Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion, and for allowing me to join the blog tour. African Icons is available now.
I am a homeschool mom so I am constantly looking for good educational books to add to our curriculum. This has made the cut! African Icons is a useful, well-written look at a part of history that is often unseen.
Sometimes it seems that history only mentions figures like Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, and Harriett Tubman. That leaves out so many interesting people, and so many fascinating moments in history. This book endeavors to fill in some of the gaps left in knowledge.
My youngest child is a history lover. Because of that, I was able to test whether this will hold a child’s interest. He was definitely interested, although this book is probably best for older elementary kids. The facts were delivered in a way that didn’t shy away from some of the darker parts of history, while also not glorifying violence. It is quite obvious that author Tracey Baptiste put both time and effort into crafting a book that was both informative and accessible. The pages were full of backgrounds, details, and even pronunciation guides, which I very much appreciated.
I really loved the collection of people chosen for this book. There were both males and females and it was fantastic seeing women get their due in a history book. It really doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. The illustrations were brightly colored and attention-catching, although I do wish there were more of them.
This will probably be a bit too wordy for most younger children (although my pint-sized history buff loved it), but I highly recommend African Icons for older elementary and middle grade children. It would also make an excellent resource for educators or parents who want to provide a more complete look at African history.
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sacaran Nights will be available for purchase on October 28th.
Rachel Emma Shaw is the author of Last Memoria, an incredibly unique book which has stayed with me since I first read it (review here). I am delighted but not at all surprised that Sacaran Nights continues in this vein with multiple layers begging to be peeled back and examined.
The book follows Dagner, a contradiction in sorts. Dagner is a figure at odds with himself. He struggles with his desire to be an upstanding member of a community that only sees him as worthy of their attention because of the inheritance he wasn’t supposed to have. Part of him longs to live up to their expectations and succeed them. In a city where death is everywhere and the dead are celebrated and revered, he wants to make his ancestors proud. He wants to be the perfect match for his fiancé, whom he loves in the worshipful way that might eventually prove to be unhealthy. Another part of him, however, loathes Sacara and all that it is. He hates the dark, the fungus rot, the society that would normally never accept him. That part of him wants desperately to leave.
I loved how Dagner’s warring desires were played out in his relationships. His fiancé, Revana, represented what he saw as the good and pure part of himself. He seemed to always see himself as not quite good enough for her, just as he felt like he was lying about who he was. His friend Merany allowed him the freedom to be himself, question, and show anger at the society that discards those they deem not important. Dagner is easily one of the most complex and believable characters I’ve read recently. He was often plagued by self-doubt and indecision, regret, and bitterness at the hand life dealt him, but at the same time his actions showed a person who has not given up or given in. Dagner was wonderful.
The world itself was a fascinating one, dark and alien. There were descriptions of different fungi at the beginning of each chapter which I thought was interesting, especially since the names and descriptions changed based on the area. I also thought the variety of fungi was pretty cool. It seemed like the sort of dangerous that is really pretty. It lent an atmosphere of lurking sadness to the book.
The author’s writing style won’t be for everyone. Instead of giving a detailed background of what everything is and why it functions the way it does, the reader is put right in the middle of the world and given information as the book progresses. I personally love this sort of writing, as I am not at all a fan of info dumping. It does demand attention, though, or you will get lost. The first bit of the book is slower, but it is far from boring. It gave me time to become fully immersed in both the characters’ lives and their struggles.
As much as I enjoyed Last Memoria, I thought Sacaran Nights was even better. It brilliantly utilized the fantasy genre to explore grief, loss, and regret in ways both beautiful and raw. I highly recommend it.
The Hawthorne Legacy is a sequel to The Inheritance Games ( you can find my review of that book here) and there are some unavoidable spoilers to book one below. You have been warned!
Ah, where to start with this book? After finding The Inheritance Games to be a rollicking good treasure hunt complete with riddles and double-crossing, The Hawthorne Legacy was left with some pretty big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me.
While the spirit of the series was alive and kicking, a good chunk of the book seemed a little disorganized. After solving the riddles and thwarting the plots in book one, Avery is left trying to navigate the newfound “responsibilities” that come with her fortune, while at the same time trying to find Tobias Hawthorne. He seems to have vanished into thin air, leaving very little in the way of how to find him. Meanwhile, there’s a new mystery involving Avery’s mom, and then Avery’s dad shows up…see what I mean about it being a little disorganized? Some of the threads end up tying together while others seem to fade into the background without there ever really being a resolution.
