BBNYA Book Tour: Specter by Katie Jane Gallagher

Horror aficionado Lanie Adams should be thrilled when two eighties-era ghosts materialize in her bedroom. Yet after a fainting incident unbecoming of a horror nerd, she would rather her haunting just go away—the ghosts’ waterlogged voices and ice-cold auras are more terrifying than any movie. Enlisting the help of Ryan, an entirely-too-cute stoner, she makes it her mission to put the spirits stalking her to rest.

Some sleuthing reveals that their sleepy Connecticut town is host to a shadowy, decades-old conspiracy. If Lanie wants to say a final goodbye to her ghosts, she’ll need to keep digging. But it’s important to tread carefully. The culprit is still in town—and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried. (taken from Amazon)

I was fortunate to be a panelist for the 2020 BBNYA competition organized by @The WriteReads tour team. As always, all opinions are honest, and my own.

BBYNA is a yearly competition that highlights the many talented indie authors. Books are read and scored by book bloggers from all over the world.

If you are an author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA Competition, you can visit the official website at (bbnya.com) or the Twitter account, @BBNYA_ Official. If you would like to enter the competition, you can find the BBNYA 2021 Author sign-up form here. Please make sure to read the terms and conditions first.

If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be a part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also, remember to read the terms and conditions).

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society , (which has the most beautiful books I’ve ever drooled over), and the book blogger group The Write Reads.

Equal parts mystery and ghost story, Specter kept me engaged from start to finish. It follows teen horror-lover Lanie as she tries to unravel the secret behind her new…guests. Lanie was a lot of fun. I can even forgive her for thinking of 80s clothing as “old” (my poor, ancient, arthritic heart was a little broken at that part). She’s smart, but obviously in way over her head. I love it when a character realizes just how far out of their depth they actually are. She never gives up, though.

Her sort-of boyfriend, Ryan, annoyed me. That’s a good thing, though. It meant he was well-developed enough to elicit a gut reaction from me, even though my gut reaction was dislike. He added a lot to the storyline and served to keep the book on track toward what was a very surprising climax.

There is a little detail that I have to point out because it was just so great: our teen sleuths didn’t get lucky and stumble upon the answer right away. They had to work for it. Some of what they discovered ending up being useful in and unexpected way, or even not all that important. They had to sift through what they learned to find what was pertinent. I loved that. It made the answer a big payoff.

There were all kinds of surprises! The ending made perfect sense, but it was definitely not where I thought the book was going, which was pretty darn cool. The climax ratcheted things up to a breakneck pace. This was a fun read, one that I recommend to readers of YA ghost stories who like great characters along with their spooks.

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.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Young Adult Edition

I read a pretty broad variety of books, both in age range and genre. I’ve already talked about great gifts ideas for both middle-grade and picture book readers. Today I’m moving on to young adult readers. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or shopping for yourself (totally allowed), I think these are some of the best of the best.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Thanks to the Write Reads on Tour, I was able to read an ebook of this before its release. I loved it so much that my husband surprised me with a physical copy. Full of puzzles to solve, and characters with questionable motives, this mysterious scavenger hunt of a book was a blast to read. You can read my original review of The Inheritance Games here. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a good mystery.

The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake

Oh, how I love this series, the first book of which is Three Dark Crowns. Led by a cast of strong female characters, these books center around a desperate struggle between three sisters to be Queen Crowned-because only one can survive to rule. Each sister has a different power (my favorite is Katharine, the poisoner), and the way they’re used is incredibly creative. The world is large and complex, and the characters are complicated and three dimensional. I especially appreciate the high stakes in the series: no character is untouchable. As a huge bonus, the series is already finished, so there’s no waiting impatiently for the next book to release.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

This is the first book in the Great Library series. It imagines a world in which the Library of Alexandria did not burn down. Instead, it became a controlling power, banning the ownership of books. The only books allowed to be read have to be okayed by the Library itself and we all know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Enter Jess, a smuggler of books who finds himself in an accidental rebellion, together with a fantastic group of characters. This book is fast paced and full of action and intrigue.

Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs

I read this book due to a glowing review by another blogger, and it introduced me to a fantastic author. Edwin is reeling from a bad breakup when he is assigned a group project with a new student. Somehow they end up “breaking” a WW2 veteran named Garland out of a nursing home. The three of them go on a madcap race around France, in search of Garland’s long-lost love. On the way, Edwin himself learns a little bit about love and an awful lot about life. Both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny, this book is on my “everyone needs to read this” list.

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I have actually mentioned this book on another list: books to read after (or instead of Harry Potter). Now, bear with me: this book is only like Harry Potter in the vaguest of ways: there’s a school for magic users, a main character who is always attracting trouble, and two best friends/partners in crime. That is where the similarities end. This is full-on fantasy, in a completely (and fully developed) fantasy world. It is not geared toward children or middle graders, and the characters aren’t kids. The writing is amazing, which is to be expected from author Tamora Pierce. You can’t go wrong with anything she’s written.

So there you have it. Any of these books would make great gifts for the YA reader in your life. What are some YA books that you think would make excellent gifts? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Hendersen

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her. (taken from Amazon)

This is going to be a very odd, convoluted review. I have very mixed thoughts on this one, so of course I’ll be unable to do much but blather. You have been warned.

The Year of the Witching felt like a mash-up of The Crucible and M. Night’s The Village, with some Anne Rice thrown in for good measure. It was haunting and I won’t forget it in a hurry.

The first thing I noticed was the author’s incredible ability to make a small, simple setting seem ominous and fraught with peril. The book takes place in a small, puritanical village. Women are seen as secondary to men and the Prophet controls everything. He uses fear and years of tradition to keep his cult in line. It was uncomfortable to read, but also fascinating. It got me mulling over the differences between obedience through faith and obedience through fear.

The book follows Immanuel, an illegitimate child of a woman who cheated on her betrothed with an Outskirter, a man of a different race and religion. That union does not end well, and Immanuel is raised by the family her mother was supposed to marry into. Immanuel tries to be subservient, the way women are supposed to be in this society, but instead is drawn in the Darkwood, a place of witches and curses. Something is started that only she can stop, if anyone can.

The characters themselves were interesting. The Prophet gave me major ick vibes (he’s supposed to), and at times it became too much. He legitimately scared me because he was utterly believable. In fact, the entire book got under my skin. It borrowed in deep and ended up really unsettling me.

I’m not sure entirely what was so disturbing about this book. I definitely think the overcontrolling patriarchy was part of it, as were the witches themselves. Nothing was overdone; Hendersen kept a balance between the “everyday life” of the book, and the creepiness that slowly bled into that. The curses themselves were set in motion in a way that just really bothered me.

That being said, the book is absolutely engrossing. The slower buildup complimented the claustrophobic feel of the town, and Immanuel’s discontent with the religion and fear of her disobedience being discovered just added to that. Despite being incredibly unsettled, I wanted to know how it ended. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book to every horror reader, but if you like subtle atmospheric horror, this will suit you.

The Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald

Legends describe the Maer as savage man-beasts haunting the mountains, their bodies and faces covered with hair. Creatures of unimaginable strength, cunning, and cruelty. Bedtime stories to keep children indoors at night. Soldiers’ tales to frighten new recruits.
It is said the Maer once ruled the Silver Hills, but they have long since passed into oblivion.
This is the story of their return.
Carl, Sinnie, and Finn, companions since childhood, are tasked with bringing a friend’s body home for burial. Along the way, they find there is more to the stories than they ever imagined, and the mountains hold threats even darker than the Maer. What they discover on their journey will change the way they see the world forever.
Travel down Hollow Road to find out which legends are true, and which have been twisted. (taken from Amazon)

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

Full of excellent, deep character-growth, The Hollow Road perfectly explains the term, “the joy is in the journey.” Three childhood friends have the somber task of returning their dead friend’s body to his home. At the same time, the friends take it upon themselves to figure out the truth behind some troubling rumors. In essence, most of the book takes place during that journey, and I loved that concept. It’s been way too long since I’ve read a book that plays out like that.

