Audiobook Review – Once Upon A Broken Heart


This was a charming fantasy about a girl who makes a deal with a fate following a broken heart. For me, the highlight of this story really came in the world itself. Roughly split between Magic and non magic, there’s tons of interesting lore and eccentricities that really made me want to soak this world up. The mystery of the fates, prophecy, and stories without endings also definitely kept me turning pages. But though I liked Jax and Evangeline well enough, I didn’t totally fall for them, and I was definitely wishing the connection between them was a little stronger. Really, Evangeline’s goals in general didn’t feel super compelling, and the ending felt a little forced. The narration was great though, and I’d still totally recommend this to YA fantasy readers. Although this doesn’t work well as a stand-alone in any way, I’d definitely give the sequel a look to see what happens next!

⭐⭐⭐⭐½

(Update: Tried to listen to the sequel, The Ballad of Never After, and got a third of the way through before I had to DNF. Evangeline’s poor decisions were killing me, but lots of people love that series, so it could just be me!)

This is why I never trust sequels!

Thanks for reading!

Author Interview: Shelby Elizabeth

I’m so excited to announce I’m going to start posting fun little author interviews as part of this bookish blog as well! And for our first author interview, it’s my pleasure to introduce Shelby Elizabeth, a fellow indie author of young adult novels!

Shelby Elizabeth is an English teacher in Upstate New York. She’s also a major geek. When she isn’t writing about fantasy worlds or romance, she can be found reading, playing with her nephews and spending time with family, or watching just a bit too much television. She is the author of the Celestials trilogy and a standalone contemporary romance novel, Don’t Hate the Player.

Hayley: Hey Shelby! Thanks so much for letting me ask you a few questions! Reading your Goodreads bio, I see you’re a big fanfiction writer! What are some of your favorite fanction works and how do you think that’s influenced or inspired your novels?

Shelby: I started out writing fanfiction, and wrote one as recently as early 2022! I can’t advocate it enough. It really helps you find your voice and hone your craft–and it’s a lot of fun! My favorite fanfics to write let me explore big moments in my favorite characters’ stories. Introspective pieces that really dig into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. I’ve actually reworked pieces of fanfics into my books!

Hayley: Very cool! Hearing you talk about it definitely makes me want to give it a go. I also see that you’re a teacher! How awesome! How does your role as a teacher influence or inspire what you write in your novels?

Shelby: Thanks! Classroom conversations generate a lot of ideas, haha! Whether it’s random side conversations (with colleagues or students) or interpretations of a class text, the environment inspires creativity for me.

Hayley: So, though I have Stars Begin to Burn downloaded on Kindle and Don’t Hate the Player is definitely on my TBR, I haven’t gotten a chance to read either of them yet! What are some common themes or elements we can expect from your books?

Shelby: That’s awesome! I always have found family in my books. It’s one of my favorite tropes, and I love exploring different types of found family dynamics. And at least one character will be a geek in some way. Riley (Stars Begin to Burn) loves Harry Potter. Eli (Don’t Hate the Player) loves music. As for common themes in my books, some favorites are exploring shades of gray and recognizing the power of love (platonic, familial, and romantic).

Hayley: That sounds absolutely lovely. So I see you’ve both finished a series (Celestials) and written a standalone (Don’t Hate the Player), but do you prefer writing one over the other? When you write your series, do you plot the whole thing out from the beginning or do you just see where the story takes you?

Shelby: I love the challenge of writing a series, but I also love the succinctness of having one book tell a whole story. I plan to do more of both–and series of connected, standalone books, as a happy medium. For my Celestials trilogy, I knew how books one and two would end when I started it, and had a rough idea for the end of book three. I knew all of the big events, and filled in smaller arcs as I went. Some projects I outline a lot. Others I outline the big things and fill in.

Hayley: I love the flexibility there! But what’s next? I know from Twitter you’re working on a Pegasi novel for Nanowrimo, and I think I saw a teaser that you might also be thinking about a volleyball inspired romance? When do you think we can expect to see your next work? Do you think you’ll stick to YA or do you have plans for other genres and age groups?

Shelby: I have an idea for an MG fantasy series using Greek myth at some point, but for now I’m sticking to YA. My current focus is a series of interconnected standalone fantasy romance novels called All the World’s a Story. Shakespearean inspired, with magical creatures. The first one, Lady of Dragons, is in the editing phase and should release next year! The second, Lord of Pegasi, is my work-in-progress. I might write the volleyball romance next, and set it in the same school as Don’t Hate the Player. I found I like alternating between contemporary and fantasy, though fantasy remains my focus.

