#SPFBO : My Second Batch of Books – Update

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The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  My first batch of books post is here and my first update is here.  My post outlining my second batch of books can be found here and today’s post provides my update for that batch.

The aim of these updates is to provide feedback on each batch of books.  I aim to read at least 30% of all my books and then make a decision whether to roll any books forward from that batch.  Any books that I decide to roll forward I will continue reading and provide a review and a decision about whether that book will be a semi finalist.  I will provide mini reviews for the books that are being cut.  I will not rate these books as I think it will be difficult to do so having only read the first third of the book.

Below are the books from the second batch and my decision about which will be cut or rolled forward.  I realise this is really difficult for all the authors and so I want to state plainly that I don’t find these cuts easy to make or enjoyable.  However, I do have to make cuts.  I can have only one finalist by the conclusion of the first half of the competition and so 29 books will eventually be removed.

 

Burn (Desert Deities, #1) by G. E. Hathaway

Burn ecover - G.E. Hathaway - Vickie L. H.

Burn is a book that I was really curious about and to the point that I read up to was a very engaging read.  Set in Tucson this has a post apocalyptic feel.  The world became over reliant on modern technology and so when everything crashed life became almost impossible.  I must say this gets off to a very good start and pacing certainly isn’t an issue.

We meet a few characters who become entangled in helping an unusual woman who has strange abilities and who is being followed or chased by another very powerful character.  Liam, Noah and Ellie are the main characters and the unusual woman and man that they are helping/running from are the deities referred to in the book’s description.

At the point I read up to I found this intriguing and easy.  I had a few minor issues but nothing that spoiled my enjoyment and I would be interested in returning to this book to complete at a later stage.

Conclusion : Cut

Ranger’s Oath (Arc of Radiance/Fall of Radiance #1) by Blake Arthur Peel

Unfortunately Ranger’s Oath has been withdrawn from the competition so I will not be providing a review at this point.

 

Knightmare Arcanist (Frith Chronicles #1) by Shami Stovall

Knightmare

At the point I read up to I really enjoyed this one and so I’m rolling it forward and will provide a review at a later stage when I will also make a decision about whether or not this will be a semi-finalist.

 

The Edge of Nothing (The Lex Chronicles #1) by Crystal Crawford

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The Edge of Nothing is a book that gets off to a very quick start with the introduction of Lex who seems to be being held captive although he has no idea why.  Lex manages to escape and makes the acquaintance of a young woman.  The two immediately encounter some very unusual events and this coupled with the fact that Lex seems to have no memory of who he is or where he is, coupled with the fact that he is experiencing strange visions does make for a slightly perplexing start.  I have mixed feelings about this book.  I thought the writing was easy enough to get along with but at my cut off point I hadn’t really been able to fully engage with the characters or story.  Partly, this is a result of the author maintaining the mystery of what is actually going on here and I recognise that reading further would probably start to uncover answers, unfortunately, at the point I read up to I find that the Edge of Nothing isn’t quite working out for me.

Conclusion : Cut

 

Mid-Lich Crisis by Steve Thomas

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I have deferred reading Mid-Lich Crisis to a later batch as I will be picking up the audio version which will be available shortly so no review at this point.

 

Chains of Blood (The Chaos Cycle #1) by M.L. Spencer

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This is another book that really does hit the ground running.  As the book begins we meet Rylan Marshall, a soldier returning home.  As he walks home he is viciously attacked, he discovers his son has been murdered, his daughter abducted and himself in the strange position of having magical power forced upon him and also being forced to make a dark oath that really bodes very ill.

In fairly short order we discover that Rylan isn’t quite who he thought.  He’s the son of a demon, a man hated by many but also believed a hero by others – all depending on which side of the fence you’re sitting.

At my cut off point things were really hotting up, war seemed imminent and Rylan had already had a couple of attempts on his life.

This is another of my books that I would like to return to if time allows but at this point I’m rather reluctantly setting it to one side.

Conclusion : Cut

 

 

 

#SPFBO 6 – Saturday Snapshots : Excerpt – Curse of the Jenri by Stephanie Barr

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The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  Whilst the competition is taking part I’d like to post excerpts from some of the books that have entered the contest.  If you’d like to make use of this space to post a teaser to entice readers then let me know in the comments.

