Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sacaran Nights will be available for purchase on October 28th.
Rachel Emma Shaw is the author of Last Memoria, an incredibly unique book which has stayed with me since I first read it (review here). I am delighted but not at all surprised that Sacaran Nights continues in this vein with multiple layers begging to be peeled back and examined.
The book follows Dagner, a contradiction in sorts. Dagner is a figure at odds with himself. He struggles with his desire to be an upstanding member of a community that only sees him as worthy of their attention because of the inheritance he wasn’t supposed to have. Part of him longs to live up to their expectations and succeed them. In a city where death is everywhere and the dead are celebrated and revered, he wants to make his ancestors proud. He wants to be the perfect match for his fiancé, whom he loves in the worshipful way that might eventually prove to be unhealthy. Another part of him, however, loathes Sacara and all that it is. He hates the dark, the fungus rot, the society that would normally never accept him. That part of him wants desperately to leave.
I loved how Dagner’s warring desires were played out in his relationships. His fiancé, Revana, represented what he saw as the good and pure part of himself. He seemed to always see himself as not quite good enough for her, just as he felt like he was lying about who he was. His friend Merany allowed him the freedom to be himself, question, and show anger at the society that discards those they deem not important. Dagner is easily one of the most complex and believable characters I’ve read recently. He was often plagued by self-doubt and indecision, regret, and bitterness at the hand life dealt him, but at the same time his actions showed a person who has not given up or given in. Dagner was wonderful.
The world itself was a fascinating one, dark and alien. There were descriptions of different fungi at the beginning of each chapter which I thought was interesting, especially since the names and descriptions changed based on the area. I also thought the variety of fungi was pretty cool. It seemed like the sort of dangerous that is really pretty. It lent an atmosphere of lurking sadness to the book.
The author’s writing style won’t be for everyone. Instead of giving a detailed background of what everything is and why it functions the way it does, the reader is put right in the middle of the world and given information as the book progresses. I personally love this sort of writing, as I am not at all a fan of info dumping. It does demand attention, though, or you will get lost. The first bit of the book is slower, but it is far from boring. It gave me time to become fully immersed in both the characters’ lives and their struggles.
As much as I enjoyed Last Memoria, I thought Sacaran Nights was even better. It brilliantly utilized the fantasy genre to explore grief, loss, and regret in ways both beautiful and raw. I highly recommend it.
Brooding and dark, Nothing but Blackened Teeth drew me in and kept me off-balance. Always on the precipice of scary, it never quite tipped over. Instead, it stayed an eerie book, one that has crawled its way into my head. I’ll be thinking about it for a long while, reliving bits and pieces of the creepy story.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth follows a group of friends who decide to rent a Heian-age mansion for an odd sort of wedding celebration. The thing is, they’ve heard it’s haunted. That’s the draw for them: they’re hoping to experience the otherworldly and the disturbing. Well, wish granted.
The story goes that originally a woman’s fiancé died on his way to marry her at the mansion. She decided to be buried alive so that she could wait for her husband like one does, I suppose. Women continued to be sacrificed, one per year, so that the buried bride wouldn’t be lonely. In all honestly, the origin story for the haunting is the part that I found to be the weakest. It just didn’t inspire that anticipatory shiver that I was hoping for.
None of the characters are particularly likable and at first, I found myself viewing them through the slasher-film lens. You know: this one will die first because they sleep around, this one next because they don’t believe in the danger, etc. However, such was not the case. The tropes became jumping-off points for complex, multi-faceted characters, each with their own flaws and fears. Half of the fun of Nothing but Blackened Teeth was watching the complicated relationships fray and slowly dissolve as the characters’ pasts caught up to them.
The story begins with Cat, a woman who is still coming to grips with an unspecified mental illness. It has affected her past and she is still in the midst of learning to cope with it. There’s Phillip, the charismatic and super rich sponsor of the mansion rental. There’s Faiz and Talia, the engaged couple. Cat and Talia have beef, and their issues with each other add to an already tense situation. Last, there’s Lin, who is a master pot-stirrer. It’s these tangled relationships and hidden emotions that really elevate Nothing but BlackenedTeeth to the fascinating tale that it is.
