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Many Kinds of Magic

                    When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find                   their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of          Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative.            There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be            different, and it will affect them in ways they could never predict. From the                mundane to the profound….
              There are many kinds of magic, after all. -Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus)

Hi! Thanks for joining me for my literary rants. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

First of all, I’m a nerd. A huge nerd. Like, a Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering,  quote-Firefly-and-proudly-call-myself-a-Browncoat nerd. I’m also a voracious reader, a homeschool mom, and an introvert. I’m more than a little awkward, and I express myself better in writing.

I’ll read pretty much anything, with the exception of romance novels. Sadly, I’m bereft of any sense of romanticism. I tend to gravitate towards fantasy, YA, and sci-fi, but I’ve been branching out more into nonfiction lately.

Because I homeschool two book loving little goobers, I’m also pretty up-to-date on children’s books, so I’ll discuss those here from time to time as well.  Honestly, I’d read picture books anyway, but having kids is a good way to browse the children’s section at the bookstore without getting too many weird looks.

I absolutely LOVE hearing bookish opinions and reading suggestions from other people. If you read a review and think it’s total bunk, tell me so. Tell me why. If you agree, props are good too. More than anything, I want to connect with other readers. Join me in discussion and let’s have some literary fun!

* On Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB
*Browsery app: Witty and Sarcastic BookclubMany Kinds of Magic

Book Review from a Teen Reader: The Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi

Today, my teenager has once again given me permission to share a book review. This time, he’s reviewing the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure how heavy his review is on spoilers. Enjoy at your own risk!

Best-selling author Rick Riordan introduces this adventure by Roshani Chokshi about twelve-year-old Aru Shah, who has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur? One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again. But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them. The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that? (Taken from Amazon)

I recently read the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah and the End of Time, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, and Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes, Aru Shah and the City of Gold, and Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality) and I really, really liked it!

Every single one of the characters was likable, fun, and unique. Not only that, but the story itself was set at just the right pace to make it hard to put down yet easy to pause for stuff like, y’know, eating, drinking, and other necessary things (Curse you, Life! Can’t you see I’m trying to read?).

As you probably guessed, I really liked these books. I don’t want to go into too much detail (because SPOILERS) but I will try my best to outline the series without actually saying anything too specific.

Well, let’s see…there’s a bunch of characters, and they do some stuff, and other stuff happens…I’m just kidding! I can tell you more than that (Hold onto your hats! This is gonna be fast)!

The Pandava series is a series under the unique title of “A Rick Riordan Presents book”, which basically means that, one, it has something to do with mythology, and two, Rick Riordan liked it. There are other Rick Riordan Presents books (I’m currently reading one called Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee) and all of them fall under those categories I mentioned earlier. So if you like good, fun books with undercurrents of interesting cultures and mythologies, the Rick Riordan Presents title is one to watch for.

The Pandava series is also the subject of this current book report, so back to talking about it!

Based off Indian myth and legend in its theming (though probably not all of myth and legend, because that would make my brain explode. India is BIG)! The Pandava series focuses on a group of girls who are the reincarnations of the Pandava siblings, ancient and powerful heroes from Indian myth. I won’t name names because some of them only show up in later books. so that would be a…SPOILER.

Anways, Aru Shah, the main character of the series and maybe a Pandava (no spoilers here, though she totally is) accidentally releases The Sleeper, the main villain of the series with some complicated backstory and motivation, from his imprisonment while trying to impress some rich kids from the local school (by showing them a definitely cursed lamp she was told not to touch and then touching it). This leads to lots of bad stuff, which of course leads to the main body of the book. Heroic quest, anyone?

Along the way, lots of really likable and interesting characters show up, and I won’t say any names because my favorite characters only shows up later in the series, but for all of you out there who have read the books, I’ll say that a certain naga prince is my favorite character (“I can’t die! I haven’t even learned what a microwave does!”).

