Posted on October 18th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today’s review is of The Horseman of Sleepy Hollow by Rebecca F. Kenney. I thought with it being spooky season and all, that I should give y’all something vaguely in that realm before we transition into the season of elves and candy canes. Since I’m not really much of one for horror, Kenney’s Sleepy Hollow retelling seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I’m going to skip the About the Author section since I’ve already reviewed Kenney’s The Teeth in the Tide.
As always, my opinions are my own. Let’s get into it.
About the Book
The Horseman of Sleepy Hollow is billed as a novella with an estimated page length of 123 pages. You can pick up the Kindle copy for $1.99 or read it for free with Kindle Unlimited. The paperback copy is $12.99, which is what I paid for it. It was released on October 15, 2021.
As with all of Kenney’s books, The Horseman of Sleepy Hollow has a gorgeous cover. I really love the color choices — very autumn and mildly spooky. It invokes the creepy factor juxtaposed with elegance, and I dig it.
The font on the back has good contrast and is a reasonable size. However, I’m not entirely jazzed by big blocks of small caps text. I find that just a little bit difficult to read.
4.5 teaspoons for the exterior design.
There are a few things I’m not super crazy about with the interior. The left-alignment of the text feels awkward to me. The Teeth in the Tide was also left-aligned and unjustified, but it didn’t seem as pronounced and off-putting, possibly due to a difference in font family and point. The first chapter starting on the left-hand page also feels weird and non-standard. I couldn’t find another example of it other than The Teeth in the Tide in a quick skim through comprable titles.
I don’t think this makes the book more difficult to read, it just really bugs me personally. However, it was only distracting for a few pages until I got sucked into the story.
The paperback interior does feature some pretty little graphic details at the start of the chapters and near the page numbers, which I greatly enjoyed.
4 teaspoons for the interior design.
The premise of The Horseman of Sleepy Hollow is of course that it is a retelling of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Admittedly, I’m not super familiar with the source material beyond some pop culture references. I’ve never even seen the Disney adaptation. I think I might have seen part of 1999’s Sleepy Hollow? Maybe. Anyway, as I (and Wikipedia) understand it, much of the elements of the story remain the same: the lovely Katrina is caught in the rivalry of her two suitors–Ichabod Crane, the Schoolteacher and Brom. Where the stories diverge, well… what if Katrina was given a third option?
I generally like the premise of the story. I’m not sure if my lack of familiarity made me more or less disposed towards it. I’ll let you be the judges, dear readers.
5 teaspoons for the premise.
First up is Katrina Van Tassel, our lovely heroine. I honestly have mixed feelings about Katrina. On one hand, I understand her frustrations. She chaffs under the expectations placed on her by the good Dutch wives of Sleep Hollow and the injustices of society in Colonial America. On the other hand, toying with the affections of not one, but two men is very not-cool, Katrina. Still, Kenney’s Katrina has much more life and character than in the original short story. Still her head isn’t the worst place to be, which is a good thing, because the story is told from her perspective.
Brom Van Brunt is given a proper surname (he’s Brom Bones in the Irving original). He’s just as awful as the original implied (maybe worse), I’m really glad he doesn’t get the girl in this one.
Ichabod Crane is an interesting character. Kenney gives him a complexity that I appreciate. You can both feel sympathy for him and simultaneously wish he was a better person. Perhaps if he were, Katrina wouldn’t have been so torn. Kenney at least doesn’t leave us wondering as to the schoolmaster’s fate as Irving does.
I don’t want to spoil too much about the Horseman himself. This take is very much inspired by Irish mythology and gives us a much… sexier character than one might expect. His relationship with Katrina and the goings-on is interesting and kept me guessing for a little while. Leave it to Kenney to turn the Headless Horseman into a swoon-worthy romantic hero.
My only regret with the characters is that the relationship between Katrina and the man she ultimately chooses is a bit rushed. It makes sense, given the length of the story.
4 teaspoons for characters.
The primary job of the worldbuilding in this case was to 1) ground us in Colonial America in Sleepy Hollow and 2) give us a reasonable explanation for how The Headless Horseman could be a romantic hero. Overall, I think Kenney did an excellent job at both of these objectives.
5 teaspoons for worldbuilding.
As this is a novella and a retelling of a short story, the plot is rather straightforward. There’s an incident with a tree branch that almost broke my suspension of disbelief, but I was able to roll with it and enjoy the story. Honestly though, part of me wishes that there had been more story, fleshing this out to a full-blown novel. I would have liked some more romance and some more intrigue with the real evil of Sleepy Hollow. Still, the plot was sensical and enjoyable.
3 teaspoons for plot.
As has thus far always been my experience, Kenney’s writing is just enjoyable.
5 teaspoons for writing.
