Fairy Godmurderer (Fractured Fae Book 1) by Sarah J. Sover

Gwendolyn Evenshine thought being a fairy godmother would be cut and dried—take on a charge, solve a royal problem, and return to the Academy for her next assignment. But she got too close.

When the beloved Princess Francesca is brutally murdered on her watch, Gwen refuses to resume her fairy godmother duties. Instead, she laces her docs and hits the streets of Boston in search of the bastard who took Frankie from her, a serial killer who operates in lunar cycles. But Gwen’s magic is on the fritz, and bodies are piling up.

Gwen enlists the talents of Chessa Moon, an upbeat pixie crime blogger who will do anything for a scoop. Together, they open new leads as they race against the hunter’s moon. As the killer hits closer and closer to home, Gwen is forced to confront her past and nail the killer, or she’ll lose more than just her shot at vengeance—she’ll lose the only person in her life worth a damn. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Fairy Godmurderer is available now.

Before opening this book, I was already pretty much convinced that I would enjoy it. I happily cheered for the snarktastic, Doc Martens-wearing Gwen, an extremely atypical fairy godmother. Her job as fairy godmother went horribly wrong when her first princess was brutally killed. Gwen can’t let it go (understandably) and ends up trying to catch a serial murderer, rushing in where angels (and your normal fairy godmother) fear to tread.

She doesn’t go alone. Gwen’s best friend, Chessa, is a perky pixie who also happens to be a crime blogger. Gwen’s determination is matched with Chessa’s expertise- what can go wrong? Well, the answer is quite a bit, taking readers on a heck of a ride.

The book splits its time between the present-day and flashbacks. When not done well, flashbacks can be really disruptive to a plot. When done well, like in this case, they add nuance to characters and situations. I liked that this gave me a chance to get to meet Princess Frankie, making her murder more than just the catalyst. It meant more.

The dynamic between Chessa and Gwen was truly a joy to read. Gwen was cynical whereas Chessa was upbeat. They knew how to needle at each other, but like best friends do, they also knew what the other needed and when. They were fun and relatable. Gwen was a fairy godmother with an attitude (I love that I get to write that!), but she was also a bundle of insecurities, grief, and trauma. Her character development was fascinating.

I feel like I shouldn’t be calling a noir involving a serial killer “fun”, but it really was. It was a blast. I loved the world with its unexpected mesh of creatures. I mean, a griffin sergeant! How cool is that? The everydayness of mentioning protests and pandemics (thanks, 2020 on out), combined with the magical, made for an extremely entertaining juxtaposition. I appreciated that the fantastical mixed with the humans, instead of the two layered worlds being completely separate, if that makes sense.

The whodunnit aspect was well done, with clues scattered throughout the book. I didn’t pick up on nearly enough to figure it out but had a “how did I miss that” moment when things were revealed. Knowing that all the pieces to solve the puzzle were there made the ending even more rewarding.

I’m pretty sure that it’s obvious by now that I had no niggles at all. The book is fantastic, and Gwen is an awesome addition to the fantasy noir genre. Fairy Godmurder made its mark in the best of ways.

*This review was originally published on Before We Go Blog

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?

Shadow Shinjuku by Ryu Takeshi

The streets of Tokyo are different at night. There is darkness behind the glitter and the neon lights, and people who prefer to stay in the shadows, to dwell in the underworld – whores, gangsters, the homeless, the lost. People like Sato. He’s part of this world, he always has been, but a feeling of change is lingering in the heavy air of the bustling city. A feeling brought to life by fateful encounters of solitary souls.

Shadow Shinjuku is a dark, yet magical journey into the depths of Tokyo’s nightlife and the depths of the human soul. Ryu Takeshi’s first novel is both a noir crime thriller and urban fantasy. It’s a unique and mesmerizing blend of the imagery of Japanese animation and film, the colors and details of street photography, and the mystical lyricism of soulful music. But above everything, it is a gripping story that doesn’t let go. (Taken from Amazon)

Sometimes I read a book that gives me pause, one that is thought-provoking and so unique that my brain takes a while to come to conclusions. Shadow Shinjuku is such a book. It is immersive and detailed, full of dark corners and complex ideas. 