Before I close off my report, I want to say thank you to the author for including a glossary of terms and pronunciations. Without it, I would not know where to start with some of the more complicated stuff. Plus, it’s fun to read the author’s opinion on all of it!

Anyways, I highly recommend this series to anyone who liked this report because the series is way better than the report says (it’s kinda hard to talk about how awesome a book is without actually saying anything specific).

The characters are great, the story is great, the action and humor and emotions are great, and overall, I’d say that the Pandava series is fantastic. I hope you decide to read it and, if you do, I hope you like it as much as I did.

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro

Charlie Ovid, despite surviving a brutal childhood in Mississippi, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When Alice Quicke, a jaded detective with her own troubled past, is recruited to escort them to safety, all three begin a journey into the nature of difference and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a story of wonder and betrayal, from the gaslit streets of London, and the wooden theaters of Meiji-era Tokyo, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh where other children with gifts―like Komako, a witch-child and twister of dust, and Ribs, a girl who cloaks herself in invisibility―are forced to combat the forces that threaten their safety. There, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. With this new found family, Komako, Marlowe, Charlie, Ribs, and the rest of the Talents discover the truth about their abilities. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, a new question arises: What truly defines a monster? (Taken from Amazon)

With a premise that is reminiscent of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, with a hint of X-Men thrown in for good measure, Ordinary Monsters could have easily gotten lost in a crowd of similar books. Instead, its evocative writing sets it apart from so many other “extraordinary children” storylines, while author J.M. Miro confidently subverts expectations.

The plotline seems simple enough: there are two kids with special abilities referred to as Talents, being hunted by a mysterious being. At the same time, there is a duo of detectives (ish) who have been given the task of finding these children and taking them to a special school for those like them (seems pretty similar to Professor X’s school, right?).

Where the book differs from other stories in this vein is its execution. Ordinary Monsters is darkly beautiful, grimy, and gothic with an ugly underbelly that rears its head when least expected. It’s unsettling and thought provoking. I was engrossed and almost repulsed, in equal measure. There’s an undercurrent of hope, even among the bleakest parts of the book.

Ordinary Monsters uses multiple points of view, but it is never confusing or distracting. There are Marlowe and Charlie, two children with Talents. Charlie can glow. Marlowe can heal himself of any physical hurt. Unfortunately for him, the emotional pain isn’t also healed. His introduction was heartbreaking, to say the least. Then there are several other characters who play roles of varying importance. What I loved about this was how even the smallest of interactions could have a profound impact on the personality or choices of a main character.

I definitely had some niggles. The plot could be a little convoluted at times, and there were subjects touched upon that I prefer to avoid (description of rape being the main one that most bothered me). If there was a content warning section in the book, I missed it. However, these unsavory topics were not used for “shock value”, and they weren’t dwelled upon. Take from that what you will.

As in life, things were complex and messy. There was no absolute good or absolute bad. Each character had their own drive and motivation, and many characters were morally conflicted at best. The story went far past surface level, examining what makes people tick.

While the book wasn’t perfect, it was a fascinating read. It impresses with its immersive, gothic atmosphere and its nuanced characters. Ordinary Monsters will worm its way into your head and keep you thinking. Pick this one up if you like exploring the dark corners of the human psyche and are drawn to the mysterious and unknown.

The Satanic Panic…in 2022?

Book banning, the Salem Witch Trials, twenty-sided die, and the Satanic Panic: what do these things all have in common? Fear and misunderstanding. While everyone knows about the Salem Witch Trials, and the attempt to ban massive amounts of books is still alive and kicking, the Satanic Panic pretty much ended in the 90’s. Right? Unfortunately, while things evolve to fit the times, the Satanic Panic is alive and well and continues to target table-top roleplaying games.

TTRPGs, or table-top role-playing games, have found themselves in the mainstream recently. From streaming shows such as Critical Role to the Netflix hit Stranger Things, suddenly TTRPGs have stepped out of basements (or den, in my case) and into the limelight. While there are many positives to its recent popularity, it seems that those old fears and overreactions have made a resurgence as well.

