The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst

Brent Spiner’s explosive and hilarious novel is a personal look at the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. If the Coen Brothers were to make a Star Trek movie, involving the complexity of fan obsession and sci-fi, this noir comedy might just be the one.

Set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package and a series of disturbing letters, that take him on a terrifying and bizarre journey that enlists Paramount Security, the LAPD, and even the FBI in putting a stop to the danger that has his life and career hanging in the balance.

Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to Levar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to some completely imagined, this is the fictional autobiography that takes readers into the life of Brent Spiner and tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity and the fear he has carried with him his entire life. (Taken from Amazon)

I’m not a Trekkie or a huge Brent Spiner fan, although I’ve seen a decent chunk of multiple versions of the show and a previous tenant left an Ol’ Yellow Eyes cd in the garage of my apartment (possibly my favorite odd moving-in gift that I’ve found over the years). The premise of Fan Fiction appealed to me, though, and I went into it curious and hopeful.

Alas, this didn’t connect with me, although there were some positive points. The book follows Brent Spiner as he navigates death threats, twin crushes (or is it the same person?), and a mystery that needs to be solved as soon as yesterday. It also adds in a generous dose of Hollywood anecdotes and self-deprecating humor.

Brent’s narration is intriguing in that he does not hesitate to put the best and worst of himself on display. He is naive in so many ways, but also disgustingly piggish in others (really? You can’t tell the sisters you’re crushing on apart? Yuck). His inner dialogue was interesting, and his memories of his stepdad gave him an added level and explained some of who he is later on.

His personal experience and the zany things he shares are the best part of the book. Brent’s meeting with poor Gregory Peck had me laughing out loud while cringing. You can’t make that stuff up. Unless he did. Either way, it was wildly entertaining. I guess even actors get starstruck and trip over themselves sometimes.

The book gives a fun look at the other actors in Star Trek: The Next Generation through their interactions with Brent. Some of the things they said were flat-out hilarious. Each of them had such big personalities that they became almost caricatures; but that was the point, of course. I particularly enjoyed reading about Levar Burton (I’m a big fan, thanks to that butterfly in the sky).

But…there were too many things that I really didn’t like. The mystery ended up being a little unsatisfactory, with the reveal leaving much to be desired both in motive and pacing. In fact, the pacing was a little off throughout Fan Fiction in general. There was too little time spent on big plot points, and after a while the dreams and flashbacks became redundant.

I feel like I’m being much harsher than I generally am, but I suppose I’m ticked off about a certain part of the book and it’s affected my overall opinion. Big breath–now to touch on my biggest complaint.

I absolutely loathe insensitive remarks about mental health, doubly so when they’re couched in terms of “praise” as was the case here. I could try to sum up my issue with a certain part, but I’ll just quote some of it here instead.

“You know, I have been said to suffer from Asperger’s myself, but I think that overstates it. I’d say I’m an honorary Asperger. I’m also an honorary Tourette because I tend to jerk and occasionally I suddenly say something loud. And I’m an honorary bipolar. I suspect we all have a bit of everything inside of us.”

This is only the tail end of about a page and a half of offensiveness. Now, I fully admit that I may be sensitive regarding mentions of mental illness seeing as I have bipolar myself, so take my opinion with the proverbial grain of salt. But it really upset me. In fact, I’m getting frustrated all over again just writing about it, so I’ll just warn you that this lovely tidbit is in the book and move on.

Fan Fiction had potential. It did. But at the end of the day, I set my phasers to “nope”, knowing that I’m not the right reader for this book. I am sure that many readers will enjoy what didn’t work out for me.

Small Angels by Lauren Owen

The woods are stirring again. . . . 

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 

Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

Small Angels is engrossing, a haunting tale that gave me shivers. The shivers were half because of the eeriness that drips from every page, and half because of the beautiful writing. The past and the present melded into a single story, one that kept me glued to my seat.

There once were four girls growing up at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods in a small town. No one went into the woods- except for them. These four knew the rules of the Woods and they knew what would happen if they didn’t follow them. There was something angry residing in Mockbeggar, something that only played nicely if they followed the rules.

