Thursday, January 13, 2022

Perilous Confessions - Carrie Dalby



While browsing The Haunted Bookshop on Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile, AL, I asked the proprietor if they carried local or independent authors. Indeed they do! Imagine my delight as he directed me to an entire section right up in the front of the shop! Perilous Confessions by Carrie Dalby immediately caught my eye. I admit I was intrigued by the Southern Gothic genre classification and that part of my purchase decision was based solely on the gorgeous cover art. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What on earth is Southern Gothic?” Hopping on my googler, I determined that, according to Study.com, Southern Gothic is a genre of Southern writing which often focuses on grotesque themes. It may include supernatural elements but generally focuses on damaged, even delusional, characters. Interesting…

There are no supernatural elements in Perilous Confessions but there are damaged characters a plenty. Set in the very earliest years of the 20th century, Dalby beautifully recreates the rich, and hidden, dramas of Mobile high-society. Our heroine, Lucille Easton is an aspiring novelist and reluctant participant in the approaching Carnival season. Her heart is stolen and her passion ignited when she is pursued by the charismatic, wealthy, notorious bad-boy, Alexander Melling. 

“’All artists need a spectacular love affair – something to power their work for years to come. I want to teach you what you can’t learn from novels, Lucy.’ His mouth hovered over hers as he spoke the tantalizing words. ‘Will you allow me to open you to a world of passion?’”

Lucy’s brother, Edward, and Alexander are members of the same Mardi Gras krewe, the Mystics of Dardenne, a scandalous group of bachelors who wreak havoc everywhere they go. While membership is secret, the krewe’s reputation is less than respectable. Edward does his best to warn her about Alexander and the damage he could do to her reputation. He tries to scare Alexander away, even encouraging another friend to pursue Lucy. But the couple forges on – secretly tempting fate and flouting the strict rules of courtship. Her mother, despairing of Lucy ever finding a husband, is delighted to discover her daughter has a secret suitor. 

However, when her secret love is revealed to be Alexander Melling, Lucy’s family is concerned about her future with Alexander. Alex assures them his intentions towards Lucy are entirely proper and his reveling days are over. When he proposes, they are delighted. She will be marrying into one of the most influential families in the city. Their own status is sure to be elevated. 

Unfortunately, the Mellings have a dark, controlling, and perverse history which rears its ugly head just days before their Valentine’s Day wedding. Suffering under the suffocating thumb of his father, Alexander turns to drinking to exorcise his personal demons, unleashing them on the innocent Lucy.  

“Hot, searing agony radiated from where she used to have a heart. Lucy pondered the words she’d overheard Mr. Melling say: She’s liable to break the first time you drive her. While she didn’t understand the words Saturday, she now knew all too well what he’d meant.”

Her body will mend but all the confessions in the world may not be enough to repair the damage to Lucy’s heart.

I read Perilous Confessions in one glorious afternoon, unable to put it down. Dalby’s love for the city of Mobile is evident and her historical research shines through without overshadowing the story. Dark, impetuous romance at its finest. Attributed to independent publishing house, Bienvenue Press in Youngsville, LA, Dalby is an author Mobile should be proud of.


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Totally Traditional This Round - Sorry If I Let You Down


 

Alas dear readers, I have no Indie Authors to review for you this month. And to be quite honest, I feel a bit fraudulent and shamefaced because of it and wondered if you would find me to be isingenuous for even writing this month's "What I'm Reading" section. Nevertheless, I did quite a bit of reading this month and wanted to share my thoughts on the books which occupied much of my free time.

I discovered Angela Duckworth's, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, after watching her TEDtalk for a class assignment. I purchased the Kindle version, realized I was underlining on nearly every page, and promptly ordered a paperback copy for ease of flip-through reference. I even recommended the book to my husband, who is not known for his love of reading. Her insight into the influence of 'grit' on success is fascinating. She effectively and engagingly explains why sometimes lackluster students go on to surprising professional triumphs while students who breeze through school sometimes struggle to find their place in a world which was once their oyster. She offers advice for how to instill 'grittiness' in our children as well as how to be more 'gritty' ourselves. We often tell others to never give up. Grit exposes the characteristics of those who couldn't give up if they wanted to and how we can cultivate those same characteristics to develop our own passions. 

