Tiger Lily (Tiger Lily #1) by K. Bird Lincoln #SPFBO

Posted On 21 April 2018

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews

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Tiger Lily inspired mixed reactions in me.  It has so many elements that I love.  I was especially looking forward to reading a story set in ancient Japan and in that respect this story doesn’t disappoint at all.  The writing is beautiful, really really lovely and very easy to read.  And yet, for some reason, and I can barely put my finger on it I didn’t find myself loving this as much as I expected which is a real shame.

The story is told by Lily.  Born in the year of the Tiger, Lily is the outcast, the ugly duckling of the piece and something of a tomboy.  She’s always striking off into the woods to try and find some extra food to supplement the tiny amount that her family has to survive on.  These were very harsh times and life was certainly cheap.  Lily lives in a small and poor village and although her family have a little more kudos because of their father’s position as cook to the noble family their lives are still hard.  The year of the Tiger is not one you want to be born in as a female and although Lily tries hard and loves her family the year of her birth will always cast a dark shadow over everything she does.

Basically, one day, whilst Lily is yet again in the forest, in spite of her father’s express wishes for her to not go there, she stumbles upon trouble.  The Daimyo’s son, Ashikaga, has been wounded by the Pretender Emperor’s men and Lily saves his life by calling on the spirits.  The Emperor has forbidden the worship of Jindo Gods with Buddhism being the practiced religion.  Lily’s mother, before she disappeared, taught her the songs that attract the spirits and Lily still sings these when she’s alone in the woods.  However, in saving Ashikaga’s life her secret has been revealed placing her in a vulnerable position.  If exposed she will be executed.

The conflict in the story revolves around religion.  The Pretend Emperor believes in the old ways and prays to the spirits.  The spirits are in everything, in the rocks, the mountains, the trees and the rivers but the songs of worship are largely forgotten.  Lily’s ability to sing to the spirits could become a turning point in the war between the old religion and the new and both sides would seek to use her gifts for their own ends.

My favourite aspect of this story is the writing.  The prose is a real treat to read and the descriptions are just wonderful.  I loved reading about the place, how people lived and how everything worked.  It just really felt like the time and the era came to life on the page and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect.  I liked Lily – at first – she started to wear me down a little as the story progressed, but more of that to follow and there is a love story thrown into the mix.  Now, I freely admit that I’m not a lover of romance however if it’s not the main focus of the story I think it can play an important part and I would say that’s the case with Tiger Lily.   Without wanting to give too much away Lily and the noble born Ashikaga develop feelings for each other and whilst that might feel a little predictable there is an element of surprise to the relationship that I didn’t foresee.

So, why didn’t this quite work for me.  I think firstly Lily started to annoy me.  I understand that in this setting she’s a peasant, she has no place conversing with nobility and I could completely understand the fear and awe that she was swamped with when faced with certain situations.  I also understand the arrogance of the nobility, the privileged lives they led and the way that they lacked feelings or empathy for their lowly subjects.  But, as the story develops, as Lily and Ashikaga develop their own feelings I wanted something more.  I wanted Lily’s Tiger nature to burst out, it felt like she was more akin to a kitten than a tiger – yes, I appreciate that her life has been hard but although she starts out as something of a rebel, a tomboy and not particularly interested in gaining the good thoughts of the others from the village I felt that her own personality waned as the story progressed.  Put simply, although Lily saved Ashikaga’s life, and in spite of her being able to call the spirits I felt like her character became weaker and her actions more questionable as the narrative unfolded.

Tiger Lily is a relatively short story (I think under 300 pages) and it did feel like a quick read but at the same time this meant that the other characters felt a bit flat and the ending felt a bit rushed and a tad disappointing.

I certainly wouldn’t discourage others from reading this book.  I think the writing is really impressive.  For me, the plot felt it needed some more thought and the characters needed to be more fleshed out, particularly Lily who seemed to become a shadow of herself the more involved she became.  I understand that this is the first book in a series and I would read more, just to see if Lily really embraces her tiger nature and to see if a real spark ignites between her and Ashikaga.

I would like to thank the author for providing a copy of Tiger Lily.

I rated this 6 out of 10 which equates to 3 out of 5 on Goodreads.

 

 

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Sufficiently Advanced Magic (Arcane Ascension #1) by Andrew Rowe #SPFBO

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sufficiently advancedSufficiently Advanced Magic is the fourth book I read from the nine finalists of the #SPFBO.  I enjoyed this, with a few reservations, and would definitely be interested in reading more in the Arcane Ascension series.

