I’ve never been a big fan of books that take place in or around water. Books such as TreasureIsland, or even The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have never appealed to me. It’s just not my thing. So when I read a book with a watery setting that I actually really enjoy, it sticks with me. Here are a few boatish books that I’ve really liked.
The Bone Ships by RJ Barker (The Tide Child Book One)
I think my concern with books involving ships is that they will feel small. The opposite is the case with this series. The setting allows for a greater view and understanding of author RJ Barker’s world, which is magnificently developed. Plus, the characters are awesome.
It’s been a while since I’ve read The Girl From Everywhere, but I remember being impressed by the writing. At what point do you let go of a past sorrow to embrace a present happiness? The choices that Nix has to make encompass themes of family, loss, grief, and acceptance. Oh, and the settings are both familiar and mysterious. It’s quite the balancing act between adventure and the heavier storyline, but author Heidi Heilig managed it beautifully.
The One Kingdom (The Swans’ War Book One) by Sean Russell
A decent chunk of this epic fantasy involves travel on a mysterious river (yep, it’s a river that’s mysterious. It’s a thing, I promise). The things found both in and along the river tugged on my imagination, painting a vivid picture of a unique and creative world. The mythology behind the enchanter Wyrr is flat-out amazing. TheSwans’ War is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies, despite (or maybe because of) the water-travel.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
At this point, I’m pretty sure Stuart Turton could write a novel about cardboard boxes and I would love it. His writing is outstanding and the mystery of The Devil and the Dark Water kept me riveted from beginning to end.
The Bone Shard Daughter(The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart
I would have to admit that I am sort of cheating on this one, except that this is my post and my rules. So there. Jovis’ storyline, in particular, has a lot to do with ships and such whatnot and he was my favorite character, so it counts. Right? Either way, I’m looking forward to the next part in this interesting series.
Okay, okay, I admit: I grabbed this book mainly for the cover. It promised mythical, mysterious tales. Plus, it has the pretty illustrations! This book takes place in the world of The Cruel Prince. Reviews for the series: The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing.
Unfortunately, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (referred from here on out to King of Elhame because the full title is bit long) didn’t quite butter my biscuit. Holly Black is a talented author and I think I expected more than what I got.
First of all, it felt a little thrown together. Several of the short stories seemed a bit like scenes that were edited out of the original books. While they were interesting, they didn’t quite seem like full stories to me. Also, any scene involving the sexening and Carden made me dissolve into giggles. He has a tail for crying out loud! Hmm…that might say more about my maturity level than about the book itself. Luckily, I tend to skip sex scenes anyway.
Something that I found interesting (and a little bit of a bummer) was that the stories that were supposed to take place during The Cruel Prince felt a little revisionist. It was really odd because Holly Black wrote with such confidence that I did not expect her to feel the need to change anything. She is a very good writer and I truly hope she knows that.
That being said, I did really enjoy the three stories involving the troll woman. In two of them, she told Carden a different version of the same fairy tale. I liked that they changed based on both Carden’s age and what had been happening in the original series at the time. It showcased Carden’s character development. I won’t ruin anything by talking about the third of the troll woman’s stories. I will just say that I thought it was extremely clever.
The final verdict for me was: the book was not horrible, but it felt unnecessary. However, I am sure that my opinion isn’t the popular one and I would love to hear what you loved about The King of Elfhame and why. Tell me what I missed!
My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.
Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:
Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland
“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.
I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”
The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart
“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”
Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.
Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan
“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”
Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles
“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”
There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?
I received Ranger’s Oath to read and review as part of the BBNYA 2020 competition organized by @The_WriteReads. As always, all opinions are my own and honest.
BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors.
If you are an indie author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website (bbnya.com) or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official, to learn more. If you would like to sign up to enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 Author Sign Up Form here. Please be sure to read the terms and conditions before entering.
If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be a part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also, remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)!
BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (with the most gorgeous book editions that I’ve had the pleasure to drool over) and The Write Reads.
I was fortunate enough to be able to read Ranger’s Oath for BBNYA 2020. I say fortunate because this book is a good one. Fast paced and a lot of fun, this was a good adventure to go on.
There are two points of view in this book. First there’s Owyn, a young ranger’s apprentice. I quite liked him. From the first, he’s an interesting character. He sees something that shouldn’t be possible: some sort of red-eyed demon. This happens pretty much right at the beginning of the book, setting the stage and showing the stakes. He was determined and serious, a no-nonsense sort of character.
Zara is a mage-in-training. She’s skilled. She’s smart. She’s a bit annoying. Taken alone, her personality would have soured me to the book a bit. However, as she and Owyn interact, it makes for a really cool dynamic and one that kept me reading. They balance each other out.
