The Teeth in the Tide

Posted on August 30th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

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.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

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.

Five teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

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.

5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

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.

5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

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.

5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

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.

5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Final Thoughts

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.

**Spoliers**

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.

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The Heart of the Sea

Posted on August 16th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

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.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

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.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

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.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

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.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

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.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

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.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this retelling and can wholeheartedly recommend it for the fans of sweet endings and happily-ever-after.

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His Ragged Company

Posted on June 28th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Today’s review is for His Ragged Company: A Testimony of Elias Faust by Rance D. Denton. Before we get into it today I have a few disclosures and disclaimers.

Disclosure 1, this is an ARC review. As such, you may experience slight differences in the final product versus what I have in front of me.

Disclosure 2, this is an ARC review. I was sent this book early for free for the purposes of review. This does not change my opinion of the book. As always, my opinions are my own.

Disclouser 3, I consider Rance to be something of a friend. He recently co-hosted my Release Day Livestream for Courting the Dragon. This also does not change my opinion of the book.

Finally, I have a disclaimer. This is not my usual genre. When I read a western, it’s usually of the romantic variety. I think I’ve seen one spaghetti western movie in my lifetime and I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch Tombstone.

Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get into the review.

About the Author

Honestly, you’re better off just reading the bio in the back of the book. Anyway, here’s my hacked together summary: Rance D. Denton lives in Maryland with his wife and their furbabies. When he’s not writing, he can be found doing all sorts of other interesting things, such as martial arts and historical re-enactment. You can frequently find him on Twitter and co-hosting The Quarantine Book Club podcast.

About the Book

I think the best way to describe the genre of His Ragged Company is as a Western with a big smack of Fantasy in the middle. According to Kobo, the book is approximately 119K long, which makes it a bit of a chonk. Be ready to commit some time if you pick this baby up. On release day it will be available in paperback from Amazon and eBook from Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, as well as other associated retailers. It is written in English and I am not aware of any plans for translation on audio adaptation (although I think Rance could totally knock that out of the park himself if so inclined).

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

I feel like the cover does a pretty good job of conveying the mix of genres at play in the book. It depicts a Sandshade, a fantasy creature that plays a prominent role in the story, as well as what I assume to be Elias Faust fleeing on horseback. The typography is fun, almost playful, and leans in to that western-y genre vibe. I haven’t seen the full paperback wrap, so I can’t comment on that. I give the eBook cover 5 teaspoons.

There were no major formatting issues in the ePub that I was given. It all worked just fine in my Apple iBooks. Since I haven’t see the paperback layout I won’t be able to speak to that. I will have to include this one in my big ARC follow-up post sometime this fall.

For now, I give design a tentative 5 teaspoons.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

You can read the full blurb here but I’m going to do my best to sum up the premise. Elias Faust is a town Marshall for a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Texas. His usual solution for problems tend to involve a lot of bullets, which gets him in to trouble when he kills the wrong man and pisses off a wizard, thereby getting himself drawn into supernatural battle for a source of power that lies beneath the town’s feet. To protect the people of Blackpeak, Elias must make some deals with some devils.

There’s some pretty classic story elements at play here, but they’re blended in a way that piqued my interest almost immediately.

5 teaspoons for premise.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

Denton provides us with quite a cast. The main character of course is the town Marshall, Elias Faust who is the narrator of the story. He’s cynical, stubborn, and has his own sense of justice, which he metes out as he sees fit in the backwards little town of Blackpeak. The interesting thing about Faust is that he is not exactly what you would imagine for a traditional “hero.” He’s rough, foul-mouthed, and spends a very large chunk of the book getting his butt kicked.

Along for much of the butt-kicking is the Marshall’s deputy, Grady Cicero, who doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean record with the law, either.

Much of the rest of the cast are also painted in shades of moral gray. Miss Garland, who runs a fight pit. Eliza Fulton, who is pushed beyond the limits a mother should have to endure. Just to name a few. In truth, there is almost no one in Blackpeak that could honestly claim to be a “good guy.” Most of them are just “good enough” trying to survive out in the middle of nothing while the rest are just oppontunists and thieves, such as the “mayor” Kallum.

