Bewitching Book Tours Cover Reveal & Excerpt: Midnight on the Manatee by D.H. Willison

Today I’m excited to be joining Bewitching Books Tours in sharing the cover for D.H. Willison’s new book, Midnight on the Manatee. D.H. Willison’s new release will feature adventure, romance, and a whole lot of humor.

Book Description:

How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? What sacrifices do her grand profits demand? The only certainty, is that the Manatee casts a dark shadow everywhere she makes port.


Brianna, a tough, no-nonsense human, yearns to escape stifling big city rules and a troubled past. A quaint seaside town seems perfect to start a new life—until she wakes up aboard the Manatee. As cargo.


Shard, nekojin feline of the forest, dreams of sailing to distant lands—to the horror of his friends. When his intriguing new neighbor, Brianna, disappears and all signs point to the mysterious Manatee, he’s certain this is his moment for high seas adventure. Yet with skills tailored to the forest canopy, his rescue goes disastrously awry.


Their only chance of freedom is to work together, but can their budding relationship overcome ruthless smugglers, corrupt officials, and a slew of ravenous monsters? Or are they destined to take the secret of the Manatee to a watery grave?


Midnight on the Manatee blends life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Are you ready to see the cover? Here it is!

Wow!


Genre: Fantasy adventure/fantasy romance
Date of Publication: October 28, 2022
ISBN: 9798823112536
Number of pages: 182
Word Count: 33K
Cover Artist: Papaya-style

Life-and-death adventures on a creepy fantasy world blend with wit, whimsy, and a generous dash of romance.

Excerpt:

Brianna

I’ve always struggled picking out clothes. It doesn’t matter if it’s for travel, work, or a special event, I seem to hit a point where I regret my choices.

Like today.

Late afternoon sun glared in my eyes, the wide brim of my slouch hat unable to shield me. Mostly because it was on the ground a dozen paces distant. It was hot, and this close to the marsh, humid too. My linen blouse was drenched in sweat, though a breeze provided a modicum of relief from the heat—that part, I’d gotten right. The leather traveling vest was well-vented, my padded breeches also a good compromise between comfort and protection. But my boots were clearly wrong. Light beige leather with flexible soles prioritizing comfort over armor seemed a good idea for the long trek between Halamar and Barricayde.

But the bog toad with its jaws locked around my right ankle seemed intent on demonstrating the error of my ways.

It was half the size of a coach, with an underbite and stubby tusks thick as my legs. I kicked it with my free foot as it shambled backwards, dragging me toward the marsh. Vision blurry from sweat streaming into my eyes, I squinted, trying to sight along the barrel of my single shot pistol.

One shot. At this range I can’t miss.

I fired, the pistol belching gray smoke and a dull wumm.

The toad lurched back, blood oozing from an apparently non-critical wound. It blinked a pair of fist-sized ruby eyes, lunged at me again, this time snapping both legs up to my knees in a maw as broad as my arm span.

How did I let a minor predator ambush me? Along a marked path! Big city’s making me soft.

No! I will not die to an oversized frog. I shoved the pistol in its holster, unfolded my collapsible spear with a metallic klink, jabbed it at the creature’s head. A head which seemed to comprise half its mass. The third strike to its thick hide found a sensitive spot: it spat out my legs, sneezed a blob of mucus and blood on me, and shambled back into the marsh.

“Oww. Filthy beast. That hurt.”

I stood, yelped in pain, collapsing to my knees again.

Those critters might not have sharp teeth, but they bite hard.

First things first: I reloaded my pistol. It may have been as effective as poking a troll with a toothpick, but it was my toothpick, and it was gonna be loaded.

I pulled off boots caked with blood and saliva to reveal a souvenir of the encounter: bruises from ankle to mid thigh.

Should have worn armored boots. Blood or mucus colored armored boots would have been ideal. But on the bright side, none of the blood was mine.