In a way, the plot followed behind the characters. And what characters! They are deep, complex, and ever-evolving. Even Carl, who I loved to dislike for a good chunk of the time, had layers upon layers to his personality. While they were all fantastic to read, my favorite was Finn. He just clicked for me. I also thought it was pretty cool that one of the characters was a circus performer. That’s incredibly creative and unique.

I liked that the magic was less present than in some other fantasies I’ve read recently. It’s there-Finn himself is a mage-in-training-but it’s not flashy or over the top. It’s clear that it is meant to play second fiddle to the characters’ growth, and to the folklore surrounding the Maer themselves. The Maer were fascinating, and I found myself curious about them from the get-go.

The Hollow Road is a slower book, without any unnecessary action beats (not to say there aren’t any, just that each has a purpose). Each scene is written with a goal in mind, and I never felt like the author rambled or wandered from what he wanted to convey.

This book is perfect for readers who like well-rounded characters who grow throughout the story, not only separately but together as a group. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus is a play, so reading it as a novel has its disadvantages. That being said, I still found it to be a fascinating study on pride, desire, and what a person is willing to do to get what they feel they deserve.

The first thing the audience (or reader, in this case) is made to understand is that Dr. Faustus feels underappreciated and that he does not get the credit or riches he deserves. He decides to sell his soul to the devil in exchange for power and riches. Obviously, this isn’t an unheard-of idea, but Dr. Faustus is one of the earlier examples. What follows feels to me more like an examination of the value of a soul, and what exactly damns it, than anything else. That might disappoint some people, but I found it fascinating, especially when viewed through the lens of society at that time.

Mephistopheles was my favorite character (his name is absolutely absurd, though). On the surface, his driving force can be summed up when he utters the lines, “ O what will not I do to obtain his soul!”, but he is actually much more complicated than that. I see him as a representation between the religious expectation of the time and desire. There was kind of a “fall in line” attitude toward religion when this was originally written (in the early 1600’s, I think), so Mephistopheles is pretty much the personification of dissent. Plus, he was fun. He was so desperate to gather those souls!

The pacing is definitely odd, but a good chunk of that is because it’s supposed to be seen performed and I haven’t been able to yet. There are a plethora of monologues, and a lot of introspection, so it’s a slower and more complex read. What pushed The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus from a “like” to a “love” for me is the ending. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll just say that it pretty perfectly embodies one of humanity’s more prevalent characteristics.

I highly recommend reading it.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

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

Filled with intricate plotlines and political intrigue, The Bone Shard Daughter was enthralling, but still problematic. The high stakes (and high body count) drew me in; the constant switching between points of view took me out of the narrative.

Emperor Shiyen rules the Phoenix Islands through a network of constructs controlled by his bone shard magic. This magic comes at a high price to the empire’s citizens, a price that many are unhappy paying. The emperor is ostensibly using this magic to protect his people from the Alangua, an ancient enemy that most feel does not still exist. Are his motives truly altruistic, or is there something else happening beneath the surface?

There are several points of view found throughout the book. Lin’s storyline is arguably the most important. She is the daughter of the Emperor, desperate to prove her worth to her father and earn his trust. Only by discovering his secrets can she hope to someday succeed him and lead his empire. However, the more she tries to learn, the more dangerous those secrets become. The lies build up, and he has eyes everywhere. He is a dangerous man to cross, and Lin needs to find a way to survive his machinations and figure out what he is hiding. I have to say, I was absolutely stunned by where Lin’s storyline ended up. However, while Lin was technically the main character in the book, I found myself only sort-of invested in her character until about halfway through. Once her plotline got going, it raced along at a breakneck pace, but it took longer to get there than I would have liked.