Magnate Gregdon is the main villain for the book, although Faust certainly deals with a variety of antagonists throughout the course of the tale. Through it all, Gregdon is pulling the strings, corralling Faust towards a doom of his design. The Magnate is a surprisingly multifaceted character, with layers of motivations that are peeled back for the reader as Faust discovers them.

5 teaspoons for characters.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

Blackpeak felt like a real little town. It was just populated enough with named characters to feel lived in. I could imagine the dust and the heat and the misery punctuated by moments of laughter and blood. The worldbuilding on the western side of the book was fantastic.

I feel like there’s a lot of worldbuilding for the fantasy side of the book that went on behind the scenes that never made it onto the page. I really want to know more about the Well and the Heralds and these fantastical elements that the book introduces. Denton has given us a taste of the whiskey; I want the rest of the bottle.

5 teaspoons for worldbuilding.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

This book took me for a ride. There were a few lulls in the action early on that gave me a chance to breath but once it hit the midpoint it was like being on a speeding train with no exits. Faust went from the frying pan into the fire and then was rolled in the coals for good measure. It kept me guessing, which I really appreciate.

4 teaspoons for plot.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

In some ways the vibe of the book reminded me a bit of The Gunslinger. Only in vibe though. Denton’s writing is very different. It’s course, almost choppy at times in a good way, in a way that fits the narration of Elias Faust as a character. And yet, at times it is almost poetic. I will say, if you can’t stand swearing or honest assessments of the human condition, this is probably not going to be the book for you.

There are a few places where the prose is what I would call intentionally confusing. I could see this being a turn-off for some readers but I would strongly encourage pushing through those sections. It’s a clear stylistic choice that reflects the narrator’s state of mind and being in those moments. It wasn’t my favorite thing but I understand the choice.

I largely felt like the action scenes were well-written. There is some amount of descriptive gore, although to compare to The Dark Tower books again, I don’t think I’ll be having any nightmares from this one.

I give the writing 4 teaspoons.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed His Ragged Company. I’ve been reading so much fantasy romance that it really provided a nice change of pace for me, personally. It was also just a wild, wild ride in the wild, wild west. I really loved the overall voice of protagonist.

There are some things that I would consider loose threads. There are sort of these interludes where Faust is being questioned by someone–something–hence the subtitle “A Testimony of Elias Faust.” I don’t feel like these interludes were really explained, exactly. I’m hoping for a sequel that will clear up some of the hanging mysteries and expand on the worldbuilding that was begun in this volume.

All in all, I give the book 4.5 teaspoons, which I will be rounding up on sites that require whole star ratings.

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Thief of Spring

Posted on June 15th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Today’s belated review is of Thief of Spring. Katherine Macdonald teased this book for some damn long on Twitter I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for it. So of course I snagged up an ARC basically immediately and am reviewing it for you here despite the fact that I literally just reviewed an ARC for Of Snow and Scarlet a few weeks ago. I have so many thoughts so let’s get into it. As always these views are opinions are my own and I am not being compensated for this review–I simply had access to the book early.

Heads up, there’s a (very minor, in my opinion) spoiler in the Worldbuilding section, so read at your own discretion.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Design

Exterior

OH. MY. GOSH. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Let me just say that Rebecca F. Kenney does some of the most gorgeous covers I have ever seen. Just… just look at it! It’s so rich in detail without overwhelming the text or making it difficult to read. The font is just… ugh. It’s so pretty. I notice something new literally every time I look at it. It KILLS me to know I still have to wait a while for the paperback.

Side note, I have a cover I bought from Kenney for an upcoming WIP (which one is a secret) and it is also to die for. Seriously, if you’re an indie looking for an affordable and gorgeous cover for fantasy/romance/speculative type stuff, check out Kenney’s work. She’s also a very gifted storyteller herself and has some awesome stuff on her Patreon, so check her out here.