Melanie Karstack dives deep into the legend of Celtic Queen Boudica in her book, Queen of Oak. If you enjoy tales of old magic, druids, priestesses, faeries, family, love, and loss, you're sure to enjoy the quick paced twists and turns as Boudica and her family strive to protect their kingdom from greedy neighbors and worry over rumors of another Roman invasion. Karstack creates a world  grounded in reality with a healthy infusion of fantasy as only the ancients could have imagined it. This is no fly by night, read in one sitting tale. At 598 pages, readers are thoroughly immersed in the Celtic Iceni holdings of Britain, now known as Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge and Essex, during the first century AD. History is somewhat sparse for this period, so why not turn our imaginations to what might have been. Fair warning, Queen of Oak is the first in a series and the second isn't due out until March of 2022. If you enjoy it as much as I did, you'll be left dangling by a breathless thread until then.  
 
When two of your FAVORITE authors drop much anticipated, pre-ordered books on the SAME DAY, you are left shaking your fists at the Gods of Publishing and gnashing your teeth in indecision about which to read first. This was the dilemma I faced when Paula Brackston's City of Time and Magic dropped on the same day as Diana Gabaldon's Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone. I won't reveal which I read first because it is enough to say that I've now read them both and am happy to pass along my thoughts to you.

In City of TIme and Magic, Brackston masterfully manages a lovely bit of crossover between her two very popular book series, Witches and Found Things. When the previous book in the Found Things series, The Garden of Promises and Lies, ended with a heart wrenching, gut punching cliffhanger, I was eager to rejoin Xanthe in her quest to find and rescue her lover, Liam, from her erstwhile Spinning mentor, Lydia Flyte. Although she is understandably nervous about the potential consequences, she decides she may need some 'muscle' on this trip through time and agrees to allow the lovable bear of a barman, Harley, to accompany her on her mission. Brackston graciously spared us from heartache this go around but not from wanting more of Xanthe's time-traveling adventures. I am looking forward to traveling with her. All I can do is hope the Gods of Publishing are more benevolent next time. Oh! And don't worry, if you haven't read the Witches books, you won't be lost or puzzled by the crossover. Brackston's story weaving skills are impeccable. Familiar readers will recognize old friends, new readers will simply make new ones. 

Oh Diana Gabaldon, for some reason, I was under the impression that Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone was going to be the last installment in your addictive Outlander series. When I saw the page count, I thought "Nope. No way she wraps this up in such a short work." Don't laugh. This series routinely tops 1000 pages per installment so I knew 960 pages would never be enough. Indeed, Gabaldon has been doling out massive doses of Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall for thirty years and quite frankly, I will be bereft when she does finish their story. In Bees, Jamie and Claire rebuild their home, welcome Brianna and Roger back to the ridge, argue with tenants as the Revolution creeps further and further south, and of course, make lots of love along the way. I won't spoil the story but I will tell you I was thrilled and breathless when I read the last pages as I realized there absolutely MUST be another book in the offing. Gabaldon works a cliffhanger as deftly as a potter spins clay.

In tribute to my end of year reflections, I thought it would be nice to revisit the book which forever and irrevocably hooked me, heart and imagination, on Historical Fiction. Sharon Kay Penman's, When Christ and His Saints Slept, illuminates the story of Matilda (also known as Maude), Empress of Germany and granddaughter of William the Conqueror, who is forced into a loveless, violent, political marriage to the much younger Count of Anjou, Geoffrey, after her first husband's death. When her father, Henry I, names her as his heir, the English Lords are unsettled. At his death, they swear he made a deathbed proclamation identifying his nephew, Stephen of Blois, as his heir instead. Maude feels robbed and, with her husband, launches a decades long war to reclaim her stolen crown. With more twists and turns than even the best pure fiction novel can provide, Penman's thorough research and recounting of historical events proves the adage, "truth is sometimes stranger than fiction." This epic tale, the first in Penman's Plantagenet series, is spellbinding - every time I dip into its pages. I am in perpetual upside-down debt to Penman for the gift she unknowingly gave me when I stumbled on this book nearly 26 years ago. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

