#SPFBO 7 : My Fourth/Final Batch of Books

Posted On 18 September 2021

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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 12  books and my updates for Batch 1, 2 and 3 can be found here, here and here.  I am a little late posting my final batch of books but I have already completed one of these and so hopefully will finish the final two books by the end of the 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 three books that I will be reading from my fourth and final batch are:


Little White Hands by Mark Cushen


Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost.

Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.

But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.

Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.

Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.

With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?

The fate of the world rests in his hands.

About the Author


The Throne of Ice & Ash by JDL Rosell


A throne in peril, a tragic betrayal, two heirs struggling to save their land, and a prophesied war threatening to engulf the world…

Bjorn, youngest heir to the Mad Jarl of Oakharrow, has always felt more at ease with a quill than a sword. Yet when calamity strikes his family, he must draw a blade and lead a company of warriors into the cold, deadly mountains in pursuit of a mysterious foe. Though he seeks vengeance, an ancient power stirs within him, and the whispers of prophecy beckon him toward an ominous destiny…

Aelthena, Bjorn’s sister, was born with the aptitude to lead, and she’s eager to prove it. But her society’s rules for women, and her love for her brother, restrain her efforts to command. As she walks the fine line between ambition and virtue, enemies of both mankind and myth rise against Oakharrow’s throne, and even her allies question her right to rule…

A harrowing tale of the struggle for power and the dawning heroes who rise above it, The Throne of Ice & Ash is Book 1 of the Norse high fantasy, coming of age series The Runewar Saga. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings, and The Wheel of Time won’t want to miss this new sweeping epic fantasy!

About the Author

J.D.L. Rosell is the internationally bestselling author of Legend of Tal, Ranger of the Titan Wilds, The Runewar Saga, The Famine Cycle, and Godslayer Rising. He has earned an MA in creative writing and has previously written as a ghostwriter.

Always drawn to the outdoors, he ventures out into nature whenever he can to indulge in his hobbies of hiking and photography. Most of the time, he can be found curled up with a good book at home with his wife and two cats, Zelda and Abenthy.


Out of the Dust by Joe Coates


There are few things more dangerous or more destructive than a bad man who thinks that he is doing a good thing…

The Aska Isles are burning. An unseasonable drought is slowly killing the land; crushing it in a patient and merciless fist of rising fire and dust.

On the prosperous Northern Isle, King Taavi Fulbright, senile and raving, edges closer to death while his Viceroy, the flint-hearted Corbin Cadmael, continues with his plans for subjugating the South and bringing the contemptible, stinking peasants that farm it under his yolk.

On the beautiful and brutal highlands of the Southern Isle, an outfit of desperadoes, bandits and cattle-thieves, led by the infamous Shaw siblings, is in the midst of murdering a team of the Crown’s cattle drovers and nicking their stock. It’s a final payday before the head of their crew, Viggo Shaw, leaves the road-life for good and settles down to fatherhood. Viggo cares little for the fate of the many, being concerned only with the lives of those closest to him; his sister and brother, Ylva and Destin, his lifelong love, Erika, and their unborn child.

That is until the delightfully psychotic Cormac Latrell comes strolling back into their lives after a decade-long absence. Latrell is a monster and, like all good monsters, is a monster of Viggo’s own creation. Once a polite and conscientious young nobleman, Latrell is the bastard son of Viceroy Cadmael and has been twisted by a love unrequited, the scorn of those he wished only to help, and the revulsion of a father who only ever saw him as a disappointment.

Latrell is hunting Erika’s sister, Fenella, who is rumoured to be endowed with powers long believed to be lost to legend. They are the powers of the Empathy, an elemental magic that could bring the Aska Isles back from the brink of the fire –– or cast it into the flames.

Now, Viggo and his band find themselves inexorably drawn into a choking world of revisited childhood sins that have sown the seeds from which fiends grow, soul-ripping jealousies, false prophesies, and blood-soaked feuds that promise little in the way of relief for any of them.

Viggo Shaw must face a trifecta of hard questions and an even tougher choice; is the saving of his world, the keeping of a final promise and the defeating of a monster he helped mould worth becoming a monster himself for?

Or should he just do what he aches to do, and surrender to death?

Or perhaps, Viggo might learn on his journey that the human heart is a torment and a masterpiece.

About the Author


Good luck to this month’s authors.