The four girls helped their mother keep the history of Mockbeggar at bay, protecting the town (even though the people living there looked down on the family and avoided them). But when four becomes five, Mockbeggar takes notice. The history of Mockebeggar is a circle, and what goes around comes around.

That is one narrative. The story of the girls and their life, how everything revolves around the mysteries of the Wood and how it affects their characters and relationships. The second narrative takes place in present-day when a bride decides to have her picture-perfect wedding in a church that belongs to the Woods (at least, to the thing residing in the Woods). There is no way I can be vague enough to avoid spoilers for that part of the storyline, and it’s best to go in unknowing. Suffice it to say, it’s creepy as all get-out. Which is, of course, the point.

Usually, I can pick out one aspect of a book that I enjoyed most: the setting, the characters, etc. With Small Angels, though, it was a perfect marriage of characters, setting, tone, and plot development. The story behind Mockbeggar Woods, and the way it developed slowly throughout the book, lent an aura of uncertainty and a sense of paranoia that the best horror writers would envy.

The setting was perfect: eerie but believable. It’s easy to picture a quiet, wooded area hiding something less than benign. The descriptions were beautifully done and given in a way that felt like the sort of story told in the dark on a gloomy night. I loved how one character saw a quaint beauty to the church (known as Small Angels), but their viewpoint changed throughout the book until Small Angels resembled something threatening to them.

And the characters! They each added something to the book, although the four daughters reminded me in some ways of the sisters in The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, so cut off from anything resembling a normal life that they almost seemed unreal (for those wondering, there is no suicide in Small Angels). My favorite character was Lucia the Bad. She was headstrong yet fearful and was inadvertently the catalyst for the events in the book.

The book, while never slow in pace, ramped up at the end, giving a sense of urgency that was breathtaking in a way. I loved how it ended. Small Angels never quite crossed into horror territory, instead remaining an eerie ghost story, the sort I love to read toward the latter half of the year (I have no idea why Fall becomes the creepy read season for me; it doesn’t get cooler where I live, just goes from “hot” to “hot with a chance of hurricane”).

Small Angels is lyrical and uncanny, a perfect spooky read. Grab a hot drink and give it a go.

Dragonlance Side Quest: Kindred Spirits by Mark Anthony and Ellen Porath

When Flint Fireforge, dwarf and metalsmith, receives a wondrous summons from the Speaker of the Sun, he journeys to the fabled elven city of Qualinost. There he meets Tanis, a thoughtful youth born of a tragic union between elf and man. Tanis and Flint, each a misfit in his own way, find themselves unlikely friends.
But a pompous elf lord is mysteriously slain, and another elf soon meets the same fate. Tanis stands accused, and if his innocence cannot be proven, the half-elf will be banished forever. Solving the mystery will be a perilous task. Time is on the murderer’s side, and he is not finished yet. (Taken from Amazon)

I have a habit of reading multiple books at once. I cycle back and forth between them, usually switching it up a couple times a day (I know, I’m strange). While I’m vastly enjoying my first-time books, I thought it would also be fun to go back and reread some of the many Dragonlance side novels.

“It’s like folks are, my mother used to say,” he explained to his shop at large, which was as familiar to him by now as a close friend. “Some folks are like this metal, she’d say,” and he displayed a metal flower brooch to the deserted room. “They can be forced into line. They’ll adapt. Other folks are like this wood,” and he held up a tiny squirrel, carved from softwood. “If you force them, they’ll break. You have to work slowly, carefully, to see what’s within.” “The key, my mother said,” he intoned gravely to a stone bench near the door, “is to know which is which.”

The nostalgia is strong with Kindred Spirits. This was the first side Dragonlance side novel that I ever read, and I’ve read it a fair number of times since (in fact, one memorable Christmas when I was a teen, the lovely tree in my living room slowly toppled over, encasing me- and this book- in a cage of pine needles). This will be an odd review, with a mix of nostalgia-colored lenses and my recent impression.

First, the good. Kindred Spirits takes us to the genesis of Flint’s relationship with Tanis, one which will forge the bedrock of the Companions during the War of the Lance. I’d suggest reading the Chronicles before reading this book. After all, this is meant to be an add-on to the original storyline, not a starting point.

