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…
Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Bone Ship’s Wake is available for purchase now.
Every now and again a series comes along that completely wrecks me, in the very best way. TheBone Ship’s Wake perfectly ended a series that surprised, touched, thrilled, and saddened me (the author is not nice to his characters). It was an emotional roller coaster, one that was so well written that I was constantly astonished.
It is difficult to review the final book in a series without accidentally giving spoilers. I’ll be as vague as possible, but warning: There be spoilers ahead!
The Bone Ship’s Wake wraps up the story started in Call of the Bones Ships (book one) magnificently. Joron is doing everything he can, and then some, to rescue Meas. He is now the leader of the entire black fleet. He is called the Black Pirate and has gained quite the reputation for being a bloodthirsty murderer. Joron is desperate. He is violent. He is fantastic. I loved his character development. He is scared, angry, and lonely. He is incredibly human. He feels the weight of everything that has happened and everything he fears will happen and- despite this- he somehow keeps going.
As always, each character was well written and a great addition to the story. I love found families, and that’s exactly what we have here. A ragtag group, to be sure, but that made the relationships and the characters’ interactions even better.
I would love to say that Barker’s writing is “even better in this book”, but how can you improve upon magnificence? There is not a single misstep and Barker happily took my feelings and stomped all over them. How dare you, sir (and thank you for devastating me with your storyline)!
The pacing was fantastic, each word placed with care. There’s violence galore, but there are also introspective moments that I found to be even more riveting. The story moved at a great pace, not too slow, but not so quickly that details or important plot points were discarded.
If you’re looking for a books with happily ever afters for each character, keep looking. This series will not be for you. However, The Bone Ship’s Wake brilliantly ended a series that was both brutal and beautiful. Yes, that seems like a bit of a contradiction, but I promise it makes sense. Go into the final book expecting to cry.
I don’t do tags all that often and I’ve only ever created two, this being one of them. I had so much fun with this one a couple of years ago that I decided to do it again this year. So, without further ado: bring on the monsters!
Dracula- a book with a charismatic villain:
Oh, how I love Lestat! He’s spoiled and changeable, charming and utterly ruthless. I may not be a fan of Anne Rice’s most recent vampire books (way to kick that dead horse!), but early Lestat is viciously fantastic.
The Invisible Man- a book that has more going on than meets the eye:
What starts out as a seemingly lighthearted town gathering becomes something much darker, in true Jackson style. I read The Lottery for the first time this year and was disturbed and enthralled in equal measure. This short story made me think and is definitely more than it seems on the surface. Review
Wolfman- a complicated character:
Every single character in If We Were Villains was incredibly complex. One of the many things I loved about the book was seeing how the characters unraveled and seeing hidden aspects of their personalities revealed. Review
Frankenstein- a book with a misunderstood character:
Umhra is a half-orc and is looked down on and distrusted because of it. It adds another layer to an already extremely well-developed character. Paladin Unbound is one of my favorite books of the year and I have started recommending it to people a lot. Review
The Bride of Frankenstein- a sequel you enjoyedmorethan the first book:
Full disclosure: I am not quite finished with this book yet. However, as of right now I am loving it. It seems like the few niggles I had with The Bone Shard Daughter are absent. Plus, Mephi is there from the beginning, which is wonderful!
Creature from the Black Lagoon- an incredibly unique book:
Oh, how I loved Campaigns and Companions! There are many comedic roleplaying-related books. There is nothing like this one though. I laughed out loud and found myself showing my favorite bits to everyone in the house (translation: I chased family members down and shoved the book into their retinas). I hear there’s a sequel in the works and I am so stinking excited! Review
The Mummy- a book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?):
Everything about The House in the CeruleanSea was perfect, including the ending. It didn’t feel like an ending, more like a beginning, which was absolutely wonderful. Review
I’m not tagging anyone, but please feel free to take part if this tickles your fancy. Please link me and credit me as the creator. I hope to see some great lists (although I’m sure they will add way too many books to my already overwhelming tbr).