#SPFBO Thoughts on my fourth batch of books


Today’s post is a round up of my first impressions for my fourth batch of books for the SPFBO.  I’ve also made progress on this month’s selection of books which I’ll be posting up shortly.  The books I read this month are listed below.  If you want more info this is my original post outlining each book.  They’re listed below in the order I’m going to check them out – five books a month for the next six months.  I will 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:

The Soul Guide by Kelly Stock

The Soul Guide got off to quite a good start.  A story about a young girl, Sybil, who is about to discover that she has been chosen as the latest Soul Guide.  By the time I read the first 20% I’d made the acquaintance of the two characters who would be helping Sybil on her journey.  Bertram the Caretaker and Alec who will be acting as some sort of protection.  Having reached my cut off point I don’t feel at the moment that I’ve connected enough with this story to take it forward.  It has a YA feel to it at this point and also I suspect something of a romance may develop between Sybil and Alec although that could be a wrong impression.  To be honest, I think this would probably appeal to a slightly younger audience and although I don’t have any particular niggles with the book it just lacked that certain something that makes me care about the characters and I also felt that some of the dialogue was a bit forced.  Again, at a fifth of the way in that is something that could develop as the story progresses.




The Apotheosis Break by Josh Rhodes and Mike Rutledge

I must say that I found myself really enjoying the Apotheosis Break.  It has a coming of age/adventure type feel to the story and I found it a fast and easy read.  The main character Vasili is about to embark on the next stage of his life, he has plans but before his plans can come to fruition everything goes wrong.  Vasilii’s father has something of a reputation, he’s a hero and plenty of tales are told of his deeds.  Vasili makes a hasty decision to leave his village and find his own course in life, he seeks his own adventure but also wants to find out more about his father.

To the point I got up to I was enjoying the read.  I think that if the momentum stays the same there could be some very entertaining adventures to follow as  I don’t imagine that being aboard an airship will be quite as easy as Vasili has imagined and I have very good first impressions of this story.  Unfortunately, this isn’t my final choice for this month’s batch of reads but it is a story that shows a lot of promise.



Darker Things by Rob Cornell

Darker Things is a dark urban fantasy style story where supernatural creatures, such as vampires, live amongst us – without our knowledge.  Craig Lockman used to work as a sort of special agent, dealing with such creatures until he left the job and went into a sort of enforced hiding for protection’s sake.  As the story starts, the daughter he didn’t know he had, turns up on his doorstep bringing with her a whole heap of trouble.

Darker Things didn’t really work out for me.  I think my main issue at the point I reached was the interaction between Craig and his daughter.  For me certain things just didn’t add up but, of course, I’m only 20% into the story so it could be that many of my internal quibbles could be reasonably answered.  It’s also a little more action and less character focused than I usually enjoy so it could be that if you want a fast paced style book where the protagonists seem to go from one spot of danger to the next then this could work out for you.  For me, I didn’t mind the fast paced start, it certainly helps to draw you in, but, I didn’t feel like I was then given any time or reason to care enough about the character’s.

darker things

Today is Too Late by Burke Fitzpatrick

Today is Too Late definitely hooked me.  I’m not going to say too much about it at this point because I need to find out more about the world that the author has created here but at this point I certainly feel the desire to read further.  So, more to follow.  Today is Too Late is my choice from this batch.


Cursefell by C V Dreesman

I’m not going to lie – I found Cursefell downright entertaining and in fact I read the entire book.  I had no problems with the writing, I liked the mythology used and the curse that the author has come up with and in spite of chucking in a few well used tropes and a potential romantic interest I just found this easy to read.  It hooked me and almost felt like a guilty pleasure to read – although why ‘guilty’ I don’t know and can’t explain other than it is a YA read.

Why then, you may ask, is this not my story going forward from this batch.  Well, firstly, this is, at just over 100 pages, a fairly short story which is why it was so easy to complete in one sitting. Secondly, I find I have many questions unanswered at the end of the book and I can’t seem to see that there’s a planned sequel which is puzzling – although I could be wrong.  Thirdly, I don’t think the characters had enough time to develop and I think this could easily have been expanded upon.  But, without doubt this held my attention very easily and I can say that had a sequel been available I probably would have picked up a copy and read on.   As it is, it feels unfinished and with just too many loose ends which basically left me feeling not as satisfied as I’d like.



#SPFBO My fourth batch of books


I’m a little late posting my fourth set of books for the SPFBO, purely down to lack of wi-fi.  Thankfully I’ve already started to read this month’s selection.  They’re listed below in the order I’m going to check them out – five books a month for the next six months.  I will 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:

The Soul Guide by Kelly Stock

When university student Sybil is stung by a bee in the middle of a winter snowstorm, she finds herself chosen as the latest Soul Guide. With only a few days to reach the Veil; the place of souls, and complete the Passing Over ceremony, she begins to question everything she ever believed to be true. But dark forces will stop at nothing to prevent Sybil from fulfilling her destiny. Struggling with such a huge responsibility, and afraid for her life, Sybil has no choice but to put her trust in two complete strangers.