From Yellow Fever to March Madness and Everything in Between


 Madness, by Mike DeLucia, was an immensely satisfying surprise. I haven't enjoyed baskedball this much since before I was kicked off the team in Junior High for popping off at the mouth. At any rate, Madness shines a well-deserved spotlight on the man who single-handedly changed the shape and speed of basketball as we know it. Now virtually unknown, Hank Liusetti overcame obstacles and heartbreak on his journey to revolutionize the sport which gave rise to greats like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James, and Magic Johnson. This self-published, creative non-fiction novel had me racing up and down the court alongside Hank and his teammates from page one. With basketball season currently in full swing, I highly recommend picking this one up. Better yet, grab a second copy and gift it to the budding basketball fanatic in your life. They'll thank you for it and you'll have something to talk about when March Madness is over.


Apparently, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson spurred some middle schools to have "Yellow Fever Days" after it was published in 2011? While I can't speak to that from personal experience, I can see the value in bringing history to life for the YA crowd. I readily admit, I didn't realize Fever was a YA book until after I was invested in the narrative. And by invested, I was hooked. Our young heroine, Mattie, struggles beneath the restrictions of her overprotective mother and seeks shelter in the indulgence of her grandfather as they work to keep the family coffee house afloat in post-colonial Philadelphia. Mattie's journey to independence and discovery of her own personal strength starts when she learns of the untimely death of a friend, Polly. It isn't long before the Yellow Fever is running rampant through the streets of the city, leaving Mattie and her family to make difficult decisions about survival. Worth the read for any American History middle grade students you might know. 
 
I am a long time subscriber to Sean Dietrich's daily essay emails. You might know him as "Sean of the South"? While I was living in Utah, his short stories provided a taste of home and a bit of red clay under my feet. I assumed he made his living as a public speaker and was a bit embarrassed to discover he'd written not one but seven books! Stars of Alabama falls right into my comfortable wheelhouse of southern historical fiction. In the inimitable style of generations of southern story-tellers, Dietrich braids three seemingly unrelated tales, and a wide-ranging cast of characters, into a grand and beautiful coiffure any church lady would be proud to wear to church on Sunday mornings. Set firmly in the years between the Great Depression and the Korean War, Stars is a love story to the families we lose and the families we choose with a generous nod to redemption and grace. Heart-warming is the epitaph I'd put on the marker for Stars of Alabama

While searching for comp titles to use for my own work-in-progress, I stumbled upon Family Law by Gin Phillips. In the early 1980's, Lucia Gilbert is an attractive, petite attorney in Montgomery, AL, carving out a space for herself in a traditionally male dominated industry. She fights for the rights of the women and children she represents through divorce and custody proceedings. Though she has no children of her own, she becomes an unlikely mother-figure to Rachel, a teenager and child of divorce. Lucia's advocacy for women settles her and Rachel firmly in the cross-hairs of objectors. Phillips gives us a beautiful story threaded with social commentary. My one and only complaint is the abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I'm not sure, perhaps the ending itself is a sort of uncomfortable commentary on it's own. So, if you choose to add this one to your TBR list, consider yourself warned there's no happily-ever-after, or even a happy-for-now. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Violins Played Before Junstan

 


I loved this book! Indie author, Lou Kemp does an incredible job weaving together so many elements and tropes - steampunk, Victoriana, magical realism, demons (?), witches, even a very mild touch of romance. Amazingly, it all works beautifully. 

