Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 by Terry Brooks

Escape to worlds full of adventure and magic in the first-ever Terry Brooks short-story collection, featuring both new and fan-favorite stories from all three of his major literary worlds: Shannara, Magic Kingdom, and The Word and the Void.

Here are heroes fighting new battles and struggling to conquer the ghosts of the past. Here are quests both small and far reaching; heroism both intimate and vast. Here we learn of Garet Jax’s childhood, see how Allanon first located Shea Ohmsford, and follow an old wing-rider at the end of his life. Here we see Knights of the Word fighting demons within and without, and witness Ben Holiday and his daughter each trying to overcome the unique challenges that Landover offers.

This collection of eleven tales is a must-have addition to the Terry Brooks canon—a delightful way to spend time with favorite characters, and a wonderful reminder of what makes a Brooks story such a timeless classic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Small Magic: Short Fiction 1977-2020 will be available on March second.

Terry Brooks is a giant among fantasy authors. Even if you haven’t read any of his works, chances are you recognize the name. He’s most well known for his Shannara books, although I personally like Magic Kingdom for Sale–Sold! the best. When I was given the opportunity to check out his short fiction collection, I jumped at the chance.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s Terry Brooks! Some of these stories add a new level to already established worlds and characters. His writing skill is on full display and is fantastic, as usual. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of his works, and it was fun to catch up.

On the other hand, some of the story additions were just odd. For example, the very first story was written for an anthology by Poul Anderson called Multiverse. It did not really make a lot of sense to make that the very first story, seeing as it was written for someone else’s anthology collection, and it alienated me a bit. If it was going to be in Small Magic, I personally would have preferred to see it pop up later on, after there had been some short stories that took place in worlds created by Terry Brooks.

My favorite story of the collection featured a cantankerous dragon. While I definitely felt that some stories were much better than others, I feel that most Terry Brooks fans will enjoy the collection, even if only for the sense of nostalgia it provides.

I personally didn’t love it as much as I was expecting, but it wasn’t awful. While Small Magic is worth checking out, I strongly suggest reading some of Terry Brooks’ full length fiction first.

Ari Goes to War by P.J. Sky

In trouble with the Jackroller crime syndicate, and with the warlords of The Black Mulga on her tail, Ari must confront her past when she sets out across the war-torn wasteland to rescue Starla from the clutches of the infamous Bone Pointer. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Ari Goes to War will be available on April sixth.

Ari Goes to War is the sequel to A Girl Called Ari. It continues to follow Ari (and Starla), although this book focuses a lot on Ari’s relationships with others, and how her past affects them. Starla finds herself in a precarious situation and Ari goes to rescue her.

The book continues the story quite well. Ari is a tough-as-nails character most of the time, so it was nice to see a little bit more of what makes her tick, so to speak. There were a couple of other characters for her to interact with, which was interesting, the main one being a girl named Keshia. Keshia lives on the streets and is just trying to get by. Her fingers tend to get a little sticky and she finds herself running from trouble a lot. She makes some bad choices, but it’s either in the interest of survival or in a misguided attempt to help. She was by far my favorite character. To Ari’s credit, she doesn’t ditch Keshia, despite the several occasions when things would have been easier if she had.

I was a little bummed that Starla was once again in need of rescue. It would have been nice to see her character be a little more active. However, the group (dare I say ‘cult’?) that kidnaps her is all kinds of interesting. I really liked seeing how that all played out.

While this book is a sequel, the events of book one are explained throughout in a way that would make it completely possible to read as a stand-alone. I appreciated the references to what went on in A Girl Called Ari, since it helped freshen my memory.

Ari Goes to War is a quick read and an entertaining one. Look for it when it releases: in the meantime, A Girl Called Ari is available now and it’s a good time to jump in.

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick


This is your past, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .Arenza Lenskaya is a liar and a thief, a pattern-reader and a daughter of no clan. Raised in the slums of Nadezra, she fled that world to save her sister. 

This is your present, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .Renata Viraudax is a con artist recently arrived in Nadezra. She has one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune. 

This is your future, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither . . .As corrupt nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the city of dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled—with Ren at their heart. And if she cannot sort the truth from the lies, it will mean the destruction of all her worlds. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Rich in detail, this is a slow burn, good for those who like complexity in their books. The prologue for this book was fascinating. A young Ren does the unthinkable to save her sister and herself from a dangerous life on the streets, a life that would have led to an early death. However, after that big bang of a start, this book slowed down…a lot.