Meet Bertram, the Caretaker. Despite his anguish at losing the love of his life, he has a job to do. Sybil is his responsibility now. He must guide her to the Veil – no matter the cost.

Then there’s Alec, who’s drawn to Sybil the moment he lays eyes on her. Overcome by the sudden need to protect her, Alec will risk his life to ensure her safety. Or does he have darker designs…?

Can the reluctant Soul Guide, the grieving Caretaker, and the obsessive stranger work together? Only one thing is certain: the future of both Earth and the Veil hang in the balance, and the dark are rising.

This is a story of loss & grief, of friendship & love and the battle of light versus dark.


The Apotheosis Break by Josh Rhodes and Mike Rutledge

The life of an airshipman is violent and short, but every sailor still breathing in the clouds has a tale of Anton Mikhailovich.

Vasili, his fourteen year old son, never knew the man. The swashbuckling captain died mysteriously when the boy was five, leaving only tall tales and long shadows. His father’s remembrance ever looming, Vasili wants to leave his tiny frontier village and become a skysailing legend of his own accord.

A charismatic traveler arrives on an airship, a bishop with robes as worn as his smile. He comes to convey a funerary Telling of Anton some nine years overdue. Late but still timely, the traveler hints that his vessel may be looking for a new deckhand. He could put in a good word for the son of Anton.

The twinkling lights of home disappear over the horizon and the boy begins his own adventure, starting his own tale as he learns the truth of his father’s.

But the world and its skies are nothing like Vasili’s books. The serendipitous airship is the famed Apotheosis Break, Anton’s old ship, filled with beguiling shard hunters now at the end of their rope. They have already lost good men looking for Vasili. They may still lose everything seeking the forgotten legacy of Captain Mikhailovich.

Vasili will learn that the memories you try to escape are the ones you will always carry with you. And if half of what his crew says is true, his father’s story was one of loss, betrayal, and madness. If Vasili is to survive in the skies he will have to be as clever as his father and twice as lucky. Otherwise a traveler will return home with a Telling of another Mikhailovich boy.


Darker Things by Rob Cornell

Craig Lockman—no one had called him that in fifteen years.

Not since his days at the Agency. Not since he was trained to kill creatures that were supposed to exist only in nightmares.

Yet the teenage girl on his doorstep not only knows his real name, she claims she’s his daughter.

Before Lockman can learn how the girl found him, he’s attacked by a black-ops team of assassins. But these aren’t ordinary killers—they’re heavily armed vampires sent by his most hated enemy.

Forced on the run, Lockman protects his daughter from an onslaught of horrors while searching for who betrayed him and why. The investigation leads him to Detroit, where he unwittingly sets a plan into motion that could trigger a paranormal apocalypse and cost him his soul.

For fans of Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, and Laurell K. Hamilton… Darker Things is an 82,000-word urban fantasy loaded with double-crosses, thrilling action, and shocking twists.

darker things

Today is Too Late by Burke Fitzpatrick

A Reluctant Villain Starts A Rebellion

Dark armies burn the greatest city in the world. A girl is born who might end their dominion, but only if a fearsome warrior protects her from the demons of the Nine Hells.

An infamous warlord, Tyrus of Kelnor helped demons conquer a continent, but the birth of a princess tests his loyalties. The child is marked for death, and her fate is in his hands. Old memories haunt him, from before the sorcery and monsters, when honor and service had value. Torn between the empress he loves and the emperor he serves, he defies the empire he helped build.


Cursefell by C V Dreesman

The coastal town of Stonecrest is an isolated haven for nursing wounds and hiding secrets. It can cure a heart or crush it. When one girl’s secret is revealed, a curse she does not even know she carries, the safe haven becomes her monstrous prison.

Seventeen year old Nathera Currey sees her curse as a death sentence, or at the very least a sentence of exile. But Thera has experienced death before and survived it. She has felt alone the last year of her life and endured that too. Accidentally uncovering her secret, she becomes the cold light of hope for some and a monster to be feared by others. If she wants to save herself and those she holds most dear, she will have to balance the scales of who she is against what she must become and life versus love.



#SPFBO Spotlight : the third set of books.. Update


This is my third batch of books for the SPFBO.  From my second selection of five I still have two books that I need to decide between and will update on that outcome shortly.   For details of the SPFBO check here. I chose my first five books to look at during the course of May and my update post for the first five is here.  The book that I took forward at that stage was Rebel’s Honor by Gwynn White review here.  My update for the second set of five is here.  This is my third update post and I’ve now chosen my fourth set of books.

