What happens when you renege on a deal with a monster? Miren O’Malley is the last daughter of true O’Malley lineage. The family used to be mighty and successful, but that luck (is it just luck?) has dwindled as surely as their bloodline has. There have always been rumors about how the O’Malleys managed to be so rich and successful for so long, but the truth has been kept strictly secret. This is where All the Murmuring Bones starts.
Miren’s grandmother is the matriarch of the O’Malleys and is desperate to regain some of their lost glory. She plans to marry Miren off to a rich, abusive jerk. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Miren. She flees, but is followed-not just by her intended, but by the mer.
These aren’t your Disney merfolk. The mer are dangerous and mysterious. I loved everything about them. In fact, they are not the only wild and savage creatures of legend that make an appearance. Rusalka, kelpies, and more give All the Murmuring Bones a dark mythical feel that drew me in.
Miren is smart, capable, and no stranger to bloodshed. There is no boundary she is unwilling to cross to keep her life and her freedom. Her flight to safety turns into a quest for answers and the switch is fascinating and brilliant. I’m used to gothic novels sticking to a single setting. However, Miren’s travels allow the world and plot to open up magnificently.
I did feel there was a misstep here and there. For example, the ending wraps everything up in a neat little bow that feels a little out of place considering the path the rest of the book takes. I would have liked seeing parts of the story left, if not unexplained, at least a little enigmatic. Also, the climactic event was over sooner than I was hoping. It felt a teensy bit rushed. However, these are small complaints in the grand scheme of things and the rest of the book is really stinking good.
All the Murmuring Bones is a gothic novel that hits all the right points. I highly recommend it.
This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find the link here.
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Backstories is available now.
Backstories is smart and enigmatic, encouraging the reader to be involved. Author Simon Van der Velde combines history and fiction to create something entirely different- the surprising stories behind famous figures. Instead of the public persona we all know, the veneer is stripped away to show the utter humanness underneath.
Interestingly, Backstories isn’t set up in any way that is run-of-the-mill. This collection of short stories isn’t a simple “this is their past” sort of book. Instead, it’s a mystery. The reader has to solve the puzzle: who is each story about? I have to be honest and say that a couple stories completely stumped me. It was fascinating to try and match up new details with what is already known about a person. It added a level of realism to what have always been almost unreachable, exaggerated famous (or infamous) people.
The writing is engaging and easy to connect with. It’s quite obvious that author Simon Van Der Velde put a lot of time and research into his book, but he left just enough to the imagination to encourage me to do my own digging. The little Easter eggs that were left throughout were clever and added so much to the story.
I went into Backstories expecting to be entertained. Instead, I was sucked in and ended up being incredibly invested in the “who was” aspect. Expect an engrossing book, one that will keep you guessing.
I love this series! The Heroes of Spira continues to keep me invested and the stakes continue to be raised in each new installment. What sets this book-and indeed the series-apart from many of the newer fantasies is its constant glimmer of hope. Things are very dire in The Infinite Tower (an entire world has essentially been erased, after all) but the heroes never stop trying. They never shrug and say, “So long, better luck next time.” They keep on going. And as they do, their pluckiness takes an already-creative and interesting storyline and elevates it to a truly engrossing story.
The Infinite Tower is what I like to call a “travel fantasy”. The characters have goals to reach and places they must explore (infiltrate?) to reach those goals. Each book in the series has opened up the world more and more, and at this point the scope of world building is truly astonishing. The Infinite Tower develops whole new worlds, for lack of a better term. The reader is treated to new puzzles to solve (the reason for the Stillness kept me guessing), and new creatures make appearances. Ivellios continues his brilliant name-giving as well, adding a touch of humor in just the right spot.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the characters, which have become very dear to me. They have grown by leaps and bounds throughout the books, and The Infinite Tower is no different. They learn about different sorts of bravery: the bravery of allowing grief; the bravery of keeping faith, even when it’s hard; the bravery of putting one foot in front of the other, despite knowing the outcome might not be what one wants. The characters are all so easy to understand because they are all supremely human (even Dranko). They have relatable flaws, hopes and dreams. Each character is given the attention they need to develop and no one is left by the wayside. I found Aravia particularly fascinating and I really felt for her, though Ernie continues to be a favorite.
This series has an added bit of excitement for me: it is my oldest child’s gateway to adult fantasy. We’ve really enjoyed reading the books and discussing them together. I see an exciting fantasy-reading future for him and it makes me so happy! And this is another place where this series stands apart: it is absolutely an adult series, while being hopeful enough that my teen can read them without ending up with nightmares. I am so happy to see that books like these are gracing shelves.
The excitement continues and we meet new characters along the way. This isn’t the Horn’s Company of TheVentifact Colossus. Rather, the characters change as the plot continues. I’ve loved reading these books and I am looking forward to the upcoming (and final) installment, while at the same time being a little sad that this series will be coming to a close. And that is the mark of a good book.
Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.
Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers; they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.
“Whatever happened to all of the heroes”, The Stranglers 1977.
I was twelve years old when I first heard this song and although there was something in the feral tone that grabbed me, I didn’t really understand it. I do now. I get the angst, and the loss, and the emptiness, which is why, in Backstories, I aim to answer the question.
So join me on my quest, and together we’ll uncover the fears and passions and prejudices that made our heroes what they were, and perhaps catch a glimpse of ourselves along the way.
Whatever happened to all of the heroes? They turned out to be human beings, in all their diverse glory. Simon Van der Velde, January 2021
P.S. I am proud to be sharing 30% of all profits from Backstories with Friends of the Earth. Stop Hate UK, and The North-East Autism Society. See simonvandervelde.com for further details.
About the author:
Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer, and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including: The Yeovil Literary Prize (twice), the Wasafiri New Writing Prize, the Luke Bitmead Bursary, the Frome Short-story Prize, the Hary Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition, and the National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition- establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.
Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney, and two tyrannical children.
Wow. Okay, I’m done. That could be my entire review. In fact, I am pretty sure that nothing I write will do justice to the sheer brilliance of The Shadow of the Gods. So, let me apologize in advance for any random blathering that ensues. I promise, I’m doing my best.
First of all, let’s talk about the feel of this book. It takes place in a Norse-inspired world, stark and harsh. Our heroes are all about one bad decision away from becoming villains. It’s survival of the fittest, or of the most desperate. It’s also the perfect setting for a story that is almost mind-bogglingly epic.
Vigrio is split into a few cities, each run by a Jarl who gives his people protection in exchange for loyalty (or, you know, taxes). The Jarls do this through their Tainted Warriors, people with unbelievable powers inherited from the blood of gods. Their powers vary, although I personally was a fan of the berserkers. These Tainted Warriors are controlled by a sort of collar that reins in their power. They are hunted and sold to different Jarls. Basically, if you’re a Tainted Warrior you’re not in the best of situations. Enter Varg, one of my favorite characters.
Varg is wanted for murder, and we first see him on the run. His driving goal is to find out about what happened to his dead sister. In order to get these answers, he needs the help of a Tainted Warrior. This simple beginning leads to a fantastic storyline, one that kept me fascinated. From his very first battle (which started to go belly-up when his groin punch hurt him instead of the intended target), I was drawn in. Through him, the reader is treated to a side of the world that might not otherwise be seen and appreciated.
There’s Elvar, a soldier in a war-band, those who look for tainted to sell to Jarls. She’s got a past that she’s trying to outrace. Her story arc was interesting, but did not grab me quite as much as the others. Of course, it was still incredibly well written.
Finally, there’s Orka. She was my absolute favorite part of the book, although it’s hard to pick a favorite. She was an extremely complicated character. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I liked her at first. She came across as hard and cold. Then I realized: that’s how she copes and survives. She’s a warrior. She’s a mother. She’s a wife. She is smart, and strong, and a bit ruthless. She’s pretty stinking amazing and I loved getting to the chapters about her. I keep hearing people talking abut how cruel Gwyne is to his characters and now I’m scared.
The Shadow of the Gods is brutal and genius, a perfect balance between breath-taking battle scenes and intricate characters. I high recommend picking this one up.
Okay, okay, I admit: I grabbed this book mainly for the cover. It promised mythical, mysterious tales. Plus, it has the pretty illustrations! This book takes place in the world of The Cruel Prince. Reviews for the series: The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing.
Unfortunately, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (referred from here on out to King of Elhame because the full title is bit long) didn’t quite butter my biscuit. Holly Black is a talented author and I think I expected more than what I got.
First of all, it felt a little thrown together. Several of the short stories seemed a bit like scenes that were edited out of the original books. While they were interesting, they didn’t quite seem like full stories to me. Also, any scene involving the sexening and Carden made me dissolve into giggles. He has a tail for crying out loud! Hmm…that might say more about my maturity level than about the book itself. Luckily, I tend to skip sex scenes anyway.
Something that I found interesting (and a little bit of a bummer) was that the stories that were supposed to take place during The Cruel Prince felt a little revisionist. It was really odd because Holly Black wrote with such confidence that I did not expect her to feel the need to change anything. She is a very good writer and I truly hope she knows that.
That being said, I did really enjoy the three stories involving the troll woman. In two of them, she told Carden a different version of the same fairy tale. I liked that they changed based on both Carden’s age and what had been happening in the original series at the time. It showcased Carden’s character development. I won’t ruin anything by talking about the third of the troll woman’s stories. I will just say that I thought it was extremely clever.
The final verdict for me was: the book was not horrible, but it felt unnecessary. However, I am sure that my opinion isn’t the popular one and I would love to hear what you loved about The King of Elfhame and why. Tell me what I missed!
My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.
Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:
Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland
“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.