The Violins Played Before Junstan is the prequel book to Kemp's Celwyn series. While it isn't required to read Violins before diving into the series, I do recommend it. Simply because it is just so very well crafted! Jonas Celwyn is a strong protagonist who uses his magical abilities to manipulate the world around him. But, he's not a bad guy. Not at all. His logical, ethical counterpart, Professor Xiau Kang, a mechanical automat, serves to balance and ground Celwyn's capricious nature. On a ship from San Francisco to Singapore, Kang and Celwyn identify threats against them and set out to neutralize those threats. Shenanigans ensue and leave the two men no closer to solving the mystery of who is hunting them or why. 

They also wind up collecting a wide array of companions who each bring a new facet to this thrilling and complicated adventure. Annabelle, the wealthy and feisty American heiress, trying to escape a forced marriage, who insists on joining their quest in return for helping them out of a tight spot when Celwyn is suspected of murdering another passenger. Bartholomew, a well-educated African, who merely hoped to book passage on a train but was denied because of his race, joins the group when Celwyn purchases a first-class ticket for him. Zander and Telly, orphaned children in need of love and opportunity, rescued from a madman, round out the unconventional family as they make their way across continents via private rail from Singapore to Prague. A host of other characters wander in and through the narrative, adding color and intrigue, as Kang and Celwyn attempt to protect them all from the evil which lurks. 

I couldn't put it down. Indeed, as soon as I turned the last page, I immediately purchased the first book in the series, Music Shall Untune The Sky, just so I didn't have to leave this incredible cast of characters or miss any of their adventures. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Follow Up on The Tomb, Freeing the Bastards, and Brain Stretching

 


I promised more about The Tomb, Book 1 of The Watchers Series by Carl Novakovich and didn't want to let you down. So, here goes!

This independently published book is a roaring good time practically guaranteed to make you laugh out loud, hold your breath, and groan in dismay. Sometimes all in the space of one page! Chicago Police Detective, John Gideon and his partner cum father figure, Walter are working multiple missing persons cases. One of which holds particular interest for them both, the case of John’s missing mother. When a suspect in these cases, Steven, is taken into custody, John and Walter find themselves catapulted into a world they never knew existed. A world of demons which operates alongside the human world, forever plotting and planning, to unleash Hell on earth.
 
With the aid of a witch-turned-demon, Beth, John learns his family has a historical tie to the battle to keep Hell in its rightful place. He also discovers that his mother’s disappearance is not only connected to the demonic designs but that CPD leadership is somehow “in on it.” Can Beth and John rescue Walter, solve the case of John’s mother’s disappearance, and save the world from possession?
 
Told in the first person omniscient, with occasional fourth-wall breaks, The Watchers: The Tomb is well worth the space on your calendar to read. I promise.


I confess to anxiously waiting for the third installment of The Bastards series by Jonathan French and I have to say, The Free Bastards does not disappoint! Fabulously filthy and fun, Fetching, Jackal, and Oats grudgingly partner with Crafty, the half-orc wizard who they feel is responsible for the disintegration of their hoof, to take on Hispartha and wrest control of their home, the Lot Lands, away from the crown. The mongrels come into their own and realize their potential in this exciting trilogy conclusion. I have to admit, I hope French continues to tell us about their adventures as truly free bastards in the years to come. I will read each and every story without regret or remorse. 

The Red Grouse Tales, by indie author Leslie Garland, spins us in a completely different direction. Think Aesop's Fables meets Modern Morality. Constructed as an anthology (of sorts) of stories told around a pub table by a group of long-time friends, The Red Grouse Tales each stand alone without need for further explanation or exploration. However, don't write this off as just a fun time. The Little Dog, The White Hart, The Crow, The Blue Horse, The Golden Tup (and others) are thought provoking, philosophically challenging and engrossing. Garland's compelling stories kept me turning pages well into the wee hours when I should have been sleeping instead of reading. He masterfully weaves social commentary into tales of the uncanny without being heavy-handed or overbearing.

