Thursday, June 9, 2022

Discovering New Fantasy, New History, and Taking a Break


 

In addition to finishing up coursework for my MFA program, I have been a busy little reading bee!

I'll start with the #SPFBO winner from last season, Reign and Ruin by J.D. Evans. For those of you who don't know, the #SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest is open to self-published authors only. Each year there are more entries for the all-volunteer judges to consider. Reign set itself apart from the field because it is an excellent example of fantasy romance. The stakes are high. The characters are compelling - even if they are predictably attractive. The plot and sub-plots are superbly executed. And like all romances, the chemistry between the protagonists is steamy. There's not a lot of sex in this book but what's there is tastefully done and just enough to elevate your heartrate. If you're into fantasy romance, you'll probably enjoy this one. I'm not a romance reader generally so...eh. It's good but some of the other finalists would have been my #1 pick.

The Living Waters by self-published author, Dan Fitzgerald, blew me away. The first installment in the Weirdwaters Confluence duology, Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy featuring unconventional relationships redolent in lush landscapes and gut-wrenchingly sympathetic characters. I can't even begin to tell you how beautiful this book is. When two painted-faces, prized for the paleness of their skin, embark on a journey of discovery before settling into their "rightful" places in high society, they each get more than they bargained for. Float along the river with them as they discover legendary places and civilizations are very real and accepted perceptions aren't always true. If I ever get to teach a writing class, this book will be on the list of required reading. It is simply stunning. I've never read anything like it.

The first two books in P.L. Stuart's Drowned Kingdom Saga were challenging. Beautifully written with excellent plotting, solid power structures, and convincing world building, both A Drowned Kingdom and The Last of the Atalanteans are well worth your reading time. What challenged me was the protagonist, Prince Othrun of Atalantea. Sure, the dude faces some horrific obstacles with bravery and honor but man alive! I have never enjoyed a book this much while simultaneously wanting to throat punch the MC. I kept having to remind myself, "It's fiction! It's a book! He's not real!" Othrun is an immature, arrogant, bigoted, chauvinistic, religious zealot with few redeeming qualities. His growth is slow but all signs point to fundamental change in subsequent books. (I mean, Othrun is so bleh that P.L. acknowledged his general unlikableness in the forward of Book #2!) I am looking forward to the next installment to see if Othrun pulls his head out of his butt. 

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree is a shining example of the little book that could. Originally a selp-published work, L&L was picked up by a traditional publisher and has been making waves ever since. Seriously, I found it in the wilds of B&N last week. Super satisfying! Almost as satisfying as reading this book. Viv is an orc mercenary who dreams of opening her own coffee shop in a town where folks don't even know what coffee is. She buys a store front and hires help to make her dream come true. Of course, there's drama and sketchiness and betrayal to go along with the heart-melting, deliciousness of new friendships and self-realization. If you've never experienced what it's like to be hugged by a book, you should drop what you're doing and read this one. Have some coffee and a cinnamon roll while you're at it. Hug your imagination and your tastebuds at the same time. 

Oh my. I recently discovered Ruta Sepetys and y'all...her books are so good! I love a good historical fiction and these are it. Centering around and in historically significant places and events, Ruta draws you into the lives of her historically insignificant characters and makes you care about the everyday people swept up in what's happening around them. Out of the Easy is set in mid-twentieth century New Orleans and tells the tale of a girl who dreams of education as her ticket to escape the brothel-and-crime centered life she was born to. I Must Betray You drops readers into communist Romania just after the fall of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the struggle for democracy in the former Soviet block. While the protagonists are all young adults, the subject matter and consequences are not. You can bet I have more of Ruta's books lined up on my TBR list.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire

 


Inter-dimensional travel? Check!

Snarky, ironic humor? Check!

Demons and cults? Check and check!

I usually avoid science fiction and crime novels. Not because I think there’s anything wrong or bad with these genres but rather because the science is generally over my head, and I am anti-social enough already. I don’t need to learn any new tricks from literary criminals. That said, I happily admit to faulty research before purchasing the self-published Duckett & Dyer series by G.M. Nair.

