Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt

When you owe money to the biggest criminal in town you are going to need to step up your thieving game a notch…


Service at the Red Rooster Inn isn’t what you’d call “good,” or even “adequate.” Darin would be the first to say so, and he owns the place. Evie isn’t much of a barmaid; Kat’s home-brewed ale seems to grow less palatable with each new batch; and Seraphina’s service at the bar leaves much to be desired. As for the bouncer, Big Tom, well, everyone learns right quick to stay on his good side.

They may be bad at running an inn, but they’re the best team of con artists in the Old Queendom. When a prospective client approaches Darin with a high-paying job, he knows he should refuse. But the job is boosting a shipment of priceless imperial dream wine, the most coveted and expensive drink in the world. And, thanks to a stretch of bad luck, he’s in deep to The Dame, who oversees criminal enterprises in this part of the Queendom.

If they fail, they’re as good as dead, but if they succeed… well, it’s enough money to get square with the Dame and make all of their dreams come true. Plus, it’s an option for Darin to stick it to the empress, who he has good reason to despise.

Then again, there’s a very good reason no one has ever stolen imperial dream wine…(Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Silver Queendom is available now.

Give me rogues aplenty and let the heist begin! Silver Queendom was chock full of shenanigans, plan Bs (through Z), and memorable ne’er do wells. Desperation can cause some opportunistic individuals to go looking for trouble and the characters in this book didn’t seem all that great at avoiding it in the first place. What they lacked in self-preservational skills they more than made up for with sheer moxie.

The book drops you right in the middle of a heist (that is not at all going as planned) and introduces the characters as they play their particular roles. There’s Darin, owner of the Red Rooster Inn and the de-facto leader of the crew. There’s also Kat, who has a big heart for those in need and a laughably small amount of brewing skill, Tom (the meat shield; every good crew needs one), and sophisticated yet broke Evie. In fact, it’s the group’s constant issue with debt that leads them on a dangerous gambit: the theft of Imperial Dream Wine.

Silver Queendom was fun. It was fast-paced and easy to follow. It wasn’t a complicated epic, rather opting for mischief and action aplenty. I was never floored by a shocking twist, but I was entertained throughout the book. I feel like there were some things that could have been more fully explored, but the plot made sense and the pacing was good.

One of the things I wish could have been explained a little better was the use of magic. Darin was a metallurgist. The idea was cool but never seemed to be fully developed. I would have liked a bit more in that respect. I feel like I missed something or just didn’t grasp it fully.

The world was well-developed but vague in some ways. I believe this was done on purpose. The characters themselves were the focus of the book, with the rest existing as a backdrop to these fascinating people. The story was told from multiple points of view, giving the reader a chance to get to know each character better. This came in handy with the heists themselves because I felt like I was getting to see how each person functioned both in terms of character dynamic and heistening (if that’s not a word, it is now).

The fact that this was a series of misadventures as opposed to just one heist made me oh-so-happy. These poor rogues never could get ahead. Boo for them but yay for the readers. I enjoyed Silver Queendom immensely.

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Empire of Exiles is available now.

When an author combines extraordinary worldbuilding with a strong understanding of human nature, something magical happens. Empire of Exiles is spectacular, a feast for those who crave complex characters and sinister plots. Author Erin M. Evans has created the sort of book that will be treasured for years to come. The description of the book, while making me desperate to read it, doesn’t begin to show the full scope of what waits inside its pages.

The book opens with an errand. Quill comes to the Archives with a request: he needs some artifacts. A simple job, and nothing spectacular. But, then there’s a grisly murder with Quill involved for the most upsetting of reasons, and each theory leads to more questions. The twists and turns were brilliant, weaving a surprising story with much larger implications than anyone realizes.

It became less of a “whodunnit” and more of a question of how bad the fallout would be. The danger grew even bigger with each page, threatening to swallow everyone in it. By the end of the book, my house could have been on fire and I would have been annoyed at the interruption to my reading.