“It’s a well-traveled path. You can wear comfortable traveling clothes, no need for armor.

Owww. You’re an idiot, Brianna,” I muttered, managing to stay up on the next attempt.

“Hope they have a decent healer in Barricayde. Not to mention a laundry.”

Shard

Murky water burned my eyes as my feet sank into the mud. The caprid in my arms flailed and kicked, I could feel its chest heave in panicked breaths. “Juro, a little help?” I called.

“I am helping. I’m watching out for predators.” Juro crouched atop a low branch of a live oak tree, gaze darting between trees and clumps of reeds. He grinned. “None here. You’re welcome.”

“I meant, could you grab the other two trapped caprids.”

“Theoretically, I could.”

I waded ashore, set the waist-high, hoofed creature next to its flockmates, hoping the presence of the herd would calm it.

“At least keep the flock from panicking while I get the other two.”

Juro bounded from branch to branch, finally settling on the ground beside me. He had auburn fur, stood a tad shorter than me, his tail shorter as well, and lacking the white puffy tip he made fun of when we were growing up.

“If we leave them out here,” he said, “our neighbors might learn a valuable lesson about the merits of proper animal husbandry.”

“The creatures horns are blunted, they cannot defend themselves against predators and would most likely be devoured by bog toads before the humans were able to recover them all.”

“Which would certainly be a valuable lesson, Shard. Hurt what they value most.”

Juro didn’t need to complete the thought. We all knew what that was. “It would indeed hurt their coin purse, but caprids shouldn’t pay the price to do so. The creatures are innocent.”

“Didn’t you want to visit the bookseller this afternoon? New volume of that pirate series you’re always talking about.”

I dove back into the stagnant green-brown murk at the edge of the marsh, swam around the last two stragglers, managing to shoo them toward the herd without having to carry them.

I spat, trying to clear the taste of marsh water from my mouth. Mud, slimy strands of algae, and decaying vegetation plugged my nose, clung to my ears, obscured my normally keen senses. But I wasn’t worried, Juro was a rascal, but he’d have my back at the first hint of danger.

“Yes. It’s supposed to be out today. But after all that effort, we can’t leave the task unfinished.”

Juro shrugged, but helped guide the flock toward the shepherd’s day shed.

We encountered the herder’s daughter a few minutes later, sprinting toward us, a wooden crook in her hands, single shot rifle slung across her back.

“You’ve found them, thank you!” She huffed heavily, her armor and gear sized more for an adult human than an early teen.

“That’s the third time this month,” said Juro.

She mumbled, pointed at the creatures with an index finger as she counted. “All here. My stupid little brother needed help with…” She shook her head. “It’s not important. I’d like to thank you, but I don’t have my coin purse with me. Come with me to the day shed, maybe there’s something there.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’m still hoping to make it to the bookseller today.”
Juro snorked. “Looking like that? The humans won’t even let you through the city gate! You’ll be lucky if they don’t mistake you for a swamp monster and hunt you.”

“Good point.” I turned to the girl. “How about a few buckets of fresh water, some rags, and a brush?”

She smiled. “Deal.” She moved to clap me on the shoulder, hesitated, backed off half a step. “Maybe after a bath.”

About the Author:

D.H. Willison is a reader, writer, game enthusiast and developer, engineer, and history buff. He’s lived or worked in over a dozen countries, learning different cultures, viewpoints, and attitudes, which have influenced his writing, contributing to one of his major themes: alternate and creative conflict resolution. The same situations can be viewed by different cultures quite differently. Sometimes it leads to conflict, sometimes to hilarity. Both make for a great story.


He’s also never missed a chance to visit historic sites, from castle dungeons, to catacombs, to the holds of tall ships, to the tunnels of the Maginot Line. It might be considered research, except for the minor fact that his tales are all set on the whimsical and terrifying world of Arvia. Where giant mythic monsters are often more easily overcome with empathy than explosions.


