Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more. (taken from Amazon)

Featuring one of the most delightfully messed-up main characters I’ve read in a while, Book of Night is both wickedly clever and dangerously entertaining.

In a world where “quickened” shadows can be shifted according to the wearer’s mood, Charlie Hall’s shadow is disappointingly ordinary. It does not grow, act of its own accord, or shift on its own. That’s a good thing, since she has enough on her plate as it is. The thing is, Charlie Hall has never seen a bad decision that she isn’t willing to make. Con artist, thief, barista, and certified disaster, trouble has a habit of finding Charlie. To be fair, she doesn’t do all that much to avoid it. Ostensibly done with conning and stealing, Charlie nonetheless works in a bar that crime likes to frequent, she dates a man whose day job is cleaning up the messes left by violence, and she has a knack for upsetting the wrong people.

In a world such as that, it is inevitable that Charlie would be sucked back into a life of conning and stealing. This time the stakes are much higher: Charlie has to find a way to hopefully con her way out of a situation where every solution seems to spell death. The entirety of Book of Night is planned pandemonium, and I was hooked.

This is Holly Black’s first foray into adult fantasy, having garnered a huge fanbase in Young Adult fantasy. While Black’s signature twists and turns are present, the relationships are much more established, allowing me to enjoy the nuances of the characters without being distracted by relationship woes. Don’t get me wrong; as with everything else in her life, Charlie’s relationship with her boyfriend Vince follows the path of most resistance. However, the complications lie in the characters themselves, as opposed to their relationship status. In fact, seeing how Charlie interacted with the people around her was an excellent mirror into the morass of her rather messed-up psyche.

The story is sprinkled with scenes from the characters’ pasts, better developing both their personalities and the world. And it is such a cool world! Manipulators of shadows, known as gloamists, use their shadows to grasp at power, some legally and some otherwise. The wielders of power are fantastical, but the way the power is used to manipulate and control is completely familiar and believable.

There is always something going on, but never at the cost of the plot. The twists seemed to come out of nowhere, yet when I traced back the scenes in the book, the clues were right in front of me. The ending is fantastic, perfectly messy, instead of being tied into an overly neat little bow. While there could be a sequel, which I would gladly read, I almost hope that it is a standalone because the ending hit so well. Book of Night is an exciting urban fantasy from an author who can easily conquer any genre she chooses to write in.

*This review was originally posted in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.

Cover Reveal: Blue Shadow Legacy by Anca Antoci

Today I’m excited to be able to share a glimpse of the cover for Anca Antoci’s upcoming release, Blue Shadow Legacy. The third book in the Chimera trilogy, Blue Shadow Legacy looks to be a heart-pounding conclusion.

So, what is Blue Shadow Legacy about?

On the brink of war, the freedom of chimera outcasts and vampires hangs in the balance.

All seems lost when the Council runs coordinated attacks and destroys the Resistance’s secret camps. It’s time for shifters, vampires, and creatures of the Underworld to set their differences aside and make a united front. They expect the Huntress to lead them to victory, but they don’t know the truth about the prophecy that gives them hope. For Rae to save them all, she will be consumed.

After becoming a shadow and training her magic, Rae is ready for a new challenge. Unfortunately, the only constant in her life is that nothing ever goes as planned. When an army of witches gets ready to obliterate what’s left of the Resistance, Rae strikes a deal with a hellhound to save her friends.

An unexpected visit into the Underworld gives Rae a new perspective, an unlikely ally, and a fighting chance, but at what cost?

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60047251-blue-shadow-legacy

Are you ready for the cover?

Here it is!

About the Author:

Anca’s overactive imagination pours into her stories bringing otherworldly creatures to life. She writes about mystical creatures, mystery, and adventure with a hint of Romance.

Her debut novel, Forget Me Not, is the first part of a trilogy published in 2020.

Before starting her writing journey, Anca was active in the blogging community as a fantasy book reviewer. The fanfiction stories she wrote long before she dreamed of being a writer are still popular and available on her blog. Although not as often, she still posts book reviews and book recommendations on her blog www.summonfantasy.com.