Hayley: Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers! Now it’s time for a Lightning Round!

o    Favorite book you’ve read lately?

A Curse of Hope and Shadows Parts Two and Three by Katherine Macdonald

o    Favorite quote?

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – J. K. Rowling

o    Favorite trope?

Friends to lovers! And found family.

o    Favorite season?

Spring or fall.

o    Advice for aspiring indie authors?

Write what you want, when you need to. Just keep writing as long as it makes you happy. Oh, and before you publish, build up hype for your book by sharing snippets and info about the characters. It makes a huge difference to have people excited to read your book on release day, instead of telling them about it after you’ve published (trust me on that).


Yay! Thanks so much to Shelby for coming on as our first author interview! I really enjoyed your passion, and I can’t wait to read your books! To hear more from Shelby, you can check out her Twitter here for updates. I hope you all enjoyed this interview, and if you’re an author interested in an interview please feel free to drop me a line! As always, thanks for reading!

Time’s Orphan: Chapter One

I’ve officially sent Time’s Orphan off to the proofreader so it’s time for the first chapter reveal! Note: Although this is book 3 in the Odriel’s Heirs series, each book occurs after a 10+ year time gap, focuses on a different character, and the stories stand alone. If you’d like to catch up on the series, Odriel’s Heirs books 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5 are currently 0.99 on Amazon or free on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. With that, here we go!




Speak of dragons,

And I’ll tell you of warriors

Who walked their flames.

Speak of shadows,

And I’ll tell you of heroes

Who brought the dawn.

Speak of pain,

And I’ll tell you of the Time

Who stole it away.

– The Heir’s Way, Chapter 17, Passage 9



CHAPTER ONE

FAVENO BLEEDS

With the bitter ash of fourteen burning towns still thick on her tongue, Emara thought she would’ve gotten used to the salty, iron tang of death. She knelt beside the whimpering soldier, gripping his rough, dirty hands in hers. As her yanaa, her Odriel-gifted energy, coursed through his body, it washed his agony away from him and into her. A fiery pain ignited in her stomach that mirrored the gaping, crimson hole through his middle. His smooth jaw could scarcely grow a beard, and yet here he lay among Faveno’s wounded defenders, breathing his last. She squeezed his hand as his eyelids fluttered one last time, the grimace of suffering at last easing to an empty stare.

As her yanaa retreated from him, the remnants of his pain faded from her own body. Drawing in a trembling breath, Emara shut his eyes with a practiced hand. “May Odriel guide you.”

“Oi! Mari!” Iree, a broad-shouldered blonde, shouted from where she helped an injured soldier into the back of the wagon. “Stop wasting time on the dead ones!”

The relentless thrum of the Rastgol’s war drums carried on the dusty air, a malignant heartbeat pounding through the frenzied city. Shrill cries of the manic residents streamed around their impromptu casualty camp in the middle of Faveno’s main square. The afternoon sun shone on the vibrant greens and blues of the stone houses ringing the plaza—the peaceful, oceanic colors standing in stark contrast to the city’s nearly palpable dread. A salty sea breeze ruffled the crude canvas canopy stretched above them, but it did nothing to relieve the nauseating stench of urine, sweat, and blood.

The reek of a losing battle.

Heavier now with another lost soul, Emara stumbled to the nearby trough and scrubbed the freshly dried blood from her brown skin until her hands stopped trembling. Straightening, she pushed her dark curls away from her face as she surveyed their makeshift camp. The other casualties lay in rows on blood-stained straw pallets—some crying out, others far too silent. Some wore the hodgepodge leather armor of Faveno’s Shields, while others bore only the simple dress of fishermen, tradesmen, and farmers.

“Odriel take me,” Iree swore, wiping the sweat from her forehead before grabbing a white-bearded soldier by his tunic and roughly hauling him up. “Where in the wretched skies are the bleeding Heirs when you need ‘em?” 

“Got their hands full keeping the Dead King’s Lost army in the south, they say.” Emara darted over to help Iree lift Whitebeard into the wagon, the bandages around his leg dark with blood. She sent a ripple of yanaa along his fevered skin, just enough to urge the bleeding to stop, but hopefully little enough to escape his notice. Still, the pain of the gash made her wince.

 “The girl’s right,” the man muttered as they shifted him deeper into the wagon bed. “Last I heard, the younger Dragon holds Gyatus while the elder Drake trains an army in Catalede, the old Shadow protects Aquilond, and the younger one stalks the throne in Austerden, waiting for her moment to assassinate the king.”