The book choices are being randomly chosen. I’m aiming to read about 20% of each book or five chapters (which I think should be enough to give me a fair idea of whether or not the book could be my potential final choice).  Basically, if one of the books is standing out above the other four then that will be the clear choice from that section.

My next set of five are below.  I’ve added underneath each a synopsis (taken from Goodreads) and a short synopsis of my thoughts on the content that I’ve read so far.

1. Lightning Rider by Jen Greyson 

Lightning RiderFor Evy Rivera, thunderstorms have always caused her physical pain, but she’s never known why. When a record-setting storm arrives on the same night her father finds ancient ancestral documents, Evy is set aglow with mysterious tiny lightnings she can command.

Even worse, she alerts some people in the universe who’ve been looking for her family for a very long time.

Thrown back into ancient Spain and tasked with killing a Spanish legend, she must train alongside Constantine, a sexy yet obstinate Roman warrior. He teaches her how to wield her lightning as a weapon, through more errors than trials. With a relationship as explosive as their late-night training sessions, Evy and Constantine battle their push-pull relationship while trying to ignore the two-thousand-year difference in their birthdates.

Ilif Rotiart, her quasi-mentor, is appalled at Evy’s skill. He would prefer to train her father and keep Evy on the sidelines—where women belong. Evy has a feeling Ilif is keeping something from them, but she must play nice until she uncovers the truth. And if he’s lying, it will be the worst day of his four-hundred-year life.

Penya Sepadas claims she’s Evy’s rightful trainer, and she has the prophecy to prove it. Penya doesn’t share Ilif’s misogynistic attitude, but she does have her own agenda…and her own secrets.

Evy must sort through the lies and find the truth behind her family’s time-traveling past before the wrong history obliterates the future. She’s spent her whole life fighting for her place. Now, as the first female lightning rider, she’ll dedicate her existence to fighting to save the world.

But will Evy learn to manage her lightning and find the truth before it’s too late?

I liked the idea behind this story involving time travel using lightening as a medium, I thought it was a really unique idea.  The thing with time travel books though is that they’re so difficult to pull off once you start delving into the theory.  In this particular book the people going back in time have the ability to change the outcomes of event- for the better of course – however that gives me conundrums right away, space time continuum etc!  Leaving all that aside though and just delving into the story I thought it got off to a very quick start. I did have a few issues however, I felt that Evy was very quick to accept the things that were happening to her and to her father – in fact the two of them acted remarkably calmly given what they were going through.  Perhaps that’s just a family trait or maybe something to do with the ability to time travel overall but I just thought the two of them were a little bit too easy to accept what was going on and this coupled with Evy’s over exuberance at times just sat wrong for me.  I was also puzzled about the father changing age – again, that didn’t really sit right for me.  Not a bad start to the story overall though.

2. Stolen Guardian by R.A. Meenan 

TheStolen GuardianOn the southern tip of the Yelar Peninsula, towering over the beach cliffs of the Desi Sea, lies the Defender Academy, the highly advanced military complex of the country of Zedric.

Near the top of the ranks is Izzy Gildspine, Golden Guardian of the Zyearth Defenders. Izzy’s not sure she deserves her title. Her healing powers are strong, though they’re nothing compared to the elemental powers of her partner, Matt Azure. But she can’t let her doubts get in the way of her job. The Defenders hold up the Golden Guardians as legends and she has to make sure she lives up to that expectation.

However, Izzy’s fears come true after a routine flight spirals into an out-of-control crash on a contaminated island campground, crawling with invincible monsters. To make matters worse, she and Matt find a friend and fellow Defender in the woods, half mad after being hounded for days by a foreign invader controlling the strange creatures.

The horror becomes personal when Matt is enslaved by their foe, forcing Izzy to make a terrible choice. Should she follow her heart and save him, or perform her Golden Guardian duty and kill him? The fate of all Zyearth hangs in the balance and she must decide soon before the choice is made for her.

I must admit that I wondered how I would get on with this one but so far have found it very entertaining.  I’m not sure it would be my SPFBO book because for me it veers more towards sci fi/military than epic fantasy – however, I’ve read 30% of the book already and, whilst I might have a few niggles here and there, overall I’m just enjoying it and finding it to be an entertaining story so hopefully, time allowing, I might pick this one up again at some point to see how it concludes.

