Lexcalibur: Useful Poetry for Adventurers Above and Below the World by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

Useful poetry for adventurers above and below the world from the guys at Penny Arcade. A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. (taken from Amazon)

I was gifted this poetry collection. My friend described it as “Shel Silverstein poems for nerds”, and there’s really no better description. It’s all kinds of nerdy fun!

The poems are generally on the shorter side, and are extremely clever. There’s never that feeling of trying too hard and I found myself chuckling as I read through the book. The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.

The book covers all things fantasy, ranging from important topics such as were beasts, to concerns about viziers, and complaints about mimics. It’s incredibly obvious that both the author and illustrator are well versed in both the tropes and the lesser-known gems of the fantasy genre. They appreciate all things imaginative and fun.

Lexcalibur is made even better by the inclusion of whimsical and fun illustrations which are scattered throughout. They’re truly delightful and add so much to the book.

I should mention that Lexcalibur can only be found on the Penny Arcade website ( link here, for your convenience). The Penny Arcade comics themselves are meant for adults to enjoy, but this book is all-ages fun. I have heard rumors that there will be a second poetry collection coming before too long. If that’s true, I’m ready to pre-order it.

I loved, loved, loved this collection of poems! If you’re a lover of all things fantastical, you’ll really enjoy Lexcalibur. I’ll leave you with one of the poems:

Irony Lesson

I got a ring, and it makes me invisible.

No one can see me! A marvelous thing!

As I suggested, your eyes have been bested.

Completely invisible.

Except for the ring.

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.

The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman

A professional spy for a mysterious Library which harvests fiction from different realities, Irene faces a series of assassination attempts that threaten to destroy her and everything she has worked for.

Irene is teaching her new assistant the fundamentals of a Librarian’s job, and finding that training a young Fae is more difficult than she expected. But when they’re the targets of kidnapping and assassination attempts, she decides that learning by doing is the only option they have left … 

In order to protect themselves, Irene and her friends must do what they do best: search for information to defeat the overwhelming threat they face and identify their unseen enemy. To do that, Irene will have to delve deeper into her own history than she ever has before, face an ancient foe, and uncover secrets that will change her life and the course of the Library forever. (taken from Amazon)

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

The Dark Archive is an entertaining romp through the lighter side of fantasy. Being that it’s the seventh book in the Invisible Library series, I strongly suggest you read the previous books before diving in to this one, not least because The Dark Archive isn’t the best of the books. Don’t get me wrong, there’s fun to be had, but it didn’t quite live up to the rest of the series.

Irene is a Librarian, which is a guardian/treasure hunter for “dangerous” or one-of-a-kind books, scattered throughout different realities. She curates these works for the mysterious Library, which I would love to lose myself in. Irene also has the interesting ability to use spoken words to…affect things. For example, she can convince a door to twist in on itself so it can’t be forced open. Pretty useful, I would say. She also has a gift for attracting assassination and kidnapping attempts.

In The Dark Archive, Irene is joined by her usual crew: Kai, a dragon who looks an awful lot like a human; and Vale, a detective à la Sherlock Holmes. She’s also added a couple of new allies to the mix, the most notable being a fae apprentice named Catherine. Catherine is…annoying. When I think fae, my mind immediately jumps to the original lore, and from there to Brain Froud. Catherine was nothing like that. Instead, she spent a good chunk of the book whining about everything.

Irene was still a fun character, with a no-nonsense personality liberally sprinkled with the long-suffering patience that comes from dealing with a ton of nonsense. Vale, as always, was my favorite. He began living out a Master Criminal nemesis storyline, which poked fun at the Moriarties of the detective genre. Kai was mainly used to illustrate the tensions between the dragons and the fae (represented by Catherine). I’m sure this will bother some people, who prefer having Kai in a more central role. Personally, I liked the bit of sidelining just fine.

My issue with The Dark Archive is that it is mainly filler, a bit of padding to connect storylines. Sure, it was fun, but it became a bit repetitive after a while. There can be only so many thwarted attempts at murder before it stops being interesting. Each chapter ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which always rubs me the wrong way in books. I prefer the story itself to keep me interested, as opposed to the author feeling like they need to add a hook to keep me reading. Another problem I had is that the entire storyline could have been neatly summed up in the beginning of the next book, effectively eliminating the need for this installment at all. However, there are some genuinely delightful moments, and this would be the perfect palette cleanser after a heavy read.