The plot wove between the past and the present, showing that history does not exist in a vacuum. Everything past had a connection to the present. I loved that, despite everything being connected in some way, the world was nonetheless huge. The book focused on a small cast of characters but did not exclude the rest of the world or make the story small in any way.

And what a cast! I can’t pick a favorite. I loved Quill’s tenacity and his willingness to admit that he was way outside his depth. Then there was Yinni, devout and oh-so-lost, completely unaware that everyone feels alone sometimes. Her character growth was astounding. I loved prickly Tunuk, who made me smile. And Amadea, full of secrets and questions herself, trying to hide her insecurities by being the pillar of strength for everyone else. As incredible as the world was and as fascinating as the storyline was, it was the characters that made me fall in love.

Well, that and the way the magic system perfectly described what my anxiety disorder is like. I was in tears at parts and the self-deceptive litany of “I’m fine” that could be found throughout Empire of Exiles felt so incredibly familiar. I loved the way the magic worked, how it threatened to swallow the character when they “spiraled”. I read that the author’s magic system was created from her wondering what a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder would be like. I can say with confidence that she nailed it. I was in awe at the way she put words to the indescribable.

The history of the world was fantastic, with hints of more to come. I loved the Changelings and the layers to their mystery. I’m a fan of changelings in books anyway, and these were so creatively done. The questions of morality that were raised with their inclusion added an intriguing facet.

I’m desperate to continue the story and will be waiting impatiently for book two. Empire of Exiles is truly incredible, captivating, and thought-provoking. I loved every word.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some just unfortunate.
I’m Ernest Cunningham. Call me Ern or Ernie. I wish I’d killed whoever decided our family reunion should be at a ski resort, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Have I killed someone? Yes. I have.
Who was it?
Let’s get started.
EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE
My brother
My stepsister
My wife
My father
My mother
My sister-in-law
My uncle
My stepfather
My aunt
Me (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone will be available on January 17th.

How can you see a title like this and not be immediately intrigued? The book blurb hinted at intrigue and some wacky secrets waiting to be revealed, and the book more than delivered. The story starts with a murder and the body count piles up as the pages turn. The twists had twists and the narration was a delight.

Ernie is on his way to the most awkward family reunion he’s ever attended and that’s saying something. He prefers to avoid them, but this one is different: his brother, just released from prison, will be there. And that’s the awkward part. Ernie is the one who cemented his brother’s conviction. Ernie expects a long, uncomfortable weekend. He just didn’t expect the dead body. As far as family drama goes, the drama in this book is a doozy.

Ernie’s narration guides the reader through a morass of secrets and mysterious happenings. He isn’t an unreliable narrator (as he mentions multiple times), but he manipulates the information he gives, leaving you guessing. Okay, maybe he is a bit unreliable. He was a fantastic character. Oh- and he happens to be a writer. Can you guess what he writes? Books on how to write mysteries! He talks to the readers, even guiding us through the hows and whats of mystery writing. I loved when he admitted that something happening was stereotypical of a murder mystery (he had a lot to say about phone batteries). He was fully aware that he wasn’t any less guilty of deception than any of the other characters in the book, he just felt a little bit worse about it.

His tone was wry and more than a little snarky. And the chapter titles cracked me up! There was one chapter that consisted solely of an “I don’t want to talk about that”. Genius.

A book like this relies on strong characters to keep it interesting. If the characters are boring, then the mystery becomes stagnant. Ernie’s family members were all shifty and dishonest, with their own agendas. It was awesome. They were more than just caricatures, instead being fully developed, shady people. Relationships and alliances shifted throughout, adding an extra layer to this already complex story.

Some of the twists were overly convoluted, but the majority landed and added fogginess and fun. I did call the final “whodunnit” (I have a knack for that in books, for some reason), but I missed a million other things and I had the motive way wrong. Going back through, the clues were all there. Mysteries like that are the best.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is smart, bloody, and darkly funny. This is my first book by Benjamin Stevenson, but I guarantee it won’t be my last. I loved it.

Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

In a city filled with dangerous yet heavily regulated alchemical magic, a man from the slums discovers he may be its only hope to survive certain destruction in this wickedly entertaining fantasy. 
Welcome to Bezim, where sword-slinging bravi race through the night and rich and idle alchemists make magic out of mixing and measuring the four planes of reality.

Siyon Velo, Dockside brat turned petty alchemist, scrapes a living hopping between the planes to harvest ingredients for the city’s alchemists. But when Siyon accidentally commits an act of impossible magic, he’s catapulted into the limelight—which is a bad place to be when the planes start lurching out of alignment, threatening to send Bezim into the sea.

It will take a miracle to save the city. Good thing Siyon has pulled off the impossible before. Now he just has to master it. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Notorious Sorcerer is available now.

Well, buckle my swash! Notorious Sorcerer is an entertaining adventure that kept me guessing. There is action almost from the get-go, as the reader is treated to a world peopled with ambitious characters, crime, and madcap escapades.

Bezim is the only place where it’s possible to perform alchemy. It’s illegal, but a little illegality doesn’t stop everyone. Siyon, the main character (although not the only point of view used) is desperate to learn a little magic, although only the rich can afford lessons. Siyon is far from rich, leading him to travel to other planes to collect sorcerous ingredients to sell in an attempt to finally afford lessons.

Things go south and suddenly Siyon has eyes focused on him-not necessarily a good thing. Then all heck breaks loose and he has to somehow save the day, a feat which may well be impossible. These stakes kept me interested, wondering what on earth would happen next.

There was a bit of uncertainty for me at first, with the author chucking you into things head-first. This is always risky, since I tend to end up distanced from books that leave me confused for too long (real life is confusing enough). In this case, it paid off, as curiosity hooked me. I was able to pick things up as I went along, and all was made clear relatively quickly.

The characters were an intriguing mix of poor and desperate, and privileged (although sometimes equally desperate, just for different things). I liked this switching between perspectives. It made the story seem fuller and added a layer of social unrest which I found fascinating.

Siyon was my favorite. His derring-do and rather careless way of risking life and limb was both endearing and exciting. I also enjoyed Zagiri, especially her desperation to prove that she was more than just a bank account and social status. All of the characters were great, but Siyon stole the show.

I wasn’t huge on the romance angle, but I rarely am. This is a me thing and has absolutely nothing to do with the skill of the author or the character dynamics. Fans of romantic entanglements will more than likely be drawn in by the complicated nature of the relationship.

The world was complex, but also felt a little underdeveloped to me. There was just so much teeming under the surface and I wish more of it had been fully explained. I loved what we did get to see, though, although it took a while to really understand the nuances of it.

There was so much happening that it was a race to turn pages and see what would happen next. This breakneck pace made for a massively enjoyable book. Notorious Sorcerer was a rollicking dash through pages, with roguery and mishaps aplenty.

Bewitching Book Tours Cover Reveal & Excerpt: Midnight on the Manatee by D.H. Willison

Today I’m excited to be joining Bewitching Books Tours in sharing the cover for D.H. Willison’s new book, Midnight on the Manatee. D.H. Willison’s new release will feature adventure, romance, and a whole lot of humor.

Book Description:

How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? What sacrifices do her grand profits demand? The only certainty, is that the Manatee casts a dark shadow everywhere she makes port.


Brianna, a tough, no-nonsense human, yearns to escape stifling big city rules and a troubled past. A quaint seaside town seems perfect to start a new life—until she wakes up aboard the Manatee. As cargo.


Shard, nekojin feline of the forest, dreams of sailing to distant lands—to the horror of his friends. When his intriguing new neighbor, Brianna, disappears and all signs point to the mysterious Manatee, he’s certain this is his moment for high seas adventure. Yet with skills tailored to the forest canopy, his rescue goes disastrously awry.


Their only chance of freedom is to work together, but can their budding relationship overcome ruthless smugglers, corrupt officials, and a slew of ravenous monsters? Or are they destined to take the secret of the Manatee to a watery grave?


Midnight on the Manatee blends life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Are you ready to see the cover? Here it is!