Owyn’s sighting of the demon at the beginning of the book is the first sign of a bigger problem: the Arc of Radiance has been breached and the magic that has shielded Tarsynium is no longer keeping anyone safe. It’s up to Zara and Owyn to save the day, if they can manage to work together.
Ranger’s Oath was very well written. The pacing was a bit slower at first, but it was simply to set up the rest of the tale. Once things get going, there isn’t a dull moment. Magic, high stakes, and rangers (how I love a good ranger!) make for a fun take on the classic fantasy tale.
I think the storyline is pretty straightforward, but that is in no way a bad thing. Sometimes a tale of good vs. evil is exactly what is needed. Author Blake Arthur Peel wrote a fantasy that is both entertaining and incredibly accessible to fantasy fans and fans of young adult novels in general.
About the author:
Blake Arthur Peel has been coming up with stories ever since he was a kid. He inflicted his scribblings on family members and friends throughout his youth, always drawing maps in the back of notebooks and daydreaming when he probably should have been paying attention. It wasn’t until he was out of college that he finally decided to get serious about pursuing his career as a fantasy author.
His favorite stories have always been about good conquering evil, about fantastic worlds and wondrous magic systems. The works that have most inspired him are The Lord of the Rings, The Dragonlance Chronicles, The Riftwar Saga, The Stormlight Archive, and The Wheel of Time, among many others. Blake was born and raised in Hemet, California. Nowadays, he lives in Tennessee with his wife and two sons.
The funny thing about The Hazel Wood (and its sequel) by Melissa Albert is that, for me, the best parts weren’t the main storyline. Nope. The best parts were the undeniably eerie fairy tales come-to-life that bled through into the pages of the books. I told my husband that if a collection of Hinterland tales was every published, I’d be super excited to read it. So, of course I had to snag a copy of Tales from the Hinterland!
These completely original fairy tales were about characters that crossed over from the fictional world into the real one in The Hazel Wood books. And they were as creepy as it gets without descending into full-on horror. Let’s just say that the majority of them did not end well for the “hero”. In fact, most of them didn’t have a hero per se. What they did have was a ton of creativity and a darker tone that sent shivers down the spine.
One thing that stood out to me was that the main characters were all female. There were naïve females, clever ones, even evil ones. But males were always in a supporting role. It was an interesting choice. It didn’t change my enjoyment of the book, either positively or negatively; it was just something I noticed.
Another thing that I really liked was that not a single tale seemed even remotely like an existing fairy tale. There were no Beauty and the Beast retellings, and Little Red Riding Hood didn’t make an appearance. The stories were 100% original. It was refreshing to see entirely new ideas (not that I mind a good fairy tale reimagining).
There wasn’t a single story that felt lesser than or out of place. My main complaint, in fact, is that the tone was similar in several tales. I am not even sure if that should be a complaint: that the stories fit well together. Hmm…something to think about.
There were three stories that stood out to me. One was The Door that Wasn’t There, which was equal parts creepy and sad. It’s about two sisters who were locked in a room to starve and what one of them does to survive (no, there’s no cannibalism. Ew!). The feeling that Melissa Albert created in this story was a little bit gothic and a whole lot of unearthly.
The second story that kept me enthralled was The Mother and the Dagger. This felt like your usual tale told to scare kids into coming home before dark- but with a twist that was uncanny and creeptastic. The way this one was written, like someone is talking to you, stood out from the other stories and drew me in. I loved the ending, which had an abrupt finality to it.
Finally, was Twice-Killed Katherine. That character was one of the bits of fairy tales that showed up in The Hazel Wood, and the one that I found the most intriguing. While the story didn’t go the way I expected, it was nonetheless fascinating and really cool to see the backstory the author had for her. That one also felt different in that what was left unsaid could have been stretched and expanded on to create an entirely separate novel in its own right.
Tales from the Hinterland was by far my favorite book that takes place in the Hazel Wood universe (so to speak), even though it’s not a straight-through narrative. It was eerie and intelligent, and definitely not a book to read alone at night. I wouldn’t necessarily call it horror- maybe horror-adjacent. Either way, it was really stinking good.
I thought it would be fun to talk about “classes” in Dungeons and Dragons (and other roleplaying games) and their counterparts in books. A “class” is kind of a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class”-boiled down- consists of excelling at some sort of combat.
I put out a call for contributions from the writing community. Both book bloggers and authors answered in a huge way! This post is one of a series because everyone’s contributions were so detailed and genius. You can also check out the posts on fighters and barbarians; paladins, clerics, and druids; and rangers and rogues. Today, I’m digging into the subject of bards and magic users!
