A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow

Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

Will Zinnia accept the Queen’s poisonous request, and save them both from the hot iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path? (Taken from Amazon)

A Mirror Mended is the continuation of the Fractured Fables series. You can find my review of book one, A Spindle Splintered, here. Both books are available now.

A Mirror Mended continues the story started in A Spindle Splintered, with Zinnia traveling into various versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale to save the princess from her own story. It’s obvious that Zinnia is creating as many happy endings as possible because she feels she has no control over her own fate. She knows that her illness will catch up to her (sooner rather than later) and she will die. As far as avoidance techniques go, it’s a pretty creative one. It’s also alienated her from her best friend, Charm.

After one night of a particularly zesty victory celebration, Zinnia finds herself traveling into another fairytale- except for the first time ever, it’s not another version of Sleeping Beauty. Instead, she comes face to face with the Evil Queen from Snow White.

I’ve never been a big fan of Snow White (especially the Disney version) and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it dumped on its head. Since Zinnia meets the Evil Queen first instead of Snow White, she’s treated to an opposing view of what really happens in the story. Doubly interesting is that this villain knows she’s the bad guy and even knows her own fate (which is really rather grisly).

Just like Zinnia, Eva (short for “Evil Queen”) is looking for a way to escape her story. The book focuses mainly on their changing relationship and how they learn from each other. Now, before you think “boring” and write the book off- there’s also a fair amount of fairy tale shenanigans, including battles, magical witches, and romance. At the end of the day, though, the relationships and character growth were what kept me interested.

I was a little concerned at first because Charm is in very little of this book. I was worried that it wouldn’t give Zinnia the chance to continue to grow as a character without having someone who understood the entire situation. Fortunately, Eva is a quick study and more than made up for the missing Charm (weak pun intended).

Zinnia was in fine form, her snarkiness shining through, but Eva stole the show. Her mix of naivety and condescension made her a blast to read! She was always a force to be reckoned with, and it didn’t go well when people forgot that.

Author Alix E. Harrow packed a ton into such a short book. Every now and again I wished that more time could have been spent on a particular part (especially when a certain character helps raid a castle), but such is the nature of shorter books. I just enjoy Harrow’s writing so much that I’m always eager for more.

Is A Mirror Mended my favorite Alix E. Harrow book? No. But’s it’s well written, added a new facet to the Fractured Fables storyline, and kept me highly entertained.

Joy of the Widow’s Tears by Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee

Reva and Ansee face fresh threats as a new evil is imported into Tenyl and threatens the city with an undead plague. Constable Inspector Reva Lunaria’s life is looking up. She’s managed to put two groups of unruly adventurers in jail and she gets word that her boyfriend, Aavril, has just arrived in port. She is looking forward to a relaxing dinner, a present, and maybe some time getting reacquainted after Aavril’s long absence. But Aavril’s ship has delivered more than a cargo of spices and exotic merchandise and a new evil begins to take root within Tenyl. Reva’s romantic evening is spoiled by news of a double murder. It should be a simple case, except that the victims have disappeared. Reva’s investigation barely gets started before Lord Constable Inspector Betulla contrives a way to get Reva suspended. With Reva temporarily off the force, the murder investigation is given to Constable Inspector Pflamtael, who is looking to find the fastest resolution to the case. Meanwhile, Seeker Ansee Carya investigates what appears to be a simple missing person case, until he discovers that the missing people – including the two murder victims – have become zombies. Now, Reva, with the aid of a halpbloed cleric, must work from outside the constabulary to figure out who is creating the undead, and how to stop the creatures before all of Tenyl becomes infected. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the authors for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Joy of the Widow’s Tears is available now. This is the sequel to Wrath of the Fury Blade (you can find my review here) so there might be some minor spoilers which I’ll do my best to avoid.

Zombies, detective work, and snarky banter combine into madcap adventure in this enthralling sequel to Wrath of the Fury Blade. Main characters Reva and Ansee are back and in fine form, a delightful duo that I loved reading about.