I really can’t remember reading another book that even mentions the Yakuza, so everything was new to me. I went into this book with eyes wide with curiosity, and my curiosity was rewarded with beautiful descriptions and fascinating locations. 

Shadow Shinjuku is ostensibly an urban fantasy with a splash of noir, set in the unexplored corners of Tokyo. Sato went from living on the streets to killing for the Yakuza family (who rescued him from said streets) but ends up questioning the direction his life has taken, leading to an introspective book that is more inner musing than anything else. That isn’t a bad thing, but it was unexpected. I had to make an “expectation shift”, tossing aside everything I erroneously assumed this book to be. 

I have to admit that I didn’t like Sato. His unflinching openness about things I don’t normally read in books was a little off-putting, although it added a layer of grittiness to the book and made him a more complex character. He also failed at the most basic of human emotions, so there’s that. Sato was deeply flawed, which made him interesting. I am one of those people who don’t need to like a character or relate to them to enjoy a book, so the fact that I didn’t like Sato wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. 

There was a bit of a supernatural aspect to the book, although at the end of the day it really wasn’t the part of the book that stood out to me. While the magical bits didn’t detract from the book, I would almost say that they aren’t necessary. 

A good chunk of Shadow Shinjuku was meandering, taking its time and focusing on an inner journey, rather than on action. The build-up is not rushed, so if you are the sort of person who wants a quick beginning, this book is not for you. This is a book unlike others I’ve read and, while my thoughts on it defy a “like” or “dislike” categorization, I like to think this is what the author was going for. 

Gritty yet beautiful, complicated but with common themes of loyalty and what we do for those we consider family, Shadow Shinjuku was a study in contradictions. Pick this up if you like introspective characters, and living, pulsing settings. 

*Review originally published on Before We Go Blog

Universal Monsters Book Tag: 2022

Happy almost-Halloween, for those who celebrate! I’m actually not that big on Halloween (I know, I’m weird), but I love the Universal Monsters. I created a book tag revolving around them a few years ago and I’m dusting if off again this year.

Feel free to do your own! Please tag me so I can see your answers. Enjoy!

Dracula- a book with a charismatic villain:

Yes, Lord Soth is a death knight. Yes, he could have prevented a world-ending disaster (a Cataclysm, if you will) and instead mucked it up. Yes, he’s really not a good dude. But he is so much fun to read about! He’s to Dragonlance as Boba Fett was to the original Star Wars movies: a mysterious, hardcore character whose legend builds with time.

The Invisible Man- a book that has more going on than meets the eye:

There are bands that sell out and then there are bands that sell…something. Trust Grady Hendrix to take the idea of an almost-made-it band and combine it with forces dark and sinister. I had to set aside all my preconceptions about We Sold Our Souls. There are twists upon turns and nothing is as it seems.

Wolfman- a complicated character:

Not only is this love letter to 80s fantasy movies absolutely genius, but Jack is also an incredibly complex character. He had a broken relationship with his dad, and both loves and resents the movie world that took up so much of his dad’s attention. He’s angry and grieving, uncertain and sad. His character growth throughout the book is through the roof. Basically, The Shadow Glass is amazing.

Frankenstein- a book with a misunderstood character:

As with all mysteries, everyone has secrets in Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. There were a couple of characters in the book that were completely misunderstood by everyone else. Of course, I misunderstood certain motives and actions too, which is the point of a mystery. This was a fun one!

The Bride of Frankenstein- a sequel you enjoyed more than the first book:

I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy the sequel more than Shadow of a Dead God, but Nectar for the God took all the (many) things that I loved about the first Mennik Thorn book and added new levels. The stakes were higher, the world became more fleshed out, and Mennik was…even more of a walking Murphy’s Law. Seriously, you need to read this series.