Subscribe to his newsletter for art, stories, and humorous articles (some of which are actually intended to be humorous).

Blog: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/blog/

Newsletter signup: https://dhwillisoncreates.com/about/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dhwillison
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DHWillison/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/d.h.willison/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19933553.D_H_Willison

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How does the steamship Manatee navigate sea-monster infested waters? Brianna and Shard find out, but will they take the secret to a watery grave? Life-and-death adventures on a creepy, monster infested world blend with wit, whimsy and romance. https://dhwillisoncreates.com/   

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…
The tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.
Sulari Gentill delivers a sharply thrilling read with The Woman in the Library, an unexpectedly twisty literary adventure that examines the complicated nature of friendship and shows us that words can be the most treacherous weapons of all.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Woman in the Library is available now.

The thing that grabbed me and immediately interested me in reading this book was that it featured the word “library” in the title. That’s it. If there is an angle that features words, libraries, or bookstores, I’ll be almost immediately intrigued. The writing and storyline kept me reading, happily drawn into a fun mystery involving four new-found friends.

Author Sulari Gentill plays off the new-friend dynamic incredibly well. When people first hit it off, it’s easier to ignore (or not even notice) things about the other person which will either begin to annoy over time or, in the worst of cases, turn out to be major red flags. These four people met in a library reading room, brought together by a stressful event. That’s enough to form the beginnings of friendship right there, although of course someone is not who they seem.

The book’s storytelling tricks were my favorite thing about it. The Woman in the Library features an author named Hannah Tigone who is writing a novel that starts in a library. The novel is about a writer (named Freddie) who gets sucked into a murder while researching for her own book. It sounds a lot more confusing than it is. For the purpose of this review, I’ll refer to the character writing the book about the writer as the author, and the character who happens to be in the library at the time of a murder as the writer. It’s actually a ton of fun, despite my lousy attempt to explain it.

While the writer in the book builds new friendships, the author begins to be disturbed by the unhealthy relationship forming with her Beta reader. Now, that was a character that was easy to hate. Holy cow, everything he “wrote” in his letters to Hannah was absolutely awful. That it degenerated in nature from horrible to dangerous was an unexpected progression that made a sick sort of sense. The continuation of the story wavered from distracting to adding an extra layer of suspense. I’m still not sure how I feel about that whole thing, although I can’t deny that it ratcheted up the tension level of The Woman in the Library.

There were four main characters in the author’s book: the writer, Freddie, in the U.S. from Australia with the purpose of working on her own book; Whit, the laze-about whose aspirations don’t match those of his overbearing mother; Marigold, a tattooed free spirit who is also something of a genius (according to her); and Cain, an enigma who has written a bestselling book of his own. One of them is also a coldblooded killer, of course. It’s up to Freddie to figure out who.

I will admit that I figured out the whodunnit before it was revealed, although the motive escaped me. The characters were all fun to read, although I had a soft spot for nosy, stalkerish Marigold. The book raised the stakes as it went along and by the end it was hurtling at breakneck speed toward its conclusion. I liked the way the book’s pacing sped up as the mystery got closer to being solved.

There was some brief mention of attempted sexual assault, which I feel I should warn readers about. It was not detailed, but it’s always best (in my opinion) to be aware if something like that will pop up. I’m sensitive to that subject and it was vague and short enough that I was able to skip over the paragraph or so mentioning it without any issue. So, there’s that.

The Woman in the Library was a highly entertaining mystery filled with twists and unexpected reveals. I enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend it to people who want a fun suspense-ridden novel.

The Battle That Was Lost by Michael S. Jackson

When there is something you can’t or won’t do yourself, you get a bastard to do it for you. They are thieves, cheats, and murderers, loyal to nothing but the coin. Everyone knows that.
Yet in war, payment in blood is more likely than payment in coin.
Staegrim knows coins better than he knows people, and he isn’t giving his life away for free. Not to the rebels, not for the lords, and not for all the bloody coins in Rengas.
But then…everyone has a price.



Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Battle that was Lost is a novella that takes place in the world of the Ringlander series.

Novellas are an intriguing medium. Sometimes I find them to be too short, choppy in their attempts to fit more within their pages than the length can hold. Other times, they can feel superfluous. In the case of The Battle that was Lost, however, the length was perfect. The writing was skillful, each word placed to further a story that packed a punch.

Brutal and smart, The Battle that was Lost wasted no time in establishing an atmosphere that pulsed with desperation. The line between life and death could be crossed at any moment, and the characters knew it. The stakes were high, and tension dripped from each word. This isn’t a happy-ending sort of book. In fact, the ending is more of a beginning, the novella serving as a cutthroat introduction.

Qor and Staegrim are mercenaries, doing anything they can to survive and hopefully somehow come out ahead. Their relationship is a brilliant one. It’s the sort of complicated mix of annoyance and something akin to affection that is fascinating to read. Of course, the book is about higher stakes than the fates of two thugs, although they are the pieces that make The Battle that was Lost so compelling.

I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to tactical decisions in fantasy books, but I was able to follow along well here. When you have two armies going at each other, knowing that the entire fate of the continent hangs in the balance, I like to see a personal aspect. It gives me a reason to be invested in the outcome. The judicious use of flashbacks provided this personal aspect, fleshing out characters and backstories and expanding the world even more.

I’m gob smacked at how much was packed into such a short novella. The Battle that was Lost was fantastic. I highly recommend picking it up.

Dragons of Deceit (Dragonlance Destinies vol. 1) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman


Destina Rosethorn—as her name implies—believes herself to be a favored child of destiny. But when her father dies in the War of the Lance, she watches her carefully constructed world come crashing down. She loses not only her beloved father but also the legacy he has left her: the family lands and castle. To save her father, she hatches a bold plan—to go back in time and prevent his death.

First, she has to secure the Device of Time Journeying, last known to be in the possession of the spirited kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot. But to change time, she’ll need another magical artifact—the most powerful and dangerous artifact ever created. Destina’s quest takes her from the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin to the town of Solace and beyond, setting in motion a chain of disastrous events that threaten to divert the course of the River of Time, alter the past, and forever change the future. (Taken from Amazon)

Many years ago, I stumbled across a book called Dragons of Autum Twilight, book one in the Dragonlance Chronicles. There was a dragon on the front (I’m a sucker for dragons), and characters who looked right out of the cover at the reader, inviting them on an adventure. I opened the book and immediately fell in love with the world of Krynn, the characters, and the writing.

Fast forward more years than I’ll admit. I’ve read those books more times than I can count. I have devoured every new novel that takes place in Krynn, seen visions of the world painted by many authors. Each new novel adds to the lore and shows a new perspective. I like the majority of them, but the books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the creators of the world of Krynn, are special. I was ecstatic to hear the news that they were returning to the world they birthed.

Dragons of Deceit is the first of the new trilogy, Dragonlance Destinies. It’s been years since the last Dragonlance written by the masters was released, but they didn’t miss a beat. I wondered before reading it if this book would appeal more to new readers or to readers returning and hoping to see the characters they love.

The thing that I’ve always loved about the Dragonlance series is that it feels as though the world continues long after you’ve read the last sentence and closed the book. Reading Dragons of Deceit was like catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while. They’ve had new adventures, met new people. The world has kept going, but it happily welcomed me back.

The book follows Destina, the daughter of a Solamnic knight. She loves her father, the knighthood, and all it stands for, until the oath all knights take (“My honor is my life”) causes her to lose him. Her life crumbles around her and she hatches a hare-brained scheme: travel back in time and save her dad. Of course, in order to do that, she’ll have to visit a certain well-traveled kender to acquire the Device of Time Journeying. That’s when things start to go sideways, as they always do when kender are involved.