Wow!


Genre: Fantasy adventure/fantasy romance
Date of Publication: October 28, 2022
ISBN: 9798823112536
Number of pages: 182
Word Count: 33K
Cover Artist: Papaya-style

Life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world blend with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Excerpt:

Brianna

I’ve always struggled picking out clothes. It doesn’t matter if it’s for travel, work, or a special event, I seem to hit a point where I regret my choices.

Like today.

Late afternoon sun glared in my eyes, the wide brim of my slouch hat unable to shield me. Mostly because it was on the ground a dozen paces distant. It was hot, and this close to the marsh, humid too. My linen blouse was drenched in sweat, though a breeze provided a modicum of relief from the heat—that part, I’d gotten right. The leather traveling vest was well-vented, my padded breeches also a good compromise between comfort and protection. But my boots were clearly wrong. Light beige leather with flexible soles prioritizing comfort over armor seemed a good idea for the long trek between Halamar and Barricayde.

But the bog toad with its jaws locked around my right ankle seemed intent on demonstrating the error of my ways.

It was half the size of a coach, with an underbite and stubby tusks thick as my legs. I kicked it with my free foot as it shambled backwards, dragging me toward the marsh. Vision blurry from sweat streaming into my eyes, I squinted, trying to sight along the barrel of my single shot pistol.

One shot. At this range I can’t miss.

I fired, the pistol belching gray smoke and a dull wumm.

The toad lurched back, blood oozing from an apparently non-critical wound. It blinked a pair of fist-sized ruby eyes, lunged at me again, this time snapping both legs up to my knees in a maw as broad as my arm span.

How did I let a minor predator ambush me? Along a marked path! Big city’s making me soft.

No! I will not die to an oversized frog. I shoved the pistol in its holster, unfolded my collapsible spear with a metallic klink, jabbed it at the creature’s head. A head which seemed to comprise half its mass. The third strike to its thick hide found a sensitive spot: it spat out my legs, sneezed a blob of mucus and blood on me, and shambled back into the marsh.

“Oww. Filthy beast. That hurt.”

I stood, yelped in pain, collapsing to my knees again.

Those critters might not have sharp teeth, but they bite hard.

First things first: I reloaded my pistol. It may have been as effective as poking a troll with a toothpick, but it was my toothpick, and it was gonna be loaded.

I pulled off boots caked with blood and saliva to reveal a souvenir of the encounter: bruises from ankle to mid thigh.

Should have worn armored boots. Blood or mucus colored armored boots would have been ideal. But on the bright side, none of the blood was mine.

“It’s a well-traveled path. You can wear comfortable traveling clothes, no need for armor.

Owww. You’re an idiot, Brianna,” I muttered, managing to stay up on the next attempt.

“Hope they have a decent healer in Barricayde. Not to mention a laundry.”

Shard

Murky water burned my eyes as my feet sank into the mud. The caprid in my arms flailed and kicked, I could feel its chest heave in panicked breaths. “Juro, a little help?” I called.

“I am helping. I’m watching out for predators.” Juro crouched atop a low branch of a live oak tree, gaze darting between trees and clumps of reeds. He grinned. “None here. You’re welcome.”

“I meant, could you grab the other two trapped caprids.”

“Theoretically, I could.”

I waded ashore, set the waist-high, hoofed creature next to its flockmates, hoping the presence of the herd would calm it.

“At least keep the flock from panicking while I get the other two.”

Juro bounded from branch to branch, finally settling on the ground beside me. He had auburn fur, stood a tad shorter than me, his tail shorter as well, and lacking the white puffy tip he made fun of when we were growing up.

“If we leave them out here,” he said, “our neighbors might learn a valuable lesson about the merits of proper animal husbandry.”

“The creatures horns are blunted, they cannot defend themselves against predators and would most likely be devoured by bog toads before the humans were able to recover them all.”

“Which would certainly be a valuable lesson, Shard. Hurt what they value most.”

Juro didn’t need to complete the thought. We all knew what that was. “It would indeed hurt their coin purse, but caprids shouldn’t pay the price to do so. The creatures are innocent.”

