is pretty mild. A lot of fun (and still very steamy).

Book details

ISBN: 9781529431261
Year of publication: 2023

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon: Mead Mishaps 1

By Kimberly Lemming

Rating: 3 stars

I can’t remember what made me add this book to a wishlist, and thinking about it, it may have just been that the title made me laugh. Our protagonist, Cinnamon (a spice farmer, whose brothers are Chili and Cumin, really) just wants a quiet life. Maybe with a cat, when she gets drunk one night with her best friend, and ends up saving a demon who’s crashed into her land. It turns out that the goddess her people worship is actually a lich who’s been enslaving the demons and Fallon is determined to free his people, and he needs Cin to help him. Hilarity (and steamy, steamy sex, along with some surprisingly violent limb removal) ensues.

I’d never heard the term “dubcon” before seeing it in the content warning for this book and, having read it, admit that it makes me uncomfortable. I’d have preferred absolute, explicit consent, all the way through, even though it was clear that both parties involved were desperate to jump each other, and that consent was there by the end.

The other part of the story (ie the actual plot) involving finding and destroying the phylacteries of the lich was much more straightforward, as was the small group that joins them on their quest, including a tavern owner and two formerly enslaved demons. Oh, and just when you think that it can’t get more ridiculous, Cin’s horses get accidentally dosed with magic and become pegasi. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but also a lot of fun. I’ll be reading the next one in the series, I think.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529431230
Year of publication: 2023

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

By Sangu Mandanna

Rating: 5 stars

Found family, check. Romance, check. Cosy, check. This book ticks pretty much all my boxes at the moment – there’s even an Northern Irish love interest! I thought I’d enjoy it from the description, and it turns out that I adored it!

Mika Moon is a witch who follows The Rules. She keeps her head down and doesn’t get too attached. She even only sees other witches once every few months, for a few hours. She’s repeatedly told by her guardian that it’s the only way for witches to be safe, and she’s become used to being lonely. And then she’s asked to tutor three young witches, and unwillingly finds a group of people who she can trust and open up to. Not to mention the glowering, but handsome, librarian who’s dragged kicking and screaming into unwillingly admitting a mutual attraction.

I loved Mika as a protagonist. I love the trope of a closed off person, unwilling to love and be loved, finding a person or persons who will love them unconditionally. Here, Mika meets not only librarian Jamie, but Ian and Ken, a couple who have been together for decades, and Lucie, the mother hen of the group, as well as the three children who she comes to care for immensely. Mika finding her place in the family made my heart grow three sizes.

What peril there is in the book is very mild, with almost nothing bad happening. The main antagonist is a lawyer (sounds about right), and the racist, homophobic gammon is set against the beautiful diversity of Mika and her new family. There’s never any doubt as to who’s going to come out on top, and a lot of satisfaction in seeing how he’s dealt with.

It may be too saccharine for some, but there’s enough darkness in Mika’s childhood and early life to balance that for me, and make me feel she really deserves the life she ends up with.

Book details

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Winter’s Orbit

By Everina Maxwell

Rating: 4 stars

The Iskat Empire is at the heart of a solar system where they rule several of the terraformed planets through a system of treaties and intermarriages. An important renewal event is coming up that will rebind them to the wider galaxy, but Prince Taam has died in a flyer crash, so his widower, Jainan, is quickly rushed into a political marriage with one of the emperor’s more disreputable grandchildren, Kiem, in a bid to keep things running. But then it turns out that Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and Jainan is a possible suspect. The newlyweds must solve the murder and prevent interplanetary war.

This was a fun story of an interplanetary empire in crisis, with a strong romance at its heart. Kiem is thrown right into the arranged marriage on the first page, with no warning and he and Jainan spend the first half of the book circling each other warily. Kiem because he feels Jainan must be grieving, and Jainan because he wants to fulfil his duty but thinks he’s not good enough for Kiem. It’s a punch the air moment when they finally fall into each others’ arms.

The story is told from both Kiem and Jainan’s points of view. We, the audience, are seeing inside Jainan’s head and slowly coming to the realisation that Jainan’s former marriage may not have been as perfect as it seemed, and screaming that Kiem should be able to see this. But, of course, he doesn’t have our luxury of being able to follow his partner’s thoughts on the written page.

Maxwell teases the conspiracy at the heart of the novel for quite some time, and it’s fun to see it slowly be exposed, along with the wider galactic civilisation and how Iskat and its empire fits into that.

A lot of fun, with some great secondary characters as well, particularly Kiem’s aide, Bel, who’s properly of the non-nonsense, hyper-organised variety. There’s a lot to enjoy here, even though I did find myself repeatedly rolling my eyes and yelling “just talk to each other” at the book.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356515885
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2021

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