Sometimes a long-running series finds itself in a bind. Do you continue with a storyline that new readers might be confused by, but rewards longtime readers? Or do you tell a story that has an entry point for new readers, risking alienating returning readers who want something new (I’m thinking of the multitude of Spiderman origin stories here)?

Weis and Hickman cleverly sidestepped this issue and wove a tale that will appeal to new readers and longtime fans alike. There is a mix of old and new characters, and a story arc that leans on already-established lore while still managing to be an entry point. All the important history is given throughout the book, while still somehow avoiding the dreaded info dump. New readers will be able to follow the plot without confusion, although there are things that returning readers will appreciate more.

Destina is an intriguing character, one at odds with herself. She is loyal and looks up to her father but is rather snotty toward her mom. She puts a huge burden of responsibility on herself, and it weighs her down until she has nothing left. I can’t say that I liked her in the usual sense; she was distinctly unlikable at times, which sometimes makes for a more complex story. I couldn’t fault her motivation. Wouldn’t we all do pretty much anything to help a loved one if we had the chance?

Tas was fantastic, of course. I really love that doorknob of a kender! He’s the perfect blend of innocence and unknowing wisdom. He provided laughs aplenty and a few moments that caused me to choke up a little. There’s a scene involving a helm topped with the hair from the mane of a griffin (if you know, you know) that caused my stone heart to melt.

The story was fast-paced and exciting, the sort of adventure I love reading about. It ended with a bang and left me wishing I had a Device of Time Journeying of my own, so that I could travel forward and read book two. Unsurprisingly, Dragons of Deceit was incredible. When I finished the last word, I was stymied: do I immediately reread it, or do I go back to the Chronicles– the original three that started it all- and reread every brilliant Dragonlance book written by Weis and Hickman? Deciding is nearly impossible, and that is the best kind of problem to have.

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Everyone knows the story of Rapunzel in the tower, but do you know the story of the witch who put her there? Told from her own perspective, The Book of Gothel is a lush, historical retelling filled with dark magic, crumbling towers, mysterious woods, and evil princes. This is the truth they never wanted you to know, as only a witch might tell it.
Haelewise has always lived under the shadow of her mother, Hedda—a woman who will do anything to keep her daughter protected. For with her strange black eyes and even stranger fainting spells, Haelewise is shunned by her village, and her only solace lies in the stories her mother tells of child-stealing witches, of princes in wolf-skins, of an ancient tower cloaked in mist, where women will find shelter if they are brave enough to seek it.
Then, Hedda dies, and Haelewise is left unmoored. With nothing left for her in her village, she sets out to find the legendary tower her mother used to speak of—a place called Gothel, where Haelewise meets a wise woman willing to take her under her wing.
But Haelewise is not the only woman to seek refuge at Gothel. It’s also a haven for a girl named Rika, who carries with her a secret the Church strives to keep hidden. A secret that reveals a dark world of ancient spells and murderous nobles behind the world Haelewise has always known…(Taken from Amazon)

I grew up on fairy tales. As a young child, they were the pretty, dumbed down ones with the happy endings and the lack of gore. As I got older, I read the original, often brutal, versions. I guess my love of fairy tales has chased me. As an adult, I am drawn to fairy tale reimaginings or fantasy with that beautiful fairy tale cadence. So, of course The Book of Gothel called to me.

The Book of Gothel is a reimagining of the story of Rapunzel, told from the point of view of the villain. Known as Haelewise in the story, it starts with her as a young woman in a small village and continues on, the conclusion summing up the fairy tale we all know. If you’re looking for a story that doesn’t stray at all from the original fairy tale, The Book of Gothel is not for you.

Haelewise suffers from fainting spells and sensitivity to light. Of course, these things make her a pariah in her village, where such things are seen as unnatural. A daughter of a midwife, Haelewise is really only tolerated because of her mother’s skill with delivering babies. Then, her mother dies and Haelewise is left running from accusations of witchcraft.

