#SPFBO 7 : My Third Batch of Books

Posted On 3 August 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped one response

SPFBO71024_1

SPFBO 7 is now into its third month and today I’m highlighting my next batch of four books.  To date I’ve read and reviewed eight books and my updates for Batch 1 and 2 can be found here and here.  All going to plan I should have only three books left to read, from my allocation of 15, come the end of this month.  

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 my third batch are:

***

 

Rising Shadows (The Pillar of Creation #1) by Phillip Blackwater

Rising Shadows

As tension rises between the southern and northern nations of the small continent of Exitium in the world of Anteris, the Elves turn to their eastern neighbors, the Humans, for help. They wish to learn the ways of combat, which they are not accustomed to, for they have always wielded a power far greater than forged steel. The Shards of Creation, mystical artifacts of great and virtually infinite power, have always been their prized weapon, but times have changed. They now face the same threat as the Humans: the southern nation known as the Ethula.

Wariel Ritch, general of the Human army, will take upon his shoulders this burden. But when a shadow of a past long forgotten threatens what little stability is left in the world, he will have to leave everything behind to stop it. Medregal Tergrast, an Ethulan king, dead for a thousand years, plans his return to the world of the living to gain back his former glory and finally fulfill his destiny by gaining control of the Shards of Creation. But is he really the threat people make him out to be?

In the meantime, in the bowels of the Human Kingdom, the reign of Dana Crystaloak is put into jeopardy when people around her start questioning her decisions. If she falls, war could break out across all lands.

About the Author

If you found your way here, then you must already know I love to write. I am a fan of fiction, mostly fantasy, sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic (amongst others), and in all its forms, whether it is books, video games, movies, or tv-shows.

The first time I truly realized how much I loved fiction, was through The Lord of the Rings’ movies (like probably a lot of people). Since then, I traveled to so many different worlds: Halo, Mass Effect, Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, Witcher, and Fallout (to only name a few). It made me want to explore my own imagination and see what worlds I could create. This is what led me, among other things, to writing.

What can you expect from my books? I don’t bother myself trying to be a flowery writer, I want my writing to be available to everyone. And what I want above all when people read my books, is for them to have a good time and some fun. This is what truly matters to me.

When I’m not writing, I am: A husband. A father of three cats. Reading, gaming, or watching movies and tv shows. A big hockey fan. And when I’m done with all of that, I’m a big geek and collect a lot of stuff (No, I’m not a hoarder, I swear!).

You can follow my Twitter (@phil_blackwater) or my Instagram (@phil_blackwater), or register to the newsletter on my website, to know when new stories are available.

 

***

 

By the Pact (Pacts Arcane and Otherwise 1) by Joanna Maciejewska

Bythepact

High mages lied: Veranesh, the demon who destroyed the continent is still alive. And it’s up to their former student to expose the truth—even if it means another Cataclysm.

When Kamira, a once high mage student turned arcanist, discovers an imprisoned demon in underground ruins, she is forced into a pact that grants her powerful magic, but also ties her to the very demon that once devastated the continent… and Veranesh wants his freedom.

With one friend by her side, Veelk, a mage killer bound on protecting her, Kamira will have to outwit the archmages, other demons, and possibly her own demonic benefactor to survive. Her chances are slim, but with Veelk’s ever-present sarcastic repartee, Kamira might just pull through.

Plots and schemes, power and means—sometimes the price for victory is choosing which friend will die, but when you only have one friend, the choice is… easy?

JMAbout the Author

Born in Poland, Joanna spent most of her childhood in Poznan, then moved to Dublin, Ireland, where she lived for over 8 years. In 2016 she moved to the US, where she hopes to finally settle.

She writes speculative fiction, so it goes without saying that she’s a fan of science-fiction and fantasy – mainly books, but also movies, comics and games (both video games and tabletop RPGs).

When she’s not busy writing, reading, or gaming, she enjoys crafts and drawing.

Melfka.com
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

***

 

Iarraindorn by Phil Dickens

Iarr

ON THE NIGHT THAT HE WAS BORN, THE DEVIL CAME TO KILL HIM The son of a farmer in Iron Age Britain, Nuadhu finds himself thrust into a destiny he is ill-prepared for. After his king murders his parents, he and his brother are forced to flee into the Roman Empire under the protection of the archangel Anael. Meanwhile, a plague of the undead is sweeping across Europe from the east, raising their slain enemies as new allies. Their goal is not the conquest of one tribe or nation, but the subjugation of all humanity. Can one warrior-in-exile, hungry for vengeance, build a force to repel this existential threat? The riveting new historical fantasy adventure from the author of FROM THE HILL OF MEGIDDO and the ARMAGEDDON’S OFFSPRING series!

About the Author

***

 

Carrion by Alyson Tait

carrion

The Rook legacy: duty at all Costs. Regina’s family are the last living members after a long line of magical families. Their heritage is a promise to the world; they can be trusted to keep magic from corrupting power hungry witches — In doing so they keep an unearthly evil from crushing humanity.

When Regina Rook’s mother dies a sudden, violent death, the living coven members come from around the world to attend the funeral, and begin breathing down her neck as next in line to lead. Trying to find a balance between her own goals and her family’s demands, all the while keeping her recent nightmares hidden where she becomes the very thing they fighting.

But when those things become intertwined, can she do anything but watch as the world around her crumbles to ancient horrors?

About the Author:

(I’m a little puzzled with the author info for Carrion.  On Amazon the author shows as Alyson Tate, on Goodreads as Jamie Benson and Alyson Tait, and on the cover Alyson Tait – apologies if I have the wrong author information here).

***

 

Good luck to this month’s authors.

#SPFBO : My Second Batch of Books – Update

SPFBO71024_1

Today I’m posting an update for my second batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed all four books from my second batch and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward.  At this point I’m not making any decisions on semi-finalists as the semi finalists will be decided by both blogs before agreement on a finalist is reached. We will each put forward hopefuls and then take it from there.

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

Without further ado here is my feedback from the second batch of books:

Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris 

Berserker

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.
 

My review is here.

In a nutshell, I had fun with Berserker, it was an enjoyable read that I had a few issues with but nothing that really spoiled the read.  If you like litRPG this could be your next read, I would certainly be interested to see what happens in the next instalment.

Conclusion: Cut

***

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

SM

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.

My review is here.

In a nutshell, this is fantasy and romance combined.  It has a very unusual and unique concept and was easy to get along with.  I think readers of romance who like a fantasy setting may enjoy this one – warning: it does become a little ‘steamy’ as the storyline progresses.

Conclusion : Cut

***

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

BoS

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…

My review is here.

In a nutshell, urban fantasy that manages to deliver a unique idea in terms of the Merge.  It felt a little rushed in parts that made it difficult to connect to the central characters but for UF lovers this could be the start of an interesting series.

Conclusion : Cut

***

Dragonbirth byRaina Nightingale

Dragonbirth

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.

My review is here.

In a nutshell this reads like a coming of age story about a young girl who bonds with a baby dragon and must then leave behind everything and everyone she knows in order to keep them both alive.  The writing didn’t quite work for me with this one and the repetition prevented me from connecting to the characters as much as I would have liked.  There are plenty of dragons though and maybe this is aimed more at a MG audience.

Conclusion : cut

 

My thanks again to the authors.

I will be posting my third batch of books very soon.

Booking Ahead/Weekly-Monthly 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 last year 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:

Last week:

This week was a bit poop.  My internet is absolutely pants so whilst I’ve managed to post things to the blog this has been achieved by using my mobile data.  Consequently I haven’t been blog hopping because this would just wipe me out.  Hopefully an engineer is paying a visit in the next few days so normal service may be resumed (fingers crossed).  I have posted four reviews this week though so all good on that front, I completed my second batch of SPFBO books and also read Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce.  My buddy reads were a disaster this month (apologies to my lovely blogger buddies – I will do better this month).

Continue with Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley (which unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to pick up this last week) and also pick up Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott or Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne.  I will also be posting about my next four SPFBO reads.

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce

Books read during July:

  1. Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey
  2. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  3. The Past is Red by by Catherynne M Valente
  4. The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
  5. Come With Me by Ronald Malfi
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood
  8. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  9. Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale
  10. Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce – rtf

#SPFBO Review : Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale

SPFBO71024_1

Dragonbirth by Raina Nightingale is the fourth and final book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month which will be followed by my update post on Monday.  I have seven books remaining and will post my third batch of books during the forthcoming week.  My reviews so far are linked below and you can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

Dragonbirth

As the title suggests, this is a book of dragons.  A young village girl, Silmavalien, finds what she thinks is an unusual stone that eventually hatches into a dragon that bonds with her.  In a world where dragons are thought of as demons the birth of this dragon must be kept secret and the obvious and only course for Silmavalien seems to be to leave her village and family behind and go into hiding with her new companion.

Essentially this book is about Silmavlien’s journey with her dragon and her struggles to keep them both alive along the way.

This one reads almost like a journal with a lot of focus on the everyday essentials of survival whilst keeping a young dragon with a large appetite alive.  To be honest, in some respects there is such a lot of attention paid to these everyday tasks that it makes it difficult to form any real attachments to either the dragon or the young girl and in fact the plot feels a little thin with a lot of repetition.

To be fair to the author she mentions in her foreword that she wrote this story when she was in her early teens and in that respect this is an achievement but, for me, it feels unpolished in its current form and not a book that I would really recommend.

I do love dragons and so I really wanted to love this one but it didn’t quite work out for me.

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  7. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood

Friday Face Off : Chaos

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

I just would mention that I’ve not been very active blog hopping this week.  I have a problem with the internet and have someone due out to try and fix things in the next couple of days.  I’ve been managing to post by simply using my mobile data but it runs out so quickly so I’m being careful.  Anyway, hopefully, fingers crossed, wi-fi will be back to normal shortly.

This week’s theme:

Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one?

Okay, I’ve gone for a cover that I really like for this theme which seems contradictory.  Veil of the Deserters is the second book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc series by Jeff Salyard.  I haven’t read this one yet even though I really enjoyed the first and do own a hard copy of this one.  The cover I was recalling is crazily chaotic and really stands out.  There are only two covers for this one.  Take a look:

My favourite:

Veil1

I just love it – the colours, all the action, there’s such a lot going on here but in a good way.

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : The Motel

2021

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

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

SPFBO71024_1

Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood is the third book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month (my fourth and final book from this batch will be posted on Saturday followed by an update post on the following Monday.  I have read the fourth book now so I have eight books tucked under my belt and 7 more remaining.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here. (Links to all reviews so far are posted below).

BoS

Joshua Lighthouse is the main character of Book of Secrets and also the reluctant hero.  Almost 300 years ago the world as we know it experienced an event that has become known as the Merge.  During a meteor shower the earth and the world of myth collided.  Since that time humans and those known as Others (a term that covers many species of fictional supernatural characters) have existed on the same plane – although not amicably so.

As a result of tension the Human Protection Agency was established, as the name suggests, to protect humans.  Over the course of the years Joshua worked his way to the top of the Agency, always closely guarding a secret that could change his fortune – at the same time becoming (ironically) responsible for a powerful book known as the Book of Secrets.  With the 300th anniversary of the Merge fast approaching it seems that this knew world is under threat from those who want to see their fortunes reversed.  Joshua finds himself discredited and the Book of Secrets stolen out from under him.  He’s in a race against time before the world he now knows is unmerged and his unlikely ally is a Pack member called Serene – herself one of the ‘most wanted’ from the Human Protection Agency.

I would describe Book of Secrets as urban fantasy.  I quite liked the idea of the merge although I did find the execution a little clunky as the book began and also maybe a little rushed as we immediately jump forward almost 300 years to reconnect with Joshua – who has matured and is now an adult, but clearly an adult with an unusually long lifespan – this is accounted for but I won’t share the explanation here.

We largely follow Joshua as he is dragged unknowingly into  a string of events that will bring everything he knows crashing down – at the same time he meets Serena who has experienced the loss of her pack and is determined to find out who is responsible and why. This element of the story develops into a romance although this doesn’t take over the main story.

Book of Secrets is, I felt, quite plot focused.  The pacing is fast, you’re thrown into Joshua’s new world and expected to hit the ground running.  Having read a good deal of UF in the past I didn’t particularly find this a problem, I didn’t mind the fast pace and thought the author came up with some original ideas which is quite an achievement given that this is a popular genre of fantasy.

However, I did have a few issues.  I felt like the characters were a little flat and this made it difficult for me to connect with them or really invest in any potential threats and I struggled in some ways to visualise the world – in my head I was picturing this as a modern world but then in others I was wondering how the Others fit in – what did their part of the world look like, and what developments had occurred in the time that had expired (300 years is a long time after all).  I guess in some respects it felt as though plot dominated the other elements but at the same time I recognise that this is a first in series and I always feel with UF that the first book is usually trying to hook readers and more substance and backstories will follow in later editions.

Book of Secrets didn’t completely win me over in the way I’d hoped, mainly due to the intense pace of the story which prevented other areas from being fully explored or attachments to form but, I think, if you like urban fantasy with a hint of romance and a story that bursts out of the starting blocks then maybe this could be the one for you.

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  6. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Rise of the Red Monarch (Brontë Sisters Mystery #3) by Bella Ellis

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Rise of the Red Monarch (Brontë Sisters Mystery #3) by Bella Ellis.  I really enjoyed The Diabolical Bones so can’t wait for this.  Here’s the description: 

The Brontë sisters’ first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her friend Lydia Robinson.

Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry’s life.

In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of…The Red Monarch.

Expected publication : November 2021

#SPFBO Review : Stone Magus (Hidden Gems Saga #1) by Stephanie C Marks

SPFBO71024_1

Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks is the second book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

SM

This is going to be a difficult review to write and quite possibly a short one because it will be difficult to really elaborate on either the plot or the characters without giving spoilers away which I don’t intend to do.  This does however make it tricky to discuss likes or dislikes

As the story begins we meet Opal, travelling back to her childhood home (although not happily given bad memories).  Travelling with her mentor/master Olog the two are part of a religious/magical Order that retrieve and care take magic artifacts, they’ve been sent on a mission to retrieve an item of importance. Unfortunately something nasty still lurks within Opal’s former home, a shadow creature with a particular design in mind, and things don’t go as well as planned.

Next we meet Ruby, Opal’s sister – a scholar as opposed to a warrior/fighter.  Ruby is a gentle female, less assertive than Opal, in fact Ruby was traumatised by the events at the childhood home and has retreated a little.  That is until she struck up an unlikely relationship with a Dwarf called Baerdun – unlikely because Ruby is half elf and many others consider such a coupling beyond unnatural.  In spite of such prejudices though their relationship has blossomed into love and the two are unhappy about the likely split that looms when Ruby will be required to return to the Order – surprisingly, Baerdun decides to accompany Ruby leaving his blacksmithing behind.

Both Opal and Ruby are strong mages but during the course of their travels they encounter an illness and, without spoilers, their magic is traded for a cure.  From there onwards the story involves the return to the Order, accounting for what has happened and trying to find a way to return the girl’s powers.  Understandably both of them are seriously unhappy about this strange turn of events.