Today’s teaser comes from one of the books in my first batch (for which I will be posting an update soon) : Curse of the Jenri by Stephanie Barr:

** Excerpt **

“Everything points to you having unnoticed, but apparently significant, magical abilities, as yet untapped.”

“Significant? Does it have to be significant? Couldn’t I just have a smidge, a tiny-tiny taste? And we don’t have to tap it, do we?”

“I fear your talents must be great. The greatest magic wielders tend to be somewhat resistant to others’ spells, but rarely to the extent you are. Still, there are select bloodlines without talent who are naturally difficult to ensorcel. I knew nothing of your home province, so I had just assumed you to be of one of these bloodlines.”

Put me on your shoulder, please. I like to be up high, asked the only totally black kitten, pawing at his leg.

Absently, Tander complied. “Well, that must be it. Magic resistance must just run in my family.”

“Magical talent also runs in bloodlines, which is why the Jenri are universally gifted, although to varying degrees.”

“The people in my family were always warriors. There are no spell-slingers in my family, none, I tell you. There aren’t but a handful in the whole of Amerland.”

“How far back in your family have you history?”

“Well, we’ve held kingship of Amerland for three gen—well, it doesn’t matter how far back we go. What I’m telling you is that no one in our family is magical.”

Glendana smiled indulgently as a silver tabby kitten peeked out from Tander’s tunic. “How do you know? You didn’t know you were talented.”

“I’m not! Weren’t you listening? I can’t weave spells. Never could.” Tander grabbed a fluffy gray kitten that was crawling up his leg, underneath his tunic. “Will you be still? Why don’t you all take a catnap or something?”

“Ever try?” Glendana asked calmly as Wanting sleepily curled up on her own shoulder.
The purring black kitten on his shoulder said, I’m sleepy, but I’m cold. Bring someone else to sleep up here.

“Ever try what?” Tander demanded, distracted, as he dumped the gray kitten next to the black.

“Casting spells,” Glendana continued patiently, not letting her amusement touch more than her eyes.

Put me up there, too, demanded a tan-and-black striped kitten.

Tander picked the striped kitten up and regarded it sternly. “I don’t need a bunch of kittens giving me orders. Besides, you can’t all fit up there.” With that, Tander tossed the kitten onto his wide shoulder, where it immediately curled up with its two siblings and began purring.

I can sleep right here. It’s warm, said the kitten in his tunic, purring against his chest.

“Oh, well, if you’re comfortable, I am overjoyed,” Tander said. “Where are the last two?”

Asleep in the pouch, the tortoiseshell thought sleepily.

“Well, that’s something, anyway. Now, if you all don’t mind, I’m trying to talk to Glendana.” Tander took a deep breath. “Now, Glendana, what were you asking?”

“Have you ever tried to use magic?”

“No! Alright? No! I’m a warrior. All I ever wanted to be was a warrior, and not a warrior like you Jenri, a swordsman, plain and simple. You ever seen me with a sword?”

“Yes. You are a gifted swordsman.”

“Thank Bastor for small favors! That’s what I do, all I want to do. I don’t have magic blood. I don’t want magic blood. I just want to kill people with my sword. Is that so wrong?”

** Ends **

 

The world of the Jenri is a dangerous, primitive world, where women are prized as chattel, but the Jenri women, every one from the eldest archivist to the smallest babe, strike fear into battle-hardened mercenary hearts. It is a world where battle steeds are mythical beasts and magic is as deadly a weapon as a sword. Those who wield both are doubly dangerous and those who cross them are thrice damned. The Jenri are mistresses of all these things. If you love one of these marvelous women, you must best her in a contest of her choosing to win her love in return.

These were women who needed no one to take care of them. Until now.

