Ascension of the Phoenix

Posted on June 7th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Today’s post is about Ascension of the Phoenix by Jessica Piro, and it’s going to be a little different than usual. I’m veering away from my established format to do something a little more… casual because technically… I DNFed the book. Now normally, when I DNF a book I don’t review it at all, but this book was specifically requested for me to do a review, so I am going to honor that and explain why I DNFed, and why don’t think that should stop you from reading and enjoying the book.

Let me start by saying that this book has a phenomenal premise, which is one of the reasons I agreed to review it despite it being outside of my literary comfort zone. I still think it is a really interesting premise; there were just too many things that broke immersion for me that may or may not break immersion for you.

From this point forward there are some minor spoilers, so please forge ahead at your own peril.

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June 2021 Update

Posted on June 4th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News

It really wasn’t that long ago that I did my May update, but I feel like there’s so much I’m up to that I want to share with everyone.

First, some updates about Courting the Dragon‘s release. You may have seen this on my socials already, but the paperback is now available for pre-order from Barnes & Noble! Ebook pre-orders are also now available from Apple iBooks. You can find links to all your favorite retailers here.

Additionally, I think I have settled on some of the details for release party. As stated before, it will be 100% digital. I’ve decided to stream the live event on YouTube. I already have the YouTube channel I’m not really using, and it just seems like a nice, happy medium. Most people use YouTube, I think. I’ll put up a post soon with all the appropriate links and all that jazz. I’m sorry I haven’t been more on top of this.

On to writing news!

If you follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram, you’re probably already aware that I have a new writing project. If you don’t follow on either of those platforms then you may be a little out of the loop. Recently, my muse decided to take my brain hostage and refuse to let me work on Finding the Dragon unless I also put some time into the new whacky idea she’d come up with. As a result, I am now currently working about evenly on two writing projects: finishing the Penelope’s Dragon trilogy and starting a new series of steamy fairytale retellings.

The first of these fairytale retellings is a take on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The title is still pending. If you want to join the debate (and bad puns), check out this thread on Twitter. Hopefully once that’s settled we can have a cover reveal sometime later this summer. Here’s the blurb and some aesthetic for the book (you can find more of this and a snippet on my Instagram):

The second of these fairytale retellings (my muse is on a roll, ain’t she?) is an Adult Little Red Riding Hood and Hamlet mash-up. This one has a tentative title of Hunting at Midnight. Here’s the blurb and, again, some aesthetic (don’t expect too much more about this one until Book 1 is finished though, I’m telling the muse to cool it):

As for Finding the Dragon, progress is being made, I swear. A few snippets of it have/will find their way into the #JuneDelights event on Twitter hosted by Katherine Macdonald and L.V. Russell. Check out the hashtag there (and also Instagram, I think) to read some awesome snippets by some very talent authors.

Finally, personal news. With summer finally here Matt and I have been getting out into the yard and the garden. We started mulching on Memorial Day, and we’ve got some big projects planned for the next couple of weekends. Garden pictures coming soon!

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The Unclaimed Wolf

Posted on May 31st 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

This week’s review is of The Unclaimed Wolf by E.P. Stavs. I have already reviewed the first two books in the Shendri Series. You can find that review here.

As always, this review is my honest opinion and I received no compensation for it.

Book Details

The Unclaimed Wolf is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon. It is currently enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so you can read it for free if you’re subscribed. The paperback cost $12.99, which is what I paid for it. Without KU, the eBook will run you $2.99. Considering that this book is slightly longer than its predecessors at 262 pages of story, I would say that’s a pretty fair deal.

The book is available in English, and I’m not currently aware of any plans for an audio adaptation. I do try to update these sections if/when translations and audio editions become available.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

As with the first two books in the Shendri Series, The Unclaimed Wolf features a beautifully simplistic cover. A gorgeous “fantasy-esque” font is layered over background image with mystical vibes. All of the text is easily legible. The series name and number are clear.

Personally, I enjoy the visual simplicity of these covers. They are very much about the fantasy “vibes” and I dig it.

As with the first two books, the interior is nicely formatted. I didn’t notice any major formatting flaws. Nothing new to say about it really.

Total for design is 5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

The Unclaimed Wolf picks up pretty much where the epilogue of The Searching Songbird left off. Sir Edmund is sent to search out the final, unknown wolf Shendri in a foreign country based on a rumor. That Shendri is a though-as-nails mercenary who doesn’t think too much of pretty-boy knights. He has a long road ahead of him if he thinks he’s going to convince her to come with him back to Eldour.

I’m not sure how to categorize this book. It’s not exactly enemies-to-lovers (although Maya certainly doesn’t like Edmund very much at the beginning). While the characters certainly follow some trope/archetypes I have a harder time putting the premise itself into a box. It’s certainly interesting, and I was looking forward to Edmund’s story.

