Reviews 2: Fantasy love stories; unusual love stories; speculative fiction

This is an exciting new venture for me. I’ve read and reviewed (on Amazon and/or good reads) a number of super stories which focus on love and/or which differ in essence from the Sci fi and fantasy books on my other reviews page. Now is the moment to give these their own page. If love is a favourite for you, then here are my recent recommendations. Rather than set them into an invidious hierarchy of good…better…best, I’ve gone with alphabetical organisation by author surname. Love them all and it seems fairest. This page isn’t quite finished – there are more reviews to add, links to create if you’re wanting to purchase. But I will share this first draft with you in the meantime.

Paper Castles by B. Fox 

Fox’s book is such an incredibly moving, frequently heart-breaking, journey into the mind of a young man striving to retain his dreams in the face of loss and disillusion – all while living in a world which seems to have lost its heart. I confess I cried … a lot. The character of James Brooke is so unforgettable. The exceptional person he meets, storyteller and life-line in a grey sea of despair, is also beautifully constructed. An exceptional, genre-defying book. 

Heart of the Sea by Chesney Infalt

‘The Heart of the Sea’ is a touching and tender tale of young love. Childhood sweethearts strive to be together against overwhelming odds – separated by familial opposition, by attacks from the savage “condemned” merfolk and by the evil designs of the controlling entity who seeks to destroy them all.  Much more than a simple gender-swapped re-telling, this is an exciting and frequently dangerous re-imagining of Andersen’s ‘Little Mermaid’ fairy-tale, with the POV split between Sabine (from a land denying its connection with the sea) and Caspian (from a sea which is a dangerous and deeply-troubled place). Adding to the mix is a time-split in the narrative through which the author is able to gradually reveal the events which have ripped the two worlds apart. A really lovely fairy-tale with it’s own fairy-tale ending.

Fear and Fury Book One by Jamie N Jackson

I SO enjoyed this book. When I first picked it up, I thought “Oh no, superheroes and villains. It’s been done before…right?” Wrong… not like this. Lots of things make the book a really great read, but one stands out – the impossibility of not loving, sympathising with, fearing for, the MC Meg (Megaera). There’s something about the incredibly well-handled first-person narration, which makes it super-special, as it places readers firmly inside Meg’s head…and what a place to be: the repartee, the witty, half-defensive asides to the reading ‘audience’, the put-downs, the snarky retorts, yet all interlaced with hints of vulnerability and even self-loathing. Regarding the rest of the characters (as seen through Meg’s eyes and readerly interpretations of her comments), the totally lovely Greg is entitled to significant mention. A ‘true’ superhero, intent on saving Meg from the villain who is chasing her, from Greg’s own government employers who want to ‘use’ her, and from herself. Also, there can be no forgetting of the intriguing and reclusive Virgil…but I won’t say more or there will be spoilers all over the place. A thoroughly recommended reading delight! (Oh, and look out for the references to mythology on your way through… I hope there will be more of this in future books – can’t wait to read more.)

Fall, by Maxime Jaz

Be ready to cry! This tender and frequently heart-breaking love story between Jake (a trainee doctor from a powerful and wealthy family) and Doug (a circus performer – trapeze artist and horse trainer) reduced me to tears. The story has stayed with me too. It’s no quick read, as quickly forgotten, but rather a deeply compelling story, filled with pain as the protagonists try to survive and thrive in an often heartless and uncaring world.

Jaz explores in detail what it means to be homeless, and the careless cruelty of those who have too much in material terms and too little in their hearts. The growth of love between the protagonists is warm and wholly believable. I loved Doug’s character from the beginning, and, in the end, Jake’s too (though he did make me angry at times) as the latter emerges from the suffocating control his father exerts over him. There may be fairytale moments, but this is real, raw life, with harsh truths and much suffering on the way. A truly memorable read. 

Dyrwolf by Kat Kinney

 With teenage protagonists and a beautifully handled exploration of the gradual dawning of first love, this is doubtless listed as YA. As a (supposedly) adult and eclectic reader, who loved every minute of it, I can report that it is equally suitable for all ages. Indeed, this fantasy adventure contains multiple mentions of violent actions and injuries which are definitely not for the faint-hearted.

It took me a chapter to fully bond with the first-person narrator, but once I did, I found the book difficult to put down. The delicious repartee between Lea and Henrik is an absolute highlight, as are the poetic and sometimes tender descriptions of Henrik’s wolf-self and Lea’s internal dreamscape. Her hilarious disgust when the boy becomes the wolf becomes the boy…one moment licking her, the next embarrassingly naked..well, I’ll leave you to enjoy it for yourselves…it’s so well written.

Throughout the story, there are turns and twists, life-threatening dangers and everything you might want in a tale of conflict – not only between humans and those who shift into wolf forms, but also within each of these communities.

I recommend this exciting, thoughtful, fast-moving and engagingly written story to you all. There are more adult tales by this author which I’m about to review, so watch out for these over the coming days.

Darling, there are wolves in the woods by Lydia Russell

There are more than wolves in the woods as Russell’s compelling tale of wicked fey creatures lures readers into a chilling and hidden ‘other’ world lurking on the edges of the town in which the female hero, Teya, lives. Because the story is cleverly told entirely from the main character’s POV (apart from the prologue) there is always a degree of uncertainty about the truth of her interpretations of events and emotions, raising questions such as “does she really want to save the sister she has entered this dangerous world to rescue?” and, equally importantly, “what is the truth about Laphaniel, the enticing male fey, who may or may not be worthy of her trust and love?” The combination of mystery, life-threatening dangers, and a love, which may or may not be true, make this a thrilling read and I strongly recommend it to lovers of dark fantasy. I’m looking forward to the second book in the series. 

Additional note: There are two more books now and equally dark! If you love Teya and Laphaniel, please don’t miss them!  

A Walrus and A Gentleman by Emmaline Strange

I don’t know what to praise most about this exceptionally well-written mm love story. Here is poignancy, humour, gruffness, tenderness and an entirely irresistible whole for anyone who loves love in all its aspects. There are such deft touches, on every page, which both fluently bring to life the protagonists themselves (Kel, the insecure, yet brilliant, young artist, and Ragnar, the reclusive, sometimes inarticulate, lighthouse keeper – who hides an incredible secret) and also vividly portray the relationship which gradually unfurls between them.

Emmaline Strange has such a way with words, making readers picture every nuance of the fragile growth of love and desire—and the shadows and misunderstandings which may hinder and prevent its flowering. The story is a glorious mix of fantasy and realism, perhaps better termed magic realism: a real world in Ireland and America, yet a central character who is a shape-shifter, referred to by locals as the Selkie King, who hides from his family and the world because his ‘fauna’, as he terms it, is the eponymous walrus.

As you might anticipate, there are steamy scenes, depicted in explicit detail, but always presented in the context of the love and sheer need which drive Kel and Ragnar into each other’s arms and bed. I love these characters; love their love and ache for them both when shadows get in the way of a truly beautiful and very human love story. The book is special and not to be missed.


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