I am never not in awe of words, and the power they have. A book is just a bunch of letters put together in a specific order- but it’s also so much more. There’s something special in that, and in the way a quote can stick with a person, speaking to them. I really like looking back at the words that stuck with me throughout the year. Here are a few of my favorite quotes (and one poem) from books I read in 2021 (here is my 2020 Quotables post).
“Never underestimate that big importance of small things.” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
“…I need language to live, like food- lexemes and morphemes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that, yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before.” – M.L. Rio, If We Were Villains
“But isn’t that life? We second-guess everything because it’s in our nature. People with anxiety and depression just do it more.” – T.J. Klune, Under the Whispering Door
“After all, power makes everyone monstrous. At least a little.”- Tasha Suri, The Jasmine Throne
“I am but paper. Brittle and thin. I am held up to the sun, and it shines right through me. I get written on, and I can never be used again. These scratches are a history. They’re a story. They tell things for others to read, but they only see the words, and not what the words are written upon. I am but paper, and though there are many like me, none are exactly the same. I am parched parchment. I have lines. I have holes. Get me wet, and I melt. Light me on fire, and I burn. Take me in hardened hands, and I crumple. I tear. I am but paper. Brittle and thin.”- T.J. Klune, TheHouse in the Cerulean Sea
“Think about all that the wind is and all that it does. Where it goes. Where it comes from. The wind knows everything, for it travels everywhere, and it’s with us always. It endures. It feels. It speaks. Sometimes it whispers. Sometimes it rages. Give it a listen sometime. See what it tells you.”- M.L. Spencer, Dragon Mage
“That had been a genuine misunderstanding, and who hadn’t assaulted and tied up a stranger by mistake?”- Patrick Samphire, Nectar for the Gods
“For someone who loved wordsas much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me.” – M.L. Rio, If We Were Villains
“Your voice is a weapon. Never forget that.”- T.J. Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea
What are some book quotes that stuck with you this year?
You can find reviews for these books linked below:
Today I am privileged to join Storytellers on Tour in talking about The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald. This book is available for purchase now.
So, what is The Living Waters about?
About The Living Waters:
When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.
The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.
The Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy novel featuring an ethereal love story, meditation magic, and an ancient book with cryptic marginalia.
Author Dan Fitzgerald was kind enough to share some of the inspiration behind The Living Waters.
Water photography : inspiration for The Living Waters
“Photography was my pandemic hobby, and I discovered a hidden world just a few minutes walk from my doorstep on Capitol Hill, DC. Most of the photos you see here were taken by me within one mile of my house, so within two miles of the US Capitol building. The photos have been retouched using various filters and effects on Instagram, to better capture what my eye saw, which the camera sometimes fails to show.
Swirls in muddy water
The Living Waters features two painted faced nobles being led on a trip down a muddy river called the Agra. Mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, which sparks their guide to lead them to find the source. This picture hints at the muddy mystery of the river portion of their trip. It’s actually a photo of a mudpuddle in a construction site; little bubbles kept popping up from the bottom, causing these weird little swirls in the muddy water.
This little wetland is between Congressional Cemetery and the Anacostia River, known to be one of the most polluted waterways in the country. You have to wiggle your way through some dense underbrush to find it, and depending on when you go, it can be muddy or magical. I was amazed to find these gorgeous flowers blooming there this spring! I can easily imagine this being the entrance to the mythical wetlands in the book.
This photo was taken in almost the exact same spot as the flower photo. I looked down into the shallow, mucky water at my feet and saw all these tiny bubbles on underwater moss, and took a bunch of pictures until I came up with one that just worked. There’s a moment in the book, where one of the characters is shown the world inside her mind, and this photo really captures that feeling of hidden microcosms.
Water on lotus leaf
This is from a trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden in DC, an amazing collection of water lilies and lotus plants set in a dozen or so small ponds just off the Anacostia River. I loved the way the light reflected off the water in this leaf, giving such an ethereal feel. There are watery beings called sitri in The Living Waters, and this photo reminds me of them.
This photo was taken in a drainage ditch leading into a mucky wetland in Fort Dupont Park, a few miles from my house. The clay in the soil adds a nice orangey color to the photographs, and I used some enhancers to capture the color of leaves and sky reflected in the water to give a kind of rainbow effect. I love finding beauty in these little out of the way places. The ethereal wonder of this photograph captures the essence of the book for me.
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to show some photographs and talk about them! I hope they bring a few readers some joy.”
Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). The Living Waters comes out October 15, 2021 and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrives January 15, 2022, both from Shadow Spark Publishing.
He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.
Author T.J. Klune does it again! Under the Whispering Door is insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.
The book follows the recently deceased Wallace, a take-no-crap lawyer who wasn’t the nicest person in the world when he was breathing. I think his jerkish demeanor is one of the reasons that it took me longer to become invested in this book than in Klune’s last book. While Wallace’s snotty attitude is integral to the plot of the book, it held me at arm’s length for a little bit.
Wallace is used to getting his way and being the intimidating one. Imagine his outrage when he discovers that, not only is he dead, but he has ended up at Charon’s Crossing, a tea shop/waystation pre-going where one goes when they croak. He is no longer intimidating anyone. In fact, he slowly begins to learn that there is more to living than being rich or feared.
What ended up drawing me in was the wonderfully zany cast of characters that run Charon’s Crossing. There’s Mei, a reaper unlike any other. When she’s not leading the recently deceased into Charon’s Crossing, she’s making baked goods and rocking out to loud music. Mei is feisty with hidden depths.
There’s Nelson, a ghost who sticks around because his son happens to run Charon’s Crossing. He is quite possibly my favorite character. He quietly makes Wallace question who he was and who he can be. He sees more than he lets on, and he adds so much to the storyline. He’s also hilarious.
Then there’s Hugo. Oh, Hugo. Hugo is the only fully living member of the group (Mei is technically alive but with extra perks) and he runs Charon’s Crossing. He is so understanding and his compassion knows no bounds. Hugo is what led to my favorite parts of the book. See, I’m a sucker for a good conversation. I’m not a “small talk” sort of person. The conversations between Hugo and Wallace in Under the Whispering Door were poignant, enlightening, and really quite beautiful. This was one of those books that can make a person feel seen. This is when I started to like Wallace. From being a rather stereotypical a-hole, Wallace becomes sensitive, caring, introspective- in short, he evolves. He learns that there is beauty in everything, even in loss.
In the acknowledgements the author says that he wrote this while he was grieving his own loss. Grief, regret, love, hope- these are all universal and they are all honestly and simply explored here. Under the Whispering Door has become one of my favorite books of the year.
Once upon a time, there was a socially awkward, book-obsessed nerd. This nerd (let’s call her Jodie, shall we?) loved to read. I mean, loved it! Her house was filled with books, her mind was filled with books, and she loved talking about books with everyone she knew. Now, every main character has a flaw (or two, or three) and one of Jodie’s flaws was that she had a hard time not talking about books. This could easily make her an incredibly annoying person to be around. Fortunately, she happened to know a wise wizard. This wizard (also known as her husband) suggested a magical cure to Jodie’s fatal flaw: start a book blog!
Now that we’ve all learned why I am not an author, let me sum up the rest of the story: today is my third blogging birthday. After nearly seven hundred posts, let me share a bit of knowledge with you: I am not an expert. At all. What I am, though, is grateful. I was completely surprised to realize that blogs don’t have to exist in a vacuum. I’ve met some amazing people and read some incredible books thanks to book blogging. I’ve been fortunate to have authors and publishers trust me to review their books, and I’ve tried genres that I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.