I give the premise 5 teaspoons.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

I’m just going to be blunt. I did not like Maya for about the first 50% of the book. Or rather, I didn’t like her for Edmund. This is easily my least favorite pairing of the series so far. Her devotion to her family and her home is admirable, but… I generally found her outlook to be narrow and short-sighted.

Edmund was very much Edmund. His role in the first two books was quite small (he spent most of book one in a dungeon, after all), but we did get a bit of a feel for his character. At times he is the consumate flirt, but underneath it all he really does seem to have a heart of gold. I’m really glad that it felt like Edmund’s character from the previous two stories was deepened, and not contradicted.

But as a couple? I didn’t get the chemistry. At all. I’m still not sold on them as a couple, if I’m being honest.

We also got to learn a little more about Fia and Bade. That relationship is… interesting. I’m really curious to see where things go in the final installment. I’m wondering if we’re being set up for a redemption.

Anyhow, individually I give the characters 5 teaspoons. They’re well written and enjoyable. I have to knock off a teaspoon though for the pairing. It just didn’t click for me.

4 teaspoons for characters.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

This section is going to be difficult to talk about without spoilers, but I’m going to try.

Maya’s abilities beyond her standing as a Shendri and where they came from added an interesting element to the world and the story.

I wasn’t enamored with the Dirt Mercs and their home in the ground. The whole situation with the village also just felt weird to me. It was definitely an element of the world I could do without.

I didn’t feel like we got as much of a taste of the culture of this new place as we did in The Searching Songbird. The village near the Dirt Mercs felt very generic medieval fantasy world to me. However, There was some great foreshadowing with a children’s game played in the village. It added a layer of richness and history to the world overall. This is a living, breathing place where truth is lost to myth, and myth is lost to children’s nursery rhymes.

I give worldbuilding 4 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

There were some surprises in this plot, for sure. I didn’t see the ending coming. Although Stavs did poor Edmund dirty AGAIN. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Plot gets 5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

Stavs’s style continues to be an easy, fluid read. It’s descriptive and dynamic. The action scenes were well done without being over-done.

Writing gets 5 teaspoons.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Final Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s not my favorite in the series– that distinction still goes to The Searching Songbird— but it did a lot to develop the overall plot of the series and was fun to read. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Stavs wraps things up in The Moonlit Warrior this fall.

My final score for the book is 4 teaspoons.

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Of Snow and Scarlet (ARC Review)

Posted on May 24th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Today’s review is for Of Snow and Scarlet by Katherine Macdonald. It’s sort of abbreviated review because I don’t have the final published version of the book in front of me. Unlike the ARC I received of The Shield Road, this was not a ready-for-print PDF, so I don’t feel comfortable speaking to the formatting or anything like. I’ll give a follow-up once I have a physical paperback in my possession next month. (Although, I seriously doubt there will be quality issues. I already own two of Macdonald’s paperbacks, and they are excellent).

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Cover Art

Some of you may recall that I wasn’t as impressed with the cover for A Song of Sea & Shore as some of Macdonald’s other gorgeous books. I wasn’t a fan of the different fonts and textures in the lettering on that cover. Of Snow and Scarlet does the same thing, but I think the effect on this cover is much more pleasing.

There’s something very magical in the pop of the scarlet cloak against the wintery background. I do wish though that the author’s name might have been made to pop a little more against those tree limbs. Maybe it’ll look different in print.

Cover is a solid 4 teaspoons.

 

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

As with many of Macdonald’s books, this one is a fairytale retelling. It reimagines the story of Little Red Riding Hood. As many of you probably know by now, I’m a little bit picky about fairytale retellings. On one hand, I love them in general, but it can also be difficult for the premise to really stand out. In this case, Macdonald builds on a common theme with Red Riding Hood retellings, which is the introduction of shapeshifters and/or werewolves to the tale. What makes it interesting, however, is in this case we’re dealing with a whole pack of wolves, not one Big Bad Wolf.

I will admit, I was a *little* disappointed to read “omega” in the blurb because we’ve seen those sorts of pack dynamics in every wolf shifter book in the last 40 years and they are… well… kinda wrong. That sort of behavior does emerge in packs in captivity where wolves from different packs were thrown together but… I digress. Here’s an link that explains briefly how leader dynamics really work in wild wolf packs with links to other resources if you’re interested.

I give premise 4 teaspoons.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

To me, Andesine read as a typical misunderstood fantasy romance heroine who just wants to be more than what her little village will allow. If this was Disney there would be a big “I want” song early on in the movie. Actually, the one from Beautiy and the Beast would be pretty close without many alterations. Andy is a well written character, but I don’t feel like she really added anything unexpected to the story until just before the epilogue.

Poor Finn. He had a rough life before he really met Andy. If you like really sweet love interests, I think you’ll love Finn. Personally, I would have like to have seen a few more rough edges early on in the story.

