It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2022- Adult Edition

Coming up with this list was incredibly difficult! I love giving books as gifts, but I have a tendency to pick ones that I think will appeal specifically to the person I am shopping for. However, there are a few that I think will be great gifts for the majority of my friends. I’ve included some that I would love to receive myself (assuming I don’t already own them). You can find my previous lists here: 2021, 2020.

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)

Good gravy, I loved this book! The writing is phenomenal and the magic system is breathtaking. This would make an excellent book for a reader who is experienced in fantasy and loves being sucked into a book. Just don’t expect to hear from them until they’ve finished: it’s too engrossing. Review

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

Jack Corman is failing at life.
 
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
 
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
 
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Taken from Amazon)

The Shadow Glass would be the perfect gift for people who grew up loving The Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. It’s an urban fantasy with fantastic nostalgia lacing throughout. The character development is amazing and anyone lucky enough to receive this book will be cheering by the end. Review

Dragonlance Destinies: Dragons of Deceit 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)

If you know me at all you’re not even remotely surprised that I’d add Dragons of Deceit to the list. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman came back to the world they’ve created with a bang. While this can be a jumping-off point for anyone new to the world, I strongly recommend giving the Dragonlance Chronicles as a gift as well if the recipient hasn’t yet read them. This book will be even better if they know the original story. I guess that means I’m sneaking in multiple suggestions under the guise of one. I’m a slyboots. Review.

Small Places by Laura Owen

The woods are stirring again. . . . 

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 


Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

For this suggestion, I’m veering from fantasy into spooky territory. Small Angels never crosses into straight-out horror, but instead uses descriptive language to paint an eerie picture. This was very enjoyable and will suck in any reader. Review.

The Hero Interviews by Andi Ewington

Heroes… you can’t swing a cat without hitting one. You can’t even hatch a nefarious plan without some adventuring party invading your dungeon to thwart you. So, it stands to reason they’re a force for good—right?
Well—yes and no…
Elburn Barr is a Loremaster who has turned his back on his family’s tradition of adventuring and stepped out into the realm of heroes to interview a whole smörgåsbord board of fantastical characters from stoic, swear-shy Paladins through to invisible sword-carrying Mime Warriors.
Through his transcribed journal, he’ll take a cheeky peek at the truth lurking behind the hero myth—and everything associated with them. Across his many encounters, he hopes to uncover his brother’s fate—a brother who has been missing for ten summers after brazenly setting out to forge a heroic name for himself.

Will Elburn discover what really happened to his brother, or will he fail in his quest and become another casualty of the adventuring trade?
The Hero Interviews is a departure from the usual swords and sorcery yarn—it’s a sometimes gritty, sometimes amusing, but completely bonkers look at the realm of heroes. (Taken from Amazon)

This hilarious book would make an AWESOME gift! I’ve guffawed my way through it multiple times now and each time something different makes me snort-laugh. The Hero Interviews releases on kindle the first week of December, so give it to friends who like ebooks (I think that’s most people). Go ahead and snag it for yourself too. You’ll love it. Review.

The Withered King by Ricardo Victoria

Fionn is the wielder of a legendary Tempest Blade, and he is blessed – or cursed – by the Gift. Though his days as a warrior are long over, his past leaves him full of guilt and regret. Life, however, has other plans for him, when he agrees to help a friend locate a missing person. Gaby and Alex never expected to become heroes… until they met Fionn. As an ancient evil arises and consumes the land, Fionn must help them to master their own Gifts and Tempest Blades. Together the three of them, and their friends, will chart a course aboard the flying ship Figaro to save the planet. Will Fionn’s past be an anchor, or will he overcome the one failure from his former life before time runs out? In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. Including second chances. (Taken from Amazon)

This is the first book in the Tempest Blades series. I really love the tones of hope and second chances that run through both The Withered King and its sequel, The Cursed Titans. I don’t know why, but I get a bit of a My Hero Academia vibe. I think it’s that both that show and these books have great character development, complex storylines, and a lot of action. That’s a lot to finagle at once and author Ricardo Victoria manages it wonderfully. Review.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons by Ben Riggs

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSR― the company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom―only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world. (Taken from Amazon)

Okay, this is a gift for a very select type of reader. Not everyone is going to give a fig about the history of D&D or what happened to TSR. This is for those of us who look forward to diving into imaginary worlds and using our imaginations. However, I argue that not only is it absolutely fascinating, Slaying the Dragon is ridiculously well-researched and written in a way that is engaging and flows well. Grab this one for your TTRPG friends. Trust me, they’ll love it. Review.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to an isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. On the island they are cut off from everything but each other and the inescapable shadows of their own past lives. One by one, the guests share the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die…
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive? (Taken from Amazon)

My oldest son has just dipped his toes into Agatha Christie’s writing. And Then There Were None is my favorite of hers. It would make a great gift for mystery lovers old and new.