Now, I would say that Stone Magus is paranormal romances or fantasy romance if you prefer.  Basically though, I would say that although this is a fantasy setting with elves, dwarves, mages, etc, the real focus of the story is Opal, Ruby and Baerdun and the relationship that the three of them share.  In fact although during their journey they encounter hardships and prejudices along the way, I would say their personal journey is the real purpose here.

 I don’t tend to read a lot of romance but it’s not unknown for me to pick up the occasional book here and there and I have no problems at all with the romance elements here.  However, I did feel like the fantasy side of things played something of second fiddle and, to be honest, I’m not totally sure, even at this point, how much I enjoyed the main concept.  Of course, I can’t really discuss that element further because there is a twist in the tale – and it certainly is a very unique twist indeed – I’m just not really sure at this point how I felt about it.  On the one hand I think its very original and it certainly surprised me, but, on the other hand, it just felt a little awkward in some respects.

In terms of the romance I would mention that things become a little bit hot and steamy as the relationships progress although this is towards the last third/quarter of the book.

To be honest, although this one didn’t totally work for me I wouldn’t discourage romance readers who enjoy a fantasy setting.  

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts
  5. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris

Come With Me by Ronald Malfi

Posted On 26 July 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags:

Comments Dropped 4 responses

My Five Word TL:DR Review : I absolutely loved this book

Comewithme

This book just blew me away.  I couldn’t get enough of it to be honest, I loved the way it was written, I was instantly hooked and it took me down a number of routes that had me twisting and turning before finding myself at a dead end.  Seriously, I could read this book again right now and in fact I think I’d probably enjoy it as much if not more than my initial read.

This is going to be a gushing, chaotic, crazy rambling review.  I don’t think I can do justice to the book to be honest because it gave me the chills, it had a ghostly-type horror vibe at the same time as coming across as a dark murder mystery, it looks at relationships and how well you know the person you’re living with and more than that the inspiration for the book is an emotional gut punch.

Where to start.  I’m going to avoid spoilers because I really don’t want to give anything away but the story is told by Aaron Decker.  Aaron’s wife was recently killed in a shopping mall shooting incident.  He finds himself, as you may imagine, a bit untethered, unable to settle and constantly second guessing with a string of ‘what ifs?’ – what if he’d accompanied his wife that fateful morning when she actually asked ‘Come with me?’  Of course, there’s no turning back the clock and Aaron, led by a strange series of weird occurences, all that can be written off as forgetfulness or other random hiccups, begins to go through his wife things – almost as though he is being guided to do so.  In doing so he uncovers a secret side to his wife, something that leads him to start his own investigations and before he knows it his world has changed irrevocably and he finds himself becoming equally obsessed with the desire to find answers.

At its heart this is a gripping murder mystery, dark, creepy, twisted and intelligent.  It also manages to throw in a scattering of paranormal-style occurences that create a spooky atmosphere and add to the tension.  I love the way the author pulls this off by giving us a central character who is level headed enough not to become ‘spooked’ at the same time as realising that he might be putting himself, and others, in danger.  It’s a fantastic balancing act that I have to applaud.  I mean, if this had been me, I would have been running in the opposite direction to Aaron – literally running as fast as my little legs could carry me away from the goosebump inducing scariness.

We join Aaron as he follows in his wife footsteps, working his way backwards, speaking to people she herself spoke to and uncovering a different side to her that he would never have imagined.  It’s brilliant because we go through the same thought processes at the same time as he does, feeling mystified, betrayed, scared or overwhelmed, having our ideas teased out and then finding that we’ve gone astray somewhere along the line.

We travel up and down the country, the miles stacking up as Aaron seeks out more clues before eventually finding himself in the small town where his wife grew up.  There’s a real horror vibe going on at certain points – not a blood-slashing trail of bodies horror type story so much as a Silence of the Lambs uncovering of a dark and twisted mind style tale.

I’m not sure what more I can add to this other than to say do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. I was gripped, I was tense, I couldn’t stop reading.  I just loved it from start to finish and can’t recommend it enough.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks, the above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

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 last year 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:

Last week:

I managed to read a little bit more this week plus together with posting three book reviews so I did catch up a little.  I’ve failed miserably with my buddy reads this month so I need to press on with those but at the moment I’m focusing on my SPFBO reads.  I’m still reading Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.  To be honest I’m loving this one but just taking my time.  Definitely a book to be savoured.  I went off plan a little and read Come With Me by Ronald Malfi which was absolutely excellent.  I also read two of my SPFBO books – I completed Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks and also picked up and finished Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood.

Continue with Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley plus finish my final SPFBO read for this month. 

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

Forthcoming Reviews:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Come With Me by Ronald Malfi
  3. Stone Magus by Stephanie C Marks
  4. Book of Secrets by Claudia Blood

#SPFBO Saturday : Excerpt from Hall of Bones (The Brotherhood of the Eagle #1) by Tim Hardie

SPFBO71024_1

As part of the SPFBO Competition each weekend I am hoping to post guest blog posts inviting authors taking part in the competition to visit my blog to either write an article, discuss covers, take part in an interview or post an excerpt or teaser for their work.  If you’d like to pay me a visit then don’t forget to leave me a comment (*ahem* if you’ve left me a comment and I haven’t replied feel free to nudge me) 😀

This weekend I’m really pleased to welcome back to my blog Tim Hardie, author of Hall of Bones, the first book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series.  Hall of Bones is one of the submissions allocated to Lynnsbooks/The Critiquing Chemist.  I recently interviewed Tim and you can find the questions and answers here and today I’m posting an excerpt from Hall of Bones.

By way of background here’s the description for Hall of Bones:

In the remote land of Laskar the seven ruling clans have vied with each other for power for over a century. The son of the Reavesburg Clan Chief, Rothgar, has been groomed all his life for a role supporting his elder brother, Jorik, in leading their kingdom when their father’s time finally comes to an end.

However, the rulers of their greatest rivals, the Vorund Clan, are in the grip of something older and far darker. They have been conquered by evil, a remnant from the time when the gods warred with one another and the world of Amuran collapsed into the Fallen Age.

Tim very kindly provided me with two excellent pieces but I’ve chosen a scene from Chapter 11 which is an action scene featuring Rothgar Kolfinnarson, a young and inexperienced warrior.  Rothgar finds himself forced to duel with longstanding rival, a character called Gautarr Falrufson, for the right to lead their clan.  This is an excellent teaser, I loved it, and it ends in a way that is guaranteed to leave you wanting more.  Take a look:

HoBs

***

The courtyard of Ulfkell’s Keep was deathly silent, although there was a great crowd of onlookers gathered around the large circle chalked on the ground to mark out the boundary for the contest.  There were no rowdy shouts of encouragement as I stepped forward.  Somewhere, someone was sobbing.  Looking up I spied Desta, her long dark hair soaked through by the rain, plastering it to her head.  Etta stood by her, a bony hand resting on Desta’s shoulder, her face almost hidden beneath a dark hood.  I swallowed.  This was not a crowd looking forward to a fight: they were mourners at my funeral.  Well, at least I had a good turnout.

The rain would be a problem.  The heavy downpour had appeared from nowhere, rolling in from the sea and soaking everything.  The cobbles of the courtyard were slick and treacherous underfoot, the water already washing away the hastily-drawn lines of the combat circle.  I rolled my shoulders as I felt the annoying rain dripping down my collar and into my chainmail armour.  I would soon have more pressing concerns as Gautarr strode into the circle to a subdued cheer.  Beaded droplets of water gathered on the banded steel armour he wore and speckled his grey beard.  Ragnar handed him his helmet and he pushed it firmly onto his head.

“Come on, boy.  No one wants to stand around in this weather longer than they have to.”  He looked at the onlookers, expecting some response from his joke.  Other than Audwin laughing half-heartedly there was some faint coughing in the crowd and Desta’s muffled sobs.  Gautarr might have won the vote at the clan moot but out here, surrounded by the people of Reavesburg, it was clear he had little support.  Despite being their favourite it was also obvious no one thought I stood a chance.

“Just remember what I taught you,” muttered Olfridor quietly as he handed me my helmet.  “Gautarr’s blows will be powerful but a sword is faster.  Use your speed to your advantage and there might well be a twist in this tale, son.”  I nodded, the raindrops pattering dully on the surface of my helm as I stepped into the circle.

Gautarr took a few steps forwards, until we were close to one another in the middle of the ring.  Here, the grey curtain of rain hid the onlookers from sight, as if the two of us were alone in the courtyard.  Ragnar’s stifled shout of support for his father registered on the limit of my hearing, as if he’d been calling from the docks rather than a few feet away.  I realised it mattered little if hundreds watched me die.  All my focus was drawn towards the powerfully-built man before me.  Gautarr’s body was packed with hard muscle.  He’d been fighting the Vorund Clan before I was born, and if age had taken some of his speed he’d lost none of his strength or experience.  The hot anger I felt in the Great Hall had long since melted away, replaced by an odd sense of detachment.  Only one of us would leave this circle alive.  I concentrated on the task in hand, embracing the risk of death just as I had on the beach in Noln.  Olfridor Halfhand had trained me to be a warrior: death was just an occupational hazard, after all.  Gautarr’s expression changed as he looked down on me, the big man a head taller.  He had expected to see cowardice and fear in his opponent; now all he saw was determination.

“You meet your fate well, boy,” he said.  “I’ve got to respect you for that.  There’s no dishonour in walking away from a fight you can’t win.”

“Alright.  You can walk away if you want, old man.  I won’t hold it against you.”

Gautarr chuckled.  “I gave you every chance, lad.”  He raised his axe, planted his feet and moved forwards, swinging the heavy weapon round with both hands in a wide arc.

I watched the axe whistling towards my head, cutting through the rain and leaving a trail of spray behind it.  The whole move seemed to take an absurdly long time, easily allowing me to step out of harm’s way.  Raising my shield, I swung my own sword, cutting at Gautarr’s side before he could recover from his stroke.  The man grunted with effort as he changed the direction of his attack, parrying my blow and replying with one of his own.  I blocked with my shield, feeling the impact of the blow as it numbed my forearm and sent a jolt of pain up into my shoulder.  Gautarr pressed on, hammering at my defences, forcing me back, step by step.

My sword darted out, hissing through the rain, missing Gautarr’s body by a hair’s breadth.  Gautarr’s eyes went wide, stark white orbs in the shadow of his helmet.  I cut back again, forcing the older warrior to duck to one side as my blade whistled past his head.  It gave me a chance to go on the attack but Gautarr blocked my next strike with the shaft of his great axe.  I tried to slide my sword down its length to shear away Gautarr’s fingers, remembering how effective that move had been at Noln.  Gautarr was wise to the trick, pulling away sharply.  I staggered forwards, carried on by my own momentum and cursed as my legs were swept from under me by the axe shaft.  I heard a sharp communal intake of breath from the hidden crowd as I rolled with the blow, metal scraping harshly on the slick cobbles.  I found my feet and whirled round to face Gautarr as he bore down on me once more.

I felt a sharp pain stab from my ankle, running up the length of my left leg and into my hip – the fight was aggravating my injury from Noln.  I clenched my teeth and pushed it from my mind as I met Gautarr head on and we clashed in a flurry of blows.  Suddenly my sword locked with the head of Gautarr’s axe.  We stared for a moment, the older man’s face fixed with a fierce grin, as we tested each other’s strength.  My wrist began to ache as I clung on grimly.  I had a knife tucked into my belt – little use against this brute of a man if I allowed him to disarm me.  Without warning I stepped in closer, slamming my shield into the warrior, sending him reeling backwards.  I was aware of a distant throbbing in my leg as I slashed my freed sword left and right, watching as Gautarr lazily parried each blow.  Then I lurched to one side as my left foot skidded on the wet ground, crying out involuntarily with the pain.

“Now that’s unfortunate,” hissed Gautarr, taking a step back to allow a pause in the fight.  “It’s not always the last battle that kills you.  An injury picked up another time can come back to bite you, if your body’s not strong enough.  That’s the difference between seasoned wood and a sapling, I guess.”  I breathed in deeply and watched Gautarr’s chest heaving.  The man was taking this opportunity to draw breath, riling me as he tried to gather his own strength.

“How poetic,” I snarled, springing forward, aware even as I did so that I was now having to favour my right leg.  I raised my sword and brought it crashing down.  Gautarr was faster than I expected, and I cut through clean air, my blade jarring in my hand as it sent up sparks from the damp courtyard stones.  Gautarr jabbed at me with the butt of his axe, the point of the shaft finding its way through my defences and cracking me in my ribs as I struggled to recover my position.  I pushed the pain aside as I swept my sword round, trying to retake the initiative.

Gautarr was a canny opponent.  He allowed me to press forward, blocking my blows and forcing me to come on towards him.  The effort was taking its toll and I realised I was now limping with each step, my breathing ragged, ribs burning with pain.  Suddenly the pattern changed, Gautarr whirling his great axe about his head and hammering my shield and sword with heavy blows, too fast for me to even think of a counter-attack.  I gasped, my mind racing, as I tried to move back quickly enough to take myself out of the warrior’s range.  I needed time to think and catch my breath – Gautarr allowed me no such luxury.

I took another step and without warning my weakened leg gave way under me, sending me crashing down hard onto my back on the stones, winded and gasping for air.  The force of the impact jarred my sword from my hand and I watched, despairing, as it clattered out of reach and Gautarr loomed above me.  My hand scrabbled for the knife in my belt but my foe was unrelenting, blows hammering down on my shield and causing me to cry out in fury as I realised the inevitability of my fate.  Finally, Gautarr hooked the head of his axe onto the rim of my shield and with a great shout he pulled hard, splitting the straps holding it in place.  He sent my shield bouncing off into the crowd and followed through with a kick to my stomach, breaking the knife I clutched desperately in my hand, leaving me sprawled, face down, on the wet cobbles.  All the air was gone from my body.  I could no more find the strength to raise myself than pick up Ulfkell’s Keep, so I waited for the final blow that would end the contest.

**Ends**

Don’t you just love it – if you’d like to find out more here are a few links you can follow:

About the Author:

THTim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

Twitter: timhardieauthor

Friday Face Off : A Black Hole

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

I had a couple of ideas for this week’s theme but eventually settled onto the second book in the Southern Reach series by Jeff Vandermeer – Authority:

Some unusual covers for this one.  This one – if you look at it for more than a few seconds it almost feels like the black hole at the centre of the face is becoming larger!

Authority6

I think my favourite came down to two covers:

The first cover reminds me off a strange Watership Down dream sequences. The second one I like the colours and at first glance the rabbit seems fairly harmless but when you zoom in things seem decidedly off-kilter.  My favourite:

Authority1

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next Week : Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

2021

July

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

My Five Word TL:DR Review : In two minds about this

The Retreat is going to be an unusual review to write because I seriously am in two minds about this one.  On the one hand I loved the writing.  The book is absolutely full of atmosphere.  It’s a locked room mystery.  The setting is excellent and the sense of nature well described but on the other hand I found the ending a little unresolved in some respects and the antagonist lacking motivation or believability.