Little did in know I was in for a hilarious, universe hopping, interstitial bad-guy hunting, against-all-odds story of lifelong friendship and loyalty. Now, the last bit comes off as a tad schmaltzy but in all honesty, that’s the big takeaway from all three books. Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer, no matter how irritated they get with each other, simply do not know how to NOT be friends. And there’s the charm.

Michael Duckett is a neurotic, anxious, keep-your-head-down, worker drone. He has a pointless job with the city’s largest company, The Future Group, and is pretty sure what he does doesn’t matter to anyone in the organization. His paycheck barely covers the bills in the crappy tenement apartment he shares with Stephanie. Michael just keeps on keeping on.

Stephanie Dyer is a larger than life dreamer, into everything while doing nothing. She is positively unpredictable and keeps Michael on his toes. Stephanie Dyer impulsively forges ahead and damns the consequences.

Both have a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the results are spectacular.

Please Don’t Drink the Poison Even Though You’re Thirsty

In Dicks For Hire, advertisements for the detective agency “Duckett & Dyer, PI’s For Hire” have been popping up all over the city. Neither Michael nor Steph have any idea why. Nevertheless, Michael’s phone rings constantly with potential business. One particularly insistent ‘client,’ searching for her missing fiancĂ©, drags the bickering duo into an investigation which literally opens up the spaces between universes and drags them into the crosshairs of local police detective, Rex Calhoun.

Thanks, In Advance

The One-Hundred Percent Solution sees Michael fired from The Future Group for not being a team player. Worried about keeping the roof of their less-than-desirable step-down apartment/offices over their heads, Michael and Steph are involuntarily recruited to investigate some shady dealings by his former employer. Recruitment along the lines of, “Do this or we’ll kill you. Don’t worry about the assassin running around killing people associated with the company. No pressure. Oh and by the way, you dodged a multi-verse, demon worshipping, cult-bullet by being fired. Good job.” No big deal.

A Talking, Gender-Fluid, Reverse Werewolf

In case you were wondering if Duckett & Dyer ever take on cases which are less universally threatening, well, they do. Kinda. The Mystery of the Murdered Guy jumps from case to case while Michael and Stephanie grow into their roles as entrepreneurial private investigators. The aforementioned reverse werewolf, a very angry otherverse Santa Clause, performative train-jacking, and a lady who keeps losing her cats all make appearances. If you read the first two books, you’ll see some old friends (acquaintances?) along the way.


The Upshot:

G.M. Nair delivers a weird and supremely entertaining triple-hit with this series. The science isn’t overwhelming and rendered believable to non-science readers like me. The crimes are so far beyond human reality that the bad guys don’t have a chance. The humor is slick and smart. Traipse around the multi-verse with Duckett & Dyer for a few days. Maybe you’ll meet yourself along the way.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

History, Fantasy, and Thrilling Romance - OH MY!



After finishing Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar last month, I thought I'd explore a couple more SPFBO nominated works and let me tell you, they did NOT disappoint. HL Tinsley's We Men of Ash and Shadow introduces us to John Vanguard, background fader and assassin extraordinaire with a checkered reputation and a mission to unravel why the last war happened. Vanguard becomes the unlikely mentor to an aspiring assassin and discovers a revolution in the making. Vanguard finds himself pitted against his equally talented former pupil. This SPFBO finalist, adult fiction book is engrossing and serves as the jumping off point for a new series, The Vanguard Chronicles. Adult themes and subject matter included so maybe not the best idea for young or sensitive readers.

