Book Review: Ashen

I recently finished H.L. Burke’s Ashen. Here’s what I think of it.

So if you’ve been around for at least a month, you may already know I have a slight obsession with Iceland. I discussed it a bit back when I helped with the release tour for H.L. Burke’s Ashen, but let me just give you a quick overview. 😉

Hubs and I went to Iceland for our honeymoon back in April of 2018. And I fell in love with it. The ecosystem is so different from anything I’ve ever been familiar with here in Pennsylvania (hello, volcanoes, glaciers, and lava fields!). The whole country is quiet and peaceful. Sheep outnumber the population of people. The country is filled with fascinating folklore, particularly tied to trolls and elves (who are said to live in the lava fields). There’s a fermented shark delicacy (I did not eat it, but hubs did… he says it was as horrible as they hyped it up to be).

And it is absolutely gorgeous. When they say it’s the land of waterfalls, they’re not kidding! In fact, if you take a look at the picture in today’s blog image (the one with Ashen’s book cover), you may see a waterfall. That’s a picture I took in Barnafoss and Hraunfossar (Hraunfossar is the one/many in the picture), and it was one of my favorite waterfalls. It travels from the Langjökull glacier over 25 years under the lava fields, where it is filtered by the lava rock before emptying into this river (or so our tour guide told us).

But I digress.

In the literature world, I’ve been looking for books to remind me of my trip ever since we returned. I recently read Sky in the Deep, which did a pretty good job, but it was very Vikings and less fantasy (I am ALL ABOUT that fantasy!). I’ve even been planning two separate books/series inspired by Iceland and its lore (you’ll find out eventually) and have been reading the folk tale books I bought there (that’s what I collect whenever I go somewhere out of my normal experiences).

So I was absolutely THRILLED when H.L. Burke announced the release of Ashen! It’s a fantasy set in a world inspired by Iceland! And while she did admit to taking a few liberties, I could not wait to get my hands on it!

Friends, I was not disappointed.

So let’s just dive right on in.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase links on this page. However, I purchased this book and am sharing it out of my own love, not any personal gain!)

Ashen by H.L. Burke

Ashen is a fun, exciting, heartrending standalone featuring Lizbete, a young woman who has never quite fit in with her hometown of Brumehome. Her peers call her Ash Lizard, as she likes to spend her time in Auntie’s kitchen where she can stay warm because she cannot produce her own heat and steals it from anyone she touches. Auntie seems to be the only person who truly loves her, other than the little, and wonderfully snarky, Elin, the sickly younger sister of her once-best-friend, Brynar – the town’s next mayor.

Yet everything changes with one great quake that rocks tiny Brumehome, and Liz suddenly finds herself in danger from the villagers. She runs away, learning some very, very dangerous things that are putting the entire town at risk – and a lot about who (and what) she is. Don’t worry, this is spoiler-free! But suffice it to say, the stakes build fast!

So now that you have a little background, let’s talk details.

First off, I absolutely LOVED Liz. Her condition of heat-stealing was so unique to me and so interesting that I was drawn right in to sympathizing with her and wanting to know as much as possible about what was going on.

I also bonded a little bit with her experience of her first pair of glasses. I remember well that feeling: putting on your first ever pair of glasses and having the world suddenly snap into focus. You really can’t stop looking at everything! It was delightful to see that in a story. (Side love: I LOVED the character that gave her the glasses, Widow Gri the Scholar. I would have loved to see more of her at the end, but alas, ’twas not to be.)

I also really enjoyed the way the plot came together. It was so easy to get lost in this world of cold and magic. Once I started, it was hard to put the book down. The pacing was fantastic, keeping me engaged throughout, and the revelations all came at the right places. It was awesome seeing Liz come into her own and stand up for herself, as well as seeing justice served by the end (I love a good, satisfying ending!).

And the feels! Very few books can bring me to tears, but this one? Burke seems very good at making her readers cry. Let me put it that way. But I truly felt everything the characters did, and boy was it an emotional roller coaster.

There were very few things that detracted from the experience. There were a few places where I found typos or similar issues, but overall I found them to be minor; it wasn’t enough to take away from enjoying the story.

My biggest complaint was that I had been promised Iceland, but this felt much more like a general Norse-inspired setting than Iceland to me. I kept waiting for trolls, and while there may be a version of trolls in this story, it wasn’t similar enough to the tales I’d heard and read to be clear. And there were steam vents in the story, but that didn’t really track with my personal experience there. There were no lava fields, though Brumehome seems to be next to an active volcano, but I think the steam vents were almost lava tubes. And I can live with that. But honestly, if I hadn’t been as invested in Iceland itself, I would never have noticed. So my biggest complaint will also probably not bother any other readers.