Iree spat onto the splotchy brown cobblestones as she pushed up her sleeves, chest heaving. “So you’re saying no one’s coming to save us.” She turned to the driver, a skinny boy of maybe a dozen years. “Cart’s full. Drop ‘em at the docks and come back for another load.”

Emara frowned as she turned to the wounded again, stooping to the unconscious woman next in line and shifting her onto a fresher bed of straw. “Hard to save us when we’ve already lost.”

Carriette, a younger girl with pigtail braids and a sharp chin, scowled from further down the line where she offered a ladle of water to a soldier with a full head of bandages. “Skies above, Emara, do you have to be so negative? It could still happen! The Heirs have beaten the cannibals back before.”

“And you only mentioned the Dragon and Shadow Heirs,” the bandaged soldier said with a weak smile. “Isn’t there supposed to be a third line? An Heir of healing or some such? I could use some of that right now.”

Emara glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, her skin prickling at the mention of healing. But his attention was squarely on the water, and her shoulders relaxed just a touch.

The Heirs’ legendary abilities passed down to their firstborns, but others, like Emara, could be born with random gifts like her minor healing touch. She’d heard of those with the power to make seeds sprout, change the wind’s direction, or share a thought without speaking.

Such smaller gifts of yanaa were also said to be bestowed by Odriel, the legendary spirit-guide. However, while the Time Heir of legend could heal armies, as one of Odriel’s Blessed, Emara could scarcely heal an ugly gash without getting out of breath. But with the Rastgol and the Dead King hunting down anyone with a scrap of yanaa tingling in their fingers—Heirs and Odriel’s Blessed alike—she tried to keep her abilities hidden.

But when everyone was dying around her, that was easier said than done.

“They haven’t been seen in a decade. Definitely dead.” Iree stooped and put a hand to the chest of a pale soldier lying all too still. With a tsk, she tugged his blanket up to cover his face. “And if they aren’t, I would whip their legendary hide for holing up while we’re busting our arses trying to save this place.”

Carriette slumped. At fifteen, she was only two years younger than Emara, but this was her first battle, and she hadn’t quite let go of her childish fantasies. Her eyes still glinted with the hope of Odriel’s chosen protectors endowed with godlike powers of fire, invisibility, and healing. It wouldn’t be long before she understood though—here, there were no heroes coming to their rescue, no happy endings, and no real winners. Both sides always lost in war; one just lost more than the other.

They’d been at war almost as long as she could remember. The Rastgol armies encroached further north and east into Okarrian lands every year. The necromancing Dead King’s army of undead—the Lost—crawled over the south, and the ancient, bloodthirsty man-killers his two commanders had unleashed from their Carceroc prison hunted everywhere else.

She’d lost her mother to the undead early, then from there had followed her grandmother’s merchant tribe as they scurried from town to town, searching for pockets of safety. But there were none to be had.

Still, it did no good to dwell on it.

“But who needs the Heirs when we have the mighty Iree?” Emara called to Carriette, getting a begrudging smirk out of her.

“Oh, you hush.” Iree waved her off as she rifled through a crate of bandages and filled waterskins.

Emara smiled at the image of the burly Iree taking on one of the legendary defenders of Okarria. She didn’t envy anyone who had to face her fury, yanaa or no. “I would bet on you over an Heir any day, Iree. In fact, I—”

Emara flinched as a horn blasted from one of the spires, signaling another Rastgol attack.

The three of them exchanged a tense glance before Emara lurched into action, lifting the crate of supplies. “I’ll take these to the east spire. They’ll be needing it.”

“No, let me.” Carriette’s face hardened with determination as she grabbed it from Emara.

“Wait, I—” Emara started, but Carriette was already striding away.

 “Don’t worry. I’ll get it there.” With that, she took off across the square against the flow of the crowd fleeing for the docks. Emara couldn’t help but smile. Though naïve, the girl was brave; she had to give her that.

Even from their relative safety inside the inner wall, the roar and clang of battle drifted to them on the dusty air. Although the maimed sun, ever chipped by the Dead King’s power, drew high on the fourth day of the siege, the blood-worshiping barbarians only seemed to grow stronger. They battered Faveno’s stone walls in unending waves of horror and violence. Each day, as Faveno’s defenders fell, the Rastgol’s bellowing drums grew louder, grew closer. Too close.

A pair of bony mules pulled the creaking wagon up to their camp in the middle of the square, and the skinny boy waved frantically from the driver’s bench. “This is the last trip! Load ‘em as quick as you can. The last ships are readying to sail north, and word is we’ll lose the outer wall within the hour.”

Already? Emara’s gaze flicked to the smoke curling behind the thick stone walls looming over the rooftops. “How many can you take?” She dried her hands on a stained rag, trying to measure the wagon against the rows of bodies. They’d already sent the walking wounded down to the wharf, but there were still dozens left.

Iree bent over the first in the row, a young man with his left leg missing from the knee down. Grabbing his proffered hand, she hoisted him up and helped him in. “I don’t care if we have to stack ‘em. If they fit, they’re going.”

Emara hurried over, lifting the little girl that had come in earlier with the arrow in her gut. “Hey love.” The girl’s blue eyes flicked open. “It’s okay, we’re getting you out of here.”

“Not that one, Mari,” Iree said, helping another soldier into the wagon. “I saw her this morning. We can’t waste space on lost causes.”

Emara ignored her, sending a pulse of her yanaa into the girl’s wound. The pain of it flooded back to her, and she grit her teeth, careful not to drop the girl. “It didn’t go deep. Take another look, Iree. She’ll be fine.”

Iree turned from the wagon, her gaze sliding from the girl’s face to the bandages around her middle. She lifted the bandage to peek under, and then raised a brow at Emara. “I must have misjudged. Put her in.”

Sweat gathering at her temples, Emara settled the girl in the corner of the wagon before turning to get the next. Iree bent down beside her, each grabbing an arm of a burly man. He groaned as they boosted him into the wagon bed, and Emara let her fingers linger on his wrist. She sent another pulse of yanaa into him, the rot of the infection in his leg knocking the breath from her lungs. She pushed harder, pulling it from him like a parasite. Sweat beaded on her forehead with his fever and nausea turned her stomach, but the furrows in his brow eased. Though the yanaa leached her energy, it was just as quick to return after she pulled away—all she had to do was endure.

“You need to be more careful, Mari,” Iree whispered, her gaze fierce. “There are people here that will give you to the Rastgol in a second if it means sparing their own hides.”

Iree’s counsel needled Emara’s guilty conscience, an echo of her mother’s warnings scorching through her. Though Emara tried her best to hide her gift, the sharp-eyed elder medics nearly always saw through her, but she had neither the time nor the patience to worry about it now. “We should all be careful,” she said, moving to the next patient.

They worked in silence, Emara’s hands lingering on the worst of them, until finally the cart could hold no more. Iree hopped into the front and took the reins from the boy. “Coming, Mari?”

Emara glanced at the spires again, another horn blast splitting the air. “I’ll wait for Carriette.”

A frown dug into the well-worn lines around Iree’s mouth. “It’s your choice, but if we lose the wall…” Her gaze met Emara’s, concern softening her expression. “Don’t linger.”

“Be safe, Iree,” Emara said, her hand to her chest. “And I’ll see you on a sunnier day.”

With a grim nod, Iree clicked her tongue, and the wagon rolled away, its charges dull-eyed and moaning. They were nearly packed on top of each other, but they’d almost managed to get all of their wounded aboard. The ones left here probably wouldn’t see the sunset, Rastgol or no. But perhaps she could still ease their passing.

“Emara!”

Emara whirled at the elder medic’s familiar voice. Her gaze narrowed on his thin string of a body and receding gray curls as he limped toward her on his clubbed foot, pulling a younger man with fluttering eyelids.

“Gunther, are you okay?”

A horn bellowed from beyond the wall, followed by two more short blasts, and a bonfire crackled to life on the western spire. A chorus of wails erupted from the square as the crowds of evacuees surged toward the docks, and Emara’s heart sank. “The outer wall… It’s fallen.”

“Yes. Faveno is completely surrounded.” Sweat streaked down the wrinkles in Gunther’s swarthy countenance. “You must go now if you want to get out. The wharf is the only way.”

Emara looked over her shoulder, scanning the knots of soldiers fleeing the walls. “Did you see Carriette on the way here? She was headed for the outer wall.” Her hands immediately moved to grip the wrist of both Gunther and the man at his side. Gunther bore no wounds, but the gash above the man’s waist would need assistance. She squeezed his hand as she urged the blood to stop flowing and the skin to knit. With a gasp, she grabbed her own side, his pain becoming hers.

“Stop that, Emara. Think of yourself now,” Gunther said, grabbing her shoulder. Beside him, the man straightened, blinking with confusion. Gunther gave her a small push toward the wharf. “You must go.”

“What about Carriette? We sent her to the east spire with supplies.”

“On the outer wall?” Gunther winced. “I’m sorry, my girl. It’s too late for her now.”

Emara looked eastward to the spindly stone tower, and then to the fire that burned from the west—where the Rastgol had breached the city. “They’re not there yet. I can make it.” She snatched up her bow and quiver.