I really enjoyed The Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. It was a fun Halloween-time read that didn’t leave me hiding under the covers. It was just the right about of spook and steam for a chilly autumn night.
Posted on October 11th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
*Warning, if you can’t stand even obviously fake blood, do NOT click through the pictures in this post*
I wanted to have a review up today, but it just wasn’t in the cards this week. All of Saturday was spent participating in a 48 Hour Film Horror Project with my husband and his friends. If you live in NE Ohio and want to see our ~5 minute ball of cheese, the premire details can be found here. We are in group A.
The premise of our little film is that an actor, Freddie, is lured in with a fake casting call by Dr. John Shelley, who wants to use him for illicit experimentation. But the miracle drug Dr. Shelley is trying to create has an unintended consequence…
Honestly, filming it was a lot of fun. I got my first (questionable) screenwriting credit, and got to play with SFX make-up. I’ll let y’all be the judge of how I did on both counts. We are not pros and had no idea what we were doing 99% of the time. Would we do it again? I think the jury is still out on that, haha.
After filming on Saturday, my second covid shot hit me like a ton of bricks and absolutely nothing got done that night. Kind of it to wait till we were done, no? Anyway, I spent Sunday taking it easy on myself and (again) didn’t get a whole lot done. However, I intend to get through a couple of books this week and should have new reviews coming soon. Bared Magic is now with the editor, so I will have more time to focus on reading for the next week or two.
Posted on September 21st 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
It took me way longer to post this review than it probably should have. I had a hard time organizing my thoughts. If this still seems a little scattered, know that it is despite my best efforts. So, here are the customary and obligatory disclaimers and disclosures. I did receive a free, advanced copy of this book for the purposes of review. This does not impact my opinion in any way. As always, my thoughts are my own.
I’m also going to get back into the habit of providing all the information I used to provide about the price, availability, etc. I’ve been slacking a little on my research lately.
This week’s review is forThe Chrysillium Tree by Laken Honeycutt. It is releasing September 22, 2021 (yes, I really cut it to the last minute on this ARC review). It is not Amazon exclusive and will be available digitally for Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo, etc for $2.99. Paperback is also available for $15.99. It weighs in at 268 pages. It is written in English, and I am not aware of any plans for translation or audio at this time.
About the Author
Laken Honeycutt is an indie author from New England. She is fond of forests and enjoys activities that bring her close to nature, such as hiking and kayaking. She’s quite active on Twitter, where she motivates and supports fellow indie authors.
As I’m sure you all know by now, I can be a fan of both the simplistic and the ornate when it comes to cover design.
I have mixed feelings about this one. The font is gorgeous and well contrasted with the background, making it very legible. The tree in the center is interesting. However, with its white backdrop, I cannot help but feel that it lacks some oomph for a digital cover. If I wasn’t aware of the book and anticipating its release I think I’d be liable to skip over it in my Kindle scrolling.
It’s a really pretty cover, it just doesn’t have a lot of visual punch. I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks in paperback though. I may update my rating at that point.
3 teaspoons for exterior design.
Since I received a digital ARC, I won’t be giving a rating for the interior. However, I didn’t notice any major issues with my copy, so I’m sure the final release copies will be just fine.
The book starts with an interesting premise. The main character, Mæve, has been taken as a slave by a cruel, expansionist empire. Her slavery puts her in the right place to learn some of the terrible secrets and plunge her into a whirlwind of rebellion and romance.
I enjoyed Mæve as a protagonist. She didn’t do a lot of hand-wringing, instead taking action to save herself and others when the need arose.
Without spoiling too much, there is a bit of a love triangle. I will also admit that I was on Team <Redacted> the entire time, despite what some other ARC readers were saying on Twitter.
By far I think the most interesting character in the book was Isaac. He had the most depth and dimension of any of the characters, more so than either Mæve or Aramaiti in my opinion. It seems like he’s been set up for some interesting things in a sequel, and I’m looking forward to exploring that.
Some of the characters did fall a little flat for me at times. While there were injuries and deaths, they weren’t particularly impactful because we weren’t really given enough time with those characters to feel a lot of attachment to them.
This. This is where Honeycutt shines. Holy moly can she world build. It just feels like there’s a ton of history, myth, and lore hiding behind every door in this book. I suspect we only got a small taste of everything there is. Further, each world element that was introduced seemed to have a direct impact on the story while still giving the world depth and breadth. Bravo.
I did have some issues with the plot. There were some great twists I was not expecting and the characters did suffer some serious injuries and losses. However. There were times when it felt like certain things were just too easy and it lost some tension for me. The romance that ended up being end-game also felt a bit underdeveloped to me, which may be why some people were Team <Redacted>.
You thought I was going to spoiler on you, didn’t you?
Overall I really enjoyed Honeycutt’s style. It was easy to read and times lyrical. The overall pacing was good, despite the points I noted above about the plot.