Creature from the Black Lagoon- an incredibly unique book:

The Hero Interviews, aside from being uproariously funny, has an incredibly unique feature: footnotes. Elburn Barr, Loremaster and narrator extraordinaire, interviews heroes throughout the book. These interviews come complete with his tongue-in-cheek observations, given as footnotes that add an extra layer of hilarity to an already hysterical book. The Hero Interviews will be released December first, but you can preorder it now on Amazon.

The Mummy- a book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?):

Legends and Lattes was a sweet delight. The book was the print version of a nice, cozy blanket. It left me smiling and feeling a little bit better about life. The ending was perfect (in fact, I really can’t think of a single aspect of the book that wasn’t).

Fear of the Minister’s Justice by Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee

An assassin stalks Tenyl’ s streets, and Seeker Ansee Carya is his next target.

Constable Inspector Reva Lunaria has thrown herself into her work with a passion. Some think it’ s become an obsession, as Reva’ s addiction to the stimulant Wake worsens. Tensions are high, as Reva and Ansee investigate a murderer targeting the city’ s sorcerers. Once the serial killer is stopped, Reva doesn’ t rest, and instead begins working with Sucra Inquisitor Amalaki to uncover a plot against the royal family in the Nul Pfeta slums. Meanwhile, LCI Betulla makes dramatic changes to the Constabulary that rips Reva’ s team apart. As Constables Ghrellstone and Gania are reassigned to Nul Pfeta, more sorcerers are killed, their bodies displayed to taunt Reva and Ansee. Is this the work of a copycat, or something more nefarious? As Reva and Amalaki close in on the Nul Pfeta conspirators, Ansee must confront an assassin who wants him dead, along with anyone else who gets in the way. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the authors for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Fear of the Minister’s Justice is available now.

Fear of the Minister’s Justice is the third book in the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures, so I might inadvertently give slight spoilers for the first two books. You’ve been warned. You can find my review for book one, Wrath of the Fury Blade, here.

The idea to combine police procedurals with fantasy is a clever one, and it has more than paid off with the highly addictive Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures. Fear of the Minister’s Justice takes everything that has made the series so enjoyable thus far and ratchets it up. Stakes are higher, with Reva and Ansee racing to stop a mounting body count while dealing with their own personal obstacles.

I love getting to the point in a series where the characters feel familiar, only to have them surprise me as their development adds new levels to their personalities. In this third installment, Reva’s addiction worsens, and work becomes a refuge that she clings to with an unhealthy passion. I love her character. She is raw and stubborn, with a big personality.

Ansee is fantastic, a character that is relatable in many ways. He is loyal and sympathetic and is genuinely worried about Reva. Watching his character grow throughout the series has been fantastic.

There is so much happening! There are some truly evil baddies and I loved to hate them! The story arc itself is complex, with layers to peel back. Every time I thought I had everything figured out, there would be a twist, with something new popping up. I am trying to be vague to avoid giving spoilers because this is a book to experience without preconceptions. Suffice it to say there is never a dull moment.

This has been a great series so far, and Fear of the Minister’s Justice is the best book to date. This is perfect for readers looking for a good adventure with characters worth rooting for.

Strange Cargo by Patrick Samphire

What do a smuggling gang, a curse that won’t go away, and a frequently lost dog have to do with each other?

Answer: they’re all here to disrupt Mennik Thorn’s hard-earned peace and quiet.

As the sole freelance mage in the city of Agatos, Mennik is used to some odd clients and awful jobs. But this time, one of his clients isn’t giving him a choice. Mennik might have forgotten about the smugglers whose operations he disrupted, but they haven’t forgotten about him. Now he is faced with a simple ultimatum: help them smuggle in an unknown, dangerous cargo or flee the city he loves forever.

Time is running out for Mennik to find an answer, and things are about to get completely out of control. (Taken from Amazon)

Mennik (Nik) is back and in even bigger trouble than usual, in the third installment in the Mennik Thorn series. Strange Cargo was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it did not disappoint. It was awesome, unsurprisingly.

I am a sucker for books featuring down-on-their luck rapscallions who can’t seem to stay out of danger. Whether it’s a smart mouth at the wrong time, or a penchant for chasing trouble, these kinds of characters keep me smiling and guessing. Mennik Thorn is high on my list of favorite trouble-finders and each book in the series makes me like him more.