As the book begins (and after a dramatic opening prologue) we meet Maeve Martin as she arrives at the High Water Centre for the Arts.  Tucked up in the Rocky Mountains is a beautiful lodge surrounded by trees and nature.  The Retreat boasts quiet space, a stunning lodge and small cabins where people can work uninterrupted.  Maeve has taken a two week break and aims to use the time to formulate a plan for her own dance company.  Unfortunately, not long after her arrival disaster strikes.  Ever worsening weather leads to an avalanche and the centre is completely cut off from any means of contact with the outside world.

Without doubt The Retreat excels in terms of the writing.  Mariaffi conjures up a fantastic setting and then proceeds to cloak it in the most creepy and pervasive atmosphere.  In fact the first two thirds of the book held me gripped – I sat up into the early hours reading and I can say that I was genuinely a little freaked out – by which I mean scared!  The final third was where the ploit started to hot up and the body count began to rise.

I think, if memory serves, that there were seven people left stranded following the avalanche, a mix of people, a couple of characters who run the retreat and a mix of creatives including artists, film makers and dancers. Maeve feels a little like an insider as the others have all met previously and she often doesn’t understand the nuances of the group and their inside jokes.  There appears to be rivalry, particularly between certain characters and Maeve’s arrival seems to be the catalyst for things to escalate.  Maeve is coming to terms with a number of things.  She experienced a violent marriage that has now ended and she is also coming to terms with the fact that her dancing career is coming to a conclusion and trying to think of her future.  She’s left her two children in the care of their grandmother although she seemed to have a rocky relationship with her mother that leaves her anxious.  We find out much of Maeve’s history over the course of the story but it’s included in a very natural way and adds to the feelings of tension and fear that Maeve experiences.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I think the plot became a little chaotic in the final quarter (or Day 7).  I wouldn’t say that I came away from the book with all my questions answered and the eventual murderer seemed very thinly drawn to me.  I just didn’t buy into the motivations or reasoning to be honest. I noticed a few reviewers mentioned the over long chapters – I wouldn’t say that I found this a problem but each chapter represents one day and some of the chapters are indeed quite lengthy so bear that in mind.

To be fair to the author, and in spite of my reservations I still came away from this read with more positives than negatives.  I loved the writing and I guess the plot played second fiddle a little to that aspect.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating – between 3.5 and 4 of 5 stars

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Liar’s Knot (Rook and Rose #2) by MA Carrick

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Liar’s Knot (Rook and Rose #2) by MA Carrick.  I loved the first book in the series, The Mask of Mirrors, and can’t wait to read more.  Here’s the description:

Liar'sknotTrust is the thread that binds us . . . and the rope that hangs us.

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…

Expected publication : December 2021

#SPFBO Review : Berserker (Apocosmos #1) by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris

SPFBO71024_1

Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris is the first book from my Second Batch of books that I’m aiming to read and review this month.  You can find feedback from my first batch of books here and further information on SPFBO here.

Without further ado let’s get to the review (plus check out this fantastic cover):

Berserker

Berserker is the first book in the Apocosmos series that features a rather angry young man called Alex and his young dog, a Corgi known as Louie.  The book is an example of LitRPG (a genre that combines computer role playing games with science fiction and fantasy.

The story gets off to a rather dramatic start as we meet a bunch of characters who seem to be enslaved and forced to fight in violent (gladiatorial style) games.  This is where we are introduced to Alex as he starts to relate his tale to the other fighters. I confess that I’m rather fond of this style of story telling where we have a character casting back to relate his experiences so for me this got off to an interesting start.

From here we discover Alex works for a gaming company in New York.  His best (well, only) friend is called Leo and his closest companion is Louie, his dog.  Alex seems to have suffered a loss that he makes reference to on a number of occasions but this hasn’t been explored in detail other than it has left him feeling incredibly sad.  Anyhow, following a day in the office Alex and Louie leave to get takeaway and head home.  Unfortunately, they get caught up with a group of unsavoury characters that leads to something of an altercation and without warning Alex’s world is turned upside down when he’s pulled into a multiverse of possibilities known as the Apocosmos where our tiny corner of the universe is barely the tip of the iceberg.

The Apocosmos runs parallel to our world (the Cosmos) – fortunately most of us mundane muggles are happily unaware of the existence of this second world that seems to have actually been the inspiration for many stories, myths and legends that we believe to be fictional.  It appears that natives from the Apocosmos are living amongst us, disguised or hidden in plain sight and occasionally they pull an unsuspecting human into their world for one reason or another.

This is how Alex finds himself, unwittingly, begrudgingly even, a part of a much bigger universe.  Fortunately, it appears that Leo is also a part of this universe and so Alex isn’t left completely floundering around, although his natural inclinations to be anti-social don’t exactly help him as he never wants to leave his own domain.  In fact Alex has no desire to become further embroiled in this strange new world and has every intention of avoiding it until he realises that he might be able to make some money by crafting items and selling them on a platform not unsimilar to Amazon but much, much bigger in scale and possibility.  What could possibly go wrong with a ‘lets get rich quick’ idea?

I won’t elaborate further on the plot, suffice to say that this is only the first slice of Alex’s story so the ending doesn’t complete his tale.

What I liked about this.  I think it’s an interesting idea with a lot of potential storylines given the size of the Apocosmos.  The author has already come up with a number of cool notions such as gargoyles acting as postmen not to mention the idea of allowing Louie to communicate as a result of a successfully completed quest.  I confess that I’m not a gamer but to be honest I really don’t think this was a deterrent. The story feels like urban fantasy with a contemporary world with supernatural elements and the inclusion of the gaming aspects.

The characters.  I have to say that Louie was my favourite – I can’t really resist the inclusion of a cute Corgi that can communicate – particularly about his desire to eat bacon.  Also the partner that Alex takes on board – a dwarf called Rory – I did like this character especially as he started to open up.  Alex and Leo – well, Alex I find a little over aggressive.  Which I guess definitely feeds into his fighting character becoming something of a ‘berserker’ and for that reason I could relate a little more to what the author was doing.  However, I found him a bit judgemental of others, he makes quite a lot of remarks about other people that seem unnecessary  and he jumps with almost indecent haste from regular, ‘nothing to see here, just walking my dog’ calm to  ‘I want to knock everyone’s block off, mad as a box of snakes’ insanity. Like I said though – Berserker – the clue is in the title I guess.  Leo, well his inclusion feels a little contrived.  He’s a good friend (although not going to lie – I’m not always sure why), he’s indescribably rich, connected and knowledgeable about the Apocosmos – what were the odds?  Maybe there’s a further storyline about this in the pipeline though in fact it will be interesting to see how his inclusion develops.

In terms of criticisms.  I understand the need to include gaming stats in litrpg but, there is a lot of it here and to be honest I think it pulled me out of the story quite frequently.  Like I said, I do understand the need for this but I think maybe some of the lesser characters could be referred to without as much detail or maybe some of the terms could be elaborated upon in a glossary.  Anyway, it did distract from the story a little for me personally.  Also, there’s a heck of a lot of Alex ruminating about his business idea – again, maybe a bit too much information which felt a little dry and again was a bit distracting.

Overall, I enjoyed Berserker, probably more than I expected given that in terms of the RPG elements I’m not really the intended audience.  I think it had a few blips but it was a quick read and I find myself curious about just exactly how Alex comes to find himself in the slave barracks where we first make his acquaintance.  Plus, I’m worried about Louie – if anything happens to that dog – well, we’ll have another berserker on our hands.

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

Books already reviewed for SPFBO :

  1. Deathborn by CE Page
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  3. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  4. One of Us by ML Roberts

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A modern day fairy tale

Thepastisred

I will start this review by saying short stories are not usually my thing, in fact I tend to avoid them because I know I’ll be left wanting more – and strangely enough, I want more of Tetley Abednego, but in this instance it’s not a criticism.  I want more because I can’t get enough of this character, this world, the words on the page, the emotional depth and the hope that is delivered in the final pages.

Valente has managed to write a story that on the face of it appears hopeless and yet she infuses this with her own whimsical style and instead of creating something bleak and full of doom comes up with a character who is so supremely hopeful, who sees the beauty in this strange world that is all she’s ever known and gives us a feeling that perhaps things could be better.

Once upon a time a young girl, was born in Candlehole in a place known as Garbagetown.  Having managed to survive this strange and bizarre world, finding beauty in stories and looking for leftovers from the previous world before everything was covered in water, she became known as Tetley.  For a long period she was hated for a terrible mistake she made, although this was carried out in good faith.  She accepted her punishment, expecting sometimes to die on any given day and eventually she came to live alone – until she discovered she wasn’t alone at all.  The end.

Obviously this is a story with a meaning behind it.  Valente handles this well and it isn’t the type of tale that feels like it’s preaching.  More, the author gives the story a kind of inevitability, the world is underwater, a handful of survivors live a bizarre life on a strange floating mass of waste left over from the days before everything went pear-shaped.  There’s a strange kind of irony that the rubbish from our throw away society becomes the means for life in this unusual story.

This could be such a book of despair and yet it doesn’t go down that route.  For the survivors, they have never known any different so there isn’t the strange nostalgia of the ‘good old days’.  Instead, they have these mementoes from the past and they use them – not only to live but to create stories and myths.

Tetley is a fantastic character to read.  She tells her tale simply, she doesn’t become involved in making excuses or feeling sorry for herself or blaming others.  It is what it is and I just loved her refreshingly direct manner.  I would happily read more in fact I would love to do so.

I loved the writing.  Unlike garbagetown, which is made up of waste, Valente manages to give every word and sentence meaning.  Nothing is wasted here and to be honest she is a magnificent storyteller.  She grabbed my attention almost from the first page and I was hooked from there onwards.  She brings her creation to life in the mind’s eye with an ease that belies the difficulty of such an undertaking.

Valente – I salute you.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 5 of 5 stars

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 last year 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:

Last week:

So, this week was a bit slow for me.  I was feeling a bit miserable for one reason or another.  Consequently all my reading and blogging took a bit of a back seat.  I managed to pick up and complete The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi which is a closed room murder mystery set up in a remote retreat isolated further by stormy weather.  I enjoyed it – it certainly had plenty of atmosphere.  I’ve also picked up the second book from this month’s SPFBO batch which I’m about 50% into.  All told, slow week aside, I think this month I should be able to complete all my review books and my four SPFBO books *fingers crossed*.

I’m aiming to complete Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley and pick up The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry.  I won’t make more ambitious plans for now:

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

  1. Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey
  2. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

Forthcoming Reviews:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente
  3. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  4. The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Friday Face Off : Books with ‘book’ in the title

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

Books with ‘book’ in the title

Hopefully there are plenty of books out there that fit this week’s theme.  I’ve gone for a fairly recent book that I really loved.  The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix.  Here are this week’s covers:

I think in this instance I’m going to have to plump for the original:

Bookclub1The middle book (top row) did make me laugh.  The book on the left (top row) I quite like but it doesn’t seem to fit as well as the original somehow.  The cover with the cupcakes made me feel squicky (thanks Bookforager for finding me a new word that sounds exactly like it makes me feel – a combination of squeamish and icky) and, I like the final cover, it’s similar in style and colour to the first – but I prefer the layout of the first.

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

2021

July

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Bone Ship’s Wake (The Tide Child #3) by RJ Barker

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is The Bone Ship’s Wake (The Tide Child #3) by RJ Barker.  I am loving this series so I’ve been checking each week to see if we had an expected publication date yet – I am excitement!  Here’s the description:

BoneShips Wake

The sea dragons are returning, and Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lie shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge.

Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child Joron takes every opportunity to strike at his enemies, but he knows his time is limited. His fleet is shrinking and the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body. He runs from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer, will end the entire world.

But the sea dragons have begun to return, and if you can have one miracle, who is to say that there cannot be another?

Expected publication : September 2021

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

Mr Five Word TL:DR Review : Took me completely by surprise

MeetMe

Meet Me in Another Life is a book that will defy your expectations, it will feel familiar, you’ll think you’ve got it nailed down, you’ll know exactly what’s going on here (well, sort of) right up until that moment of revelation when the author shows you that you knew nothing at all.  In between times, before that moment of disclosure, we have a story, that feels like a tale of reincarnation two people born again and again into each other’s timeline, playing different roles each time, lovers, teacher and student, parent and child, and then some more.  They’re not always born in the same place, there is constantly a disparity in where they find themselves, and yet, inexplicably they are drawn together through a shared desire to know more.  Let’s start at the beginning.

As the story kicks off we meet Thora and Santi in what appears to be their first meeting.  It doesn’t go particularly well and to an extent this is something that will be repeated over and over again in a kind of Groundhog Day style.  Don’t be put off though, sometimes they live full lives – not always together but always kind of in orbit around each other.

Now, I’m not going to say anything more about the story because, and I know I use this a lot, but it really could lead to spoilers and seriously you need to read this with as little knowledge beforehand as possible as that will only play more into the intrigue.

So, what can I discuss here today.  Well, a few things.

Overall feelings.  I liked this very much, I particularly like it given the ending – which isn’t to say I didn’t like the earlier chapters – just that the ending gives you a whole new bunch of things to think about plus a desire to backtrack and see what you missed along the way because you can rest assured that there is a trail of breadcrumbs just waiting to be pecked up by those hungry enough to pay attention.  I confess, I didn’t have the slightest notion so there we go – what can I say, I missed the breadcrumbs.

Characters.  Well, if you love characters that are well developed you’ll love these two.  Let’s just be honest, the author has a lot of opportunity to teach us different aspects to their nature, to show them in a good light or a not so good light.  To reinvent them on a constant basis but with enough consistencies to make them familiar to us in every iteration. It’s fantastic really because it plays into the whole ethos of just how well can you really know someone?  How long does it take to really know that person?  A lifetime – well, Thora and Santi have a whole bunch of lifetimes and they’re still learning about each other at the end of the book.

The setting.  Another really cool part of this – both characters are repeatedly drawn to the same place.  It’s like a force or irrepressible magnetism that they simply can’t deny.  Set in Cologne we find ourselves visiting over and over to such an extent that it becomes familiar, I feel like I could see the streets, the bars, the clock tower in my own mind.

Let’s not get away from those certain little things that are familiar.  Sometimes ‘familiar’ is comforting and there are definitely elements here that will feel like ‘things’ you know.  Obviously the constant reincarnations have a Life After Life feel.  The way that the two characters arrive at different points and places kind of reminded me a little of The Time Traveller’s Wife, the repetitive nature of certain aspects could be likened to Groundhog Day, the little inconsistencies experienced in each episode – well, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  There are undeniably familiar elements to this story but not only does it stand on it’s own two feet – primarily because of this winning combination between science and theology that is constantly discussed and argued by Thora and Santi, one determined to believe in fate and miracles, the other sticking to science and proven things together – but, it evolves in a direction that I never saw coming.

On top of this, the story is packed with emotion which persists right up to the ending where… well, you’ll just have to read it and find out for yourself.

