Wild Court by Matthew Samuels

A secret organisation is losing the battle to maintain the empathy levels that sustain the planet’s protective barriers against the nightmare worlds.

A young aristocrat safeguards a terrible secret, sponsoring an archaeology graduate obsessed with biblical artifacts. An all-knowing orphan worshiped by a cult joins a textbook exemplar of toxic masculinity and an introverted librarian. Together with a retired demon hunter, they’ll face the apocalypse. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wild Court is available now.

One of the great things about fantasy, urban fantasy in particular, is how authors explore ideas such as empathy, humanity, mental health, and its effects, all while also including magic and monsters. Wild Court presents a remarkable dichotomy between reality and fantasy, guided by Matthew Samuels’ skillful hand.

The book has a few different points of view; one isn’t enough to contain the narrative. Each one moves the story or plot in a way that makes the novel more complete. While they are all great characters, my favorite is Ben. He’s an introverted bundle of anxiety who appreciates a quiet life. I can relate. At the same time, when an opportunity comes to help in the struggle against otherworldly dangers- which are becoming more present in this day and age- he is willing to do what he can. His friendship with the extremely flawed Matt adds a new layer to an already complicated character.

The plot is a lot to take in at first. There are historical artifacts, ancient societies, and violent spirits. Hang in there. As the book progresses, all is explained and it meshes together well into a creative whole. It is a book that requires trust and attention. Trust that the author is going to deliver a heck of a story (he nails it) and attention to the nuances of both the characters and narrative.

Wild Court begins with introductions to the main players, then moves on to explanations in the most fun of ways: a series of “tests” to decide if the characters are a good fit for the secret evil-battling group. It was a little reminiscent of the movie Men in Black, but just a little. During these tests and training scenes, more detail is given, both to the characters and the reader. It is a clever way to avoid an overload of information all at once.

The pace isn’t slow, but it does take the time it needs to introduce the world. It ramps up as the book continues, which makes sense with everything that ends up happening (no spoilers given, I promise). There’s a doozy of an ending, a major payoff for all that happens throughout.

I love that the characters didn’t immediately go from zero to hardcore, shedding their initial personalities. They remained who they were while also growing and developing throughout the book. Wild Court is a unique book, one of the rare ones which wonderfully combines great characters with creative prose.

Waiqar: A Descent: Legends of the Dark Novel by Robbie MacNiven

Enter the extraordinary fantasy world of Descent: Legends in the Dark through the eyes of its most notorious necromancer as he begins his conquest of the realms of Terrinoth

Waiqar, Lord of the Mistlands, is a necromancer of supreme power, arrogance, and skill. Driven by his hunger for power, he has the whole of Terrinoth in his sights. But before he can raise his undead armies and march on the Baronies, his hold on the Mistlands must be complete. Waiqar’s court is rife with scheming and deception, from corrupt vampires with plans to usurp him, to an apprentice harboring dark ambition of his own. As his enemies vie for power, Waiqar’s own plans come to fruition. For power is hard won but easily lost, and this great necromancer has more to lose than anyone. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Aconyte Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Waiqar: A Descent: Legends of the Dark novel is available now.

I’m beginning to associate Aconyte Books with fun. The last two Aconyte books that I read were entertaining adventures and, while Waiqar is dark and bloody, it has an underlying sense of excitement that begs you to suspend disbelief and join a fabulous fantasy world for a while. Author Robbie MacNiven balanced a classic gothic with a sense of enthusiasm, to brilliant effect.

Waiqar is set in the world of Descent: Legends of the Dark, which I have limited knowledge of. Previous experience isn’t required, though. The book jumps right in but has a gentle learning curve, taking the reader along with it. It begins with a poor hapless student who strayed a little too far down the path to necromancy. His “friends” betray him and he finds himself enslaved to Waiqar, necomancer extarordinaire. Think the worst of the worst, and you’ve got our Big Bad here.Except he isn’t the only Big Bad. He just happens to be the one calling the shots. Waiqar in turn gifts his slave to Tristayne, his protégé, who chafs at being the student of his undead teacher.

See, Tristayne can’t possibly achieve all that he dreams of while his necomanctic overlord controls everything. Thus, the stage is set for a novel that takes place through the eyes of the villains. This is the strength of the book. There are no heroes, no paths to redemption. There’s just evil, manipulations, lust for power, and a setting reminiscent of the best horror movies.