Normally, I like a slower buildup, as long as it builds up to something that makes it worth the wait. Unfortunately, I feel like The Mask of Mirrors didn’t live up to its full potential. There was a lot of setup- the authors obviously put a ton of thought and effort into making their world as large and detailed as possible. It was incredibly impressive. However, I kept waiting for that setup to contribute to the storyline and, at times, I felt that some of it was unnecessary.

Ren is a con woman. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book about a con where the main character is female. It was pretty stinking cool to see a female taking point on a con. While she wasn’t my favorite character in the book, I appreciated how different her techniques were. I did think that her part of the plot sort of meandered.

My favorite part of the book was trying to guess who the Rook was. He was a bit of vigilante. I found both the idea and the execution utterly fascinating. I really struggled to become invested; the Rook is what kept me reading.

There were many, many names to remember. Each person had a title, family tree, and random important facts thrown in. Again, that speaks of the richness of the authors’ world. It was utterly confusing, though. The characters themselves were all original and unique; it was just difficult to remember so many of them.

Much of this book relied on cleverness and the ability to play the game, so to speak. There are problems of knowing how to dress to distract or divert from a person’s true nature. Being able to afford the trappings to pull off the façade of fitting into high society was an obstacle that had to be overcome. This isn’t quite the sort of story that I usually get into, making me think that this is a situation of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

The final bit of the book really picked up and the ending made me curious about the second book of the series. I am interested to see what happens next, but it won’t be a priority for me. I think The Mask of Mirrors will probably be more appreciated by readers who like a “fantasy of manners” flare.

Come Take Me: A Celestial Satire by Ethan Herberman

The time is now (almost), and some Americans have decided that Canada is not quite far enough from their roiling homeland. For them there is ComeTakeMe.com, a website where people advertise to get taken by aliens.

Will anyone succeed? How about Marshall M. Shmishkiss, a starry-eyed optimist determined to become his world’s most eligible abductee? Marshall trains his body. He trains his mind. He tries to prepare for every challenge that might await a lone human on a ship of galactic explorers. And soon he will face a choice.

Either make one final, Faustian attempt at leaving his planet . . .

Or get used to down-to-earth drudgery and the end of his dreams. (taken from Netgalley)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Marshall M. Shmishkiss is a man determined to leave it all behind. He doesn’t want to move to a new place or quit his job–he really wants to leave it all behind. He trains in an attempt to be taken by aliens. He submits videos of his training to a website called ComeTakeMe, where they are viewed by the company that oversees the website.

The employees of this company call him the “Shmish” and they get great pleasure out of laughing and mocking the videos. Honestly, it was really cruel, despite the oddness of Marshall’s videos. You would think that would immediately endear me to Marshall, but I did not like him much. I don’t necessarily think it’s the character that I didn’t like, just that I was unable to click with the writing.

When I read a book that is so other, I need to have some sort of thread that connects me to the story, or at least brings me along for the ride. In Come Take Me, I was often confused. Things felt a little…blurry, for lack of a better word. I feel like the book was a little disorganized, especially at the beginning.

While the story idea was a clever one, I ultimately felt a little “meh” about this book. I think that says more about me than the book itself. I just didn’t click. It happens sometimes. I wish the author the best with Come Take Me , but I can’t say I would recommend it.

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich-ARC Review

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 21st, 2021.

I’ve heard Cornell Woolrich being spoken of as the father of the crime novel, so I jumped at the chance to read The Bride Wore Black. The plot is fairly simple: there are several murders that seem unrelated, except for the appearance of a mysterious woman, whom no one seems to recognize. It falls on Detective Wanger to solve the series of cases and stop the body count.

Unfortunately, this book was more problematic than enjoyable for me. The issue is, things that are unacceptable now (or at least, they should be) were commonplace when this book was written. Things have changed a lot since 1940. Nowhere is that more evident than in The Bride Wore Black. Racism and sexism were both very much a part of this book, in the casual sort of way that shows just how “normal” it was. For example, several men “good-naturedly” (the author’s word) tried to break down a dressing room door while a woman was changing. It was written as a natural, totally okay occurrence, which immediately put me off the book. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: it’s an older book, and I need to assume these things will be there and take it in stride. Fair point. If I were able to get past the content (which was pretty much impossible for me), my review would be pretty much what follows.