Dragons of a Different Tail Edited by Marx Pyle

Eighteen award-winning, veteran, and emerging authors bring you seventeen unique dragon tales that defy tradition. Winged serpents as large as continents, as well as those tiny enough to perch on the fingertip of a young girl. Dragons who inhabit the Wild West, Victorian London, Brooklyn, and a post-apocalyptic Earth. Scaly beasts who fight in the boxing ring, celebrate Christmas, and conquer the vast void of outer space. There are rockstars who meddle with dragon magic, clever and conniving shapeshifters, and powerfully exotic hybrids. Science fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, western, epic fantasy, YA fantasy…no matter the setting or the genre—here be dragons! (Taken from Amazon)

I loved this highly entertaining collection of dragon stories! It’s so creative. Each story is so different from the one before it, from tone to genre. Any fantasy reader would be delighted to add these dragons to their collection. Review.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldtree

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. (Taken from Amazon)

This book is absolutely delightful! It’s a hug in print. It would be such a great gift for anyone who could use a happy ending right about now, and I kind of think that’s everyone. I really wish this coffee shop existed in the real world but, since it doesn’t, the book would make an excellent gift along with a cute mug.

What books are you planning on gifting this year? And how many are you going to gift yourself?

Small Press, Big Ideas: Tales from Alternate Earths 3

I am so excited to join Runalong the Shelves for Small Press, Big Stories, a monthlong celebration of indie press and the great books they publish!

Today, I’m reposting a review I’ve written about Tales from Alternate Earths 3, an engrossing short story collection.

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, Tales from 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.

*This title is available from Inkling Press

Purchase link:

Amazon

Small Press, Big Stories: Dragons of Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales

Runalong the Shelves has created the coolest event: a month-long series celebrating small/indie publishing. I have read so many great indie titles and am excited to be taking part in this series. Today, I want to discuss a great collection of dragon-related stories, Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales.

Dragons of a Different Tail was one of the most creative and entertaining anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The sheer variety of tails-ahem, tales- in this book is astonishing. There’s generally a story or two that doesn’t connect with me in anthologies, but that wasn’t the case here. Between the subject matter and some extremely talented authors, this is a win from beginning to end.

While I enjoyed every story in Dragons of a Different Tail, there were a few that stood out to me. Chasing the Dragon by Sean Gibson was delightful and the perfect way to start the book. It follows Celare and Stanley, two detectives in Victorian era London. Their job entails slightly more than what most people picture when thinking of Victorian era P.I.’s. They find their into an opium den, where they discover something way out of the ordinary.

I loved the banter between Stanley and Celare! Celare was delightfully snarky with the sort of attitude that is a blast to read. The ending was brilliant (although I’m not sure I can forgive author Sean Gibson for such a cliffhanger!), but my favorite part of the tale was the nature of the beast. It’s not something I find often in fantasy, and I loved it. I won’t say more, for fear of giving spoilers, but it was fantastic.

Spirit of the Dragon by J.C. Mastro rocked (quite literally). It is about the DragonFraggen, a metal band in search for inspiration for a new song. Fortunately for the reader, but unfortunately for them, they find it in the form of an old, mysterious text. Things go a little wonky and the next thing DragonFraggen knows, their live concert might end up with someone dead.

I loved how unique this story was! Aside from the band having a bit of a Spinal Tap feel (word to the wise: never be the drummer in a band), their earnestness made me laugh. The dragon was killer, pun intended, and the entire tale left a big smile on my face.

The other story that most stood out to me was Wei Ling and the Water Dragon by Jeff Burns. Wei Ling decides to track down the thieves that stole her village’s dragon idol and steal it back. It doesn’t go quite as simply planned, but she ends up with the most unlikely of friends.

Wei Ling and the Water Dragon is action-packed and quick moving. Wei Ling herself was a ball of sass and the dragon in this tale was entertainingly smug. Both Wei Ling and the Dragon were well-written. They developed beautifully together, with a surprising amount of character in such a short amount of time.

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales is a great anthology, one with something new and unexpected on each page. This is an excellent book for readers who love dragons and people who love fantasy in general. Pick this one up!

Dragons of Different Tail would be an excellent Christmas gift for fantasy lovers (or anyone who wants something new and different).