Poor Reva will never have a chance to relax. Her boyfriend is back in town, but instead of rekindling their romance, she finds herself in the middle of yet another crime that is much more than some simple detective work and a case quickly closed. Oh–except she ends up being told in no uncertain terms that she isn’t allowed to be in the middle of things (being suspended kind of lends itself to that interpretation).

This suspension leads to Ansee doing the case solo. Sort of. There may be some slight infiltration of…mum’s the word. You wouldn’t really expect Reva to sit this one out, would you? This two-prong attack works fantastically for the plot, although I’ll leave it to you to decide how well it works for Reva and Ansee.

The world was well developed in book one, so the reader is able to go right into the book knowing the “rules” of the setting. While the world continues to be fantastic, the characters shone in Joy of the Widow’s Tears. Ansee is great, but Reva continues to be my favorite. She’s intelligent and more than a little headstrong. She and Ansee are polar opposites in many ways, and it works.

The book is fast-paced and full of suspense and fun. The series started out strongly and continues in that vein. I highly recommend both Wrath of the Fury Blade and Joy of the Widow’s Tears.

Book Tag: Get to Know the Fantasy Reader

I saw this fun tag over on Irresponsible Reader‘s blog. It’s one of my favorite blogs and you really should give it a follow!

While I dabble in other genres, fantasy is my go-to. I have a feeling some of these questions will stump me, or else lead me down a long and rambling rabbit hole. You’ve been warned.

What is your fantasy origin story? (How you came to read your first fantasy novel.)

Ah…question one and I’m already ready to ramble. I grew up on fantastical stories. From my first fairy tales and Arthurian picture books (The Kitchen Knight and St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges were two favorites), I moved on to easy chapter books like Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, Redwall, and the Chronicles of Narnia. As I grew older, though, I branched out a bit. I read things like the Elizabeth Peters mysteries and All Things Great and Small. Then I stumbled across the Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, my gateway to adult fantasy. Fantasy went back to being my mainstay, leading me to experience many, many fantastical worlds and stories full of wonder, adventure, and humanity. So, I still can’t answer the question about my first fantasy novel: would it be Patricia C. Wrede’s series? Redwall? Dragonlance? Or another book that I loved at the time but have since forgotten?

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Arrgh!!! This is a tough one. My first thought is Margaret Weis but I don’t love my chances of surviving in a world of her creation. Still…I’d love to get to know characters she’s created, especially Fizban/Zifnab. Second to that would be Erin Morgenstern. I think I’d live a little longer in a world of her creation, and I’d love to wander the Night Cirus. Oh- I’ve got it! How about a mashup? During the day, I could visit The Inn of the Last Home, enjoy some spiced potatoes, then maybe fly off on the back of a dragon (particularly one that eats oatmeal). At night, I could wander the Circus. I wouldn’t need sleep in a fantasy novel, right?

As for tropes, I’m a sucker for found families. And dragons.

What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?

Oh, wow, the answer to this question could be a list of at least thirty books. I’ll go with Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales this time, though. It’s an excellent collection of short stories about- you guessed it- dragons. The variety of tails (badum-tish!) and the creativity that can be found in this book is astounding! You should give it a go. You’ll happily devour it (yes, my draconic puns are truly awful).

What is your favorite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

High fantasy is my absolute favorite. I love reading books with vast worlds, groups of well-developed characters, monsters, magic, and high-stakes battles. I love feeling like the story I’ve just finished reading is just one small part of a giant saga that continues on after I close the book. Give me nuanced characters, authors who have come up with mythologies, religions, and even special details for parts of a fantasy world that the reader may never even hear about, aside from a short offhand mention. That makes me one happy bookworm.

I have next to no experience with romantic fantasy. I recently read The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, which I think fits into that category, but that was a rare deviation from my normal fantasy subgenre of choice.