The mystery was not particularly compelling to me, simply because the reveals were often found in letters etc, as opposed to being cleverly puzzled out. The reader wasn’t given all the clues needed to solve the puzzles along with the characters, which was a bummer for me. I love getting the solution and having a “Why didn’t I see that?” moment. I didn’t really get the chance for that here.
That’s not to say The Hawthorne Legacy didn’t have its fun moments. It most definitely did. Avery’s best friend became a larger part of the storyline, which I loved. Her spunk and individuality were a breath of lighthearted fresh air and her interactions with Xander in particular were a lot of fun. She also gave us a window into the thoughts of the other characters, as she would demand details that wouldn’t otherwise have been given. She pushed the story along when it seemed to start to falter.
The relationship complications became more of an issue, which is most definitely not my jam. The love triangle might actually appeal to a lot of readers because it was done in a pretty classy way, considering. It’s just not my thing.
So, what did I think of the mystery? I felt that, while it was creative and led to lots of tense moments, the way it was done changed this book from a mysterious puzzler to a thriller. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it was unexpected. The Inheritance Games had a bit of a Knives Out vibe in my opinion. The Hawthorne Legacy went in a much different direction.
While it ended up not quite being my thing, the book is still well written and the characters are still interesting enigmas. Avery’s best friend Max stole the show, but there were plenty of great moments with the other characters too. We are shown more of the relationship dynamic between the brothers, particularly between Jameson and Grayson, which I thought was fantastic. Even though they are extremely competitive and often work at cross purposes, it was clear they care about each other.
The Inheritance Games is a blast to read and I still recommend it. The Hawthorne Legacy was a bit of a letdown, but I might be in the minority in my final takeaway. I suggest you give it a go yourself and tell me why my opinion is wrong.
Thank you to Orbit books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Bone Ship’s Wake is available for purchase now.
Every now and again a series comes along that completely wrecks me, in the very best way. TheBone Ship’s Wake perfectly ended a series that surprised, touched, thrilled, and saddened me (the author is not nice to his characters). It was an emotional roller coaster, one that was so well written that I was constantly astonished.
It is difficult to review the final book in a series without accidentally giving spoilers. I’ll be as vague as possible, but warning: There be spoilers ahead!
The Bone Ship’s Wake wraps up the story started in Call of the Bones Ships (book one) magnificently. Joron is doing everything he can, and then some, to rescue Meas. He is now the leader of the entire black fleet. He is called the Black Pirate and has gained quite the reputation for being a bloodthirsty murderer. Joron is desperate. He is violent. He is fantastic. I loved his character development. He is scared, angry, and lonely. He is incredibly human. He feels the weight of everything that has happened and everything he fears will happen and- despite this- he somehow keeps going.
As always, each character was well written and a great addition to the story. I love found families, and that’s exactly what we have here. A ragtag group, to be sure, but that made the relationships and the characters’ interactions even better.
I would love to say that Barker’s writing is “even better in this book”, but how can you improve upon magnificence? There is not a single misstep and Barker happily took my feelings and stomped all over them. How dare you, sir (and thank you for devastating me with your storyline)!
The pacing was fantastic, each word placed with care. There’s violence galore, but there are also introspective moments that I found to be even more riveting. The story moved at a great pace, not too slow, but not so quickly that details or important plot points were discarded.
If you’re looking for a books with happily ever afters for each character, keep looking. This series will not be for you. However, The Bone Ship’s Wake brilliantly ended a series that was both brutal and beautiful. Yes, that seems like a bit of a contradiction, but I promise it makes sense. Go into the final book expecting to cry.
I don’t do tags all that often and I’ve only ever created two, this being one of them. I had so much fun with this one a couple of years ago that I decided to do it again this year. So, without further ado: bring on the monsters!
Dracula- a book with a charismatic villain:
Oh, how I love Lestat! He’s spoiled and changeable, charming and utterly ruthless. I may not be a fan of Anne Rice’s most recent vampire books (way to kick that dead horse!), but early Lestat is viciously fantastic.