Thoroughly and effectively utilizing the story-as-lesson trope, Garland presents readers with gorgeously crafted narratives which are excellent on the surface and yet also address larger concerns such as the nature of good and evil, heartbreak and betrayal, redemption, vengeance, gender equality, and simple pleasures versus material strife. Several times in each short story, I was drawn up short to re-read and thoughtfully consider what I'd just read - even though I desperately wanted to forge ahead and find out what happened next! 

I'll be continuing my journey through the other Red Grouse Tales not included in this collection. I'll also be recommending these to educator friends and colleagues as discussion prompts.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Fantasy For The Win This Go 'Round!


Let's get this party started!

Beneath a Brass Sky by independent author, Eli Steele, is a fantasy adventure tale told from the third-person omniscient POV which follows Ulfric Halehorn and his band of sellswords as they embark on a dangerous mission across the Brasslands. From the beginning readers are dropped into an unfamiliar terrain with often confusing yet compelling power structures. Still, Halehorn, former Lord of Wyrmwatch from Prydia, has made his way to the lieutenancy of a sellsword company. He’s turned his back on his rightful place in the nobility for a life on the road, securing contracts, and working in the company of men whose demons are as familiar as his own. When his company, the Fives, secures a contract to deliver “something” valuable to the coastal city of Kush, his survival and drive for justice are put to the test.

Set upon by brigands in the Brasslands, a vast sprawling desert which divides the continent, Ulfric is knocked unconscious and awakens to find that only he and one other, Spero the Banker, have survived the attack. Halehorn is promoted to Captain by default and the two join forces with a mummer’s troupe for security in numbers. Determined to meet the terms of the contract and make the delivery to Kush, Halehorn’s contingent of misfits encounters a band of men led by The Huntsman, a charismatic, enigma who draws followers to him and leaves a destructive, killing trail in his wake across the Brasslands. Following a trail of crucified men, scalped corpses, and defiled children, it isn’t long before Halehorn and Spero realize The Huntsman is also headed for Kush. This realization redoubles their urgent push to the city and their desire to put an end to The Huntsman's murderous path.

With a mind-bending cast of characters (GoT fans will be thrilled), and a dizzying landscape which demands a map which is, sadly, not included, Steele delivers world building prose which borders on purple at times.

“A gust moaned in from the east, carrying with it thick smoke that reeked of scorched stone, and charred timber, and seared manflesh, and half a hundred other odors acrid and unknown. A bouquet of slaughter…His eyes burned.”

Occasionally, it is difficult to keep track of who’s speaking, why they're important, where they are, or where they’re going. But, it really doesn't matter. The blistering plot moves inexorably forward as quickly as Halehorn’s quest across the Brasslands; racing across endless dunes, winding through slot canyons, clambering over towering mountains, always on the lookout for dangers both real and imagined. Rife with misunderstood magics, creatures both familiar and strange, friendships forged and lost, Beneath a Brass Sky is worth the read and Ulfric Halehorn is a compelling, complicated hero. “And if rage was this sweet, it’s all I’d ever eat…

Understand this before you venture into the Brasslands, “This is a hollow country – never forget that – all it does is swallow things up.”

The Wrack by John Bierce is an eerily relevant and timely work of fantasy about a plague which ravages the continent of Tyringia. Told from multiple points of view and with varying perspectives, The Wrack provides readers with fascinating insight into how a seemingly unstoppable, infectious disease affects everyone from kings to paupers. 

When a northern prince is suddenly struck with a crippling, immensely painful ailment, poison is immediately suspected and healers are called to assist. When healers are unable to find an antidote, they turn to a seer for aid. In Tyringia, seers tap into the spiritual flow and vibrations of all the elements which make up and surround the physical world. Seers spend years training in their art and of necessity, pluck out at least one of their eyes in order to use gemstones to help them navigate the aethers. This is where the magic happens.

"Having one's eye put out as a youth to gain the ability to see the spirit flows was also a rather challenging aspect of learning magic, of course."

The seer can see the illness in the prince and understands there is no poison but a new, virulent disease instead. 