The ending was a corker and sets things up to continue nicely in the next installment. There were some unexpected reveals that I think will pay off in the future. The Invisible Library series won’t go down as having the most incredible writing ever, but it is fun, which is just as important. While The Dark Archive didn’t blow me away, it was still an enjoyable read.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

Around the Dark Dial by J.D. Sanderson

Take a trip around the dark dial with eleven original and thought-provoking short stories that invoke the wonder and mystery of old-time radio dramas. Forget all that you know about modern sci-fi. In Around the Dark Dial, it’s all about the unexpected. (taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

This is a short story collection unlike any other I’ve read. Evoking a sense of the mysterious, each story had an underlying tension that kept me fascinated. Short story collections can be hit or miss for me; this was a definite hit.

Each story provided a unique take on the sci-fi genre. While there were stories featuring common sci-fi features, they were uniquely done in ways that felt fresh and new. There were what seemed to be hidden connections between some of the stories, more common themes than anything else. I enjoyed the thrill I got from seeing how one might be connected to another. Even the way the stories were ordered added to my enjoyment of the collection.

I particularly liked The Simulant for its take on AI. The humanity that author J.D. Sanderson gave to his Simulant was actually very thought-provoking. The ending gave off a sense of paranoia, much like a good thriller can. In fact, Sanderson knows just when to end a tale, leaving plenty of room for the reader to think and wonder, without suddenly dropping the plot. I don’t like books that stop abruptly, but I also am not a huge fan of things being overexplained. Sanderson tread the fine line between the two with skill.

My absolute favorite of the stories, though, was Caller Four. This one revolved around a radio show that covered the topic of alien abductions. The late-night scene, combined with the question of whether the alien encounter was really happening, made for an engrossing read. I loved how the ending brought the story full-circle. This one will definitely stick with me.

If you’re a fan of creative fiction, or if you enjoyed The Twilight Zone, Around the Dark Dial will be right up your alley. I highly suggest giving this one a go!

You can find Around the Dark Dial on bookshop.org (among other places). If you order through my link I’ll get a small kickback. More importantly, you’ll be supporting local bookstores.

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire

Entertaining, and full of snark, Shadow of a Dead God perfectly combines fantasy and mystery to create a book that’s nearly impossible to put down. It has all the ingredients for a great fantasy: a self-deprecating main character, a well-developed magic system, and a “small” job that rapidly gets out of control.

The book follows Nik, a less-than-brilliant mage who gets roped into helping his only friend, Benny.It’s always best not to owe anyone anything: Benny takes major advantage of an “I owe you” and drags Nik into a tangled mess. What starts as a theft goes badly wrong, of course, and things snowball from there, turning into a murder-mystery and becoming far less straightforward than I expected things to be.

The world was fully realized. The dreaded info dump was missing, with things being explained organically as the story continues. The magic system was pretty stinking amazing. I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book where magic comes from the cadavers of gods. It was bizarre and brilliant. I would like to see that explored more in subsequent books simply because it was so unique.

In fact, where Shadow of a Dead God shines is in its ability to take common fantasy elements and make them wholly original. Nik is one of many mediocre mages in fantasy-but his lack of self-confidence, and complete unwillingness to be decisive adds a new twist. His relationship with Benny, the instigator of the trouble, is so much fun to watch. Nik is fully aware that his friendship with Benny is problematic, but there is that familial obligation mixed in with love and it makes for a fascinating dynamic.

Added to the mix is Benny’s daughter, Sereh. Now, I have kids and they can be scary, but the amount of terror she inspires in adults is next-level. I would love to see more of her story. There are so many aspects of this book that I want to see more of! I became so invested in the story that I wasn’t ready for it to end.

Shadow of a Dead God has a slower build, which I liked. It gave me time to appreciate the writing. And what writing! Samphire’s descriptions were fantastic. There is never a simple, “he looked grizzled.” No, the reader is treated to descriptions such as, “I had seen corpses dragged out of buried temples that had aged better.” It is a joy to read such a great narrative voice.

Pick this book up. You’ll thank me.

This article was originally published in Grimdark Magazine, which you can find here.

Tristan’s Folly (The Gifted and the Cursed #2) by Marcus Lee

Tristan’s Folly is the stunning sequel to the acclaimed Kings and Daemons, and the second in The Gifted and the Cursed trilogy.

Tristan’s Folly. An ageing fortress built over fifty years ago to repel the invading hordes of the Witch-King, an invasion that never materialised – until now.