“No! There’s no time! You’ll get stuck out there.”

But Emara was already running.


Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak of Time’s Orphan. Advanced Review e-Copies should be ready when I get it back from the proofreader (hopefully by the end of November)! If you’re interested in one, just drop me a line here or on Twitter/Insta/Tiktok @hayleyreesechow. Time’s Orphan launches on 8 February 2023 and is available for preorder here.

Also keep an eye out for the title and blurb reveal for my YA Sci-fi TOMORROW! 😱 If you’re interested in being part of my street team to help post the reveals and spread the word, please let me know. I could definitely use all the help I can get! 😊 And of course, happy Halloween everyone!

Book Playlists!

Music Meets Books!

So, I’m not a musically inclined person by nature, but I decided to try to make some playlists for my books, and I absolutely loved it! Listening to the playlists added this whole other dimension and put me right into the book so I could experience the scene play out. So cool! Naturally, since it was so awesome, I had to share. Below, are the playlists for the entire Odriel’s Heirs series, and I’ll be sure to add them to their page on this site. I’ll also release the playlists for Codename: CNDRLA and my 2023 sci-fi closer to publication!

I hope you enjoy them and as always, I’d love to hear your suggestions and recommendations if you have any!

Odriel’s Heirs

Burning Shadows

Idriel’s Children

Night of Ash

Time’s Orphan

Night of Ash out 27 Sep & Time’s Orphan release in February!

Thanks for reading!

Hey, why’d you redesign your covers?

So the big news this week is that I got my Odriel’s Heirs and Idriel’s Children covers redesigned! And so many people have asked me why, I figured I’d write a post about it (mostly because I’m too tired tonight to do anything else productive. 😂)

So when I first was looking for a cover designer for Odriel’s Heirs, I’d never commissioned art of ANY kind before, and at the time, I thought Odriel’s Heirs would be the only book I ever wrote. (Seven books later, let’s all laugh together. 🤣)

So, I wanted something that could double as both character art and a cover. And although Dominique Wesson did a fabulous job of capturing the characters… based on anonymous feedback from NetGalley, the original cover designs were getting somewhere around a C-. Ouch. And to add to that, my BookBub deal requests kept getting rejected, and I suspected it had to do with the covers.

Fast forward to 2022, and the original cover designer is crazy busy and almost impossible to schedule, and I’m no longer a huge fan of seeing the character’s faces on the cover. I’d rather give the reader more flexibility to imagine the characters and commission character art separately, like the wonderful pieces by @stephydrawsart_ below. (But if you ever want to make my LIFE, I adore fanart.)

Anyways… Of course, I wanted all of the covers to match, so I briefly considered trying to get a character art cover similar to my first too… but then I saw Fay Lane’s work and totally fell in love.

And now here we are! I’m also hoping that the new covers will expand my audience, and I can still use the original covers as marketing or promotional tools. Maybe one day, I’ll shell out for a character art cover of Time’s Orphan so I can have two complete sets. But for now, I’m so thrilled with the new look and can’t wait to see them all in print together before too long!

The new paperbacks of Odriel’s & Idriel’s are now available on Amazon, and I’m hoping to release Time’s Orphan advance review copies in the fall!

As always, thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – Fable


Fable was another solid read that I didn’t love. Fable is the story of a girl abandoned by her ship-captain father on a rough island where she desperately tries to scrape together enough coin to escape and confront her father.

I really loved the concept of this book along with the found-family themes on the rough and tumble high-seas and the subtle magic in an intriguing, unforgiving world. But I found myself really wishing for more connection between Fable and the other characters, particularly the love interest. Told from the first person, Fable seems to stay in her own head a lot, and although everyone in this world is supposed to be reserved and guarded, I really found myself wanting more inter-character interaction and connection.

I think part of the problem might be that this book does not stand alone in any way. I’d say it ends on a cliffhanger, but honestly it doesn’t really feel like an end. It feels like we got cut off in the middle of the book – so maybe the second book would bring that depth and satisfaction I was missing. The audiobook narrator wasn’t my favorite voice, but overall I enjoyed the listen, and would recommend to fans of seafaring YA.

If I see the sequel ever pop up in the library, I’d probably pick it up, but I don’t think I’ll be pining for it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I think Tula has begun to dread the possibility of a reading slump! Ever hopeful, we continue to search the horizon for new, amazing reads.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – A Storm of Silver and Ash


A Storm of Silver and Ash follows a young thief as she gets caught up in an assassination plot. Written in first person, Storm’s voice and personality pops off the page, and I really enjoyed the world building of the underworld guilds and the lore of the elves. I did think Storm’s light/young tone seemed a bit at odds with her image as an intimidating master thief and killer, but I’m not a huge fan of this style of first person that breaks the fourth wall, so this could just be me! Although there’s no romance in this story, I can see the outlines of the relationships that could be developed in the future sequels. Overall, a solid fantasy recommended for fans of voicey YA fantasy! 

