For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:
April 4: Indie/Self-Published Books (submitted by Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits)
I officially love this topic! There is so much amazing work out there aside from the traditionally published stuff we see most widely, and I love giving it a platform like this. One of my goals this year is to read more indie work. For the record, I’m considering “indie” as anything outside of traditional publishing. So that can encompass self-publishing, hybrid, small press, etc.
A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash – This book begins with the death of Rachel Rowan, a witch and cruel, abusive parent to Philippa, Vic, and Liam. When the Rowan children return to their hometown, Grimsby, to take care of business following Rachel’s death, they discover that pretty much the whole town a good reason to want their her dead. Each of the Rowan children has a magical gift. Vic, the middle child and the narrator, can feel what others are feeling (which is often more of a curse than a gift). Philippa, the oldest can enchant men and charm them into doing whatever she wants. Liam, the youngest, can tell the history of an object just by touching it. They team up to find out the truth about what happened to their mother, and reconcile themselves with each other and their pasts. This is sort of a contemporary murder mystery with some fantasy around the edges. Yes, the Rowans have magic, but that’s sort of secondary to the rest of the plot. That mix works for it, because the author doesn’t lean too far into any one genre. She lets the characters tell the story.
The Witches of Crannock Dale by Thomas M. Kane – In this book (which is the first in a series) we meet Mara, a bright eleven year old girl whose life changes when her favorite aunt is accused of witchcraft. Determined to prove her innocence and save her, Mara stumbles onto a larger puzzle that could have implications for her town, her family, and even her life. The character of Mara is a pleasure to get to know. She’s very smart, and a strategic thinker, but just as we’re a little too impressed with her cunning, something will happen to remind the reader (and Mara herself) that she’s still a child. Mara’s family also had great dynamics. So many books about bright, resourceful children have parents who are absent in some way. But Mara’s parents are an active part of her life and her story. Through her adventures, Mara comes to recognize that they’re people, flawed in some ways and admirable in others. The rest of the series is still on my TBR. The author has referred to this as “low fantasy.” meaning that it’s not a real world, but there’s not really much in the way of magic here. The emphasis is on espionage and adventure.
The Great Snake by Jennifer Mugrage – Beta-reading can be iffy. Sometimes the books are a pleasure to read, sometimes not. Fortunately, when blogger Jennifer Mugrage asked me to read this one, I was in for a treat. I’m going to try not to give away any spoilers here: Klee is a child growing up in ancient North America. When Klee learns that her family has lied to her, she seeks out her birth father. He turns out to be a charismatic but violent man who wants Klee to help him found a city dedicated to a snake god. Because of her recent upheaval, Klee doesn’t trust the family that raised her, so she decides to throw her lot in with her birth father, and begins a dangerous journey. This is actually book three in a trilogy, but I haven’t read the first two books (though I definitely plan to). It stands alone though.
The Van Helsing Paradox by Evelyn Chartres – After being orphaned in the early twentieth century, and becoming a ward of the Church, Clara Gray is made a member of the Tower, a group of hunters who take on demonic threats. In this book we see Clara’s training and adventures through WWI and the 1920s, as she becomes a gun wielding flapper who is sort of a fusion of Indiana Jones (who has a literary cameo here), Sherlock Holmes, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is also the first in a series. I haven’t read the others yet, but I plan to. Clara is a bit of a static character (at least so far) and her adventures are more one after another than any kind of a plot structure, but the book should just be taken as fun–which it is.
Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner – In Belfast in 1968, the paths of three characters cross. Jamie is a wealthy young man who has lost his father under mysterious circumstances. Casey is a member of the IRA who was recently released from prison and is trying to find his bearings in neighborhood that may not be new, but certainly feels like it is after a long time away. Pamela is an American who has just traveled to Ireland looking for a man she fell in love with when she was younger. The lives of these characters intertwine and clash in this series starter. I really liked this book, but I think I let too much time pass since I read it, so I’ll need to give it a reread before reading the next book (which is sitting on my shelf, where it has been waiting for me for several years…).
