All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

Long ago Miren O’Malley’s family prospered due to a deal struck with the mer: safety for their ships in return for a child of each generation. But for many years the family have been unable to keep their side of the bargain and have fallen into decline. Miren’s grandmother is determined to restore their glory, even at the price of Miren’s freedom.

A spellbinding tale of dark family secrets, magic and witches, and creatures of myth and the sea; of strong women and the men who seek to control them. (taken from Amazon)

What happens when you renege on a deal with a monster? Miren O’Malley is the last daughter of true O’Malley lineage. The family used to be mighty and successful, but that luck (is it just luck?) has dwindled as surely as their bloodline has. There have always been rumors about how the O’Malleys managed to be so rich and successful for so long, but the truth has been kept strictly secret. This is where All the Murmuring Bones starts.

Miren’s grandmother is the matriarch of the O’Malleys and is desperate to regain some of their lost glory. She plans to marry Miren off to a rich, abusive jerk. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Miren. She flees, but is followed-not just by her intended, but by the mer.

These aren’t your Disney merfolk. The mer are dangerous and mysterious. I loved everything about them. In fact, they are not the only wild and savage creatures of legend that make an appearance. Rusalka, kelpies, and more give All the Murmuring Bones a dark mythical feel that drew me in.

Miren is smart, capable, and no stranger to bloodshed. There is no boundary she is unwilling to cross to keep her life and her freedom. Her flight to safety turns into a quest for answers and the switch is fascinating and brilliant. I’m used to gothic novels sticking to a single setting. However, Miren’s travels allow the world and plot to open up magnificently.

I did feel there was a misstep here and there. For example, the ending wraps everything up in a neat little bow that feels a little out of place considering the path the rest of the book takes. I would have liked seeing parts of the story left, if not unexplained, at least a little enigmatic. Also, the climactic event was over sooner than I was hoping. It felt a teensy bit rushed. However, these are small complaints in the grand scheme of things and the rest of the book is really stinking good.

All the Murmuring Bones is a gothic novel that hits all the right points. I highly recommend it.


This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find the link here.

Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers
; they can dazzle with their beauty or
their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail
and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them?
Can you unravel the
truth?
These are people you know, but not as you know them.
Peel back the mask and see.

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Backstories will be available on March 25th.

Backstories is smart and enigmatic, encouraging the reader to be involved. Author Simon Van der Velde combines history and fiction to create something entirely different- the surprising stories behind famous figures. Instead of the public persona we all know, the veneer is stripped away to show the utter humanness underneath.

Interestingly, Backstories isn’t set up in any way that is run-of-the-mill. This collection of short stories isn’t a simple “this is their past” sort of book. Instead, it’s a mystery. The reader has to solve the puzzle: who is each story about? I have to be honest and say that a couple stories completely stumped me. It was fascinating to try and match up new details with what is already known about a person. It added a level of realism to what have always been almost unreachable, exaggerated famous (or infamous) people.

The writing is engaging and easy to connect with. It’s quite obvious that author Simon Van Der Velde put a lot of time and research into his book, but he left just enough to the imagination to encourage me to do my own digging. The little Easter eggs that were left throughout were clever and added so much to the story.

I went into Backstories expecting to be entertained. Instead, I was sucked in and ended up being incredibly invested in the “who was” aspect. Expect an engrossing book, one that will keep you guessing.

Where to find Backstories:

Amazon: Backstories

The Shadow of the Gods (The Bloodsworn trilogy #1)

This is the age of storm and murder.

After the old gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrio.


Now, power-hungry jarls carve out petty kingdoms, and monsters stalk the shadow-haunted woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power, promising fame and fortune for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.


As whispers of war echo over the plains and across the fjords, fate follows the footsteps of three people: a huntress searching for her missing son, a jarl’s daughter who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who has cast off his chains and now fights alongside the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.


All three will shape the fate of the world, as it once more teeters on the edge of chaos. (taken from Amazon)

Wow. Okay, I’m done. That could be my entire review. In fact, I am pretty sure that nothing I write will do justice to the sheer brilliance of The Shadow of the Gods. So, let me apologize in advance for any random blathering that ensues. I promise, I’m doing my best.