If you're hankering for a new epic fantasy with dragons, minotaurs, vampires, demons, good vs. evil, and strange magics, SPFBO nominee The Forever King by Ben Galley will be right up your alley. Weaving bits of Norse mythology into a dense, chonky narrative, the 600+ pages of The Forever King will wear you out, make you laugh, piss you off, give you hope, stomp on that hope, and leave you begging for more. Galley creates a world and power structure which should make Tor Publishing angry and jealous they didn't get the chance to add it to their stable. I have no idea if Galley tried to traditionally publish but if so, the trads missed out by passing on this one. Follow the tale of Mithrid, a teenage refugee in the frozen lands of Scalussen, as she discovers the dangerous and valuable magic which resides within. Rebel king, Farden, hopes Mithrid will use her talents to help him overthrow the greedy and corrupt Emperor Malvus, thus freeing Emaneska from his ever-tightening stranglehold. I suffered from extreme book hangover when I finished this one...even so, I need a few days to recuperate before moving on to the sequels. I'm exhausted.

Unknown Number by Anna Grace steps way outside my comfort zone. I don't usually read romance or thrillers and this one serves up both. Packing a super-satisfying twist at the end, this little book rolls along with predictably attractive characters in relatively unchallenging relationships which often border on the schmaltzy. UNTIL THE TWIST! Here I was just bee-bopping along, not bored but not enthralled either, when BOOM! All of a sudden my heart is racing and I am racing myself to the final page.

I love historical fiction but with the glut of WWII works in the field, I'd become a little "meh" and haven't read much in the genre recently. Still, They Went Left by Monica Hesse, caught my attention. So many works which place themselves in the WWII era focus on stories from during the war and life in the camps. While those stories are compelling and interesting, often highlighting true and incredible events, for me, it just felt like there were pieces of history which were being overlooked. Hesse shines her spotlight on camp survivors as they try to piece together themselves, their psyches, and their families after liberation. The guilt of survival, the foreignness of familiarity, the desperation for hope, the agonizing wait for news. All of these are front and center in They Went Left as it tells us of Zofia's search for the only member of her family she believes might have survived, her younger brother, Abek. Hesse does a wonderful job exposing Zofia's strength and frailty without making her seem superhuman or pitiful. I couldn't walk away from Zofia. You shouldn't either. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The 13th Zodiac


 

Once, there were four Titans:

Urth, the mother of Gaea,

Sky, the father of the heavens,

Fate, the overseer of life and death,

And Time, the keeper of the Eternal Clock.

The lovers, Fate and Time, ruled over all.

Together they kept Gaea at peace,

Until one thousand years ago when

Mother Urth and Father sky created mortal man.

And shattered the Eternal Clock.

 

Time hated the children of Urth and Sky.

Thus, the Keepers were born.

Time assigned each to small pieces of Gaea,

Taking parts from Fate, Urth, and Sky.

 

Then, Time turned Urth into the Mother Tree

And dissipated Sky into the clouds.

The Keepers resented Time for what she had done.

For which Time banished them.

 

What her lover had done disgusted Fate.

To trap Time, Fate turned to the Keeper of the Stars.

Who Time shattered into twelve.

Creating the Zodiac – The heroes of mortal men.

 

Beneath the boughs of the Mother Tree,

Fate trapped Time for an eternity.

 

Angry and hurt, Time divided her soul in two.

Thus the 13th Zodiac was born:

Eternity

 

 The 13th Zodiac

By Lacey Krauch

 

Time is fickle and petulant. She is the one ephemeral idea of which we simultaneously have too much and never enough. She promises never-ending tomorrows and warps the memories of our yesterdays. Time traps young hearts in decaying bodies and gifts wretched souls with youthful vigor. She tricks us into believing we are more or less than we are, than we could ever be. Time smiles as she gives with one hand and steals with the other.

In The 13th Zodiac, Lacey Krauch delivers her rendition of Time’s saga. Mortals, the children of Urth and Sky, tell their young the tale of Time’s ill-fated quest to repair the Eternal Clock and undo the creation of men. Time is their elusive boogeyman and her lover, Fate, their stalwart champion. But the Titans are distant, little more than fairy tales told as bedtime stories. The Zodiac are all too real. Twelve individuals bearing the sigils as birthmarks, evidence proving the stories are as real as their skin.