In terms of criticisms.  Okay, well, firstly, I cannot deny that this feels like a series of short stories with recurring characters.  Now, I’m not a lover of short stories so this could have become very old very fast for me, however, I think the author managed to get the timing perfect in that just as I was starting to feel a little ‘same old/same old’ she started to throw in changes and this is when the real mystery began.  The same thing could also be said of the repetitive nature of certain elements – this definitely had the capacity to become tiresome and yet I didn’t find it to be so because the author makes subtle changes all the time which lent it a fascinating aspect.

So criticisms. that aren’t really criticisms at all, put to one side.  Yes, this was a very good, entertaining, mysterious, fascinating and slightly heartbreaking read.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.

The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A Little Slow to Start

Adarkandsecret

A Dark and Secret Place is the first foray into thriller/mystery by an author whose body of fantasy work I love and as such this was also an impressive book although I didn’t love it quite as much as the author’s other books.

As the book begins we make the gruesome discovery of a dead woman, the body mutilated and staged in the horrific style used previously by the notorious serial killer Michael Reeve, known as The Red Wolf, except Reeve was caught and has been in prison since.

At the same time we meet Heather Evans.  Heather is returning to her family home.  A home she left as a teenager and hasn’t visited since.  Heather and her mother shared a strained relationship and Heather’s return has been brought about by the sad news that her mother has commited suicide.  Heather struggles to understand why her mother would take her own life, the suicide note itself is puzzling, but when she discovers a stack of letters between her mother and the serial killer the plot thickens.

Heather takes the letters to the police and becomes caught up in the hunt for a copycat killer – involving visits to the Red Wolf himself to try and discover if he is involved.

The story is told in two timelines.  We have Heather’s current timeline and we jump back to a young version of Michael.

This one does get off to a fairly slow start but I didn’t have a problem with the pace to be honest.  It slowly becomes obvious that Heather is the centre of something very odd.  She finds strange things in the house, there’s a creepy vibe to the place and sightings of a stranger lurking in the rear garden.  To be honest I don’t think  I could have stayed there so Heather was certainly a lot braver than I would have been.  Clearly somebody was leaving these ‘mysterious’ things for her and there was a tension about this element to the tale that was decidedly spooky.

The flashbacks to Michael were also a bit unnerving and dark in nature but I’m not going to discuss those here.

We also have the visits to prison where Heather visits with Michael in a desperate bid by the police to uncover anything about the new murderer.  The visits don’t turn out to be terribly helpful with Michael often behaving rather obtuse, spouting stories that resemble gruesome fairytales.  Michael has a very strange intensity to him that was a little unnerving and I couldn’t help having this odd ‘Silence of the Lambs’ vibe.

The story escalates when Heather decides to take matters into her own hands and the final revelations become a little frantic.

I liked this one, there are some good ideas here and the story is well delivered.  However, I didn’t love this one and I’m not sure that I can put my finger on why that is.  I think on the face of it I struggled to connect with Heather.  She could be a little bit prickly and in spite of her obvious intelligence she made some very dubious and risky decisions.  I was mystified by one of her decisions in particular but,again, I won’t elaborate.

I think my slight hesitation in falling for this was a slight disparity between the first half of the book and the second  They didn’t seem to gel as well as I would have liked.  The ending had an almost chaotic feel with all sorts of elements being woven into the storyline.  And the really odd thing is that now, reflecting on the story itself to write this review I struggle to recall some of the final revelations which is a really strange experience for me.

Overall, though, I did like this, it was a very easy read, gripping in fact, and I would love to see what the author comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars.

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 last year 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:

Last week:

Haha – this week I had the sudden lightbulb moment that no matter how much I try to forge ahead I will always be chasing my tail (just to be clear – I don’t have a tail!).  So, I just need to chill I think and come to terms with the fact that I will always have four or five books waiting to be reviewed – and in fact, that’s a good thing in some respects because I’ll always have content so, yay.  This week I’ve read two books – the first SPFBO book from batch 2 and I went off plan a little (but still chose a review book) – Meet Me In Another Life by Catriona Silvey. I’m still slowly making my way through Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley which really is a book to savour – it makes me happy reading this book because it’s so good.

I’m aiming to read The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry and  The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi.  I need to get back on track with my buddy reads too as I’ve been a little lacking in both of those recently.

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

  1. The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd
  2. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  3. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Forthcoming Reviews:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams
  3. The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente
  4. Berserker by Dimitrios Gkirgkiris
  5. Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

#SPFBO Saturday : Interview with Tim Hardie, author of Hall of Bones

Posted On 10 July 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 7 responses

SPFBO71024_1

As part of the SPFBO Competition each weekend I am hoping to post guest blog posts inviting authors taking part in the competition to visit my blog to either write an article, discuss covers, take part in an interview or post an excerpt or teaser for their work.  If you’d like to pay me a visit then don’t forget to leave me a comment 😀

This weekend I’m really pleased to welcome Tim Hardie to my blog.  Tim is the author of Hall of Bones, the first book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series.  Hall of Bones is one of the submissions allocated to Lynnsbooks/The Critiquing Chemist.

First things first – a warm welcome to Tim and my thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview.  I will also be sharing two excerpts from Hall of Bones at a future date so keep your eyes peeled:

***

Can you give us a short introduction to Hall of Bones?

HallofBones

Thanks for the invitation to take part.

Hall of Bones is the first of four planned books in an epic fantasy series called The Brotherhood of the Eagle. It’s a Viking-inspired tale but the fantasy setting has its own unique history and mythology. The story’s central character is Rothgar Kolfinnarson, the second son of the chief of his clan, and the challenges he faces when his people come under threat from their neighbouring rivals.

Hall of Bones is a debut but you mention on your blog that you have written other books. Do you think you’ll return and dust any of those off at any point? What lessons did you learn from those earlier books?

My first novel, called The Final Seer, took me nearly five years to write and I don’t think I’ll return to it because it’s not very good! It’s still an important part of my writing journey because The Final Seer was the book where I learned a lot of hard lessons. In short, I completely underestimated the level of endurance and attention to detail required to write a good novel.

That first draft was panster from start to finish and involved unnecessary sub-plots and side characters (which ultimately had to be cut), appallingly clunky dialogue, anguished periods of writer’s block and an unfathomable main story. It was meant to be Firefly set in medieval times and I have a lot of affection for that novel but, in the end, my heart wasn’t in continuing the story.

It also was a bit dated in terms of the story and characters, which was basically the feedback I received when I submitted it to a literary agent. He (rightly) rejected the story but in his rejection email he kindly put me on to some of the current crop of fantasy writers (including Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and John Gwynne). I read those authors and realised there was a different way to approach a fantasy novel. Hall of Bones was the novel I wrote next, applying those lessons and taking a tighter approach to plotting as well as spending more time developing distinctive and believable characters.

The other legacy from The Final Seer was the fantasy world of Amuran, which I used as the setting for Hall of Bones. So a lot of that novel’s background and in particular the early history and mythology provided the foundations for Hall of Bones.

How do you strike a balance between including all your world building or leaving some of it out to keep the pace more punchy?

I leave out a lot more than I include. For example, there are various fantasy races in Amuran that don’t feature at all in Hall of Bones (they were prominent in The Final Seer, which was set in a different location). Detailed world building is important, because it provides depth to the setting you’ve created as an author. This fires my imagination as I write. For example, the early history of Amuran provided the driving force behind the underlying narrative for Hall of Bones. Generally, my rule of thumb is if it’s not important or relevant to the plot (either novel or series) then it shouldn’t be included. Sometimes I incorporate extra elements just to add a bit of colour to a scene and to make it clear these events are taking place in a much larger world. That’s an indulgence, though, and I have to restrain myself from using that too often.

From first draft to finished article – how did the book change during the course of writing and publishing? Did you have to cut certain storylines for example or were there any surprises that you hadn’t imagined?

I think Hall of Bones was where I found my voice as an author, rather than imitating other writers. Unlike my previous novel, it didn’t need any major cuts or rewrites. However, it was full of annoyingly repetitive phrases and sentence structures and in need of an overall tightening of the text. Those bad habits had to be ironed out during the editing phase, which I worked on with my agent prior to independent publication.

Although I carefully plotted the novel I had a lot of new ideas as I was writing it. I think that’s the best part of creative writing, where the characters take the story off in an unexpected direction. For example, the magical elements of the story weren’t in the original plotline at all – they were additions that came to me later that are now integral to the plot. One minor character, the Reavesburg warrior called Djuri, just wandered into the book without any warning and he’s become one of my favourites as the series has progressed. Plotting is an important part of my process but it’s important not to lose that creative spark. It’s brilliant when those things come together and your own novel surprises you completely.

Writing is lonely and self publishing even more so as you have to undertake tasks that wouldn’t fall to you if your book was traditionally published. How do you keep yourself motivated? How do you achieve a work/life balance?

My main motivation comes from seeing how much readers enjoy my writing. It’s small beginnings but I’m slowly finding my audience and that’s what keeps me going. Of course, not everyone will love my writing and that’s absolutely fine because creative writing is subjective and different readers will enjoy different things. The key thing is to write your own books in your own style for the people who enjoy what you do.

I’ve really valued the support I’ve gained from other writers. This competition has already helped me make some links with other contestants and I’ve found social media a fantastic way to make connections. Authors go through many of the same challenges and I’ve found the writing community to be a tremendously supportive place. I’ve learned a lot from other people and that’s really helped me in approaching my own writing.

Like most authors, I have a job that pays the bills, so I don’t write as often as I would like. I’ve had to build a writing routine that helps me write when my energy levels are at their highest, which means early starts at the weekend and doing creative writing at the beginning of the working week, leaving other author related stuff (blogs, promo materials, social media) towards the end. I also have a family (a very patient, understanding and supportive one) who need my time and attention. Whilst writing is important to me it’s not the only thing in my life so, as your question suggests, it’s all about finding that balance.

Can you share with us any information about the next instalment? In particular, do you intend to go further afield and expand on the territories beyond Laskar?

The second book, Sundered Souls, is due out later this summer. I don’t want to say too much and spoil things for people who haven’t read Hall of Bones but the stakes are higher in the next instalment and our characters find themselves ill-prepared as they face a new enemy. I think the other key theme in the sequel is the question of loyalty, as the characters face a difficult choice over which side to support in the conflict that begins during Hall of Bones. This aspect gave me some of my best material when writing Sundered Souls.

The Brotherhood of the Eagle is set primarily in the region of Laskar, although the series does take the reader to the different territories of the clans as the story progresses. Again, this is about using the world building necessary to tell the story. Those wider locations (you can find the maps on my website) are fertile ground for future stories but they don’t feature prominently in The Brotherhood of the Eagle.

In terms of the next instalment – which book would you say has been the most difficult to write and why?

Hall of Bones was hard to write because I was still learning my craft. Although there weren’t big structural rewrites, it went through a lot of editing phases to arrive at the version I published. It took me nearly four years to complete the first draft. Sundered Souls was easier as I’d already established the situation and the characters, so it was a case of diving back in and continuing the story and it only took me 18 months to write. Personally, I think it’s a better book than Hall of Bones (Should I be saying that? Too late!) as I was able to apply everything I’d learned when writing the sequel.

However, when I wrote the third book in the series, Lost Gods, despite all my preparation I didn’t exercise enough control on the ideas that came to me as I was writing. The first draft of that book came in at 200,000 words and I think I’m going to have to cut 50,000 words to focus on the main story rather than the sub-plots. That’s getting close to a discarded novel in its own right! It’s probably my biggest editing challenge so far, so I’d say Lost Gods has proved the most difficult book of the series so far.

Readers frequently highlight particular quotes that resonate with them – do you have any favourite quotes from Hall of Bones that you can share?

I find this really interesting because I don’t remember anything I’ve written! Although I know the plot, the characters and the emotional journey I take them on if you asked me in the street to quote a single line of text, I don’t think I could do it. The novel is more about the feelings and emotions it evokes in me. I’ll sound like a crazy person to non-writers at this point, but to me the characters are real and I feel their triumphs and their failures as if they were my own. It’s this stuff that tends to resonate with me, rather than the specifics.

All that said, I’ve noticed my readers have picked up their favourite quotes and highlighted them in their reviews, which I love to see. The character of Etta, the aged shadowy spymaster of the Reavesburg Clan who orchestrates so much behind the scenes, seems to be someone my readers are drawn to and she’s the one they quote. These seem to be their favourites:

“If you understand your people’s hearts, possess wisdom and learn from the knowledge of your forefathers your life will be a long one.”

“A clan chief who rules only with the sword sleeps wakefully and their life is short”

As a young boy, Rothgar’s response to Etta’s attempt to tutor him and impart her wisdom offers an alternative perspective:

“I still prefer the sword to the slate, Etta. Darri never sings great ballads about the men who knew all their letters.”

Finally, in terms of your own reading, which three authors have you read the most? What are you currently reading? What three books would you have no hesitation in recommending?

I’ve devoured books by many different authors, so it’s hard to narrow that down to three. In terms of sheer volume, it would be Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. The central character is so well written and the setting of Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities, feels like a person in its own right. Iain M Banks’ Culture novels (and his ‘mainstream’ output too, which is also phenomenal) are just fantastic and I loved how he combined laugh out loud humour, big concepts and thrilling space opera high jinks in his books. There’s really nothing else like them. More recently, I’ve loved Joe Abercrombie’s books, especially The First Law trilogy, and they were definitely a big influence on my own writing.

My current read is Dark Oak by Jacob Sannox, who coincidentally was an SPFBO Semi Finalist from your blog group back in 2018. What I love about this book is how he’s reversed the typical fantasy tropes by beginning his story with the defeat of the archetypal Dark Lord, focussing on all the chaos, confusion and grey moral choices following that event. It makes for an intriguing and compelling read.

In terms of recommendations beyond the books I’ve already mentioned, I’d say you should look at Gareth L Powell’s Embers of War sci-fi series, which is one of the few books I’ve found that fills the huge gap left by Iain M Banks’ untimely passing. I also can’t recommend Dark Eden by Chris Beckett highly enough. It’s a hypnotic, thought-provoking sci-fi story that stayed with me for days after I finished reading it. If I’m limited to three (this is cruel), I’ll give my final recommendation to We Men of Ash and Shadow by H L Tinsley. I was excited when I started reading this book because the author’s voice was so strong and the gaslamp fantasy world she created, with its various nefarious characters, was incredibly well-realised. Holly’s a fellow competitor in this year’s SPFBO contest and I really hope she does well. Her book is a great example of the sheer talent of many independently published authors at the moment.

Tim – thank you again for visiting with me today.  I loved your answers, they’re insightful and humorous and I hope readers will enjoy reading them as much as I did.

***

About the Author:

THTim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

I will be posting a couple of excerpts from Hall of Bones very soon so watch this space!

Friday Face Off : A Wicked Grin

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

A Wicked Grin

For once, I knew exactly which book I had in mind for this week’s theme.  It’s perfect in terms of title and cover.  It’s a book I haven’t read even though I picked up a copy many years ago.  Wicked by Gregory Maguire.  And, here are the covers:

And, well I had to go with the cover I find the most familiar this week:

W2

Do you have a favourite?