I play TTRPGs. I use them in my homeschool. Let me tell you, I’ve never summoned so much as the bag of Doritos from the kitchen (or would that be using the Force?), much less a demonic entity. TTRPGs, simply put, are fun. They give adults permission to do what children do all the time: use their imaginations.

My love of Dungeons and Dragons started in the mid-to-late 90s, so I only caught echoes of the panic that seemed to be everywhere in the 80s. By the time it got to me, it seemed everyone knew someone who was related to someone who played with “a guy who got sucked into the occult through D&D”. Usually, these “true stories” ended with injury or disappearance. To me, these tales felt very similar to Bloody Mary or other stories told at sleepovers.

If a teenager can see the ridiculousness of some of these fears, why couldn’t adults? And why was Dungeons and Dragons such a big target?

Margaret Weis, author of several bestselling series, including Dragonlance, was in the middle of it from a creator’s standpoint. I asked her what the Satanic Panic looked like from her perspective, as someone involved in the growing popularity of both TTRPGs and fantasy in general.

She remembers, “I was working at TSR at the time. I remember we watched the 60 Minutes show where they interviewed a mother of a young man who committed suicide and she was blaming it on D&D because she found a lot of D&D books in his bedroom. His death was tragic, but when you listen to his mother, you start to realize he was suffering from a great many problems that went unrecognized. Then there was the religious tract “Dark Dungeons”. People would place those inside D&D books at the local bookstores. We read that and honestly couldn’t believe people would think that D&D would give a person real “evil powers”. As one of the game designers said, if we really could gain such powers, why would we be working? Why weren’t we ruling the world?”

The suicide in question, that of Patricia Pulling’s son, is absolutely a tragedy. However, while he did play D&D, there has been absolutely nothing to suggest that a game of imagination caused his death. Pat Pulling was a grieving mom looking for answers and I don’t fault her for that. The problem is the answers she chose had no basis in reality and ultimately led to a spike in fears over TTRPGs and their supposed role in the occult.

Patricia would go on to form Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (or BADD), a group that would fuel the flames that consumed reason and understanding in so many people. There was also a handy-dandy (and completely bonkers) pamphlet written by Patricia called Dungeons and Dragons: Witchcraft, Suicide, Violence. Thanks to The Escapist, I was able to get a look at this pamphlet. It’s so ridiculous, it would be funny if so many people hadn’t bought into it!

Image credit: Amazon

YoDanno, a Twitter friend who is incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Dungeons and Dragons, kindly sent me an article by Michael A. Stackpole, debunking her many claims in no uncertain terms (you can find that full article here). Not only did she make some choices of questionable legality, she also flat-out lied to add some semblance of credence to her accusations. Michael A. Stackpole concluded, “Her methods and tactics, at their very best, taint any evidence she might offer and, at their worst, construct a monster where none exists”.

Panic over the years often comes from a simple and even admirable trait: the desire to protect our children. Of course, we want our kids to be safe and loved. The problem arises when we have no idea of the reality of what we are condemning. How can anyone judge TTRPGs they’ve never played, or call for the banning of books they haven’t read with any sort of authority? (I’ll do my best to spare you my thoughts on book banning, but no promises because it is coming pretty dang close to the Satanic Panic in proportion).

“Experts” were quick to harshly judge what they had little to no experience in. According to Texe Marrs, author of Ravaged by the New Age: Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids, “This game is nothing more than an introduction to the occult. Fantasies the players involve and indulge themselves in include murder, rape, arson, pillage, terrorism, brutal torture, etc. ” (Marrs). Um…no. Nothing in that statement is close to correct. I do my absolute best to avoid reading books with r**e in them; I definitely wouldn’t play a game that would glorify it or encourage my son to play.

I asked Ms. Weis, “Did stigma against your profession bleed over into your personal life and in what way?” Sadly, it did affect her on a personal level.

“I remember the elders in [coauthor] Tracy’s church (Mormon) wanted him to quit his job at TSR because they feared he was being corrupted. He invited them to play the game with him and if they still thought it was evil, he would quit. He ran an RPG for the elders one night. Not only did they not make him quit, they asked him if he would run a weekly game for them!
My son came home from junior high one day to tell me that his teacher had asked if he tortured cats. He was astounded and asked why she would say such a thing. She said she assumed he must be a devil worshipper because his mother worked for TSR!”

All because people chose fear over an attempt to understand or learn something new.

I also asked Margaret Weis’ thoughts on why TTRPGs have been, and continue to be, such a target.

She answered, “I remember someone theorizing that the reason people latched onto D&D as being Satanic was that parents didn’t understand it and didn’t bother to take the time to learn about it. All they saw was their kids playing a strange fantasy game for hours or days, a game that didn’t have a board, used weird dice, and had its own language. The best way to deal with
this is to invite these people to play! Like Tracy did!”

Of course, this article won’t stop the judgment that seems to once again be growing in volume. People are going to overreact and condemn what they really don’t understand. But here’s a thought; just ask. If you don’t know what playing a TTRPG entails (imagination and math, at its core), how on earth can you really judge it?

Works Cited:

Marrs, Texe. Ravaged by the New Age Satan’s Plan to Destroy Our Kids. 1708 Patterson Road, Austin, Texas 78733, RiverCrest Publishers.

“Michael A. Stackpole: The Pulling Report.” Www.rpgstudies.net, http://www.rpgstudies.net/stackpole/pulling_report.html.

‌“The Escapist – as BADD as It Gets.” Www.theescapist.com, http://www.theescapist.com/BADDbook01.htm.

Dragonlance Reading Order 2022

Logo Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Image Credit: Larry Elmore
Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

The Dragonlance world is one I happily revisit every year. Rich in detail and huge in scope, the series itself boasts over one hundred novels, and the first book in a new trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, titled Dragons of Deceit, has just released.

If you’ve never read the series before, you might be wondering where to start. I’ll admit, it can be pretty daunting. Here is my own reading order suggestion. Keep in mind, it is my opinion only, and I haven’t listed every single book, rather sticking to the “main storyline” with side suggestions along the way.

First things first: The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Winter Night
Dragons of Spring Dawning


These are the basis of the entire world. Without these books, you won’t understand much of what happens after. You won’t be able to fully appreciate the books that take place before (that were nonetheless written later on). This is where you’ll meet some of the best characters ever written. Yup, I mean ever.

Continuing on: The Dragonlance Legends by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Time of the Twins
War of the Twins
Test of the Twins

The Legends trilogy is meant to be read right after the Chronicles, despite later books being published that take place in-between the original Chronicles. Trust me, do not sandwich those books (the Lost Chronicles) in the middle of the original Chronicles trilogy! I promise, there’s a place for them later on.

Connecting the old to the new:

The Second Generation 
by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Summer Flame by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Now, at this point, after being emotionally devastated, you have a few choices: you can continue on with the “main storyline”, OR you can explore the world a little bit. There’s so much to see, after all! Keep reading the post to see where I would suggest going next in the main storyline. I’ll add some book suggestions at the bottom of this post for those who want to wander around Krynn a bit.

Fleshing out the original books: The Lost Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of the Dwarven Depths

Dragons of the Highlord Skies

Dragons of the Hourglass Mage

These technically don’t further the storyline, as they are meant to take place in-between events covered in the earliest books. They make the original story much bigger, though, and we get to see more of my favorite characters, which is always a plus.

Time to see what happens next: Dragons of a New Age trilogy by Jean Rabe

The Dawning of a New Age

The Day of the Tempest

The Eve of the Maelstrom

To be honest, the Jean Rabe books are probably the Dragonlance books that I’ve read the fewest amount of times. However, they do connect what came before with what comes next.

