Cover Image: Unbound

Unbound

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Member Reviews

This novel is FULL of folklore and mythology woven skillfully in the story. There were many references that I had to stop and look up and while that may seem tedious, I actually love that in a book. The flashback scenes, which are about every other chapter, were used beautifully to tell the story of our two main characters, Rozlyn and Jamie. I loved watching their story unfold and was satisfied with the novel's conclusion.
I think one of my favorite elements was the banter between the two; a razor thin line between love and hurt.

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Editor's note: Review published in CNHI's Ga, Ala, Miss papers. Offered to national editors.

Booked for the month: Noir, fantasy and historical retellings fill the air with new fiction from Gordon Greisman and Christy Healy, and audio retakes of Jules Verne and Donald Miller

By Tom Mayer
CNHI News Service

From 20,000 feet above to 20,000 leagues below — and a couple more with feet firmly on planet Earth — a quartet of new books and audio renderings recently published will both enliven drive-times and offer one more reason to put another log on the fire. All four this month are from Blackstone, a publishing house that continues to offer an interesting and intriguing mix of media.

The audio files

In the category of what’s old is what’s new: “Masters of the Air” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” aren’t exactly new books, but they both get a new treatment as audio books with fresh narrators.

Donald Miller’s “Masters of the Air” isn’t just for the World War II buff. It offers the history of the American Eighth Air Force, but with the addition of Joe Barrett’s narration — Barrett is a veteran raconteur with more than 200 audio titles and a host of Audie Award finals in his arsenal — the story of the young (and they were all young) men who flew the bombers responsible for crippling Nazi Germany takes you into the cockpit beside them.

And the 20,000 feet reference is no exaggeration: the air at that height is thin and freezing and before the Eighth, no body of bombers had successfully straddled that particular stratosphere.

Miller, a WWII expert and professor at Lafayette College, weaves interviews, oral histories and international archives into a compelling narrative about an elite group of warriors who essentially fought a war within a war, and spices it with stories of life in wartime England and German prison camps.

World War II is known as the world’s first and only bomber war, and “Masters of the Air” also gets a fitting visual complement. A series based on the book, under the same name, launched on Apple TV+ Jan. 26.
Not that Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” has suffered from any lack of multi-media attention, but Blackstone’s audio version captures the 19th century period piece in ways that infuse real magic into the exotic undersea tale of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.

You might know the story, and you might know the voice — narrator Aria Mia Loberti starred in Netflix’s limited series adaptation of “All the Light We Cannot See” — but the combination is unique and fitting, especially enmeshed with the Mia Loberti's advanced degree in ancient rhetoric from Royal Holloway, University of London. You’ve not heard this story told in such a perfect lilt, and if the publisher is wise, they will elicit Mia Loberti for Verne’s other two works featuring Nemo: “The Mysterious Island” and a lesser-known collaborative play, “Journey Through the Impossible,” written a dozen years after the 1870 launch of “20,000 Leagues.”

The bibliophiles

In the category of what’s new is what’s new, 2024 has already been a good year for literature, and in continuing the fantastical theme is “Unbound” by Christy Healy.

A tale of betrayal and unrequited romance, Healy brings Celtic myths into this gender-bent reimagining of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Rozlyn O Conchuir is destined for love, waiting in the imprisonment of her tower for the defeat of the beast of Connacht through the arrival of the man who will not only win her heart, but vanquish the curse that plagues both her and her kingly father’s people.

After the suitor arrives, though, her hopes and dreams are savagely unmasked and trust is irreparably broken. Or is it? There may be more here than Rozlyn imagined — if she can learn that some misfortunes are better left shackled than unbound.

And an aside: Blackstone completes the magical story with a fine print production. The textured cover artwork and book design are by Larissa Ezell, and that design includes interior illustrations, maps and something I don’t mention often in reviews: a unique typeface that draws the reader wonderfully into the world of make-believe.
Even as we’re drawn into a world with more grit and grime. Gordon Greisman’s “The Devil’s Daughter” is not only taut and fine noir, it’s a story that showcases something you don’t much witness — a novelist having pure fun with the craft.