When Liya, the daughter of Aria’s Queen and her husband, Prophet Skylis, is born with the eternity symbol on her delicate newborn shoulder, Eternity, the thirteenth zodiac takes her first breath. Skylis, desperate to know the meaning behind his daughter’s mark, convinces Fate to allow him to see Time. Time, still angry over her lover’s betrayal, is trapped in a cave deep under the Mother Tree, held fast by ancient roots. Against Fate’s warnings, he begs Time to show him Liya’s future. Time grants his request, taking his eyes as payment. After all, one doesn’t truly need eyes to see. She kills Fate and is loosed on Gaea once again, determined to repair the Eternal Clock and erase men from existence.

Time chooses Soren, the cruel and grasping King of Chall, as her puppet, enlisting him to search for Liya, the princess of Aria. She gifts his kingdom with superior armaments and encourages his invasion of the tiny island kingdom to expand his borders and take possession of the princess. The now eight-year-old Liya escapes under the protection of sixteen-year-old Jemi, her sworn protector. They make their way to a Brighton, a small coastal village, and are adopted by a friend of Jemi’s father. There they live as commoners. Liya remembers nothing of her life as a princess. Jemi and the adoptive family are vigilant in hiding Liya’s true identity. Until one day, ten years later when a chance encounter with a man in the market. This man turns out to be the Crown Prince of Chall, Jase, Zodiac Leo. Jase has been searching for Liya for years. For reasons of his own, Jase has no intentions of taking the princess back to his monster of a father.

Alarmed by his sudden appearance, Jemi, Zodiac Aries, and her twin adopted brothers, Jiroo and Tokei, Pisces and Capricorn, with the assistance of a local shopkeeper, June, Sagitarrius, kidnap the prince and escape to Undall with Liya. Along the way, Liya’s zodiac-inherited ability to pause time becomes more and more evident. The group has questions and heads to the Keeper’s Library for answers. The librarians are also Zodiacs and happily assist the group on their quest to keep Time from her realizing destructive plans.

Skirmishes with soldiers from Chall, near-misses, breath-taking escapes, heart-breaking betrayals, and mind-boggling revelations stalk the Zodiac across Gaea from the gates of Chall to the Monastery of Fate Divided in the Dark Forest to the prison fortress of Mount Callous. Love is found and lost, families are created and torn apart. Zodiacs are discovered and scattered. Time is killed and a new Titan takes her place.

This book is a page-turner and threatens readers with losing track of Time. Give in to that impulse, just this once. Surely nothing bad will happen if you do.

Friday, March 18, 2022

The Witch's Knight - SOON TO BE RELEASED!! - by Paula and Trevor Brackston

 


ARC Review - Scheduled Release Date - April 19, 2022

The Witch's Knight by Paula and Trevor Brackston

“I, Rhiannon, pledge you my allegiance, my dagger hand, my magic, and my life.

You have my oath.”

Do you enjoy stories about witches and knights in armor? You should read this book. Medieval historical fiction? You should read this book. Eternal love? Read this book. Modern suspense thriller? Yep. This book.

The Witch’s Knight, by Paula Brackston and her brother, Trevor, is an exhilarating departure from Paula’s wildly successful Witch’s and Found Things series. This collaborative work adds a thrilling new dimension which Paula’s already dedicated readers will love. (I certainly did!) Trevor’s voice adds a rumbling bass line of suspense and danger in counterpoint to Paula’s soaring sopranos of magic and romance. Dare I say this work is “magical?”

When Gwen’s home in The Black Mountains of Wales is attacked by vicious Norman baron, De Chapelle, in 1094, following William the Conqueror’s invasion of England, she confronts the baron, defending her family and village from further depredation. No match for the villainous Norman, Gwen picks a battle she cannot hope to win. He turns her own knife against her and leaves her for dead.