First of all, let’s talk about the feel of this book. It takes place in a Norse-inspired world, stark and harsh. Our heroes are all about one bad decision away from becoming villains. It’s survival of the fittest, or of the most desperate. It’s also the perfect setting for a story that is almost mind-bogglingly epic.

Vigrio is split into a few cities, each run by a Jarl who gives his people protection in exchange for loyalty (or, you know, taxes). The Jarls do this through their Tainted Warriors, people with unbelievable powers inherited from the blood of gods. Their powers vary, although I personally was a fan of the berserkers. These Tainted Warriors are controlled by a sort of collar that reins in their power. They are hunted and sold to different Jarls. Basically, if you’re a Tainted Warrior you’re not in the best of situations. Enter Varg, one of my favorite characters.

Varg is wanted for murder, and we first see him on the run. His driving goal is to find out about what happened to his dead sister. In order to get these answers, he needs the help of a Tainted Warrior. This simple beginning leads to a fantastic storyline, one that kept me fascinated. From his very first battle (which started to go belly-up when his groin punch hurt him instead of the intended target), I was drawn in. Through him, the reader is treated to a side of the world that might not otherwise be seen and appreciated.

There’s Elvar, a soldier in a war-band, those who look for tainted to sell to Jarls. She’s got a past that she’s trying to outrace. Her story arc was interesting, but did not grab me quite as much as the others. Of course, it was still incredibly well written.

Finally, there’s Orka. She was my absolute favorite part of the book, although it’s hard to pick a favorite. She was an extremely complicated character. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I liked her at first. She came across as hard and cold. Then I realized: that’s how she copes and survives. She’s a warrior. She’s a mother. She’s a wife. She is smart, and strong, and a bit ruthless. She’s pretty stinking amazing and I loved getting to the chapters about her. I keep hearing people talking abut how cruel Gwyne is to his characters and now I’m scared.

The Shadow of the Gods is brutal and genius, a perfect balance between breath-taking battle scenes and intricate characters. I high recommend picking this one up.

The Common Tongue: A Dark Fantasy Literary Magazine

Thank you to the editor for providing me with the first issue of The Common Tongue magazine in exchange for my honest opinion. Issue number one will be available on March 31st. Please be aware, readers, that while my review is appropriate for everyone, this is a horror and dark fantasy magazine. As such, younger readers might not be suited to its content.

Wow, this is a strong first issue! The tone of the magazine was well established from the first story, and it continued in a consistently creepy vein throughout. Every story brought its own brand of chilling (up until I got to the nonfiction pieces). I was very impressed at the variety of entries. Not only was there fiction; poetry and nonfiction opinion pieces also made an appearance.

While I thought every piece was very well written, there were three that stood out to me. Deeper Into Darkness by J. Porteous was incredible. It had an eerie vibe to it, and a tension that made me almost hold my breath. It followed a Beastman, a monster hunter, who was sent to a small town to catch and kill a vampyre. The story was told with enough detail to paint a vivid picture of a small place peopled with terrified folk demanding an answer, while equally scared of the one sent to provide it. I loved the way the ending cut off after giving just enough information for the reader to know what happened next. It was skillfully told.

“Everdeath” by Qril was brilliant! A poem that basically describes a total party kill from the perspective of the demon that did the deed, it was phenomenally told. I loved that it rhymed without feeling forced. Each member of the deceased fantasy party (cleric, minstrel, wizard, etc) had their own stanza. It was witty, dark, and altogether a great read. Absolutely genius.

Last, but most certainly not least, I was fascinated by the editorial piece “Differences in Dark Fantasy Subgenres”, written by Kade Draven. I was actually discussing dark fantasy, grimdark, and horror with a friend the other day and how the lines between them can get a little blurred. I really liked reading Kade Draven’s knowledgeable and well researched take on it. It was also a really smart addition to a magazine that will feature a little bit of each subgenre. I’ll be gnawing on this piece for quite a while.

The Common Tongue will be a great magazine for those who enjoy a macabre read, who appreciate that darker area and the things that often lurk in it.

Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 by Terry Brooks

Escape to worlds full of adventure and magic in the first-ever Terry Brooks short-story collection, featuring both new and fan-favorite stories from all three of his major literary worlds: Shannara, Magic Kingdom, and The Word and the Void.