The book gets off to a good start opening as Corin Cadence is about to enter the Serpent Spire for his attunement trial.  Corin has been anxiously awaiting his trial.  Five years ago his brother entered the tower and never came out again.  Corin wants to find out why.

Survivors of the trials, and yes, they are the real deal with some of the participants meeting an unfortunate end, receive an attunement mark that basically bestows magical powers on the bearer of the mark.    Corin is hoping to reach the top of the tower to earn a boon from the goddess and find out what happened to his brother.  The tower itself is like a labyrinth of puzzles and traps.  Things shift unaccountably, walkways trigger deathly contraptions and taking the easy route is not really a good idea.

Now, it’s not spoilery to say that Corin survives the trials (otherwise this would be a fairly short story).  He receives an attunement although it’s not the one his ambitious family were hoping for.  This is a family that’s all about power and they were hoping that Corin would receive a mark befitting their status.  His survival of the tower is barely given a second thought when he returns home with an inadequate mark and one that means he will spend his life as an Enchanter.  I have to say for the record that coming up with creative ways of making simple things into weapons or protective items appeals to me much more than rushing headlong into battle and I found Corin’s attunement fascinating.

From here Corin goes to school.  Yes, this does seem a very well used trope but it’s a good one and no exception here.  I like magic schools and this one has plenty to keep the reader entertained.  On top of Corin’s learning, trying to improve his magical ability and gain friends there’s also an underlying story involving a message that Corin was given whilst in the tower.  I won’t elaborate further but not everything is as it first appears.

So, to the goodies first.

Magical schooling.  It’s a well used trope because it’s well loved.  I always enjoy this sort of setting and SAM is no exception.  Don’t be fooled into thinking this is aimed at a younger audience due to the school setting though because I don’t think that’s the case.

The writing is good, the dialogue is entertaining, the magical system has been thoroughly thought out.  Corin is a great character who you can’t help but like.  He’s not the usual ‘chosen one’ – something I breathed a real sigh of relief about.  He’s bookish and a bit awkward and he has some little quirks or oddities that just endear him to you.  Plus, he makes mistakes.  Who doesn’t make mistakes?  This makes him a lot more relatable and that plus his desire to improve just came across very strongly.  Put simply, he isn’t the best, he knows it, but he’s willing to do everything he can to improve.

There is no shortage of action whether it’s in the school or outside, there are plenty of fight scenes and a whole bunch of different critters and monsters are thrown into the mix which make for great entertainment.

I really enjoyed watching Corin’s struggles to make friends. He’s been out of the school scene since his brother’s disappearance.  His parents took him out of school to tutor him privately and make sure he was at his best before entering the tower.  Corin’s father is greatly disappointed in Corin.  His first son carried all his hopes and aspirations and Corin is a weaker and more bookish version who can just about avoid stabbing himself when armed with a sword.  Well, actually, that’s not entirely true.  Corin is, in fairness, quite adept at looking after himself but his father will never acknowledge it.

In terms of my niggles.

It feels a little like a book of two halves.  The first half loses a lot of pace due to all the explanation about the magic involved.  It feels like there’s a lot of information to relay and it becomes a bit much and also a little repetitive in parts.  It definitely slowed the read down quite a bit for me and although the second half picks up momentum it took a while to get to that point where I couldn’t put the book down.

The idea of Corin being on a quest to find his brother lost some of its urgency.  In fact I didn’t really buy into the quest to be honest.  It got lost in the background a little bit when Corin went to school and I never really felt any emotion from Corin in terms of his brother.

There was an element of predictability about some of the final twists.  This was due to the actions of some of the characters that just didn’t sit right for me when I read them.  This wasn’t a massive concern but there were just a couple of times when it brought me up short but obviously I’m not going to elaborate as that will lead to spoilers.

Overall, this is a very good read.  I thought the ending was excellent and a great set up for the next instalment.  It suffered a little in terms of predictability and pacing but it makes a very good start to series.

I’ve rated this a 7, which equates to 3.5 on Goodreads.

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

 

 

#SPFBO Finalists: My fourth book

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Below is a round up of the ten finalists that have been put forward in this year’s SPFBO (Self Published Fantasy Blog Off).  A link with more information about the competition can be found here.

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I’ve now randomly chosen my fourth book for the SPFBO.  The books I’ve read so far are:  The War of Undoing by Alex Perry, Chaos Trims my Beard by Brett Herman and Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S Pembroke.  The fourth book that I’m about to embark on is Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe. This book was the finalist put forward by Bookworm Blues.