Now it’s a crumbling reflection of its former self and set against Daleth’s savage horde of a hundred thousand men are a mere fifteen hundred defenders, who are surely doomed to fail.

As Kings and Daemons face one another, there is but one shining light that pushes back the darkness, but even her flame might be extinguished thanks to Tristan’s Folly.

In this epic tale of a battle against the odds, the best and worst of humankind will show itself… sacrifice, honour, bravery and love, set against depravity, betrayal, greed and hatred. (taken from Goodreads)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It is available for purchase now.

Tristan’s Folly is book two in The Gifted and the Cursed series, and it continues the storyline magnificently. The reader is dropped smack into the middle of things, which I loved. There aren’t any slow moments, or downtime in this book. Instead, it’s a breathtaking story, one that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

Everything in Tristan’s Folly is ramped up to eleven, with truly astonishing character growth, even higher stakes, and…a siege! That’s right, folks, an actual siege! It’s been ages since I’ve read a book where there’s a siege, much less one that is written so well. There is violence galore, but it is never there just for shock value. Rather, it adds a level of tension to the book that is as rare as it is enthralling.

There are new characters to love (and to be a little bit scared of). I wouldn’t trust most of them, which was absolutely fantastic. I am a huge fan of morally complex characters, and the depth of each person in Tristan’s Folly is truly impressive. Each character is nuanced and unique. There are no cookie-cutter characters at all. I really loved the cunning Tristan, but everyone was great.

I’m desperate to read the next book in the series. Tristan’s Folly is fabulous and this is a series that every reader of fantasy needs to get their hands on immediately. Marcus Lee deserves a place among the great authors of the fantasy genre. I am blown away!




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.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this exhilarating debut middle grade fantasy, the first in a trilogy filled with #blackgirlmagic. Perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads for the opportunity to join this book tour. Amari and the Night Brothers will be available on January 19th.

Oh, how I loved Amari and the Night Brothers! This rollicking supernatural adventure book rivals Harry Potter for excellent world-building, and it has an infinitely more likeable main character. Amari is spunky, intelligent, and wholly original.

When the book opens, Amari is trying to succeed in a school where she’s not wanted while learning to cope with the fact that everyone thinks her missing brother is dead. She refuses to believe it, and when she gets invited to try out for a spot at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she finds herself entering a world she didn’t even know existed in an effort to find him.

And what a world! Were-dragons, illusionists, and even escalators with personalities make appearances. There is never a dull moment, and I loved seeing what new surprise would pop up next. This is a world that I’d love to see more of (luckily, this is a series, so I’ll get to).

The characters were phenomenal. Among the many awesome people, my favorites were Magnus, whose prickly demeanor hides a heart of gold, and Amari herself. She’s the kind of main character that I love to see my children reading about. She is moral, smart, and resourceful. And she persists, no matter what.

The plot is fantastic, with the mystery of Amari’s brother framing a coming-of-age story. There’s adventure galore, but the book also deals with themes that are a little more real-world, like feelings of not fitting in, and the ugly things people see (such as racism). It’s done in a way that is not too much for the intended age group, while also not dumbing things down.

Amari and the Night Brothers is a fantastic fantasy, one that older elementary kids and middle-graders will love. I loved it too. It’s an adventure of the best kind, one that will capture the imagination of anyone who reads it. I was immediately sucked in and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow…

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still only human, and no matter how strong or good they are, the threat of danger always looms.

Because the queen’s position is so precarious, young women are specially chosen to train as her heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Meanwhile, the disgraced champion Ven has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. When Daleina and Ven join forces, they embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land…before it’s bathed in blood. (taken from Amazon)

I have a problem with The Queen of Blood: it was so good that I couldn’t put it down (okay, technically I could, but I really didn’t want to). I was immediately drawn into this world where every living thing has a spirit, and every spirit hates humans. The spirits have two goals: Create. Kill. The only thing that stands between humans and bloodshed in Renthia is the Queen. She has the power to command the spirits, and they have to obey. Except, suddenly they aren’t obeying. And it falls to Daleina, a woman learning to use her own power, to find out why. Accompanying her is a healer named Hamon, and Ven, a disgraced champion of the queen.