Tsura by Heather Anastasiu – I really don’t like this cover: it makes the book look like a YA paranormal romance, which it’s not. It’s actually a WWII romantic drama. Tsura is a Roma, trying to survive in Romania in 1944. Though she is love with Andrei, a Jewish man, a dangerous situation forces her into a marriage of convenience with Mihai, a man she loathes. The setting, and the main character set this apart from a lot of WWII novels which tend to be set in England, France, and Germany. This is the first in a duology, and you really need to read both. If you just read one you’re only getting the first half of the story.
The Pirate Captain: Chronicles of A Legend: Nor Silver by Kerry Lynne – Catherine Mackenzie lost her home and family following the battle of Culloden. Wanted for war crimes, she runs away to London, where she escapes on the first ship she can find. Her luck continues to be bad when she’s kidnapped by pirates due to a case of mistaken identity. She finds herself drawn into a vendetta between Captain Nathanael Blackthorne (who may as well be played by Johnny Depp dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow!) and the men who forced him into piracy. This is also the first in a series. I haven’t finished this series either, but the second book kindly provides a summary of the first one, so I don’t think I’ll need to do a full reread before I can move on. Of course, book two is 750+ pages, so it’s kind of intimating to dive into!
Tress by Larissa Brown– Since losing her hand in an accident, Tess has dreamed of escaping her own life and into a gruesome fairy tale where she must free a woodsman from a curse. That’s pretty much the only way I can explain the plot of this one, where fantasy blurs with reality, and that fantasy may not be fantasy at all. This described as “a novella that’s part fairytale, part psychological horror, with a dash of fated love.” I would call it more of a “gothic fairy tale” actually. It’s definitely a dark, sad fairy tale, as opposed to a Disney fairy tale though! Unlike many indie/self-published books, this is a stand alone novella, which is really suited to the material. I was glad the author didn’t try to draw it out into something more.
Once Upon a Broken Sky by MT DeSantis – This novella is a tease of the author’s upcoming novel Grimmfay, which will publish in November 2023. It definitely made me look forward to the book! In it we meet Zelandra. Once a prisoner, Zelandra now performs as part of Grimmfay, an enchanted circus run by the mysterious “Master.” She is admired and beloved by audiences everywhere, and in exchange for this, the Master asks a favor now and then. Case in point: he’s recently told Zelandra to bring two children into the circus. Hansten and Grenna are excited to visit Grimmfay and enthralled by Zelandra’s performance. But Hansten soon comes to understand that his life and his sister’s may depend on leaving Grimmfay while they still can… This is compared to The Night Circus and the Lunar Chronicles. I would say that those comp titles give a pretty good idea of what to expect here.
Beautiful: A Tale of Beauties and Beasts by Fran Laniado – You’d think maybe I’d be above this, but no, I’m not. Here’s the synopsis: Eimear is Faerie. She left the land of her birth to find a place where she felt like she could belong. She finds herself in the World, a strange place, where she is the only magical being, and she begins to build a life for herself. But when she encounters Finn, supernaturally beautiful but thoughtless and selfish, she gets angry. In a fit of rage, she casts a spell on Finn. It’s a spell that she can’t undo, even when she discovers that she’s ruined Finn’s life. Finn is wealthy, arrogant, and cruel. He didn’t think twice about insulting Eimear until it was too late. Now, exiled from the only home he’s ever known, he is forced to make his own way, for the first time ever. He does have support- if he wants it. Eimear wants to assuage her guilt by helping him. In an isolated place, thrown together initially out of desperation and need, Eimear and Finn find a way to live together. That alliance eventually blossoms into friendship, and even love. But before they can have their happily ever after, Eimear must go on a perilous journey that will force her to confront everything that she ran away from when she left Faerie.