Author Cassandra Khaw played with motifs of relationships and mental health in ways that felt a little reminiscent of Shirley Jackson (if Jackson had a penchant for gore). There were times when I wondered what was happening and what- if anything was being imagined by one character or another. Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a riveting book, perfect for fans of creepy tales with a little extra bite.
This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find that here.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Library: A Fragile History will be available for purchase on November ninth.
I was so excited to read The Library: A Fragile History! A book dedicated simply and wholly to the subject of libraries? Yes, please! This is an exhaustive, detailed dive into a subject that is dear to most book lovers: namely the history of libraries and the roles they have played over the years. I fully expected this to become a new favorite.
Unfortunately, that was not my final takeaway. This is the sort of book that does not benefit from a straight cover-to-cover read. It would be better taken in pieces over a longer period of time. There is simply so much information to take in. It is apparent that the authors took great care in doing their research and they spared no detail. And I mean no detail. Therein lies my difficulty. As much as the subject appeals to me, and as much as I’ve enjoyed other books about similar subjects, this book bored me.
It wasn’t for lack of knowledge on the authors’ parts. It wasn’t that the book was poorly organized. Rather, it was very well put together. There was just no excitement shown in the pages. I felt like the authors weren’t really all that invested in what they were writing. And that sort of rubbed off on me a little bit. This would make a great study guide, but as a book that is read for enjoyment, it just didn’t quite do it for me. I will admit that I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it in bits and bursts, instead of straight through. There was so much information to take in, after all.
If you don’t mind books that are a little dry, the information in this book might appeal to you. After all, if you’re taking the time to read a book blog, chances are high that you love books and libraries. I really wanted to love The Library: A Fragile History, but this book just wasn’t for me.
Thank you to Inkling Press for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Tales FromAlternate Earths Volume 3 will be available on September third.
This collection takes “What if?” in new and exciting directions. What if the historical events we all (should) know unfolded differently? What ripples would they cause? How would our world be different? The creativity behind these musings and the skill of the writers blew me away.
Short story collections can go either way for me. Sometimes I just can’t connect with the shorter lengths. However, Alternate Earths 3 used the shorter formats to excellent advantage, shining a laser focus on unique ideas. While the entire book is strong, there are a few stories that stood out to me.
The collection started out strong with “Gunpowder Treason” by Alan Smale. It takes a look at how things would have been had Guy Fawkes and company succeeded in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It’s told through an interesting perspective- that of a streetwalker. It made the story feel much more personal than if it had been told through multiple points of view.
“Ops and Ostentation” by Rob Edwards followed the indomitable Mrs. Constance Briggs as she encounters a certain man whose military mind has been spoken of often (I’m doing my very best to be vague, and hopefully I’ve succeeded). Her role in the events that unfolded was fascinating. That ending too! It was infinitely satisfying.
I was unsure about “Dust of the Earth” at first, but I ended up really enjoying how author Brent A. Harris wrote it. It’s told in a series of flashbacks which isn’t something I encounter too often. While it was disconcerting at first, I loved that the story ultimately focused on mental health, which is a subject that I am very passionate about.
“To Catch a Ripper” by Minoti Vaishnav gives a new angle on Jack the Ripper, and it’s the most interesting take on the Ripper that I’ve ever read. There were many things about this story that made me oh-so-happy, from the determined main character, to the intrigue and action. If ever this becomes a full-length novel, I’ll be in line to buy it.
I was delighted to see that Ricardo Victoria, an author whose writings I always enjoy, has a story in Alternate Earths 3. His story, “Steel Serpents”, was thought-provoking and incredibly smart. I’ll be thinking about this one for quite a while.
The collection ends just as well as it started, with a story that follows a couple of former KGB operatives. Author D.J. Butler had me hooked right away.