The pacing in Waiqar is snappy. There are no lags and I never got bored. The evil characters are unapologetically evil, not deigning to give a reason or excuse, which I loved. Backstories were short and to the point, never slowing down the storyline. The characters themselves were great, each offering a different brand of wickeness. Even Tomaz, the unfortunate student-turned-slave was unique in his own right.

While I enjoyed Waiqar’s brooding brutality (which was delightfully over the top from time to time, keeping the fun of a slasher movie), Tristayne was by far my favorite character. He was sulky and entitled, but also ambitious. His scenes were always a blast and I enjoyed seeing him plot against Waiqar. His confessions to his human slave, Tomaz, added extra layers to his pesonality. I thought the idea of using his slave as a sort of a diary was fantastic and often found myself grinning.

There was a ton happening within the pages, what with wars being planned, shifts in power being plotted, and lots of action besides. I’m not going to spoil the book by sharing how everything came together, but it was loads of gory fun. There were ghouls, liches, vampires, and battles aplenty. The ending was extremely gratifying and fit the tone of the book perfectly. Waiqar is a rip-roaring gothic adventure that I highly recommend to those looking for a bloody good read. Sorry, I had to permit myself a bad pun.

Pick this one up.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

Liesl Weiss long ago learned to be content working behind the scenes in the distinguished rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she’s left to run things, she discovers that the library’s most prized manuscript is missing.

Liesl tries to sound the alarm and inform the police about the missing priceless book, but is told repeatedly to keep quiet, to keep the doors open and the donors happy. But then a librarian unexpectedly stops showing up to work. Liesl must investigate both disappearances, unspooling her colleagues’ pasts like the threads of a rare book binding as it becomes clear that someone in the department must be responsible for the theft. What Liesl discovers about the dusty manuscripts she has worked among for so long—and about the people who care for and revere them—shakes the very foundation on which she has built her life.(Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is available now.

If you have read my blog for a while, you can probably guess what drew me to this book: I’m a sucker for books about books. The fact that it’s marketed as a mystery, as opposed to a slice of life, made me even more interested in reading The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Whew, that title is a mouthful!).

This book features Leisl, who has always been a quiet and experienced cog, taking care of rare books and leaving the prestige of the job to be gobbled up by others. When her boss has a stroke, she ends her sabbatical to take over in the interim, unexpectedly encountering both a theft and a disappearance which she winds up trying to solve.

Leisl is a slightly older main character, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Not that I have anything against younger main characters, but variety is the spice of life. Leisl’s more advanced age gave her a unique perspective not always found in books. She was also a bit of a doormat, which I went back and forth on. It gave an interesting dynamic, but there were a few times when I desperately wanted her to find a backbone. As a person who has been known to reach doormat status herself from time to time, I understand that this is often easier said than done.

While I expected a mystery, this book really is more of an exploration of character dynamics. There was quite a lot of time spent on relationships, how women are often viewed in the workplace, and a little bit on mental health. Normally, I appreciate mental health being talked about in books, but I felt that it was sort of thrown in and not done very well. That being said, while I didn’t expect the mystery aspect to take such a back seat, the time spent on other things wasn’t necessarily a waste. I personally would have just preferred the mystery to be a bit more of a mystery. I wonder if I might have enjoyed this book more had it been marketed differently.

The writing was solid, although the pacing was slow. There weren’t any twists and by the end was I comfortably aware of where the book was going. The book kind of went back and forth between timelines, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. It jarred me out of the book on a few occasions, right when I was beginning to be invested.

It probably sounds like I hated the book, but I really didn’t. I just didn’t love it. It definitely wasn’t what I expected and I’m sure I would have liked the book much better had it matched the blurb, but it wasn’t poorly written. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections would be a good match for people not looking for an edge-of-your-seat mystery, who enjoy reading about workplace dynamics and the concerns of everyday life.

Also, Leisl- stand up for yourself!

Book Tour Spotlight: Grave Danger by Alice James

I am delighted to join a book tour for Grave Danger by Alice James. Grave Danger is the second of the Lavington Windsor Mysteries. Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book. Grave Danger is out now.

Book Blurb:

More murder. More vampires. More snogging.

Toni Windsor is failing at ‘happily ever after,’ but it really isn’t her fault.

All she wants is true love and the perfect wardrobe, but it doesn’t look like they are coming her way any time soon. Instead, there are murders to solve and zombies to raise, and she’s broken her phone again.

Worst of all, her shiny new boyfriend turns out to be a jerk; maybe dating a vampire wasn’t her best decision ever?

*This book does contain domestic abuse. As such, please go into it with caution.

