Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to post nearly as often as I wanted to during Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. I have been planning on giving this tag a go for ages, however, so I can’t let the week end without taking this opportunity to finally get it done. I don’t know who came up with the original tag, so please let me know if you do. I’d love to credit them.
These are all self-published books, which goes to show (yet again) that any stigma against self-publishing is completely without merit. I encourage you to read off the beaten path!
Best Book You Read So Far This Year
Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer
This is actually a three-way tie at the moment (I reserve the right to add to this number at any given time), but since I think everyone and their brother should read Dragon Mage, I’m going to go with this one. Aram is one of the most wonderful main characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. I’ve gushed at length about the book here, but there really isn’t a single thing that I didn’t love about Dragon Mage. Definitely read this book, if you haven’t yet.
Best Sequel You Read So Far
The Infinite Tower (Heroes of Spira Book 4) by Dorian Hart
Both my oldest and I are loving this series. From the characters and their relationships, to the world-development and the fantastical creatures, this hits every checkmark on my list of favorite things in fantasy books. It’s quickly become one of my most given fantasy recommendations and for good reason. Not only am I looking forward to seeing what happens next, I am planning on rereading from the beginning of the series before too much longer. You can find my review here.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet
Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes
Why haven’t I read this yet? WHY???
Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
Mirror in Time by D. Ellis Overttun
I’m not going to say too much because my review is still forthcoming. I’ll just point out that any reader of sci-fi needs to add this to their tbr right now.
Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland
I honestly expected a fun, entertaining little story. I got that and more. It was more violent than I expected, but it was also much more thought-out than I expected. Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale was a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author.
Favorite New Author
I’ve decided that M.L. Spencer could write a book about sandpaper and I’d pre-order it.
Newest Favorite Character – Merovich
Small Places by Matthew Samuels
Merovich was a delight. They were so child-like and sweet, while at the same time they invented the most dangerous of things. I loved that juxtaposition. Honestly, all of the characters in Small Places are fantastic. You can find my review here.
Book that Made You Cry
The Archive by Dan Fitzgerald
I don’t often cry over books or movies. This one had me tearing up, though. Author Dan Fitzgerald used it as a kind of mirror, to show the best and worst in all of us. It was beautiful. Find my review here.
Book that Made You Happy
Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton
Oh, how I loved this book! The mystery was great, the author nailed the characters, and the ending was absolutely perfect. This was a brilliant homage to the foremost Consulting Detective. You can find my review here.
Most Beautiful Book You Got this Year
Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain
I mean…look at it! Gorgeous!
What Are Some Books You Need to Read By the End of the Year?
Oh, jeez! My tbr has a longer life expectancy than I do, so this is one of those questions that could be answered with many many titles. I’m looking forward to : A Troll Walks Into a Bar: A Nori Urban Fantasy Novel by Douglas Lumsden, Sacaran Nights by Rachel Shaw, and A Ritual of Bone by Lee C. Conley are a few that come to mind.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview the authors of Joy of the Widow’s Tears, Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee. This writing team will be contributing something pretty stinking cool to this blog in the next month, but I’m not saying what. Keep your eyes peeled!
First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Joy of the Widow’s Tears?
Geoff: “Joy of the Widow’s Tears is the second book in our fantasy detective series, the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. In this book, Reva and her magic-user partner, Seeker Ansee Carya, are sent to investigate a potential double homicide, but when they get to the crime scene, both of the victim’s bodies have disappeared. The case is off to a bad start, and it gets worse when Reva is suspended for the way she handled the arrest of some adventurers. Reva figures that the time off will be good, since her boyfriend, Aavril, has just arrived back in town after spending months at sea. Unfortunately, Reva learns that Aavril has been promoted, and will be returning to sea instead of staying in Tenyl like he’d promised. Meanwhile, Seeker Carya investigates a missing persons case and soon discovers that his missing persons, and the missing murder victims, have all become seemingly invulnerable zombies with very strange powers. Reva must work outside the law to stop the mad cultist who is controlling these undead before they are unleashed upon the city.”
What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?
Geoff:” I would say that I just have an overactive imagination. I always made up stories when I played as a kid, and I realized I could tell these stories to other people. My interest in fantasy came from Dungeons & Dragons. Being able to play games in worlds filled with magic, monsters, and dragons, fueled my interest in reading fantasy, but also in writing it.”
Coy: “Reading. Once you read enough books, on varied subjects, by different authors and in different genres, you start to think “I can do that”. What drew me to fantasy – the short answer, Gary Gygax. I have vast roots in Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. Plus, I’ve always liked other legends from real life, like King Arthur and Robin Hood.”