I have noticed a fair bit of discouragement lately from bloggers (I’ve been discouraged myself). Imposter Syndrome seems to be rearing its ugly head a lot. So, here is a short sampling of some of the amazing reviews that have caused me to spend way too much money on books. This is nowhere near a complete list, but you all rock. If you happen to find yourself on this list, please consider adding your own list of book bloggers who have added to your reading enjoyment.
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.
Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Notes From the Burning Age is available now.
Notes from the Burning Age tells a tale perfectly balanced. Humanity has been brought low by the nature it destroyed: no longer does technology rule supreme at the cost of the land. Instead, humans have found a different way to live. They have a newfound reverence for the kakuy- sky, water, and fire spirits. The kakuy are credited with cleansing the earth of humanity’s hubris through fire, drought, or flood. While I found this idea to be an interesting one, the kakuy are not ever really the main focus.
The extremely thinly veiled parallels between what happened in the book’s world and what is being done to ours were written well. The almost-philosophical musings found throughout were thought provoking and utterly fascinating. Somehow, author Claire North merged two very different tales- one of scholarly interest and debate, the other of espionage and danger- into one engrossing story.
The book opens with Ven as a child. His own childhood experience with the kakuy, which cost him his best friend, change his outlook and help shape the person he grows up to become. There are “before and after” parts in everyone’s life: the very moment something shifts and one life is swallowed up by another. The reader has the pleasure to experience this with Ven as he finds himself embroiled in a revolution he didn’t ask to be involved in, one that he is quite literally beaten into joining.
Ven is a disillusioned temple scholar, one who left the Temple after losing faith in both the Temple’s mission and its methods. He is working in a bar when he is contacted by the Brotherhood, an organization that could be seen as extremist. They pressure him into using his Temple skills to translate and verify the origins of “heretical texts”, things from before the worlds destruction that the church considers to be too dangerous for the common man. These texts range from harmless emails to instructions on bomb making. This the impetus for what becomes a fast-moving, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Ultimately, though, everything is a veneer over the true focus of the book, which is the exploration of themes such as spirituality, knowledge (and who should have it), and respect for both one’s surroundings and for other people.
The writing itself is impeccable. A book such as this could easily become too heavy, and either bore or confuse the reader. Claire North kept it moving at a good pace, while also making sure that nothing was ever rushed. The prose was beautiful in an unconventional way. In fact, I would describe the entirety of the book like that: beautiful and unconventional. Combining an interesting and relatable protagonist with a writing like this made for a book that was difficult to put down.
Notes from the Burning Age is unlike anything I have ever read and I had to mull over my thoughts before deciding what I thought of it. At the end of the day, I don’t think a book like this can fall into a “like” or “dislike” category. It is too nuanced for that. There are too many pieces that fit together to make something complex and new. Instead, I can say that it made me think. Ven was the window through which truths and wonderings are explored, in a world that-in some ways- is not too dissimilar from our own.
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is available for purchase now.
I am very picky when it comes to Sherlock Holmes and how he’s represented. I am not an expert or anything like that, but I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and have read the original mysteries more than once (or twice). I’ve noticed that often a newer Holmes iteration will either match Doyle’s original consulting detective in writing style or spirit of character, rarely in both . I was both delighted and surprised to see that Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable managed to do both!
I fairly flew through this book, slowing down only to savor the story for a little longer. It’s extremely well written and the main players match my memories of the originals while at the same time growing and developing as only the best characters can. The additional characters (there must be suspects, after all) are all fantastic, quirky without being over the top.
The mystery itself was fantastic. It wasn’t forced, the final solution made perfect sense in response to the clues, and it was very clever. What I really enjoyed, though, was the ability to explore how Holmes himself ticked. He toyed around with hypnosis, and I’m sure you can imagine the tangled web that presents. Not only is his psyche bared, but his friendship with Watson is put to the test. I was so on board for that!
