Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero 


Stage 2 of the  SPFBO competition is now well underway and the Critiquing Chemist and I have been reading the finalists.  Today we post our review for our fourth finalist Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero.  Don’t forget to stop over to the Critiquing Chemist to check out their review.


Burn Red Skies is high fantasy, set in a world with elemental magic. It is predominantly a story of siblings, separated by cruel events and set on diverging paths.  This is a book set in an intriguing world where dragons can be summoned to wreak destruction.   I would say before starting this review that the writing was really good. I love Rosero’s style and the fact that this is a debut makes that even more impressive. 

This is a story with multiple povs.  We are introduced to Dove who survives the destruction of her village only to be enslaved by the tyrant that caused it’s destruction. Born mute Dove is a strong character and wielder of fire magic, although she is untrained and only made the discovery when she survived the fires that consumed her home. She now lives day to day at the whim of the King who seems to take perverse enjoyment in his cruelties.  Her one dream centres around finding the brother that she lost – if she can stay alive long enough to do so. Dove’s story takes an interesting turn when she is given the chance of freedom and the opportunity to join the rebellion that fights against the King.

Valerya is General to the tyrant king and the first summoner of dragons for hundreds of years.  I liked this character, well, that’s not strictly correct, I liked the way she’s written.  She’s a conflicted character, definitely morally gray, not entirely happy with her role and she has her own agenda to push.

I’m not going to elaborate too much on the other characters.  We do eventually meet Dove’s brother Gryff.  His path takes a strange turn when he also comes to the notice of the King and is given a place working for Valerya who takes an interest in pushing him – or punishing him depending on which way the wind blows.  

As is quite often the case with multiple pov fantasy stories I found myself gravitating more to certain story lines, in this case my absolute favourites were an unlikely pair known as Bard and Dancer.  I found their chapters fascinating, they brought humour to the story, I was intrigued and I found myself looking forward to their return every time the pov switched.  Personally, I found their introduction to the story a real boost.  I enjoy a good dose of realism in my fantasy as much as the next reader but I have to say that the inclusion of some kind of respite to the constant death and bloodshed is always welcome to me and these two brought that in spades.  They were refreshing to read, there was definitely a spark of chemistry (although no romance – just banter) and they felt excitingly dangerous.  

As I mentioned above.  I enjoyed the writing, I think the pacing was good for the most part and this was undoubtedly an easy read. If I was going to try and sum up the plot I would say this is essentially about the two siblings and the different character arcs that see them going in quite different directions.  It will be interesting to see how the two develop further and the impact they have on this world. 

The world itself was only briefly drawn and did leave me with some questions.  The elemental magic, fire, ice, storm, water, seem to link to location, for example, ice wielders have an aversion to the sun and seem to hail from colder climates.  Fire wielders are immune to the flames – also in rare cases (Valerya) they can summon dragons – I couldn’t help wondering if the other magical abilities will have similar exceptional talents but that remains to be seen.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I didn’t feel that I had an absolute grip on the world and the point that we were at within this story.  I don’t have a problem with being dropped into a world where events seem to be in the middle of things but I wanted a little more clarity as the story progressed and I’m not entirely sure that was the case for me.  Of course this is a first in series so I’m sure that issue will be addressed in future instalments.  I did think the pacing stuttered a little in areas although for the most part I think this was a story with a good pace, there were just certain points where I felt things slowed down and I found myself losing concentration.  I was also not totally convinced by Gryff’s story arc which felt a little rushed and lacking in believability especially when compared to Dove’s.

The above aside, Burn Red Skies is a great start to a series, set in a fascinating world.  

My thanks to the author for a review copy.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 7 out of 10 or 3.5 of 5 for Goodreads

The Critiquing Chemist rating is 7.5 out of 10

Our average rating is 7.5


Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up

Sunday Post

I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing a round-up of the week just completed and also take a look at my plans for the forthcoming week.  I rather got out of the habit of doing this but I would like to reinstate this type of post as I feel it keeps me on track.  So, I’m linking up to The Sunday Post over at Kimberly’s  Caffeinated Reviewer.  Without further ado:

This week has been a busy one although I’m not entirely sure why – the time seems to have flown by and I’ve barely had chance to break open my laptop or write up posts, but, I did manage to complete the two books that I wanted to so I’ll take that.  I read my SPFBO finalist and now have three books remaining (one of which I’ve made a start on) and I also read Insomnia which is quite possibly my favourite Pinborough so far and very aptly named because I feel like I suffered some sleeplessness myself whilst reading!  (Mainly due to ‘just one more chapter’ syndrome).  I haven’t managed to post any reviews so the blog may be a little busy this week.