The Invisible Man- a book that has more going on than meets the eye:
What starts out as a seemingly lighthearted town gathering becomes something much darker, in true Jackson style. I read The Lottery for the first time this year and was disturbed and enthralled in equal measure. This short story made me think and is definitely more than it seems on the surface. Review
Wolfman- a complicated character:
Every single character in If We Were Villains was incredibly complex. One of the many things I loved about the book was seeing how the characters unraveled and seeing hidden aspects of their personalities revealed. Review
Frankenstein- a book with a misunderstood character:
Umhra is a half-orc and is looked down on and distrusted because of it. It adds another layer to an already extremely well-developed character. Paladin Unbound is one of my favorite books of the year and I have started recommending it to people a lot. Review
The Bride of Frankenstein- a sequel you enjoyedmorethan the first book:
Full disclosure: I am not quite finished with this book yet. However, as of right now I am loving it. It seems like the few niggles I had with The Bone Shard Daughter are absent. Plus, Mephi is there from the beginning, which is wonderful!
Creature from the Black Lagoon- an incredibly unique book:
Oh, how I loved Campaigns and Companions! There are many comedic roleplaying-related books. There is nothing like this one though. I laughed out loud and found myself showing my favorite bits to everyone in the house (translation: I chased family members down and shoved the book into their retinas). I hear there’s a sequel in the works and I am so stinking excited! Review
The Mummy- a book that wraps up nicely (see what I did there?):
Everything about The House in the CeruleanSea was perfect, including the ending. It didn’t feel like an ending, more like a beginning, which was absolutely wonderful. Review
I’m not tagging anyone, but please feel free to take part if this tickles your fancy. Please link me and credit me as the creator. I hope to see some great lists (although I’m sure they will add way too many books to my already overwhelming tbr).
Remnants is a collection of stories about a world ravaged and left for dead, with only a few leftovers- remnants, if you will. Instead of focusing on the horrific monsters that have violently changed life as humans know it, these tales focus mainly on how the few survive and who they become. The stories showcase tenacity, an unwillingness to lay down and die, and the best- and very worst- of humanity. Although, in some cases, humanity has long since left the building.
The concept behind Remnants is not a new one; post-apocalyptical stories like this have been created before. However, where this anthology is different is in its execution. Instead of full stories, there are short vignettes, brief glimpses in time. Some stories are touching, others incredibly brutal. Like humanity itself, the stories have a sliding scale of morality, with some unwilling to cross boundaries that other characters don’t even see as existing.
I found the examination of humanity to be fascinating. Like most anthologies, some stories worked better for me than others, but this was a collection that I consistently enjoyed. While some readers might wish for a little bit more focus on the monsters themselves, I really liked that following the survivors were the main event. Although in some cases, I could argue that not all the characters alive had actually really survived.
Each story added something to the overall atmosphere of the book. The first story, “Resistance” by Stephen Coghlan, set the tone for Remnants. It’s also a good lead-in, preparing the reader for stories that range from bizarre to emotional to disturbing or almost grotesque. The main storyline might be centered around one event, but the way each author tackled it was completely unique. I was never in danger of losing interest at all.
There were a couple of stories that were really unique in their telling. “Heatwave” by Aaron Lee takes a rather coldblooded look at the fallout, in which there is a blog that keeps tracks of death “statistics”, that the blogger utilizes to try to understand the nightmare that they’re living in. I thought this one was both fascinating and chilling.
“First Swarm” by J.D. Sanderson followed two photographers and their experiences, which left me mulling over whether viewing something through a camera lens helps expose truths otherwise denied, or if it allows the photographers to separate themselves from the reality of what they’re seeing. Short yet powerful, this was one of my favorite stories in the collection. The creativity behind both “First Swarm” and “Heatwave” are what elevated them above some of the other stories in this collection, although they were all well written.
Remnants is one of the stronger additions to post-apocalyptic fiction that I’ve read recently, with the grimdark and horror aspects working incredibly well. Thought provoking and just flat-out cool, this is not a collection to miss. I highly recommend it.
Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine, found here.
I’m excited to be joining a book tour for The Love-Haight Case Files book 2, an urban fantasy like no other.
Smart and fast-moving, The Love-Haight Case Files (#2) was loads of fun! Book two follows Evelyn Love and co. as they try to solve a case with pieces missing (quite literally, as zombies are involved). The tongue-in-cheek humor combined with just the right amount of action to create a book that drew me in and kept me highly entertained.