When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?
Geoff: “Yes. They both seem to come about at the same time. Sometimes the plot comes first and a character is developed to suit that story. Other times, it is the character that comes first. For us, more often than not, it is the character that comes first. In the Reva Lunaria series, it was Reva who came first. Our basic premise for the series was, “In a world of magic and monsters, how do the cops solve crimes?” We couldn’t figure out what the stories would be, or what the plots were, until we knew who Reva was. What kind of person is she? How does she act and react?
For our other series, a vampire gangster series that starts with Unremarkable, the basic plot came first. Once we had that, then we found a character, in Saul, who fit into the story that we wanted to tell.”
Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
“Not intentionally. One of the characters (Ansee) is the same height as Geoff and seems to be as timid and cautious as Geoff is, though that wasn’t intentional. We just wanted somebody who could contrast with Reva. On the other hand, Reva very much has Coy’s personality. That does make it pretty easy to write her, since Coy just needs to know how he’d act in a similar situation. But we didn’t start out planning her that way, it just works that her forthrightness and determination, and inability to suffer fools, really matches with Coy’s personality.”
What was the hardest character or part to write?
“For Coy, it is the exposition, writing the back story, information, and other details that give depth. For Geoff, the hardest parts to write are the dialogue, making sure that characters remain true to their own voice and don’t all start sounding the same.
Characters come and go, and if the dialogue isn’t right – if you can’t experience them and get the essence of that character – then you probably need a new character. Coy is very good at making sure that the character’s essence is there and remains consistent throughout the book. Geoff likes the exposition and background, writing the setting and description of people and places. He makes sure that the stage dressing is there for the characters to perform within. We think that our skill sets really complement each other and that really makes our writing click.”
You mesh fantasy with a detective character: what are some challenges with that? What is something you love about putting those two types of books together?
“One challenge is that, when you have a prevalence of magic, you have to prevent the solving of the crime from being too easy. It’s not good if your magic user can just cast a spell and identify the murderer. We have to make sure that there is enough mystery, enough of a challenge, like you’d find in a traditional (non-fantasy) mystery novel, so that the mystery will unfold as the story progresses. To make sure that we don’t let this happen, we have created rules for our magic system, to give us a framework for the world and to make sure that our characters still must face challenges and overcome struggles to be able to solve a crime.
Why do we put them together? They’re fun! We both love detective stories and fantasy stories, so putting them together just made sense. Plus, it’s a shift in the paradigm. It’s not just another detective novel, and not just another fantasy novel. There are so many books in each of those genres already, so in a world of fantasy and mystery, how do you stand out? For us, it was to put them together. Might we have alienated some readers of each genre by doing that? Probably. But have we gained some readers who didn’t know that this was a thing and it was missing from their lives? Heck, yes. And we love meeting them.”
Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?
“The villain is easier, hands down. Their motivations are simpler, and generally they don’t have to be as complex as the heroes (though having complexity does give depth). Plus, with villains, we usually don’t have to have deep back stories, or try to interweave multiple sub-plots, character interactions, or other things that our main protagonists have to deal with from book to book.
As to fun, for us it is some of the minor characters that pop into the story, who are neither the hero nor the villain, that are the most fun to write. With them, we are not constrained by their motives or their actions, and we can play them however we want. We sometimes play these minor characters for humor, but we can also play them as over-the-top characters to help contrast with our main characters. In this series, we have several characters that are fun to write. Rhoanlan is a pawn broker, a known fence for stolen items, and a confidential informant that Reva uses. He is based on Sidney Greenstreet’s character of Signor Ferrari in Casablanca – a man who has his fingers in many places, has the pulse of the city, seems to know more information than everybody else, and will give it up for the right price. Rhoanlan has been in both books in the series so far. In Joy of the Widow’s Tears, we introduced several other minor characters that are a lot of fun to write. Pfastbinder is a cleric of Banok, the god of chaos, and this gives us immense freedom in how we play him, and in how he interacts with the other characters. Another new character is Amaryllis, who is a costume designer at Pfenestra’s Playhouse, and is another resource that Reva sometimes uses if she is in need of a disguise. Amaryllis is a blend of Nathan Lane’s character of Albert from The Birdcage and Edna Mode from The Incredibles. This makes Amaryllis very easy to write, and a lot of fun.”
I know you also work in publishing. Does that affect your writing process at all?
“Only in the sense that it means that Geoff has less time to write. It doesn’t really affect the actual writing process itself. We still plot our stories (we are both plotters) and then Geoff usually writes the first draft while Coy then fixes all of Geoff’s mistakes, corrects the dialogue, and makes sure that it is a coherent story.