A little bit more about the book:

Sufficiently Advanced Magic (Arcane Ascension #1) by Andrew Rowe

sufficiently advanced.jpgFive years ago, Corin Cadence’s brother entered the Serpent Spire — a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spire’s trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spire’s goddess.

He never returned.

Now, it’s Corin’s turn. He’s headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess.

If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that won’t be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, he’s going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity.

The journey won’t be easy, but Corin won’t stop until he gets his brother back.

#SPFBO – down to the last four.

Posted On 12 December 2017

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews
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I’m down to the final stage of round 1 of the SPFBO with 7 books chosen.  Having given each of these entries a good deal of thought I’ve now eliminated three more books from the final seven.  I’ve enjoyed all of the books that I selected and I confess it makes me feel bad having to choose between them but that’s the nature of a competition.  The first three books that I have now removed from my possibilities are reviewed below.  What I can say is that I enjoyed all of the books I chose as my first stage finalists:

dirtandThe Saga of Dirt and Poncho by Clayton Baker, Michael Kuecker

The write up on Goodreads is as follows:

Frank sucks. Or at least his life does, not that he’d know. When he meets Dirt and Poncho his life changes from sucks to really sucks. But hey, at least it’s interesting now. Now he gets to almost die on a daily basis and generally have no idea what it going on around him. His new friends make it a point to put him in harms way all while telling him how important he is. Murder doesn’t seem important to Frank but he ends up trapped by his own indecision and possibly idiocy in an insane plot to end the world, or save it. It’s pretty hard to tell.

Frank thinks it’s all B.S.

If you can’t guess from the write up I’ll clarify for you – this is actually a fun and entertaining read.  It reads as though the two authors didn’t really have a sense of direction, they just set out and waited to see where the story took them and along the way it feels like they definitely had some fun coming up with the various plot elements.

At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of Frank.  Frank is a PI, living alone following a divorce and with a slightly ambivalent attitude towards life until he meets two blokes in a bar who apparently want to hire him.  Could be for his detecting skills or perhaps he has some other innate ability that they have been able to spot.  Anyway, Frank takes the first job that they offer, the remuneration being rather attractive, and finds himself on a stakeout waiting to take pictures of a vampire.  Even though he doesn’t believe vampires exist he goes along with the job and from there Dirt and Poncho become a firm part of his life.  I won’t really elaborate further other than to say Frank’s new friends send him on a couple of further jobs involving werewolves and the fae before going to Frankenstein town.

So, this reads like an urban fantasy story with a difference.  Basically, Frank doesn’t really have any idea what’s going on, he keeps taking part in these insane plots because there seems almost no alternative, like the reader he’s gripped by the mystery and he’s just going with the flow and waiting to see what happens.

What I enjoyed about this story was the sense of mystery and the fun way it’s written.  Dirt and Poncho are an oddball double act, I couldn’t help picturing them as Jay and Silent Bob although I’m not going to try and pin down why that is.  Frank – well, he could have pressed the point a little more at times and in that way he’s a little bit irritating.  He never really tries to get any answers about what’s going on and part of me wonders if that’s because the authors didn’t have the answers either.  The whole story has a slightly tongue in cheek feel to it and the story seems to grow and gather momentum in an almost sporadic but amusing fashion.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the way the dialogue is written is a bit chaotic until you get used to it and perhaps a little bit of polishing and refining could help with that aspect.  The ending has a rushed feeling and is a bit of a let down in some respects – at the same time I couldn’t help wondering if the ending was a playful take on the SPFBO competition itself – I don’t want to spoil things other than to say ‘there can be only one’.  There are still no answers and part of me is still left wondering if that’s because there’s no real plan here – and perhaps there simply isn’t going to be a resolution, maybe there’ll just be more chaotically crazy adventures.

On the whole this was a fast paced read, it led me on a bit of a journey through the tropes of fantasy and I can’t deny that I had some fun whilst reading.  A book that doesn’t take itself too seriously and although humour can sometimes be difficult to pull off I think the comedy elements here work well.

warwitchWar Witch by Layla Nash

War Witch is a story full of creative world building and fantasy creatures such as witches, shifters and demons .  The world here is one in which an Alliance between humans and Others exist.  The Alliance was formed after a long and bloody war between humans and the Other’s and as part of the pact there are strict rules in place to keep the, albeit tentative, peace.  The witches agreed to answer to the wolf pack alpha and as such are now required to wear rings of identify to allow others to easily establish their ranking.  Externals are the human task force that monitor the supernaturals.  I hope I’ve not overly complicated that description – all this is delivered as part of the story and in an easy to understand fashion.