The Dhamon Saga by Jean Rabe:

Downfall

Betrayal

Redemption

Carrying on: The War of Souls trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of a Fallen Sun

Dragons of a Lost Star

Dragons of a Vanished Moon

Now, it’s on to: The Dark Disciple trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Amber and Ashes

Amber and Iron

Amber and Blood

The first book in a new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman has just released!

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies book 1)

You could technically start reading Dragonlance here as the authors have given important information and history throughout the book, while avoiding the dreaded info dump (that they were able to do this speaks of their excellent writing abilities). In order to truly appreciate everything that happens, though, I would suggest at least reading the Chronicles and The War of Souls. But that’s just me.

Now, you’re technically more or less caught up on the main storyline. However, here’s where it gets interesting: you’ll notice that this is less than 100+ books. That means you get to pick and choose any side novels that catch your eye. I personally am a huge fan of the Meetings Sextet (which explain how our original companions met), the Preludes, and the Raistlin Chronicles. Honestly, anything written by Margaret Weis or Tracy Hickman is going to be gold. I’m also a big fan of the books written by Douglas Niles and Richard A. Knaak.

Time to gather up your maps, grab your hoopak, and head off for adventures!

The Hero Interviews by Andi Ewington

Following Elburn Barr, a Loremaster (think reporter) as he interviews adventurers far and wide, The Hero Interviews by Andi Ewington doesn’t just poke a little fun at common fantasy tropes. Instead, it chases them down, beats them up, then goes through their pockets for loose change. It is a brilliantly funny book and one that had me laughing from start to finish. Grab a tankard for the road and follow the Loremaster as he tries to figure out what makes heroes tick!

I’ve read The Hero Interviews multiple times now and I find something new that makes me laugh every single time. The main character, Elburn, who sees a paper and quill as his weapons rather than a sword, is a delightful character. His parents and brother all did the hero thing, and he just can’t figure out the draw. He’s full of piss and vinegar, which comes out in the most hilarious of ways.

There is an ongoing mocking- ahem, inner monologue- from Elburn in the form of footnotes added to each interview. The snark is strong in him, and the footnotes elevate The Hero Interviews from funny to rolling-on-the-floor hilarious.

The subjects of the interviews include socially awkward skulls, barbarians who punch themselves to see if they’re dreaming (“Rogues pinch. Barbarians punch.”), wizards who may have accidentally killed entire adventuring parties with ill-times spells, and much more. I was floored by the creativity of each interview and how incredibly different and unique each character is from the others.

There is a storyline throughout the book as well, weaving seemingly disparate interviews into a cohesive whole. While he is compiling interviews, Elburn is also on a quest to find his missing heroic brother (although he’d balk at the word “quest”). His character develops and grows, in-between mocking observations about oddball interviewees.

The Hero Interviews had me snorting with laughter (it was not a pretty sight, let me tell you). It is easily one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and I loved every minute of it. The Hero Interviews should come with a warning: will cause side-splitting laughter.

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles beyondThe Hero Interviews, including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington.

Andi is querying right now. Interested publishers can reach him at butwin@me.com or on Twitter.

A Letter to Self-published Authors

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Dear Self-published Authors,

As Self-published Authors Appreciation Week wraps up, I want to pause for a minute to say thanks. One of the astounding things about self-published books is the time, creativity, stress, and hard work that go into them. Self-published authors do it all, and it’s amazing.

There are so many self-published books that I have been blown away by and this week has barely scratched the surface. There are other books I’ve loved that I haven’t had the chance to write about yet and still more waiting for me to discover them. Contests like SPFBO, SPFSC, and BBNYA constantly add to my “to be read” list with the sheer number of gems in them. Book reviewers add even more.