Living in Romania, Anca speaks English as a second language and is quite self-conscious about her accent, which is why she never speaks in her videos on TikTok. She loves taking long walks through the parks to recharge her batteries before a writing sprint. She loves cooking and can often be found in the kitchen trying out a new recipe while an audiobook keeps her entertained.

Notes From the Burning Age by Claire North

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

From one of the most imaginative writers of her generation comes an extraordinary vision of the future…

Ven was once a holy man, a keeper of ancient archives. It was his duty to interpret archaic texts, sorting useful knowledge from the heretical ideas of the Burning Age—a time of excess and climate disaster. For in Ven’s world, such material must be closely guarded so that the ills that led to that cataclysmic era can never be repeated.

But when the revolutionary Brotherhood approaches Ven, pressuring him to translate stolen writings that threaten everything he once held dear, his life will be turned upside down. Torn between friendship and faith, Ven must decide how far he’s willing to go to save this new world—and how much he is willing to lose. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for…

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Oil and Dust by Jami Farleigh

When all has been lost, we find ourselves…
Out of the ashes of destruction, a new world has arisen. The plagues of the past—the worship of greed and pursuit of power—are gone. Now, the communities that remain in this post-apocalyptic world focus on creating connections, on forging futures filled with family and love. And all with the help of hard work, hope… and a little bit of magic.
Artist Matthew Sugiyama knows this well. Traveling the countryside in search of the family he lost as a child, he trades his art for supplies—and uses his honed magic to re-draw the boundaries of reality, to fashion a world that is better for those he meets.
Following glimpses of visions half-seen, Matthew—and the friends he encounters along the way—will travel a path from light to darkness and back again. A road where things lost in the past can only be found in the love of the present, and the hope for the future.
And he will travel this path wherever it leads. From joy to sorrow, from tears to laughter. Because Matthew is the Elemental Artist, and he knows that though dangers arise, humanity will always triumph… in a world he has painted in shades of Oil and Dust.

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

With Oil and Dust, words fail me. It is at times both familiar, yet utterly unique. It is a hopeful book, yet it still contains sorrow and longing, and a person with (in my opinion) a hole in his heart. One can’t have hope without darkness or loss, after all.

The world has changed. Both futuristic and reminiscent of the past, things are simpler. Bartering and sharing are the norm, with people working together and sharing what they need. Gone are greed, and the search for power. It is in this world that we find our main character, Matthew. Matthew is an artist of a different sort, and highly sought after. However, something is missing for him and this leads him to go on a journey, in search of his long-lost family.

The writing is wonderful, sometimes slow but never plodding. Instead, the author takes her time building a world rich in detail. As Matthew travels this world, it grows, becoming larger as his viewpoints shift. He also changes as he sees new places and experiences new perspectives. Matthew is the sort of character that I love to read about: he is supremely human, with human strengths and flaws, and his emotions are painted so clearly that I couldn’t help but feel exactly what he was feeling. I hoped for him, was sad for him, and wanted him to succeed. His character development is astounding.

The characters he encounters along his journey are equally well-developed and, while I loved them (Akiko in particular!) , it was their interactions with Matthew that really made them interesting to me. Despite the fascinating setting and the great side characters, at the end of the day it was Matthew himself that made this book the experience that it is.

Oil and Dust is a triumphant debut novel, memorable and touching. I highly recommend this gem of a book.

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s…

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Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this “twisty, atmospheric story that grips readers like a siren song” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike. (taken from Amazon)

Have you ever found a book nestled on your shelf, almost hiding, that you have no memory of acquiring? This recently happened with Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell. I was looking for a palate cleanser after reading a heavy (but extremely good) book.

The book follows Moira, who lives in a quiet little island town that also happens to be the gathering place of sirens. Everyone knows they’re dangerous, and have been known to kill people, but Moira has a fascination with them.