Vampires? Murders to solve? Zombies? This book is loaded with all that and more!

Purchase links:

Grave Secrets (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries book 1)

Grave Danger (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries book 2)

Grave Suspicions (The Lavington Windsor Mysteries book 3)– preorder now

Dragonlance Side Quest: The Companions by Tina Daniel

The final installment in the New York Times–bestselling Meetings Sextet series brings the cast of Dragonlance together for their first adventure

While on an innocent ship’s errand, Caramon, Sturm, and Tasslehoff are blown thousands of miles off course by a magic windstorm and transported to the eastern Bloodsea. Caramon and Sturm are left for dead while Tasslehoff mysteriously turns against his friends.

Back in Solace, Raistlin convinces Flint Fireforge and Tanis Half-Elven that they must make a perilous journey to Mithas, the kingdom of the minotaurs. Their task: not only to rescue their friends, but also to defeat the elusive Nightmaster. (Taken from Amazon)

The Companions is the sixth book in the Meetings Sextet, a group of books that takes place prior to the Chronicles (although the Chronicles were written first and definitely should be read before the Meetings Sextet). It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one so I was curious how it would hold up.

The book starts with Sturm, Caramon, and Tas on an errand to collect a rare spell component for Raistlin. Their ship is overrun and they are captured by minotaurs who mistake Tas for an evil mage. An evil kender is a recipe for disaster of the funniest kind, and The Companions is worth reading to see that on its own.

It’s never been a favorite, so I was hoping mainly for an entertaining side trip into a fantasy world I love. The Companions has some issues with it, for sure. In fact, it ended up being a bit of a mixed bag for me. The reasoning behind Raistlin’s conclusions at the beginning is pretty weak sauce, but I could suspend disbelief. The thing that really bothered me were the number of inconsistencies between this book and the Chronicles. Each side novel is going to have some things that just don’t match. That happens when you have so many authors adding their stamp to a series. I do think that this book has a lot more than some of the other books, however. It was distracting and at least some of it should have been avoidable. For example, Raistlin already had his famous hourglass pupils despite not having taken the Test yet. Someone should have caught that rather egregious oversight.

The author’s writing is full of unbridled enthusiasm, though, which is infectious. The spirit behind the story is one of fun and adventure, and Tas is hilarious. I remember a conversation I had with some friends during which we mused on what an emo Tas would look like (black leggings with big buckles and spikes on all of his pouches are a must). This isn’t the same thing, but it’s still massively entertaining.

As for the rest of the book, I feel like it’s one of the weaker of the side novels. The dynamic between the characters isn’t quite there yet,and at times they look like nothing as much as caricatures of themselves, which is kind of a bummer. I remember liking another of Tina Daniel’s Dragonlance books, Marquesta Kar-Thon, much better. Maybe she felt more comfortable and confident writing a character that hadn’t already been so well developed by other authors, and that’s the difference.

There are some Dragonlance side books that work better than others and unfortunately this is a weaker offering. While I appreciated the author’s exuberance and commitment to adding to the story of the Heroes of the Lance, this just didn’t work for me. I don’t regret rereading it, but it isn’t one that I plan on revisiting again for a while.

The Companions is a good choice for those who plan to read every Dragonlance book or anyone who wants to chortle at Evil Tasselhoff. For the rest of you, put this one lower on your TBR.

The Sword Defiant by Gareth Hanrahan

Many years ago, Sir Aelfric and his nine companions saved the world, seizing the Dark Lord’s cursed weapons, along with his dread city of Necrad. That was the easy part.

Now, when Aelfric – keeper of the cursed sword Spellbreaker – learns of a new and terrifying threat, he seeks the nine heroes once again. But they are wandering adventurers no longer. Yesterday’s eager heroes are today’s weary leaders – and some have turned to the darkness, becoming monsters themselves.

If there’s one thing Aelfric knows, it’s slaying monsters. Even if they used to be his friends. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Sword Defiant is available now.

I’m sorry to anyone who will be hit by this book, after I throw it at them while yelling, “READ THIS” at the top of my lungs. I’m guessing there’s a better way to go about sharing my love of The Sword Defiant, but I need everyone to read this. Right now. Just go ahead and stop what you’re doing and pick this up.

Trust me, it deserves to take precedence over unimportant things like going to work (okay, maybe bringing in a paycheck so you can eat is slightly more important, but only slightly).