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐   

Fun fantasy? Tula is HERE for it!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – Queen of Night


It’s a little difficult to describe this book without spoilers, so this will be a short review for a great sequel to finish this duology! Queen of Night by Katherine Macdonald veers from the sequel, and plunges into new territory with this sequel. I loved the raised stakes and the growth of the Persephone’s character as the strands of her life come together. I also really loved the peeks we got into Hades’ perspective, and the happily ever after was a perfect end to their sweet romance. On the whole, this book was more serious and heavier than book one. It starts off a littler slower than the first, but makes up for it with an intense, action-filled second half. If you enjoyed the first book, I absolutely think you will love this one! Highly recommend this duology and can’t wait to read more by Katherine Macdonald.

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  

Also, as a side note, the copy of Thief of Spring that I put in our local free library only lasted a week before getting snapped up. It makes me smile so big to think someone might be enjoying it right now! 😊

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – Thief of Spring


So Thief of Spring by Katherine Macdonald follows a mortal (contemporary) girl who comes across a fae (who are actually interwoven with the legends of the greek gods) Samhain revel, and is spirited down to live in the underworld for 7 months with (fae) Hades.

Where to even begin. WHAT DID I NOT LIKE?! The writing style is clean and fresh and beautiful. The dialogue is snappy and keeps the plot moving. The author wove this huge, dark, tantalizing world seamlessly around the tale of Hades and Persephone, and it just totally blew me away. Then there were the characters! I am seriously attached to both Hades and Persephone.

Seriously, they are so cute it almost physically pains me. They’re both so lovely and hurt in their own way, and the gentle way they put each other back together in a slow-burn that you can just drink in is absolutely fabulous.

And then the ending! Okay, I knew something was up and stuff was about to go down… but it just all happened in this intense climax, that honestly just left my jaw hanging in the best way.

I’m not huge into sequels, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t download anymore until I cleaned out current Kindle TBR. But apparently I lied, because I bought it and it’s on there now. So yeah. Basically, this book was a huge, wonderful surprise, and if you love YA fantasy or YA romance (or even better, both) you will totally fall in love with this book. The romance is standard YA heat (maybe a mild PG-13), the language is mildish, and there are some Harry Potter and other pop culture references in case you’re not into any of that.

But I loved it so five glittering stars to one of my favorite books of the year thus far, and I can’t wait to read the sequel!

🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟  

These are my excited “I can’t wait to read the sequel” eyes!

Thanks for reading!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Ten

A Place to Rest

Intent on their quarry and blinded with bloodlust, the Rastgol flew into an ambush of raining arrows and flashing steel. But wounded and head-sore as she was, Kaia took in almost none of it. In seconds, two of Madoc’s men had her and Klaus by the arms, dragging them to the safety of the short bluff before jumping back into the slaughter. Though one-legged and bruised, Klaus still leapt to his feet with his blade drawn, ready to cut into any Rastgol that made it over their small ledge. But they didn’t have to wait long before the cheers of Madoc’s victorious soldiers echoed down the river, with no other casualties to be seen besides the battered Heirs.

At last, Klaus collapsed beside her, his bravado crumbling with an exhausted sigh. Scrapes and scratches covered his face and arms after his tumble from the horse. Still, he looked at her with a widening smile on his face. “Okay, so tell me, how did Madoc know to be waiting for you?”

Dizzy with pain and relief, Kaia squeezed her head with her hands in a vain attempt to keep it from spinning off of her shoulders. “You don’t think the huge smoke signal was enough warning?”

He chuckled and laced his fingers in hers. “Now he’s never going to let me live this down.”

“Ya got that right!” Madoc’s rough voice shouted gamely as he crested the ledge. “But at least tell me ya took care of our Lost problem while ya were on yer lil holiday.”

Kaia nodded. “They were Idriel’s Lost the Rastgol managed to shepherd together somehow.” She lifted her chin at the smoke curling in the horizon, the image of Mogens still burned into her mind. “But they’re gone now. So if you see any freshly raised, that will mean a new necromancer we’ll need to know about.”