While so much of the story happens in her village, I felt like the book didn’t really begin until Haelewise reaches the Tower of Gothel and begins to learn more about who her mother was and who she herself is. The choices she makes and her resourcefulness are what make her into an intriguing character. I wouldn’t necessarily call her likeable, but she is interesting, which is better.

There were things that I wish had been explored further, with less time being spent on others. For example, Haelewise’s almost-obsession with other women’s newborns was such an interesting aside that I wish it had been more fully explored. I would have loved to know more about her almost savage hunger for a child. I could also have done with less from her sort-of boyfriend, who I really truly hated. He was well-written; he was also a spineless jerk who wanted to have his cake and eat it too (just my personal opinion. I’m not sure that’s the effect the author was going for).

I enjoyed seeing bits and pieces from the original tail sneak through into a new narrative. The storyline was so different that these moments would serve to remind me that I was, in fact, reading a fairy tale reimagining. Otherwise, I would have forgotten completely, caught up in an engrossing and creative coming-of-age story. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what The Book of Gothel is. It is a lyrical, pretty story about a girl learning who she is and the power that she has, not as an evil witch or villain but as a woman.

While not what I expected, The Book of Gothel sucked me in and kept me quickly turning pages. It is mysterious and charming, a novel worth getting lost in.

Revenge of the Beast by Jack Meggitt-Phillips- The Write Reads Ultimate Tour

Lemony Snicket meets Roald Dahl in this riotously funny, deliciously macabre, and highly illustrated sequel to The Beast and the Bethany in which Bethany and Ebenezer try to turn over a new leaf, only to have someone—or something—thwart them at every turn.

Once upon a very badly behaved time, 511-year-old Ebenezer kept a beast in his attic. He would feed the beast all manner of objects and creatures and in return the beast would vomit him up expensive presents. But then the Bethany arrived.

Now notorious prankster Bethany, along with her new feathery friend Claudette, is determined that she and Ebenezer are going to de-beast their lives and Do Good. But Bethany finds that being a former prankster makes it hard to get taken on for voluntary work. And Ebenezer secretly misses the beast’s vomity gifts. And neither of them are all that sure what “good people” do anyway.

Then there’s Claudette, who’s not been feeling herself recently. Has she eaten something that has disagreed with her?
Genre: MG Fantasy
Length: 288 Pages
Publishing: 30th September 2021
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Revenge-Beast-2-Bethany/dp/1534478922
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58410828-revenge-of-the-beast

Thank you to Aladdin publishing and The Write Reads on Tour for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Beast and the Bethany: Revenge of the Beast will be available for purchase on March 22nd.

Delightfully wicked, The Beast and the Bethany: Revenge of the Beast had me roaring with laughter (as opposed to the Beast, who was possibly simply roaring for the fun of it), and happily devouring every word.

My favorite duo of not-quite-good-guys is back in this sequel to The Beast and the Bethany, and everything seems to be hunky dory. Or is it? Okay, so neither Bethany nor Ebenezer have any idea how to be do-gooders, there’s a fancy shirt that seems to have a mind of its own, and Claudette the bird is acting oddly…but those are all normal everyday difficulties that people deal with all the time. Right?

The author is back in fine form with this fantastic book, continuing the hijinks that follow Bethany and Ebenezer, while at the same time sneaking in themes of friendship and making good choices (it’s done so slyly that I promise your children won’t notice, parents). At the same time, it is incredibly entertaining. I found myself laughing aloud at parts.

New characters are introduced, and the reader is treated to a more complete look at old ones. While our three main characters are all wonderful, Ebenezer continues to be my favorite. In Revenge of the Beast, a little more is shown about his past and how the Beast came to be involved in his life. Ebenezer struggles with his newfound less-selfish outlook and watching him grow and develop as he deals with change is a joy.