Woolrich made some odd choices. Throughout the book, the reader is given both the who and the how of the murders; the only unsolved part is the why. I’m used to reading books where the identity of the killer isn’t known right away, so this was new to me. I felt a little cheated with so much information being already given. I like the tricky aspect of trying to solve the whodunnit. That being said, the why ended up being a doozy, completely unexpected and rather sad.

If the excess of freely given information seemed odd, the methods of the killings were downright bizarre. The oddest one involved a killer disguised as a kindergarten teacher: the victim thinks it’s absolutely normal for his child’s kindergarten teacher to show up uninvited to cook him dinner while he puts his feet up and reads the paper (see what I mean about the book being problematic?) . I found myself wondering how someone who was so lacking in common sense managed to live so long in the first place. I couldn’t view the murderer as diabolical, smart, or even as much of a threat because the way the murders were committed were so incredibly weird.

I was bummed that we saw so little of Detective Wanger. There would be several chapters involving the killer, then a small aside featuring the detective. There is no opportunity to get to know the character, which was rather disappointing. At least he didn’t immediately discount the idea of a female killer based on gender.

As I’ve mentioned, the ending was surprising and creative. I could see a little bit of why the author is seen as one of the original driving forces in the detective novel genre. It felt like the precursor for later books in the genre. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to make this book enjoyable for me.

Needless to say, I definitely don’t recommend this book, although it could just be an issue of the reader not matching the writing. It happens.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler- ARC Review

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. A brutal war of succession has plunged the court of Kingfountain into a power struggle between a charitable king who took the crown unlawfully and his ambitious rival, Devon Argentine. The balance of power between the two men hinges on the fate of a young boy ensnared in this courtly intrigue. A boy befittingly nicknamed Ransom.

When the Argentine family finally rules, Ransom must make his own way in the world. Opportunities open and shut before him as he journeys along the path to knighthood, blind to a shadowy conspiracy of jealousy and revenge. Securing his place will not be easy, nor will winning the affection of Lady Claire de Murrow, a fiery young heiress from an unpredictably mad kingdom.

Ransom interrupts an abduction plot targeting the Queen of Ceredigion and earns a position in service to her son, the firstborn of the new Argentine dynasty. But conflict and treachery threaten the family, and Ransom must also come to understand and hone his burgeoning powers—abilities that involve more than his mastery with a blade and that make him as much a target as his lord. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on January 26th.

Reminiscent of Tad Williams’ The Dragonbone Chair, this book is obviously the work of a master. Every sentence, every word, is placed with care and precision. The story woven is a fantastic one, and I couldn’t put the book down.

This book follows Ransom- once a king’s hostage, now a knight hopeful- as he navigates the dangers involved in becoming a knight and in growing up. He finds himself in a very precarious position, in-between warring kingdoms. Threats, both from without the court and within, abound on all sides. One false step and Ransom could lose his sense of honor-or his life.

I loved absolutely everything about this book. The characters were fully developed, complex individuals, each with their own motivations and personalities. The book was told from Ransom’s point of view, interspersed with diary entries from Claire, the recipient of his affection. I loved Ransom, of course. He was often caught between his own sense of morality and the code of honor he swore to follow. It was fascinating and heartbreaking to see him realize that a knightly code of honor does not apply in every situation. His internal battles were just as interesting as his physical battles.

And what battles! They were so vividly painted, it was like being right in the middle of them. They all felt incredibly real. The adrenaline and bloodlust versus fear and even sadness at taking a life- it was all conveyed brilliantly. I often had my heart in my throat (a rather uncomfortable sensation, I might add), reading the fight scenes.

The secret deals and cutthroat politics were engrossing to say the least. Every time I thought I had a character pegged, they would do something completely unexpected. One particular person had me totally fooled. When they made their move, I was absolutely stunned. Even the smallest move can turn a chess game, I guess.

I was fully immersed in the world from page one. It was vast and so well described, I could picture everything perfectly. Honestly, from plot, to characters, to world development, there is nothing that wasn’t done wonderfully. This is an author I’ll be reading more from, I can tell you that.