Greisman’s PI story is solid and gets a screenwriter’s touch —the author earned an Emmy Award nomination for his NBC mini-series “The Drug Wars; In the Belly of the Beast” — but tempering period characters with private investigator Jack Coffey’s search for the daughter of an uptown financier is a delicious recipe for a story.
Infusing well-known mobsters, jazzmen and actors (Thelonious Monk is a bud, as is Bud, aka a young Marlon Brando), athletes and authors (How many detective stories have you read that feature Albert Camus?) attach some verbal paradox that ironically makes the story more real.

Add Greisman’s prose (“My favorite time in the city is just before dawn. The town isn’t really asleep, it’s just resting its eyes.”) and unexpected throwaways (“Richie Costello can’t stop staring at V, which is not only embarrassing but pretty inappropriate, considering he’s a priest.”) and you get a writer not only enjoying the work, but mastering it.
Some books you read in a day and this is that kind of book. It’ll no doubt be the best book you’ve read so far this year, and although we have some big hitters showing up in the next few months, it’s already a contender — with 11 months to go — for the best book you’ll read all year.

A caveat: Greisman’s story is raw and real, and some readers might get tripped by triggers. The material is handled well, but if stories about abuse and violence are on your “avoid” list, take a pass. The case of the missing Lucy Garrett — “who just might be the devil incarnate” — is as hardboiled as it gets, but Greisman takes no issue with breaking open a few rotten eggs to let their sulfuric fumes permeate the pages.

By the end, you’ll get why the story is shaped like this, and maybe it’s Coffey himself who describes it best: “I’m not all right. In my line of work sometimes I see the absolute worst in people. It’s supposed to make me hard and cynical, but that’s just a Hollywood fantasy. I’d have to be dead inside not to let something like this get to me.”

No question: “The Devil’s Daughter” will get to you.

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This story is so beautiful! It’s a love letter to Irish mythology, and while I’m not familiar with those stories, this book has made me want to learn more about them!

The story follows Rozlyn, who has been cursed since birth with powers she’s learned to manage, and Jamie, a powerless god roaming through decades looking after his love—who has taken on several forms throughout the years. The setting was absolutely beautiful and immersive. The characters were fabulous! I absolutely lived for Rozlyn and Jamie’s banter! 😍 The story was interesting and engaging. I felt like everything came together so well! And when I say the epilogue was everything—it was absolute perfection!

This debut book is a standout! Definitely add this one to your tbr! You won’t regret it!

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and Blackstone Publishing for this gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!

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I thought the premiss sounded very interesting and I was hoping for some "strong woman"-moment but unfortunatley this book did not hit the spot for me.

First thing that tripped me up was the multiple POVs, and don't get me wrong I LOVE multiple POVs. But for this book it would have benefited from better structure. A simple thing would be to just put a header on who we are following for the chapter.

Now, to the actual story. I felt like the author was trying to put too much into it and trying to pull inspiration from too many sources. It kind of just ended up as the nasty cup at a party with all the different drinks mixed in it. I also have to admitt that I totally lost intressed in the story about 30% in and it never peaked my interest after that either.

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2.7 Stars
One Liner: Got potential (not a B&B retelling)

Rozlyn Ó Conchúir spent the majority of her life waiting to find the right person to break her curse. She feels she has a chance of taming the dark magic in her when she meets Jamie. However, a betrayal unleashes the inner monster.
Now, she is the ‘queen’ leading a solitary life, and Jamie wants help. Can she give him what he wants? What does it mean for her?
The story comes in the third-person POV of Rozlyn and Jamie.