“I must say, Dragon, I didn’t know if ya’d actually deliver on yer promise.” He gazed around the battlefield. “But torching an army of dead and cutting down the Rastgol cavalry on the same day?” He nodded approvingly. “And you even had time to drag Thane back with ya.”

Klaus picked up a pebble and threw it at Madoc, hitting him square in the chest. “I would’ve made it back if not for my busted foot.”

Madoc waved him off, swaggering in the glow of his victory. “Sure, Thane, whatever ya say. Just when ya go, be sure to leave the dragon here with us. We’ll take right good care of her.” He spread his arms. “After all, a dragon with an army atter back? Okarria could be no safer than that.”

Turning to Kaia, Klaus’ brow furrowed. “Did he ask you to stay?”

“He—” Kaia started, but a happy bark broke through her thoughts. Across the river, a red blur ran out of the castle walls, tearing down the bank.

“Oh no, Gus, wait there!” Kaia called.

But he would wait no longer. Gus hesitated for only a moment before plunging into the river, his legs beating the water furiously as he swam across. My girl! My boy!

Kaia started to stand to go after him, but Klaus put a hand on hers. “It’s okay, Firefly, he’s making it just fine.”

And sure enough, a few moments later, Gus ran up the near bank, whimpering with giddy joy. He leapt from Kaia to Klaus, wriggling and licking their faces. You’re here, you’re here, we’re here!

“There’s my Gus.” Kaia laughed as he shook off his thick red fur and sprayed them with river water. “Thanks for looking after him, Madoc.”

“We got along just fine, the pair of us. Seemed to make himself right at home,” Madoc said with a wink.

Klaus’ eyes narrowed.

“Enough, Madoc.” Kaia held up a hand, a stab of pain piercing through her skull. “Do you think you could spare a mender this time?” She glanced at Klaus with a weak smile. “My usual nurse looks a little banged up.”

“I s’pose ya’ve earned that much.” He gestured to Klaus with a dismissive hand. “And I guess we can let Thane in too.”

“Madoc, as soon as my foot heals, I want to see you in the training square,” Klaus said.

Madoc straightened. “You’re on, Thane.”

Klaus and Madoc continued their bickering while Kaia laughed and hugged Gus’ neck, soaking in the brief moment when they were safe, if only for a little while.

***

Kaia awoke at midday and made her way to the mess hall. Her sore muscles protested every movement, while her arm hung in a loose sling, but for the first time since they’d arrived, her feet were light and her mind was clear. The curving stairwell echoed with the boisterous shouts of the soldiers still celebrating their victory with food and music and cheer. But when she stepped into the cavernous dining hall, a wave of quiet whipped through the crowd as all eyes turned to her.

Madoc approached, his booming voice echoing across the silence. “Guardian Dashul, what ya did for us yesterday will not be forgotten. Here in Direfent we have a tradition—once ya’ve proved yerself in battle we say ya’ve earned your ale.” A boy handed him a red earthen mug already filled to the brim. “As such, yer mug will always hang over our fire, to show yer blade will always be welcome here with a hot meal and a stout drink.”

He thrust the mug into her good hand, and Kaia fingered the letters carved into the side, taking a moment to make out the word: Dragon. She chuckled softly.

Madoc raised his own mug. “To our very own Dragon, Odriel protect whatever fool dares challenge us now!” The soldiers raised their steins in a rumbling cheer, fists slamming their tables with wild abandon. “Drink up, Dragon.” With that, Madoc crashed his mug into hers, and she raised the drink to her smiling lips, trying not to spit out the foul concoction.

“You know it’s tradition to drink the whole thing,” Klaus said, leaning on a wooden crutch with a smile.

Kaia hid her grimace behind her mug. “You’ll help me right?”

“Not a chance,” he laughed.

She wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re just jealous you didn’t get a mug.”

Madoc held out a hand and took her by the elbow. “Now, my lady, I do believe there were a few things ya wanted to discuss.”

But Klaus knocked his hand away with his crutch. “You mean, my lady.”

Kaia’s eyes crinkled as she tried and failed to smother a grin.

“Oh, is that right? Last time ya tried to win a lady, I recall ya changed yer mind.” Madoc rubbed his beard with a bemused smirk. “And ya know, now that Guardian Dashul has met a room of real men, perhaps she’ll be changing her mind.”

Laughing, Kaia switched her mug to her sling hand, and looped her arm in Klaus’. “He speaks the truth, Madoc. We are a pair, the two of us.”

“So you say.” He shrugged, mischief still gleaming in his eyes. “But I haven’t seen any sparks between the two of ya, perhaps you’ll find—”

Then Klaus’ crutch was clattering to the floor, and his arms were around Kaia, his mouth on hers, and her back bending as he dipped her low in a deep kiss. Her arm wrapped around his neck as another wild cheer went up over the crowd—the whistling, banging whoops almost as loud as the first.