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – Books with ‘book’ in the title

2021

July

16th – Books with ‘book’ in the title

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Crazy as a horror flick

Finalgirl

To be honest, The Final Girl Support Group was exactly what I expected it to be.  The title gives you a good idea what the story is about – a support group for survivors of hideous horror soaked massacres.  Of course, all the survivors here and the traumas they have been through will be well known to horror aficionados who will undoubtedly recognise the characters and the movies they relate to – because of course, the premise here, which is such a great idea – is that those movies were based on true events, and the survivors, the final girls standing at the end of those movies make up the support group from the title. 

As you might expect, all the final girls have reacted in different ways but over the years they’ve become, sort of, friends through the support group they attend together.  As the book begins, it appears that change is on the horizon. These girls, women now in fact, will always be an enigma or constant source of fascination to a certain element of society and it feels inevitable that eventually somebody will come looking for them – hoping to make their own gory statement.

The central character is Lynnette Tarkington.  Strictly speaking Lynnette isn’t a ‘final girl’ although she was the only survivor of her own personal horror story – she’s different because she didn’t kill the monster at the end of her trauma like the other girls.  Lynnette’s form of coping involves training, surveillance and living a life in hiding.  She practically lives in her own self made cage and has contingency plans for the contingency plans! just in case.  Of course, all her planning and working out crumble when it appears that somebody knows all her secrets and how to bypass all her homemade security devices.

Firstly, I will say that you need to check your overpowering desire to have everything tied up with a neat realistic bow as soon as you crack this book open. This is not a book that is realistic – no more than say Halloween or Friday the 13th were realistic.  What this is, is a great play on horror movies, a homage filled with moments that will feel strangely familiar, even if you don’t recognise all the different  ideas.  What immediately popped into my head was a particular scene from the adaptation of Interview with a Vampire, where the young girl and Louis (both vampires) are watching a stage play, where basically the actors are all vampires (pretending to be humans) and the ever tortured Louis says ‘Vampires, pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires’.  This quote is perfect here because of the strange way that Hendrix has twisted everything – so, we have a fictional horror/thriller story pretending to be a real story based on real characters who survived a body of fictional movies.  I’m not sure that I’ve described that in the clearest terms – hopefully you can see what I’m driving at.  Anyway, the main point here is that this book is crazy.  It ticks all the crazy boxes and is delightfully, unashamedly a chaotic tribute to horror.  

Oddly enough, I wouldn’t really say the horror is over the top here.  Of course there are the backstories of the girls, but they’re not particularly dwelt upon so much as briefly skimmed over.  The real story revolves around the mystery/thriller aspect – although there are some particular moments that are definitely a bit horror soaked, particularly as the drama unfolds and the tension is ramped up.  Then there’s an absolutely over the top ending that twists itself up into a delicious pretzel.

There’s also just a gloriously exaggerated feeling of helplessness.  Like as soon as the proverbial hits the fan everyone’s best intentions go to hell in a handcart and momentarily these ‘final girl’s act like countless other victims that we’ve all spent time and energy over the years shouting instructions at from the comfort of our sofas ‘don’t go in the cellar!’ ‘run!’ ‘he’s behind you’ – etc, etc.  The beauty here though is that these girls, after a momentary flap, do pull themselves together, they’re survivors after all – but they need to stick together, and something or someone is intent on pushing them apart.

In terms of characters.  Well, Lynnette is our main character and she is flawed.  Come on though, she’s had a very bad experience.  Very. Bad. She makes mistakes, quite a lot of mistakes if I’m honest.  You can’t help but be flabbergasted by some of her actions, but at the same time she’s a great character to lead the story, probably because she’s not perfect, not always likeable and doesn’t always make the greatest choices.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, I guess this isn’t the strongest plot but it definitely has a tongue in cheek stab at horror flicks and it’s more designed to entertain and get your pulse racing than be an intellectual experience. 

Like the movies this takes inspiration from this is a popcorn munching, quick paced horror/thriller that had me glued to the page.  And, also like the movies – you can’t take a break in the middle of the action – and the same can be said here – I pretty much read this in one sitting. 

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

This month I’m trying to read a few horror books as part of Books Bones and Buffy’s Horror in July event.  Check it out here.

HorrorinJuly

 

Waiting on Wednesday : Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is :  Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry – because I’ve read two of her books and loved them.  Give it to me now:

horsemanIn this atmospheric, terrifying novel that draws strongly from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the author of Alice and The Girl in Red works her trademark magic, spinning an engaging and frightening new story from a classic tale.

Everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.

Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play Sleepy Hollow boys, reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?

Expected publication : September 2021

Around the Discworld: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #3)

Discworld

Today is my review for the third book in the Discworld series and the next step on a journey that Louise over at Lou’s Book Stuff and I agreed to undertake together whereby we read the entire Discworld series in order. You can check out Lou’s review here (I will be linking up asap).

EqualritesEqual Rites is book No.3 in the series and was a little bit of a turnaround for me.  I liked the first two books but I wouldn’t say I was bowled over, Equal Rites felt like it had a storyline I could get into a little more and of course Granny Weatherwax plays a role – and she is a character indeed.

My reviews for book 1 and 2 are here and here.

The main gist of the story for equal rites is that witches can’t be wizards.  This is a known fact.  Is isn’t possible.  So, when a dying wizard passes his powers and staff of power to the eighth son of an eighth son – imagine the dilemma when the newborn baby turns out to be a girl.  Of course, it’s too late to backtrack, the staff has been passed on and now belongs to Eskarina Smith – more than belongs in fact, the staff has a force of it’s own and it seems to protect its new owner with a passion.

Enter Granny Weatherwax.  She lives on her mountain and prefers goats to people.  She steps in to try and help train Esk in the witch ways, unfortunately Esk has too much untamed magic and finally it seems that the only thing would be to take her to the Unseen University – a very male  establishment where the only way for Esk to enter is to be part of the staff, invisible, in the background, but secretly learning.

As I mentioned already I enjoyed this one more than the first two in series.  In fairness, it’s probably unfair to say I didn’t enjoy them because I did.  They’re entertaining stories with a whacky madcap humour but Equal Rites is the earliest introduction to Granny Weatherwax and already she is a character not to be trifled with.  I’ve previously read the Tiffany Aching series and loved them so rediscovering this earlier version of Granny was delightful. She is such a force of nature. one of those people who is always right, even if she doesn’t have the first notion about what she’s talking she never admits it – hot damn I wish I’d had a little bit of that attitude at certain points in my life.

Esk is definitely an interesting character but Granny can’t help but steal the show.

Other things worth a mention.  A certain similarity to the first two books in the series where a journey of two people is embarked upon. This particular journey could be said to be a ‘finding yourself’ type tale not just for Esk but for Granny.  She has some very firm views herself, in some respects she feels akin to the wizards – which makes the conclusion of this particular story so interesting and actually a little heartwarming.  I think Pratchett has a way of giving unbelievable characteristics to everyday things.  I think he could probably make a chair look disapproving or a stove cook furiously.  Firstly – the luggage from books 1 and 2 which came across as playful at times and like a determined guard dog at others.  Here we have the staff, positively dripping with stubbornness.  I love these little things.

In terms of slight reservations.  Okay, I wouldn’t say that I’m really experiencing any seriously laugh out loud moments at this stage of my journey through the Discworld but I like to think it’s early days and the world and characters are still being established.  I certainly found this story easier to get along with although that could be the  familiarity with a certain character.  I would also say that my experience with Equal Rites was that I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book more than the concluding chapters where things seemed to slow down for me even though, conversely the pace increased.  That being said there were elements that were greatly enjoyable – I’m thinking of the dual between a certain witch and wizard which was very entertaining.

Witches, wizards, magic, tricks, broomstick riding, magic libraries and a determined witch and her protege ringing in the changes.

I always think the first 2 or 3 books in a series are the foundations and so with still (ahem) quite a few more books yet to come I will say I have high hopes.  I feel like I’m starting to find my feet.  Let’s see what No.4 has in store.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars

I bought a copy for kindle.

The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd

Posted On 5 July 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 10 responses

My Five Word TL:DR Review : I couldn’t put it down

Rising

I loved The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd and now I can add The Rising Tide to the ‘loved it’ list too.

As the book starts we meet Lucy Locke.  Married to Daniel and with two lovely children, Fin and Billie, they seem to have an idyllic life.  Lucy runs a successful local business called the Drift Net which is a great community venue as well as local meeting spot.  They live in an impressive house that sits on top of the cliffs overlooking the sea and their love is as strong now as it ever was.  Daniel’s business seems to have hit a blip but it’s nothing they can’t get through together – until Daniel heads off to work one morning and Lucy’s life is turned upside down.

Daniel has taken the family yacht out to sea, the local rescue service have received a mayday, the boat has been found but nobody is aboard and one of the biggest storms of the century is fast approaching.  The police become involved and things escalate rapidly when it appears both children are also missing.

I can’t really go any further into the plot as that would reveal spoilers and I really don’t want to go there.

So, what worked really well for me with this?

Firstly, the writing is excellent and Lloyd sets the scene magnificently.  You can feel Lucy’s ever growing terror as she scrambles around, desperately worried about her family while the tension builds much like the approaching clouds and swollen sea.

Secondly, this is a writer who knows how to keep his cards close to his chest, slowly revealing information that gives you pause for thought.  You start to entertain doubts, and yet Lucy seems so steadfast, she loves her husband and he loves her.  Is she hiding something?  Is she delusional?  I started to entertain notions that I knew what was going on, Lloyd is excellent at misdirection however, feeding you snippets of things that look a certain way until you start to doubt everything and everyone.

The setting also plays into the plot so well.  This is one of those small seaside villages that feels almost claustrophobic and it seems that there are secrets and resentments lying just below the surface waiting to be revealed.   On the face of it, Lucy and her family are loved and respected but scratch the surface and you find people who are not quite so enamoured.

In terms of the characters.  Lucy is very well done.  She’s far from perfect and as you gather more information about her you’ll start to regard her more cautiously, maybe even start to have a few ‘what the heck’ moments in regards to some of her behaviour.  Some of it just doesn’t make sense, and I say again, is she delusional??  Then there’s DI Abraham Rose.  He definitely makes his presence known, there’s something about him that just seems to draw attention.  It’s like a bear has just entered the room and you can’t drag your eyes away.  Rose is on a mission of sorts, like a knight on a quest, he’s determined to get to the bottom of this mystery and only his failing health can stop him.  Is this family as perfect as we are first given to believe?

I didn’t really have any criticisms.  I really enjoyed this one, I think maybe the culprit was a little thinly drawn but I think that’s a combination of not wanting to give away the story too early on and then being caught up in the thick of the drama in such a way that there wasn’t really an opportunity to provide too much without losing momentum.

As it is, I really liked this, it held me gripped, I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough, it was an absolute roller coaster of ups and downs, it took me by surprise more than once and not always in a nice way, the writing is great, the tension and atmosphere stand out and I didn’t see the ending coming.  What more can I say?  I’ll be eagerly watching Sam Lloyd to see what he comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars.

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 last year 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:

Last week:

I had a busy week, the weather was good, I did a bit of socialising, some gardening, some experimental cooking and went a little off plan with my reading – but not totally.  I managed a couple of reviews (not as many as I’d liked) but I also posted my first update post for SPFBO shortly followed by my next batch of books.  This week I completed The Final Girl’s Support Group by Grady Hendrix – which was great – I went off schedule a little and read The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente which is thought provoking, emotional, beautiful, hopeful and dreadful at the same time.  I’m also reading The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley, I’m taking my time a little with this one because it’s so good I just don’t want to rush it, I want to savour the writing, the world and the characters.

Complete the Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.   Next I’m aiming to read The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry and maybe The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi (although She Who Became the Sun is calling to me as well at the moment so we’ll see.  I’ll be picking up the fourth Discworld soon and also continuing with First Law which I’m loving..

Reviews Posted since last Sunday:

  1. One of Us by ML Roberts
  2. Hyde by Craig Russell

Forthcoming Reviews:

  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams
  3. The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd
  4. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
  5. The Final Girl’s Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  6. The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente

#SPFBO 7 : My Second Batch of Books

SPFBO71024_1

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 

Berserker

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

SM

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 

BoS

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

Dragonbirth

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.

Friday Face Off : A book with a landscape you’d like to visit

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

A book with a landscape you’d like to visit

Well, I had a more difficult time with this one than you might expect.  A lot of the places I read about are violent or war soaked places, there are crazy magicians and dark overlords tring to rule the world, armies of orcs and trolls rampaging around – and basically I’m a huge coward so to be honest I don’t want to go there thank you very much.  So I had to try and think outside the box a little bit.  I thought of using Narnia, the Shire (definitely not Mordor) or Hogwarts but I’ve probably used these before.  Instead I’ve gone for a book/series that is perhaps something of a cheat – The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman.  Now, okay, I admit I said it’s something of a cheat but – those who are allowed access to this library can open doors to an infinite number of worlds.  In fact through the books I’ve read from the series I’ve already travelled to a steampunk London and an alternate Venice where Carnival never stops and St Petersburg’s Winter Palace.  So – lots of places to visit in this series – who am I kidding, I’d probably just stay in the library – it has a strange warped sense of time and the librarians barely age at all – think of all that reading time.

This week I’ve picked all the covers from the series:

Do you have a favourite?  I’ve been back and forth but find myself drawn to :

Invisible7

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – A Wicked Grin

2021

July

9th – A Wicked Grin

16th – Books with ‘book’ in the title

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Hyde by Craig Russell

Posted On 1 July 2021

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 10 responses

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Clever reimagining of a classic

Hyde

I read and enjoyed the Devil’s Aspect by Craig Russell just over a couple of years ago, it was a creepy gothic horror story and so when I saw that Russell had written another gothic horror, this time set in Victorian Edinburgh I simply couldn’t resist, and, to be honest, I think I enjoyed this one even more.

This is a very clever story.  It isn’t a retelling of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which is what I was expecting somehow, but it uses the influence of duality, which is the premise of the original classic and spins it into a very dark tale incorporating so much more.  On top of this readers will be familiar with at least a couple of the characters and the interesting ideas, combined with celtic folklore, a gothic setting and a murder mystery all combine to make a really good read.

The pov character is one Captain Edward Hyde.  He’s recently returned from serving in India and is now under the employ of The City of Edinburgh Police.  As the story kicks off we’re immediately thrown into a grisly murder scene where the victim appears to have been thrice murdered.  Hyde doesn’t immediately connect this murder with ancient rituals, he’s a bit pre-occupied given that he cannot remember why he was in fact so close to the crime scene himself.  Hyde suffers from a form of epilepsy that leaves him unable to remember things and to lose time completely.  He begins to worry about being so close to the site where the victim was found.  Is he committing dark deeds when he loses control?  Now on top of this there are a series of strange things happening in the City.  A heiress goes missing, a man is executed for a crime that he is believed innocent, banshees cry, another murder victim is discovered and events point to the resurrection of a strange Dark Guild.  To be honest I’m not going to elaborate further on the plot because there are a number of threads taking place in this one.  Don’t let that worry you as everything comes together really well as events unfold and the tension is ramped up.