The few survivors of the attack desperately retreat to a small farming croft high in the mountains and carve out a meager and isolated, yet peaceful, existence. Gwen is nursed back to health and the tiny community – widows, wounded soldiers from her father’s court, orphans – becomes a family. The village grandmother, Mamgi, tutors Gwen in the art of witchcraft, encouraging her to use her abilities to protect the settlement. Gwen protects their crops and livestock from the worst of the weather and lends her skills to healing the sick.

After surviving their first winter tucked away in the Black Valley, the displaced villagers choose a small party to travel to a nearby town for much needed supplies and news. Gwen, now known as Lady Rhiannon, and two of the men track carefully into town, intent on making their trades and leaving as quickly as possible. That plan goes awry when Gwen is recognized by one of de Chappelle’s men. A traveling knight comes to her rescue and is wounded in the melee. One of the men is taken captive while the other narrowly escapes with the supply wagon.

Gwen’s savior is Tudor. While he heals, and as he is slowly accepted by the wary villagers, the two become inseparable. When de Chappelle eventually finds them, Tudor is mortally wounded in defense of the village and Gwen pleads with ancient powers to spare his life. Thus sparking a love which will transcend the limits of time and span centuries.

 

“Tudor watched her go, wondering at the way the world had a habit of spinning like a roulette wheel, snatching you onto familiar numbers at the most unexpected of times.”

 

In modern day London, Rhys Tudor is an ex-military private security contractor responsible for the safety of a nineteen year-old rich kid. When his employers purchase a posh flat in The Aurora, an extremely exclusive building, for their son, Tudor is diligent about protecting his charge. Not long after moving his ward into his new digs, a series of grisly murders take place, annihilating two entire families in the building. Suddenly, Tudor and his daughter, Emily are swept up in a terrifying whirlwind of Slavic gangsters, fighting off assailants and dodging bullets. Despite his connections with the Metropolitan Police, Tudor is unsuccessful at ferreting out the reason why he or his daughter would be targets for the mafia-like Begovich family. His quest for clues and the safety of his daughter, leads him to strange and unusual ends where coincidences and happenings are unnerving, even for a hardened soldier like Tudor.

Told as two seemingly separate stories, through two seemingly unrelated timelines, The Witch’s Knight weaves together disparate characters and incongruous eras in a beautiful dance to the final page when the two worlds eventually, finally, collide. The Brackstons hurtle their readers through time and space, never letting up on the throttle, until the last gasp, quite literally the last four paragraphs of the book. My only complaint with this work is purely selfish. I need Book Two (and Three!) to be ready for consumption. I need to know more!


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Chaos of War and the Brightwash


Chaos, by indie author Jimi Rodriguez, is an interesting YA/CoA (?) story. Loads of teenage angst and sexuality without being pornographic. With a hodge-podge of Hogwarts meets Hunger Games meets Divergent vibes, Chaos focuses on the life of Jacob Titus and his continual struggle to navigate the often deadly magical world with his very real secrets. Titus is a scholarship student at Valcrest School for the Promised. When a magical talent scout spots him on the streets of Eslor Island, Titus makes the tough decision to leave his mother and take the opportunity offered by Valcrest. He has little interest in magic though, preferring to search for an Alzheimer's cure to salvage what's left of his mother's mind. The concept behind Chaos is intriguing but, I admit, the sexual overtones were occasionally distracting. Maybe I'm just old. Ha! Still, if you're a YA/CoA fan, you might dig this one. Chaos is action packed and moves along at a quick clip. 

 
Not to be confused with legendary journalist Barbara Walters, political scientist Barbara F. Walter serves up an engrossing study on civil wars in How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them. I am an avid amateur poli-sci student and history nut. Civil Wars grabbed me by the throat and throttled me. I was by turns horrified and hopeful. She takes her readers on a break-neck trip around the world, pointing to triggers and indicators across the political regime spectrum about how and where civil wars began, could begin, and how world citizens can prevent them. Walter's delivery is warm and inviting without being dry or opaque. All poli-sci books should be so easy to read. This timely and thought provoking book took me about ten days to get through and I didn't mind one bit. Seriously, this one should be added to required reading lists in high school and college civics/political science classes.