Known as the Wrack, the disease ravages across the continent, killing and crippling thousands. Each new case signaled by the sudden screams of its new victim as they convulse in wild, excruciating muscle spasms. Many resort to filling their ears with wax in an attempt to drown out the sound. Insultingly, if the Wrack doesn't kill it's victims, it leaves their fingers and toes scorched and useless. 

News of the disease, its course, its suspected causes is spread across the world through semaphore. A network of lines, placed in the spirit currents surrounding the world in the rare places where the currents dipped low to the ground. As villages, towns, cities, and countries are brought to their knees by the Wrack, the semaphore lines of communication are brought to a near-stand still. Survivors are left to fend for themselves and often descend into rumor and superstition to protect themselves. 

The Wrack is an engaging and well-written work of fantasy which manages to avoid comparison to the current pandemic while still respecting the fear modern readers face in the face of uncertainty. 

I just started reading The Tomb - The Watchers Book 1 by Carl Novakovich, a tale of demons, both good and bad, roaming the Windy City of Chicago. Novakovich reached me on Twitter and asked if I'd consider reading his work. When he pitched the story, I have to admit, I was immediately hooked by the idea of demons in Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the US. I'm only a few pages in and have to admit, so far, it's very good. I'll have a complete review for you next time!

Thanks for reading!

W

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Ladies Have It




 Gild by Raven Kennedy. 

Hm. I can’t say I loved this book, but, neither can I say I hated it. If I were asked to describe Gild by Raven Kennedy in ten words or less, I would say “BDSM Billionaire Sort-of-Romance Wrapped Loosely in Fantasy.” Let me start by focusing on what I thoroughly enjoyed about this book.

Kennedy does an excellent job building the world of Orea, with its Six, albeit unimaginatively named, Kingdoms. The kingdoms are quite literally named, First, Second, Third, you get the picture. Nevertheless, she imparts each kingdom with defining and distinctive characteristics, cultures, geography. Only those with power can rule. In Orea, rulers must possess magical abilities, and should an heir not possess any special talents, well, the throne is up for grabs by whomever can claim and keep it by virtue of their own magic. The kingdoms are represented as extensions of their rulers. Snowy, perpetually cold Sixth Kingdom, the setting for most of Gild, is insulated from her neighbors. And, by all outward appearances, Sixth Kingdom is wealthy in reflection of Midas’ ability to gold-touch anything. Fourth Kingdom, realm of King Ravinger (or King Rot) is marred by his gift of decay. Fifth Kingdom is ruled by King Fulke, a lecherous and greedy man with the gift of duplication. His prosperity relies on his alliance with Midas. Midas turns items to gold for Fulke; Fulke duplicates those items. As ever in politics, allies are often the other side of an enemy’s coin and fortunes may be decided on the toss.

Kennedy delivers royals with magic abilities, fantastic beasts such as gigantic snow cats with flaming paws, snow pirates who’s ships glide over glistening fields of powder through the harnessed fire claws, pulse-racing plot twists, taut political tensions, heart-breaking humanity, and wretched villains. Her prose is often breathtakingly beautiful. The snowfall hasn’t stopped and continues to drop in a slow, delicate descent, the flakes landing on shaking shoulders. Another burden to carry on our backs.

Auren is the favored “saddle,” (concubine for those with gentler constitutions) of King Midas, the ruler of Sixth Kingdom. He rescued her from poverty and a certain future of slavery during a raid on her village. You’re safe now. Let me help you. I was done being exposed and vulnerable in the world, so he made sure I didn’t have to be anymore. She became his trusted lover before he married Sixth Kingdom’s magic-less princess and ascended to the throne by dint of his magical golden touch. Once Midas became king, he still treasured her as his “favored” but in reality, she is just as much a slave as she’d once feared being. She is the only person he has ever “gold-touched,” and he keeps her locked away in a gilded cage. She is precious and safe and bored out of her mind. Midas may have loved her once, but his love has twisted into a love of novelty.

