Leo by L. Krauch

5 stars

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of launching this blog. I’m celebrating with a review of the latest book by one of my favorite indie authors, L. Krauch.

Krauch is the author of The 13th Zodiac, an anime-inspired high fantasy series with a touch of romance. Her newly released book, Leo, is a prequel to the 13th Zodiac and Dreamtaker. 

The 13th Zodiac: Leo by L. Krauch

While Leo has many of the characters from the other books, it is primarily Jase Raion’s origin story. Jase is one of the main protagonists in the series and a not-so-secret favorite of the authors. 

In Leo, readers learn many things about the gunblade-wielding Jase, including where his name and his fondness for apples come from. We also find out about horrific and violent events during his formative years that shaped who he is in the remainder of the series.

I’m always surprised when an author can make a prequel as interesting as the first book in a series, and Krauch achieves this goal. Reading Leo makes me want to re-visit the other books in the series to see how I would experience it differently. This is very telling because, generally, once I’ve read a book, I am not usually interested in re-reading it, no matter how much I loved it the first time.

With series, especially those with prequels, there’s always a debate about the ideal reading order. I am partial to the order I read the series in, which was 13th Z, Dreamtaker, and then Leo. I think it would also work to read Leo first and then the 13th Z.

However, whatever order you decide to read the series in, the important thing is that you read it!!!! You will not regret one minute you spend indulging in the high fantasy, character-driven world Krauch has created. I know I haven’t!

Thank you to L. Krauch for providing a free e-review copy. This review reflects my honest, unbiased opinion.

My review of Dreamtaker is available here and my review of The 13th Zodiac can be found via this link.

Awakening (Commune’s Curse Book 1) by Lucy McLaren

4 stars

The cover of Awakening by Lucy A. McLaren.

This well-written fantasy novel by Lucy McLaren centers on the story of Evelyn, a teen-aged orphan, and Raif and Rose, two young siblings who end up in her care.

One of the things that made this multi-point-of-view book so interesting is the central role that two children play in the story. It’s unusual for young characters to have such complex backstories, and deep relationships and to be portrayed with layered emotions. In most of the fantasy books I’ve read, the children are background characters who are mentioned briefly. It was refreshing to see them have a lead role. 

The pacing was a little slow in this book, especially toward the middle. What it lacked in action, it made up for in strong characters and appealing themes. I love books with strong female characters and sibling relationships, and this book has both. The strong-willed Evelyn was easy to connect with – I couldn’t help but root for her to overcome her inner battle with herself and gain more self-confidence. I also appreciated the found family theme and the bonds that develop between Evelyn, Raif, and Rose. The 14-year-old Raif’s fierce sense of responsibility and protectiveness over his 6-year-old sister made him an appealing character.

The book ends in a way that is both satisfying and leaves you wanting more, setting readers up perfectly for book 2 in the Commune’s Curse series.

Thank you to the author and the Santa Fe Writers Project for providing me with a free e-ARC of the book. The opinions expressed in the story are my own.

Awakening is available on Amazon and a variety of other outlets. Visit McLaren’s website for a full list of places to purchase the book.

Dreamtaker by L. Krauch

5 stars

The cover of Dreamtaker by L. Krauch

Darker than its predecessor, Dreamtaker features many of the same characters as the original 13th Zodiac story. However, the sequel adds a few new players, most notably the evil Damien who takes the story in a new, more sinister direction. 

Dreamtaker is a riveting read that boomerangs you through a wide range of terrifying emotions for your favorite characters, particularly for the King and Queen of Chall.

Although Jase and Liya are prominent in this story, other familiar characters have their stories fleshed out a bit. The author’s trademark vivid descriptions of the action scenes and running jokes (apples, anyone?) are also present in the sequel. 

While I wouldn’t have thought it possible, I am even more excited for the next installment of the 13th Zodiac series than I was for Dreamtaker. As readers, we are set up for so many different possibilities, that I can’t wait to see what direction we are catapulted into next.

My review is based on an e-ARC provided to me by the author. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Dreamtaker releases on May 13, 2022, and can be purchased through Amazon.

My review of The 13th Zodiac: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2022/01/08/the-13th-zodiac-by-l-krauch/

The Guidal: Discovering Puracordis by Roxy Eloise

4 stars

The Guidal by Roxy Eloise

In this YA fantasy book, 16-year-old Aurora lives in the Boulderfell Institute where she and the other adoptees must adhere to a strict set of rules. The story starts with Aurora moving up from the Mustards, the children’s section, to the adult quarters (Navies). Her move makes her eligible for the Unity ceremony, an annual ceremony where disciples are matched to each other.

Eloise creates an intriguing character in Aurora, the strong-willed, white haired leading lady. Aurora grows more relatable throughout the story as we learn more about her past and she navigates her way through change, love and loss. At one point, Eloise accurately describes the disembodied experience of grief, when Aurora recalls, “I didn’t remember much of the past seven days because I wasn’t there to live it.”