Bard: Bards use music and song to either help or hinder. They are often puckish. While they tend to stay more on the sidelines, they are more than capable of holding their own in battle. They do sometimes have some magic spells, but they tend to be illusory as opposed to destructive, and the main focus is on their art.
The Cyberbard shares his thoughts on bards: “Why be the best at everything when you can simply make everyone THINK you are? That seems to be the core of Kvothe, the protagonist of Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles”. A story wrapped in legend, then bespeckled in enigma and mystery… yes, I do believe we have entered Bard country. Kvothe, as a narrator, has been established to be somewhat… unreliable. He embellishes and diminishes in equal parts, all to maximize the artistic value of his tale to the reader. Why let facts get in the way of a ripping tale? The art of story-telling is most certainly the purview of a Bard, and Kvothe is no exception: he is the architect of his own legend. What else defines a classic Bard? Music, for one thing, and Rothfuss (as expressed through Kvothe and other characters) repeatedly reminds the reader that Kvothe is considered one of the great performers/songwriters of his time. Just like a D&D Bard, Kvothe can do just about anything: he can integrate himself convincingly into politics, charm a lock, create masterful artifice, expertly forge documents, and gain mastery over the very elements by speaking their True Names. Importantly, while he can do all these things, there is often someone else who surpasses him in talent for each individual skill. He is a jack of all trades! Did I mention he is also a Monk? -record skips- Yes, Kvothe is a MULTICLASS character! At one point in his career, Kvothe The Arcane sought the teachings of the Adem and earned his place among them (albeit as an outsider). There, he became versed in the way of the Lethani, the path of correct action. While his wild nature clashed with their teachings, he learned much from their disciplined way and became a passable combatant (both open-handed and with a sword). If you are a reader looking to play as Kvothe in your first D&D game, start as a (Variant) Human Bard, and take “Alert” as the feat you have for your race. Max out your Charisma and Dexterity scores, and keep average scores for your Strength and Constitution. Keep your Wisdom on the lower side, no more than average… Kvothe is not known for his decision-making skills. Your intelligence should also be fairly high for his various Knowledge skills! Later, as you gain levels, I suggest taking no more than 2 levels of Monk; Kvothe was an initiate, at best. For those veteran D&D players out there: if you’re a fan of Bards and their shenanigans, give the “Kingkiller Chronicles” a try (starting with “The Name of the Wind”). They’re big books, but you’ll want to take your time with them anyhow to appreciate the beautiful prose.”
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”– Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub has words of her own: I was fortunate to recently read a book with an excellent bard who also so happens to be the narrator of the story. I’m talking about Heloise from The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly)True by Sean Gibson. She is in the middle of things (which makes her the perfect one to tell the tale, right?), full of sass, and has a rather high opinion of herself. She’s also a blast to read about and is a perfect example of a bard in a more lighthearted setting.
[Referring to Heloise] “…if not the most well-known bard in Erithea (yet), arguably the most talented, and unarguably the cleverest”– Sean Gibson, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True
There are a few different types of magic users in Dungeons and Dragons (warlocks, sorcerers, and wizards). While there are distinctions, they can be a little hard to explain. So I’ve decided to refer to magic users here as “traditional” and “non-traditional”. Any annoyance that causes is my fault, and not the fault of any of the contributors. Sorry in advance.
Traditional Magic User: This would be where magic schools, patrons, and spell books lay. Time, effort, and a fair amount of patience are what set traditional magic users apart. These would generally fall in the wizard category. The study and acquisition of magic is constant and demanding, but the payoff can be huge. Think fireballs and lightning bolts.
Behind the Pages has excellent examples of a traditional magic user: “Weak and bullied as a child, Raistlin Majere [from the Dragonlance series] risked his life to claim magic as his own. He spends countless hours memorizing spells from his books, and thirsts for power. Magic is everything to him. Even his own brother’s life does not compare to the need to discover new spells. His body is frail, but his mind is sharp. With a few simple gestures and a handful of components, he can obliterate his foes.”
“I can kill with a single word. I can hurl a ball of fire into the midst of my enemies. I rule a squadron of skeletal warriors, who can destroy by touch alone. I can raise a wall of ice to protect those I serve. The invisible is discernible to my eyes. Ordinary magic spells crumble in my presence.” – Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Timeof the Twins
“Camellia Beauregard from The Belles series by Dhonielle Clayton. As a Belle Camellia can use her magic to manipulate and form a person into the most beautiful being. The limits of power stem from what her clients can endure, and if she pushes too far she will break them. Trained from birth Camellia knows her limits. But then she begins to dig into the past of the Belles. Where the knowledge of dark deeds lays hidden. And with that knowledge comes power and sacrifice.”