All the Saints are Dead3. All the Saints are Dead by Douglas Milewski 

Astrea is no place for a good woman, especially when she’s one of the floating city’s dragon riders. With space at a premium, and the ground full of disintegrating empires and vengeful expatriates, it’s a race to see which will chew her up first – her mother, her city’s corrupt and lethal politics, or her dragon.

Yet Targa grasps for hope wherever she can find it – in her new promotion to group leadership, in the power that it gives her to hire better riders, or the prodigy that she seeks who might just turn the dragon rider project around. Will it be enough to tip the balance, to save her city, her life, or even her soul?

It’s dangerous to be a good woman on Astrea, where all the saints are dead.

I think that All the Saints are Dead could turn into a very intriguing story but as it is and given that I’m only reading the first 20% I don’t feel like it’s really captured my attention enough to continue reading.  The writing is good and the story seems to, at least at the moment, centre more on the politics of being a dragon rider and the corruption at the heart of the system involved in choosing new riders.  The main character Targa has been promoted as the result of the death of the previous leader – killer by her own dragon – this is apparently something that all riders come to expect.  So, a very dangerous job and not an ideal world.  I think that this could be a very intriguing story given time but at the moment I confess myself feeling detached from any of the characters. 

Bride of the Midnight Kind4. Bride of the Midnight King by Kat Parrish 

Bride of the Midnight King is a paranormal romance with a fairy tale twist–Bride of the Midnight King. A vampire version of Cinderella set in a fabulous fairy tale land. A coming-of-age tale based on one of the most beloved fairy tales of all time, Bride of the Midnight King melds the romantic/classic Cinderella story and a richly textured vampire mythology to create something unique.

And the story begins with …once upon a time

The land was called Eindar, and those who lived there called it “home,” but those who lived beyond its borders called it “The Divided Kingdom” because it was a place where humans and vampires shared the land but divided the day’s hours into sunlight and shadow, and there were only a few whose lives were lived in both realms.
Eindar had once been ruled by a royal house of humans, but that era ended when the last human king—Lorant the Third—took a vampire wife and died, leaving the kingdom in her care. Queen Isix abdicated in favor of her son Adraxus, and the sons of his line had occupied the throne of the Shadow Palace ever since.

By custom, the vampire kings choose human consorts to rule by their side. A king chose his consort for any number of reasons, but rarely was love involved. Or so it was until the last consort of King Idrax died, leaving behind a most unusual bequest. Lady Judita’s final gift to the kingdom and the king she’d loved was a complete surprise, and it changed …everything.

Bride of the Midnight King is a novella (30K), the first in a series of stories inspired by the classic fairy tales retold by the Brothers Grimm in which “Cinderella” takes place in a world where vampires and humans coexist.

I read all of Bride of the Midnight King as it was only a short story, a retelling of Cinderella in which the rulers of Eindar are vampires.  At the start of the story the current King’s consort passes away leaving a bequest that he chooses his next consort based on heart rather than head and as such she has organised a large ball for all of the ladies of the land to attend.  As fairytale retellings go this was an interesting and quick read.  I would say that I felt that the first half of the story was more enjoyable than the second half as the story flagged a little for me as it progressed, losing a little of the fairytale ‘style’.  I was also puzzled about why the retelling involved vampires – I don’t particularly have a problem with that detail but was just puzzled as to why as the vampire nature of the king and his family didn’t seem to play any particular aspect in the story and for that matter they could just as well have been fae/werewolves or humans.  A quick and easy read, I think the narration loses it’s charm a little as the story progresses and I’m not 100% certain about all the storyline choices.

5. As the Crow Flies by Robin Lythgoe 

AstheCrowFliesFor a thief, getting caught is never a good thing. Getting caught by a wizard is even worse.

“One more job” meant that Crow, a notorious thief, could retire with Tarsha, the woman of his dreams, but “one more job” may just mean his life.

When he sets out to abscond with that last brilliant treasure and seek a life of ease and pleasure with the jewel of his heart, Crow seriously underestimates his mark, the Baron Duzayan. Under threat of death by poison, Crow is coerced into stealing an improbable, mythical prize. To satisfy the wizard’s greed and save the life of his lady love, he must join forces with Tanris, the one man he has spent his entire career avoiding.

But what’s a man to do when stealing that fabled prize could level an empire and seal his fate?

From a dungeon black as night, to the top of a mountain peak shrouded in legend, a man’s got to do what he must.

Until, of course, he can think of a better plan…

As the Crow Flies is the book I intend to fully read and review for this particular batch of books.  So far I’m enjoying the story and the writing – that being said I do have certain niggles but I’m keen to see how this one pans out and how the characters develop.