A thoughtful, erotic fantasy that asks readers to see the best in one another.

MERMAID STEEL

In Hartlove’s fantasy adventure, a blacksmith falls for a mermaid despite the town’s disapproval.

Sten Holdsmith is a blacksmith who recently moved to coastal Saint Rochel. He’s hoping to start fresh after a troubled past and is aware that the town barely tolerates the Merrow (mer-folk) who live in nearby waters. When Sten tries to teach himself to fish, he ends up overboard and tangled in fishing nets. Luckily, Chielle Mmava has been watching him. She brings Sten ashore, mends his nets, and is more polite than his neighbors would have him believe of the supposedly savage “fins.” She also has large aqua eyes that stir the blacksmith. He teaches her how to shape a metal bracelet without fire, a great favor since there are laws against commerce with the undersea village of Celidan. Merrow men, however, have been using dangerous lava vents to create spearheads. The weapons help defend the aquatic Harper’s Meadow from encroaching Saint Rochel fishermen. As confrontations erupt, Sten petitions the High Lordship Jesery Clune to ensure fairness and peace. This endears Chielle to him. They fall in love, but will their respective cultures force them apart? Hartlove explores unconventional romance and the process of cultural erasure in his fantasy novel. As a transplant to St. Rochel, Sten observes that the brown-skinned Indru—like his 14-year-old apprentice, Jacio—have adopted the clothing of the Whites who worship the deity Atlan. Deeper culture shocks occur when Sten shares wine with Chielle’s brother, Thymon, who offers lionfish venom to the human. The Merrow way of life is fleshed out through their coral homes, which take years to grow, and their worship of Rorra (the ocean). Sten and Chielle’s sex life, and their attempts to find compatibility, is explicitly depicted. Sten’s arc shows that individuals deserve opportunities to start over even if violence or racism taint their past. An intense finale provides both communities the chance to rise above the low roads of xenophobia and revenge.

A thoughtful, erotic fantasy that asks readers to see the best in one another.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-953469-10-6

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Water Dragon Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2021

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A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

A DEADLY EDUCATION

From the The Scholomance series , Vol. 1

A loosely connected group of young magicians fight horrendous creatures to ensure their own survival.

Galadriel "El" Higgins knows how dangerous the Scholomance is. Her father died during the school's infamous graduation ceremony, in which senior students run through a gauntlet of magic-eating monsters, just to make sure her pregnant mother made it out alive. Now a student herself at the nebulous, ever shifting magic school, which is populated with fearsome creatures, she has made not making friends into an art form. Not that anyone would want to be her friend, anyway. The only time she ever met her father's family, they tried to kill her, claiming she posed an existential threat to every other wizard. And, as a spell-caster with a natural affinity for using other people's life forces to power destructive magic, maybe she does. No one gave Orion Lake that memo, however, so he's spent the better part of the school year trying to save El from every monster that comes along, much to her chagrin. With graduation fast approaching, El hatches a plan to pretend to be Orion's girlfriend in order to secure some allies for the deadly fight that lies ahead, but she can't stop being mean to the people she needs the most. El's bad attitude and her incessant info-dumping make Novik's protagonist hard to like, and the lack of chemistry between the two main characters leaves the central romantic pairing feeling forced. Although the conclusion makes space for a promising sequel, getting there requires readers to give El more grace than they may be willing to part with.

A perilous, magic-school adventure that falls short of its potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Like a popcorn action flick: fun but lacking in substance.

YOU HAD ME AT WOLF

Two wolf shifters must catch a criminal in the midst of hazardous winter weather: Action, adventure, and romance kick off a new series by Spear (Falling for the Cougar, 2019, etc.).

Private Investigator Nicole Grayson has an edge that some of her colleagues don’t. She’s a gray wolf shifter, and her heightened sense of smell makes for excellent tracking abilities. When her latest assignment, investigating a fraudulent life insurance claim, leads her to an isolated ski lodge inhabited by a group of shifter brothers, Nicole realizes that this particular mission is different. Blake Wolff has finally found peace and quiet, as he and his brothers have turned their land into a sanctuary for wolf shifters like themselves. When Nicole turns up at the lodge, sniffing around and looking for answers, Blake volunteers to help. The sooner she wraps up her investigation, the sooner Blake can return to maintaining the calm community the Wolff siblings have built. The suspense never fully delivers despite the setup of dangerous situations and the characters’ ability to shift into wolves. Of course, the bad guys get caught and the good guys prevail, but the stakes never seem terribly high. With corny, on-the-nose details such as having Wolff and Grayson as surnames for gray wolf shifters, it's hard to tell if Spear is in on the joke or if some things sounded better in theory than reality. The brightest spot here, as in most of Spears’ books, is her dedication to writing strong heroines with interesting professions, and Nicole fits perfectly into that box. She’s capable, competent, and a force to be reckoned with in a difficult situation. Blake is happy to let her take the lead without any egos getting in the way, which is something all readers will appreciate.

Like a popcorn action flick: fun but lacking in substance.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-9775-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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