Welcome to Dominion. A land powered by the highly regulated, and subjugated, "tainted" - people with talents ranging from the ability to heal, remove pain, light lamps, power machinery, to blowing up buildings. Krystle Matar's Legacy of the Brightwash is a gorgeous display of gaslamp/grimdark fiction. Regulation Officer Tashue Blackwood, is charged with keeping track of the "tainted" in his area. He's never questioned the law which requires people with "talent" to register and use their gifts in service to the nation. Well, not until his own son refused to register and is imprisoned in the Rift for non-compliance. But, Tashue still has his doubts. After all, his son's refusal to register may just be a flight of youthful defiance lashing out at authority. A decorated war-veteran, Tashue develops feelings for a tainted neighbor, Stella Whiterock and her daughter, Ceridwen. His complicating and complicated attachment to the mother and daughter pulls at the loose threads of his loyalty to Dominion. The plight of the tainted nags at him from every direction. Matar's fantastic new world is beckoning to you. Don't miss out on this #Stabby award nominee and SPFBO finalist. Legacy of the Brightwash is sure to be a fantasy classic before long. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Sisters, Brothers, Gods Old and New


 

Vicky Ball, author of Powerless, comes out swinging for a TKO in her debut novel. Published in collaboration with  Burton Mayers Books, Powerless is riveting from the get-go. When their oldest daughter, Beth, went missing seven years ago, the Kimmings family was shattered. Younger sister, Abby, and her parents, have marked time in a semblance of normal life ever since. Their surprise and relief is palpable when Beth turns up on their doorstep on Christmas Eve with no explanation of where she’s been or what she’s been doing since the last time they saw her. Abby is glad to have her sister back but frustrated with her reticence at answering questions. Beth is cagey and needy in turn and Abby is desperate to know why. The answers she finds are terrifying. Ball throws thrilling twists and oh-no moments with the ease of a seasoned ball player. I can’t give this one enough stars for fans of the suspense and thriller genres.

 

I loved indie author Mike DeLucia’s Madness. Likewise, I can heartily recommend his novel, Being Brothers, as well. Brothers is unusual in its format so don’t let it surprise you or draw you out of the story. You’ll soon get into the groove. Written as a story within a story, readers follow along as writer, Mark Marino, hones his screenplay about baseball loving brothers, Jackie and Sal Amato, in the heyday of Little League Baseball in Throgs Neck, Bronx, New York. DeLucia masterfully wields the screenplay format to jump back and forth in the timeline and illuminate the triumphs and challenges of Being Brothers. This book is a grand slam.

 

Promised Land by indie writer, Perry Wolfecastle, is a dystopian future fantasy work which, honestly, left me a little uncomfortable. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Set in the near future, the moon has cracked and monsters plague the earth. Surviving humans carve out safe spaces for themselves where and however they can. One group, known as the Sanctuary, has all but depleted the resources where they live and must find a new home. The Sanctuary, an extremely religious group led by the zealous Father Lenihan, sends out scouting parties in search of resources and potential places to inhabit. More and more frequently, scouting parties aren’t returning. When a cast-out apostate returns, telling Lenihan of a green, monster-free place, he seizes upon her as their deliverer and the place she found as the Promised Land. His sermons to the Sanctuary’s inhabitants teach them that the wickedness of men in the “before” is the cause of their current plight. These few must hold fast to their faith in God, never questioning Lenihan’s teachings, in order to ensure survival and salvation. The Promised Land proves to be both more and less than the community had hoped for. Some wonder if they have simply exchanged one monster for another. Take a chance on the Promised Land and Wolfecastle’s new religion.

Discovering New Fantasy, New History, and Taking a Break

  In addition to finishing up coursework for my MFA program, I have been a busy little reading bee! I'll start with the #SPFBO winner fr...