Remnants is a collection of stories about a world ravaged and left for dead, with only a few leftovers- remnants, if you will. Instead of focusing on the horrific monsters that have violently changed life as humans know it, these tales focus mainly on how the few survive and who they become. The stories showcase tenacity, an unwillingness to lay down and die, and the best- and very worst- of humanity. Although, in some cases, humanity has long since left the building.
The concept behind Remnants is not a new one; post-apocalyptical stories like this have been created before. However, where this anthology is different is in its execution. Instead of full stories, there are short vignettes, brief glimpses in time. Some stories are touching, others incredibly brutal. Like humanity itself, the stories have a sliding scale of morality, with some unwilling to cross boundaries that other characters don’t even see as existing.
I found the examination of humanity to be fascinating. Like most anthologies, some stories worked better for me than others, but this was a collection that I consistently enjoyed. While some readers might wish for a little bit more focus on the monsters themselves, I really liked that following the survivors were the main event. Although in some cases, I could argue that not all the characters alive had actually really survived.
Each story added something to the overall atmosphere of the book. The first story, “Resistance” by Stephen Coghlan, set the tone for Remnants. It’s also a good lead-in, preparing the reader for stories that range from bizarre to emotional to disturbing or almost grotesque. The main storyline might be centered around one event, but the way each author tackled it was completely unique. I was never in danger of losing interest at all.
There were a couple of stories that were really unique in their telling. “Heatwave” by Aaron Lee takes a rather coldblooded look at the fallout, in which there is a blog that keeps tracks of death “statistics”, that the blogger utilizes to try to understand the nightmare that they’re living in. I thought this one was both fascinating and chilling.
“First Swarm” by J.D. Sanderson followed two photographers and their experiences, which left me mulling over whether viewing something through a camera lens helps expose truths otherwise denied, or if it allows the photographers to separate themselves from the reality of what they’re seeing. Short yet powerful, this was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The creativity behind both “First Swarm” and “Heatwave” are what elevated them above some of the other stories in this collection, although they were all well written.
Remnants is one of the stronger additions to post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read recently, with the grimdark and horror aspects working incredibly well. Thought provoking and just flat-out cool, this is not a collection to miss. I highly recommend it.
Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine, found here.
I’m excited to be joining a book tour for The Love-Haight Case Files book 2, an urban fantasy like no other.
Smart and fast-moving, The Love-Haight Case Files (#2) was loads of fun! Book two follows Evelyn Love and co. as they try to solve a case with pieces missing (quite literally, as zombies are involved). The tongue-in-cheek humor combined with just the right amount of action to create a book that drew me in and kept me highly entertained.
The reader is treated to a world where humans and OTs (other-than humans) exists more or less symbiotically. While OTs have their own sets of obstacles to overcome, they aren’t actively hunted- at least not normally. So when a group of zombies is kidnapped (body-snatched?) while leading what can best be described as an interactive tourist walk, lawyer Thomas Brock and Evelyn Love take on the case.
One thing that really stood out to me while reading The Love-Haight Case Files is the creativity the authors put into both their world and the characters in it. The way the OTs interact both with humans and society is incredibly clever. Take the missing zombies, for example. Before being snatched up, they ran what could best be described as a tour walk- meets haunted house, where they “chased” human tourists who pay for the experience of running from the shuffling, brain-eating undead. That idea just made me smile.
And the characters! They are so much fun. From the corporeally challenged Thomas Brock, to Pete the World of Warcraft-loving gargoyle, each character was a blast to read about. I loved how Pete contributed to breaking the case open. It was both hilarious and nasty. In fact, he might have been my favorite character, although I was also a fan of the werewolf P.I.
The mystery itself was well-thought out, and it was fun watching the characters solve the who and the why. While I enjoyed the villains, the core group of characters were so much fun that the whodunnit part of things was just icing on the cake.