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

This author hasn’t written a ton of books but based on my “pre-order with no questions asked” reaction to the news that she had written another book, I have to go with Erin Morgenstern. I pre-ordered The Starless Sea before finding out anything about it, absolutely sure that I would love it. I did love it, of course.

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram.)

Thank you, bookbloggers, for destroying any progress I could possibly make on my “to be read” list! Every time I finish a book, I realize that I’ve added five others that bookbloggers I trust have recommended. Before We Go Blog (minus my contributions), Fantasy Book Nerd, and FanFIAddict are some of the worst culprits.

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Amari and the Great Game releases at the end of August and I can’t wait! The first book in the series, Amari and the Night Brothers, was a lot of fun. My oldest enjoyed it too so I have a feeling we’ll be racing to see who gets to read the sequel first. I have longer legs, but I’m old and he still has energy, so it’s anyone’s race to win.

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

That it is a waste of time or is of subpar quality. People sometimes see monsters or swords and think that fantasy is always silly or doesn’t talk about “real issues”. Honestly, though, I see the same themes that are often found in literary fiction or “classics” explored equally well in fantasy books. In fact, the best examples I’ve read of PTSD come from The Coward by Stephen Aryan and from J.R.R. Tolkien.

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Ooh, I’m on it! Let me roll up my sleeves…and BOOM! Here ya go!

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Dorian Hart has created a series that showcases the best parts of fantasy. It’s easy to fall in love with the characters, the world grows larger with each subsequent volume, and the stakes become higher. This is a series with an underlying current of hope, which I love. This book was also the catalyst to my oldest son’s burgeoning love of adult fantasy, which I think is a pretty good reason for it to be one of my three recommendations.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is such a wonderful book! There’s just something timeless about it. It has a perfect combination of adventure and heart. Plus, dragons.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (book one of the Dragonlance Chronicles) is what started my ongoing love of fantasy. I’ve gushed at length about these books many, many times, so I’ll keep it short: this is a perfect introduction to fantasy.

Who is the most recent fantasy reading content creator you came across that you’d like to shoutout?

I am awful at remembering which blog I followed when (although there are a few that I’ve loved from the get-go). Series Book Lover is a newer to me blog (I think) that has awesome content. If they say a book is good, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll enjoy it. I also love Peat Long’s blog, which is always unique, always interesting, and has a cool combination of reviews and opinion pieces. I especially love the discussions of older fantasy (older being a relative term. How on earth can Gemmell be considered older, I ask?).

So, there you have it. I’m not tagging anyone here, but I’d love to read other answers!

One Foot in the Fade (A Fetch Phillips Novel) by Luke Arnold

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Welcome back to the streets of Sunder City, a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

In a city that lost its magic, an angel falls in a downtown street. His wings are feathered, whole—undeniably magical—the man clearly flew, because he left one hell of a mess when he plummeted into the sidewalk.

But what sent him up? What brought him down? And will the answers help Fetch bring the magic back for good?

Working alongside necromancers, genies, and shadowy secret societies, through the wildest forests and dingiest dive bars, this case will leave its mark on Fetch’s body, his soul, and the fate of the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. One Foot in the Fade is available for purchase now.

This is the third…

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The Swordsman’s Intent by G.M. White

The last competition Belasko won was the catch a slippery pig contest at his village fair.
Now he has to beat the best warriors in the kingdom.
Belasko, a farm boy who ran away to war, is a decorated soldier and war hero. When Markus, the Royal Champion, stages a competition to choose a successor, a world of possibility opens up to him. Possibility that Belasko cannot resist. Can Belasko fulfil his potential, beat the finest blades in the kingdom, and become the first commoner to claim the title of Royal Champion?
Set fifteen years before The Swordsman’s Lament, this novella sets in motion both the events of that novel and Belasko’s destiny. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Swordsman’s Intent is available now.

After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Swordsman’s Lament, book one in the Royal Champion series, I was excited to check out The Swordsman’s Intent. It’s not a part of the main series; rather, it’s a prequel novella that gives more of a background for certain characters in the series. You can find my review for The Swordsman’s Lament here.