*This is a Cabbit Crossing Publishing title

Amazon

Let’s Talk About: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

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

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

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

I hope it will be even bigger this year. Let’s shout about self-published authors!

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales

Eighteen award-winning, veteran, and emerging authors bring you seventeen unique dragon tales that defy tradition. Winged serpents as large as continents, as well as those tiny enough to perch on the fingertip of a young girl. Dragons who inhabit the Wild West, Victorian London, Brooklyn, and a post-apocalyptic Earth. Scaly beasts who fight in the boxing ring, celebrate Christmas, and conquer the vast void of outer space. There are rockstars who meddle with dragon magic, clever and conniving shapeshifters, and powerfully exotic hybrids. Science fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, western, epic fantasy, YA fantasy…no matter the setting or the genre–here be dragons!

Join Asimov’s Readers Award winner Timons Esaias, science fiction author Heidi Ruby Miller, post-apocalyptic author J. Thorn, along with K.W. Taylor, Sean Gibson and more as they put their personal twist on the usual dragon tale. (taken from Amazon)

Dragons of a Different Tail was one of the most creative and entertaining anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The sheer variety of tails-ahem, tales- in this book is astonishing. There’s generally a story or two that doesn’t connect with me in anthologies, but that wasn’t the case here. Between the subject matter and some extremely talented authors, this is a win from beginning to end.

While I enjoyed every story in Dragons of a Different Tail, there were a few that stood out to me. Chasing the Dragon by Sean Gibson was delightful and the perfect way to start the book. It follows Celare and Stanley, two detectives in Victorian era London. Their job entails slightly more than what most people picture when thinking of Victorian era P.I.’s. They find their into an opium den, where they discover something way out of the ordinary.

I loved the banter between Stanley and Celare! Celare was delightfully snarky with the sort of attitude that is a blast to read. The ending was brilliant (although I’m not sure I can forgive author Sean Gibson for such a cliffhanger!), but my favorite part of the tale was the nature of the beast. It’s not something I find often in fantasy, and I loved it. I won’t say more, for fear of giving spoilers, but it was fantastic.

Spirit of the Dragon by J.C. Mastro rocked (quite literally). It is about the DragonFraggen, a metal band in search for inspiration for a new song. Fortunately for the reader, but unfortunately for them, they find it in the form of an old, mysterious text. Things go a little wonky and the next thing DragonFraggen knows, their live concert might end up with someone dead.

I loved how unique this story was! Aside from the band having a bit of a Spinal Tap feel (word to the wise: never be the drummer in a band), their earnestness made me laugh. The dragon was killer, pun intended, and the entire tale left a big smile on my face.

The other story that most stood out to me was Wei Ling and the Water Dragon by Jeff Burns. Wei Ling decides to track down the thieves that stole her village’s dragon idol and steal it back. It doesn’t go quite as simply planned, but she ends up with the most unlikely of friends.

Wei Ling and the Water Dragon is action-packed and quick moving. Wei Ling herself was a ball of sass and the dragon in this tale was entertainingly smug. Both Wei Ling and the Dragon were well-written. They developed beautifully together, with a surprising amount of character in such a short amount of time.

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales is a great anthology, one with something new and unexpected on each page. This is an excellent book for readers who love dragons and people who love fantasy in general. Pick this one up!

Rogues- Edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

If you’re a fan of fiction that is more than just black and white, this latest story collection from #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and award-winning editor Gardner Dozois is filled with subtle shades of gray. Twenty-one all-original stories, by an all-star list of contributors, will delight and astonish you in equal measure with their cunning twists and dazzling reversals. And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire history of Ice and Fire.
 
Follow along with the likes of Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis, as well as other masters of literary sleight-of-hand, in this rogues gallery of stories that will plunder your heart—and yet leave you all the richer for it. (Taken from Amazon)
 

I’m a huge fan of morally gray, roguish characters, so Rogues seemed like it would be right up my alley. While there were a couple of stories that I didn’t quite love, it was an excellent collection of stories overall, and the two that I didn’t love were easily overshadowed by the rest of the tales.

With this group of authors, there were a few usual suspects that I knew I’d love, and also some that really surprised me. Doubly great is the variety of rogues present in this collection. While there were a couple of the stereotypical thieves and ne’er-do-wells (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the term “rogue” was creatively explored. No one story was like another, which was awesome.

“Tough Times All Over” by Joe Abercrombie started things off magnificently with a game of “button, button, who’s got the button” that just happened to include a fair amount of violence. It was a snappy, engaging story that ended at just the right time.