“Didn’t you want to visit the bookseller this afternoon? New volume of that pirate series you’re always talking about.”

I dove back into the stagnant green-brown murk at the edge of the marsh, swam around the last two stragglers, managing to shoo them toward the herd without having to carry them.

I spat, trying to clear the taste of marsh water from my mouth. Mud, slimy strands of algae, and decaying vegetation plugged my nose, clung to my ears, obscured my normally keen senses. But I wasn’t worried, Juro was a rascal, but he’d have my back at the first hint of danger.

“Yes. It’s supposed to be out today. But after all that effort, we can’t leave the task unfinished.”

Juro shrugged, but helped guide the flock toward the shepherd’s day shed.

We encountered the herder’s daughter a few minutes later, sprinting toward us, a wooden crook in her hands, single shot rifle slung across her back.

“You’ve found them, thank you!” She huffed heavily, her armor and gear sized more for an adult human than an early teen.

“That’s the third time this month,” said Juro.

She mumbled, pointed at the creatures with an index finger as she counted. “All here. My stupid little brother needed help with…” She shook her head. “It’s not important. I’d like to thank you, but I don’t have my coin purse with me. Come with me to the day shed, maybe there’s something there.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’m still hoping to make it to the bookseller today.”
Juro snorked. “Looking like that? The humans won’t even let you through the city gate! You’ll be lucky if they don’t mistake you for a swamp monster and hunt you.”

“Good point.” I turned to the girl. “How about a few buckets of fresh water, some rags, and a brush?”

She smiled. “Deal.” She moved to clap me on the shoulder, hesitated, backed off half a step. “Maybe after a bath.”

About the Author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.


He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.


Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).

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How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? Brianna and Shard find out, but will they take the secret to a watery grave? Life-and-death adventures on a creepy, monster infested world blend with wit, whimsy and romance. https://dhwillisoncreates.com/   

The Battle That Was Lost by Michael S. Jackson

When there is something you can’t or won’t do yourself, you get a bastard to do it for you. They are thieves, cheats, and murderers, loyal to nothing but the coin. Everyone knows that.
Yet in war, payment in blood is more likely than payment in coin.
Staegrim knows coins better than he knows people, and he isn’t giving his life away for free. Not to the rebels, not for the lords, and not for all the bloody coins in Rengas.
But then…everyone has a price.



Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Battle that was Lost is a novella that takes place in the world of the Ringlander series.

Novellas are an intriguing medium. Sometimes I find them to be too short, choppy in their attempts to fit more within their pages than the length can hold. Other times, they can feel superfluous. In the case of The Battle that was Lost, however, the length was perfect. The writing was skillful, each word placed to further a story that packed a punch.

Brutal and smart, The Battle that was Lost wasted no time in establishing an atmosphere that pulsed with desperation. The line between life and death could be crossed at any moment, and the characters knew it. The stakes were high, and tension dripped from each word. This isn’t a happy-ending sort of book. In fact, the ending is more of a beginning, the novella serving as a cutthroat introduction.

Qor and Staegrim are mercenaries, doing anything they can to survive and hopefully somehow come out ahead. Their relationship is a brilliant one. It’s the sort of complicated mix of annoyance and something akin to affection that is fascinating to read. Of course, the book is about higher stakes than the fates of two thugs, although they are the pieces that make The Battle that was Lost so compelling.

I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to tactical decisions in fantasy books, but I was able to follow along well here. When you have two armies going at each other, knowing that the entire fate of the continent hangs in the balance, I like to see a personal aspect. It gives me a reason to be invested in the outcome. The judicious use of flashbacks provided this personal aspect, fleshing out characters and backstories and expanding the world even more.

I’m gob smacked at how much was packed into such a short novella. The Battle that was Lost was fantastic. I highly recommend picking it up.

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.

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).