Short version: you need to read this book! Overall rating is 4.5 stars, and if you’re looking for unique magic, engaging story, and consuming worlds, this is the book you need.

~~~

If this piqued your interest, you can grab a copy of H.L. Burke’s Ashen here.

Also, if you are interested in other things Icelandic-feeling, you can get a copy of Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young or a classic Icelandic sweater (these were too expensive during our honeymoon, but I am DEFINITELY getting one when we go back!). But definitely make sure to pick up Ashen.

Anyway, that’s all for now! I hope if you read this book you love it as much as I did, but until next time, have a wonderful Halloween and November!

Happy reading! ❤

Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks Cover Reveal!

Guys, it’s time! I don’t have an official buy link for you yet, but I am ready to share the beautiful cover of Pumpkin Spice Pie-Jinks with you!

But first, the blurb.

When fate comes knocking, feed it pie!

Reese was never a risk-taker…that is, until she quit her job to open a bakery serving magical pies from her home. Now, she has the opportunity of a lifetime to win a contract with the visiting Autumn Court. But when two troublesome Fae appear on her doorstep, determined to find a mate for their prince, Reese’s life is thrown into chaos, and she begins to question every choice she has made. Can she learn to take a risk on her new life, despite the troubles around her? Or will the mischief of the Fae drive her business into ruin–forcing her to move back in with her parents? This light and entertaining tale is inspired by Hansel & Gretel and is a perfect way to celebrate the autumn season.

You can add it to Goodreads now!

And now, the main event!

*drumroll*

Savannah once again did a beautiful job catching Reese as I imagined her. I love the whimsy and fun I can feel in this title, and I feel like it fits with the story perfectly!

Let’s take a look at how Savannah put it all together:

Just, wow. From a florist and a cat in a basket to a baker, a magic pie, and adorable little Nutmeg!

Okay, okay. Since we’re talking treats, and it IS October now, how about a little taste of Nutmeg herself?

Don’t forget to add it to Goodreads, and keep an eye out for the official release link!

Of the Clouds Release Day!

Happy birthday, Quri and Sumaq!

Today is the day! “Of the Clouds” is finally out! That means those of you who have been waiting can finally get your hands on this sweet, adventurous, and hopeful retelling of Rapunzel!

Here’s the blurb:

What would you do to be free?

Shaman-in-training Quri only knows her master’s hut…until the neighboring prince arrives, showing her what life could be. But her master has other plans for Quri, and she will stop at nothing to keep her young apprentice from leaving her, including locking her in an old tomb. Now, Quri must defy her master to learn the magic she needs to free herself or lose her chance for the prince, her own happiness, and the life she wants. Can Quri find the strength she needs to save herself and the prince, or will the shaman keep her locked up forever?

This sweet and exciting retelling of Rapunzel will have you asking what you would do for your freedom.

Get it at your favorite retailer, or add to Goodreads!

And don’t worry; next we we’ll be back with our regularly scheduled posts! Underwriters and overwriters, prepare to examine your books!

My Favorite Magic Systems

So far during Fantasy Month, we discussed favorite fantasy books, fantasy creatures, and genres and subgenres. I even revealed the cover for my upcoming portal fantasy, This Cursed Flame! So what can we possibly talk about today?

More fantasy?

You got it!

Today I want to talk about some of my favorite magic systems. But first, let me define how I view magic systems. To me, they are the foundation of how magic works in a story and the way that magic influences the characters and plot. If done poorly, they can be unbelievable and cliche. But when done well, they can be incredibly exciting and prompt great daydreams!

The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

I mentioned this one in my favorite fantasy books, and there’s a good reason for that. The biggest reason I love the book (I’ve only gotten through book one so far), besides the incredible worldbuilding, is the magic system!

In this series, magic is based on the “stormlight” from High Storms. It’s still a little vague to me what High Storms actually are, but the magic is light-based and storm-based. Without spoilers, they use stormlight to charge spheres, which they use as money (uncharged, dun spheres are almost worthless), and they have legends of Shardbearers who can use the stormlight to fight and power armor and weapons, as well as unique abilities only those with stormlight can wield.

Elemental Magic

I love elemental magic, which is apparently not that big in publishing. But I love the idea of elements (old, new, anything) being used as magic, to give characters abilities and strength… and perhaps also weaknesses. The Avatar and Legend of Korra series were my first big forays into this magic system, and to this day they are some of my truest fandom loves.

Baking Magic

Okay, I have trouble finding this one, so I don’t have many examples. But I LOVE magic systems based around baking and baked goods. The only book I can really think of at the moment is “The Cupcake Witch,” by Poppy Lawless, which involved a baker who finds magic recipes and begins baking spells for the town. And as much as I loved the premise, it was too short (novella) and I hungered for more. *ba-dum-chh*