The Chrysillium Tree was a great read with a world that felt deep and full of interesting cultures and conflicts. Its greatest strengths are in its world-building and the interesting stage in which the characters tell their story. I’m really looking forward to a follow-up!
Posted on August 30th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
This week’s review is for The Teeth in the Tide by Rebecca F. Kenney. I was provided an ARC ebook copy of this book but unfortunately was not able to get to the review before the release. I then purchased the paperback with my own money, which is the edition referenced throughout the review. However, as always, receiving an ARC does not influence my opinions. As always, this review is 100% my honest thoughts.
About the Author
Rebecca F. Kenney is an indie author and book cover designer from South Carolina. In addition to her Secrets of the Fae trilogy, she is known for her serials on Patreon (and now Kindle Vella!) and Patreon-exclusive novels (honestly, the sheer amount of content she puts out is well worth the Patreon subscription). I haven’t featured any of her Patreon novels on the blog due to their exclusive nature, but you can find my reviews of her Peter Pan books on my Goodreads.
About the Book
The Teeth in the Tide is a dark fantasy by Rebecca F. Kenney. It is 256 pages in print. It is available as an eBook ($3.99), paperback ($15.99) and hardcover ($18.99) from Amazon.com. At the time of this review, the ebook edition is exclusive to Amazon and can be read through the Kindle Unlimited program.
Note: One thing I want to mention right away about this book before we really get inot the review is to be aware of the content warnings. They’re listed on the page with the playlist in the paperback edition. Normally I’m not one to draw attention to content warnings but in this case I think it’s important.
I’ve talked about Kenney on the blog before not as an author, but as a cover designer. Y’all may recall the inordinate amount of words I spent gushing over the cover of Macdonald’s Thief of Spring.
With The Teeth in the Tide, Kenney continues to showcase her talent for cover design. The cover had me three-quarters of the way sold before I even read the blurb. I adore the color palette and the “toothy” font is a nice touch.
I quite enjoyed the interior design for this book. There were no flaws that made it difficult to read and the font choice was pleasant. I really like the chapter header images and how they differ for the two viewpoint characters.
I have some thoughts that are somewhat spoiler-y that would otherwise fit in this section. I have placed them at the bottom of the blog post. If you don’t mind minor (I think they’re minor in the context of the whole plot) spoilers, please feel free to skip down there and come back up.
The book starts out with a really interesting premise that plays on the folklore versions of mermaids where they are evil and cruel seductresses that murder sailors for fun and food. In Kenney’s version, the mermaids have surrounded an island populated with people and essentially cut it off from the rest of civilization. Only one ship still dares to sail through the mermaid infested waters, acting as the islanders’ last lifeline. Some of Kenney’s advertising describes the book as Attack on Titan X Gender-Swapped Little Mermaid. From what I know of AoT that’s a fairly accurate description.
Honestly, I love this premise. It’s not the first one I’ve read that takes the stance of “mermaids are bad, actually,” but it does it in such an interesting way.
There’s a bunch of characters I could talk about but I’m going to focus on Kestra and Rake since they are the viewpoint characters for the novel. I’m also going to touch on the mermaid queens more broadly because the three of them are some pieces of work, let me tell you.
What I love about Kestra is the genuine character arc for her. She starts to evolve as she learns to set aside her hatred of all things mermaid enough to trust Rake and even build something start to approach friendship with him.
Rake is deeply emotionally scarred by the trauma inflicted on him by the mermaid queens. Much of this actually takes place off screen so to speak — thank you for that, Rebecca, because that would have been MESSED UP otherwise — but the reader is shown enough to know that Rake’s life is basically hell under the sea. And yet Rake is able to love his son Jewel with an intense ferocity, braving unimaginable horrors to see his son safe and loved.
The other thing about The Teeth in the Tide that really sets it apart from some of Kenney’s other works for me is this: despite all the awful things that happen to her characters, you actually see good, relatively healthy relationships. I remember reading Kenney’s Peter Pan books and thinking “dang, these two are toxic as AF (Wendy and Peter).” At no point did that thought cross my mind with the main couple of the story, Kestra and Flay.
My only complaint for character development is that I feel like the mermaid queens were lacking any real motivation. Why were they so insistent on the reckless breeding that was destroying their own habitat? Even so, the character work with the other characters far outweighs this qualm.
There were a couple of things with the worldbuilding that you just sort of had to go with. The strange biology of the mermaids and how they spawn is one of these. What sort of saves it is that the characters recognize in world that it’s bizarre and even remark upon the oddity.
The other sort of gimme with the worldbuilding that the reader just sort of has to take on faith is the technology that allows the mermaids to come onto land. Again, this is recognized as the amazing impossibility that it is by the characters. Mai, Kestra’s cousin, is particularly keen to study it.