After the events of Nectar for the God, book two in the series, Mennik is on the outs with his best (and some would argue, only) friend. He’s also unfortunately on the outs with a group of smugglers. Seeing as they’d happily see him dead, they choose the next best thing and pressure Mennik into a job protecting an item they plan to smuggle into Agatos. Of course, if he ends up dead in the process, that’s just a perk for them, right?

Not only does this “job” not pay, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. Once Mennik learns what it is he’s helping smuggle in, things go from sideways to dangerous. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it’s a doozy. The stakes keep going up from book to book, keeping me interested and wondering what fresh hell Mennik will find himself in next.

I love that Mennik always has another side problem that he’s trying to solve while the main story arc takes up most of the attention. In this instance, Mennik’s less-than-enthusiastic client is none other than the cranky owner of the crap bar Mennik frequents. Their passive-aggressive conversations entertained me to no end.

Mennik is a brilliant character, a study in contradictions. He tries to do the right thing, but he rarely knows what the “right thing” is. He’s smart-mouthed and mocks pretty much everyone but he is equally mocking of himself. He would probably have a longer life expectancy if he didn’t feel the urge to help people (even when they serve him subpar alcohol), but he can’t seem to stop helping anyway. Oh, and he might as well write Killed by Curiosity on his headstone now and get it over with.

Of course, his character does not exist in stasis. He has grown and changed since book one (Shadow of a Dead God), although he remains delightfully disaster prone. Strange Cargo doesn’t highlight that character growth quite as much because it is shorter (more of a novella than a full-fledged novel). In some ways it shouted “side quest” but it still managed to pack in revelations and world development aplenty.

As always, the writing is phenomenal. Everything is brilliantly described, painting vivid pictures of both Agatos and its inhabitants. The dialogue is witty, and things move at a quick pace. Strange Cargo showcased all the things that I love about the series and made me hungry for more. Book four in the Mennik Thorn series can’t come soon enough!

*Review originally appeared in Grimdark Magazine

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro

Charlie Ovid, despite surviving a brutal childhood in Mississippi, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When Alice Quicke, a jaded detective with her own troubled past, is recruited to escort them to safety, all three begin a journey into the nature of difference and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a story of wonder and betrayal, from the gaslit streets of London, and the wooden theaters of Meiji-era Tokyo, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh where other children with gifts―like Komako, a witch-child and twister of dust, and Ribs, a girl who cloaks herself in invisibility―are forced to combat the forces that threaten their safety. There, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. With this new found family, Komako, Marlowe, Charlie, Ribs, and the rest of the Talents discover the truth about their abilities. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, a new question arises: What truly defines a monster? (Taken from Amazon)

With a premise that is reminiscent of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, with a hint of X-Men thrown in for good measure, Ordinary Monsters could have easily gotten lost in a crowd of similar books. Instead, its evocative writing sets it apart from so many other “extraordinary children” storylines, while author J.M. Miro confidently subverts expectations.

The plotline seems simple enough: there are two kids with special abilities referred to as Talents, being hunted by a mysterious being. At the same time, there is a duo of detectives (ish) who have been given the task of finding these children and taking them to a special school for those like them (seems pretty similar to Professor X’s school, right?).

Where the book differs from other stories in this vein is its execution. Ordinary Monsters is darkly beautiful, grimy, and gothic with an ugly underbelly that rears its head when least expected. It’s unsettling and thought provoking. I was engrossed and almost repulsed, in equal measure. There’s an undercurrent of hope, even among the bleakest parts of the book.

Ordinary Monsters uses multiple points of view, but it is never confusing or distracting. There are Marlowe and Charlie, two children with Talents. Charlie can glow. Marlowe can heal himself of any physical hurt. Unfortunately for him, the emotional pain isn’t also healed. His introduction was heartbreaking, to say the least. Then there are several other characters who play roles of varying importance. What I loved about this was how even the smallest of interactions could have a profound impact on the personality or choices of a main character.