Books read this week:

1 x SPFBO finalist

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough


  1. We Men of Ash and Shadow by HL Tinsley (SPFBO Finalist)


  1. City of Dusk by Tara Sim
  2. Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough

#SPFBO Finalists – Cover love

Posted On 1 November 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
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Comments Dropped 10 responses


Stage 1 of the SPFBO competition is now complete and Stage 2 has now commenced.

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet, purely a look at our ten finalists, well, a look at their covers for now.  No descriptions today,  I’m simply highlighting all ten book covers (with links to Goodreads because I know you’re going to want to check them out). Seriously, this is a handsome batch of books. I know, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but, at the end of the day this is the first step in tempting you to pick them up.  A thing of beauty is a joy forever, so, without further ado, feast your eyes on these glorious beauties::

Norylska Groans


We Men of Ash and Shadow


Legacy of the Brightwash


Burn Red Skies


Shadows of Ivory


The Iron Crown


Hall of Bones


Reign & Ruin

Reign and

The Forever King

The forever king

The Mortal Blade


Do you have a favourite??

Finally, good luck to all the authors during Stage 2.

#SPFBO 7 : My Second Batch of Books


SPFBO 7 got off to a great start.  I’ve read my first batch of books – you can find my feedback here plus links to reviews for all four books.  I have to say my first batch was very good and has set the bar high.  Let’s see what comes next – I’m hoping for lots of good reads.

For those of you unfamiliar with SPFBO here and here are two posts that might provide some enlightenment.  Basically, SPFBO is the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off, brainchild of Mark Lawrence.  300 hopeful authors submit their word babies.  10 Judges are allocated 30 books each.  Each judge chooses a finalist, the competition narrows to 10 hopeful candidates.  Alas, there can be only one winner so following an intense reading session where all the judges read and score each others finalists a winner finally emerges.  

The main change for myself this year is that I am joining up with the wonderful Critiquing Chemist and her lovely boffin.  We are very excited to start reading our batch (at the moment equally divided between the two blogs).  I love this part of the competition, it’s full of expectations and hope.  As in previous years  I will give a brief introduction to the books and authors that I’m picking up that month together with an update at the end of the month where I may roll some books forwards and cut others.  I know!  It’s a part of the competition that I’m not overly fond of but it is unavoidable.  Personally, I like to think that as the competition begins we already have 300 winners who each took that bold step to throw their hat into the ring and join in.  So, enjoy yourselves, take the opportunity to make friends and become part of the community.  

This month the four books that I will be reading from me second batch are:

Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris 


Alex is a game developer though he’d much rather stream RPG classics or spend time with Louie. That’s his adorable corgi.
He also hates people. Not in a homicidal way but rather in an extremely-antisocial one.
Unless you hurt Louie.

In such an instant, Alex is pulled in the Apocosmos, where our whole world is just a blip in a colorful tapestry of million others.
A multiverse ruled by a strict system.
Where Norse, Greek, and Celtic pantheons clash.
Where dwarves craft, dragons hoard, and vampires don’t glitter.
A world that is as cruel as epic.

Alex wants none of that though. He just wants to earn an early retirement somewhere in Spain.
There’s money to be made in the Apocosmos.
Alex will take advantage of the market just like he did in his MMORPG days, in what seems like an error-proof plan.
But it’s a zero-sum game and some would do anything to eliminate competition.

DGAbout the Author

The three things Dimitrios would grab in case of a fire, would be his Lord of the Rings book collection, his Chrono Trigger SNES game, and his dog, Poko.

July 2020 marked the beginning of his author career with the release of the Mana Trilogy, an epic fantasy saga focusing on world and civilization-building.

Dimitrios was born in Thessaloniki, Greece and is now living in Berlin with his partner and his doggo.

Twitter : pixelsindistres

Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C. Marks


In life, love, and family, there is always strength in numbers.

Something is off balance between the Windsong Sisters, and for Opal and Ruby, the terrible might of their powers may just lead them to catastrophe—or clarity. As half-elf mages in the service of the Order of Aiuna, the sisters spend their days collecting and preserving anything that magic touches, and as their mission takes them further back into their past, the darkness that awaits them there threatens to destroy everything they hold dear.

Despite the dark smoke rising around them, Opal is finding it hard to ignore the flames flickering between herself and Baerdun. There’s just something about it that makes her feel weak, and not just in the knees. With so much happening around them, it’s becoming much harder to keep her head above water and her heart her own.

After everything they’ve lost—what if they lose themselves as well?

Enter a world where shadows exist within and without, and follow Opal, Ruby, and Baerdun down a path that will either bring them together or force them apart.

SCMAbout the Author:

Twitter : SCMarks5

Book of Secrets (Merged Series #1) by Claudia Blood 


Joshua Lighthouse never wanted to save the world, but now he has no choice.