These are just a few of the stories that stood out to me; the entirety of Alternate Earths 3 was clever and entertaining. This collection is perfect for readers who want to be challenged, who like to muse on all the paths history could have taken. I highly recommend picking this one up.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Spirit Engineer will be available October 7th.
I will be honest: I didn’t know much about William Jackson Crawford going into The Spirit Engineer, so everything written was a surprise to me. That being said, if I had been an expert on his life, I still would have been engrossed. The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.
Professor William Jackson Crawford is a man of science who doesn’t subscribe to paranormal nonsense, thank you very much. He thinks himself too smart to fall for any trickery and is preoccupied with dreams of rising far in his field. However, William learns that his wife has been visiting mediums and takes it upon himself to disprove the idea of communicating with the deceased. Thus, the Spirit Engineer is born.
I don’t usually comment on the characteristics of those that are based on real people, but William is not likeable at all. Nor is he relatable. At most, I could say he’s pitiable, and even that is a stretch. William is condescending and feels he is superior to others. He is a man who desperately wants to be in control of himself, of his work, of others. The more he feels his orderly life slipping away, the more paranoid and desperate he becomes. Things go in unexpected directions when, instead of proving the medium is a fraud, William sees and hears the spirits himself. Is he deceived? Or has he stumbled upon something otherworldly? Of course, I don’t need a character to be likable or relatable to enjoy a book. Instead, he was fascinating, which is much more important to me.
The writing was fantastic. It was smart and engaging. I’m assuming that there was some embellishment, but the author obviously tried to stay close to the sprit (pun intended) of the facts. The story developed well and the pacing was perfect. It didn’t skip over details, but it also didn’t drag. I raced through this book because I just couldn’t put it down.
The Spirit Engineer is a riveting book. While it’s interesting from a historical standpoint, what really drew me in was the exploration of the human psyche because, when it comes right down to it, that’s much more fascinating and mysterious than anything supernatural.
Thank you to Rebellion Publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Campaigns and Companions will be available on September 14th, although everyone really should go ahead and preorder it.
If you have played Dungeons and Dragons for long, you’ll notice that there are those things that just sort of go along with it. First, there were comics. The humor found in Dork Tower or Order of the Stick totally encapsulated the funny side of D&D. Later on, the guys at Penny Arcade starting bringing D&D into their own work. Well, make room next to your D&D sourcebooks: all ttrpg fans need to own Campaigns andCompanions. It’s genius.
What would happen if cats, dogs, hamsters, and other critter companions picked up some dice and decided to go on a gaming adventure? Simply put, hilarity. This book is clever and snarky. It had me laughing out loud and showing my favorite pages to everyone in my house. Authors Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett perfectly captured the attitudes our animal friends show on a daily basis. From the cat who has a theologically-charged experience with a protection from evil circle, to the dog who gets…um, held up in a narrow passageway, each page offered a new laugh and more than a few knowing nods.
Of course, I have to talk about the art. The hilarious illustrations from Calum Alexander Watt elevated Campaigns and Companions to a whole new level. There’s something altogether too fitting about seeing a berserker rabbit. This book was everything I was hoping for and then some. I’m planning on buying this for some friends who I know will appreciate it as much as I did. Basically, I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns andCompanions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).
This is perfect for pet owners as well, although the full brilliance behind the humor will be more fully appreciated by D&D players. In fact, I guarantee that by this time next year, Campaigns and Companions will be mentioned in regular conversation around many a gaming table. I can’t recommend it enough.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to post nearly as often as I wanted to during Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. I have been planning on giving this tag a go for ages, however, so I can’t let the week end without taking this opportunity to finally get it done. I don’t know who came up with the original tag, so please let me know if you do. I’d love to credit them.
These are all self-published books, which goes to show (yet again) that any stigma against self-publishing is completely without merit. I encourage you to read off the beaten path!
Best Book You Read So Far This Year
Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer
This is actually a three-way tie at the moment (I reserve the right to add to this number at any given time), but since I think everyone and their brother should read Dragon Mage, I’m going to go with this one. Aram is one of the most wonderful main characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. I’ve gushed at length about the book here, but there really isn’t a single thing that I didn’t love about Dragon Mage. Definitely read this book, if you haven’t yet.