My Thoughts:
Before I proceed further, can I ask who on earth came up with the idea to market this as a gender-bent B&B retelling? Even the author calls it Midir & Étain retelling in her note. That’s how it should have been promoted. (Not that I know the original Irish story, but this isn’t Beauty and the Beast)
The story is divided into two parts and an epilogue. We get Rozyln and Jamie’s alternate POVs in different timelines within each part. The time jumps are easy enough to follow. Here, I don’t mind being duped right in the middle of the action and getting snippets from the past in installments. It works, even if a major chunk of information is missing.
What I do mind is the lengthy dialogues (monologues). While the banter between the lead characters is fun at times, the sizzle isn’t fully there. For a long time, I couldn’t decide if I wanted them to be together or not.
We have a ‘beast’ who is so beautiful that you’ll be reminded of it a million times (TBH, half the time, I imagined her as a vampire). The MMC is, of course, very handsome. Even if Rozlyn’s beast is supposed to be her attitude, it doesn’t work much. At the most, I’d call her a privileged brat and selfish. She’s no monster (the shape-shifting doesn’t count). Jamie is no angel, so I don’t mind some of her decisions.
The setting is quite good, but I wish there was more. We are introduced to many mythical Irish creatures, which I like. Yet, they are so easily tackled that it makes me feel bad for them. Come on, the creatures are supposed to have killed so many people. Make the fight last a while.
I don’t mind the anachronisms much (it will annoy some readers, so pick it up based on preferences). Would I have liked the book more without them? Not really. However, I would have liked it better if the story was set in a fictional world. An advantage of this is you get to make your own rules.
The writing is flowery and descriptive, which means the pacing is uneven, and the book drags in many places. And yet, the details aren’t fully clear. The power/ magic thing is hazy. I thought it would get clear over time, but I can’t say it did.
The epilogue is what we’d expect from a romance read. That said, I’m not 100% sure about a certain aspect.
Nevertheless, thank you for the list at the end. It provides the pronunciation for all the Irish terms. I’m more than happy to pretend I pronounced them right when reading the story.

To summarize, Unbound has its moments and introduces us to some creepy mythical creatures and gods, but it ends up as an average read. It's okay. Not a clean romance, but not spicy either.
Thank you, NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing, for the eARC. This review is voluntary and contains my honest opinion about the book.

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As of this review, I have not finished this book. I love the premise, and it is an interesting enough plot, but I just was not able to get into it. I found the Irish folklore background fascinating, and the characters were quick witted and fun to read. The only part of the story that I found difficult was the jumping back and forth of time periods; even though the storylines of the two times were different enough, they blurred a little together. Every time I set the book down and went to pick it back up, I would think “oh I really would like to see how it ends”, yet simultaneously didn’t have the desire to finish it.

Ultimately, I think this was not something that held my attention enough to finish it at this point in time, but I could absolutely see myself picking it back up again down the road and very much enjoying the story itself.

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Rozlyn was cursed at birth. The curse in her veins draws monsters to her. Since she is safely locked away in her tower, the monsters kill her people. Her father says if she marries, the love of her husband will break the curse. Her father is lying.

This was ok. I liked the Beauty and the Beast vibes. I think it could've been shorter.

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2.5 stars as while this didn't resonate with me, I can see lots of ways it would work better for other readers as well as appreciate several aspects of this myself.

I liked that Rozlyn is prickly and unapologetic. I less liked that Jamie was slippery and manipulative - but in a charming way. I did like their banter in the Part 1 Rozlyn chapters, even if I didn't necessarily understand their overarching love story, and specifically why they loved each other. <spoiler>Though I was relieved when it was revealed that Rozlyn was Étaín and therefore Jamie wasn't just using the same romantic wooing and nicknames on every woman he came across.</spoiler>

I did love all of the mythological monsters; the inclusion of so many and their descriptions was a definite highlight for me. It did get a little "monster of the week" in the plot, but I can forgive it when it's for such a cool reason.

That does kind of tie into what I think may have been the biggest challenge to reading this book: the plot and the pacing were all over the place. There were two very defined parts - and I'm a reader who actually really liked the choice of POVs in different timelines in both parts - and when I think back on the book as a whole, it just seems like a LOT and all over the place.

At the end of the day, there's a lot to like about this, and I feel confident that it will work for many people. It ultimately didn't connect with me, but I do appreciate the imagination and very obvious care put into the story.

<i>Thank you to the publisher, Blackstone Publishing, and to NetGalley for the ARC.</i>

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A "monstrous" heroine who chooses to be whole and honor her power, and a man who, despite his flaws and mistakes decides to love her exactly as she is? Yes, please! I loved the evolving dynamics between Rozlyn and Jamie, the intricacies of the Irish mythology and how they've shaped their world, and the beautiful prose that tied this ambitious debut together with a string of fate. Unbound was a great read to start 2024!