The Sword Defiant follows Aelfric, one of the Nine heroes who defeated Lord Bone years ago. While the events of that battle are told in the form of memories (not quite flashbacks, just musings of a man who was deeply affected) throughout the novel, this book focuses on the after. After the battle is over and the day is won. After everyone decides that the status quo is what they have to work with. After secrets are revealed, the dark underbelly of larger-than-life legends begins to show, and heroes are mainly figureheads trotted out to be cheered at or used at the discretion of the people in charge.

Aelfric, known as Alf, finds himself at a loss in this new world. For him, the memories crowd in, and his charge- the defeated Big Bad’s sentient sword- keeps him from moving on. When another of the original heroes tasks Alf with the prevention of another evil rising (with vague warnings, because of course), he feels a returning sense of purpose. However, things are much murkier than he is used to. He can’t just be the unthinking Meat Shield of the party anymore. Someone has betrayed them all and the fates of many others may just rely on Alf figuring out who and why.

I loved Alf. He’s adrift, lost, and bone weary. He wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know what that is. He also argues with a sword, which was kind of hilarious. The sword itself was a character in its own right, conniving, casting doubt and manipulating its unwilling wielder. At the same time, the sword unflinchingly reveals truths about Alf that he’d rather not confront. It’s rare to see such character growth caused by an object (I am reminded of a certain Ring that is utilized in the same brilliant way).

Along the way the reader is treated to interactions with the other surviving members of the Nine. They’ve gone their separate ways and their companionship is broken. I loved seeing the directions they each took. From Blaise the magic user with his ostentatious displays of power to Berys using her knowledge of thievery to basically run a city’s entire crime syndicate, it’s never what you’d expect. They help move the story along, feeding off each other and events as they unfold.

My favorite side character is Gundan, general of the Dwarfholt. He was brash and hotheaded and got both himself and Alf into some pretty bad situations. He also added a different perspective. He managed to both entertain and, whenever he reminisced about his glory days, also make me a little sad at how the mighty had fallen.

The story becomes bigger and bigger, causing a snowball effect that eventually sweeps everyone up into a galloping last third of the book. I didn’t want to put it down. Things like eating seemed much less important than finding out what would happen next.

The writing is fantastic. Hanrahan wove together the past and the present in such a cool way. And the stories that were told even when old friends were catching up! Holy crow, this world lived and breathed! I was left reeling and wondering why on earth I haven’t already devoured everything this author has written. It’s an oversight I mean to fix.

The Sword Defiant is a work of art. Read it.

Magician and Fool by Susan Wands

Pamela Colman Smith, newly arrived from New York to her birthplace of London, is received as an oddball in Victorian society. Her second sight helps her in her new job: illustrating tarot cards for the Golden Dawn, a newly formed occult group. But when Pamela refuses to share her creations with Aleister Crowley, a controversial magician, he issues a threat: give up the cards’ power, or he’ll harm her muses.

In the midst of this battle, two of Pamela’s idols, the actors Henry Irving and William Terriss, take her under their wing. Henry, who tutors her as the leader of the Lyceum Theatre, becomes the muse for her Magician card. William Terriss, teaching her by examples of instinct and courage, becomes the muse for her Fool card. As Pamela begins to create the tarot deck, she is almost overwhelmed by the race to possess the magical power of her cards. In order to defeat Aleister, Henry and William will have to transform into living incarnations of the Magician and the Fool—and Pamela will have to learn how to conjure her own magic. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Magician and Fool is available now.

It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then I’ll read a book that leaves me a little bit confused. Magician and Fool was just such a book for me. I am left scratching my head a little at the description of the book vs the book that was written. The blurb seems to revolve the plot around a small aspect of the book, making it sound like a very different tale. I expected more of a fantastical tale with a small sprinkling of historical events or people. Instead, it is a fictional twist on historical characters and events with supernatural elements popping in.

Magician and Fool had a different cadence to its writing, and at times felt a little off-kilter. There was a lot of information to give, and, unfortunately, it led to some info dumping. It had a slow setup and at times I felt my attention wandering. The pacing was a victim of the author’s massive vision. I was surprised by how big her ideas were. There was a lot happening and things were implied that could have easily become separate books in their own right.

I also have zero experience with tarot decks, which means that things that would have emotional resonance for readers who understand that side of things just didn’t have the same effect on me. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Why on earth did you decide to read this book when you are obviously not the intended reader?”, which is a very valid question. I am not the right reader for this book.

Because of this, take my quibbles with a very large grain of salt.

The characters themselves were interesting and the book is definitely not like anything I’ve read before. Alas, this wasn’t a book I enjoyed reading.