By the time Klaus let her up, Kaia had to hide the breathless blush of her smile against his chest. He curled his arm around her casually, pulling her tightly to him. “We are a pair,” he said, looking from Kaia back to Madoc. “So if you don’t mind, I’ll have the honor of escorting her to our table.”

Madoc threw his head back and laughed, long and deep. “Perhaps ya grew up all right after all.” Stooping, he picked up Klaus’ crutch and handed it to him.

Klaus accepted it and pressed his lips to Kaia’s forehead. “I may have had some help.”

Madoc’s grin glided to Kaia, and she smiled back.

***

Their food tucked away and the music faded to a dull roar, Kaia leaned on Klaus’ shoulder in a wash of contentment, her fingers stroking Gus’ long ears beside her. She looked up as Madoc slid into the chair across from them.

“Okay Dragon, this is my last deal. You can have the whole castle to yerself, and we’ll make you Cap’n—Cap’n Dragon! Doesn’t that have a ring to it?” His third stein sloshed in front of him, the other two showing themselves in the pink of his cheeks and the pitch of his voice.

Kaia laughed. “We already told you, Madoc, we’re only staying until we’re well enough to ride.”

“Bah!” Madoc waved his arms in the air. “Ya can’t say it wasn’t nice having some real muscle to back up just the two of ya.”

Klaus exchanged a glance with Kaia. “Of course it was, Madoc. But we can’t spend all of our time here. You and your soldiers protect the west. We have the rest of Okarria to cover.”

“I know it.” Madoc sighed. “You’re right of course, but sometimes I do miss the strength of a real Okarrian army, ya know?”

Kaia leaned forward in her seat, the seed of the idea that had been taking root finally flowering. “Exactly.”

Madoc and Klaus both looked at her. “Exactly?”

Kaia met their questioning gazes one at a time. “Two Heirs are all well and good, but we need more. When it comes to war, we’re lost without a real army at our backs. An army that doesn’t exist, because Okarria barely has enough soldiers as it is.”

“Right, but what do you want to do?” Klaus asked.

“I want to build a school. A place where people can train to defend Okarria should the time come. Just like when we were young, Klaus.” A wistful smile played on Kaia’s lips. “A Triennial for all, every year. Taught by you, and me, and the Dracour. We’ll teach them to fight and then send them on their way.”

Madoc let out a low whistle. “Ya think you could spare some of those swords for me?”

Kaia nodded. “If they’re looking for a place to do good, we’ll send them here, or to the Guards of the State-cities. That way, when we need warriors, we’ll know where to find them.”

“It’s a good idea.” Klaus bent his head closer to hers. “Is that what you really want?”

She squeezed his knee under the table. “We’ll still wander and aid where we can. But with a school, we’ll have a place to go back to. A place where we can rest and be safe for a time, while still helping our people.” She paused, biting her lip. “What do you think?”

“A damn good idea,” Madoc said, pounding the table with a large hand. Another soldier called to him, and he staggered to his feet, still waving a finger at Klaus. “I still have no idea how a woman like that puts up with a man like you.”

Klaus waved him off, his gaze still on Kaia’s. “I’m in.” He took her hand in his and kissed the inside of her wrist. “When do we start?”

Kaia’s eyes flashed. She could already see the stone walls of the school take shape in her mind. It would be their place of rest—their home. Nestled in the Naerami mountains, a short ride from her fierce Dracour teachers, they would attract students from the land over. They would come to learn from the Heirs, and they would leave with knowledge and strength and purpose.

She cocked her head at him. “Think we can have it ready for the next Triennial?”

“Well, you know I kind of have a standing date for the Triennial, so I might be a little distracted.” He tickled her side with a smirk.

“Oh yeah?” Kaia laughed. “Well, you better watch out, because your date might just catch you by surprise the next time around.”

“She always surprises me.” He pulled her closer. “In the best ways.”

And there, on the edge of the wild country, surrounded by steins of awful ale and the tuneless warbling of raucous soldiers, Kaia’s heart filled with the warmth and safety of love. With a love like this, they could raise mountains.

And they would.


Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed Burning Shadows. If you have time to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite book site, I would be so grateful to any words you’d be willing to leave. Even just a line or two can make a huge difference. Reviews are vital for any author, but as an indie author especially, encouragement from readers like you keeps me going and gives these stories wings. If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the first chapter of Idriel’s Children here. You can also connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @HayleyReeseChow.