Best Sequel You Read So Far
The Infinite Tower (Heroes of Spira Book 4) by Dorian Hart
Both my oldest and I are loving this series. From the characters and their relationships, to the world-development and the fantastical creatures, this hits every checkmark on my list of favorite things in fantasy books. It’s quickly become one of my most given fantasy recommendations and for good reason. Not only am I looking forward to seeing what happens next, I am planning on rereading from the beginning of the series before too much longer. You can find my review here.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet
Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes
Why haven’t I read this yet? WHY???
Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
Mirror in Time by D. Ellis Overttun
I’m not going to say too much because my review is still forthcoming. I’ll just point out that any reader of sci-fi needs to add this to their tbr right now.
Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland
I honestly expected a fun, entertaining little story. I got that and more. It was more violent than I expected, but it was also much more thought-out than I expected. Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale was a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author.
Favorite New Author
I’ve decided that M.L. Spencer could write a book about sandpaper and I’d pre-order it.
Newest Favorite Character – Merovich
Small Places by Matthew Samuels
Merovich was a delight. They were so child-like and sweet, while at the same time they invented the most dangerous of things. I loved that juxtaposition. Honestly, all of the characters in Small Places are fantastic. You can find my review here.
Book that Made You Cry
The Archive by Dan Fitzgerald
I don’t often cry over books or movies. This one had me tearing up, though. Author Dan Fitzgerald used it as a kind of mirror, to show the best and worst in all of us. It was beautiful. Find my review here.
Book that Made You Happy
Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton
Oh, how I loved this book! The mystery was great, the author nailed the characters, and the ending was absolutely perfect. This was a brilliant homage to the foremost Consulting Detective. You can find my review here.
Most Beautiful Book You Got this Year
Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain
I mean…look at it! Gorgeous!
What Are Some Books You Need to Read By the End of the Year?
Oh, jeez! My tbr has a longer life expectancy than I do, so this is one of those questions that could be answered with many many titles. I’m looking forward to : A Troll Walks Into a Bar: A Nori Urban Fantasy Novel by Douglas Lumsden, Sacaran Nights by Rachel Shaw, and A Ritual of Bone by Lee C. Conley are a few that come to mind.
Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Radical Act of Free Magic will be available on July 20th. This is the second book in the Shadow Histories duology. You can find my review for book one, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, here.
I loved A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians and I had high hopes for its sequel. Let me say, A Radical Actof Free Magic did not disappoint! It continued the story perfectly, to the point where I felt like there hadn’t been a pause between the two books at all. This is a fantasy take on history (as evidenced by the fact that Wilberforce, Robespierre, and Napoleon are all characters) and Parry wrote it beautifully and with confidence. I think it takes a fair amount of skill to pull off something this ambitious. I have to say, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Parry came up with the idea for this series. Holy crow, it’s unique!
Parry’s writing is vivid and descriptive. I never lacked for details. There is no rushing to get to the action, which makes this a very slow moving book (at least for a good chunk of it). However, I was never bored. I was enthralled from the very beginning, sucked in by the richness of the prose. The story is a complicated one and could be confusing if not for the care taken to make sure each word is perfectly placed.
The characters were fascinating. I hesitate to say that I liked any of them, what with the fact that they are based on real people. Picking a favorite would seem weird to me. They were all great to read about; However, I did find Wilberforce’s point of view to be the most interesting.
I realize that I haven’t talked all that much about the fantasy aspect of this fantasy book. That’s because, oddly enough, it was the part of the book that interested me least. Okay, that doesn’t make sense since it is apparent throughout the story and is tied into the plot rather inextricably, but for me it’s the complex maneuvering and the moments of quiet tension that really drew me in.
This book isn’t all derring-do or action-packed moments. It has a slow build that is nonetheless engrossing. A Radical Act of Free Magic is smart, creative, and absolutely genius. I highly recommend reading it.
Thank you to the author and Storytellers on Tour for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Dragon Mage is available now.