In one way, The Love-Haight Case Files is very much a mystery thriller. In another, it’s a delightful urban fantasy. Either way you look at it, it’s a highly entertaining book.
About the book:
ASIN: B098K6SG49 Publisher: Craig Martelle, Inc (September 20, 2021) Publication date: September 20, 2021 Language: English Genre: Paranormal Mystery Thriller Check it Out on Amazon:http://mybook.to/LoveHaightBk2
About the authors:
USA Today best-seller, Jean Rabe’s impressive writing career spans decades, starting as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief. From there she went on to become the director of RPGA, a co-editor with Martin H. Greenberg for DAW books, and, most notably, Rabe is an award-winning author of more than forty science fiction/fantasy and murder mystery thrillers. She writes mysteries and fantasies, because life is too short to be limited to one genre–and she does it with dogs tangled at her feet, because life is too short not to be covered in fur. Find out more about her at http://www.jeanrabe.com, on social media, or sign-up for her newsletter here: https://jeanrabe.com/sign-up-for-my-newsletter/
Donald J. Bingle
Donald J. Bingle is the author of eight books and more than sixty shorter works in the horror, thriller, science fiction, mystery, fantasy, steampunk, romance, comedy, and memoir genres, including the Dick Thornby Thriller series (Net Impact; Wet Work; Flash Drive), Frame Shop, a murder mystery set in a suburban writers’ group, Forced Conversion, a near future scifi thriller, GREENSWORD, a darkly comedic eco-thriller and (with Jean Rabe) The Love-Haight Case Files, Books 1 & 2, a paranormal urban fantasy series about two lawyers who represent the legal rights of supernatural creatures in a magic-filled San Francisco. He also edited Familiar Spirits, an anthology of ghost stories. More on Don and his writing can be found at www.donaldjbingle.com and on social media. Sign-up for his newsletter here: https://www.donaldjbingle.com/newsletter-sign-up
If We Were Villains is a story of a group of Shakespearean students at an art college who let the line between the real and the pretend blur, and the disastrous events that follow. While it could be seen as a mystery- or even a thriller- what stuck out to me were the relationships. In a case where life imitated art instead of the other way around, already out-of-touch personalities devolved into baser natures and the results were fascinating.
The story is told from the point of view of Oliver, one of a group of seven students. He is reminiscing and filling in the blanks after serving ten years for the murder of another in his group of seven. Did he really do it? Why? The memories have the fascinating quality of real, often-revisited recollections: they were gilded, sharpened to put unconscious emphasis on certain points, made fuzzier with time in others. There was always a small hint of suspicion that maybe Oliver was still playing a part, that he was in truth an unreliable narrator.
The lives of the students reminded me a little bit of the movie Dead Poets Society in that the group was incredibly close and they were fully immersed in their own way of thinking, up to the fact that it even affected their speech. Where in Dead Poets Society, you see the group often quoting poetry, If We Were Villains finds them using the Bard’s verse to speak truths that they otherwise hide. It is enthralling and made me appreciate Shakespeare, something that is new for me (I’ve never been a fan). The author uses the anger, fear, and desperation felt by the characters to bring the quotes into a different context. Or maybe she uses the quotes to bring a new dimension to the characters?
The characters themselves were engrossing. They were both more and less than the parts they played. There’s the fill-ins who find themselves chameleons onstage and in the group dynamic, the villain, the hero, the love interest, the ingénue, and the antihero. The students play their roles so well it left me wondering if they were, in fact, only acting. And that’s half of the brilliance of If WeWere Villains.
There’s a microworld that I was drawn into, one that is very much real to the characters despite being centered around a dead writer. The atmosphere is fascinating: like a play, everything is heightened and larger than life. The stakes are higher, the relationships more intense yet brittle. The break, when it happens, is on an epic scale. This small world suddenly feels huge.