Here are heroes fighting new battles and struggling to conquer the ghosts of the past. Here are quests both small and far reaching; heroism both intimate and vast. Here we learn of Garet Jax’s childhood, see how Allanon first located Shea Ohmsford, and follow an old wing-rider at the end of his life. Here we see Knights of the Word fighting demons within and without, and witness Ben Holiday and his daughter each trying to overcome the unique challenges that Landover offers.

This collection of eleven tales is a must-have addition to the Terry Brooks canon—a delightful way to spend time with favorite characters, and a wonderful reminder of what makes a Brooks story such a timeless classic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 will be available on March second.

Terry Brooks is a giant among fantasy authors. Even if you haven’t read any of his works, chances are you recognize the name. He’s most well known for his Shannara books, although I personally like Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! the best. When I was given the opportunity to check out his short fiction collection, I jumped at the chance.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s Terry Brooks! Some of these stories add a new level to already established worlds and characters. His writing skill is on full display and is fantastic, as usual. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of his works, and it was fun to catch up.

On the other hand, some of the story additions were just odd. For example, the very first story was written for an anthology by Poul Anderson called Multiverse. It did not really make a lot of sense to make that the very first story, seeing as it was written for someone else’s anthology collection, and it alienated me a bit. If it was going to be in Small Magic, I personally would have preferred to see it pop up later on, after there had been some short stories that took place in worlds created by Terry Brooks.

My favorite story of the collection featured a cantankerous dragon. While I definitely felt that some stories were much better than others, I feel that most Terry Brooks fans will enjoy the collection, even if only for the sense of nostalgia it provides.

I personally didn’t love it as much as I was expecting, but it wasn’t awful. While Small Magic is worth checking out, I strongly suggest reading some of Terry Brooks’ full length fiction first.

Ari Goes to War by P.J. Sky

In trouble with the Jackroller crime syndicate, and with the warlords of The Black Mulga on her tail, Ari must confront her past when she sets out across the war-torn wasteland to rescue Starla from the clutches of the infamous Bone Pointer. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Ari Goes to War will be available on April sixth.

Ari Goes to War is the sequel to A Girl Called Ari. It continues to follow Ari (and Starla), although this book focuses a lot on Ari’s relationships with others, and how her past affects them. Starla finds herself in a precarious situation and Ari goes to rescue her.

The book continues the story quite well. Ari is a tough-as-nails character most of the time, so it was nice to see a little bit more of what makes her tick, so to speak. There were a couple of other characters for her to interact with, which was interesting, the main one being a girl named Keshia. Keshia lives on the streets and is just trying to get by. Her fingers tend to get a little sticky and she finds herself running from trouble a lot. She makes some bad choices, but it’s either in the interest of survival or in a misguided attempt to help. She was by far my favorite character. To Ari’s credit, she doesn’t ditch Keshia, despite the several occasions when things would have been easier if she had.

I was a little bummed that Starla was once again in need of rescue. It would have been nice to see her character be a little more active. However, the group (dare I say ‘cult’?) that kidnaps her is all kinds of interesting. I really liked seeing how that all played out.

While this book is a sequel, the events of book one are explained throughout in a way that would make it completely possible to read as a stand-alone. I appreciated the references to what went on in A Girl Called Ari, since it helped freshen my memory.

Ari Goes to War is a quick read and an entertaining one. Look for it when it releases: in the meantime, A Girl Called Ari is available now and it’s a good time to jump in.

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick


This is your past, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .Arenza Lenskaya is a liar and a thief, a pattern-reader and a daughter of no clan. Raised in the slums of Nadezra, she fled that world to save her sister. 

This is your present, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .Renata Viraudax is a con artist recently arrived in Nadezra. She has one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune. 

This is your future, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .As corrupt nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the city of dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled—with Ren at their heart. And if she cannot sort the truth from the lies, it will mean the destruction of all her worlds. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Rich in detail, this is a slow burn, good for those who like complexity in their books. The prologue for this book was fascinating. A young Ren does the unthinkable to save her sister and herself from a dangerous life on the streets, a life that would have led to an early death. However, after that big bang of a start, this book slowed down…a lot.