The main protagonist is Lily.  Lily is trying her best to live anonymously.  For her own reasons she refuses to be aligned and has no ring of identification which puts her at constant risk of being questioned and detained by the Externals.  Lily was a war witch and, although her actions were at the time considered heroic and fundamental in deciding the course of the war and the eventual alliance, she now suffers from her own terrible sense of guilt and also the fear and mistrust of others due to her actions at the time.

At the start of the story Lily intervenes in a dark magic attack that could leave her vulnerable to suspicion.  An investigation begins with Lily sitting as the prime suspect.  Of course this serves to highlight a number of other political issues and feelings of unrest.  A number of witches die in suspicious circumstances, dark magic has been detected and the wolf pack alpha wants to talk to Lily.  Underneath it all a sinister plot simmers.

I must say this was a fast paced and enjoyable read.  The world building is well developed and the plot keeps you on your toes.

The characters – whilst they don’t particularly break any moulds they’re easy to get on with.  There is a simmering romance bubbling under the surface but this in no way dominates the story.

In terms of criticisms.  I think my main issue was with Lily, she definitely had trust issues and whilst part of that is understandable in some respects in others she seemed to cause a lot of additional trouble for herself because she wouldn’t ask for help.  Sometimes I just wanted to shake her a little – I do appreciate a strong lead character and Lily came across like that in some ways but part of being a strong lead sometimes involves playing to your own strengths and also involving others where necessary and in that respect Lily definitely falters.  I also didn’t really get a feeling of her being all powerful as a war witch but I think that’s just my own lack of understanding more than anything else at this point.

Criticisms aside the conclusion ends on a note that promises more to follow and at this point this is a series that I would be interested in continuing to read.

everwinterEverwinter (The Wrath of the Northmen #1) by Elizabeth Baxter

Set in the land of Thanderlay Everwinter is a story about Old Gods breaking free from imprisonment and bringing a harsh winter to the world.  A winter that threatens to devour all.  Variss appears to have already fallen and it now seems to fall to the citizens of Ral Tora and Chellin to join together to try and save themselves from the winter that is coming their way.  The real issue here however is the nature of the cities and whether they can even agree to agree.  Ral Tora is a City based on invention, a city of engineers who are attempting to fight off the cold of winter by creating an underground heating system to keep it’s citizens alive.  The City of Chellin is heavily religious, it’s citizens believe their God will rescue them from the throes of the ever winter.  Added to this we have the main protagonist, Bram – who there appears to be more to than originally meets the eye.

Everwinter has the makings of a very good epic read.  It gets off to a good start and introduces us to interesting characters and fantasy creatures along the way.  I enjoyed the read but with a few reservations.

The prologue is very intriguing as we follow a battalion of soldiers accompanying their king into the hills on what turns out to be a deadly mission.  From there we meet up with Bram and get a feel for his life as an engineer.  As the story unfolds the City receives a delegation of visitors from Chellin, led by their Regal, Astrid.  Astrid is on a mission.  She is determined to get to Variss and has an idea of exactly who she wishes to accompany her.  As you may imagine Bram is one of these characters, the other being Falen Godwinsson, a native of Variss – who is also keen to return to her homeland and search for possible survivors.  Now obviously, everything isn’t going to be as easy as it seems, the two cities are far from seeing eye to eye, it seems both have secrets that will eventually be revealed and politics and back stabbing are taking the upper hand in the city of Chellin, particularly whilst the Regal is away.

In terms of criticisms.  I think this is a novel that maybe needs some paring down, or at least for me it lacked information in some areas but had a surfeit in others.  This led to the story dragging a little as the first half progressed.  It’s not unusual for first instalments to go a little overboard in setting up the story and this is definitely true for Everwinter, that being said I like the author’s style of writing, I just feel that the first half could have moved along a little quicker.  Bram felt like a good character, he feels young and a little naive and I liked that although he had obvious intelligence he didn’t jump to ridiculous conclusions about his future role in this story.  I wasn’t overly keen on the character Astrid and I’m not sure if that was the author’s intention or not.  The City of Chellin seems to be in the throes of political manoeuvring with devious characters plotting to take over – but I’m not sure those devious characters were any more sneaky than Astrid.

I thought this made a good start.  It has the promise of more goodness to come and in spite of a slow start it definitely picks up the pace during the last third of the book.