When a boy is found mangled and dead, and the sirens blamed, Moira is suspicious and thinks that maybe they are not to blame. She and her childhood friend, Jude, decide to try to find and stop a killer- if there is one.

There were some things about Songs from the Deep that didn’t quite work for me, but there were also some things that I thought were well done. First of all, the inclusion of sirens in a book is always intriguing, and I enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed here. Ostensibly about whether they were involved in the murder or not, they were nonetheless not the main focus of the plot. I really liked that they were a backdrop surrounding the characters of Moira and Jude. I also enjoyed the combination of the fantastical with the ordinary. It reminded me of Twin Peaks in that the bizarre butted right up against the everyday, and everyone was just sort of fine with it. Although, this has nothing on Twin Peaks’ bizarre-o-meter.

While I liked that the sirens were a background to the relationships between the characters, I struggled to buy that relationship. Everything felt a little jilted and rushed to me. Even at the beginning, when Moira has a bitter assumption about her mom not caring, I couldn’t understand why she would think that. And the way a “secret” was hinted at from the beginning, instead of piquing my interest, just annoyed me. I felt like the mentions of it every couple of pages (toward the beginning) were rather shoehorned in. I think these issues were all just a product of Songs from the Deep being Powell’s debut novel.

It is clear that she is a talented writer, and I am sure that both the pacing and how things are revealed will become less of an issue in subsequent books. At the end of the day, Songs from the Deep wasn’t for me, but will be enjoyed by many people.

We Cry for Blood by Devin Madson

Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. She’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. We Cry for Blood is available now.

The machinations! The backstabbing! The violence! The wit! Author Devin Madson has mastered it all in the latest installment in The Reborn Empire series. There is a lot going on in this book (and I mean a lot), yet it was never disorganized. Instead, I felt that everything is leading toward the sort of conclusion that blows the mind.

We Cry for Blood continues to follow the four characters from previous novels:  Dishiva e’Jaroven and Rah e’Torin, Empress Miko Ts’ai, and Cassandra Marius. Each character has their own story arc, which could be confusing in lesser hands than Madson’s, but somehow never is. That is saying something, because I often struggle with keeping larger plotlines straight. In this case, the sheer amount of detail serves to broaden the world and make the story even more compelling. Everything happens on an epic scale, while at the same time feeling incredibly personal.

This is one of those great series where my favorite character seems to change book by book. In We Cry for Blood, Dishiva stood out to me. Her point of view reminded me that, while so much is happening on a grand scale, things are also incredibly important on a smaller, yet no-less-important level. Her challenges seem nearly insurmountable, but the fighting spirit exists all the same. Usually in books with multiple viewpoints, there’s that one that just isn’t interesting to me, but I didn’t have that problem here. Each character was compelling in their own way.

This series continues to completely ignore the usual expectations in a fantasy novel, and I love it! As much as I love the classic fantasy feel, I also really appreciate how broad the spectrum of fantasy is, and seeing it stretched into new and exciting directions is beyond exciting. The Reborn Empire is well on its way to being the sort of fantasy series that readers of the genre “must” read. In fact, I would argue that it is already there.

This is not a series that can be understood if you start in book three. However, I guarantee you’ll want to read the entire series. It is truly excellent.

Witchy Witches of all Kinds

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Witches in literature have changed quite a bit over the years. From the sinister and mysterious, to the flat-out evil; from the magic-for-good to the naturalist who is one with nature, you can find a book for every type. I am far from an expert in the inclusion of witches in books, but I’m a reader so I have my own experience with witches. Here are a few books with witches of different sorts.

Evil Witches:

These are the ones that often look like hags, live in huts in the middle of nowhere, have a penchant for eating naughty kids, or just like to cause trouble.

Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm- I just had to include at least one Grimm story and this one fits the bill.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (I would argue that they are bit more like the Three Fates, but…)

The Witches by Roald…

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Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed by Maleleine Roux

Welcome to Dungeon Academy, where monsters and creatures train for the dark world that awaits just beyond the dungeon walls! But Zellidora “Zelli” Stormclash is a bit—different. She’s the one thing monsters and creatures of the Forgotten Realms fear the most: Zelli is a human!
Knowing she’ll never be accepted, Zelli’s parents disguise her as a minotaur in hopes she’ll blend with the academy’s monstrous surroundings. Zelli does her work, keeps to herself, and becomes “invisible” to everyone. 
While in History of Horrible Humans class, Zelli learns of the great human adventurer, Allidora Steelstrike, who oddly resembles her. Could Zelli also be a Steelstrike? Seeking answers to her true lineage, Zelli embarks on a dangerous adventure.
But she won’t be alone. A vegan owlbear, a cowardly kobold, and a shapeshifting mimic will join Zelli on her quest for truth in a world that holds no place for them. And who knows? Perhaps these monstrous misfits may discover some truths of their own . . . (taken from Amazon)

Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed is a fun, lighthearted book with great D&D elements added. Perfect for upper elementary or middle grade readers, it is nonetheless equally entertaining to adults (or at least, to this adult).

The main character, Zelli, is a human in Dungeon Academy, where humans aren’t accepted. She has been disguised as a minotaur to circumvent this little problem. One day in history class, Zelli learns of a human adventurer who she seems to resemble and in true D&D fashion…embarks on an adventure!

Zelli is surrounded by a trusty group: a mimic, a scaredy-cat kobold, and an owlbear. Added to the fun are some adorable illustrations by Timothy Probert, which made this entertaining book even better.

The pacing was a little off here and there, but the overall product was good enough to ignore the hiccups. The illustrations pushed Dungeon Academy: No Humans Allowed firmly into the “cute and fun” category, making this a book I’d suggest picking up for any young budding gamers or new fantasy readers.

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is not an idiot, no matter what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.

Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.

The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)

It took exactly four sentences for me to become so engrossed in Nectar for the God that I was annoyed by any interruptions to my reading. Once again, author Patrick Samphire crafted a book that is impossible to put down.

“With a smile and a nod to the other customers, Etta Mirian left the bakery, crossed Long Step Avenue, and stabbed Peyt Jyston three times in the neck. She then turned the knife on herself and, still smiling all the time, opened her throat from side to side.”

The reader finds Mennik Thorn slightly the worst for wear after the events in Shadow of a Dead God. He’s been avoiding both his mother (who has far more power, and far fewer scruples than is ever good), and her rival Wren, with varying levels of nonsuccess. While Mennik is realizing that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place, a case drops into his lap that is far above his skill level, and much more complicated than it looks. From there, it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush which somehow manages to also have a complex and incredibly clever mystery involved.

In between traipsing through sewers and attracting the attention of something rather terrifying, Mennik’s character also continues to grow. Through his interactions with his mother, his sister, his thieving friend, Benny, and Benny’s murderous daughter, we are given a more complicated picture of who Mennik is and why he acts the way he does. He never seems to end up on top. The most he can hope for is to break even, and that’s an ambitious goal. Mennik is the sort of character who gets kicked around by life, although in many instances he walks right into trouble. This juxtaposition between the desire to survive and a complete lack of caution leads to all kinds of problems. Mennik’s slightly skewed moral compass shifts continues to intrigue and delight, and his inner dialogue is absolutely brilliant. Author Patrick Samphire takes the smallest of details and makes them fascinating with his incredibly descriptive writing.

The world is gritty and messy, teeming with the equivalent of magical gangsters, meddling gods, and–even worse–politicians. It constantly grows, tantalizing the reader with details and mysteries that have yet to be solved. The dreaded info dump is nowhere to be found, with history and mythology being given naturally throughout the book. While Mennik is juggling multiple disasters, I could see they were puzzle pieces waiting to be fit together. Watching the seemingly disparate parts of Nectar for the God meld into a complete whole is a joy, and the final product is an entertaining romp that will draw you in and captivate you.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine.