Book review: Sea and Soul by Shari Branning

The last few books I’ve reviewed in here have been less than favorable. So, let’s review a book I actually liked!

Sea and Soul, by Shari Branning

An evil queen sits on the throne, and the Seer has seen a curse is coming.

When empath Dylan Blaine is summoned to a gala on the Isle of Selkies, he knows it will likely spell his doom. But you can’t turn down a summons from a seer. His fears are justified when he encounters Lyselle, a sorceress who wants his power for her own.

Selkie heiress Kiah of Lomasi doesn’t know what help she could possibly be in the Seer’s game against the Witch Queen, but then disaster strikes as they’re leaving the gala, and she’s the only one who can save Dylan’s life.

Will Dylan, Kiah, and a handful of others that the Seer has brought together be able to navigate court politics, black magic, assassins, and monsters to keep their country from destruction? Or will the Witch Queen, who’s been sacrificing people with magic to feed her own stolen powers, end them all?

Sea and Soul is the first book in the Seer’s Gambit series, but can be read on its own or out of order.

Amazon link


This book is kind of like urban fantasy, but it’s not. It’s kind of like paranormal romance, but it’s not. This is almost a fairytale set in modern day. It has an evil stepmother queen, witches, princesses, selkies, werewolves, elves, and a cursed forest. But it also has guns, helicopters, motorboats, cars, and cell phones. In fact, people use magic mirrors and cellphones side by side. The setting is based on Alaska, so the city is built on a rugged coast of cliffs and restless seas. I can’t remember the last time I read a fantasy book set in Alaska.

Dylan is an empath, which means he has the ability to sense other people’s feelings. Instead of this making him touchy-feely, it makes him grouchy and snarky. Also, he’s been in fear for his life for years, because everybody wants an empath. A king with a leashed empath could always tell who his enemies are, or could control the emotions of anyone around him. The evil witch-queen wants him. Her sister, another witch, wants him. The elves want him, the selkies want him, everybody wants Dylan and his powers.

Thing is, humans don’t have magic. Dylan, as a human and being an empath, is very rare, and not exactly magic. For humans to get magic, they have to become a sorcerer and steal the magic from one of the magical races by sacrificing them and taking it from their blood. So for a witch queen to be in control of a country of magicals … this is really bad.

Dylan and a small group of others are brought together by the Seer and told that they need to become friends, because they’re going to have to work together to take down the witch queen and save their country. If they don’t, the whole country will be cursed, like the neighboring country of Marieadd, which got cursed after a war where everybody misused magic. That’s the whole cursed forest thing. The group aren’t sure about this, because everybody has their own secrets. But this isn’t a team-up book. Each of these characters will get their own books, and let me tell you, I want them all.

Dylan walks out the door and is attacked by the witch, Lyselle, who wants this empath under her thumb before her sister gets to him. She puts a subjugation spell on him, which he fights until he’s almost dead. But he’s saved by Kiah, a selkie whose only magic is sea-based. (Selkies are a sort of were-seal.) To save Dylan and break the subjugation spell, Kiah has to replace it with a stronger spell–that of her coat, which in selkie culture, is how they get married.

So Dylan wakes up with this pretty white glowing tattoo thing wrapped across his chest and back, and it’s Kiah’s coat, and it can’t come off. So … they’re married and it’s awkward because they only met the previous night. Whoops.

So now, as they work together to fight the queen and Lyselle and help their friends, Dylan and Kiah have this growing attraction as they awkwardly try to date and get to know each other. The action kicks off and never lets up, with the queen drawing the net tighter and tighter. I won’t spoil any more, but it has a heck of an ending. Dylan learns to weaponize his empath powers, and it’s terrific.

Whenever I’ve read a book with someone who can sense feelings, it’s always a girl doing it. To have a guy who senses feelings … and then makes wisecracks … was oddly refreshing and fun. Dylan smarts off to his enemies, even when it costs him. There’s a lovely theme of faith and the power that faith bestows. There’s a wonderful picture of love vs lust and how different they are.

I’d recommend this book for teens and up. Even though it has the imagination and action of a young adult novel, the characters are in their 20s, and … well, I just mentioned the love vs lust thing. Nothing is shown, and there’s only a few hot kisses, but there’s quite a lot of stuff implied, if you get my meaning. Such as what the witch wants to do to Dylan. In Dylan’s own words, “Ew!”

I can’t wait for the next books with the other characters. Also, I did the cover art!

5/5 stars

Book review: King’s Spell and King’s Enchantress by E.J. Kitchens

Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a long one.

So, I saw on a FB group that an author was looking for readers of an upcoming book. It was book 2 in a series, and it had very pretty covers, so I volunteered. First, I read book 1. So, here we go:


The King’s Spell by E.J. Kitchens:

Only a king can banish sorcerers and strip enchanters of their power. Only a king is immune to spells and potions. Only a king knows the truth behind the legends. Until now.

Magic Collector Devryn Ashby may have deserved the curse that saps his magic-manipulating abilities, but it certainly won’t help him with the task King Reginald has assigned him. Instead of allowing him to continue hunting for those who stole the powerful Enchanter’s List, the king makes Devryn trainer-in-magic to the mischievous enchantress Lady Meredith Lofton.

Except for an occasional matchmaking exploit, Lady Meredith has little use for her power of enchantment—until the king asks her to train in magical warfare techniques. This both excites and terrifies her. And irks her, for she refuses to be bossed around by the critical Devryn Ashby, a man she’s not even sure she should trust.

But as dangers increase and the sorcerers’ schemes unfold, Devryn and Meredith must choose whom to follow—their own desires and prejudices or their king. Only a king knows how much the kingdom depends on their choice.

THE KING’S SPELL, Realm and Wand book 1, is a YA Christian fantasy series with a “Jane Austen romance meets fantasy adventure” feel. It’s mystery and adventure with a slow-burn romance. It is part of the Magic Collectors story world but is a standalone series. Devryn Ashby is a minor character in The Rose and the Wand, but it is not necessary to have read that book beforehand.

Amazon link to book


My review: 3/5 stars. It’s a Regency style fantasy world with fancy dresses and top hats, and all the social and political craziness that goes with a Jane Austen novel. There are the enchanters, who are people born with magic. There are the Half-magics, who have the ability to take magic from an enchanter and use it, but they don’t generate magic themselves. There are Sensors, who can tell when someone or an object has magic, but they can’t manipulate it. Then there are the Sorcerers, who … uh … I guess do bad things with magic and enslave people and stuff. Thing is, we hear about them, but we don’t see them in action.

The worldbuilding for these books is terrific. The characters are fun. But the book is hampered by a couple of things.

First off, even though the summary says that you don’t need to have read the earlier books … you need to have read the earlier books. King’s Spell starts off with a villain from an earlier book being stripped of his magic, demonstrating just what the King’s Spell can do. Devryn, the half-magic hero, has a cursed cut on his hand that keeps him from collecting magic. How’d he get it? Whoops, if you didn’t read The Rose and the Wand, you’re up a creek, because the book is going to tiptoe around the plot of the earlier book without telling you much. Which is a shame, because his curse has all kinds of interesting conditions that are barely touched on.

Second, the cover art screams ‘romance’, but this book is not romance. It’s historical fantasy thriller. It’s all about the mystery of an assassin trying to off the king, and a lot of trying to figure out the pieces of the mystery and put them together. This is great if you were expecting a thriller. Not so great if you were expecting a romance.

Meredith, the heroine, is cute and spunky and associates with Oliver Twist-esque pickpocket kids, trying to get them off the street and into a respectable orphanage. These kids wind up knowing an awful lot about the evil sorcerers trying to infiltrate the country. But at the same time, Meredith is a happy carrier of the Idiot Ball, which she will lug for pages and pages. In fact, the end of the book is a cliffhanger in which she lugs the Idiot Ball clear off the side of a dock into a river. I liked her as a character and I kept waiting for her to put two and two together. Hm, no, she never does.

Welp, so much for book 1. Onto book 2!


The King’s Enchantress by E.J. Kitchens:

Only a king has no magic and yet the command of it. Only a king does an enchantress serve. But even a sorcerer can be a king to some.

Devryn Ashby has reluctantly accepted his appointment as Guardian—a trainer in magic—to enchantress Meredith Lofton, but the effects of his curse are getting worse. If he can’t get find a way to get around it or cure it, he might be forced to reveal his secret to the Loftons and King Reginald. He’d do almost anything to keep his curse a secret. And the Dark Mage knows it.

But with Meredith and her beloved street urchins in danger and something both magical and animal hunting enchanters for the Dark Mage, Devryn must learn to overcome his curse. Or work with an enchantress.

The King’s Enchantress is book 2 of the clean “Jane Austen romance meets fantasy adventure” series Realm and Wand.

Amazon link to book


My review: 3/5 stars

Book 2 starts right off with the climax book 1 didn’t have. I don’t know why it was removed from book 1 and installed in book 2, instead. Meredith recovers from her fall in the river weirdly fast, the terrible curse she was suffering from turns out to be only a sort of magical food poisoning. She and Devryn actually interact to save some urchin kids (GASP they actually interacted! This almost never happened in book 1).

This funky precedent is being set with these books. In between the gorgeous worldbuilding and the tantalizing tastes of magic, the fascinating politics and the mysterious notes from the Dark Mage, there is no real tension. A Bad Thing happens and then … it gets resolved with few consequences. Over and over.

King’s Enchantress is 445 pages long, and it should have been about 100 pages shorter. There are pages and pages of filler scenes where the characters diligently study books at the library and learn nothing. The best parts, where Devryn and Meredith are training in magic, are sparse and short. The pacing is S L O W. I know some people like slow pacing, and that seems to be an expectation for these semi-fairytale books. But it would be pages and pages before anything actually happened. I kept expecting the pieces to fall into place. Soon I’d reach a part where I’d understand everything. Everything would be explained. I was at 70%. They’d explain everything at 80%, right? Or at 90%?

The whole book is about tracking these magically altered animals called mage hunters. They attack enchanters and suck the magic out of them. The whole book is about these things. And then, suddenly, in the climax of the book … there are no mage hunters. There’s a sorcerer plot to enslave the heroes with a spell that had literally never been mentioned until that point. You’d think in all those 445 pages, it might have been mentioned that sorcerers could enthrall enchanters and use them as slaves. Seems like an important plot point. But nope.

I reached the end of the book frustrated at the lack of any explanation of anything. Devryn hasn’t figured out the curse on his hand despite some really obvious foreshadowing. Meredith learned something important about the mage hunters and … nothing came of it. The romance was limited to fluttery feelings and denial of those feelings. I imagine these plot threads will be explored in later books, but it made for a really unsatisfying read. I kept thinking and hoping that there would be that AHA moment when it all comes together, and it never did.

Overall, both books get a 3/5 star rating from me. Good writing, fascinating worldbuilding and politics, highly imaginative uses of magic, but hampered by a lack of cohesion and consistency in the storytelling.

Cinderella retelling – IN SPACE! Of Stars and Ashes

Finally, the sequel to The Song of the Rose is here: Of Stars and Ashes! The continuing saga of the alien Rox and their home system of Beta Pictoris B continues. These books are a series but can be read as a standalone.

Cinderella in space … if the glass slipper was a warship.

Rasha l’Cervantes, a Rox girl with beautiful golden horns, has been subjected to forced servitude along with the rest of her clan. While working in a quarry, she accidentally befriends a young neurolite, an armored insect that will one day grow up to become a spaceship. She also befriends a fellow prisoner, the ex-prince of her clan.

Kraz l’Cervantes made one bad political decision and now faces the dissolution of his clan. Everyone hates him except for a brave girl at the quarry: Rasha, who refuses to let him wallow in depression and forces him to eat.

The prisoners are separated and three years pass. Rasha recieves a summons to Kraz’s Choosing, a party where he will select a bride. But it is really an attempt to find the missing pilot of a neurolite frigate: a rogue frigate who is a danger to the fleet. Now Rasha must decide whether or not to Choose Kraz … if the deadly frigate doesn’t claim her life, first.

This is the second book in the Celestial Fairytales series, but can be read as a standalone.

Contains: Sweet romance, friends to lovers, no smut, spaceships, evil space fungus, military action, chases.

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Song of the Rose: Beauty and the Beast in space

It’s launch day for Song of the Rose! I’m sure there’s other space opera version of Beauty and the Beast, but this one is mine. 😀


The human race is at war with the Rox, a ferocious race of horned, demonic humanoids from space, and humanity is losing.

When the humans and Rox agree to a hostage exchange, Lieutenant Zayn is asked to volunteer because of her social standing. She will be housed with a prince of the Rox, and their good behavior will ensure that peace talks will go forward between their races. Zayn is terrified of sharing living space with one of the demons, but she agrees in order to bring about an end to the war.

Alnair l’Nath is a prince and commander in the Rox fleet. He is nervous about being shut in with a human princess who might knife him in the back, but he wants the war to end, too. He and Zayn despise each other on sight, even though Alnair finds her oddly attractive.

Zayn and Alnair gradually make peace as they discover that humans and Rox are not so different. But when a rogue agent of the Rox kidnaps Zayn and Alnair in order to end the peace talks and escalate the war, it will fall to a human and a Rox, and the growing love between them, to end the conflict forever.

This is a sweet romance with only mild kissing, but plenty of suspense and action.

Available on most retailers here


I wrote this book on accident. I’m kind of burned out on fairytale retellings, mostly because I’ve just read so many. They’re kind of predictable, because if you know the basic story, the retelling will hit the same story beats. And they’re also kind of like … 1500s medieval tech level, peasants and princes, Western European fantasy.

For some reason, my brain went, “But what if it was in SPACE?” And I had to start writing and playing with it. The first draft was much shorter, written in a week before Christmas as a gift for my writing group. They demanded that I go back and expand it. So I rewrote it from the ground up, and I think there’s about 1 page remaining of the original version. Which is fine, because the spaceships needed a lot more time to shine. While humans have regular spaceships, the aliens have these silicon-based lifeforms they fly around in. Their ships are sentient and have attitudes, kind of the dragon and rider dynamic. “You are my pilot and if anyone threatens you, I will vaporize them.” I wound up falling in love with my ships. I’m working on a second story in this same universe (Cinderella!) that is centered around a girl in a forced labor camp who accidentally imprints on a young ship … and he grows up into a giant frigate and demands that she be his pilot.

In Song of the Rose, Alnair and Zayn each think that the other is the beast. And the Roses wind up being this alien artifact that … well, I don’t want to spoil it. Read it for yourself. 🙂 🙂