What I really liked about this was the central character.  He’s a character that I could sympathise with in that he genuinely didn’t know if he was committing dark crimes.  Hyde is being treated for his epilepsy by his friend Dr Samuel Porteus.  What he is unaware of – although he does start to suspect – is that Porteus is experimenting with the treatments he provides, keen to make a breakthrough he is using Hyde as his own personal experiment. Of course Porteus reassures Hyde that he isn’t capable of such heinous crimes but reading from Hyde’s pov you’re very conscious of his own doubts and concerns and the trouble he has to expend to keep his secret close to his chest.

I think the gothic setting is excellently portrayed and there’s a creeping pervasiveness to the story that leaves your neck feeling prickly – that feeling as though you’re being watched.  I actually picked up the audio version for this one and part read/part listened to this and the audio is so good – and definitely added to the chill factor.

Russell is certainly an author that can write horror.  He has a wonderful ability to conjure up malicious and evil characters and his scenes are just excellently portrayed.  I mean, he doesn’t go overboard with either descriptions or background information but seems to have the ability to make each word really count.

On top of this I think, and I did mention this above, that this is very clever.  We have Hyde of course, working to try and discover the source of evil whilst at the same time not entirely trusting that he isn’t hiding something himself (or should that be Hyding? – sorry).  Hyde is definitely a likeable character, even at the same time that you start to have doubts you can’t help wanting everything to resolve well for him and there’s also a brilliant case of misdirection here which I simply have to applaud.

I don’t think I can say too much without sinking into the world of spoilers.  I really enjoyed this.  I think the only criticism I could level at it would be a slight busyness of plot but the threads all do tie up in the end.  For me, I liked the use of Hyde as a detective, I liked the inclusion of the author of the classic story and I thought there was plenty of food for thought, not only in terms of duality but the inclusion of other real life characters such as Deacon Brodie who apparently Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about in his earlier life.  I was so fascinated by this and the way Brodie’s dual lifestyle was possibly the inspiration for the classic we know today.

I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

#SPFBO : My First Batch of Books – Update

SPFBO71024_1

Today I’m posting an update for my first batch of SPFBO books (which can be found here).  This year I’m teaming up with the lovely ladies from the Critiquing Chemist and we split the batch of books equally – which gives me a little more time this year.

This month I read and reviewed my first four books and today I’m providing my feedback on which books will be cut or rolled forward.  At this point I’m not making any decisions on semi-finalists as the semi finalists will be decided by both blogs before agreement on a finalist is reached. We will each put forward hopefuls and then take it from there.

I would mention that this is ultimately the most difficult part of the competition for judges and authors.  I don’t find making cuts easy to be honest however it’s the nature of the competition.  There can be only one. I would also like to thank the authors of the books that are highlighted today for taking the decision to throw their hat into the ring.  It can’t be easy and I definitely applaud you for taking this step.

This month certainly got off to a great start.  I completely read all four books and I don’t think I could have asked for four more different reads.  A historical, alternate reality, portal book, UF with a unique concept, epic/high fantasy with intriguing magic and a YA high school adventure with witches and fae.  This is why I love fantasy.

All that being said I won’t keep you waiting longer, below are my first four books.

Stranded (The Shorten Chronicles #1) by Rosalind Tate

Stranded

Sophie Arundel is stranded in history, stuck in a grand house in 1925 England. Thankfully, she has her faithful dog Charlotte with her. Oh, and fellow student Hugo, annoying and charming in equal measure.

Baffled by upper-class rules, courted by boring suitors, Sophie is desperate to get back to the twenty-first century, but the only way home is through a hidden portal — and she must work with Hugo to unlock its secrets.

As one clue leads to another, Sophie and Hugo discover that history is unfolding differently. Mobs rule the streets. And when chaos turns into a deadly revolution, anyone in a grand house is fair game.

Sophie and Hugo are running out of time…

My review is here.

In a nutshell, Stranded is a very easy to read, cosy mystery.  There is a slow romance building and the attention to detail in terms of the period is very well done and interesting.  Clearly the author enjoyed writing this and it shone through.  I did have a couple of criticisms but nothing that left me wanting to put the book down.  It is a little light in terms of the fantasy elements however.

Conclusion: Cut

***

Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned (Reed Lavender #1) by Ashley Capes

Graves

At least when you’re Death’s nephew the bad guys literally have nowhere to hide, right?

Meet Reed Lavender, a mostly-human detective with the uncanny ability to hear the final words of the dead. But on this case he’ll need more than his usual tricks to solve the murder of a teen runaway – he’ll need something that just might be more trouble than it’s worth – the help of his ragtag Reaper-cousins.

But the deeper Reed digs the more he realises there’s something far bigger and darker beneath his city, something vast, something that is ripening to rot…

My review is here.

In a nutshell this is urban fantasy.  I loved the  concept of this one and also the writing.  The pacing is very fast, probably, for me, a little too fast as I found myself wanting to slow down a little and let things develop, take a breather maybe.  I have to say though that this was entertaining to read and I would definitely pick up more books in the series to see what the author comes up with next.  I think my real issue is I would have liked this to maybe take a little more time with the set up as I felt like I wanted  more  somehow.

Conclusion : Cut

***

Deathborn (Sovereigns of Bright and Shadow #1) by CE Page

Deathborn

Corruption is a disease with no cure that ends with a rapid descent into madness and violence. And until now it only targeted mages.

When an infected warden shows up challenging everything Margot thought she knew she is thrown into the chase to find the impossible cure. But to understand this new revelation she needs someone who knows possession … She needs Nea and lucky for Margot, her warden friend Garret has been tasked with tracking the rogue necromancer down.

Garret is used to dealing with dangerous mages so this should be like any other job: find the mage and deliver her to the king. But from the moment he finds Nea he is dragged into a deadly game of dark secrets and brutal machinations. Now he must make a choice: deliver Nea as promised and place a weapon in the hands of a madman or deny his king and change the lives of wardens and mages forever.

My review is here.

Conclusion : Roll Forward (I won’t elaborate further at this point, my review is linked above)

***

One of Us: the City of Secrets by ML Roberts

OneofUs

The witch wants her dead, the fae want her alive, the police want to bring her in for questioning. High school should not be this way.

Olivia knows the rules: study hard, never lie, do unto others, but when a witch makes the rules and the others are fae, telling the truth will get her locked up.

Last month she saw the impossible, now she sees it again. She tells herself it’s all in her head. How else explain a shining man who fell out of nowhere or a student who died but still lives?

She carries on with her usual activities: volleyball, pop quizzes, a favor for Mom, but denial won’t make it go away. When she thinks it can’t get any worse, it does.

Friends, enemies, the police, someone is lying. If not one of them, one of us.

My review is here.

In a nutshell this is YA high school fantasy.  I think it got off to a slightly shaky start, maybe a little bit of clunky dialogue here and there and perhaps a little overly drawn out in terms of really getting started.  But, once the action began I confess to being very entertained.  For me, it felt like the author gained in confidence as the story progressed and there was a chaotic, crazy popcorn munching vibe going on.  Yes, I enjoyed this,,the story hooked me as things progressed and I wanted to know what was going on.  There, however, is the rub. I did finish the story on a slight note of confusion, I know that there are more books (or is it book?) planned but I didn’t come away from this with a real understanding of motivations in terms of the central ‘baddies’. I admit that I’m not really the target audience for this one, but I think with a little more polish it would definitely be a series I could see myself continuing to read.

Conclusion : cut

My thanks again to the authors.

I will be posting my second batch of books very soon.

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Quicksilver Court (Rooks and Ruin #2) by Melissa Caruso

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Quicksilver Court (Rooks and Ruin #2) by Melissa Caruso – because I really enjoyed the Obsidian Tower.  Here’s the description:

QuicksilverCourtThe Quicksilver Court continues the wildly original epic fantasy series bursting with intrigue and ambition, questioned loyalties, and broken magic that began with The Obsidian Tower.
 
Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.
 
As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.

Expected publication : October 2021

Top Ten Tuesday : Anticipated Reading List

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic :

Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2021

Okay, so I recently posted for TTT books I’d be reading for summer – which you can find here.  Today I’m going to look at some of the other books on my shelves that I’m looking forward to picking up, these basically continue where my summer reads left off.  (Obviously I’m also looking forward to more of my SPFBO books but I will be posting about those separately.

  1. Paper and Blood by Kevin Hearne
  2. The Pariah by Anthony Ryan
  3. Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff (Sampler)
  4. The House of Dust by Noah Broyles
  5. Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber
  6. Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
  7. Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar
  8. The Hidden by Melanie Golding
  9. All of Us Villains by Christine Herman; Amanda Foody
  10. Survive the Night by Riley Sager

So, what’s on your list this week?

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

SPFBO71024_1

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.

OneofUs

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.

 

 

 

 

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 last year 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:

Last week:

This week I finished reading A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams.  I also red The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd and completed my third Discworld book – my buddy read with Lou’s Book Stuff. I also managed to squeeze in three book reviews and a guest post by Bjørn Larssen in which he discusses book covers for Children (The Ten Worlds #1).  The description for which can be found here.  Finally I made a start on The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.

Complete the Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.   Then I’m aiming to read The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix.  Not sure about my other choice of book yet, possibly The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry.  I’m also aiming to review the fourth SPFBO book I read for June following which I will be posting a SPFBO update in which I will announce books cut or carried forward.

  1. For the Wolf (Wilderwood #1) by Hannah F Whitten
  2. Deathborn (Sovereigns of Bright and Shadow #1) by CE Page
  3. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. One of Us by ML Roberts
  3. Hyde by Craig Russell
  4. A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams
  5. The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd
  6. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

#SPFBO Saturday : Guest post from Bjørn Larssen

SPFBO71024_1

As part of the SPFBO Competition each weekend I am hoping to post guest blog posts inviting authors taking part in the competition to visit my blog to either write an article, discuss covers, take part in an interview or post an excerpt or teaser for their work.

This weekend is my first visit and I’m really happy to be hosting a guest post submitted by Bjørn Larssen in which he discusses the thought processes that led him to come up with the wonderful cover we’re now familiar with.  A cover that was also submitted into the SPFBO Cover Competition and won Silver place from the public vote. Bjørn is the author of Children (The Ten World #1).  The description for which can be found here.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Bjørn for agreeing to take part and providing us with an insight into the amount of work that goes into putting together a successful cover.

***

Everything began with a shot of Meghan and Harry walking in front of photographers. Meghan, an actress, did the smiling and waving thing. Harry’s mouth formed a grimace, his best attempt at a smile. He gazed to the side, eyebrows furrowed. He was not holding Meghan’s hand; she held his.

Harry was never going to become King; he’d forever remain “the son of.” At best, potentially useful as a point of access to those who have actual power. He knew all that, saw no escape, knew this was going to be how the rest of his life would unfold, and he was terrified.

Magni, son of Thor, was neglected, cast away, ignored by his father. He was also a giant, flame-haired, bearded blacksmith who carried his favourite hammer around. He looked like the father he despised – and the last time he had seen Thor was when Thor had destroyed the town Magni and his mother lived in. Magni made a vow to become the opposite of Thor, rejecting everything his father stood for.

Someone like Magni could never be accepted as simply a strong man who likes working with iron though. He was not a person – but “the son of,” hated or loved at first sight, preconceptions about him made before it transpired he even had a name of his own. At best, potentially useful as a point of access to the “real” Gods. He knew all that, saw no escape, knew this was going to be how the rest of his life would  unfold, and he was terrified.

I wanted Magni on the cover and now I knew what he should look like.

Portrait

Most covers of indie fantasy books are paintings. I had the blurb for the artist ready – here’s the photo. Give me those haunted eyes, the apprehension, add darkness and fire. I approached two artists whose earlier work I adored. When I received their price quotes, I slightly passed out. Those prices, when I thought about it, were completely reasonable, when compared with how much time and work it would take. But in order to afford their fees, I’d have to postpone the book by at least six months in order to save money.

The probability of me finding a model with red hair and beard, clad in medieval clothing, with that look in his eyes and the right facial expression, seemed near-zero. To my excited disbelief, I found him. I stared at the photos (there was a whole series!), picked one, bought it, and started working. The cover couldn’t just have Magni on it. It needed to convey the message “this is a Norse mythology retelling from the point of view of the son of Thor (pictured), oh, and despite the title it is also not at all suitable for children.”

I added layers – a flock of birds to represent Odin’s ravens; tree branches; fire. After consideration I took out the birds, because representing Odin’s two ravens using fifty or so bird silhouettes felt unclear even to me. I replaced the branches with an actual peek of a forest at night. Added more fire (when in doubt, always add more fire) for that fantasy je ne sais quoi. My inner graphic designer (I worked as one for nearly fifteen years) was delighted. As a reader, all I could tell was that it was a fantasy book that featured some bloke with green eyes. The only reason why I knew it had something to do with Norse Gods was that I wrote the book.

I tried various pseudo-runic fonts and cringed from here to New Zealand at how cheap they made the cover look. I changed the title to Children of the Gods, because Gods = possibly Norse Gods, might work. I showed the result to some people and all of them praised it – but they all already knew what the book was about.

But it was so pretty.

lynn_children_compositeA few weeks before the release date a friend told me about a lengthy series of vaguely homophobic vampire erotica called Children of the Gods. Now I really had a branding disaster in my hands. Calling the book Children didn’t really explain what it was about, but getting it mixed up with a series of 46 (by now 51) vampire romances? The publishers of those had massive marketing budgets (and potentially a lawyer). My book would never appear in Amazon search above the 47th position. I was happy to go back to the original title – but now the cover again conveyed, without a doubt, that it contained a green-eyed man.

Trees

Children is the first book in The Ten Worlds series. I commissioned a logo for the series from Brad Bergman. It was supposed to appear on the spines and front covers, small, just for branding. When it arrived, I was blown away. It just fit, an illustration rather than a logo, Yggdrasil, the Tree of life, surrounded by clearly Norse symbols. I blew the logo up, placed it on a burgundy red background, made it golden, then replaced the gold with fire. (When in doubt…) The typography was simple, not to distract from the Tree. I barely bothered to say a quick “bye” to poor Magni.

Childrentree

When the book came out, many of the reviewers couldn’t compliment the cover enough. It was a triumph. I loved it, the readers who followed me after Storytellers (my debut) loved it, and all seemed great until a stranger asked me what sort of book it was.

It didn’t occur to me that the reviewers were approached with the question “would you like to read a Norse mythology retelling from the point of view of the Gods’ children?” They knew what they were getting, they’ve read the blurb, and then they read the book. The readers who followed me knew what I was writing. A new potential buyer saw a (beautiful) drawing of a (burning?) tree on red background.