Most readers have a “to be read” list: you know, that big, long list of books you plan to read that you hope to maybe get to before you kick it. Well, move Dragon Mage to the very, very top. Read it tomorrow. Actually, ignore all your important responsibilities and read it right now. I’ll wait. I flat-out guarantee that you’ll love it.
Dragon Mage is packed with excitement and heart. It tells the story of a child named Aram, a quiet boy who struggles to fit in. He learns that he has abilities not seen in the world in over a hundred years-the sort that could save everyone. With that revelation comes danger. It’s up to Aram, and those who love him (even though he sometimes thinks he’s unlovable) to do the exceptional.
Holy crap, I loved Aram so much! Shy and unassuming, even the smallest moments with him had the power to melt my heart. He gave his all and then some. I loved his inner dialogue. Seeing the story unfold though his eyes was fascinating. Despite everything he goes through-and author M.L. Spencer puts him through the wringer- Aram never loses that sweet and vulnerable nature. In a genre that sometimes forgets to give characters anything less than fearless tough-stuff attitudes, Aram was a breath of fresh air.
Aram’s interactions with his friend Markus (the very first friend he’s ever had!) were pure gold. Markus had a strong moral compass and an unassuming nature. He saw the wonderful personality in Aram that others sometimes overlooked. Watching his story unfold was engrossing because I could never guess what would happen next with him. In fact, I was constantly surprised by Dragon Mage. Oh, and did I mention that, as the title suggests, there were dragons? I love dragons and having them in this already amazing book was just icing on the cake.
The story was beyond creative. It was ambitious and thought-provoking, and even the most villainous felt they were doing what was needed. Let me tell you, there was a character that I absolutely loathed. I mean that as a compliment. He was such a horrible excuse for a human being, but he was not just an archetype. Rather, he was incredibly well developed, just like every other character in the book.
Dragon Mage is everything I love about the fantasy genre. This book is unforgettable, and I’m going to be yelling at everyone to read this for a good long while. It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.
ML Spencer lives in Southern California with her three children and two cats. She has been obsessed with fantasy ever since the days of childhood bedtime stories. She grew up reading and writing fantasy fiction, playing MMORPG games, and living, as mom put it, “in her own worlds.” ML now spends each day working to bring those worlds into reality.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on July thirteenth.
Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training is an engrossing look into the lives of those learning how to help those with mental illnesses and provide quality mental health care. Told from the perspective of Adam, a psychiatrist-in-training, it follows his life as he tries to navigate the world of mental health care as well as his personal life.
I don’t read memoirs all that often. In fiction, I do not need to relate to or like a character to enjoy the book- I just want them to be interesting. In nonfiction, it helps if I care about the person the book is about. Adam was supremely human and very open about both his strengths and weaknesses. That takes bravery on the part of the author. He vacillated between feeling very out of his depth and unqualified and seemingly having extreme bouts of self-confidence. I can definitely relate to feeling unqualified as I am well acquainted with Imposter Syndrome in most aspects of my life.
I loved seeing Adam’s growth in his ability to properly diagnose and treat patients, but more importantly in his ability to connect with his patients. He realized that his patients are more than just a diagnosis and list of medications: they are real people with unique stories, backgrounds, and experiences. Watching his empathy and understanding grow was an incredibly rewarding experience.
The patients themselves were fascinating. I wanted them all to find the help they needed and defeat their personal demons. I could feel the sadness in Adam Stern when a patient was lost (spoiler alert: not every patient has a happy ending). I could also see his excitement and renewed sense of purpose when a patient improved.
I did sometimes find the switch from Adam’s psychiatric situations to his dating life a little bit jarring from time to time. I understand why it was there-to highlight the way a profession in mental health affects every aspect of a person’s life- but I struggled to pay attention during those parts. It just wasn’t as interesting to me.
Taken as a whole, I found Committed to be a fascinating look at life as a mental health expert. It is an important profession, when taken up by caring individuals, and I have the utmost respect for Dr. Adam Stern for the aid he is able to provide.