The reader is treated to a world where humans and OTs (other-than humans) exists more or less symbiotically. While OTs have their own sets of obstacles to overcome, they aren’t actively hunted- at least not normally. So when a group of zombies is kidnapped (body-snatched?) while leading what can best be described as an interactive tourist walk, lawyer Thomas Brock and Evelyn Love take on the case.
One thing that really stood out to me while reading The Love-Haight Case Files is the creativity the authors put into both their world and the characters in it. The way the OTs interact both with humans and society is incredibly clever. Take the missing zombies, for example. Before being snatched up, they ran what could best be described as a tour walk- meets haunted house, where they “chased” human tourists who pay for the experience of running from the shuffling, brain-eating undead. That idea just made me smile.
And the characters! They are so much fun. From the corporeally challenged Thomas Brock, to Pete the World of Warcraft-loving gargoyle, each character was a blast to read about. I loved how Pete contributed to breaking the case open. It was both hilarious and nasty. In fact, he might have been my favorite character, although I was also a fan of the werewolf P.I.
The mystery itself was well-thought out, and it was fun watching the characters solve the who and the why. While I enjoyed the villains, the core group of characters were so much fun that the whodunnit part of things was just icing on the cake.
In one way, The Love-Haight Case Files is very much a mystery thriller. In another, it’s a delightful urban fantasy. Either way you look at it, it’s a highly entertaining book.
About the book:
ASIN: B098K6SG49 Publisher: Craig Martelle, Inc (September 20, 2021) Publication date: September 20, 2021 Language: English Genre: Paranormal Mystery Thriller Check it Out on Amazon:http://mybook.to/LoveHaightBk2
About the authors:
USA Today best-seller, Jean Rabe’s impressive writing career spans decades, starting as a newspaper reporter and bureau chief. From there she went on to become the director of RPGA, a co-editor with Martin H. Greenberg for DAW books, and, most notably, Rabe is an award-winning author of more than forty science fiction/fantasy and murder mystery thrillers. She writes mysteries and fantasies, because life is too short to be limited to one genre–and she does it with dogs tangled at her feet, because life is too short not to be covered in fur. Find out more about her at http://www.jeanrabe.com, on social media, or sign-up for her newsletter here: https://jeanrabe.com/sign-up-for-my-newsletter/
Donald J. Bingle
Donald J. Bingle is the author of eight books and more than sixty shorter works in the horror, thriller, science fiction, mystery, fantasy, steampunk, romance, comedy, and memoir genres, including the Dick Thornby Thriller series (Net Impact; Wet Work; Flash Drive), Frame Shop, a murder mystery set in a suburban writers’ group, Forced Conversion, a near future scifi thriller, GREENSWORD, a darkly comedic eco-thriller and (with Jean Rabe) The Love-Haight Case Files, Books 1 & 2, a paranormal urban fantasy series about two lawyers who represent the legal rights of supernatural creatures in a magic-filled San Francisco. He also edited Familiar Spirits, an anthology of ghost stories. More on Don and his writing can be found at www.donaldjbingle.com and on social media. Sign-up for his newsletter here: https://www.donaldjbingle.com/newsletter-sign-up
If We Were Villains is a story of a group of Shakespearean students at an art college who let the line between the real and the pretend blur, and the disastrous events that follow. While it could be seen as a mystery- or even a thriller- what stuck out to me were the relationships. In a case where life imitated art instead of the other way around, already out-of-touch personalities devolved into baser natures and the results were fascinating.
The story is told from the point of view of Oliver, one of a group of seven students. He is reminiscing and filling in the blanks after serving ten years for the murder of another in his group of seven. Did he really do it? Why? The memories have the fascinating quality of real, often-revisited recollections: they were gilded, sharpened to put unconscious emphasis on certain points, made fuzzier with time in others. There was always a small hint of suspicion that maybe Oliver was still playing a part, that he was in truth an unreliable narrator.
The lives of the students reminded me a little bit of the movie Dead Poets Society in that the group was incredibly close and they were fully immersed in their own way of thinking, up to the fact that it even affected their speech. Where in Dead Poets Society, you see the group often quoting poetry, If We Were Villains finds them using the Bard’s verse to speak truths that they otherwise hide. It is enthralling and made me appreciate Shakespeare, something that is new for me (I’ve never been a fan). The author uses the anger, fear, and desperation felt by the characters to bring the quotes into a different context. Or maybe she uses the quotes to bring a new dimension to the characters?