Three hundred years ago, the human world and the world of Myth underwent a cataclysmic Merge. Those who survived – both human and Others – formed factions. Joshua led one faction, the Human Protection Agency, which is charged with maintaining the safety of the humans in his city. He secretly protects an artifact more powerful than even he knows…

About the Author :

In spite of a busy life wrapped around a military husband, two young children, a dog, bunnies, and a day job, Claudia Blood manages to pen epic, urban, and science fantasies.


Dragonbirth byRaina Nightingale


In a world where dragons are considered demons and Dragonriders are hunted and killed as witches…

A devout village-girl, Silmavalien, meets a dragon hatchling and discovers a love she could never have dreamed. At the same time, her world is ripped apart as she discovers the gods she has worshipped and everything she has ever been taught or believed is a monstrous lie. Not knowing what to believe – or even if she can trust her engaged, Noren, with her new secret – she must find a way to care for herself and her dragon, Minth, in a wild and hostile world, a world which only grows stranger as the days pass.



Finally, good luck to everyone.  Don’t forget, if you want to pay me a visit here on the blog you’re more than welcome.  Just email or leave a comment.

#SPFBO Review : One of Us, The City of Secrets by ML Roberts


One of Use by ML Roberts was the fourth book I read this month as part of the SPFBO Competition.  My three other books as part of Batch One were Deathborn by CE Page,  Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes and Stranded by Rosalind Tate.  At the end of the month I will be posting an update and highlighting which book or books will be rolled forward and which will be cut.


So, I would briefly describe One of Us as YA high school/urban fantasy.  Mostly set within the school grounds it involves a young girl who starts to think her imagination is playing tricks on her.  

The story is told by Olivia, fifteen years of age (I think).  Her mum asks her a favour, to befriend the daughter of one of her clients who has recently moved to the area and is new to school.  Of course, being 15, and not even as part of the in-crowd, choosing friends based on your parents’ wishes doesn’t do anything for your social standing.

Olivia’s best friend is Mindy, they’re fairly average students, not the popular girls, not particularly sporty or clever, but doing okay.  Abigail stands out a little bit, for all of the wrong reasons, and Olivia tries to avoid bumping into her at all.  Pamela is one of the ‘super popular’ girls and incredibly mean.  She seems to have made it her own mission in life to make the new girl’s life hell.  This aspect of the story is very ‘mean girls’ until, unexpectedly, revenge becomes the dish of the day.

On top of skirting around trying to avoid other students Olivia has plenty of other things on her mind.  She spotted a story in a news article saying that a local boy (who Olivia knows and used to go to the same school) has died in a surfing or swimming accident.  Olivia is distraught by the news but soon starts to suspect that she imagined the story.  The article seems to have disappeared and nobody at the school seems to be aware.  At the same time we are shown a memory of Olivia and her brother out driving when a strange occurrence takes place.  The car is hit by an object, Olivia’s brother thinks a branch, Olivia on the other hand thinks she sees a man lying in the road, a man with long silver hair and wings.  There are other strange occurences but I won’t go into them here. Then things escalate, starting at the high school dance, Abigail is attacked.  We find out more strange news from Olivia’s flashbacks and there’s talk of a haunted house.

Now, my feelings on One of Us are a little mixed.  I struggled to get into the story at first (although I did think the opening chapter was quite an intriguing hook).  The early stages of the story felt very teenage angst-y and the dialogue felt clunky, there was a lot of wild speculation on the part of Olivia for almost everything and anything that happens and for perhaps half the book very little really took place other than glimpses of things that didn’t really add up to very much.  As the story began to hot up the writing improved, to such an extent that I was intrigued and quite keen to read forward to discover what was going on.  The pacing improved, in fact things became a little bit crazy, it felt almost like a Scooby Doo adventure at one point but with an all girl cast and absent Scooby – and witches and fae instead of wannabe criminals shaking their fists and muttering ‘if it wasn’t for those pesky kids’.  I can’t deny that it was actually entertaining in a chaotic sort of way, not sure it was entirely realistic in some respects but it did keep me turning the pages.  But, and yes, there is a but.  I’m not sure even now what the motivations of the ‘evil ones’ was or what they were really trying to achieve.  I have what feels like a sketchy understanding of things being hidden around the city, protected by Others using magic barriers and the like and also that there are those who want to access these hidden elements (creating unspeakable risks)- although I have very hazy notions of why that is at this point.  

Criticisms aside, I think this would probably work well with the right audience.  I think the high school vibe is well done, the insecurities and fear of being ostracised, the bullying, etc and there’s an adventure type feel to the direction the story took.  I’m assuming that another book is planned although it isn’t clear at the present but this one definitely concludes with certain things remaining open not to mention talk of portals and the fact that Olivia may herself have something more to her than at first meets the eye..

I received a copy from the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.





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