I want to offer a heartfelt thank you for sharing your visions, for creating fantastical new worlds or showing us this one with new eyes. Thank you for the words that cause chills, for the raw honesty in your writing, for the hours of entertainment and excitement. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put your words onto paper and inviting us to enter your world for a while.

What you do is something special.

Sincerely,
Jodie

SPAAW- The Mystery of the Murdered Guy (Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire Book 3) by G.M. Nair

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Continuing on with Self-published Authors Appreciation Week, I am delighted to talk about The Myster of the Murdered Guy (Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire #3).

After their very public triumph over the sinister machinations of the Future Group, Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer’s accidental detective agency has become a household name. Practically overnight, they’ve cemented their place as the city’s go-to sleuths for solving the weird, oddball cases that would confuse and irritate anyone else.

Join them as they tackle the mysteries of a medically licensed vampire, a mysterious mad bomber, a genderfluid reverse werewolf, and the true meaning of Christmas – just to name a few. Meanwhile, an aging billionaire obsesses over his plans to achieve immortality, which could mean dire consequences for the world. But with Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire on the case, what could go wrong?

If you said ‘everything’, you’d be correct. (Taken from Amazon)

The Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series is seriously funny. It takes being funny very, very seriously. It is intimidatingly funny. I would even go so far as to say it’s scary funny. Ah yes- and it’s brilliant.

In The Mystery of the Murdered Guy, Duckett and Dyer are back and in fine form. Stephanie Dyer continues to be the Energizer Bunny of disasters and Michael Duckett (at this point, I think his middle name is “Murphy’s Law”) tries his best to survive both Stephanie’s zest for chaos and his own inability to stay out of trouble. I always picture Duckett a little bit as Dante in Clerks (“I’m not even supposed to be here today”), but I think he secretly loves the nuttiness. This relationship between Dyer’s chaos incarnate and Duckett’s weary resignation is one of my favorites.

Dyer and Duckett balance each other out perfectly. Just like Costello isn’t funny without Abbott, Duckett and Dyer are an excellent pair. Michael Duckett brings just the right amount of normalcy to the book, which gives the reader enough time to pause and appreciate all the ludicrous things happening to the characters. And there is a lot happening: attractive Frankenstein’s monsters, gender fluid reverse werewolves, heists that aren’t, and run-ins with the Santa Slayer (my hat’s off to Stephanie for fixing his moniker) are only the tip of the iceberg.

I love this series so very much. Somehow G.M. Nair also has a through-line in the zaniness and characters that grow and develop from book to book. I honestly don’t know how he does it. He also keeps things fresh by changing up not only what’s happening, but how it’s being relayed. There’s even a story told entirely in court transcript, which had me cackling.

Do yourself a favor: don’t go to work, ignore your responsibilities, just go ahead and drop everything to read the Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series. These books are the best sort of disaster.

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: Great Series

This week has been focused on some of the awesome self-published books out there. If you’d like to join in the fun, feel free to shout about self-published authors on your various platforms. On Twitter, use #SPAAW, #SuperSp, #AwesomeIndies and I will add your links to the Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week Hub.

I’m excited to talk about some of the self-published series that I’ve enjoyed. This is just a few of them, but I definitely suggest picking them up.

-The Windshine Chronicles by Todd Sullivan:

Men from South Hanguk undertake quests to gain social standing, to stand above their peers, to make names for themselves.

To become heroes.

Few ever return.

Ha Jun, sixteen years old, possesses a glyph sword crafted in foreign lands. Alongside a soldier, a knight, and a monk, he travels across the country to destroy a demon lurking beyond the running trees of Naganeupseong Fortress. Accompanying them is the dark elf, Windshine, who emigrated to South Hanguk from her own war-torn country centuries ago.

Distrusted by the people of South Hanguk, Windshine has the Emperor’s protection and is tasked with recording the valiant acts of quest groups battling creatures born from nightmares.

Ha Jun becomes drawn to Windshine as they near Naganeupseong Fortress, but when he discovers the blood connection between the demon and the dark elf, he will either succumb to his fear, or rise up and become a hero. (Taken from Amazon)

Review

-The Mennik Thorn Series by Patrick Samphire:

If Mennik Thorn had known the morning would end with him being framed for murder, he would have stayed trapped in the cupboard.

It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik to pay back a favor to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he is wanted for murder by the mage-killing Ash Guard, his best friend is about to be executed, and something monstrous is killing all the witnesses.

So how is a down-on-his-luck mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?

If he wants to get out of this, he is going to have to throw himself back into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago.

Even that may not be enough, because a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one second-rate mage…(Taken from Amazon)

Review

-The Gifted and the Cursed series by Marcus Lee

In the Ember Kingdom, a dying land riven by famine and disease, Daleth the evil Witch-King plots his conquest of the neighbouring Freestates. Gifted with eternal youth, his vampiric power is responsible for the decay that afflicts his realm, and now other kingdoms must fall to quench his never-ending thirst for life.
However, on the cusp of the invasion, Maya, a peasant huntress, is arrested, Daleth’s soldiers kill an old farmer’s wife, and a young outcast is reluctantly enlisted into the Witch-King’s army. Three seemingly innocuous events that nonetheless have the potential to alter the destiny of generations to come.
For Maya is gifted with the ability to heal and can influence the hearts and minds of men if she but finds the strength to do so. The young recruit carries a gift of reading thoughts and has no love for the king he serves. As for the vengeful farmer … he’s an ancient warrior gifted in reaping souls who now seeks to fulfil a long-forgotten oath against unbeatable odds.
The world will soon be soaked by the blood of war, but with these three individuals’ lives inescapably entwined, the faint light of hope begins to shine. Alliances will have to be forged, enemies convinced to become friends, and a flicker of love given a chance to become a flame for there to be a chance to fight the encroaching darkness of the Witch-King’s evil. (Taken from Amazon)

Review

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series by G.M. Nair:

Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.

The only problem is: Michael and Stephanie don’t have one of those.

Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray. Stumbling upon a web of missing people curiously linked by a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time, the two of them find that they are way out of their depth. But unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and patch up the hole they tore in the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, cease to exist. (Taken from Amazon)

Review

The Royal Champion series by G.M. White:

A dead prince. A grieving king. A legendary swordsman accused of murder.
Loyalty counts for nothing when the king demands blood.
Royal champion, and confidant to the king, Belasko thought he was beyond intrigues and machinations. But when the grief-stricken King demands vengeance for his murdered son, Belasko discovers he is expendable. His options are clear: find the killer or die for a crime he didn’t commit.
This breakneck fantasy thriller is perfect for fans of David Gemmell, Sebastien de Castell and Miles Cameron. Pick up your copy today! (Taken from Amazon)

*I am just starting The Swordsman’s Intent (sort of a prequel) and am not up to date on the series-yet. I’m enjoying the heck out of what I’ve read so far.

Review

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week- Burn Red Skies by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero

Banner credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Welcome to the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms. Twitter hashtags: #SPAAW, #SuperSP, #IndiesAreAwesome.

Burn Red Skies as well as its sequel, Rise Red Kingdom, are available for purchase now.

It starts with a rift that burns a thousand scars into the sky. It makes the winds stop. It makes the stars go dark. It awakens an ancient beast. And with it, a new reign of blood. It is the Summoning. And at the heart of it is fire.

When the Summoner’s army blasts through her village, Dove is forced into hiding. Torn from everything she knows, she begins training in the elements with only one goal in mind: to find her brother. She just needs to get past the Summoner’s army—but how can she slay a dragon that is already dead?

What happens when you mix dragons, politics, airships, fascinating characters, and high stakes? You get the well written adventure, Burn Red Skies!