Ignoring all of that though, Kenney builds us an amazing, terrifying world under the ocean’s waves. She even remembers to keep the physics of being underwater in mind (I’ve seen this forgotten before in mermaid lit). An example of this is the exquisite little detail of Rake noticing shelves and open containers in human houses and thinking about how they’d make little sense in his world.
How the islanders function, their food sources and their economy is also well thought out. It feels real, grounded.
Just about the only thing this has in common with the Little Mermaid is that there are mermaids and at least one of them comes onto land. The plot similarities pretty much end there. However, the plot continues to surprise right up to the end and you’re left sort of breathless as it drives to the conclusion.
I really enjoy Kenney’s writing. I find her style engaging and at times poetic. Her descriptions evoke the senses and draw you into the novel’s world.
There are very few books where I’m less than two chapters in and I’m already thinking “this is going to be a 5 stars review.” The Teeth in the Tide was one of those for me. It is just plain good. The writing is spot on. The character development is great. Kenney somehow manages to bring a sense of absolute horror without actually turning it into a horror novel. I got to the end of the book and I my immediate thought was I want more. Fortunately for me, it appears that Kenney does intend to continue the story in a second installment and I am already chomping at the bit for it.
The blurb for this book frustrates me. The way it’s written triggered something in my brain that said “oh, romance genre. These will be the two love interests.” Well, no that’s not exactly how things go down in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I think the way it went down in the book is better than a romance between those two characters would have been, but it set me up for false expectations and caused me to dislike Flay initially, suspecting him of ill-intentions for about 75% of the book.
Posted on August 16th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today’s review may be a little shorter than usual in some sections as I’m getting back into the swing of things after my unplanned hiatus (more on that in a later blog post). This week I am doing an ARC review for The Heart of the Sea by Chesney Infalt. Because this is a review of a digital ARC I will not be able to speak on any of the details of the physical print book and some aspects of the work may be subject to change before publication.
About the Author
So, I actually don’t know much about Chesney Infalt to share in this section. However, if you want to connect with her you can check out her website here and follow her on Twitter here.
About the Book
The Heart of the Sea will be released on September 1, 2021. You can pre-order it for Amazon Kindle here.
I have to say that the cover got me. When I first saw it on Twitter I knew I had to get my hands on this one. I’m very grateful for the ARC opportunity but I can tell you I would have been buying this one anyway (and will when it’s released) for the cover alone. I love the colors. It’s so pretty but not too busy. Love, love, love.
The interior has some neat shell images on each chapter beginning and some pretty drop caps. I really like the design and I think it’s a nice touch. My one complaint is that it looks absolutely awful in dark mode because the background on the images is white. This is a common issue in books with interior images, which makes me less of a fan of them for the eBook format.
4 teaspoons for design.
The Heart of the Sea is a gender-swapped retelling of The Little Mermaid. Princess Sabine of the land and Prince Caspian of the Sea build a love over the years of their childhood amidst growing tensions between their two different worlds. A scourge on the Kingdom Below forces them apart for 5 long years while a sea witch’s curse makes all hope crumble.
4 teaspoons for premise.
I think one of my favorite things about this retelling is that there is no insta-love. The connection between the main characters is built over time in a way that makes sense and is reinforced by the ending of the story. The closest retelling I’ve read in this regard is Macdonald’s A Song of Sea and Shore. I think I actually prefer Infalt’s version because we get to see Sabine and Caspian as adolescents growing into their first (and true) love together before the events of the story drive them (temporarily) apart.
I really like that both main characters had two loving parents. So often in fairytale retellings one or the other main character is orphaned or otherwise scarred by their family upbringing, so that was a nice change of pace. There were also some great sibling relationships on display.
One little pet peeve of mine that came up several times in the book. <Drags soap box out of the closet and steps up on it /> I wish there had been a little less emphasis on Sabine’s distaste for corsets. They were the supportive undergarments of by-gone eras that kept the girls from bouncing all over the place, not torture devices for royalty. Stop the corset hate! <steps off of soap box and drags it back into the closet />
4 teaspoons for characters.
The plot is a little bit of a tangled web due to the flip-flopping between past and present. However, I think the overall pacing and direction of it are well done. Like Disney’s Little Mermaid, there is a lot more plot than the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, and the stakes are definitely revved higher than just a teenage girl’s heartache.
4 teaspoons for plot.
Infalt has a readable and charming style that is easy to get engrossed in. Once I started reading it was hard to put down. The only thing I didn’t care for personally was the flip-flop back and forth between five years prior, present and past tense in the first person, and being in Caspian and Sabine’s heads. All three of those things together was almost a little too much for me.
4 teaspoons for writing.
I really enjoyed this retelling and can wholeheartedly recommend it for the fans of sweet endings and happily-ever-after.