Cover Reveal: The Hummingbird’s Tear by CM Kerley

A while ago, I was excited to discover a new series, one which drew me in from page one. The Barclan series is epic fantasy in every sense of the word with a story that builds, a world that is immersive (and huge!), and characters that are both flawed and utterly fascinating.

Well, book one, The Hummingbird’s Tear, has gotten a makeover and the new cover is amazing! I thought I’d show it off, and encourage everyone to pick up this fantastic book. It’s perfect for fans of books featuring magic and monsters, meddling gods, prophecies that may or may not be realized, action aplenty, political maneuverings, and characters to become easily invested in.

That’s a lot for a cover to convey.

However, artist Danielle Jones manages it beautifully. Check it out!

Book Blurb:

“There once was a time when the world did not exist”.

The Four Gods of All, in contests of ageless vanity, brought the world into existence with song; their voices manifest as powers that shaped seas, lands, light, and life. And like the echo of a song heard on the edges of a storm, some of their power was left behind, seeping into the men and women shaped, and abandoned, by their creators.

In the high towers of Castle Kraner, the King has chosen to hide away, leaving the kingdom undefended, open to attack from men, monsters, and magic users. Watching the slow destruction of his kingdom from a court riddled with traitors, Prince Orren, despairing of his father’s wilful ignorance, must gather the men and women he believes will help him avert the war before it starts, to save his land before it needs saving. (Taken from Amazon)

Purchase links:

The Hummingbird’s Tear

The Giant’s Echo

The Hunchback’s Sigh

Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week!

Banner Credit: Wity and Sarcastic Bookclub

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. This has led to Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers all share their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, and shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (please credit me with the banner) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.

For those of you who would like to see some of the amazing pieces published during SPAAW, you can find them linked here: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week Hub.

Let’s make this year even bigger than the previous two years!

Cover Reveal: Unpainted by Dan Fitzgerald

It’s time for something new! I am familiar with author Dan Fitzgerald’s fantasy series: the Maer Cycle is unique and wonderfully written and Dan shows that the joy is in the journey with his beautiful and thoughtful prose.

Well, Dan is tackling a new type of book: fantasy romance. While I am inexperienced in this subgenre, I know that those of you who like your books on the steamy side are in for a treat! Unpainted is a standalone romance that takes place in the universe of the Weirdwater Confluence. While there are cameos from previous books, you don’t need to have read them to dive right into Unpainted.

Would you like to see the amazing cover, also created by the author (seriously, what can’t he do)?


About Unpainted:

In the hermetic society of the Painted Faces, pale, unblemished skin is rewarded with station, wealth, and power.

Tera would almost rather go unpainted than enter into an arranged marriage with a total stranger, but that would mean giving up the only life she’s ever known. Not to mention her share of her family’s Pureline fortune.

She’d always thought love was a fairy tale and sex a joyless chore, but the alternative might be worse.

Enter Aven, a soft buttercup of a man, the kindest and most considerate person she’s ever met. A tropical honeymoon awaits, and with the help of her intimacy consultant, Tera is determined to make the best of this awkward ritual. Amid the island breezes, she and her new spouse form a bond neither of them knew they were capable of.

But trouble stirs beneath the polite veneer of the Painted Faces’ society, threatening to tear them—and their entire world—apart.

Unpainted is a queer arranged marriage fantasy romance, a standalone in the Weirdwater Confluence universe. It features a dual POV, magical currency shenanigans, and inordinate amounts of steamy, fluffy goodness with a soft femdom dynamic. Coming June 30, 2023.

About the author:

About the author

I am a fantasy and romance author living in Washington, DC with my wife, twin boys, and two cats. When I am not writing, I might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.  

I write fantasy in part because the state of the world demands an escape, but also because fantasy provides another lens through which to view what we are living now. Part mirror, part magnifying glass, part prism.  

I write romance because we need more love in the world, and sometimes we need to know things will work out in the end. 

What you will find in my books: Mystery. Darkness. Wonder. Action. Romance. Otherness examined and deconstructed. Queer and straight characters living and fighting side by side. Imaginary creatures and magic with a realistic touch.  

What you won’t find: Pointless violence. Sexual assault. Unquestioned sexism or discrimination. Evil races. Irredeemable villains. Predestined heroes. An ancient darkness that threatens to overspread the land.  

Interested? Check out The Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven non-epic fantasy), The Weirdwater Confluence duology (romantic fantasy with meditation magic), or The Delve (fast-paced spicy romantic dungeon fantasy).