I really love seeing Flint’s heart and what led a grumpy old dwarf to befriend an angst-ridden half-elf. His friendship/mentor role with Tanis has always been interesting to me and it’s cool to see how much he helped shape Tanis into a (still moody) thoughtful leader. Watching his friendship with Tanis grow is always fun. There’s also an explanation to how a certain “betrothal” came about, and it really cracks me up.

The characters match what you see in the Chronicles, which is important to me. I can’t stand it when an already established character acts completely differently in a separate novel. Character growth is great, changing a character’s core nature is annoying. The authors know the difference and manage it beautifully.

The description of both Qualinesti and its customs is well done, interesting and detailed. The political side of things is also rather intriguing and there’s not enough of it to become tedious. However, someone experienced with the lore of Dragonlance will notice discrepancies between books and events. For example, there’s a certain magical item that makes an appearance, despite it not being possible, according to events in Krynn’s timeline. These are small niggles, which can be ignored in the enjoyment of the novel. It is clear, though, that this is a secondary book meant only to add to a character’s background.

There is a sort-of mystery to Kindred Spirits. Tanis is accused of murdering multiple people, and it is up to Flint to prove Tanis’ innocence. It’s entertaining, especially since it’s obvious that Flint is way outside his skill set. Of course, the “mystery” is far from mysterious so don’t expect any big twists or shocking revelations. The motive is also flimsy at best. So, there’s that.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy this book immensely simply because I love seeing Flint and Tanis grow from strangers to family. Also, any book in which Flint calls someone a “doorknob” is going to be one I enjoy. There are some side-splitting moments as well as some heartwarming ones. If you’re looking for more about how the Companions met, Kindred Spirits is a book to pick up.

The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms 2) by Tasha Suri

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Now a thrice born priestess and an Elder of Ahiranya, she dreams of seeing her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And saving their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn will come at a terrible price. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Oleander Sword is available now. You can find my review for The Jasmine Throne (The Burning Kingdoms book 1) here.

The Oleander Sword is beauty with teeth. It’s a gorgeously written, breathtaking tale of manipulation, revenge, cruelty, and the things sacrificed in the quest for power. As with book one, The Jasmine Throne, I was immediately sucked in and held in thrall.

Malini is so close to getting what she wants. She now has an army at her back, and she’s on her way to hopefully crush her brother Chandra’s forces under her feet. But war is rarely straightforward. Her followers would rather fight for someone else and when Chandra seemingly pulls a miracle out of nowhere, she realizes her grip on her vision is tenuous at best. Malini is willing to use every weapon she can to wrest power from her brother, and that includes Priya.

There’s something incredibly coldhearted and bloodthirsty about Malini. The face that she shows Priya and the one that her army sees are two very different sides to the same coin. I was left wondering if the manipulative mask was really the true face, with the affection she showed Priya the true mask. In some ways, she is just as dangerous as Chandra. They are both sure that they are the rightful ruler and that no one is better suited to the throne.

I love Malini so much! She’s scary, all sharp edges and secrets. We see a less calculated version of her only in her interactions with Priya. Priya has also grown more powerful, but also more vulnerable in some ways. She is in danger of losing herself, but to her power, or to Malini? With Priya, it might be one and the same. I love how multifaceted her character is.

Bhumika’s storyline diverges from Priya and Malini’s. While they are fighting a desperate battle with Chandra, Bhumika is experiencing an even bigger loss. The Yaksa, whom she has worshipped, have returned and they are not at all what everyone hoped they were. Instead, their coming signifies the beginning of a new and brutal war, one that doesn’t seem winnable. Poor Bhumika loses everything she cares about and then some.

The Oleander Sword introduces new points of view, although Priya, Malini, and Bhumika remain the three main POVs. Despite their paths diverging, the story still envelopes the three women, the threads of the narrative loosely weaving together to form a full tapestry. The world grows ever larger, the religion becomes more explained, and things are shown from a new- and terrifying-light.

The Yaksa full-blown freaked me out. The human resemblance that they wore like masks, their uncaring cruelty, and their absolute certainty in their power all combined to give me the shivers. As intimidating as Chandra was, he’s a petty minion in comparison with them. If they get their way, everyone will be crushed. They probably wouldn’t even notice.