Where being a publisher really helps is in what happens after the story is written. The publishing company (Shadow Dragon Press, which is an imprint of the main company, Artemesia Publishing, LLC) handles the expenses for editing, cover design, etc., as well as distribution and marketing. Geoff treats himself and Coy the same as he does all of the other writers he publishes, giving just as much focus to their stories so that there is no playing of favorites.”
Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)
Coy: “Currently, John Dies at the End by David Wong.”
Geoff: “Without Remorse by Tom Clancy because it is a great character study.”
About the authors:
For Self-published Authors Appreciation Week, it is only fitting that I repost a review of one of the most uniquely-written fantasy books I’ve had the pleasure to read. My review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.
Grim and fascinating, Shadowless is a masterpiece told in shades of gray. It is a fantasy of the epic variety, one with incredible world building.
Every now and then, in the Northern Realms, a child will be born without a shadow. These children are half-human/half-gods, a concept that is very reminiscent of Greek mythology. They each have a bit of their godly father’s power. Where the book goes from here, though, is completely unique. See, a god’s offspring can be used as a vessel to gather more power, which the gods harvest in the most brutal of ways. These Shadowless are hunted. Their killers are soldiers, priests, even the gods themselves. How do you survive when even the gods want you dead?
Shadowless unfolds in a very unusual way: each chapter follows a different character and is almost a short story. Eventually these individual threads form a tapestry, rich in detail and creativity. The Shadowless are gathered together by a mysterious figure, with a common goal: ensure their safety by any means necessary.
Each character is fully formed and developed, adding their own one-of-a-kind perspective. In fact, every character’s story could easily be made into a separate novel, complete and incredibly interesting. Rarely is there that much detail in a book with multiple points of view. It was impressive, to say the least.
Another point in the book’s favor is that the reader doesn’t have to wait long to understand what being Shadowless means: an explanation is given in the very first part. It helped to know a little bit more early on, as there were so many characters that trying to figure things out without much detail would have detracted from the story.
I loved each character (oh-and did I mention that here there be dragons?). However, where author Randall McNally truly shines is in his ability to paint vivid pictures of a grim world, one filled with darkness, but not quite hopeless. That tiny shred of hope–call it a refusal to lay down and give up–lends extra layers to a book that is already extremely nuanced.
This is a longer book, but I flew through it, sucked into both the story and the world. Shadowless is a perfect book for fans of large, sweeping fantasies. Any book that contains complex histories, secrets to be discovered, and meddling gods is one that I’ll happily disappear into.
This was a book that I was a little scared to read. It was so hyped up that I thought it couldn’t possibly be as good as everyone claimed. I was so wrong. The Sword of Kaigen is riveting.
The story is brilliant, with a militaristic flare that I always find intriguing. This is an Asian-inspired fantasy, and I was sucked into the history and lore that dripped from the pages. The breadth of world-building is truly astonishing, with an amount of detail that’s above and beyond what I usually see in a fantasy book.
There were some differences in pace: the action built to a crescendo earlier on, and sort of slowed down after that. While an unusual choice, it worked wonderfully for this book since the characters are so incredibly interesting.
I thought Mamoru’s character developed amazingly throughout the book. Seeing him grow and evolve was truly a joy. Misaki, however, was absolutely incredible. I loved her so, so much! She lives as almost a background character in her own life, quiet and obedient. But…wow! I loved the strength of character and the hidden depths that Misaki has. From now on, whenever I think of a unique, strong, and well developed character, she will be the first to come to mind.
The storyline itself is genius, although I feel I should warn the readers that there are harsher parts to the book. TheSword of Kaigen is incredible. If you’re looking for an engrossing read with truly unforgettable characters, this one is for you.
This was a surprising read for me. Based on the description, I expected an entertaining, but relatively simple book. Instead, I got a creative, well thought out story. The book follows Corin as he attempts to traverse the Serpent Spire, a huge tower full of puzzles, traps, and monstrous creatures. However, that’s only part of the tale. The story turns into a school-like setting not too far in. I probably would not have read Sufficiently Advanced Magic if I had known that it would go in that direction, so I’m very glad that I didn’t know. I would have really missed out!
I liked Corin a lot. He was very methodical and highly intelligent. He was also a little shy, which I can relate to. He’s a very unique character and one I enjoyed following. Corin is also joined by a few other characters, which added brilliantly to the plot. I was a big fan of Professor Vellum’s in particular. I loved his snarktastic attitude!
The book throws you pretty much straight into a puzzle with very little in the way of introduction, which I found interesting, but the pacing was definitely a little odd. There were very detailed explanations which sometimes popped up at odd moments. While I found the information the author gave interesting, the amount of it was a bit daunting at times.