The Swordsman’s Intent follows Belasko’s rise to his position as the Royal Champion. The Belasko we meet in The Swordsman’s Lament is grizzled and a little world-weary. Young Belasko is an experienced soldier with fewer aches and pains. There are bits and pieces of Belasko’s backstory told in The Swordsman’s Intent and I loved reading more about who he was and how that led to who he became.

Perhaps due to its shorter length, there isn’t a ton of worldbuilding in this story. That’s not the point of this tale, though. Instead, we get a highly entertaining story that sets up events and characters that will be more fully explored in the Royal Champion series. The amount that is packed into this shorter book is astonishing. Author G.M. White crafted an exciting fantasy story that I highly enjoyed.

Belasko is a great character to follow: smart, strong, and humble. It’s easy to want him to succeed. I enjoyed seeing how events in this book hint at the person he will become, given time and experience. Of course, the addition of other characters also seen in the Royal Champion series serve to add new perspectives and make the series richer and more detailed.

The fight scenes are well-written and engaging, creative and not at all repetitive. The pacing was great, and the writing was, of course, excellent. G.M. White is an author to read and both The Swordsman’s Intent and The Swordsman’s Lament are fantastic additions to the fantasy genre.

Lexcalibur and Lexcalibur II by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Since these delightful books could actually be easily combined into one volume, I’m reviewing them both in one post.

My thoughts on Lexcalibur: Useful Poetry for Adventurers Above and Below the World:

I was gifted this poetry collection. My friend described it as “Shel Silverstein poems for nerds”, and there’s really no better description. It’s all kinds of nerdy fun!

The poems are generally on the shorter side and are extremely clever. There’s never that feeling of trying too hard and I found myself chuckling as I read through the book. The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.

The book covers all things fantasy, ranging from important topics such as were-beasts, to concerns about viziers, and complaints about mimics. It’s incredibly obvious that both the author and illustrator are well versed in both the tropes and…

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Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell

It is no small matter, after all, to create something―to make it so only by setting down the words. We forget the magnitude, sometimes, of that miracle. 
In the dead of night, shots ring out over the grounds of a sprawling English estate. The world-weary butler Eustace recognizes the gunman―his longtime employer, Mr. Crowe―and knows he must think and act quickly. Who is the man lying dead on the lawn? Who is the woman in his company? Can he clean up his master’s mess like he always has before? Or will this bring a new kind of reckoning? 
Mr. Crowe was once famed for his gifts―unaccountable gifts, known only to the members of a secretive order. Protected and privileged, he was courted by countesses and great men of letters. But he has long since retreated from that glittering world, living alone but for Eustace and Clara, his mysterious young ward. He has been content to live quietly, his great library gathering dust and his once magnificent gardens growing wild. He has left the past behind. Until now. 
Because there are rules, even for Mr. Crowe and his kind, that cannot be broken. And this single night of passion and violence will have consequences, stirring shadows from the past and threatening those he now cares for. He and the faithful Eustace will be tested as never before. So too will Clara, whose own extraordinary gifts remain hidden, even from herself. If she is to save them all, she must learn to use them quickly and unlock the secret of who she is. 
It is a secret beyond imagining. A secret that will change everything. (Taken from Amazon)

The Maker of Swans was beautiful yet confusing. I loved the prose, which was creative and flowed like water, but I still can’t tell you what happened or what on earth any of it means. It actually left me feeling a little idiotic, like I’d missed all the clues to a corker of a mystery, to be honest.

Eustace is a butler with an unenviable task: keep his employer, Mr. Crowe, out of trouble. This wouldn’t seem too difficult except that the book begins with Mr. Crowe somehow shooting and killing a man, despite the fact that the man wasn’t killed by any bullets fired. The idea was intriguing but didn’t seem to really go much of anywhere. Eustace doesn’t seem all that surprised by Mr. Crowe and his behavior, but he nonetheless takes action to protect him and his ward.