If you like high fantasy, if you enjoy writers such as Tolkien, Tad Williams, and Sean Russell, if you like stories with a hint of Arthurian themes, you’ll love this book.

Hush by Dylan Farrow- ARC Review

They use magic to silence the world. Who will break the hush?

Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.

From Dylan Farrow comes Hush, a powerful fantasy where one girl is determined to remake the world. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this review. This book is available now.

I was intrigued by the rather vague mention to dreams bleeding into reality, so I just had to pick Hush up. I have to be honest: this felt rather generic to me in many ways. Dylan Farrow is a skilled author, there’s no denying that, but the story itself felt like an idea that hadn’t been fully fleshed out yet.

Shae is the main character. When she was younger, her brother died of the Blot, a mysterious plague thought to be spread by ink. After her mother is murdered, Shae decides to track down the Bards, the only people who are now allowed to read and write. There is a reason for her choice, but it doesn’t really make a ton of sense if you think about it for too long. A good chunk of Shae’s decision to find the Bards is for knowledge. If anyone can help her, it would be them. This book is a lot of “don’t notice, don’t question”, with Shae needing to overcome her blind acceptance of things to discover the truth.

Unfortunately, Shae was a rather forgettable character. I never really got a feel on who she was. Again, I got the feel of a half fleshed-out idea. She was stubborn when it didn’t make sense to be, had the dreaded insta-attraction that I hate, and I just felt like she was more a stereotype of what people say all YA female characters are like, as opposed to being a full character. I don’t need to love a character to like reading about them, but feeling apathy regarding the main character definitely detracts from my enjoyment of a book.

The world itself is a fascinating one, full of little details that make it more three-dimensional, and it’s apparent that the author has a vision and is capable of realizing it. Even bare bones of the plot are pretty stinking cool. It just needs to be a little more developed.

I have a feeling that this series will grow and evolve into something great as it continues on. Unfortunately, I won’t be reading any subsequent books. Hush was just not for me.

They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll by Dough Brod

Amazon.com: They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick,  Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll (9780306845192): Brod, Doug: Books

A veteran music journalist explores how four legendary rock bands-KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz-laid the foundation for two diametrically opposed subgenres: hair metal in the ’80s and grunge in the ’90s.

They Just Seem a Little Weird offers an original, eye- and ear-opening look at a crucial moment in hard-rock history, when the music became fun again and a concert became a show. It’s the story of four bands that started in the ’70s and drew from the same seminal sources but devised vastly different sounds. It’s the story of friends and frenemies who rose, fell, and soared again, often sharing stages, producers, engineers, managers, and fans-and who are still collaborating more than 40 years later.

In the tradition of books like David Browne’s bestselling Fire and Rain, They Just Seem a Little Weird seamlessly weaves the narratives of the mega-selling KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith with . . . Starz, a criminally neglected band whose fate may have been sealed by a shocking act of violence. It’s the story of how the four groups-three of them now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame-went on to influence multiple generations of musicians, laying the foundation for two diametrically opposed rock subgenres: the hair metal of Bon Jovi, Poison, Skid Row, and Mötley Crüe in the ’80s, and the grunge of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Melvins in the ’90s. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on December first.

First off, let me just say: I’m not a huge fan of any of these bands, just because I only know them passingly well. They were just a teensy bit before my time. Of course, I don’t live under a rock, so I have at least heard their music. So, if I’m not an uber fan, why did I scurry to read this book? Because it sounded fascinating.

It is an interesting foray into the bizarre world of rock and roll. There were a lot of weird, random happenstances that let me know how small the world of professional music-making truly is. There’s a major “six degrees to Kevin Bacon” vibe that permeates the book. So many things that happened were connected in the oddest ways. About halfway through, I was ready to start singing, “It’s a small world after all…”

Despite this, I found myself getting confused at times because there were so many names to remember. Not only that, each person seemed to have several nicknames bestowed by several different people and the nicknames got a bit perplexing. Also, the way they were all connected to each other was very convoluted at times. Read this book with a pencil ready in case you get name confusion like I did.

That being said, this book is a very engrossing read. The beginning of these music giants was just so much fun to read about, and the little asides were flat-out strange. It made for an incredibly entertaining book. I now know more about these bands than I thought was humanly possible for someone who wasn’t already an obsessive fan.