I’m not normally a big fan of Gillian Flynn, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed “What Do You Do?”, in which the reader is left to wonder who is conning whom in a case of possible possession.

Both Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss had fantastic stories. No one can match Gaiman for creativity, and Rothfuss once again showed his excellent writing chops. I would have liked a little more ambition from Rothfuss since he was writing about Bast (I want answers and details, dang it!), but his writing style immediately sucked me in.

My favorite story in the collection, though, was “Bad Brass” by Bradley Denton. I don’t think I’ve read any of Denton’s books before, but I loved the idea of a tuba heist, fraught with double crosses and surprise appearances. It was so much fun!

In fact, there were only two stories that I didn’t enjoy, and one of them I didn’t expect to. I’m not the world’s biggest George R.R. Martin fan, but people who have enjoyed his series will be more than happy with his offering here.

This is an excellent collection of stories, chock full of all the things that make rogues so much fun. I suggest this for fans of morally gray characters, or anyone who is looking for an engaging palette cleanser after a heavy read.

Tales of Magic & Destiny: Twelve Tales of Fantasy by Ricardo Victoria, Maria Haskins, Tom Jolly, and More

Take a trip into worlds of fantasy – where magic and destinies are very real and could be very deadly. Twelve writers delve into dungeons, cross battlefields, challenge prophecies and conjure up characters ready to face the gods themselves. Discover 12 new legends of fantasy – and explore these worlds of imagination.

From stories about fierce battles to tales of mysteries and faith (and even one story that seemed reminiscent of A Pilgrim’s Progress!), Tales of Magic & Destiny has something for everyone. I was so impressed by how unique and different each story was from the one before it.

I never know how to review a collection of stories: do I review every single story, or leave some to be discovered by the reader? I think I’ll go for the latter because there’s something special about coming across an unexpected gem.

Tales of Magic and Destiny started out strongly with Stars Above, Shadows Beneath by Maria Haskins. This tale focused on Ny’am, returning to her childhood home as conqueror after being treated poorly growing up. Only her triumphant return seems like anything but. This was a story about forgiveness and faith, with a bit of violence thrown in for good measure. It was well written and set the tone for the rest of the book.

I loved Out of the Dust by Leo Mcbride. There was an immediate lore and entire world hinted at, one which was creative and seemed fraught with peril. I was hooked from the get-go. The story follows Tarras, a reluctant leader trying to keep her people alive in a very unhospitable place. A stranger shows up, one who is seen as incredibly dangerous, to be kept locked up at all costs, followed by a more immediate danger. Tarras is faced with the decision: which danger is worse? I would have loved to see this story continue on for much longer, although the ending was fantastic.

Asherah’s Pilgrimage by Ricardo Victoria was another standout for me. Ostensibly about a character trying to lead her people to a better life, it is in actuality an introspective examination of resilience, strength of character, and doing what’s right even when it’s hard. Oh–and there’s a dragon! I’m a sucker for dragons anyway, and this dragon is snarky and fun.

This is a strong collection of stories, certain to please any fantasy fan. I could see the talent that each author brought to the table. I thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Magic and Destiny.

Remnants edited by Stephen Coghlan

Strange clouds on the horizon herald the coming of the swarm. The undulating masses of the hoard cannot be stopped. Terrifying creatures roam the Earth, seemingly with no aim but to devour all that stands before them. Experience the end of the world as we know it with these fourteen tales of horror, survival, and hope. The world ends in a frenzy of death and miasma of terror, but what will become of the remnants of humanity?
Fourteen tales of post-apocalyptic survival horror! (taken from Amazon)

Remnants is a collection of stories about a world ravaged and left for dead, with only a few leftovers- remnants, if you will. Instead of focusing on the horrific monsters that have violently changed life as humans know it, these tales focus mainly on how the few survive and who they become. The stories showcase tenacity, an unwillingness to lay down and die, and the best- and very worst- of humanity. Although, in some cases, humanity has long since left the building.

The concept behind Remnants is not a new one; post-apocalyptical stories like this have been created before. However, where this anthology is different is in its execution. Instead of full stories, there are short vignettes, brief glimpses in time. Some stories are touching, others incredibly brutal. Like humanity itself, the stories have a sliding scale of morality, with some unwilling to cross boundaries that other characters don’t even see as existing.

I found the examination of humanity to be fascinating. Like most anthologies, some stories worked better for me than others, but this was a collection that I consistently enjoyed. While some readers might wish for a little bit more focus on the monsters themselves, I really liked that following the survivors were the main event. Although in some cases, I could argue that not all the characters alive had actually really survived.

