A Caryn Advent Release Day Review: The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson

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Rating:  5 stars out of 5 

This is easily my favorite of all the Christmas stories I’ve read so far this year.  I love this author to begin with (she’s on my auto-buy list) and once again she has not disappointed!

This is a fairy tale:  not a retelling, but an original.  Although the setting is post-WWII England, the story still reflects that atmosphere of magic that you expect in a fairy tale.  There is an enchanted wizard, an unlikely hero, a curse to break, and a happy ever after.  Ms. Durreson’s prose very cleverly draws the reader from the mundane world of a cold train through the border between reality and magic to the enchanted cottage and a world that truly does feel set outside of time.  And then thrusts the reader right back into cold harsh reality – I felt like I was not just reading about Laurence, but was right there with him experiencing it!

Dr. Laurence Payne survived WWII, but he was not whole.  A head injury left him without certain critical thinking pathways which made him unsafe to continue practicing medicine, and he was at a complete loose end.  No family, no plans, so he decided to spend Christmas in the country, for lack of anything better to do.  On the way to Portsmouth on Christmas Eve, the train was stopped by snow, and Laurence, as one of the last passengers to get off, found there were no more rooms at the inn.  So he set off on foot to the village in hopes of finding a place to stay.

The winter afternoon was deceiving though, and Laurence felt that no matter which way he went, he kept getting farther away from his destination, and the night was coming on quickly.  When he came to a cottage surrounded in holly hedges, he was thankful, and though the beautiful man who answered his knock seemed a little strange and a little over-eager to welcome a stranger into his house, Laurence accepted his offer of hospitality.  Avery told him that he was born in 1579, that he could do magic, and Laurence immediately chalked him up as “a little mad” but found himself enjoying Avery’s company nonetheless.  The hours turned into days, and Laurence started falling in love and experienced a contentment and joy he’d never felt before.  On Twelfth Night, Avery asked him to stay, but Laurence was already thinking he had to get back to the real world, employment and all of the other prosaic realities of life, and it was only when he awoke alone the next morning, to find the cottage in ruins and Avery gone, that he finally believed that Avery had been right about magic all along.

I have to say here that one of the things I loved most about this story was how beautifully it was written, and how the author switched between more modern, factual descriptions of action and setting when Laurence was alone, and the softer, entrancing, and otherworldly notes of his time with Avery.  The difference was marked enough that when Laurence woke up after Twelfth Night, I also felt like I was waking from a dream, but it was subtle enough that I didn’t realize it was like a dream until that moment.  It is rare to find that level of writing skill in this genre, so I appreciate it all the more (those readers who are also fans of Harper Fox know exactly what I’m talking about!)

The writing was amazing, but I also enjoyed following Laurence from his start as a man who had lost his purpose and direction in life to the war and its aftermath, to a man with a purpose – not only to find and reclaim Avery, but also to make a life for himself and to become part of a community.  Breaking a curse in a modern world meant confronting his own demons and his own brokenness.  In doing so, he saved Avery, but he also saved himself.

Very, very highly recommended!

Cover art by L.C. Chase is pretty, and I felt the image of a man trudging through snow appropriate for the theme of the book.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 55 pages
Published December 1st 2017 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781640803077
Edition LanguageEnglish

A Paul B Review: Betrothed: A Faery Tale by Therese Woodson

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars             ★★★★★

Betrothed A Fairy Tale coverAfter the war between the faery kingdoms ended, it was decided that heirs to the three victorious kingdoms would intermarry to prevent another war from occurring.  When Prince Chrysanths of the Earth kingdom is informed of his upcoming marriage to the prince of the Air kingdom, he runs away preferring to marry for love.  Will he change perform his duty or will this lead to the next faery war?

Prince Chrysanths is the heir apparent to the throne of the Earth faery kingdom.  However, some in the kingdom believe he is not fit to sit on the throne, as he is actually also half human.  One day while he taking lessons on the history of the great faery war, he is summoned to meet his mother.  She informs him that the marriage clause is being invoked since the announcement of the engagement of the Water prince and an Air princess has been announced.  Chrysanths is to be wed shortly to the prince of the Air kingdom.  Chrysanths, who prefers to be known as Puck, sees this as an interference of wanting to marry for love and decides to run away to the human world and visit his father to wait out the engagement period and marriage date.