It is difficult to pick one particular thing that made me love the book as much as I did. I can’t take the characters separately from the language, the atmosphere, the pacing. It all moved together so well that there wasn’t a single thing that I didn’t love. From the very first sentence to the final curtain, everything was perfect.
I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The ending itself, however, was perfect. The story was ended satisfactorily, but with room left to wonder. I continue to find myself thinking about it, questioning my reactions, and moving pieces of the narrative around in my mind.
If We Were Villains is smart and compelling, one of the very best books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.
Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. – Laurie Halse Anderson
Ah, it’s that lovely time of year. The time of year where I pull out my soapbox, climb on it, and start yelling about how much I disagree with the banning and censoring of books. That’s right- it’s Banned Books Week!
According to the American Library Association, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” I think most people can understand why this is a dangerous concept. Banning a book allows us to silence people we disagree with. It allows history to be ignored. It takes away the chance to learn from or connect with a different point of view.
Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda”. (via lithub) Howl was actually put on trial. The defendants were told to prove that the book had “literary merit”. Ender’s Game was challenged in 2012 for pornographic content despite that fact that there is no sexual content in the book at all, much less content of a pornographic nature. Even the children’s book Where the Wild Things are has been banned in the past.
Books are banned and challenged for a myriad of reasons. These include sexual issues, the idea that a book has content that is unsuitable for its intended age group, language that is considered offensive, LBTQIA+ content, or any topic that might be considered divisive, really.
The banning and challenging of books still happens. In fact, you can read about a recent incident involving a full list of books being banned in a York, PA school district. Incidentally, every single book was either by or about a person of color. ( via Penn Live Patriot News) Thankfully, the huge public outcry pressured the schoolboard into reversing the ban. While authors including Brian Meltzer were closely involved in the protest, it was originally led by students. How cool is that? I tell you, the younger generation will shake this world.
The list of banned and challenged books is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Some of the most commonly challenged books in recent years include And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Hate You Give, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Captain Underpants series. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be constantly challenged or banned. The reasons are varied, but I think they all have something in common: those who are challenging are doing so because they are scared. They are scared of reading things they don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t want to think about.
Choosing not to read a book is always an option, of course, which leads into a conversation on canceling, as the words canceling and banning tend to get a little confused. I think we’re all familiar with the term “cancel culture” by now. According to Miriam-Webster, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Canceling and banning a book are two very different things. Canceling is basically a boycott and it is a personal choice. Book banning involves having your choice to read or not read a book taken from you by others. I am unequivocally against the banning of books. No group of people should be able to deny others the opportunity to read books.
So, what can we do? Read banned books. Buy banned books. Speak out against the banning of books. You can find an excellent list of commonly banned books to get you started here. I also went to social media to see what people’s favorite banned books are. You can find the results of that at the end of this post. It’s a great list, and there are a few on there that I haven’t read yet (I plan to change that).
There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.
Live dangerously. Read.
Social media’s favorite banned and/or challenged books:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island by Peig Sayers
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair by Mariko Tamaki
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
House of Hollow is one of those rare books that actually managed to creep me out a little. Oddly enough, it’s technically not a horror novel. Or is it? There are definitely elements of horror and it has a fairy tale feel- and really, what are the original fairy tales if not a little bit horrific?
The book follows three sisters: Grey, Vivi, and Iris (I’m not going to lie: I found their names to be a little bit much). When they were young, they disappeared without a trace, only to be found weeks later with no memories of where they were or what happened to them. That’s scary enough on its own. Add to that the fact that they were changed and the hints of creepiness start to sneak in. Ten years later the unthinkable happens, and one of the sisters disappears again, leaving the other two- Vivi and Iris- to try to figure out where she is and how she got there. To do that, they will need to figure out what really happened to them all those years ago.