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So, this book had me feeling a bit torn. On one hand, the Irish mythology and folklore vibes were top-notch, and the "Beauty and the Beast" twist was a cool surprise with the girl being the Beast.

But here's the catch—I just couldn't vibe with the main characters, Rozlyn and Jamie. They're not bad, just couldn't click with them. The whole enemies-to-lovers thing with a dash of second chances and slow burn sounded great on paper, but the chemistry didn't quite sizzle for me.

The writing was solid in painting the scenes and all, but it felt a bit slow, especially with the back-and-forth between past and present. Some parts got a tad boring, if I'm being honest.

Overall, it's still a decent and interesting read, but I was hoping for a bit more. thank you to the Publisher and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest thoughts.

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This is largely being marketed as a genderbent B&B retelling, and while it IS gender bent, and I DO love my beast lady Rozlyn, a part of me feels like "genderbent B&B retelling" hardly sums up the depth you'll find within this book.

Irish legends and folklore bring the world to life with immense detail--clearly lovingly researched. And the main relationship's complicated nature instantly snagged my attention and kept me turning pages. Is it love? Hate? Hate-to-love? Love-to-hate? Love-to-hate-to-love-to??? None of those really encapsulate it, but what it IS, is rich, layered, and compelling. And as mentioned, I loved Rozlyn (of course, monstrous women are my thing), and I was so, so thrilled to see her have the ending that she did in that.

If you want a fairytale retelling with a lushly folkloric bent, don't miss this!

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I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was an easy binge read, and I loved Rozlyn’s character. Her pain was a present and guiding force in her life, it was refreshing to read about a woman who suffered a lot and despite gaining strength from her experiences, still felt all the negative emotions that come with being hurt and made decisions based on her past experiences. She didn’t have to let go of her experiences entirely to be strong, she didn’t allow herself to be bullied or forget what made her a “beast”. The story overall was engaging; and I enjoyed the banter between Rozlyn and Jamie, as well as the connection to the Irish mythology of Etain and Midir.

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This book gave me all the vibes of Maleficient, Circe, and Beauty and the Beast. If that makes sense. I loved the angry banter between her and her husband in the beginning. The book was just such a well-written fun time and I highly recommend it.

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Thank you to Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

This was a very well-written and engaging debut book! I am not familiar with Irish mythology and folklore, so I can't speak to the accuracy of Unbound, but I thought Christy Healy did a wonderful job weaving elements of mythology and folklore throughout the book and the plot. I don't know that I agree with calling it a "genderbent Beauty and the Beast" though- it kind of just borrowed a couple elements and the fairytale-esque vibes but not in a way that I think would classify this as a genderbent retelling. I did love Rozi as a character; I'm always going love a woman full of rage and hate. My biggest complaint is that we didn't get to see her monstrous enough. Let 2024 be the year that authors commit to having truly monstrous, hideous, awful, gross female main characters.

For me, where this book falls apart is in the ending. There is absolutely nothing I hate more than when the female main character loses her magic and becomes normal at the end of a fantasy book, and while that isn't the case here it comes close enough to really jar me out of the story. I was also a bit thrown by the writing style at times- it felt like the author was trying too hard to be grandiose and make sweeping emotional statements. Not everything a character says has to be a monologue or layered with meaning or exceptionally clever. I still see so much potential in the author's writing and I'm looking forward to any future books they write!

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Real Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

This isn’t a bad book. That’s not why I only rated it 3.5 stars. I rated it 3.5 stars because it’s simply a very average book. In a world of superb fantasy novels where the female protagonist is justifiably angry, this one not only doesn’t do a whole lot to set itself apart, it also really let me down in the end.

The story itself is pretty simple: this is Beauty and the Beast, filtered through Irish mythology/folklore, and gender-bent so the female is the beast (though she’s also very pretty, so, you know). None of these elements are a new thing, although Christy Healy has certainly done a very good job at studying Irish mythology as it pertains to the Tuatha de Danann and putting it to effective use in this book (although it should be noted that there are a million variations on every myth and story told in this book about the Tuatha de Danann, as there are about every mythological figure).