The Oleander Sword ramped up to an astonishing conclusion. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat. Tasha Suri wields words like a sharp knife, using them with devastating and fascinating effect. I have no idea what will happen in the next book, but I can’t wait!

The Battle That Was Lost by Michael S. Jackson

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Duckett & Dyer: The Mystery of the Murdered Guy by G.M. Nair

After their very public triumph over the sinister machinations of the Future Group, Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer’s accidental detective agency has become a household name. Practically overnight, they’ve cemented their place as the city’s go-to sleuths for solving the weird, oddball cases that would confuse and irritate anyone else.

Join them as they tackle the mysteries of a medically licensed vampire, a mysterious mad bomber, a genderfluid reverse werewolf, and the true meaning of Christmas – just to name a few. Meanwhile, an aging billionaire obsesses over his plans to achieve immortality, which could mean dire consequences for the world. But with Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire on the case, what could go wrong?

If you said ‘everything’, you’d be correct. (Taken from Amazon)

The Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series is seriously funny. It takes being funny very, very seriously. It is intimidatingly funny. I would even go so far as to say it’s scary funny. Ah yes- and it’s brilliant.

In The Mystery of the Murdered Guy, Duckett and Dyer are back and in fine form. Stephanie Dyer continues to be the Energizer Bunny of disasters and Michael Duckett (at this point, I think his middle name is “Murphy’s Law”) tries his best to survive both Stephanie’s zest for chaos and his own inability to stay out of trouble. I always picture Duckett a little bit as Dante in Clerks (“I’m not even supposed to be here today”), but I think he secretly loves the nuttiness. This relationship between Dyer’s chaos incarnate and Duckett’s weary resignation is one of my favorites.

Dyer and Duckett balance each other out perfectly. Just like Costello isn’t funny without Abbott, Duckett and Dyer are an excellent pair. Michael Duckett brings just the right amount of normalcy to the book, which gives the reader enough time to pause and appreciate all the ludicrous things happening to the characters. And there is a lot happening: attractive Frankenstein’s monsters, gender fluid reverse werewolves, heists that aren’t, and run-ins with the Santa Slayer (my hat’s off to Stephanie for fixing his moniker) are only the tip of the iceberg.

I love this series so very much. Somehow G.M. Nair also has a through-line in the zaniness and characters that grow and develop from book to book. I honestly don’t know how he does it. He also keeps things fresh by changing up not only what’s happening, but how it’s being relayed. There’s even a story told entirely in court transcript, which had me cackling.

Do yourself a favor: don’t go to work, ignore your responsibilities, just go ahead and drop everything to read the Duckett and Dyer: Dicks For Hire series. These books are the best sort of disaster.

The Swordsman’s Intent by G.M. White

The last competition Belasko won was the catch a slippery pig contest at his village fair.
Now he has to beat the best warriors in the kingdom.
Belasko, a farm boy who ran away to war, is a decorated soldier and war hero. When Markus, the Royal Champion, stages a competition to choose a successor, a world of possibility opens up to him. Possibility that Belasko cannot resist. Can Belasko fulfil his potential, beat the finest blades in the kingdom, and become the first commoner to claim the title of Royal Champion?
Set fifteen years before The Swordsman’s Lament, this novella sets in motion both the events of that novel and Belasko’s destiny. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Swordsman’s Intent is available now.

After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Swordsman’s Lament, book one in the Royal Champion series, I was excited to check out The Swordsman’s Intent. It’s not a part of the main series; rather, it’s a prequel novella that gives more of a background for certain characters in the series. You can find my review for The Swordsman’s Lament here.

The Swordsman’s Intent follows Belasko’s rise to his position as the Royal Champion. The Belasko we meet in The Swordsman’s Lament is grizzled and a little world-weary. Young Belasko is an experienced soldier with fewer aches and pains. There are bits and pieces of Belasko’s backstory told in The Swordsman’s Intent and I loved reading more about who he was and how that led to who he became.

Perhaps due to its shorter length, there isn’t a ton of worldbuilding in this story. That’s not the point of this tale, though. Instead, we get a highly entertaining story that sets up events and characters that will be more fully explored in the Royal Champion series. The amount that is packed into this shorter book is astonishing. Author G.M. White crafted an exciting fantasy story that I highly enjoyed.