Surprisingly, the ending left me both incredibly satisfied and a little sad. It felt like the perfect epilogue to a brilliant character’s lifelong accomplishments, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the book to end. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is a fantastic love letter to Conan Doyle’s original works, and a wonderful representation of literature’s most inimitable detective.
What happens when you renege on a deal with a monster? Miren O’Malley is the last daughter of true O’Malley lineage. The family used to be mighty and successful, but that luck (is it just luck?) has dwindled as surely as their bloodline has. There have always been rumors about how the O’Malleys managed to be so rich and successful for so long, but the truth has been kept strictly secret. This is where All the Murmuring Bones starts.
Miren’s grandmother is the matriarch of the O’Malleys and is desperate to regain some of their lost glory. She plans to marry Miren off to a rich, abusive jerk. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with Miren. She flees, but is followed-not just by her intended, but by the mer.
These aren’t your Disney merfolk. The mer are dangerous and mysterious. I loved everything about them. In fact, they are not the only wild and savage creatures of legend that make an appearance. Rusalka, kelpies, and more give All the Murmuring Bones a dark mythical feel that drew me in.
Miren is smart, capable, and no stranger to bloodshed. There is no boundary she is unwilling to cross to keep her life and her freedom. Her flight to safety turns into a quest for answers and the switch is fascinating and brilliant. I’m used to gothic novels sticking to a single setting. However, Miren’s travels allow the world and plot to open up magnificently.
I did feel there was a misstep here and there. For example, the ending wraps everything up in a neat little bow that feels a little out of place considering the path the rest of the book takes. I would have liked seeing parts of the story left, if not unexplained, at least a little enigmatic. Also, the climactic event was over sooner than I was hoping. It felt a teensy bit rushed. However, these are small complaints in the grand scheme of things and the rest of the book is really stinking good.
All the Murmuring Bones is a gothic novel that hits all the right points. I highly recommend it.
This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find the link here.
The book is an adult dark fantasy featuring female protagonists (anti-heroines), demons, and plenty of bleak moments. It begins with two women enacting a scheme to overthrow a tyrant chief by first kidnapping his wife. Annilasia whisks Jalice off into a forest infested with beasts and demonic entities, while Delilee remains behind to spy on the chief. Yet a dangerous event from Jalice’s past threatens to undo their schemes.
It’s a book that caters to readers who want that spooky, creepy vibe in their fantasy stories, almost horror at times, but still maintains a tale that explores what it means to be human and all the emotions that come with that.
What first inspired you to write? What drew you to writing fantasy?
I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction. If there’s aliens, ghosts, or dragons involved, count me in. Some of my favorite childhood series were The Magic Treehouse series, any Star Wars EU books, and The Bailey School Kids series. My obsession with fantastical tales only grew from there, and from a young age I knew I wanted to be a fantasy author.
Fantasy uses other-worldly settings and characters to draw in the reader, and provides a form of escape for a lot of people. Yet, I also found that, with a lot of fantasy, it speaks on real-life issues and emotions. I was a shy kid, and books helped me digest the real world around me while still hooking me with those fantastical elements. Books also taught me the power that words held, and how stories could be incredibly influential.
When working on a book, what comes first for you–the characters or the plot?
Both. Honestly, it’s usually a scene. I listen to instrumental movie scores to get inspired, and often times inspiration strikes when I envision a character in a specific setting or involved in some pivotal act. Almost like a movie trailer. I get bits and pieces that seem intriguing to me, and they slowly come together as I get to outlining the story further.
Did you base any of your characters on yourself in any way?
Most certainly, yes. Well-written characters evolve from a writer being able to tap into the character’s mindset and emotions. Doing so requires the writer to dig deep, and in my personal experience, it’s meant I’ve had to sit and mull over my own emotions and memories. Even villains are written this way. I think we view villains as ‘other’ or ‘inhuman’, but its usually their actions that fit those terms—their emotions, on the other hand, probably are more relatable than people would initially admit. Jealousy, anger, selfishness: we all experience these. It’s just our story-villains take those emotions and take extraordinary action on them that the average person wouldn’t. Or, at the very least, they take exaggerated actions.
