Feel-Good Fiction: Books to Read in Difficult Times

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

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You’d have to be living under a rock to not be at least a little stressed-out lately. With everything that’s going on, I’ve been thinking of the books I read when things are difficult. I tend to reread books I like (I wrote a post about it, which you can find here). Here are a few that I go to when I need a little literary cheering up:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: There’s something so calming about following a hobbit on his journey. Smaug is fantastic, of course, and those dwarfs are a delight to read.

The Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters: I know that “cadaver” and “comfort” aren’t usually associated with each other, but these mysteries are so much fun! Amelia Peabody is a spunky, indomitable heroine, and the setting (Egypt in the late 1800s – early 1900s) allows for some incredibly entertaining mysteries.

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Backstories by Simon Van der Velde

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

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

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

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

Interestingly, Backstories isn’t set up in any way that is run-of-the-mill. This collection of short stories isn’t a simple…

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Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

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…

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A Radial Act of Free Magic by H.G. Parry

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Radical Act of Free Magic is the conclusion to this genre-defying series of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant tactician Napoléon Bonaparte has risen to power, and under his command, the army of the dead has all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly repressive government. In Saint-Domingue, Fina aids Toussaint Louverture as he navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the French Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic. Across the world, only a few know of his existence, and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Radical Act of Free Magic will be available on July 20th. This is the second book in the Shadow Histories duology. You can find my review for book one, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, here.

I loved A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians and I had high hopes for its sequel. Let me say, A Radical Act of Free Magic did not disappoint! It continued the story perfectly, to the point where I felt like there hadn’t been a pause between the two books at all. This is a fantasy take on history (as evidenced by the fact that Wilberforce, Robespierre, and Napoleon are all characters) and Parry wrote it beautifully and with confidence. I think it takes a fair amount of skill to pull off something this ambitious. I have to say, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Parry came up with the idea for this series. Holy crow, it’s unique!

Parry’s writing is vivid and descriptive. I never lacked for details. There is no rushing to get to the action, which makes this a very slow moving book (at least for a good chunk of it). However, I was never bored. I was enthralled from the very beginning, sucked in by the richness of the prose. The story is a complicated one and could be confusing if not for the care taken to make sure each word is perfectly placed.

The characters were fascinating. I hesitate to say that I liked any of them, what with the fact that they are based on real people. Picking a favorite would seem weird to me. They were all great to read about; However, I did find Wilberforce’s point of view to be the most interesting.

I realize that I haven’t talked all that much about the fantasy aspect of this fantasy book. That’s because, oddly enough, it was the part of the book that interested me least. Okay, that doesn’t make sense since it is apparent throughout the story and is tied into the plot rather inextricably, but for me it’s the complex maneuvering and the moments of quiet tension that really drew me in.

This book isn’t all derring-do or action-packed moments. It has a slow build that is nonetheless engrossing. A Radical Act of Free Magic is smart, creative, and absolutely genius. I highly recommend reading it.




The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they perform small miracles and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. 

Hannah, bookish and calm, can coax plants to grow even when the weather is bitterly cold. Sarah, defiant and strong, can control the impulsive nature of fire. And Levana, the fey one, can read the path of the stars to decipher their secrets. 

But darkness is creeping across Europe, threatening the lives of every Jewish person in every village. Each sister will have to make an impossible choice in an effort to survive – and change the fate of their family forever. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit Books for sending me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Light of the Midnight Stars is…

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Row, Row, Row Your Boat- Books Set In or Around Water (that I actually like)

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

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)

A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new series from British Fantasy Award winner, RJ Barker.

*British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel, winner
 
Two nations at war. One prize beyond compare.
 
For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.
 
The dragons disappeared, but the battles for…

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The ABC’s of Fantasy: Favorites by Letter- The Second Edition

Not too long ago, in an effort to fall asleep, I started thinking of fantastic fantasy authors in alphabetical order. It didn’t help me sleep, but I ended up with a pretty awesome list of fantasy authors I’d recommend (you can find that list here). Well, I’ve read some more pretty amazing fantasy since then, so the list has been begging to be updated. If there are favorites that you don’t see on this list, you might want to check my original list. If I’ve missed them completely, please tell me so I can add them to my never ending tbr. Enjoy!