Curse

#SPFBO wrap up post

Posted On 2 May 2020

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews
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Another SPFBO competition concludes, on a wonderful high note I think.  This is going to be a quick post to highlight the finalists and the results.  Feast your eyes on the 10 finalists:

And, *drum roll* here are the finalists in order with their average scores and links to Goodreads:

I would like to congratulate ML wang for such a fantastic final score.  There were some incredible books submitted this year and so this is a truly impressive achievement.  I heartily recommend you take a look at the finalists – there’s something here for everyone and I’ve had a great time reading them.  My thanks to all the authors who submitted their books – there wouldn’t be a competition without you and, commiserations, there can be only one winner after all, but I hope everyone took something more away from the competition in terms of friendships made.  Finally a massive thank you to Mark Lawrence for organising the competition and all the other judges for making it possible, not to mention creating a nail biting finale.

Will there be a SPFBO 6? I think so, but keep your eyes on Mark Lawrence’s blog for further news on that front.

 

 

 

 

 

#SPFBO Stage 2

Posted On 5 December 2019

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews
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Comments Dropped 8 responses

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The first stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off is now complete which means we have ten finalists lined up for stage two.  For this stage of the competition I will be assigning each of the nine books I need to read a number from 1 – 9 and then I will use a randomly selected sequence generator to give me the reading order.

Today I would like to highlight the ten finalists.  You can follow the progress of each book here.  Now, feast your eyes on these lovelies – I can’t wait to get started on this line up:

Blood of Heirs (The Coraidic Sagas #1) by  Alicia Wanstall-Burke :

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Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

Beggar’s Rebellion (Resonant Saga #1) by Levi Jacobs:

Beggar'sRebellion

The Councilate controls everything except the truth. I have nothing save my discovery—but with this shall I destroy an empire.

Tai Kulga lost the rebellion and his best friend on the same day, stripping him of his will to live even as a strange power flooded his bones. When the friend returns as a spirit guide, it feels like a second chance—but his friend is not who he was, and the Councilate is not done oppressing his people. When trouble with lawkeepers lands Tai’s surviving friends in a prison camp, he must go underground to find the last of the rebels and convince them to break his friends free.

Along the way he meets Ellumia Aygla, runaway Councilate daughter posing as an accountant to escape her family and the avarice of the capital. Curious about the link between spirit guides and magic, her insights earn her a place among the rebels, and along with Tai’s power help turn the tide against the colonialists.

But as the rebels begin to repeat the Councilate’s mistakes, Tai and Ellumia must confront their own pasts and prejudices, before the brewing war turns them into the monsters they fight.

Never Die by Rob J Hayes – this is the finalist that I chose (already reviewed here)

NeverDie

Ein is on a mission from God. A God of Death.

Time is up for the Emperor of Ten Kings and it falls to a murdered eight year old boy to render the judgement of a God. Ein knows he can’t do it alone, but the empire is rife with heroes. The only problem; in order to serve, they must first die.

Ein has four legendary heroes in mind, names from story books read to him by his father. Now he must find them and kill them, so he can bring them back to fight the Reaper’s war.

Blade’s Edge (Chronicles of Gensokai #1) by Virginia McClain

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Mishi and Taka live each day of their lives with the shadow of death lurking behind them. The struggle to hide the elemental powers that mark the two girls as Kisōshi separates them from the other orphans, yet forges a deep bond between them.

When Mishi is dragged from the orphanage at the age of eight, the girls are unsure if or when they will find each other again. While their powers grow with each season-cycle, the girls must come to terms with their true selves–Mishi as a warrior, Taka as a healer–as they forge separate paths which lead to the same horrifying discovery.

The Rōjū council’s dark secret is one that it has spent centuries killing to keep, and Mishi and Taka know too much. The two young women have overcome desperate odds in a society where their very existence is a crime, but now that they know the Rōjū’s secret they find themselves fighting for much more than their own survival.

Spark City (Spark City Cycle #1) by Robert J. Power

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Erroh has a plan. A simple plan. It’ll never work.

Despite his family’s warrior pedigree, he’d rather gamble and drink while living from one tavern to the next. But when his wanderings bring him upon a gruesome slaughter of innocents he is torn from carefree ways.

Spark City is on the horizon and with it the mysterious trials of The Cull. After a life spent rejecting his birth right, the time has come to pick up his sword and accept his destiny.