There are a couple of other characters of note, but my favorite was Jovis, a smuggler turned accidental hero. I loved his storyline so very much! At the time of the book, he has spent seven long years searching for the ship that carried off his kidnapped wife. He has also managed to find himself on the wrong side of both the emperor and the Ioph Carn, a brutal crime syndicate. While trying to avoid both a bounty and assassins, he rescues a child. He does it for purely monetary reasons, but that is not what people see. It reminds me a bit of a certain hat-wearing hero of Canton…but I digress. As his reputation spreads, his legend grows. I loved watching the internal battle between Jovis’ desire to find his missing love, and his strong – if odd – moral compass. I am also incredibly curious about Jovis’ found companion and who – or what – he is.

The way the narratives eventually bled together was brilliant. Along the way, the reader is introduced to a truly fascinating world, with a history both complex and unique. The mythology was fully developed, and I felt like I had merely dipped my toes in, with much more to come.

Despite the many things I loved about The Bone Shard Daughter, I did have a couple things niggle at me. First, I did not care about Sand’s or Phalue’s storylines. At all. I was always tempted to skip the chapters told from their points of view (I never did, though). They did end up being useful in furthering the story, but I still was not a fan.

My other complaint is the way the chapters ended. Each chapter ended on a cliff hanger, whether it really needed to or not. Often, the next chapter in a particular character’s viewpoint would jump a bit ahead, not really explaining how the character got out of whatever scrape their previous chapter had ended on. It became confusing at times. I am not entirely sure why the author felt the need to end every chapter that way, but after a while I found myself sighing.

Despite my slight annoyances, I enjoyed the book. The last half ramped up quickly, and I am anxious to see what happens next. The turning point that took the book from setup to the meat of the story was brutal and unexpected. I loved it. I recommend this book to those who do not mind a slower buildup and appreciate a complicated storyline with political leanings and a fair bit of magic.

*This review originally printed in Grimdark Magazine.

The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson by Lauren H. Brandenburg- Blog Tour

It is said that something magical happens during the festival season in Coraloo, something unexplainable. People tend to be a little crazier, reckless. Maybe it’s because it coincides the full moon, but Coraloo’s constable, Roy Blackwell, is beginning to think it’s something else. That said, Roy has other things on his mind, like marrying Margarette Toft. A controversial decision as the Toft and the Blackwell families have a hatred for one another that is older than the town itself. Tradition collides with superstition as the feuding families compete to organize the events surrounding the most talked about wedding in the history of Coraloo. Despite the array of minor catastrophes that ensue, and the timings clashing with a four-week long festival celebrating a legendary beaver, Roy and Margarette hold fast and declare they will do whatever it takes to wed. That is until Roy unearths a town secret – a murder involving a pair of scissors, an actor with a severe case of kleptomania, and the mysterious marriage of Innis Wilkinson. Can good come out of unearthing the past – or will only heartbreak follow? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Lion Hudson for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. I must say, I’m incredibly excited to be a part of this blog tour. This book will be available on October twenty third.

The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is heartwarming, funny, and delightful. Imagine scooping up the zany background characters from the show Gilmore Girls, along with an adorable and kooky town, and making them the main focus of a book, and you’ve got this sweet and funny romp.

Margarette is engaged to marry Roy. However, there’s a big problem: she’s a Toft and he’s a Blackwell. These families have been at each other’s throats for as long as anyone can remember and no wedding is going to change that. This is a feud of Shakespearean proportions, and if Margarette and Roy aren’t careful, it could end just as badly. Meanwhile, the town might have seen its first murder in memory, someone has stolen the recipe to the incredibly potent communion wine and is spiking drinks left and right, and a little elementary school student is predicting doom at every turn. Can Margarette and Roy manage to survive all the feud-related nonsense, or will their wedding go the way of the dodo?

I don’t think there’s a single thing that I didn’t love about this book! The setting- a small town with a weeks’ long festival- is a perfect backdrop for the hijinks the characters get into. Everyone knows everyone, which makes the small town seem even smaller. The two feuding families couldn’t be more different, with everyone on one side or the other. The only thing they agree on is that Tofts and Blackwells shouldn’t marry.