Prince Sky of the Air faery kingdom takes his duty seriously.  While he is not thrilled with his impeding marriage, he sees no option but to go through with it.  He figures that it could be worse…he could be marrying the Water prince.  He travels to the Earth faery kingdom for the three-week engagement period to learn more about his betrothed. When Sky finds out that Puck has run away to the human world, he decides that he must go after the wayward prince and convince him to perform his duty and come back for the wedding.  However, he finds that Puck is less than enthusiastic about the arranged marriage.  The one bright spot seems to be Puck’s father Jim.  He overhears Jim giving Puck advice about the situation and Sky is somewhat encouraged that things might work out after all. When Sky gets ill like his deceased father, will he be marrying Puck just to leave him a widow a short time later?

I found this modern day fairy tale thoroughly entertaining.  It hits most of the themes of both a good romance and fairy tale.  In a twist to the classic fairy godmother helping out the main character, it is Puck’s human father who fills that role.  Sky fills in the character that is out of their element when he travels to the earth realm and finds things not totally to his liking.  The Fire faeries, which were defeated in the faery war, also make their presence known.   The only disappointment with that part of the story is that they seem to give up too easily once it becomes clear their plans did not work out.  After working so many years to try to retake the faery kingdoms, you would think that their leader would do more than the equivalent of “Oh well.  I tried my best” and give up.

The cover art by Anna Sikorska shows a shirtless man in blue jeans with dots where his missing wings would be.  The young man has blue marking on his upper arms.  I assume that this is possibly Sky with those markings but I’m not sure.  It’s a nicely done cover for the book.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | All Romance (ARe) | Amazon | Buy It Here

Book details

ebook, 200 pages
Published September 23rd 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1634765168 (ISBN13: 9781634765169)

A MelanieM Review: The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate by Kay Berrisford

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

The merman and the Pirate coverRaef’s mother brought him up on tales of true love and humans when he was young.  Now grown, Raef, a lonely merman, spends his days watching the dashing Lord Haverford from afar and dreaming of romance.  The current chief of their tribe forbids any contact with humans but Raef refuses to give up his romantic dreams and spends his time watching for his prince. When Haverford is robbed by a pirate, Raef vows to reclaim the stolen goods, hoping his victory will buy him the happiness he yearns for with Haverford.

Jon Kemp is not your ordinary pirate, something Raef finds out when he steals aboard Jon’s ship in an attempt to recover Haverford’s stolen goods. But what happens next is surprising to all and leads the young merman on an epic quest to right wrongs and find true love…for merman and pirate, whether they want it or not.

Truly, this is a tale that should start off “Once upon a time, there was a lonely merman who longed for love” because this story, The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate by Kay Berrisford has all the hallmarks and qualities of the classic fairy tale.  Stories of mer folk, especially gorgeous mermen abound these days and each offers its own take on the mer folk lore and myth.

Rafe in The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate harks back to the littlest mermaid, that timeless story whether it be Hans Christian Andersen’ original fairy tale or Disney’s version.  Here as the story opens we find the young Rafe listening to tales of love from his lovelorn mother.  They enchant him and fill the babe with visions of a forever love and humans, dreams that increase their hold on him the older he becomes.  Those bedtime stories gain increasing value when his mother dies, leaving Rafe is alone in a tribe turned restrictive and cold by a new chief with his own pain and agenda.

I loved that Berrisford captured the spell woven by Rafe’s mother at that young age and the loneliness felt by the older Raef who is unable to let go his romantic yearnings.  This fits so beautifully into the fairy tale trope, from the lyrical quality of the narrative to the “casual adult cruelty” that drives Rafe to break the rules and strike out for love.