I knew from the very first page that I was going to love Dalein. Any character who is introduced as wanting to kick fate in the face is going to be one I enjoy. I loved that she was intelligent, hardworking, and made difficult choices, even when they went against what she wanted or hoped for. She didn’t have the whole “chosen one” thing going for her, which was an enormous breath of fresh air. She really wasn’t all that great at controlling her abilities the way she was expected to, but watching her play to her own strengths was so much better. I love characters who learn from their shortcomings or overcome them, as opposed to having those shortcomings either not exist or not be an issue.

I also really liked Ven, a former champion of the queen. He had experiences and knowledge that made him act very differently than any of the other characters, which I liked. Ven’s perspectives were often at odds with others around him, and the stakes were much more personal for him.

The first bit of the book takes place at an academy where women with inherent talent to control spirits are taught to develop and use that power, in the hope of becoming heirs to the current queen. When the queen dies, one of them will be given her power and will be responsible for the safekeeping of Renthia. Basically, an entire education is based around the fact that the queen is going to kick it one day. She (understandably) doesn’t love the constant reminders that she’s not getting any younger. At the same time, she knows much more about why the spirits are suddenly disobeying and wantonly killing than she lets on. Her part of the storyline is absolutely engrossing.

I loved the world the author created so very much! The spirits which inhabit everything from rock to tree to air are more like the fae of Scottish lore, changeable and dangerous. Their motives weren’t those of humans and they couldn’t be appealed to or reasoned with. I loved how wild they were and how “compromise” was not something they understood at all. It presented an interesting and unique set of challenges. The author used them so creatively, and I can’t wait to see what she does with them in the next book in the series.

The story did not go where I expected it to at all, which was awesome. The body count is much higher than I expected as well. This isn’t an overly gruesome book, but it’s not all flowers and skipping either. There’s danger in the book, and not everyone comes out in one piece.

I enjoyed The Queen of Blood so much that I bought the next two books in the series before I’d even finished it. This was a fantasy world that I loved visiting and I’m dying to see what happens next! I recommend this to fantasy readers who love kick butt characters, and creative world building.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder—a world where women weave illusions of magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. Bound to her family’s circus, it’s the only world Cecile Cabot knows until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate affair that could cost her everything.

Virginia, 2004: Lara Barnes is on top of the world until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. When her desperate search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother’s journals, Lara is swept into a story of a dark circus and ill-fated love.

Soon secrets about Lara’s family history begin to come to light, revealing a curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations. A curse that might be tied to her fiancé’s mysterious disappearance. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available on March twenty third.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus is told from a few points of view: there’s Lara, a woman whose fiancé has gone missing; and Ben, the officer who is leading the search for him. There is another character whose story is told through journal entries, but I’m not going to say much about that for fear of spoiling things. The book starts with a simple premise and the beginning of many a mystery novel- until you realize that Lara and her family have magical abilities, and that there may or may not be a curse involved. Thus begins a story that is both delightful and a wee bit creepy. The Ladies of the Secret Circus is part mystery, part supernatural showdown, and wholly entertaining.

Author Constance Sayers did some things very, very well. Both Lara and Ben are likeable characters, who are easy to root for. I didn’t give a lick about Lara’s fiancé since he goes missing before being developed at all, but she was such a nice person that I was truly hoping for a happy ending. Ben is a no-nonsense detective who is in way over his head, but keeps plugging along anyway. I liked that stick-to-itness. I did find some of their reactions a little odd: for example, they accepted some revelations a lot more easily than I would have expected. Ben accepted the supernatural aspect relatively quickly and Lara seemed a lot more chill about having a killer after her than most people would be (I’m assuming; I’m happy to say that I have no experience in that situation).

The switch-off from mystery to a more supernatural book was a teensy bit abrupt, but the sheer creativity of the supernatural aspect was gripping. The Secret Circus turned out to be rather macabre, with an eerie bent to it that I loved. The history of the circus was enthralling and unlike anything I’ve read before. As much as I enjoyed Lara and Ben, the story of the circus itself was by far my favorite part of the entire book.

I did have a minor gripe: the order of the story seemed a little off from time to time, and some things were sort of left dangling. For example, Lara found out that someone was after her, but not much attention was paid to that until much later in the book, with her being more interested in the provenance of a family painting. There were other occurrences that were a big deal for about half a chapter, but then were left largely alone. It could be a little confusing at times. That’s a small complaint, though, and it’s really the only one I have.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus is fast-paced and a ton of fun. I recommend it to anyone who likes a little bit of a mysterious flair to their urban fantasy.