Interestingly, House of Hollow starts out seeming like an unsolved mystery that will turn into a thriller. However, what came next completely surprised me. Suddenly, I was thrown into an incredibly eerie story, one that was unsettling and disorienting. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. They threw me off balance and left me wondering whether to cheer them on or hope they failed in their search. This is the sort of book that made me wonder if the main characters were actually the villains. It was delightful.
The descriptions added to the creepy atmosphere of the book and some of the details were seriously messed up. The fact that I didn’t expect the book to go in that direction when I picked it up definitely added to the dark atmosphere.
I didn’t particularly care for the add-on to the ending, mainly because it didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story the author was telling. The rest of House of Hollow was a spooktastic blast, though. This would be a great late-night October read, if you go for unearthly books around Halloween.
Thank you to Orbit and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sistersong will be available on October fifth.
Sistersong is a study in contradictions. Beautiful but brutal. Sad but hopeful. Large but intensely personal. I suppose that it only makes sense that my impressions would be rather contradictory as well.
The book tells a tale of change, of the way a single choice can turn a world on its head. Riva, Keyne, and Sinne are three siblings, each with their own struggles and desires. Keyne wants to be accepted for who he is, but is struggling against the preconceptions of others. Riva considers herself “broken” after a childhood accident and it colors her choices. Sinne longs for something more than her daily routine. Together, these three might either lose- or save- their people and themselves.
The tone was set from the get-go. The reader is introduced to a land and time that is divided, with older traditions being assimilated into the newer ones started by the arrival of Christianity. There was an interesting give and take between the old and the new, with the struggle being represented by two very different and distinct characters: Mrydhin, magician of legend; and Gildas, the Christian priest. While I found the struggle between the old and the new interesting, I was also a little disappointed. The changing of religions and cultures can be fascinating, but instead of a nuanced exploration of the meaning behind the changes and the possible ramifications, Gildas was reduced to a typical villain. I would have liked to see a more complex range of motivations for his actions, instead of seeing the old magic as “good” and the new religion as “bad”. That being said, Mrydhin was written brilliantly. I loved his world-weary wisdom and the way he put people and things into position before letting everything play out as it willed. He manipulated those around him like he was playing a game of chess and I was completely on board with it.
The book was told from the points of view of the three siblings. First, there was Sinne. Sinne was beautiful, stubborn, and capricious. She also had the ability to see bits and pieces of the future. I wanted to shake her ninety percent of the time. I believe that is the reaction the author was going for, and she succeeded magnificently. I refrained from yelling at a fictional character, but it was touch and go there for a bit. Her storyline ended up being incredibly important, and she was a catalyst for some of the biggest moments in the book, so I can’t resent her too much.
Keyne wanted to be seen and accepted. His storyline was one I really enjoyed, as he grew in confidence and knowledge. His was the most fantasy-esque part of the book, with battles, sieges, and magic. He added immensely to the feel to Sistersong, showing magic always lurking just under the surface and around corners.
Then, there was Riva. Riva was horribly burned in an accident as a child. As a result, she only had the use of one hand. She grew up accepting the lie that she was lesser than, a broken thing to be pitied. All of her choices revolve around this belief. I felt sad for her, while at the same time being frustrated at the way her insecurities were easily exploited.
Taken separately, none of these characters would be able to carry a story of this magnitude. After all, the fate of a kingdom lies in the balance. Together, a tale is told that is captivating. I have read that it is a loose retelling of an old ballad called ‘The Twa Sisters’. I’ve never heard the ballad before, but Sistersong does have a songlike quality to it. It flowed well and ended in a way that was both satisfying and a little sad.
The book moved along at a good pace, starting slowly and building up to a breathtaking climax. I had a “holy whoa” moment when the reason behind the title was explained. I did not see that coming. While I didn’t love Sistersong (mainly because of the way the struggle between older beliefs and new was simplified), I did find myself eagerly picking it up whenever I had the chance. It was enthralling and utterly unique.
I recommend Sistersong to readers who have grown up on Arthurian myths or who like hints of magic shining in-between the struggle to survive.