Mr. Crowe’s ward is a girl named Clara. She doesn’t speak and is seen as having special gifts. She’s bright and notices things that are overlooked or ignored. I only got a vague grasp on how her special gifts work, but the concept was cool. The magic is based on words, if I understood it correctly, and we all know words are magic. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be readers.

She really doesn’t interact all that much with Mr. Crowe but is closer to Eustace. Mr. Crowe is more enigmatic a figure than a fully developed one, but it works. He is also gifted, but I’m not sure if he is gifted in exactly the same way as Clara, since the magic is kept intentionally undetailed.

The mystery and haziness surrounding the entirety of The Maker of Swans made this book both enthralling and frustrating. I would find myself reluctant to pick it up but engrossed whenever I did. It took me a lot longer to finish because I kept taking breaks to read more straight-forward books.

I was reminded a little bit of Susanna Clarke’s writing, particularly Piranesi. Just as in Piranesi, The Maker of Swans seemed more invested in atmosphere and language than in plot. That’s not to say the book didn’t have one; just that it was a meandering sort of story that didn’t answer all questions at the end. In fact, it left me with more questions than answers.

At the end of the day, The Maker of Swans left me with too many questions and not enough information to enjoy puzzling out the answers. I was entertained and confused in equal measure. It’s an odd feeling, and I still can’t tell you if I liked the book or not. If you like books with strong plots and well-crafted storylines, this is not for you. If you love words for their own sake, and are happily carried away by masterful prose, you might find The Maker of Swans bewitching.

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies vol. 1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Destina Rosethorn—as her name implies—believes herself to be a favored child of destiny. But when her father dies in the War of the Lance, she watches her carefully constructed world come crashing down. She loses not only her beloved father but also the legacy he has left her: the family lands and castle. To save her father, she hatches a bold plan—to go back in time and prevent his death.

First, she has to secure the Device of Time Journeying, last known to be in the possession of the spirited kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot. But to change time, she’ll need another magical artifact—the most powerful and dangerous artifact ever created. Destina’s quest takes her from the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin to the town of Solace and beyond, setting in motion a chain of disastrous events that threaten to divert the course of the River of Time, alter the past, and forever change the future. (Taken from Amazon)

Many years ago, I stumbled across a book called Dragons of Autum Twilight, book one in the Dragonlance Chronicles. There was a dragon on the front (I’m a sucker for dragons), and characters who looked right out of the cover at the reader, inviting them on an adventure. I opened the book and immediately fell in love with the world of Krynn, the characters, and the writing.

Fast forward more years than I’ll admit. I’ve read those books more times than I can count. I have devoured every new novel that takes place in Krynn, seen visions of the world painted by many authors. Each new novel adds to the lore and shows a new perspective. I like the majority of them, but the books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the creators of the world of Krynn, are special. I was ecstatic to hear the news that they were returning to the world they birthed.

Dragons of Deceit is the first of the new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies. It’s been years since the last Dragonlance written by the masters was released, but they didn’t miss a beat. I wondered before reading it if this book would appeal more to new readers or to readers returning and hoping to see the characters they love.

The thing that I’ve always loved about the Dragonlance series is that it feels as though the world continues long after you’ve read the last sentence and closed the book. Reading Dragons of Deceit was like catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. They’ve had new adventures, met new people. The world has kept going, but it happily welcomed me back.

The book follows Destina, the daughter of a Solamnic knight. She loves her father, the knighthood, and all it stands for, until the oath all knights take (“My honor is my life”) causes her to lose him. Her life crumbles around her and she hatches a hare-brained scheme: travel back in time and save her dad. Of course, in order to do that, she’ll have to visit a certain well-traveled kender to acquire the Device of Time Journeying. That’s when things start to go sideways, as they always do when kender are involved.