With an army marching forward, and unlikely companions buy his side, does Erroh have what it takes to stop the coming war?

Spark City is the gripping first novel in Robert J Power’s new epic fantasy series. If you like spectacular combat, unlikely heroes, and  slow burn romance, you’ll love this thrilling tale.

The Sword of Kaigen (Theonite) by M.L. Wang

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A mother struggling to repress her violent past,
A son struggling to grasp his violent future,
A father blind to the danger that threatens them all.

When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores?

High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’

Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.

Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.

Fortune’s Fool (Eterean Empire #1) by Angela Boord

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A secret affair. A disfiguring punishment. A burning need for revenge.

Kyrra d’Aliente has a bad reputation and an arm made of metal.

Cast out of the safe and luxurious world of silk to which she was born, played as a pawn in a game of feuding Houses, Kyrra navigates a dangerous world of mercenaries, spies, and smugglers while disguising herself as a man.

War destroyed her family and the man she loved.

Vengeance is within her grasp.

But is she willing to pay its price?

Kalanon’s Rising (Agents of Kalanon #1) by Darian Smith

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Solve the murder. Stop the war. Save the world.

Sir Brannon Kesh spent years building a new life as a physician, leaving the name Bloodhawk and the war that spawned it behind. But when the King’s cousin is murdered, duty calls him back. The crime scene suggests dark magic and the evidence points to the ambassador of Nilar, an alluring woman with secrets of her own, who sees Bloodhawk as little more than a war criminal.

As bodies pile up and political ramifications escalate, Brannon must join forces with a vain mage, a socially awkward priest, and a corpse animating shaman to solve the murders and prevent another war. But who can he trust when the phases of a bigger plan take shape?

The Risen are the greatest danger Brannon has ever faced. If he and his team cannot stop the killer then all of Kalanon – and the world – will descend into darkness.

A Tale of Stars and Shadow by Lisa Cassidy

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Dumnorix princess and born warrior, Talyn Dynan was the finest fighter of her generation. With her Callanan partner at her side, she was invincible, reckless, a death-knell to their enemies. But after her partner is torn away from her, Talyn is left broken, wracked with guilt and unable to regain the confidence she once had. Could an unexpected mission to the mysterious country of Mithranar, home of the magical winged folk, be the thing that saves her? Or will the danger and secrets she finds there finally break her completely?

The Shadowhawk lives a life in the shadows. Constantly hunted for his criminal exploits, yet desperate to help the human folk of Mithranar who are oppressed by their winged folk rulers, he haunts the streets of Dock City. The arrival of a foreign warrior threatens to upset the carefully balanced life he leads, but when she begins to offer a hope for the humans he’s only ever dreamed of, can he risk trusting her?

And unbeknownst to both, a mysterious foe stalks the dark corners of Dock City. One that answers to a single purpose…

Vengeance.

A Sea of Broken Glass (The Lady & The Darkness #1) by Sonya M. Black

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Secrets have a price.

After enduring weeks of torture and being convicted of witchery, Ris escapes, only to discover the Darkness and the Lady are hunting her. They need the magic that sings within her.

Creator of all, the imprisoned Lady needs Ris, her last vessel, to find the Heart of Creation. The Darkness seeks to corrupt the vessel and retain his hold on the Lady, and with it, the world.

Ris finds help from a pair of Paladins of Light who aid her in cleansing the evil taint from the lands. As her power grows, so do her questions. How can she restore balance to the world and free the Lady? Should the Lady be trusted or is she as much at fault for the evil in the world as the Darkness? With powerful demons War, Ruin, and Plague at her heels, Ris struggles to stay alive as she tries to unravel the secrets hidden within her before it’s too late.

Secrets that may cost Ris her soul even if she does succeed.