A- The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold. I fell in love with this book from the very beginning and I am happy to report that book two, Dead Man in a Ditch, continued the series magnificently. I can’t wait for book three!

B- The Three Dark Crows series by Kendare Blake. This series is delightfully dark. Kendare Blake isn’t all that nice to her characters and it makes for an enthralling series. I also really enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood, which felt a little like an early episode of Supernatural (the TV show).

C- The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman is so stinking entertaining! A little bit mystery, a little bit steampunk, with threads of urban fantasy thrown in for good measure. This series has some of the most unique use of magic in any fantasy I’ve read.

D- The Queens of Renthia series by Sarah Beth Durst. I devoured this series. The author had a new twist on the idea of nature spirits and I am so on board with what she came up with! 

E- Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. I first discovered this author in 2019, when I raced through this fantastic book. It’s about a group of has-been mercenaries who come out of retirement for one last adventure. It’s an adventure of epic proportions and I loved every moment of it.

F- Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald is an incredibly well-written book in a series that was unique and engrossing. I actually teared up at parts of book two, which is unusual for me.

G- Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins. First of all, having a goblin as a main character is so cool! This graphic novel was enchanting and heartwarming. The story is beautifully told and the illustrations are incredible.

H- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alex E. Harrow. Let me add in The Once and Future Witches, also by Alex E. Harrow. Basically, anything she writes is going to rock. I’ll stake my fantasy reader card on this fact.

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart, the first in the Heroes of Spira series. This has become one of my most recommended series. Perfect for fantasy newbies as well as seasoned readers, this series continues to fascinate and entertain.

I- The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington is fabulous. He’s such a confident writer, and I was immediately sucked into his world. This follows a small group of characters, my favorite being Caeden. I loved how complex Caeden was.

J- Redwall by Brian Jacques is an adorable fantasy geared toward younger readers. It features warrior mice, evil stoats, and berserker badgers. I would argue that every new-to-fantasy kid should read this book.

K- The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune is the sweetest book I’ve ever read that also includes the antichrist. I realize that probably paints a very odd picture of this cozy book, but to say that it feels like a hug in print is…yes, I probably should have led with that.

L- Kings and Daemons by Marcus Lee. The first in the Gifted and Cursed series, Kings and Daemons had that wonderful old-school fantasy feel that I love so very much.

M- The Night Circus and The Starless Sea (both standalone novels) by Erin Morgenstern are magical and immersive. The Night Circus became an instant favorite when I first read it in 2008 and it has stayed firmly in my “top five” list.

N-Douglas Niles. I enjoy pretty much any book he’s written. I wouldn’t group him with, say, Tolkien, but his books are just fun. Sometimes, a bit of fun is all that I need in a book. Look for his name among series such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.

O- Hmmm…why can’t I think of any ‘O’ authors? What do you have for ‘o’?

P- Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. Basically, anything by this author is going to be fantastic. I definitely suggest checking her books out.

Q- I’ve got nothing.

R- Jackaby by William Ritter. Mix Sherlock Holmes with a Doctor Who episode, set it in a gaslit setting and add a plethora of fantasy creatures and you’ve got the delight that is Jackaby. Incidentally, I also adore William Ritter’s middle grade fantasy series, Oddmire.

S- The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri is flipping incredible! I was basically useless while reading this book because when I didn’t have it shoved in front of my face I was talking about it, coming up with theories about what would happen next, and lamenting that the second book isn’t out yet.


Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight is a wonderful book. I loved that classic D&D feel, although the books itself is not RPGLit. It is definitely one of my favorites from 2021.


Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer (wow, there are a lot for ‘S’) is freaking amazing. After reading it, I’m planning to just automatically buy anything this author ever writes. If she were to publish a grocery list, I’d preorder it.