Our two main characters, Jamie and Rozlyn, have issues with a capital I: Daddy issues, mommy issues, familial guilt, trust, abandonment, and more. Combined, they have enough baggage to sink a ship. Jamie has a lot of secrets and Rozlyn hides everything she’s feeling. It’s love, but oof is it rough. Neither of them have had a good go of it, but I can’t help but side with Rozlyn when it comes to just about everything because the patriarchy has made her into a victim since birth.

The prose isn’t special, but it’s not bad. The imagery isn’t especially evocative, which stuns me because Ireland is so pretty I don’t know how you can’t wax eloquently about it. Healy does have an incredible gift for dialogue though, because the banter between Jamie and Rozlyn is absolutely delightful, even when it slips from banter into genuine ire. I did have some trouble with some anachronistic word usage, though.

I think that this might be better suited to someone younger than I am. Maybe a younger reader might be more receptive to the message. Maybe I don’t want them to be? Maybe I’m just a cynic. I just know I didn’t like the ending. The novel as a whole is an alright read.

I was provided a copy of this title by NetGalley and the author. All thoughts, opinions, views, and ideas expressed herein are mine and mine alone. Thank you.

File Under: Folklore Novel/Romantasy/Fantasy/Folklore Retelling/Standalone Novel/YA Fantasy/YA Romantasy

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To prevent confusion, there really should’ve been chapter headers of which pov is talking. We also were bouncing back around in different time spans that I couldn’t keep track of what really was going on. I think I was also expecting something a little bit different with the story and I just wasn’t 100% invested in the characters or story. I really love this cover though.

I received this book at my request and have voluntarily left this unbiased review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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"Unbound" presents a gender-bent reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, weaving together Irish mythology and folklore in a lush and enchanting backdrop. The incorporation of mythology was a definite highlight for me, adding depth and richness to the narrative. The two main characters, each with their compelling dynamics, were a standout feature, making the story engaging and emotionally resonant.

However, the trajectory of the narrative felt cumbersome at times, and the length of the story seemed a bit extended beyond necessity. While I appreciated the exploration of Irish mythology, there were moments when the pacing seemed to drag, affecting the overall flow of the plot. Additionally, the ending left me somewhat disappointed, as it didn't quite meet the expectations built up throughout the story.

Despite these drawbacks, the captivating mythology and the complex interplay between the main characters made "Unbound" a worthwhile read. For those who appreciate gender-bent retellings with a strong mythological foundation and compelling character dynamics, this book offers an intriguing and immersive experience, even with its narrative challenges.

Thank you to Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

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Unbound is a gender-bent Beauty and the Beast retelling that’s fully immersed in luscious prose and Celtic mythology. Roz is a beauty with a rather beastly secret, and Jamie is the mischievous man with a secret or two of his own who must help Roz break the curse on her kingdom.

Any number of things about this book would have convinced me to pick this book up in a bookstore, but let me tell you, the lovers-to-enemies-to ?? tension had me by the throat. Healy uses dual POV AND dual timelines to keep this tension strong, leaving you desperate to find out what went wrong between Roz and Jamie and whether they’ll be able to fix it as they journey to free Jamie's family.

And if for someone deeply baffling (to me) reason none of those reasons are enough to draw you in, the banter game is STRONG between Roz and Jamie. Despite the drama underlying the story, the two of them had me cackling so many times.

Thanks to Blackstone Publishing and Netgalley for the early copy!

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It was okay but a little bit confusing at first, and it just keeps confusing with the time jumping. I just don't understand why making the story that way makes me feel disconnected from the story whatsoever.

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This book gave me some mixed feelings. I loved the Irish folklore and backdrop. The prose was beautiful. The story centers around Rozlyn and Jamie who I enjoyed as a couple. Rozlyn is a wonderful character. She’s beautiful and has remarkable magical abilities. I think Jamie complimented her well. I have two issues with the book, the first being that I don’t understand why it was marketed as a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I didn’t get that vibe from the book at all. My second issue was that I did not like the timeline jumping. That’s probably a personal preference but it did take me out of the story and make the plot feel disjointed. If you like romantasy with an amazing FMC and Irish settings I recommend checking this one out!

Thank you to Blackstone Publishing for providing an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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