 

Those are my thoughts on the first three books to be reviewed.  As I mentioned I’ve now narrowed down my choice to the following four books which I will be reviewing and choosing a finalist from in the next couple of days:

  1. Jack Bloodfist: Fixer by James Jakins
  2. Today is Too Late by Burke Fitzpatrick
  3. The Archbishop’s Amulet by Watson Davis
  4. The Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker

 

#SPFBO My sixth batch of books

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I’m on the final stretch of the first round of the SPFBO.  Below is my sixth (and final) round of books listed below in the order I’m going to check them out – five books a month for six months.  The aim is to choose one book out of each of the six batches and then from those 6 potentials choose one to submit for the final stage.

Without further ado here are my books this month (and I’ve already started these so my final thoughts should also follow fairly shortly):

 

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A Gaze of Flint by Sandy Hyatt-James

Elizabeth Blake, a young woman with ‘The Sight’, given to her by people in a parallel universe, becomes entangled in a plot to kidnap a child.

She falls in love with an agent from the parallel universe, but unknown to her, he has fallen in love with a woman from his own land. As events unfold, Elizabeth finds herself and the child captured by a mentally deranged woman. Since the police and her family fail to find her, she has no choice but to use her wits and match her cruel adversary in cunning, in order to survive. Adding to this is her growing belief that the man with whom she placed her trust, has abandoned her.

A Gaze of Flint, has all the ingredients of a tense thriller, which also streams images of romance and a tint of the paranormal into its readers’ imaginations.

 

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The Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker

Acharsis has always loved long shots. But even with a perfect scheme and a handpicked squad of godsblooded grifters and fighters, breaking into the undead lord’s Akkodaisis’ ziggurat is suicidally impossible. Good thing Archarsis is a fallen demigod with more than one trick up his sleeve…

Unpredictable, fast paced, and packed with memorable characters, The Empire of the Dead is a gripping tale of revenge replete with demons, ancient magic and a high stakes heist.

 

 

 

 

darkmDark Moonlighting by Scott Haworth

Nick Whittier, having been alive for six centuries, has had plenty of time to master three professions. In a typical week he works as a police officer, lawyer and doctor and still finds time to murder someone and drink their blood. He used to feel guilty about the killings, but now he restricts himself to only eating the worst members of society. Few people in Starside, Illinois seem to care about the untimely deaths of spam e-mailers, pushy Jehovah Witnesses and politicians. However, the barriers between Nick’s three secret lives start to crumble when a mysterious man from his past arrives in town seeking revenge. Nick must move quickly to prevent the three women in his life, and the authorities who are hunting him, from discovering his terrible secret.

Dark Moonlighting is the first book in the humorous series. It explores four of the biggest clichés in popular culture, and it pokes fun at a number of popular television shows including Law & Order, Bones and House. It also takes a more realistic and amusing approach to the vampire cliché. For example, the average human has the equivalent of five Big Gulps worth of blood in their body. Nick takes twenty minutes to kill someone and, like the vampire bat, must immediately urinate afterwards.

 

roadtoRoad to Shandara by Ken Lozito

When a mythical world threatens everything, an unlikely hero must join the battle…

College senior Aaron Jace is ready to start life in the real world. After the unexpected death of his grandfather, Aaron finds an unbelievable note that will change his world. The unknowing descendent of an ancient and powerful family, Aaron is thrust into a struggle that began long ago and will reach across worlds to pull him into the fight.

When he learns of the world of Safanar, it seems to be the stuff of legends: dragons, castles, and technologically-advanced cities. But it’s as much a dream as it is a nightmare. Danger lurks in the shadows, and a demon sentinel named Tarimus wants to steal Aaron’s power before he can learn his full potential.

With the help of an imprisoned Safanarion guardian, two mystical swords, and a puzzling family heirloom, Aaron must journey from Earth to find the fabled land of his ancestors. It may be a path that’s impossible to survive.

 

archThe Archbishop’s Amulet by Watson Davis

Caldane was once in training to be a shaman for his clan but now he’s a slave of the Nayen empire, trapped in a monastery, his magic being drained away by horrific human sacrifices. With the rest of his clan murdered by the giantess, General Silverhewer, and her army of orcs and humans, Caldane dreams of freedom and the return to the northern wastes of his childhood.

When a new batch of sacrifices are brought in, he seizes his chance for escape but during his recapture, he learns one of his clan still lives. His mother is a slave in Silverhewer’s fortress in Windhaven.

Nothing will stop him from saving her, not even if he has to release Hell and all its devils and demons.

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