Each story added something to the overall atmosphere of the book. The first story, “Resistance” by Stephen Coghlan, set the tone for Remnants. It’s also a good lead-in, preparing the reader for stories that range from bizarre to emotional to disturbing or almost grotesque. The main storyline might be centered around one event, but the way each author tackled it was completely unique. I was never in danger of losing interest at all.

There were a couple of stories that were really unique in their telling. “Heatwave” by Aaron Lee takes a rather coldblooded look at the fallout, in which there is a blog that keeps tracks of death “statistics”, that the blogger utilizes to try to understand the nightmare that they’re living in. I thought this one was both fascinating and chilling.

“First Swarm” by J.D. Sanderson followed two photographers and their experiences, which left me mulling over whether viewing something through a camera lens helps expose truths otherwise denied, or if it allows the photographers to separate themselves from the reality of what they’re seeing. Short yet powerful, this was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The creativity behind both “First Swarm” and “Heatwave” are what elevated them above some of the other stories in this collection, although they were all well written.

Remnants is one of the stronger additions to post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read recently, with the grimdark and horror aspects working incredibly well. Thought provoking and just flat-out cool, this is not a collection to miss. I highly recommend it.

Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine, found here.

Tales From Alternate Earths 3

Step into fourteen new worlds that might have been…

What if the Ripper had kept killing, Hitchcock had directed Titanic, or an alien attack forced two adversaries into an unlikely alliance?

Visit worlds where wartime experiments unlocked genetic potential, where magic and magical creatures flourish, and where two detectives solve crimes in a world where Rome still rules.

The third Tales From Alternate Earths arrives with more stories and more award-wining authors. Discover these worlds if you dare! (taken from Fantasticfiction)

Thank you to Inkling Press for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Tales From Alternate 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.

Now for Something Different: Unique or Bizarre Books

Sometimes I enjoy a book that is really different, possibly even a little – dare I say it? – bizarre. I like to be surprised by books, and sometimes I want a book that challenges my expectations. Here are some utterly unique books that I’ve enjoyed.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is a story of music, obsession, violence, and madness by Scotto Moore

I was home alone on a Saturday night when I experienced the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard in my life.
Beautiful Remorse is the hot new band on the scene, releasing one track a day for ten days straight. Each track has a mysterious name and a strangely powerful effect on the band’s fans.
A curious music blogger decides to investigate the phenomenon up close by following Beautiful Remorse on tour across Texas and Kansas, realizing along the way that the band’s lead singer, is hiding an incredible, impossible secret.
At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is a book that goes straight past unique and right into weird. I mean that as a compliment. I would bet money that no one could possibly figure out where this book is going. It’s twisty and disconcerting and I was on board for all of it! You can find my review here.

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair

Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.The only problem is: He and Stephanie don’t have one of those.Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray only to find that they are way out of their depth. They stumble upon a web of missing people that are curiously linked to a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time. And unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and fix the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, no longer exist.

I read this one with Beth from Before We Go Blog and we had a blast discussing the odd goings-on. I laughed so stinking hard! In a time where laughs are sorely needed, this one definitely fits the bill. You can find my review here.

Around the Dark Dial by J.D. Sanderson

Take a trip around the dark dial with eleven original and thought-provoking short stories that invoke the wonder and mystery of old-time radio dramas. Forget all that you know about modern sci-fi. In Around the Dark Dial, it’s all about the unexpected.

“Around the Dark Dial is a good old-fashioned science fiction, full of twists and surprises and the sense of wonder, but leavened with modern sensibilities-there’s a lot to recommend here, with stories ranging from the present day to the far future, from the promise of new technology to the dystopic future we all dread.” – David Wellington, author of The Last Astronaut

This collection of short stories by J.D. Sanderson was creative and fascinating. Each story was different and it really is unlike anything else I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. This was a different sort of science fiction, one that was very thought provoking. You can find my review here.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house―a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Piranesi was beautifully written. It was also a little bit confusing. Author Susanna Clarke deliberately gives only bits and pieces of information. I was left with almost as many questions as answers. The prose was magnificent, though. You can find my review here.

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander from Uncanny Magazine

This is by far the best fairy tale about dinosaurs that I’ve ever read. It’s also the only fairy tale about dinosaurs that I’ve read. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s odd and clever, and so much fun! You can read my review here.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This story is so flipping weird, but I love it! It’s thought-provoking and one of the few “classics” that I think actually benefits from being picked apart in a school setting, just because it’s so fascinating to get other opinions on this one.

What about you? What “odd” books have you enjoyed?