As with book one, Revenge of the Beast would best be enjoyed by older children (and adults!), although it would be a fun read-aloud for younger kids who like a slightly macabre twist to their books. Think Roald Dahl and you’ve got the general idea.

Plan to run away from the Beast, but toward your favorite bookstore to pick this book up! Better yet, go ahead and pre-order it: I guarantee you’ll love it.

About the Author:

Jack Meggitt-Phillips is an author, scriptwriter, and playwright whose work has been performed at The Roundhouse and featured on Radio 4. He is scriptwriter and presenter of The History of Advertising podcast. In his mind, Jack is an enormously talented ballroom dancer, however his enthusiasm far surpasses his actual talent. Jack lives in north London where he spends most of his time drinking peculiar teas and reading P.G. Wodehouse novels.

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May


On Crow Island, people whisper, real magic lurks just below the surface. 

Neither real magic nor faux magic interests Annie Mason. Not after it stole her future. She’s only on the island to settle her late father’s estate and, hopefully, reconnect with her long-absent best friend, Beatrice, who fled their dreary lives for a more glamorous one. 

Yet Crow Island is brimming with temptation, and the biggest one may be her enigmatic new neighbor. 

Mysterious and alluring, Emmeline Delacroix is a figure shadowed by rumors of witchcraft. And when Annie witnesses a confrontation between Bea and Emmeline at one of the island’s extravagant parties, she is drawn into a glittering, haunted world. A world where the boundaries of wickedness are tested, and the cost of illicit magic might be death. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Redhook publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wild and Wicked Things will be available for purchase on March 29th.

Addictive and haunting, Wild and Wicked Things was also a bit problematic. The book initially drew me in with beautiful prose, dripping with magic and secrets. However, the pacing caused me to pause and I found my attention wandering at parts.

I was immediately interested in the book’s setting, which has a wild and carefree overtone with more somber themes lurking just underneath the surface. I’ve read that it takes inspiration from The Great Gatsby, and the juxtaposition of the darker aspects of the storyline with the glitter that’s seen on the surface felt very reminiscent of Gatsby to me. That being said, Wild and Wicked Things is very much its own unique book.

There was quite a bit of content that I struggled to read. The fault is mine: the author has kindly provided a content warning list for the book (here) which I was unaware of when I picked it up. That being said, I feel that the author did not add any of it merely for shock value; rather, it was all part of the story she envisioned and it did further the plot.

I loved the lush feel of the book, and the glitz of it all. I was fascinated by the mysteries lurking beneath the surface. Ultimately, though, the bits that didn’t work for me- the characters that weren’t quite as fully-rounded as I was hoping and the pacing issues- lessened my enjoyment a little. That being said, I am sure that there are many who will find themselves lost in a beautiful world and will appreciate the slower pacing. Give it a go!

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?  (taken from Amazon)

Book two in the Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor was a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.

The Bone Shard Emperor picks up soon after The Bone Shard Daughter ends. We are still following the points of view found in book one, although a few characters find themselves crossing paths. This is one of the main changes in dynamic: the new interactions. Instead of being on separate but related paths, the book slowly brings the characters into contact with each other. Some form alliances. Others…not so much.

While the world is well developed (and massive), it’s the characters that drew me in and kept me enthralled. Phalue and Ranami, now married, grapple with Phalue’s new role as governor. There are new obstacles and a new twist in their relationship: a scrawny urchin who may be hiding something. While still not my favorite points of view, Phalue and Ranami add a different angle to the story, fleshing it out well.

Meanwhile, Lin finds herself head of a kingdom that is, quite literally, drowning. I am always curious why anyone in their right mind would actually want to be in charge, so seeing her motives and the shifts in her viewpoint was fascinating. She is no longer the idealistic and motivated character she was in The Bone Shard Daughter. Instead, she is a person struggling to keep her head above the dark waters of politics, alliances, secrets she must keep, and an approaching army. From being rather ambivalent about her for the first half of book one, I have gone to eagerly reading the next part of her storyline, wondering if she can somehow hold the fraying kingdom together. I loved the combination of vulnerability and sheer stick-to-it-ness that Lin displayed. She didn’t quit, even when she really probably should have.