Sufficiently Advanced Magic had very advanced magic that was incredibly well defined and delineated. I know that’s not everyone’s thing, but I loved it. The amount of time and effort that was obviously put into its development more than paid off. This is where I feel like the book shone. Don’t get me wrong, the characters were great and the plot was enjoyable, but the magic system is what pushed this book above and beyond.
This would be a great book for those who like complex magic systems and intriguing situations.
I’ve been privileged to read some truly fantastic books over the years, from all avenues of publishing. Here’s a list of some of the great self-published books that I recommend. There is no rhyme or reason to the order, and this is far from complete. Give them a go!
Illiad: The Reboot by Keith Tokash
The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart
Hollow Road (Maer Cycle) by Dan Fitzgerald
Alexis Vs. the Afterlife: An Urban Fantasy Comedy by Marcus Alexander Hart
Vultures by Luke Tarzian
Small Places by Matthew Samuels
Kings and Daemons by Marcus Lee
Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton
Mirror in Time by D. Elllis Overttun
Review to come
Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer
The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson
Shadowless by Randall McNally
Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire
The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren
Today I’m excited to reveal not one, but two gorgeous covers! These are books two and three in the Norse-inspired Nine Worlds Rising series by Lyra Wolf. Scroll down to drool over the covers of The Order of Chaos and That Good Mischief with me.
Are you ready?
About the author:
Lyra Wolf is a Swiss-American author of fantasy and mythic fiction.
Raised in Indiana, home to a billion corn mazes, she now lives in Central Florida, home to a billion mosquitoes. She enjoys drinking espresso, wandering through old city streets, and being tragically drawn to 18th century rogues.
When Lyra isn’t fulfilling the wishes of her overly demanding Chihuahua, you can find her writing about other worlds and the complicated people who live there.
Lyra has earned a B.A. in History and M.A. in English.
You can follow Lyra on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or visit her website at
Purchase links for The Order of Chaos:
Purchase links for That Good Mischief:
Surprise! It’s Self-published Authors Appreciation Week! I’m starting off with a review of Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland.
This book was a delight. At the beginning, it seemed a little like Groundhog Day, showing the loop that our kobold friend is stuck in. Witt, our main character (and the kobold in question), spends his day singing his songs to buff the adventurers that come his way, making them stronger in battle. He goes home, goes to sleep, then repeats the day again. One day something happens that jogs his memory: often these adventurers kill NPCs such as himself just for giggles. He respawns the next day and repeats the same situation, over and over. With this revelation, Witt decides to get revenge. Thus, the path to villainy begins, as the once NPC becomes a full-blown character, and master of his own destiny.
Path to Villainy could have been simply a goofy little tale, good for a laugh and not much else. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this book took the concept of a revenge-hungry character and turned it into something new and different. I have to say, the fact that the main character is a kobold added a little something to the tale. Witt is a wonderful character, and watching him slowly turn from helpful little plot device to an angry, violent little soon-to-be master villain was so much fun!
This is LitRPG at its finest. The length was perfect: short enough that the concept didn’t get old, but long enough to make it a complete story. Path to Villainy was immensely entertaining, and a great book for both fans of LitRPG and online games such as WoW.
Admission: I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty before reading the story the movie is based on. Shame on me! That being said, I liked the movie just fine, it’s just very different from James Thurber’s work. I thought the movie was a bit more hopeful than the story seems to be. The story itself made me feel a little sad.
The titular character of the tale is Walter Mitty, a little man who kind of feels swallowed by life. He mentally retreats into fantastical situations in which he is the hero. Every part of his life feeds into these fantasies until it seems like his real life is actually his fiction. It really does affect every part of his life: he doesn’t seem able to really connect with reality. His relationship with his wife is one where she’s sort of his caregiver, which he resents. It’s obviously put a strain on their marriage. She nags him an awful lot and speaks down to him, but in my mind it’s because she is worried. She’s been thrust into a role that she probably didn’t expect, going from wife to almost-parent. I could be reading way more into that, but that’s the impression I got. I think she misses her husband because he’s become almost inaccessible.
The writing is simplistic, which I think helped show the almost child-like avoidance that Walter uses when life seems overwhelming, or just unsatisfactory. Which of us hasn’t escaped into our own imaginations before? That’s what reading is, to an extent. The difference is the underlying melancholy that pervades Walter’s life. I really enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but wow, did it make me sad!
I have no idea why I waited so long to read it, but I’m glad I did. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a pensive little tale, one that is definitely worth reading.