King Midas is as duplicitous as the Greek mythologies suggest. King Fulke of Fifth Kingdom is his gullible ally in a plot to attack Fourth Kingdom, the domain of King Rot. Midas barters a night with Auren for Fulke’s cooperation in the attack; never intending to deliver his favored to fulfill his end of the bargain. Rather, he uses Auren as bait to lure Fulke’s armies to defeat at the borders of King Rot’s lands and depose Fulke. Thus leaving Fifth Kingdom vulnerable to Midas’s power grab.

Midas sends orders for his harem of “saddles”, including Auren, to join him in Fifth Kingdom’s capital. Their journey is the first time Auren has been outside in more than ten years. Along the way, Auren takes every opportunity to escape the confines of her gilded carriage and breathe freely, befriending one of her guards along the way. When the party is hijacked by the Red Raids, Auren realizes and regrets the danger her status as “Midas’ Favored” has placed upon the others in the caravan. Her despair deepens as she discovers there may have been a spy in the entourage; a spy willing to sell the lot of them to King Rot’s fae warrior, Commander Rip. Action, adventure, espionage! So far, so good!

Now, for what surprised me most about this book. Perhaps I should have read the synopsis more closely, taken it more seriously, something. I love a good sex scene. While there is a lot of sex in Gild, not much of it is very good. I did not anticipate a full-on, graphically described orgy within the first ten pages. I still wonder why this was entirely necessary. I don’t mind coarse language (full disclosure: my own language is often very coarse). However, in a work of fantasy, I was unprepared for modern speech patterns and shock-factor slurs. They feel gratuitous and redundant.

I kept waiting for Auren to NOT be the damsel-in-distress. I kept wanting her to claim her own agency. I kept wanting her to be more than the plaything of a childish king. I wanted her to recognize her own value and stop drinking so much wine. I needed her to not acquiesce so readily. I kept waiting for Midas to redeem himself. I needed him to not be an ass. I don’t regret reading Gild, but I probably won’t be reading further into this series. I didn’t care about the characters enough.

The Lost Queen by Signe Pike

Now this story, I can't say enough good things about it. Based on long-forgotten and dismissed parts of the Arthurian legends, The Lost Queen by Signe Pike centers on the story of Languoreth the alleged twin sister of the man who would become Merlin. 

Like most women of the period, Languoreth knows her options her few and she will have little say in how her life path unfolds before her feet. However, it doesn't mean she meekly accepts her fate or keeps her thoughts to herself. Rather, I found her to be a wholly believable representation of how a woman of noble birth might have actually behaved. She knows her role as the only daughter of a minor king in early Britain/Scotland and plays her part, rebelling in small ways whenever possible. Still, Languoreth generally chooses duty over desire and the consequences of those choices haunt her at every turn. 

The Lost Queen isn't a galloping adventure book. No, you're invited to follow Languoreth from childhood to middle-age at the same pace by which seasons turn. You get to know her and understand her frustrations, foibles, jealousies, mistakes, and triumphs as intimately as you know your own. The men in her life who would become legendary are merely uncles and brothers to this impressive and impressionable young woman. Languoreth shines just as brightly as they do in their armor. She wields her loyalties and loves as fiercely as their swords and spears.

Pike includes just enough romance to add to the humanity of Languoreth and her wanted, but unattainable lover, Maelgwyn. Their impossible, decades long love provides vulnerabilities more potent, more relatable to modern readers than the threat of Angle invasion or political maneuverings. Languoreth's political marriage to Rydderch is not without love but it does lack passion; he is not cruel or unsympathetic. He is as much a pawn of his king as she and together they must navigate intrigues if he is ever to be named heir to his father's throne. 

I love Pike's exploration of the forgotten women in history and legend. So many of our favorite heroes have the women in their lives to thank for their fame; the women who have become footnotes in the heroic tales. Pike refuses to let these women hide in the shadows or be overlooked when creating these works of fiction and I heartily approve.  

Perilous Confessions - Carrie Dalby

While browsing The Haunted Bookshop on Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile, AL, I asked the proprietor if they carried local or independent a...