5 teaspoons for exterior cover.

Interior

I have a digital ARC that is not the final formatting, so I’m going to skip this section at this time. I’ll give an update once I have a physical copy. There’s going to be a few books I need to do this for, so I may just do one big post of ARC follow-ups. I don’t expect there to be any issues; I have yet to see major formatting problems in any of Macdonald’s books.

5 teaspoons of tea leaves

Premise

This is one of the things that really got me. Of course this is a Hades and Persephone retelling (of which there are fifty million out there) but Macdonald brings her own twist to it by blending Greek mythology with the fairies of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. It’s a fascinating mash-up that really drew me in. Also, the idea of Hades as some poor, tortured young man is also a twist (although I have seen similar Hades-is-misunderstood type retellings numerous times). 5 teaspoons for Premise.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Characters

As she so often does, Macdonald gives us a sweet, tortured soul of a love interest for our main character to swoon over. Slowly. Very slowly. Hades is a sweet young man with a lot of pain in his past. Frankly, I think it’s amazing he’s turned out as well as he has, given his upbringing. He was a delight to read about, especially when trying to get around the whole fae-can’t-lie problem.

Early in the story I at times I found Persephone a little… I don’t know if grating is the right word. I did grow to like her as the story progressed. She definitely found some spunk and backbone that was initially missing. Her frantic hobbies while trapped in the Underworld were quite relatable.

The affection that develops between Sephy and Hades is sweet and believable. It–thankfully–lacks any strong Stockholm syndrome-y feelings that can be common in retellings of this particular myth.

The side cast was also very interesting. I really want more of Hades’s relationship with his brother Ares. I really hope to see that developed on more in the sequel.

Characters are 4 teaspoons for me.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Worldbuilding

The whole faeries meets greek gods thing actually really, really worked. I was surprised at how well that worked. It was believable that these names of gods would become titles passed down from one fae to the next. I also liked how some of the old tales are sort of subverted, especially with Hera knocking out Zeus to become Zera.

The elements of the worldbuilding that I think I struggled with the most was how seemingly too easy life in the Underworld was at times. I don’t think there was enough consequences to the magic that Hades was using.

I give worldbuilding 4 teaspoons.

3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Plot

I think this is the one place where the book was a bit of a let down for me. The major events of the plot are awesome. There’s plenty of surprises and twists. However, much of this book moved at a snail’s pace for me. Unlike previous works of Macdonald’s that devoured in a day and had trouble setting down, I frequently found myself struggling to focus on Thief of Spring.

The romance is definitely slow-burn (I don’t think we get honest kisses till about 75% of the way through), and I can appreciate that. It just seems like the rest of the plot was also slow burn.

Plot for me is 3 teaspoons. It was entertaining at times, but my mind definitely wandered in a way it did not with Of Snow and Scarlet or A Song of Sea and Shore.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Writing

As always, Macdonald’s writing is beautiful and lyrical. She manages to bring me past something I am not a fan of, which is present tense (although 1st person present is far, far more palatable to me than 3rd. We’ll talk about that in a different review).

I’m not a huge fan of the pop culture references. Those have a way of aging a book that could otherwise be somewhat timeless. I don’t know, that’s a thing that’s just not for me.

Overall, I give the style and writing 4 teaspoons.

4 teaspoons of tea leaves

Final Thoughts

I don’t quite want to say that Thief of Spring was a 3 for me overall. It was definitely more than a 3, but when compared to other works by the same author it just didn’t stand up as well in my opinion. Averaging out my rankings and wrestling with myself, I have to give it a 4 but not the same ringing endorsement that I would give A Song of Sea and Shore or Of Snow and Scarlet. It’s good. It’s enjoyable. If you really, really love slow slow burn and books that are very focused on the actual romance and soft moments then you are going to love Thief of Spring.

Please don’t be mad at me, Twitter.

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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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