Jovis (and Mephi!) once again stood out as my favorite storyline, although things are a little different now. Jovis is now Lin’s Captain of the Guard, and his relationship with her is complicated, to say the least. They are both hiding big things, while at the same time trying to learn who to trust. His part of the book felt like it was always about to tip over into chaos, but never quite did. Author Andrea Stewart kept the multiple threads of his narrative held together wonderfully. Nothing was forgotten, and every action had consequences that were both far-reaching and sometimes flat-out terrifying.

Stewart has come into her own, her writing skillful and confident. The narrative flows wonderfully and the pacing is magnificent. The Bone Shard Emperor felt like a roller coaster, building up speed as it hurtles from drop to turn, turning everything on its head before plunging you straight into an astonishing confrontation. If the series continues on in this vein, it will easily become one of my favorites.

Read this one sooner rather than later.

Originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

Sistersong by Lucy Holland

In the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, there is old magic to be found in the whisper of the wind, the roots of the trees, the curl of the grass. King Cador knew this once, but now the land has turned from him, calling instead to his three children. Riva can cure others, but can’t seem to heal her own deep scars. Keyne battles to be accepted for who he truly is—the king’s son. And Sinne dreams of seeing the world, of finding adventure.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky. It brings with it Myrdhin, meddler and magician. And Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

Riva, Keyne and Sinne—three siblings entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, who must fight to forge their own paths. 

Their story will shape the destiny of Britain. (taken from Amazon)

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.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions. (taken from Amazon)

Brooding and dark, Nothing but Blackened Teeth drew me in and kept me off-balance. Always on the precipice of scary, it never quite tipped over. Instead, it stayed an eerie book, one that has crawled its way into my head. I’ll be thinking about it for a long while, reliving bits and pieces of the creepy story.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth follows a group of friends who decide to rent a Heian-age mansion for an odd sort of wedding celebration. The thing is, they’ve heard it’s haunted. That’s the draw for them: they’re hoping to experience the otherworldly and the disturbing. Well, wish granted.

The story goes that originally a woman’s fiancé died on his way to marry her at the mansion. She decided to be buried alive so that she could wait for her husband like one does, I suppose. Women continued to be sacrificed, one per year, so that the buried bride wouldn’t be lonely. In all honestly, the origin story for the haunting is the part that I found to be the weakest. It just didn’t inspire that anticipatory shiver that I was hoping for.

None of the characters are particularly likable and at first, I found myself viewing them through the slasher-film lens. You know: this one will die first because they sleep around, this one next because they don’t believe in the danger, etc. However, such was not the case. The tropes became jumping-off points for complex, multi-faceted characters, each with their own flaws and fears. Half of the fun of Nothing but Blackened Teeth was watching the complicated relationships fray and slowly dissolve as the characters’ pasts caught up to them.

The story begins with Cat, a woman who is still coming to grips with an unspecified mental illness. It has affected her past and she is still in the midst of learning to cope with it. There’s Phillip, the charismatic and super rich sponsor of the mansion rental. There’s Faiz and Talia, the engaged couple. Cat and Talia have beef, and their issues with each other add to an already tense situation. Last, there’s Lin, who is a master pot-stirrer. It’s these tangled relationships and hidden emotions that really elevate Nothing but Blackened Teeth to the fascinating tale that it is.

Author Cassandra Khaw played with motifs of relationships and mental health in ways that felt a little reminiscent of Shirley Jackson (if Jackson had a penchant for gore). There were times when I wondered what was happening and what- if anything was being imagined by one character or another. Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a riveting book, perfect for fans of creepy tales with a little extra bite.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find that here.