Basically, yes, I think each of my main characters reflects different parts of me. Jalice is naïve and perpetuates a false innocence when really she is in denial of her past sins. Annilasia starts with a righteous anger over the state of her world, but this righteous anger quickly devolves into self-righteous pride and an uncontrollable temper. The villain, Hydrim, is stuck in a mindset of control and power with an unwillingness to examine his motivations and vulnerabilities that fuel that mindset.
I’ve been there—each of those mindsets. I think we all have in different moments of our lives.
What was the hardest character or part to write?
This is going to sound kind of silly, but honestly, for me its how a character looks. Finding unique and interesting ways to flesh out how a character looks and what they wear is difficult. My mindset if usually ‘get to the story, get to the magic, who cares what they look like?’ That, of course, isn’t going to fly with my readers, so I had to spend time learning how and when to describe a character’s looks.
I’ve heard this book being described as darker in tone? Would you agree?
Absolutely. That was my intention. This is certainly fantasy: there’s magic, there’s monsters, there’s swords and arrows. But this isn’t The Chronicles of Narnia by any means. My characters are incredibly flawed (i.e. not exactly noble for the most part), and the world they live in is harsh. Deformed monsters lurk in the bleak forest, and demon-like entities stalk the astral realms. Blood and screams infest the pages of this book.
Yet this wasn’t for the sake of shock value. I felt the darker setting was appropriate given the underlying themes I sought to explore. The personal betrayals and delusional mindsets are reflected in the world my characters inhabit.
What were some obstacles and joys of writing a bleaker world?
I worried that readers seeking fantasy would be put off by the horror elements. It felt like a risk. Fantasy typically features a noble and hopeful vibe, and although that still exists within this story, the bleaker world definitely swallows that up at times. From initial reactions though, readers seem to be enjoying this surprising genre-blend.
I enjoyed writing the horror elements. Horror evokes deep-rooted emotions that every human experiences: fear and dread. I think embedding those in with the fantasy setting helps accentuate the themes I was exploring. My characters get to interact with magic and swords while confronting their worst fears and the horrific effects of some of their decisions.
Is it easier for you to write a villainous character or a hero? Which is more fun?
Easier? Probably the hero, though I use the term ‘hero’ very loosely whenever TJOJ is involved in the discussion. My protagonists aren’t heroes in the traditional definition. They’re just not evil enough to be considered villains. Villainous characters can be tough to write because they can easily become a caricature or cliché.
More fun? I think they both offer fun elements. Heroes get to save the day, but I honestly get the most enjoyment forcing my heroes to confront their flaws. Heroes are only as strong as their greatest vulnerabilities and their courage to face those alongside the monsters. Villains, on the other hand, are fun to write because (at least for me) it’s a sort of cathartic examination of the darker experiences of humanity. Perhaps that sounds troubling, but we all must at some point examine the seeds of darkness within ourselves. Writing villains allows an almost therapeutic outlet for that.
How do you “get in the writing zone”?
Music is a quick way to jump-start inspiration. So I listen to an instrumental song that fits the scene I’m attempting to dive into. Usually, sugar and caffeine are involved as well. I’m an author—the job description demands I be addicted to either coffee or tea. I’ve chosen coffee (easier to excuse the copious amounts of sugar I combine with it. Can’t get away with that as much with tea).
Lastly, I’m always curious? What is your favorite book (and you can absolutely say your own!)
That’s a tough question. I think the book that has stuck with me the most is The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I haven’t even finished the series it belongs to (got half way through the series twice, but never have the momentum to get past that midway point). Yet, I really enjoy Jordan’s style of writing and the characters he created. Alongside Patrick Rothfuss, Jordan is who I hope to emulate someday with my writing style.