Hoping that it was a one-off, I asked other authors in a group I am a member of – what do you think this book is? I thought the problem was the typography and I needed to make it “more fantasy.” But most of those I polled answered “epic fantasy.” I got the genre right, but not the subgenre. I created a wonderful cover for some other book.

When I explained what it actually was, most people suggested putting Thor’s hammer on the cover. This didn’t work for multiple reasons. Children is the first book in a series. What would I do with the second or third? Multiple hammers? But the reason why they were mentioning Thor’s hammer was that they saw it on Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Which was why I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t even look like an homage, just a shameless attempt to coat-tail on Gaiman’s success.

I decided to ask people who had read the book instead. What did they think it was? Their answers could be summed up with “a very dark Norse fairytale.” One of them used the word “grimdark.” No, I thought, confused. Grimdark was all about blood-dripping axes and burning battlefields and cackling warriors raping the daughters of their enemies, and so on. I knew that, because I had read two grimdark books. It turned out that they didn’t cover the entire genre.

The new brief I gave myself said: Grimdark. Norse. Fairytale.

I found the right typeface, Noatún – very different from the pseudo-runic hand-drawn letters, yet just Norse enough to clearly convey the message. Grimdark – no blood-dripping axes for me, but obviously saturated, bright colours were not right. It needed to be subdued. Fairytale – I browsed through many images until I decided on one. Yggdrasil, the Tree, stil fit, but it shouldn’t be pretty and fierce. Instead, I would use an image of a moss-covered tree in a foggy forest. I filtered, layered, worked on the photo until it no longer looked like a photo. The fog turned silver. Just to hammer (sorry) the message home, I added “A NORSE MYTHOLOGY RETELLING” under the title. There it was. My fitting, striking, informative cover.

lynn_tree_compositeIt killed the sales.

There are weeks when I sell more books, then fewer. But when I change nothing but the cover, the number drops to zero, and remains there, it’s easy to guess what the reason could be. I analysed the cover, trying to figure out what I’d done wrong this time. On the thumbnail, the “Norse Mythology Retelling” was illegible. Without that, potential readers saw a blurry, green tree. Their first thought was never going to be, “oh, this is very clearly a grimdark fairytale-like Norse mythology retelling.” I lost the attraction of the red “epic fantasy” tree and failed to convey what the book actually was – again. Oh boy, I thought. If I went with a painted portrait of Magni, I would now be commissioning the fourth painting.

Raven

Back to the photoshopping board we go. Again.

The blurb was fine, but the imagery wasn’t, so the image search and Amazon search became my best friends. Grimdark fantasy. Norse grimdark fantasy. Norse inspired fantasy. Books about Norse mythology. Heathenry symbols. Ásatrú symbols. Viking symbols.

The list I already had seemed, sadly, quite complete. Apart from Odin’s eyepatch I only added Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse – who makes a brief appearance indeed – and Odin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn.

In the book, ravens are mostly present because of their absence. My characters’ paranoia about being potentially watched by or listened to by Odin’s ravens is justified. Huginn and Muninn are an extension of Odin; the all-seeing-eyes that might be near… or not. Menacing, dark, fairytale-like – if that fairytale was written by Brothers Grimm on a really cloudy day.

I chose blue that was simultaneously saturated and subdued, moving from fire to ice. The colour was both striking and cold. I added layers of trees, but not pretty, green trees; dark and menacing. The raven himself is a painting I luckily didn’t have to commission. Once I added firefly-like lights, I tested it on a few more people who haven’t read the book, and sighed with relief.

lynn_raven_composite

The final (for now) cover couldn’t possibly be more different from what I started with. This one, however, works. And I got another reminder, or three, that cover design is a very different form of art from graphic design.

***

Thanks so much for visiting today, I loved reading about your own book cover journey and hope everyone else does too.

Friday Face Off : Upside down, back to front or topsy turvy

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

This week’s theme:

Upside down, back to front or topsy turvy

So, I had a few covers in mind for this week’s theme, of course, not all of them had alternative covers so I’ve gone for I am Behind You (Platserna #1) by John Ajvide Lindqvist.  I’ve read a couple of his books and they be scary!  I don’t want to ever upset this guy because he has got some imagination going on.  Seriously, though, this book, and I Always Find you – wow, mind blown in the most wicked, horror soaked way:

My favourite this week

Difficult to choose because these covers give me the chills but I’ve gone for two – I love the second image with the upside down caravan – it actually does my head in!  But that image with the green scare the bejesus out of me and I can’t even say why, it just does:

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – A book with a landscape you’d like to visit

2021

July

2nd – A book with a landscape you’d like to visit

9th – A Wicked Grin

16th – Books with ‘book’ in the title

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor #2) by Katherine Addison

My Five Word TL:DR Review : An excellent, character focused story

WitnessThe Witness for the Dead is the second book in Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor series – although it isn’t a continuation of that story but a focus on one of the character from book 1.  Strangely enough a character that I was keen to learn more about so i was very happy to discover that Addison had returned to this wonderful world.

I’ve actually borrowed from the book description to give you an idea of what the book is about because I think this gives a very good idea of what you can expect:

‘When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honestly will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty to use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.’

So, as you can see this book is far removed from Court and the Emperor.  However, even with that removal to the City Celehar hasn’t completely escaped politics and maneouvering.

The actual plot here revolves around a number of ‘cases’ that Celehar becomes involved with that range from murder mystery, will forgery and banishing ghouls and in fact some of the cases give us the really ugly truth of what Celehar’s strange abilities sometimes entail – seeing the last few moments of murdered victims can be particularly harrowing, as can speaking to those who died in horrible accidents and unsurprisingly Celehar’s work causes him many sleepless nights and strange and unsettling dreams.

The storylines we follow are interesting, particularly in giving a good feel for the City.  I loved to see the world of the Opera and all the tea shops with their varied food and drinks.  I liked the way that the author particularly focuses on day to day routines, clothes, etc and provides a clear picture of Celehar’s everyday life.  All of these things help to build a strong picture of Amalo, it’s poor quarters, the factories, living and working conditions, in fact Celehar himself does not receive a generous salary for the work he undertakes and it was interesting to see him struggling to justify purchases and making purchases second-hand.  There’s a sort of down to earth quality about these everyday things that is both mundane but at the same time strangely comforting to read and really helpful in building up a strong picture of the main character.

Which brings me to Celehar.  I mentioned above that this is a great character study and this is what really made this book stand out for me, much more than the plot in fact.  Celehar is such an unusual character.  How to explain.  I think the first thing that comes across is his formality.  He follows what he perceives to be the correct forms of etiquette in terms of speech almost with overbearing politeness at some points.  This comes down basically to the fact that he finds it difficult to interact with people and so I suppose adhering to a certain form of polite ‘rules’ provides him with comfort.  To be honest, I really liked him.  He’s thorough, he’s honest, a bit lonely, sad almost, but I loved his frankness and he felt so refreshingly different, I wanted to hug him but think he would be horrified by the notion.  He takes on board his tasks, no matter how distressing, in an uncomplaining fashion and is stubbornly determined to see them through even though they may make him unhappy.  It’s possible that Celehar is autistic – although I’m certainly not an expert so that could be completely wrong – but his difficulty in communicating with others, his almost obsessive attention to detail such as directions to and from places, his very structured and methodical way of dealing with situations, his straightforward way of describing things without softening the blow, all point in that direction.  The other thing I really liked about Celehar is that in spite of his own fears about certain things people like him, of course, some people are intimidated by the nature of his work, but what shines through here is that eventually his natural determination to help others wins him friends.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read with a character that I was keen to learn more about and a world that I was very happy to explore further.  A very different book than the Goblin Emperor but another example of how Addison excels at character development.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars

 

 

Can’t Wait Wednesday : Cytonic (Skyward #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : Cytonic (Skyward #3) by Brandon Sanderson.  I’ve loved the first two books so I was really excited when I saw this one due for release in November:

CytonicFrom the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Reckoners series, the Mistborn trilogy, and the Stormlight Archive comes the third book in an epic series about a girl who will travel beyond the stars to save the world she loves from destruction.

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home.

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.

Expected publication : November 2021

Deathborn (Sovereigns of Bright and Shadow #1) by CE Page #SPFBO

SPFBO71024_1

Deathborn by CE Pages is the third SPFBO book that I read this month as part of the SPFBO Competition.  Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes is the second of the books I’ve read (review here) and Stranded by Rosalind Tate was my first book and my review can be found here.

I must say that I do love this cover – feast your eyes:

DeathbornDeathborn brings to readers an interesting world with Mages, a disease known as Corruption and a mad king desperate for absolute power.  

As the story begins we’re thrown into a situation involving a number of friends who witness a disturbing find regarding the spread of Corruption that starts them on a desperate search for answers. 

Okay, let me just throw in here a little background or world building before anything else.  This is a world with mages, each with different magical abilities depending on the element they are in control of.  There are mages that heal or control storms for example and those with the ability to control the spirit world are known as necromancers.  Wardens work for the Order and are used to keep mages under control – basically, they suppress a mage’s connection to the source of power that they draw from leaving them unable to use magic.  The King wants to take control of the Order in a political maneuver that is not popular with everyone, particularly as it essentially means he would also take control of mages, and this has caused rifts to develop in the Order.  On top of this, three years prior, a dreadful event took place at a college called Kalhanna, all the mages were wiped out or purged and a necromancer known as Nea is rumoured to be responsible and has been in hiding since although not everyone believes the rumours.  

Now, with that in mind, we return to the start of the story where a warden has just burst onto the scene, infected with Corruption.  This could be the start of disaster (the disease having only affected mages prior to this), a cure must be found and in order to do so our characters need to take immediate action, they also need to locate Nea who can potentially help them with searching for a cure – unfortunately, they’re not the only ones looking for her.  King Evard has asked one of his Warden Commanders, Garret, to locate her and bring her in.

The main characters we immediately meet are Margot, a mage and healer, Declan who is working on a cure for Corruption, and Garret a Warden Commander.  They discover information about a journal that could help with a cure and could also be the location where Nea is hiding out – so, two birds one stone.

From here the plot moves forward as each of the pov characters continues with their tasks.  The chapters alternate between Margot, Nea and Garret although Margot has less involvement following events in the earlier chapters that i won’t elaborate on here.  To cut a long story short Garret is searching for Nea and when the two meet his loyalty will be tested.  Nea has her own story and her own reasons for hiding and handing her over to the king could be very dangerous.

I had a good time with Deathborn, with a few reservations.  The writing is good, the characters were set up well, there were complicated relationships and politics involved I thought Page did an excellent job of setting up the magic and had clearly given a lot of thought to how everything came together.  For example, The Barrier and the Between.  The Between is the realm of spirits and the barrier keeps the realms apart.  To be honest, the actual world itself was only fairly briefly drawn, it feels mediaeval in terms of weapons, forts, etc, but the magic, the world of the mages and other related issues such as Deathborn and Reanimations are well thought out and keep the story interesting.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, the start of the book involves looking for Nea – she’s been in hiding for three years as I mentioned above.  Two things that puzzled me about that were firstly, that the king didn’t take any steps prior to this, why was there a three year gap where nothing seemed to happen?  (Slight spoiler : I don’t understand why Margot only now became useful as a pawn).  Secondly, I wouldn’t say that Nea was particularly well hidden – but I think that might be just a misunderstanding on my part, Garret seemed to find her easy enough but then he had co-operation from others in order to do so (co-operation that wouldn’t have been forthcoming for the king).  That aside there was a certain amount of going back and forth which started to feel a bit frustrating and I felt particularly exasperated with one of the decisions that Garret makes during the story that made me wonder what he was thinking – but. again, I’m thinking not to include spoilers here so won’t go into more detail.

On the whole though this was an enjoyable read.  I felt myself engaging well with the characters, I thought the magic system was well developed, the pacing was good and it sets up well for the next instalment (although I would point out that this doesn’t end on a note of completion).

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

For the Wolf (Wilderwood #1) by Hannah F Whitten

My Five Word TL:DR Review : I wanted to love this

FortheWolfOkay, I think I will start my review of For the Wolf by saying I think a case of overhype and misdirection led me to expect something different from this one.  Basically, I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings and can’t resist picking them up always with that sweet expectation of finding something whimsical and yet deliciously dark, twisted and different.  To be fair to For the Wolf I literally led myself down the garden path a little with this one.  I read the description and put two and two together, basically reaching the conclusion that a story with a character called Red and a dangerous wolf in a forest equated to a Red Riding Hood retelling.  That’s my own fault at the end of the day.  In fact the blurb mentions that fans of Uprooted will like this one and I think that particular comparison is much more apt.

As it is, this felt much more like a Beauty and the Beast style story – which isn’t a problem because that just so happens to be my favourite fairytale – but, I think a combination of a rather busy style background in terms of the folklore elements coupled with a style of magic that felt a little strange left me unable to fully enjoy this one.

Redarys, or Red, is the second Princess and therefore fated from birth to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Forest.  Centuries ago a deal was struck whereby dark magic was banished and kept at bay by the Wilderwood and its sentinels.  Unfortunately the Five King’s were also banished due to an unexpected twist.  Over the years it seems that the story and the bargain struck have evolved into something different.  It was believed that the second daughter born to the royal family would be given in sacrifice to the Wolf in the Woods, this sacrifice being linked to the release of the Kings (or Gods as they seem to have become known over the course of time).  However, having been sent into the wood, Red discovers that there is to be no sacrifice and the wolf is in fact a man who is single handedly struggling to keep the darkness at bay.

On a positive note I thought it got off to a really good start.  It fairly soon establishes the main characters and their respective roles and also sets up for a story with two sisters who seem devoted to each other.  I thought the introduction of Red into the Wilderwood and the chase through the trees before she reached the Tower was also really well done.  Also, to be honest, although there was a good deal of creating situations that would lead to sexual tension between Red and Eamonn (the wolf – or warden as it happens) I did quite enjoy the romance aspects to the story.  I wouldn’t call it unique and it definitely wasn’t unexpected but still I liked the feelings that built between the two characters and the eventual relationship that ensued.  I have no guilt whatsoever in that respect.  I came expecting some romance and Whitten delivered.

I think the main issue I experienced with For the Wolf was a sense of puzzlement.  I wasn’t sure why there was a plot to release the five kings – and this does take up a good portion of the story involving a religious cult and a scheming priestess.  The motivations were very thin on the ground.  The world here seemed to have survived perfectly well since the kings disappeared so what was the purpose of wanting them back?  This part of the story felt very under explored and it just left me feeling as though I’d missed something.  The Priestess herself, she lacked any sort of substance that would lend credulity as to why anyone would follow her.  And, the magic used here seemed mainly to revolve around cutting and bleeding onto things which I can’t deny was not an aspect of the story that I enjoyed.  I also would mention that at almost 450 pages this did feel a little bloated in parts.

Criticisms aside, I think For the Wolf will definitely find it’s audience.  On this occasion I don’t think that will be me and I don’t expect to pick up further instalments in the series although it might be the case that more information about the Kings and the magic is forthcoming as the story progresses.  I admit I’m not the target audience for this one and although I did enjoy the brooding romance the retelling or fairy tale elements didn’t really work their magic for me on this occasion.