Normally, I like a slower buildup, as long as it builds up to something that makes it worth the wait. Unfortunately, I feel like The Mask of Mirrors didn’t live up to its full potential. There was a lot of setup- the authors obviously put a ton of thought and effort into making their world as large and detailed as possible. It was incredibly impressive. However, I kept waiting for that setup to contribute to the storyline and, at times, I felt that some of it was unnecessary.

Ren is a con woman. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book about a con where the main character is female. It was pretty stinking cool to see a female taking point on a con. While she wasn’t my favorite character in the book, I appreciated how different her techniques were. I did think that her part of the plot sort of meandered.

My favorite part of the book was trying to guess who the Rook was. He was a bit of vigilante. I found both the idea and the execution utterly fascinating. I really struggled to become invested; the Rook is what kept me reading.

There were many, many names to remember. Each person had a title, family tree, and random important facts thrown in. Again, that speaks of the richness of the authors’ world. It was utterly confusing, though. The characters themselves were all original and unique; it was just difficult to remember so many of them.

Much of this book relied on cleverness and the ability to play the game, so to speak. There are problems of knowing how to dress to distract or divert from a person’s true nature. Being able to afford the trappings to pull off the façade of fitting into high society was an obstacle that had to be overcome. This isn’t quite the sort of story that I usually get into, making me think that this is a situation of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

The final bit of the book really picked up and the ending made me curious about the second book of the series. I am interested to see what happens next, but it won’t be a priority for me. I think The Mask of Mirrors will probably be more appreciated by readers who like a “fantasy of manners” flare.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads for the opportunity to join this book tour. Amari and the Night Brothers is available now.

Oh, how I loved Amari and the Night Brothers! This rollicking supernatural adventure book rivals Harry Potter for excellent world-building, and it has an infinitely more likeable main character. Amari is spunky, intelligent, and wholly original.

When the book opens, Amari is trying to succeed in a school where she’s not wanted while learning to cope with the fact that everyone thinks her missing brother is dead. She refuses to believe it, and when she gets invited to try out for a spot at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she finds herself entering a world she didn’t even know existed in an effort to find him.

And what a world! Were-dragons, illusionists, and even escalators with personalities make appearances. There is never a dull moment, and I loved seeing what new surprise would pop up next. This is a world that I’d love to see more of (luckily, this is a series, so I’ll get to).

The characters were phenomenal. Among the many awesome people, my favorites were Magnus, whose prickly demeanor hides a heart of gold, and Amari herself. She’s the kind of main character that I love to see my children reading about. She is moral, smart, and resourceful. And she persists, no matter what.

The plot is fantastic, with the mystery of Amari’s brother framing a coming-of-age story. There’s adventure galore, but the book also deals with themes that are a little more real-world, like feelings of not fitting in, and the ugly things people see (such as racism). It’s done in a way that is not too much for the intended age group, while also not dumbing things down.

Amari and the Night Brothers is a fantastic fantasy, one that older elementary kids and middle-graders will love. I loved it too. It’s an adventure of the best kind, one that will capture the imagination of anyone who reads it. I was immediately sucked in and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich-ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21st, 2021.

I’ve heard Cornell Woolrich being spoken of as the father of the crime novel, so I jumped at the chance to read The Bride Wore Black. The plot is fairly simple: there are several murders that seem unrelated, except for the appearance of a mysterious woman, whom no one seems to recognize. It falls on Detective Wanger to solve the series of cases and stop the body count.

Unfortunately, this book was more problematic than enjoyable for me. The issue is, things that are unacceptable now (or at least, they should be) were commonplace when this book was written. Things have changed a lot since 1940. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Bride Wore Black. Racism and sexism were both very much a part of this book, in the casual sort of way that shows just how “normal” it was. For example, several men “good-naturedly” (the author’s word) tried to break down a dressing room door while a woman was changing. It was written as a natural, totally okay occurrence, which immediately put me off the book. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: it’s an older book, and I need to assume these things will be there and take it in stride. Fair point. If I were able to get past the content (which was pretty much impossible for me), my review would be pretty much what follows.

Woolrich made some odd choices. Throughout the book, the reader is given both the who and the how of the murders; the only unsolved part is the why. I’m used to reading books where the identity of the killer isn’t known right away, so this was new to me. I felt a little cheated with so much information being already given. I like the tricky aspect of trying to solve the whodunnit. That being said, the why ended up being a doozy, completely unexpected and rather sad.