Belasko is a great character to follow: smart, strong, and humble. It’s easy to want him to succeed. I enjoyed seeing how events in this book hint at the person he will become, given time and experience. Of course, the addition of other characters also seen in the Royal Champion series serve to add new perspectives and make the series richer and more detailed.

The fight scenes are well-written and engaging, creative and not at all repetitive. The pacing was great, and the writing was, of course, excellent. G.M. White is an author to read and both The Swordsman’s Intent and The Swordsman’s Lament are fantastic additions to the fantasy genre.

Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell

It is no small matter, after all, to create something―to make it so only by setting down the words. We forget the magnitude, sometimes, of that miracle. 
In the dead of night, shots ring out over the grounds of a sprawling English estate. The world-weary butler Eustace recognizes the gunman―his longtime employer, Mr. Crowe―and knows he must think and act quickly. Who is the man lying dead on the lawn? Who is the woman in his company? Can he clean up his master’s mess like he always has before? Or will this bring a new kind of reckoning? 
Mr. Crowe was once famed for his gifts―unaccountable gifts, known only to the members of a secretive order. Protected and privileged, he was courted by countesses and great men of letters. But he has long since retreated from that glittering world, living alone but for Eustace and Clara, his mysterious young ward. He has been content to live quietly, his great library gathering dust and his once magnificent gardens growing wild. He has left the past behind. Until now. 
Because there are rules, even for Mr. Crowe and his kind, that cannot be broken. And this single night of passion and violence will have consequences, stirring shadows from the past and threatening those he now cares for. He and the faithful Eustace will be tested as never before. So too will Clara, whose own extraordinary gifts remain hidden, even from herself. If she is to save them all, she must learn to use them quickly and unlock the secret of who she is. 
It is a secret beyond imagining. A secret that will change everything. (Taken from Amazon)

The Maker of Swans was beautiful yet confusing. I loved the prose, which was creative and flowed like water, but I still can’t tell you what happened or what on earth any of it means. It actually left me feeling a little idiotic, like I’d missed all the clues to a corker of a mystery, to be honest.

Eustace is a butler with an unenviable task: keep his employer, Mr. Crowe, out of trouble. This wouldn’t seem too difficult except that the book begins with Mr. Crowe somehow shooting and killing a man, despite the fact that the man wasn’t killed by any bullets fired. The idea was intriguing but didn’t seem to really go much of anywhere. Eustace doesn’t seem all that surprised by Mr. Crowe and his behavior, but he nonetheless takes action to protect him and his ward.

Mr. Crowe’s ward is a girl named Clara. She doesn’t speak and is seen as having special gifts. She’s bright and notices things that are overlooked or ignored. I only got a vague grasp on how her special gifts work, but the concept was cool. The magic is based on words, if I understood it correctly, and we all know words are magic. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be readers.

She really doesn’t interact all that much with Mr. Crowe but is closer to Eustace. Mr. Crowe is more enigmatic a figure than a fully developed one, but it works. He is also gifted, but I’m not sure if he is gifted in exactly the same way as Clara, since the magic is kept intentionally undetailed.

The mystery and haziness surrounding the entirety of The Maker of Swans made this book both enthralling and frustrating. I would find myself reluctant to pick it up but engrossed whenever I did. It took me a lot longer to finish because I kept taking breaks to read more straight-forward books.

I was reminded a little bit of Susanna Clarke’s writing, particularly Piranesi. Just as in Piranesi, The Maker of Swans seemed more invested in atmosphere and language than in plot. That’s not to say the book didn’t have one; just that it was a meandering sort of story that didn’t answer all questions at the end. In fact, it left me with more questions than answers.

At the end of the day, The Maker of Swans left me with too many questions and not enough information to enjoy puzzling out the answers. I was entertained and confused in equal measure. It’s an odd feeling, and I still can’t tell you if I liked the book or not. If you like books with strong plots and well-crafted storylines, this is not for you. If you love words for their own sake, and are happily carried away by masterful prose, you might find The Maker of Swans bewitching.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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