With each chapter of Eloise’s debut work, I became more invested in Aurora’s journey and wanted to understand the unique world she was immersed in. Supporting characters, including Tayo, the juvie assigned to her care, and the beloved Nanny Kimly add heart to the story

The Guidal, which releases on April 2, 2022, ends with several unanswered questions, which hopefully means Eloise is planning a sequel.

The book is available through Eloise’s author website. For an extra treat, you can listen to Eloise read Chapter One on her YouTube channel.

Thank you to the author for providing me with a free e-ARC of this book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and were not influenced by receiving a free copy.

Between the Birches: Awakening

The e-book Between the Birches displayed on an ipad propped on an ivy-covered tree.
Between the Birches: Awakening

Between the Birches: Awakening opens with Beth, her husband Tom, and their best friend, Grady heading on a camping trip in the Appalachian mountains to celebrate Beth’s 25th birthday. Shortly after they arrive, the trio unexpectedly encounters two of Tom and Grady’s old friends, and the trip quickly turns into a nightmare.

Told from multiple points of view, Between the Birches is an imaginative, unpredictable, genre-bending story. From cults to forest beasts to magic, this book weaves in a little bit of everything – and it works. Throughout the book, I honestly had no idea who or what was lurking on the next page.

Like all good horror stories, there were several moments, especially early in the story, when I wanted to grab the characters and scream, “Turn around” or “No. Don’t go there!” There is also an unusual love triangle that is responsible for a lot of tense and tender moments. All three of the main characters are relatable in their own way, though Tom was my favorite.

As a side note, I enjoyed that there were a few references to my home state of North Carolina (although, after reading, I don’t think I’ll be going into any forests on the NC/Tenn border any time soon!). 

The book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, setting us up for the next installment in the series. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this crew.

Thank you to K.P. Roberson for providing a free e-ARC. The views expressed in this review are entirely my own.

Between the Birches: Awakening, featuring a new cover design, will be available through Amazon in May 2022.

StarFire Dragons by Dawn Ross

4 stars

StarFire Dragons, book one of the sci-fi/fantasy Dragon Spawn Chronicles by Dawn Ross,  follows what happens when the crew of the Odyssey starship finds two child-warriors on a Cooperative planet and must decide what to do.

The cover of StarFire Dragons displayed on an e-reader placed on top of a starry blanket.

New in his role, Vice-Executive Commander J.D. Hapker makes a choice that sets the rest of the story in motion.

My favorite parts of the book were the interactions between Commander Hapker and Jori as they competed, compared beliefs and outlooks, and decided whether to trust each other. I also enjoyed the observations about how the Grapnes and Tredons viewed each other. 

Ross throws in funny and lighthearted lines like, “The man was as out of place as a worm in a salad”, without taking you out of the complex universe she created.

Her commitment to creating that intricate universe went so deep she included a thorough glossary explaining terms and phrases. I wish I had realized that there was a glossary before I finished the novel, but it was still helpful to discover and read it at the end.

Several reviews and the author herself note that this book is reminiscent of Star Trek. As someone who hasn’t been bitten by the Star Trek bug, I still found this book enjoyable.

If I had one suggestion, I would have liked a few more references to the physical features of the main characters throughout the book to help me more fully visualize their distinctions and interactions with each other. 

On the whole, this was an interesting read that builds a strong foundation for several more sequels in the series. I look forward to finding out what happens in the rest of the series.

Thank you to Ross for providing a free e-review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

All three books in the Dragon Spawn Chronicles are available for purchase through the author’s website and Amazon.

The 13th Zodiac by L. Krauch

4 out of 5 stars

In the 13th Zodiac, the titan Time makes a decision that sets the foundation for the rest of the story. And, what a story it is! 

This high fantasy book features some wonderful world-building and a diverse set of interesting characters. The main characters Jase Raion, the Crown Prince of Chall, and Liya Fairaway, the lost princess of Aria, have layered, interesting backstories and well-developed personalities. Krauch does a great job getting you invested in these two, as well as other important characters like Jemi, Liya’s sister, and her adoptive brothers Tokei and Jiroo.

In addition to the main characters, another thing I enjoyed about this book is that I could really picture the action scenes – and there’s a lot of action in this book. I can sometimes get bogged down reading, rather than watching, action scenes but that wasn’t the case in The 13th Zodiac. Krauch’s vivid descriptions made the conflict scenes easy to visualize.

Be prepared for the fact that this story features a large number of characters. If you’re like me, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep a lot of characters straight, but this story is written in a way that you can easily focus on the primary cast to keep from getting confused.

I’m looking forward to reading the next installment in the series. I also think this book would make a great movie – I’d love to see it on the big screen one day.

The book is available through Amazon in paperback, as an e-book, and Kindle Unlimited.