I would like to thank the publishers for providing a copy for review, through Netgalley.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3 of 5 stars

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 last year 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:

Last week:

I finished reading my fourth SPFBO book last week – One of Us by ML Roberts.  I’ve already posted my first two SPFBO reviews and the second two books will be reviewed soon.  I also finished reading For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten and The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison and I started reading Jen William’s psychological Thriller – A Dark and Secret Place.  I have had a busy week and I need to do quite a bit of gardening but the weather went off a little and so rain stopped all plans. I’ve completely dropped the ball with both my buddy read books which I’m feeling sheepish about.  I will catch up though.  This next week I’m hoping to make a start on a couple of my July books, I’m thinking The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd or The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.  

Complete A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams.  Start a couple of my July books, maybe The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd or The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley.   I think I will be focusing on reviews this forthcoming week.  Need to catch up a little so probably less memes.

  1. Stranded by Rosalind Tate
  2. Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes
  1. Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
  2. Deathborn by CE Page
  3. One of Us by ML Roberts
  4. Hyde by Craig Russell
  5. For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten
  6. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned (Reed Lavender #1) #SPFBO

SPFBO71024_1

Graves Robbed, Heirlooms Returned by Ashley Capes is the second of the books I’ve read this month as part of the SPFBO Competition.  Stranded by Rosalind Tate was the first book I read and my review can be found here.

Graves

Graves Robbed is the start of an Urban Fantasy series with what I found to be quite a unique concept. Reed Lavender is a detective with a difference.  He looks like your regular run of the mill human being but his family are far from the mundane.  Nephew to ‘Death’ he is only partly human.  A story which is still in the making and I imagine more will be revealed with each instalment.

I enjoyed this.  I’ve read Capes before and I do like his style of writing.  With this particular story there is no hand holding.  You’re thrown pretty much into the plot and just need to run with it.  Lavender is working a case involving a runaway – his unique genealogy gives him the ability to talk to the dead – which can come in very useful in murder cases and the like.  He can also call on Death although this isn’t always terribly helpful, that being said, having a bunch of cousins who you can use in tricky situations does have it’s benefits.  I would also mention that he has a couple of tricks up his sleeve and that help to protect him but I won’t elaborate too much here.

So, Lavender’s case leads him to uncover something much more sinister taking place in the city.  Something that seems to involve summoning something dark, strange cult like behavior, sacrifices and kidnapping.

The setting is much as you would expect with urban fantasy.  Contemporary, modern day but with plenty of supernatural aspects including Gods and reapers.

As with most urban fantasy I usually find the first book is more involved with getting to know the main character and the world and Graves Robbed is consistent in that respect.  To an extent being thrown straight into the action left me a little bit perplexed to begin with, especially in terms of the other characters and becoming familiar with who everyone was, but I fairly quickly found my feet.

The plot is a little scattered, maybe a little too busy for the actual size of the book.  I think this is slightly under 150 pages and there’s quite a lot of action involved.  I must confess that when I first started to read I initially felt like I’d missed something, maybe a prequel or something with a little more background but I don’t think that is the case.  As it is I think the shortness of the story works against it a little bit, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough time to become familiar with the characters and keep on top of the storyline.  Basically, and this is a fairly consistent theme with me when it comes to novella length stories – I think I would have liked a little more.  Not padding just for the sake of it, but a bit more time setting up the people and their relationships to each other.  That is, of course, a personal preference.

However, criticisms aside I did find this a good read.  I liked the idea of a character that is related to Death and I enjoyed meeting Lavender’s cousins.  I think there is so much potential for this series and I would pick up the next instalment to see what the author comes up with next.  I would also mention that this first instalment doesn’t conclude the story, things are still very much in the air and in fact Lavender’s situation has become even more complicated by the final page and I suspect he might regret some of the promises he has been handing out like candy.

Overall, I think if you like UF this is a series that you will enjoy.  It’s short, entertaining, easy to get along with.  I suspect the second and third instalments will really flesh out the characters and place and probably drop a few more clues as to exactly who Reed Lavender really is and what he’s truly capable of.

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

Friday Face Off : Out of Perspective, or makes you feel a bit dizzy

FFO

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.

Small update – I’m still catching up with blog hopping and I haven’t even started on comments on my own blog.  I have read them all just not got back to everyone at the moment.  I’ve been catching up with reviews and review books – or at least trying, I’ve caught a wicked cold and I don’t mind telling you it’s wiped me out.  One day I will be fully caught up – one day very soon *fingers crossed*.

This week’s theme:

Out of Perspective, or makes you feel a bit dizzy

This week I’ve chosen a book that I’ve not read yet (in spite of owning a copy and reading very positive reviews – (something about time and lots of books, yadda yadda yadda).  Anyway,  I think the covers for this are just what I had in mind, it took me a while to figure out what I was really thinking for this theme and then this book popped into my head:  Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – the covers really fit this whole skewed/out of perspective makes you blink or feel a bit off kilter.  Check them out:

My favourite this week

DM4

I’ve updated the list now to include themes for next year.  If you know of an event that’s coming up let me know and I’ll try and include covers that work for the event itself so that you can link up to the Friday Face Off and, as always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.  Also, I would just mention that it’s very possible that some of these might be repeats from previous FFOs although I have tried to invent more ‘open ended’ prompt that can be interpreted differently and also prompts that relate to emotions.  Finally, don’t struggle with any of these, this is meant to be a fun way of highlighting books.  If you can’t come up with a book you think fits for a particular week use a freebie – perhaps a recent read for example:

Next week – Upside down, back to front or topsy turvy

2021

June

25th – Upside down, back to front or topsy turvy

July

2nd – A book with a landscape you’d like to visit

9th – A Wicked Grin

16th – Books with ‘book’ in the title

23rd – A Black Hole – could be in the universe or going deep into the ground

30th – Chaos – maybe too much going on in this one

August

6th – “They cluck their thick tongues, and shake their heads and suggest, os so very delicately!” – The Motel

13th – A favourite holiday read

20th – Dressed to kill (could be literally someone dressed to kill, or someone dressed up for a big night out

27th – Sunbathing or on the beach

September (RIP event)

3rd – 1920s feel, noir detective

10th – I’m Henry the Eighth I am – let’s look at Kings or other Emperors/rulers

17th – Books with ‘Murder’ in the title

24th – A favourite thriller

October

1st – A Halloween read

8th – Chills – anything at all that almost makes you too scared to pick up the book (your own pet hate)

15th – Your favourite book of magic

22nd – Books with ‘Queen’ in the title

29th – Must be gothic

November – Sci Fi Month

5th – Your earliest sci-fi read or the first sci-fi you reviewed

12th – A book with ‘star’ in the title

19th – Futuristic vista

26th – A Black Hole – in the universe or going deep into the ground

December

3rd – Windswept, the classic figure, stood majestically, with wind blowing out in a fetching way

10th – A fairytale retold

17th – Winter Solstice approaching – anything cold and seasonal

24th – All things fire – red hair, red covers, fire breathing dragons, simply fire?

31st – What’s your catnip – if it’s on a cover you have to pick it up

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Book of Magic (Practical Magic #2) by Alice Hoffman

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Book of Magic (Practical Magic #2) by Alice Hoffman. Oh my giddy aunt.  This book.  I love this world, these characters and now this book is on the horizon.  I nearly had a conniption when I saw this. I’m okay, I’m breathing and all is well, but, this book!  Give it to me now.  Pretty please.

bookofmagicMaster storyteller Alice Hoffman brings us the conclusion of the Practical Magic series in a spellbinding and enchanting final Owens novel brimming with lyric beauty and vivid characters.

The Owens family has been cursed in matters of love for over three-hundred years but all of that is about to change. The novel begins in a library, the best place for a story to be conjured, when beloved aunt Jet Owens hears the deathwatch beetle and knows she has only seven days to live. Jet is not the only one in danger—the curse is already at work.

A frantic attempt to save a young man’s life spurs three generations of the Owens women, and one long-lost brother, to use their unusual gifts to break the curse as they travel from Paris to London to the English countryside where their ancestor Maria Owens first practiced the Unnamed Art. The younger generation discovers secrets that have been hidden from them in matters of both magic and love by Sally, their fiercely protective mother. As Kylie Owens uncovers the truth about who she is and what her own dark powers are, her aunt Franny comes to understand that she is ready to sacrifice everything for her family, and Sally Owens realizes that she is willing to give up everything for love.

The Book of Magic is a breathtaking conclusion that celebrates mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, and anyone who has ever been in love.

Expected publication : October 2021

Top Ten Tuesday : Summer reading

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic :

Books On My Summer 2021 TBR

Okay, in my particular neck of the woods Summer runs from June 21st until September 22nd – yes, I looked those dates up and I literally cannot believe they are so specific!  But, having found them out I feel like I should stick to those dates.  So, this week is going to be more than 10 books – because I have quite a few books on my plate this Summer that I’m excited to share that fall in between these dates.  Here goes, all titles linked to Goodreads so you can check out the synopsis:

June

  1. The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor #2) by Katherine Addison

Witness

July

  1. The Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd
  2. The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley
  3. Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey
  4. The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry
  5. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  6. The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente
  7. The Retreat by Elisabeth de Mariaffi
  8. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

August

  1. Mrs Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott
  2. Triflers Need Not Apply by Camilla Bruce
  3. The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach by Jas Treadwell
  4. I Shot the Devil by Ruth McIver
  5. The Women of Troy by Pat Barker
  6. My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
  7. The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

September

  1. Mastermind by Andrew Mayne

Mastermind

On top of this I will be continuing with my two buddy reads and also reading more of my SPFBO books – details to be revealed at the start of each month.

Are you looking forward to any of these?  What plans do you have for Summer reading?

Stranded (The Shorten Chronicles #1) by Rosalind Tate #SPFBO

SPFBO71024_1

Stranded is the first book in my first batch of books as part of the SPFBO Competition.

Stranded

This is historical fiction with light fantasy elements and a hint at romance not yet realised but slowly coming to fruition.

Sophie Arundel has arrived at University, with her pet dog Charlotte.  It’s her first day, she’s allocated a room and as she makes her way across campus she spots a former classmate – Hugo – although the two were from completely different circles and not exactly what you’d class as friends.  To cut a long story short, the two of them, plus the dog, after entering what they believed to be a lift, are taken back in time to an alternate history.  The lift was a portal that disappeared not long after dropping our two main characters into the middle of the countryside with little idea of when and where they were.

From here the book is predominantly about coming to terms with the different period, living in a world where social norms are much more restricted, trying not to offend everyone whilst at the same time as trying to figure out the mystery of the portal and how and when it might become available again, on top of which there is an unknown person who seems to be taking Sophie and Hugo’s meddling badly and is issuing threats.

In a nutshell I’d liken this to Pride and Prejudice (the characters) meets Downton Abbey (the setting) meets ‘insert cosy mystery of your choosing’.

After a slightly rocky start I found myself enjoying this.  The author clearly enjoyed writing a period style novel and, although I’m not an expert on the time, seems to have researched the time well – although, as this is an alternate history you need to exercise a little leeway because a number of events, highly significant to our own history and pertinent as driving forces of emancipation, have not occured and therefore certain elements are slightly skewed.

What shone through in particular from this was that the author enjoyed the period and telling a story that is descriptive in terms of setting, house and clothes etc.  In fact, I mentioned above that I found the start a little rocky and I think that could simply be because the author wasn’t quite in her element in a more modern setting and found her feet as soon as our characters were taken back in time.  I also enjoyed the other little nods – for example the dog being named for one of the Bronte sisters because of the main character’s love for Jane Eyre.

The setting.  1925, grand house, upper class family.  You could be forgiven for thinking that Sophie and Hugo have fallen on their feet as they’re lavished with attention, clothing, food, events, etc.  In fact this is where the Downton Abbey comparison came from.  It really does have a feel of that particular drama and I’m not pointing that out as a criticism as such, more a simple observation that at times this almost feels like an alternate style fanfic.

The plot.  Well, as the story begins we pretty soon learn that a number of people have also come through the portal, in fact the ‘Lady of the Manor’ herself and indeed the local landlord and the head gardener at the house are all from similar modern backgrounds.  Sophie and Hugo spend some  time trying to figure out what links the travellers in particular but to be honest the mystery of the portal plays second fiddle to the developing friendship (potentially budding romance) between Sophie and Hugo and the ever increasing number of faux pas made by Sophie as she tries to come to terms with the restraints of the period – the corsets being the least of her problems.  As I mentioned this is an alternate reality and certain ‘key’ events have not taken place leaving our travellers with the dilema, should they be unable to return to their own lives, of having an uncertain history ahead of them.  On top of this someone, unknown, is taking an interest in their investigations and sending warning notes.

The characters.  I struggled a little to really like Sophie.  I feel a little unfair saying that because she isn’t a bad character so much as slightly annoying in that for someone who has travelled to an alternate place she seems to have very little self control or self preservation.  She is constantly blundering around offending people willy nilly – okay, I think it might have been a lot more useful if the lady of the house had sat her down and outlined some of the pitfalls, but, even with that lack of guidance you would think Sophie might have acted a little more cautiously.  Hugo on the other hand, and quite in contrast to how he seemed initially, seems to be a studious fellow with an infinite knowledge of the period therefore much more comfortable when it comes  to fitting in – not to mention, let’s be honest, men didn’t suffer the same restrictions really, particularly in terms of reputation.

As I mentioned the author is clearly comfortable writing an historic style novel.  She certainly got her teeth into the period and it was obvious that she enjoyed writing this.  The pacing is fairy even and I had no problem with forging ahead.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, firstly, although this is a portal story and alternate history it’s very light on fantasy.  The main element of the story seems to be about Sophie’s struggles to fit in and even the mystery is relegated to the background.  I’m not really sure why the author felt the need to include a dog in the story.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore dogs and I’m always happy to have them included when and wherever possible but this felt more like a plot device not to mention a little unrealistic at times in both the way Sophie behaved and her expectations in terms of the dog.  There is also an element of Sophie and Hugo struggling very little indeed.  They definitely landed on their feet being treated like favourite visitors and lavished with attention – which is probably why I railed against Sophie so much.  She could have found herself in a totally different situation by mere fluke, perhaps a scullery maid for example, getting up in the early hours to light fires, etc, instead of being drawn baths and helped to dress by her very own lady’s maid.  I don’t know, the fact that neither character seemed to have any real regard for how lucky they seemed to have been, or how very precarious their situation could have been irritated me slightly.  Finally, the mystery feels a little like an afterthought, the characters don’t seem to have any urgency at all about getting back ‘home’ in fact they both become very settled with almost indecent haste.   Also, if you’re picking this up expecting romance then be warned that this is very subtle, clearly the two main characters are becoming attached but there is no real romance at this point.

Okay, criticisms aside, this is an easy to read, cosy, period mystery.  I would describe this as charmingly easy. It’s perhaps not a book that I would instantly pick up off the shelves but I had no problem reading this one.

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

Next Page »