“Don’t be fools. You can’t have both. Who wants love when one can be powerful?”-Dhonielle Clayton, The Belles
Ricardo Victoria weighs in: ” I think that for a modern take on Wizards, Harry Dresden would be the best option. He is smart, resourceful, not a squishy wizard but neither a physical fighter (that’s what Murphy or the Knights of the Cross are for). He would have a wide array of spells, ranging from fireballs to necromancy (remember the T-Rex). He also possesses a large collection of items to store or channel magic, from his staff to his ring, passing by his duster and his blasting rod. As A White Knight of the Sidhe, his Con [constitution] stats get a boost. Due to his high Int [intelligence] and Char [charisma] stats, he has managed to accrued a series of allies, and deal with supernatural beings to help deal with those difficult high-level quests. He also has pickpocketing and lock picking skills, proper of an illusionist as part of his cover.
“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”-Jim Butcher, Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub’s thoughts on the matter: I had two examples, but thanks to Behind the Pages’ excellent paragraph on Raistlin, I am left without one (grr!). However, my second example is also a marvelous wizard. I’m talking about Aravia from The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart. Technically, she is a wizard’s apprentice, not a full-blown wizard, but one wouldn’t know it from her skill level. She’s intelligent, dedicated to her magic, and a talented magic user. She gets Horn’s Company out of many a scrape (and into a few of them too).
“Knowledge and its accumulation were the most important things in her life. Knowing that she shared a house with seventy-nine spellbooks that she was forbidden to read was like working in a bakery and being denied the bread.”– Dorian Hart, The Ventifact Colossus
Non-traditional Magic Users: These would be the magic users that literally have magic in the blood. Dragonborn, half-demons, etc. fall smack into this category. So, too, do characters who have made a bargain of some sort to receive their powers. Think: magic users who take shortcuts.
Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: “Magnus Bane, the delightful self-styled High Warlock of Brooklyn from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, is the perfect example of a warlock. He comes by his power through his blood-he’s a half demon. He also has a snarky attitude, and has somehow found himself surrounded by a gaggle of demon-hunting teenagers. Awkward.
“’There’s no need to clarify my finger snap,” said Magnus. “The implication was clear in the snap itself.’”– Cassandra Clare, City of Ashes
Meet the Contributors:
The Cyberbard is a talented blogger who reviews beer and books with equal skill and authority. Check out his blog for the latest on good reads, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
Behind the Pagesis an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.
Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Hilarious, bold, sparky and surprising, this is the funniest feminist book you’ll read all year.
Alex is a rebel from the tip of her purple fauxhawk to the toes of her biker boots. She’s tried everything she can think of to get expelled from her strict Catholic boarding school. Nothing has worked so far – but now, Alex has a new plan.
Tired of the sexism she sees in every corner of St Mary’s, Alex decides to stage the school’s first ever production of The Vagina Monologues. Which is going to be a challenge, as no one else at St Mary’s can even bear to say the word ‘vagina’ out loud . . . (taken from Goodreads)
Thank you to The Write Reads for allowing me to join the book tour for Bad Habits! This book is available now.
Full of wit and snark, this is a fun one for readers who like a little sass with a hint of rebellion. I do feel that it would be more appreciated by teenagers, who might be better able to…not relate, per say, but commiserate.
Bad Habits follows Alex, a rebellious teen in a far-from-envelope-pushing Catholic boarding school. In this rigid and conservative setting, Alex sticks out like a sore thumb. I felt sorry about her situation: it’s hard to feel like a square peg in a round hole, so to speak. I felt for her, but I truly did not like her. I felt that she was pretty darn judgmental and really kind of condescending toward the other girls. I think part of the reason she had such a prickly demeanor had to do with feeling let down by her parents. She made for an interesting protagonist, though.
This book is billed as being feminist but I personally saw it more as a coming-of-age tale. I liked Alex’s interaction with her friend Mary Kate, which highlighted that a bit. Mary Kate is Alex’s opposite in almost every way, but she called Alex out on her rather narrow view of feminism, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect on Alex or cause her pause at all.
The book had a snarky bite to it that many readers will enjoy. While this wasn’t necessarily the book for me, it was well written and I think a large amount of people will really enjoy it.
Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.
Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried. (taken from Amazon)
I was fortunate to be a panelist for the 2020 BBNYA competition organized by @The WriteReads tour team. As always, all opinions are honest, and my own.