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Everyone knows the story of Rapunzel in the tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there? Told from her own perspective, The Book of Gothel is a lush, historical retelling filled with dark magic, crumbling towers, mysterious woods, and evil princes. This is the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.
Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.
Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.
But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that reveals a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…(Taken from Amazon)

I grew up on fairy tales. As a young child, they were the pretty, dumbed down ones with the happy endings and the lack of gore. As I got older, I read the original, often brutal, versions. I guess my love of fairy tales has chased me. As an adult, I am drawn to fairy tale reimaginings or fantasy with that beautiful fairy tale cadence. So, of course The Book of Gothel called to me.

The Book of Gothel is a reimagining of the story of Rapunzel, told from the point of view of the villain. Known as Haelewise in the story, it starts with her as a young woman in a small village and continues on, the conclusion summing up the fairy tale we all know. If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t stray at all from the original fairy tale, The Book of Gothel is not for you.

Haelewise suffers from fainting spells and sensitivity to light. Of course, these things make her a pariah in her village, where such things are seen as unnatural. A daughter of a midwife, Haelewise is really only tolerated because of her mother’s skill with delivering babies. Then, her mother dies and Haelewise is left running from accusations of witchcraft.

While so much of the story happens in her village, I felt like the book didn’t really begin until Haelewise reaches the Tower of Gothel and begins to learn more about who her mother was and who she herself is. The choices she makes and her resourcefulness are what make her into an intriguing character. I wouldn’t necessarily call her likeable, but she is interesting, which is better.

There were things that I wish had been explored further, with less time being spent on others. For example, Haelewise’s almost-obsession with other women’s newborns was such an interesting aside that I wish it had been more fully explored. I would have loved to know more about her almost savage hunger for a child. I could also have done with less from her sort-of boyfriend, who I really truly hated. He was well-written; he was also a spineless jerk who wanted to have his cake and eat it too (just my personal opinion. I’m not sure that’s the effect the author was going for).

I enjoyed seeing bits and pieces from the original tail sneak through into a new narrative. The storyline was so different that these moments would serve to remind me that I was, in fact, reading a fairy tale reimagining. Otherwise, I would have forgotten completely, caught up in an engrossing and creative coming-of-age story. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what The Book of Gothel is. It is a lyrical, pretty story about a girl learning who she is and the power that she has, not as an evil witch or villain but as a woman.

While not what I expected, The Book of Gothel sucked me in and kept me quickly turning pages. It is mysterious and charming, a novel worth getting lost in.

Cover Reveal: A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell by Luke Tarzian

From the mind that brought us Adjacent Monsters and Vultures comes A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell, a novella that addresses the direst of circumstances: a misplaced kettle. Author Luke Tarzian describes it as “a weird, whimsical magical realism fever dream”, which has me intrigued.

Okay, what is the book really about, you ask?

Blurb:

Briefly, a word about order.

Order is the focal point around which existence revolves. Without order there is only chaos. And in the halls of Damnation (pronounced Dam-NAWT-ion, thank you kindly) the first sign of impending chaos is a cup of tea made without the water having first been well and properly boiled in a kettle.

Why is this relevant, o nameless narrator? you ask. Who cares about the preparatory order of tea in the fires of Hell? Lucifer, dear reader. After all, how does one expect to properly greet the newcomers to Hell without having first had a hot cup of tea to bulwark the cold (the first circle is a cornfield of snow)?

Behold the Morning Star, frantic on the annual Morning of Souls, the arrival of Damnation’s newest recruits (we only hand-pick the best)!

Someone has misplaced the kettle.

Luke Tarzian also designed the cover for A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell and it matches the term “whimsical fever dream” perfectly. Are you ready to see the cover? Here it is!

A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell will be available on December 20th.

Preorder link

About the author:

Luke Tarzian was born in Bucharest, Romania. His parents made the extremely poor choice of adopting him less than six months into his life. As such, he’s resided primarily in the United States and currently lives in California with his wife and their twin daughters. Somehow, they tolerate him.

Unfortunately, he can also be found online and, to the dismay of his clients, also functions as a cover artist for independent authors. You can connect with the author via his WebsiteInstagram, and Twitter.