I definitely had some niggles. The plot could be a little convoluted at times, and there were subjects touched upon that I prefer to avoid (description of rape being the main one that most bothered me). If there was a content warning section in the book, I missed it. However, these unsavory topics were not used for “shock value”, and they weren’t dwelled upon. Take from that what you will.

As in life, things were complex and messy. There was no absolute good or absolute bad. Each character had their own drive and motivation, and many characters were morally conflicted at best. The story went far past surface level, examining what makes people tick.

While the book wasn’t perfect, it was a fascinating read. It impresses with its immersive, gothic atmosphere and its nuanced characters. Ordinary Monsters will worm its way into your head and keep you thinking. Pick this one up if you like exploring the dark corners of the human psyche and are drawn to the mysterious and unknown.

SPAAW- Small Places by Matthew Samuels

This week marks the second annual Self-published Authors Appreciation Week (#SPAAW), a weeklong event celebrating self-published authors. Please feel free to join in the fun by shouting about your favorite self-published authors on your various platforms.

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (Taken from Amazon)

Smart and funny, Small Places is a wonderful addition to the fantasy genre. The book follows Jamie, a man who has just found out that his mom has cancer. He goes back to their little village to see how he can help, and falls into an unexpected adventure. As he tries to juggle the ordinary stress with the “what on earth is happening” stress, Jamie is thrown into one logic-defying situation after another. Buckle up, everyone. This is going to be a rave.

I loved everything about Small Places! From the story arc to the characters, everything was fantastic. Author Matthew Samuels has crafted a genius story, one that immediately drew me in. His cast of characters were quirky and creative. There were some of the more common fantasy creatures, but every single one subverted stereotypes and became creative twists on the norm, unique and different. Some were definitely creepy, and others made me laugh way too hard. I ended up reading snippets out loud to explain the snort-laughing. There’s a particular conversation involving vaping that had me rolling on the floor…

Jamie is one of the most likeable main characters I’ve read who also happens to be believable. A little lost, and inundated with some of the harder things in life, Jamie is just trying to make it through, taking each day one situation at a time. He gets drawn into a problem of the fae variety when he agrees to help a witch in exchange for a potion that might help his mom’s health.

The witch in question, Melusine, is cantankerous and snarky. She also kept the story moving smoothly, giving information in a way that made sense but felt natural. There was no dreaded info-dump; instead, knowledge is given throughout the book as needed, which is how I prefer it. I loved her slippery view of morality. I never knew where she would land on any given issue, or how far she was willing to go to achieve her goals.

My favorite character, though, is Merovech. A tinkerer with a child-like sense of wonder, and a penchant for inventing dangerous gizmos; they packed an emotional wallop. I loved every single scene they were in. They also caused what might be my favorite quote in the book (which I will not spoil by sharing here, don’t worry).

I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected. In fact, it probably would just be easier to say that I loved everything about Small Places. I am desperate to read book two, and I’m rather peeved that I have to wait (patience is not a virtue that I have in abundance). Matthew Samuels is a talented writer and Small Places is an excellent book.

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!

Book Spotlight: Pyramidion by G.E.

I always love it when I get to shout about a book that intrigues me, one that has a new and unique premise. Today, I’m excited to spotlight Pyramidion by author G.E. Newbegin!

The premise:

What if everything you thought you knew was a lie?

“Seek the Pyramidion.”

After losing his whole world in a car accident, Luke Nixon falls into a pit of despair, only to find himself receiving advice from his dead wife in his dreams. He soon ends up under the care of an ancient organisation and learns that he and his family are of an ancient bloodline – and that his daughter is still alive.

Unsure if he can trust them, but lacking any other choice, Luke is left with only one option: to rescue his daughter. However, it’s no simple task following a breadcrumb trail across multiple continents, through the spirit realm, and ultimately bringing Luke face to face with gods and demons. (Taken from Amazon)

I was fortunate to be able to talk with G.E. Newbegin about Pyramidion, his writing process, and urban fantasy. You can find that interview here. And pick up a copy of Pyramidion!

Purchase link:

Amazon