T- The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga was so much fun! A fantasy-mystery of the vaguely Victorian kind, the characters were well-developed and the story was clever. This book is just tons of fun.

U- I drew a blank on this letter.

V- The Withered King by Ricardo Victoria was a rip-roaring fantasy unlike any other. I especially liked the theme of redemption that was present in this book.

W- Anything by Margaret Weiss is good, but I’ll chuck in Soulforge, since I’m constantly going on about the Dragonlance Chronicles. Which are great, by the way. You should also make sure to read them. See what I did there? I’m pretty sneaky.


The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides is loads of fun. Ardor Benn is my favorite ruse artist extraordinaire and the story itself gallops along at a fantastic pace.

X- Nothing doing.

Y- Jane Yolen is the author of the Young Merlin trilogy, another one that I read at a younger age. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read anything other than her “How Does a Dinosaur” books (I have a toddler), but she’s one of those names that’s immediately recognizable in fantasy.

Z- Um…drat.

Well, I’ve got recommendations for most of the letters. What say you? What authors would you stick in each letter? Let me know!

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The aged and still cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes submits entry forms at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic, naming a peculiar goal: “No more solutions, but true resolution,” and finds that his worst enemy has left him the key to his wish, if he can give everything in return. Can his friend Watson stop the clock that has been ticking toward Holmes’ demise, or will he be forced to sit powerless and watch as Holmes walks straight into danger? (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is available for purchase now.

I am very picky when it comes to Sherlock Holmes and how he’s represented. I am not an expert or anything like that, but I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and have read the original mysteries more than once (or twice). I’ve noticed that often a newer Holmes iteration will either match Doyle’s original consulting detective in writing style or spirit of character, rarely in both . I was both delighted and surprised to see that Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable managed to do both!

I fairly flew through this book, slowing down only to savor the story for a little longer. It’s extremely well written and the main players match my memories of the originals while at the same time growing and developing as only the best characters can. The additional characters (there must be suspects, after all) are all fantastic, quirky without being over the top.

The mystery itself was fantastic. It wasn’t forced, the final solution made perfect sense in response to the clues, and it was very clever. What I really enjoyed, though, was the ability to explore how Holmes himself ticked. He toyed around with hypnosis, and I’m sure you can imagine the tangled web that presents. Not only is his psyche bared, but his friendship with Watson is put to the test. I was so on board for that!

Surprisingly, the ending left me both incredibly satisfied and a little sad. It felt like the perfect epilogue to a brilliant character’s lifelong accomplishments, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the book to end. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is a fantastic love letter to Conan Doyle’s original works, and a wonderful representation of literature’s most inimitable detective.

I most definitely suggest picking this book up.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a rollicking fantasy filled with a little bit of blood and a whole lot of adventure and intrigue. The book (which has Victorian mystery vibes) follows, Roger, a wanna-be surgeon who earns a little extra on the side by virtue of his willingness to liberate a cadaver or two from the local cemetery- all for the sake of science, of course. Unfortunately for Roger (but fortunately for the reader), he picks the wrong cadaver and finds himself accused of murdering, not just one, but several women. Things are looking grim for Roger, but he is saved from the noose by his childhood sweetheart, who binds him to her in a magical ritual, proof that “things can always get worse”.

Sibylla, Roger’s childhood crush, also happens to be royalty. In The Resurrectionist of Caligo, royal blood is proven by the magic that all royalty possesses. I love the magic in this book! It is so very different. I am used to magic that can blast open doors or make someone float. Sibylla’s magic is slightly less…flashy. She has ink that flows from under her fingertips, useful when one needs to write a letter, but an author needs to be creative for magic such as that to work. The authors managed it beautifully. Sibylla does the only thing she can to save her childhood friend from hanging for a crime (she is pretty sure) he didn’t commit. Together, Sibylla and Roger need to figure out who the killer is- before they strike again.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo has a smaller cast of characters, and each person is important. Sibylla is clever, but also a bit naive. To be fair, she hasn’t had a lot of life experience. Her storyline provides the fine details that flesh out the broader plotline, giving little hints to a larger mystery. I found the intrigue and the family sniping interesting, but it was Roger who stole the show in my opinion.