If the excess of freely given information seemed odd, the methods of the killings were downright bizarre. The oddest one involved a killer disguised as a kindergarten teacher: the victim thinks it’s absolutely normal for his child’s kindergarten teacher to show up uninvited to cook him dinner while he puts his feet up and reads the paper (see what I mean about the book being problematic?) . I found myself wondering how someone who was so lacking in common sense managed to live so long in the first place. I couldn’t view the murderer as diabolical, smart, or even as much of a threat because the way the murders were committed were so incredibly weird.

I was bummed that we saw so little of Detective Wanger. There would be several chapters involving the killer, then a small aside featuring the detective. There is no opportunity to get to know the character, which was rather disappointing. At least he didn’t immediately discount the idea of a female killer based on gender.

As I’ve mentioned, the ending was surprising and creative. I could see a little bit of why the author is seen as one of the original driving forces in the detective novel genre. It felt like the precursor for later books in the genre. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to make this book enjoyable for me.

Needless to say, I definitely don’t recommend this book, although it could just be an issue of the reader not matching the writing. It happens.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Thank you to Angela Mann at Orbit Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Filled with intricate plotlines and political intrigue, The Bone Shard Daughter was enthralling, but still problematic. The high stakes (and high body count) drew me in; the constant switching between points of view took me out of the narrative.

Emperor Shiyen rules the Phoenix Islands through a network of constructs controlled by his bone shard magic. This magic comes at a high price to the empire’s citizens, a price that many are unhappy paying. The emperor is ostensibly using this magic to protect his people from the Alangua, an ancient enemy that most feel does not still exist. Are his motives truly altruistic, or is there something else happening beneath the surface?

There are several points of view found throughout the book. Lin’s storyline is arguably the most important. She is the daughter of the Emperor, desperate to prove her worth to her father and earn his trust. Only by discovering his secrets can she hope to someday succeed him and lead his empire. However, the more she tries to learn, the more dangerous those secrets become. The lies build up, and he has eyes everywhere. He is a dangerous man to cross, and Lin needs to find a way to survive his machinations and figure out what he is hiding. I have to say, I was absolutely stunned by where Lin’s storyline ended up. However, while Lin was technically the main character in the book, I found myself only sort-of invested in her character until about halfway through. Once her plotline got going, it raced along at a breakneck pace, but it took longer to get there than I would have liked.

There are a couple of other characters of note, but my favorite was Jovis, a smuggler turned accidental hero. I loved his storyline so very much! At the time of the book, he has spent seven long years searching for the ship that carried off his kidnapped wife. He has also managed to find himself on the wrong side of both the emperor and the Ioph Carn, a brutal crime syndicate. While trying to avoid both a bounty and assassins, he rescues a child. He does it for purely monetary reasons, but that is not what people see. It reminds me a bit of a certain hat-wearing hero of Canton…but I digress. As his reputation spreads, his legend grows. I loved watching the internal battle between Jovis’ desire to find his missing love, and his strong – if odd – moral compass. I am also incredibly curious about Jovis’ found companion and who – or what – he is.

The way the narratives eventually bled together was brilliant. Along the way, the reader is introduced to a truly fascinating world, with a history both complex and unique. The mythology was fully developed, and I felt like I had merely dipped my toes in, with much more to come.

Despite the many things I loved about The Bone Shard Daughter, I did have a couple things niggle at me. First, I did not care about Sand’s or Phalue’s storylines. At all. I was always tempted to skip the chapters told from their points of view (I never did, though). They did end up being useful in furthering the story, but I still was not a fan.

My other complaint is the way the chapters ended. Each chapter ended on a cliff hanger, whether it really needed to or not. Often, the next chapter in a particular character’s viewpoint would jump a bit ahead, not really explaining how the character got out of whatever scrape their previous chapter had ended on. It became confusing at times. I am not entirely sure why the author felt the need to end every chapter that way, but after a while I found myself sighing.

Despite my slight annoyances, I enjoyed the book. The last half ramped up quickly, and I am anxious to see what happens next. The turning point that took the book from setup to the meat of the story was brutal and unexpected. I loved it. I recommend this book to those who do not mind a slower buildup and appreciate a complicated storyline with political leanings and a fair bit of magic.

*This review originally printed in Grimdark Magazine.