I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”
The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart
“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”
Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.
Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan
“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”
Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles
“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”
There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Kids on the March will be available on March 23rd.
Kids on the March touched me, educated me, inspired me, and left me in awe of what children have done, and continue to do, when confronted with injustice. While adults sometimes waffle- or even turn a blind eye- children stand up for change.
“When democracy was threatened, kids were there. When people on the margins needed a voice of protest, kids were there. In some cases, kids were there, marching and chanting, long before adults even thought about protesting.”– Michael G. Long
This isn’t your average history book. Aside from the fact that it focuses entirely on children’s activism throughout history, it educates in a way that is accessible for older children without speaking down to them. While there is no glorification in the sometimes ugly response to demands for change, it is also not left out. There is no pretending that opposition doesn’t exist. At the same time, the focus is on the kids’ activism.
I loved the timeline that is provided at the beginning of the book. As a homeschool teacher, this will be extremely handy. For me personally, it helped highlight how active children have been, and for how long. Kids on the March starts in 1903 and goes all the way up to 2020! That is a long history of children standing up and moving the world. It was truly astonishing to see.
There were several marches/protests that I knew nothing about. Whether that is an oversight throughout school history classes, or me just not paying enough attention growing up, it was surprising to see. There were a few early protests over issues that were eerily similar to things happening now.
At the end, there are “tips for marching”, which is exactly what it sounds like. Children can shake the world and affect change by standing up and speaking out. In many ways, children have been examples to adults. They have been examples of bravery, compassion, and action.
Kids on the March made me cry on more than one occasion. It provided me with teachable moments for my child, and moved me. I cannot recommend this book enough.
“Let us pray with our legs. Let us march in unison to the rhythm of justice, because I say enough is enough.”
-Demetri Hoth, senior at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (2018)
Thank you to Orbit Books for providing me with Call of the Bone Ships in exchange for my honest opinion. This is book two in The Tide Child trilogy. You can find my review for book one, The Bone Ships, here.
Holy wow, Call of the Bone Ships is good! A more-than-worthy continuation of the story that began with The Bone Ships, this book adds new levels to an already amazing storyline, and new complexities to the characters.
I have to be honest: nothing went the way I expected it to when I opened the pages. It was a much murkier book than I expected-and I loved it. There were layers upon layers in the plot, and a grim sort of hopefulness in a world that isn’t particularly nice.
The story didn’t rush through at a break-neck pace; rather, I was given the time to really be sucked into the world. And what a world! The more I learn, the more I want to learn. This is one of the most fully-realized settings I’ve had the pleasure to read. Before I started The Bone Ships (book one in the trilogy), I said to myself, “Self, you might need to cut the expectations for a unique world down a notch. It’s a ‘boat book’, after all.” Oh, how wrong I was! Not only is this not just a ‘boat book’, the world continues to grow.
The characters were fantastic, of course. Everyone was flawed and delightfully complicated. The interactions made for interesting growth that- though unexpected- nonetheless made perfect sense. I made a huge mistake, though: I became too invested in some of the characters. Let’s just say that Barker happily stomps on people’s emotions. I both love and hate writing like that. It’s brilliant, but OUCH!
The Tide Child series is showing itself to be absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait to see what happens next, although I’m sure I’ll need about a box and a half of tissues once everything is said and done. Call of theBones Ships is gripping and ridiculously well written. Read this series.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.
Man, this place has gone to the dogs! Okay, okay, I couldn’t help myself. But in this zoo-meets-noir, the joke is mildly appropriate.
The story of The City that Barks and Roars has been told before, many times. You have a a detective that goes missing, and it’s up to his grizzled, cantankerous partner to solve the crime. In this case, the missing detective is named Lucas Panda (what with him being a panda and all). The grumpy partner? King Penguin Frank. Add his new fresh-faced partner, Charlie Monkey, and you’ve got the bare bones of many a detective tale. However, in this case, it’s a detective tail. Badum-tish! (I’ll be here all week folks.)
Now, the fact that the plot isn’t anything new and original does not detract from the story. Rather, it adds to it: we all know which beats to expect, but there’s a twist of the furry variety. It highlights the fun the author had writing The City that Barks and Roars. Think Zootopia for adults.
The mystery was clever, but the book ended up falling a bit flat for me. The characters, other than being animals, did not really have much in the way of development. However, The City that Barks and Roars is a shorter tale, so that could be the issue right there.
Where the author shone was in the descriptions, leaving me thinking that perhaps this story would be better in a different medium. As a TV show or movie, perhaps. The City that Barks and Roars was full of quippy humor, some of which landed, and some that didn’t.
At this point, I’m afraid my review seems to be entirely negative. I truly don’t mean it that way. The City thatBarks and Roars was an entertaining tale. It’s wasn’t incredible, but it was fun. I think people who read the detective genre will appreciate what the author did here more than I did, simply because they’ll have more experience with the genre.