You have the beautiful prince observed from afar, someone surely worthy of love or so Rafe thinks with only his stories to go by.  Pirates or Kluggites as they are called by the mer folk are horrible things, to be avoided at all costs.  So when one appears to have stolen something from the beauteous prince, Rafe thinks he must not only get it back but feels he has an avenue made to approach his prince and find true love.  Rafe’s naivete is both charming and typical of the fairy tale hero, who are usually sort of clueless about the realities of the world around them.  Again, Kay Berrisford is sticking to the rules of the classic tales, albeit with a LGBTQ twist or two or four.

The romance is light, fun and frothy.  The adventure they set out on is fraught with peril,  an adorable merman as well as virtuous maidens who need saving (including one that is more than capable of saving herself), cannons firing on the high seas, and more scary rescues and escapes to satisfy those readers who require that in their tales of pirates and love.  I had such fun reading this story.  It was enjoyable quick read and wonderful entertainment.

The only issue that brought it down for me was one that could have been left out all together.  In a fairy tale, I don’t need any mer folk natural history lessons or rational for species.  In fairy tales, they just are.  However, Berresford felt the need to include her take on why they can shift into human form and then back again.  It involves procreation and, quite frankly, makes no sense what so ever.  Look at all the mammals living in the seas.  They certainly don’t need legs to further their species, they do just fine as they are with the appendages they have.  That much detail just doesn’t work in something so lighthearted. Yet, Berrisford returns to this again and again.  And the more she does so, the more illogical her “mer folk biology” created for this story appears.  At certain points in the story, I spent more time mentally poking holes in her world building than I did focused on the story.  Not something an author wants to hear.

But, that aside (and buried deep under the conch shells where it belongs), this is a lovely, lighthearted fantasy escape.  Rafe is a joy and Jon, a charmer who steals the heart of a young merman and readers alike.  The secondary females characters are strong, layered people with surprises of their own for the readers.  I loved them too.

If you are in the mood for a lovely, frothy, fairy tale romance, then Kay Berresford’s The Merman and the Barbarian Pirate is just the story for you.

 Cover Artist Julie Wright.  What a gorgeous cover.  It drew me in with its lush design and wonderful characters. Loved it.

Sales Links:  Less Than Three Press      All Romance (ARe)      amazon      buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 214 pages
Published July 30th 2014 by Less Than Three Press (first published July 29th 2014)
original titleThe Merman and the Barbarian Pirate
ISBN139781620043981
edition languageEnglish

It’s 70 degrees here in Maryland and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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It’s January and it feels like mid Spring.  The woodpeckers are banging out their territory rhythms, the maples are budding out, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the hyacinths and tulips start to peek out above the ground.  The meteorologists keep saying that it will get colder, and it does, for about a day and then the temperatures start to rise and voila, back to Spring.

Now for us in the past, February is the month to look out for.  It brings heavy snows and ice and all things wintery.  Except for last year, when it brought nada.  We need the water from snow melt, and that is not looking promising for us or any of the surrounding states.  So each day is a surprise, more so than usual.  What will our changing climate do to our day today?  Will it bring Spring or Winter?   Will it be quiet and calm or will winds with hurricane speeds be whipping over our rooftops?  No one can say for sure.  The one thing I do want to do is take those climate change doubters, those head in the sand ostriches, and give them a shake or two.  Tell them to get their heads out of their nether regions and take a good look around.  Time for us to make a change, one person at a time, while it is still possible. Still tut tuting over a favorite backyard azalea that is trying to bloom.

Here is a list with 50 easy ways to help the earth.  Wire and Twines “50 Ways to Help the Planet – go green, its not that hard!

Now for the Week Ahead in Reviews:

Monday, 1/14:                          Revolution by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, 1/15:                         Some Kind of Magic by R. Cooper

Wed., 1/16:                               Horse of Bells by Pelaam

Thursday, 1/17:                       An Unsettled Range by Andrew Grey

Friday, 1/18                              Knight of Wands by Theo Fenraven

Saturday, 1/19                          Trick of Time by J.L. Merrow

So there it is, let’s see what happens.  Have a wonderful week.