The characters themselves were engrossing. They were both more and less than the parts they played. There’s the fill-ins who find themselves chameleons onstage and in the group dynamic, the villain, the hero, the love interest, the ingénue, and the antihero. The students play their roles so well it left me wondering if they were, in fact, only acting. And that’s half of the brilliance of If WeWere Villains.
There’s a microworld that I was drawn into, one that is very much real to the characters despite being centered around a dead writer. The atmosphere is fascinating: like a play, everything is heightened and larger than life. The stakes are higher, the relationships more intense yet brittle. The break, when it happens, is on an epic scale. This small world suddenly feels huge.
It is difficult to pick one particular thing that made me love the book as much as I did. I can’t take the characters separately from the language, the atmosphere, the pacing. It all moved together so well that there wasn’t a single thing that I didn’t love. From the very first sentence to the final curtain, everything was perfect.
I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The ending itself, however, was perfect. The story was ended satisfactorily, but with room left to wonder. I continue to find myself thinking about it, questioning my reactions, and moving pieces of the narrative around in my mind.
If We Were Villains is smart and compelling, one of the very best books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.
When people ask for books I’d recommend to a fantasy newbie, ones that represent all the wonderful things the genre has to offer, I have a few go-tos. The Hobbit, obviously, and the Dragonlance Chronicles (really, is anyone surprised?), and, more recently, The Ventifact Colossus. Now I’m adding Paladin Unbound to that list, because this book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.
The story starts with the main character, Umhra, just wanting to find work for himself and his band of mercenaries. When they are hired to find out what has happened to several missing people, they are thrust into a situation that is much darker and more dangerous than Umhra expected.
I was sucked in from page one, which begins at an ending. The ending of a war between gods, no less. The war ends with an asterisk, the sort that always leads to trouble down the road. What I loved about the opening is that it started huge, before moving on to the main storyline which is much more personal. It showcased a fascinating history, one that we continue to get snippets of throughout the book. I love when the history of a world or its belief systems is shared naturally like that, avoiding the dreaded info dump. I have to admit, though, I would actually read an entire book just dedicated to the history and mythology of the world of Evelium, I loved it so much. It was creative and well thought out.
As much as I enjoyed the world building, though, where Paladin Unbound shines is in its characters. There’s an excellent cast who build off each other in the best of ways. The interactions felt natural and allowed each character to grow and develop brilliantly. This was, in some ways, the typical adventuring group sometimes found in ttrpg’s – and that’s a great thing! It works very well, after all. There was Naivara the druid, Laudin the ranger, a mage named Nicholas (I have no idea why, but his name made me smile), Shadow the rogue, Balris the healer, Talus the fighter, and Gromley the warrior priest. While I loved all of them, I must say that I had a soft spot for Shadow.
Then there’s our main character, Umhra. Oh, how I loved Umhra! Being half-orc, he was distrusted, looked down on, or treated poorly quite a lot. He could have been bitter or angry and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But instead, he was an optimist, always looking for the best in every situation. He was, at his core, a good, honorable character. He was not your boring “lawful good”, however. He was incredibly nuanced and I loved reading about him. I haven’t been a huge fan of paladins in the past, but Umhra has me planning to make a paladin for my next D&D campaign.
This book would be perfect for fantasy newbies, ttrpg players, or readers who have traveled the length and breadth of many fantasy worlds and are looking for new adventures to go on. It left me excited and wanting more. Paladin Unbound is fantasy at its finest.
This review was originally part of a Storytellers on Tour book blog tour.
I am so excited to be joining Storytellers on Tour in introducing Dan Fitzgerald’s new book, The LivingWaters! Dan Fitzgerald’s previous series, The Maer Cycle, was fantastic. He’s an author with something new and unique to offer to the fantasy genre, and The Living Waters looks to be something completely original. Dan has described it as “sword-free fantasy”, the sort of world where “we use fantasy to explore relationships and the human experience through a different lens, one that doesn’t have to involve so much violence.” * Fantasy can be the perfect backdrop for something like that because it creates a place to question, wonder, learn, and explore. The Living Waters looks to bring something special to fantasy and I’m excited for it!
So, when can you purchase The Living Waters?
Are you ready to see the cover?
Here it is!
What is The Living Waters about?
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.
About the author:
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, bothfrom 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.