Sometimes a long-running series finds itself in a bind. Do you continue with a storyline that new readers might be confused by, but rewards longtime readers? Or do you tell a story that has an entry point for new readers, risking alienating returning readers who want something new (I’m thinking of the multitude of Spiderman origin stories here)?

Weis and Hickman cleverly sidestepped this issue and wove a tale that will appeal to new readers and longtime fans alike. There is a mix of old and new characters, and a story arc that leans on already-established lore while still managing to be an entry point. All the important history is given throughout the book, while still somehow avoiding the dreaded info dump. New readers will be able to follow the plot without confusion, although there are things that returning readers will appreciate more.

Destina is an intriguing character, one at odds with herself. She is loyal and looks up to her father but is rather snotty toward her mom. She puts a huge burden of responsibility on herself, and it weighs her down until she has nothing left. I can’t say that I liked her in the usual sense; she was distinctly unlikable at times, which sometimes makes for a more complex story. I couldn’t fault her motivation. Wouldn’t we all do pretty much anything to help a loved one if we had the chance?

Tas was fantastic, of course. I really love that doorknob of a kender! He’s the perfect blend of innocence and unknowing wisdom. He provided laughs aplenty and a few moments that caused me to choke up a little. There’s a scene involving a helm topped with the hair from the mane of a griffin (if you know, you know) that caused my stone heart to melt.

The story was fast-paced and exciting, the sort of adventure I love reading about. It ended with a bang and left me wishing I had a Device of Time Journeying of my own, so that I could travel forward and read book two. Unsurprisingly, Dragons of Deceit was incredible. When I finished the last word, I was stymied: do I immediately reread it, or do I go back to the Chronicles– the original three that started it all- and reread every brilliant Dragonlance book written by Weis and Hickman? Deciding is nearly impossible, and that is the best kind of problem to have.

Strange Cargo by Patrick Samphire

What do a smuggling gang, a curse that won’t go away, and a frequently lost dog have to do with each other?

Answer: they’re all here to disrupt Mennik Thorn’s hard-earned peace and quiet.

As the sole freelance mage in the city of Agatos, Mennik is used to some odd clients and awful jobs. But this time, one of his clients isn’t giving him a choice. Mennik might have forgotten about the smugglers whose operations he disrupted, but they haven’t forgotten about him. Now he is faced with a simple ultimatum: help them smuggle in an unknown, dangerous cargo or flee the city he loves forever.

Time is running out for Mennik to find an answer, and things are about to get completely out of control. (Taken from Amazon)

Mennik (Nik) is back and in even bigger trouble than usual, in the third installment in the Mennik Thorn series. Strange Cargo was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. It was awesome, unsurprisingly.

I am a sucker for books featuring down-on-their luck rapscallions who can’t seem to stay out of danger. Whether it’s a smart mouth at the wrong time, or a penchant for chasing trouble, these kinds of characters keep me smiling and guessing. Mennik Thorn is high on my list of favorite trouble-finders and each book in the series makes me like him more.

After the events of Nectar for the God, book two in the series, Mennik is on the outs with his best (and some would argue, only) friend. He’s also unfortunately on the outs with a group of smugglers. Seeing as they’d happily see him dead, they choose the next best thing and pressure Mennik into a job protecting an item they plan to smuggle into Agatos. Of course, if he ends up dead in the process, that’s just a perk for them, right?

Not only does this “job” not pay, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Once Mennik learns what it is he’s helping smuggle in, things go from sideways to dangerous. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it’s a doozy. The stakes keep going up from book to book, keeping me interested and wondering what fresh hell Mennik will find himself in next.

I love that Mennik always has another side problem that he’s trying to solve while the main story arc takes up most of the attention. In this instance, Mennik’s less-than-enthusiastic client is none other than the cranky owner of the crap bar Mennik frequents. Their passive-aggressive conversations entertained me to no end.