And the characters! The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is chock-full of wonderful, zany people. From Sylvia, the hairdresser whose clients have to get their hair fixed by someone else afterward, to Earl, who always has a colander on his head, each one of them is a fun addition to the book. The way their personalities play off each other and add to the general zaniness of the story is utterly fantastic.

While there are mysterious goings-on that need to be solved, the main charm of this book is in the character development and the sweetness that shines through each page. This is a perfect cozy read. Cuddle up with your favorite warm beverage and get ready to laugh, smile, and leave the stresses of the real world behind for a bit. The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is a hug in book form and I loved every moment of it.

The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This volume is an anthology of 18 stories about heroines with as much courage, wit and intelligence as their more familiar male counterparts. It includes Li Chi, the serpent slayer, and the old woman sly enough to outsmart the devil. (taken from Amazon)

I love a good fairy tale collection, and The Serpent Slayer delivers! As the title suggests, this book highlights female heroes. There are no heroic knights or true love’s kisses. Rather, these women kick butt all on their own.

One of the many things I love about this collection is that the stories come from all over the world. There are tales from Indonesia, China, and India, to name a few. Each one is so original, and very different from the average fairy tale fare. Let me tell you-this book has it all! There are dragons, devils, fey folk, and more.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the illustrations. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators anyway, and she outdoes herself in this book. Everything comes to life and a beautiful and fantastical way. The colors are bright and beautiful, and each illustration strives to capture the place of the story’s origin. The pictures elevate the book from good to freaking amazing!

Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales, especially lesser-known ones. Go ahead and buy it; you’ll want to be able to read this one again and again.

Vultures by Luke Tarzian- The Write Reads Blog Tour

An enemy slain is not a conflict won…

After decades of war the demon Te Mirkvahíl is dead. But its progeny endure, spilling from the Heart of Mirkúr, sowing death across the land of Ariath. If the people are to finally know peace, the Heart must be destroyed. Theailys An believes he can do just that with The Keepers’ Wrath, an infamous power focus wrought in Ariath’s yesteryears–but the weapon first must be reforged.

War spares no one…

Serece never intended to get involved in Ariath’s war. But history and demons have a way of pulling strings. When she learns Theailys An, a man whom she abhors, bears striking similarity to the first creator of The Keepers’ Wrath, Serece departs her mountain world for Ariath to ascertain the truth.

From patience, hope…

For millennia Behtréal has walked the world alone. Rewriting history to resurrect his people is easier said than done. But Ariath holds the key–soon The Keepers’ Wrath will be remade.

Truth from madness…

As paths converge and a shadow falls across Ariath, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear–these events have played out many times before. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to The Write Reads and the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

Vultures is a dark fantasy, told in shades of gray. Dark and brooding, it is definitely not a happy story, but it is engrossing. To me, it felt like most of what happened was really a device used to explore or explain inner torment, as opposed to the inner torment being just a byproduct of the situation, if that makes sense. Luke Tarzian himself described Vultures as being “very much a story about love, loss, grief, and mental illness through the eyes of reluctant heroes.”* There’s no way I could possibly describe the atmosphere of the book better than that. I very much love seeing real issues like mental illness or grief explored in fantasy settings, and I was impressed with the rawness of the book.

The story was told through several points of view, and it was interesting to see how/if the characters’ storylines crossed or what the connections were. My favorite character was Theailys An. He would have blackouts and he would remember nothing of what happened during them (although, violence was generally involved). It made for fascinating character development.

The world itself was incredibly well-developed. There is a ton to this world, and this is a book that very much needs the reader’s full attention. The writing was evocative and made my imagination work overtime. At times, it felt like I was reading someone’s nightmare. It was an uncomfortable but engrossing feeling.

If you like harsher fantasy- I mean really harsh- give this book a read. Luke Tarzian is a writer with vision and a great deal of skill.

*If you want to read my interview with Luke Tarzian, it can be found here.