Roger is a down-on-his-luck guy just doing the best he can with what he has. He is a good guy whose morality is a little fluid. His kindness shows in his small ways, such as his relationship with Ghostofmary (who I adore, by the way). His sole hope is to become a licensed doctor, but that requires an education that he can’t afford. He swipes corpses to pay his bills and finagle his way into lectures from surgeons. The knowledge he has provides the broad strokes to the story. His medical expertise, as it were, adds an extra level of fun to an already ghoulishly entertaining tale.

Sibylla and Roger actually share very few pages. Instead, most of their interactions come through misunderstood letters and convoluted messages from third parties. It was truly delightful to see the characters’ frustrations and anger over things that were completely misinterpreted. Add in angry magic-ink bees, and it becomes a singularly entertaining way to develop character relationships.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.


Originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

About the blogger:

Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”. Find her online at http://www.wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog or https://www.twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB.

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight- Storytellers on Tour


The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.
 
The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.
 
As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.
 
Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?


The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.
 
As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.
 
Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?

Thank you to the author and Storytellers on Tour for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Paladin Unbound is available now.

When people ask for books I’d recommend to a fantasy newbie, ones that represent all the wonderful things the genre has to offer, I have a few go-tos. The Hobbit, obviously, and the Dragonlance Chronicles (really, is anyone surprised?), and, more recently, The Ventifact Colossus. Now I’m adding Paladin Unbound to that list, because this book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

The story starts with the main character, Umhra, just wanting to find work for himself and his band of mercenaries. When they are hired to find out what has happened to several missing people, they are thrust into a situation that is much darker and more dangerous than Umhra expected.

I was sucked in from page one, which begins at an ending. The ending of a war between gods, no less. The war ends with an asterisk, the sort that always leads to trouble down the road. What I loved about the opening is that it started huge, before moving on to the main storyline which is much more personal. It showcased a fascinating history, one that we continue to get snippets of throughout the book. I love when the history of a world or its belief systems is shared naturally like that, avoiding the dreaded info dump. I have to admit, though, I would actually read an entire book just dedicated to the history and mythology of the world of Evelium, I loved it so much. It was creative and well thought out.

As much as I enjoyed the world building, though, where Paladin Unbound shines is in its characters. There’s an excellent cast who build off each other in the best of ways. The interactions felt natural and allowed each character to grow and develop brilliantly. This was, in some ways, the typical adventuring group sometimes found in ttrpg’s – and that’s a great thing! It works very well, after all. There was Naivara the druid, Laudin the ranger, a mage named Nicholas (I have no idea why, but his name made me smile), Shadow the rogue, Balris the healer, Talus the fighter, and Gromley the warrior priest. While I loved all of them, I must say that I had a soft spot for Shadow.

Then there’s our main character, Umhra. Oh, how I loved Umhra! Being half-orc, he was distrusted, looked down on, or treated poorly quite a lot. He could have been bitter or angry and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But instead, he was an optimist, always looking for the best in every situation. He was, at his core, a good, honorable character. He was not your boring “lawful good”, however. He was incredibly nuanced and I loved reading about him. I haven’t been a huge fan of paladins in the past, but Umhra has me planning to make a paladin for my next D&D campaign.

This book would be perfect for fantasy newbies, ttrpg players, or readers who have traveled the length and breadth of many fantasy worlds and are looking for new adventures to go on. It left me excited and wanting more. Paladin Unbound is fantasy at its finest.

To read other great reviews of Paladin Unbound, make sure to check out Storytellers on Tour!

Where to find Paladin Unbound:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58022890-paladin-unbound

Literary Wanderlust: https://www.literarywanderlust.com/product-page/paladin-unbound

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942856768

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/paladin-unbound-jeffrey-speight/1139410896

About the author:

Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.

Website: https://www.jeffreyspeight.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeffspeight

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeffsp8/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeffreyspeightauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21486809.Jeffrey_Speight