 

#SPFBO Review of Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Posted On 22 November 2019

Filed under #SPFBO, Book Reviews
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NeverDieNever Die is one of the titles on my list of books for the SPFBO competition and was one of the books that I decided to roll forward after having read the first 30% with the idea of reading and reviewing fully.  In this respect I have 4 more reviews to follow which I’m hoping will be in fairly quick succession followed by a post to reveal my semi finalists and the book I will be taking to stage two of the competition.  So, straight to my review of Never Die

Okay, Never Die is a story of revenge, but it’s one of the most unusual and unique revenge stories that I’ve ever encountered.  This is a story of heroes and honour, it’s packed to the rafters with action, steeped in Asian culture and folklore and delivers a fast paced tale that ends on a, well, I’m lost for words exactly how to best describe the ending, ‘it’s a little jaw dropping’ is the first thing that springs to mind.

Here we meet a young boy on a mission to bring down an Emperor.  Of course he can’t do this by himself.  He’s a young boy of eight or nine years maybe, he doesn’t have the strength, he isn’t a fighter, he doesn’t really have a plan for that matter, come to think of it he has very little, not a pot to piss in or even a pair of shoes.  But he knows his heroes and embarks on a hero recruitment drive if you will – the only slight deterrent for anybody wanting to take up a position, they have to be dead in order to do so. It’s not the best incentive to apply for the role.  As it happens the heroes have very little say in the matter, they need to die and so die they must.

Now, first things first.  I am not going to be discussing the plot at all other than the above paragraph.  This is a story that delivers a number of twists and I’d sooner leave further elaboration well alone in order to avoid spoilers.  Strangely enough, and although I obviously now know the final reveals this is a book that I would very much like to revisit.  I think it would be really interesting to see how, or if, the knowledge of the ending affects the rest of the story for me.

So, what really shone for me with Never Die.

I have to applaud Hayes’ ability to come up with such an action packed novel that plowed forward relentlessly and intensely yet at the same time invited me to get to know the characters.  How many times do you read a book where the characters suffer from the intensity of world building, or the furious nature of the adventure takes centre stage and you can’t get a feel for the place.  This really is an incredibly well rounded novel which is even more impressive when you consider it’s just shy of 300 pages.  The action is delivered at breakneck speed.  The story, in fact, opens with a battle sequence where the fighting is portrayed so well that I could see the characters playing out their deadly dances.  The characters are introduced one at a time which gives you the chance to get a feel for them without becoming overwhelmed.  And the world building – well, it’s taking place in every sentence really.  Names, places, clothing, food, back stories, they’re all related with an effortless grace that really belies the skill that it must take.

The characters are all so very different.  And they start out with no small degree of hatred for each other not to mention a good deal of competitive swaggering and banter.  Eventually though, they begin to develop bonds which I suppose gives weight to the idea that there’s nothing like a shared goal to bring people together.  They’re all masters in their own way, whether with the sword or with fighting without the use of weapons.  I’m not going to try to describe all the different techniques, frankly I’d just make an absolute mess of it.  Just lets say they’re all masters in their given fields and leave well enough alone.  They all have some pretty cool names and some of their abilities make for great reading during the throes of battle – I’m definitely looking at Emerald Wind right now!

In terms of criticisms.  Well, this is a conundrum because I did have a couple of little issues as the story progressed, but, the ending kind of answered my qualms and it’s really difficult to discuss what they were because, obviously I’m being all secretive. I will say that I did guess one of the twists part way through the story.  I actually have no idea how because I wasn’t reading the book at the time, in fact I was doing something a bit brain numbingly mundane when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head in a most unexpected and comic book style fashion.  I wasn’t aware I’d even be thinking of the book but there you go.  So, yes, I had my little ‘ah-ha’ moment and of course I was feeling quite smug and also not a little bit disappointed (like, if this is what the ending is all about then really….) but, of course there’s a but, yes, I had guessed what I will call one third of the twists – but (again with the buts) it was only the smallest element of the twist in the tale and the other two revelations – well, hot damn – and that’s why I need to do a reread.

I guess this leaves me with only one downside, or maybe two.  This was shorter than I would have liked (even though it does have a certain epicyness to it – that is a word, I’ve seen it on the internet so it must be true) and it’s a standalone.  In a world where series of books can sometimes reach double digits I guess I should be applauding a standalone – but, please sir, I would like more.

Oh, and I suppose I forgot to mention all the fantasy elements, ghosts, and monsters and the like, but – go and pick up a copy and discover them for yourself.

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

 

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