Mennik is a brilliant character, a study in contradictions. He tries to do the right thing, but he rarely knows what the “right thing” is. He’s smart-mouthed and mocks pretty much everyone but he is equally mocking of himself. He would probably have a longer life expectancy if he didn’t feel the urge to help people (even when they serve him subpar alcohol), but he can’t seem to stop helping anyway. Oh, and he might as well write Killed by Curiosity on his headstone now and get it over with.

Of course, his character does not exist in stasis. He has grown and changed since book one (Shadow of a Dead God), although he remains delightfully disaster prone. Strange Cargo doesn’t highlight that character growth quite as much because it is shorter (more of a novella than a full-fledged novel). In some ways it shouted “side quest” but it still managed to pack in revelations and world development aplenty.

As always, the writing is phenomenal. Everything is brilliantly described, painting vivid pictures of both Agatos and its inhabitants. The dialogue is witty, and things move at a quick pace. Strange Cargo showcased all the things that I love about the series and made me hungry for more. Book four in the Mennik Thorn series can’t come soon enough!

*Review originally appeared in Grimdark Magazine

The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.  

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. 

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.  

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most—Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares—each other? (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy is available on August 23rd.

Well… if you don’t like You’ve Got Mail, I can tell you right now… you’re not going to like this book.

It’s been a while since I’ve had such muddled feelings about a book. On the one hand, it’s absolutely adorable and has a satisfyingly upbeat ending (which I think everyone could use lately), but on the other hand, there are things that niggled at me. Like, really niggled. On the other other hand (I guess I’m just discussing X-men mutants now or something), several of the things I didn’t like are things that most people love. So, either way I think The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy will be well liked by many readers.

The general gist behind the book is that two lonely people start writing anonymous letters back and forth. As they get to know each other through these letters, they start to form a friendship, with hints of something more. Then one of the two discovers the identity of his pen pal and things shift because he really doesn’t like her in real life. At least, he never has in the past. He starts to see her in a new light, but the question then becomes whether their in-writing relationship can survive real life.

If you think that sounds similar to the movie plot for You’ve Got Mail, you’d be 100% right. I’ve read that the similarities are intentional, but I do wish that they weren’t quite so similar. The author had the chance to make it her own, which she did eventually, but the first 200 pages were a little too close to the movie for me. It just felt like a missed opportunity.

After the 200-page mark, the book became something new and different, which I enjoyed quite a bit. There were drudges (zombies), backstabbing funeral home directors, and a squeamish brother who would much rather bake cookies than cremate bodies. It was a delightful tale with a satisfying happily-ever-after. The writing was breezy and moved quickly.

I’m torn on how I feel about the characters, though. I loved Hart’s coworker, Duckers. He was open and honest, and not at all cowed by Hart’s prickly demeanor. I also really loved Zeddie, Mercy’s brother. In fact, I loved the entire dynamic of Mercy’s family. They were loud and nosy, brimming with love and a wee bit of judgement. Their conversations were hilarious.

The two main characters, though- Hart and Mercy- just didn’t quite do it for me. They felt a little bit underdeveloped (possibly because they were filling the role of characters created in You’ve Got Mail? I kept picturing Meg Ryan as the female lead despite Mercy being described completely differently). I just wanted a little more from them. They were fine as far as they went. I’m sure Mercy’s sunny demeanor will appeal to a lot of readers. I’m equally sure that cranky Hart will also appeal to readers. I think this is one of those, “it’s not you, it’s me situations”.

To wrap up, though: the world was a blast. I loved the idea behind the drudges, the “secret” to them, and the way they affected so much of how day-to-day life was led. I thought the background characters were fabulous, and I liked the snappy pace of the book. However, the first half of the book wasn’t for me, I didn’t love the main characters, and I was rather surprised by the sex scenes. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect them in a book with a love-plot, but I didn’t. I skipped past them without issue (yes, I’m a prude who doesn’t like sex scenes), but they were definitely unexpected.

I am certain that the niggles I had with the book are all major selling points for many, many readers, and the upbeat ending was very much appreciated. Pick up The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy for a sweet, feel-good tale (that also includes zombies).