Weirdly, I would have liked to have seen more of Vincent, who was the real Big Bad Wolf of this tale. I enjoyed the plot twist around him (although I kinda saw it coming). It would have been nice to see him try just a little harder at being a wolf in man’s clothing to get what he wanted.

Granny was probably my favorite character. That’s all I’ll say about that.

I give characters 4 teaspoons. They were all well written and had great chemistry, but I still found myself wanting just that extra little something.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

I mentioned before that I was a little disappointed in the alpha/beta/omega pack dynamics. This is true. However, I do appreciate the way that Macdonald used them. The added magical element really added some interest into what I kind of feel is a tried trope.

I enjoyed the way that we were given hints of the wider world, even though the bulk of the story takes places in a tiny village and/or the woods. The interludes giving us a glimpse into Finn’s life also give us a glimpse into the wider world. That added a lot of depth to a story with a traditionally rather narrow setting.

I give worldbuilding 4 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

There’s plenty of plot to enjoy. I was able to guess some of the twists, but not all of them. The author really got me at the end. If there were any plot holes, I didn’t notice them. The pacing was largely fine. I thought the romance was actually pretty quick compared to A Song of Sea & Shore.

5 teaspoons for plot.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

If there is one thing Macdonald does well, it is suck you in with her gorgeous prose. It’s enough that I don’t even care that the book flops between first person for most of the story and third person for Finn’s history chapters. This is very similar to the interludes in A Song of Sea & Shore (yeah, I know, I keep comparing them, sorry). If you find POV swapping like that jarring (which I usually do) that might bug you. However, if you can get past it, it’s so worth it. I could almost feel the winter’s bite while reading this book.

Writing is a solid 5 teaspoons.

Final Thoughts

Macdonald once again invited me into a world of magic and romance. I was once swept away into a story I struggled to put down and devoured quickly. I (thankfully) didn’t need a whole box of tissues this time.

I’m going to do something I’ve never done on the blog before. I am going to give a half teaspoons rating. Of Snow and Scarlet is a 4.5 teaspoons for me, and I will be rounding it up for platforms that don’t allow half star ratings.

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May 2021 Update

Posted on May 21st 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

Sorry for the late blog post. Just have a few quick updates.

Grand prize basket for the Courting the Dragon giveaway. A gray dragon plushie, physical copies of Saving the Dragon and Courting the Dragon, a coffee mug, two bookmarks, and a small magnet with a dragon on it are shown.

First, the release-related news. The release party giveaway for Courting the Dragon is currently open. Check out my Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook for instructions on how to enter. The prize baskets are pretty sweet if I do say so myself! Check out the grand prize basket pictured here.

Speaking of the release party…

The current plan is host a digital release party event. The platform and start time are still TBD, but some polling on Twitter has indicated a preference for Twitch. Since the streaming options there are a bit more robust than FB or Instagram Live that currently seeming like the best option. I will try to have the details nailed down this week. Tentative event information is currently posted on FB; the event will be updated by the 1st of June.

By the way, you can use the hashtag #CourtingTheDragon to find the latest tweets and Instagram posts about the release, including sneak peek snippets, the giveaway, and what ARC readers are saying!

On to the writing.

I have made some progress on Finding the Dragon. The major plot points, who the antagonist is, and all those sorts of important bits are mostly ironed out. I’ve written a couple chapters’ worth and I’m pleased with what I have so far. A few snippets have been posted to my Instagram, so if you’re looking for sneak peeks, that’s the place to be. Maybe sometime in June after Courting the Dragon goes live I’ll do a cover reveal. I don’t have a specific release date in mind for this yet (at least not that I’m comfortable sharing), but you definitely won’t be waiting another six years for it.

Meanwhile…

For some reason yesterday I got the itch to write a fairytale retelling. I’m about a chapter and a half into an interesting shifter-romance retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Why does “Baby Bear” have insomnia? Why were the village jerk and a wereweasel chasing “Goldie”? Is there a plot to this beyond the classic fable? I don’t know, but my muse says we’re going to find out. Not sure how long this is going to be or what format it will be released in. I’m toying with the idea of trying it as a Kindle Vella serial. Or maybe it will be a short, 99 cent novella. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write a whole dang novel and Goldilocks and Baby Bear will save the world from impending doom. My brain is also insisting that whatever this is, it’s the start of a new trilogy because Baby Bear’s older brothers are going to need their own Happily Ever Afters. Oy vey.

I’ve also been seriously looking at The Foundling again. I recently purchased a cover for it, and the itch to get it finished and out the door is getting strong. It’s about half written, and as I start actively working on it again is probably a good time to start thinking about alpha readers for it. I’m not sure when I’ll do a cover reveal or what the release timeline will be for this yet. Sometime in 2022 would be nice. I’ll keep y’all posted.

I think that’s all for now folks. Here’s a sleepy kitty picture to brighten your Friday.

Mayhem (orange/buff tabby) and Zoe (diluted tortie) sleeping in a large, teal saucer chair.
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