I also have a writer friend currently writing a middle grade cupcake witch story *ahem* which I need in my hands ASAP! *ahem*

PS, if you know any good books or series involving baking magic, please tell me! I need them!

Music Magic

Orpheum by D.S. Murphy and This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab sort of have this? Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger duology has a violinist as a protagonist, but the magic there isn’t based around the music, which is what I really mean in this category.

But I love a magic system based around music. A magic that uses music to cast spells or do great things. As a long-time musician (pianist for… 23 years now?), I have a soft spot for stories that involve music in some way, even better if they are fantasy.

Again, I need more of these, so please share!

Art-based Magic

I’m thinking specifically Shadowshaper here, by Daniel Jose Older. Imagine being able to draw things to life! Let’s get some more of these, as well. 🙂

Concluding Thoughts

There are so many more magic systems out there: color-based magic like in The Color Alchemist books by Nina Walker, classic werewolf or vampire magic, ghost stories, mermaid stories, fae and faeries… but I had to focus in on a few I LOVE today, even though I love many others as well. In particular, I wanted to highlight the one super unique system from Brandon Sanderson and a couple I rarely see but want to see more, the baking and music magic.

Now, I want to know your favorite types of magic and magic systems! Tell me some of yours below, and if you know any good baking or music magic books, tell me those, too! Let’s talk!

How to Write a Fairy Tale Retelling

Fairy tales have become very popular lately, particularly unique retellings of fairy tales such as The Lunar Chronicles series, Ella Enchanted, Hunted, the ACOTAR series, and many, many others. In fact, the small publisher Rooglewood Press has been hosting a fairy tale retelling contest for a few years now, and they just recently announced this year’s (sadly the last): Snow White. If you’re interested in that, I’ll include a link to the contest page and previous winners below.

If you find you’re one of those people (like me) who is just a sucker for fairy tale retellings and want to try your hand at writing one, how do you going about doing that? Well, there are a few simple steps to make it the best it can be.

  1. Pick something new. Personally, I am tired of the “classic” fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Everyone and their mother retells those. What about other classics, like Donkeyskin and the Little Match Girl? I love the story Donkeyskin, but very few authors choose to retell it. Just by picking something lesser known or with fewer popular versions, you will immediately create something that stands apart from the crowd of retellings. In a world saturated with fairy tale stories, that’s a good thing.
  2. Start with the source. Go back to the source material, those first recorded instances of the story. Read the base story before you dive into creating your own version. How can you make a retelling if you don’t know the original? And no, Disney absolutely does not count!
  3. Expand to variations of the source. Look at different variants of the same story. Did you know that many fairy tales have versions in a number of different cultures? A couple years ago, Sleeping Beauty was the theme of the Rooglewood contest, and I hated how passive the heroine was. Turns out, all I needed to do was find a different version, and there she was! My active participant from a Middle Eastern version of the story. Dig around, and it will almost definitely give you ideas and inspiration.
  4. Look at other retellings. Find other, more recent versions of the story you want to tell. Look at how other authors approached the story, what they changed and kept, how it influenced the themes and plot. But don’t stop there! Look at reviews from bloggers and readers of the story. See how the audience reacted to the retelling, the elements they liked and didn’t like. Use this knowledge to your advantage!
  5. Make it recognizable. One of the most important parts of writing a retelling is making sure enough elements are present that the reader knows what story you are retelling. Otherwise, it’s just another story, not a retelling at all. Recognition is key.
  6. Make it new. We are all familiar with classic versions of stories. What readers want is a new take. Maybe there’s something different about the hero and the villain. Maybe the setting is in outer space instead of a woodland. Give your plot twists that may not have been present in the original. Maybe even mix several fairy tales together, like in the Lunar Chronicles. Whatever you decide to do, make it your retelling, not just a copy. Your readers will find it far more interesting that way.

For more reading on fairy tale retellings, you can check out this post from Ink and Quills and this post from Lianne Taimenlore. And if you have any suggestions for writing these kinds of stories, be sure to comment! I’d love to hear your input!

Rooglewood Press 2017 Contest: Five Poisoned Apples
2015 Contest: Five Magic Spindles
2014 Contest: Five Enchanted Roses
2013 Contest: Five Glass Slippers