BBYNA is a yearly competition that highlights the many talented indie authors. Books are read and scored by book bloggers from all over the world.
If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be a part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also, remember to read the terms and conditions).
BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society , (which has the most beautiful books I’ve ever drooled over), and the book blogger group The Write Reads.
Equal parts mystery and ghost story, Specter kept me engaged from start to finish. It follows teen horror-lover Lanie as she tries to unravel the secret behind her new…guests. Lanie was a lot of fun. I can even forgive her for thinking of 80s clothing as “old” (my poor, ancient, arthritic heart was a little broken at that part). She’s smart, but obviously in way over her head. I love it when a character realizes just how far out of their depth they actually are. She never gives up, though.
Her sort-of boyfriend, Ryan, annoyed me. That’s a good thing, though. It meant he was well-developed enough to elicit a gut reaction from me, even though my gut reaction was dislike. He added a lot to the storyline and served to keep the book on track toward what was a very surprising climax.
There is a little detail that I have to point out because it was just so great: our teen sleuths didn’t get lucky and stumble upon the answer right away. They had to work for it. Some of what they discovered ending up being useful in and unexpected way, or even not all that important. They had to sift through what they learned to find what was pertinent. I loved that. It made the answer a big payoff.
There were all kinds of surprises! The ending made perfect sense, but it was definitely not where I thought the book was going, which was pretty darn cool. The climax ratcheted things up to a breakneck pace. This was a fun read, one that I recommend to readers of YA ghost stories who like great characters along with their spooks.
Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.
While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review
The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart
This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.
Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler
I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn
This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review
Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald
Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.
The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review
Feathertide by Beth Cartwright
Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review
How to Rule an Empire and Get Awaywith It by K.J. Parker
This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review
So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow…
But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still only human, and no matter how strong or good they are, the threat of danger always looms.
Because the queen’s position is so precarious, young women are specially chosen to train as her heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Meanwhile, the disgraced champion Ven has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. When Daleina and Ven join forces, they embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land…before it’s bathed in blood. (taken from Amazon)
I have a problem with The Queen of Blood: it was so good that I couldn’t put it down (okay, technically I could, but I really didn’t want to). I was immediately drawn into this world where every living thing has a spirit, and every spirit hates humans. The spirits have two goals: Create. Kill. The only thing that stands between humans and bloodshed in Renthia is the Queen. She has the power to command the spirits, and they have to obey. Except, suddenly they aren’t obeying. And it falls to Daleina, a woman learning to use her own power, to find out why. Accompanying her is a healer named Hamon, and Ven, a disgraced champion of the queen.
I knew from the very first page that I was going to love Dalein. Any character who is introduced as wanting to kick fate in the face is going to be one I enjoy. I loved that she was intelligent, hardworking, and made difficult choices, even when they went against what she wanted or hoped for. She didn’t have the whole “chosen one” thing going for her, which was an enormous breath of fresh air. She really wasn’t all that great at controlling her abilities the way she was expected to, but watching her play to her own strengths was so much better. I love characters who learn from their shortcomings or overcome them, as opposed to having those shortcomings either not exist or not be an issue.
I also really liked Ven, a former champion of the queen. He had experiences and knowledge that made him act very differently than any of the other characters, which I liked. Ven’s perspectives were often at odds with others around him, and the stakes were much more personal for him.
The first bit of the book takes place at an academy where women with inherent talent to control spirits are taught to develop and use that power, in the hope of becoming heirs to the current queen. When the queen dies, one of them will be given her power and will be responsible for the safekeeping of Renthia. Basically, an entire education is based around the fact that the queen is going to kick it one day. She (understandably) doesn’t love the constant reminders that she’s not getting any younger. At the same time, she knows much more about why the spirits are suddenly disobeying and wantonly killing than she lets on. Her part of the storyline is absolutely engrossing.
I loved the world the author created so very much! The spirits which inhabit everything from rock to tree to air are more like the fae of Scottish lore, changeable and dangerous. Their motives weren’t those of humans and they couldn’t be appealed to or reasoned with. I loved how wild they were and how “compromise” was not something they understood at all. It presented an interesting and unique set of challenges. The author used them so creatively, and I can’t wait to see what she does with them in the next book in the series.
The story did not go where I expected it to at all, which was awesome. The body count is much higher than I expected as well. This isn’t an overly gruesome book, but it’s not all flowers and skipping either. There’s danger in the book, and not everyone comes out in one piece.
I enjoyed The Queen of Blood so much that I bought the next two books in the series before I’d even finished it. This was a fantasy world that I loved visiting and I’m dying to see what happens next! I recommend this to fantasy readers who love kick butt characters, and creative world building.