My biggest gripe is that there was a lot of information but not a lot of emotion. There was a ton of “how” and “when” but not a lot of “why,” if that makes sense. I wanted a little more personality than I got. That’s just a small little complaint, though.

The writing is succinct and well-worded. It flowed well and there weren’t really any parts that dragged or felt superfluous. For those of you who love any of these bands, or are huge music buffs in general, you’ll want to add this to your collection. For me, I liked it but fell just short of loving it.

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards, #1) by Janella Angeles

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available for purchase on August 25th.

I was interested in this book because a review said that fans of The Night Circus would love it. I must say, I have no idea why the review said that, since the two books are so incredibly different. However, I still found this book to be incredibly enjoyable.

Kallia is a very powerful magician. When the book opens, she works for the enigmatic Jack (also known as The Master) in a club known as Hell House. She lives on his estate, a pampered but lonely existence. Kallia dreams of leaving and travelling to the city of Glorian. When she sees a flyer advertising a competition for magicians she seizes her chance, despite Jack’s warnings against leaving.

Kallia is the only female in the competition, and it is clear from the beginning that she is not wanted. She expected that, though, and it doesn’t stop her. In fact, it makes her even more determined to make her mark. Strange doings start and what began as a competition turns into something far deadlier.

What makes this book stand out are the fantastic characters. On top of Kallia, there’s Canary, a fire eater; Aaros, a thief-turned-magician’s assistant; and Demarco, a judge from the competition who’s hiding something. And, of course, there’s Jack. I didn’t love Kallia because she’s so convinced that everyone is against her, even the people who are in her corner. She’s very prickly. However, it made her incredibly interesting. The other characters were all very well-developed. Jack is my favorite. He’s such a mystery. There’s obviously more to him than is revealed in this book, and I can’t wait to see where his story-line goes.

The magic itself was very interesting, kind of a combination between stage tricks and the real thing. Author Janella Angeles gave each character their own artistic flare, so things were constantly surprising and intriguing me.

This book ends on a cliff hanger, leaving me desperate to see what happens next. I loved it. The stakes were raised and there are loose ends waiting to be tied up. If the sequel continues in the vein of this book, it’s going to be a doozy.

This book was a blast. I highly recommend it.

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold- ARC Review

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold
The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need?

Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.
Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.
Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.
What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.
Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.
But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is the sequel to The Last Smile in Sunder City. You can find my review for that book here Dead Man in a Ditch will be available on September 22nd.

Dead Man in a Ditch picks up pretty much right after the end of book one. I expected this series to be rather episodic, to be honest, each book being a case that Fetch Phillips finds himself caught up in. Instead, the series has a continuing story-line, back stories are explored, new characters are introduced, and surprises are revealed.

Sunder City is full of grime, violence, and a fair hint of desperation. So is Fetch Phillips. They make for an excellent match. This city is full of once-magical creatures who are struggling to get by in a post-magic world. One of the many things I loved is how author Luke Arnold explores how it would feel for a being who is mostly magic to be bereft of it. His narrative voice is fantastic. There’s a Sam Spade feel to it, although Fetch has become much more introspective than he was in book one. This evolution of character feels natural and makes perfect sense in the story.

Fetch Phillips’ latest tangle (I’d say “case,” but it gets out of hand much too quickly to qualify as one) involves magic. It shouldn’t: it’s been established that all the magic is gone. However, someone seems to have missed the memo. Fetch finds himself trying to solve a murder and figure out if-  and how – the magic is actually returning.

I love how delightfully madcap this book is. Running through it is more of Fetch’s backstory, and some serious character development. We get a closer look at this new, messed up, magic-free world. I’m annoyed at the author: he had me tearing up over the fate of a unicorn.  Grr!  I became so invested in this book, I had to stop myself from rereading it as soon as I finished the last page.

I would say that the tone of this book is more serious than the first book, but not so much that reading it is a downer. Rather, it draws you in. The stakes are higher and the fate of many hinges on decisions made by a small few. It’s kind of messed up, actually. I’m sure Fetch would agree.

This is a fantasy like no other. It’s gritty and dark, but still has an undercurrent of hope running through it. It showcases how wonderfully broad the fantasy genre really is. I loved every moment of it.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you need to make it a priority. Just go ahead and shift it right up to the top of your “to be read” pile. I guarantee you’ll love it too.