The first thing I noticed about Burn Red Skies is the regard it has for its readers. The author doesn’t condescend to the reader and give long, over-the-top explanations for everything. Instead, it is assumed that the reader will pick things up as the story moves along. I loathe info dumps, so this approach worked well for me. It might cause some readers a bit of confusion at first, but I liked the way the information was given organically as the story progressed.

The main character is Dove who is separated from her brother and whose only goal is to find him. The magic in this world is elemental (more on that later) and she begins training in it as a means to an end. Dove is mute, which is something I don’t usually encounter in main characters. It was so wonderful to see fantasy being more inclusive as far as different abilities. I enjoyed her determination and her strength.

While there are many characters, and the book is told from several points of view, I have to say that I looked forward to reading about Dicker and Merc the most (sky pirates! How cool!). They were just so much fun! Generally, in a book with multiple viewpoints, there’s a character that just doesn’t interest me, but that didn’t happen in Burn Red Skies. Each character brought something to the story. Another thing to note is that I never found it difficult to keep the characters straight. The author gave each one such an original personality and voice that switching back and forth worked just fine. The characters’ story arcs start out completely separate, with characters in separate areas which of course left me curious to know if and how they would finally meet. It’s an ambitious way to tackle storytelling and the author manages it beautifully.

Burn Red Skies features elemental magic, which gave me pause at first because I (incorrectly) thought there was nothing to be done with it that hasn’t been done before. I really love that I was wrong! The magic did more than just give a person a “point your finger and lightning pops out” sort of skill set. Instead, it was nuanced and affected everything from what a person can do to how they heal, or how they handle the sun.

I only have one small quibble which is that the pacing was choppy in parts. Some things that could have used a little more time or focus seemed sped up, and other parts seemed oddly stretched out. This didn’t happen too often and only in a few places throughout the book.

I enjoyed this highly imaginative fantasy and am excited to see the story continue in Rise Red Kingdom.  

SPAAW- Small Places by Matthew Samuels

This week marks the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms.

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (Taken from Amazon)

Smart and funny, Small Places is a wonderful addition to the fantasy genre. The book follows Jamie, a man who has just found out that his mom has cancer. He goes back to their little village to see how he can help, and falls into an unexpected adventure. As he tries to juggle the ordinary stress with the “what on earth is happening” stress, Jamie is thrown into one logic-defying situation after another. Buckle up, everyone. This is going to be a rave.

I loved everything about Small Places! From the story arc to the characters, everything was fantastic. Author Matthew Samuels has crafted a genius story, one that immediately drew me in. His cast of characters were quirky and creative. There were some of the more common fantasy creatures, but every single one subverted stereotypes and became creative twists on the norm, unique and different. Some were definitely creepy, and others made me laugh way too hard. I ended up reading snippets out loud to explain the snort-laughing. There’s a particular conversation involving vaping that had me rolling on the floor…

Jamie is one of the most likeable main characters I’ve read who also happens to be believable. A little lost, and inundated with some of the harder things in life, Jamie is just trying to make it through, taking each day one situation at a time. He gets drawn into a problem of the fae variety when he agrees to help a witch in exchange for a potion that might help his mom’s health.

The witch in question, Melusine, is cantankerous and snarky. She also kept the story moving smoothly, giving information in a way that made sense but felt natural. There was no dreaded info-dump; instead, knowledge is given throughout the book as needed, which is how I prefer it. I loved her slippery view of morality. I never knew where she would land on any given issue, or how far she was willing to go to achieve her goals.

My favorite character, though, is Merovech. A tinkerer with a child-like sense of wonder, and a penchant for inventing dangerous gizmos; they packed an emotional wallop. I loved every single scene they were in. They also caused what might be my favorite quote in the book (which I will not spoil by sharing here, don’t worry).

I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected. In fact, it probably would just be easier to say that I loved everything about Small Places. I am desperate to read book two, and I’m rather peeved that I have to wait (patience is not a virtue that I have in abundance). Matthew Samuels is a talented writer and Small Places is an excellent book.