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.

They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll by Dough Brod

Amazon.com: They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick,  Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll (9780306845192): Brod, Doug: Books

A veteran music journalist explores how four legendary rock bands-KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz-laid the foundation for two diametrically opposed subgenres: hair metal in the ’80s and grunge in the ’90s.

They Just Seem a Little Weird offers an original, eye- and ear-opening look at a crucial moment in hard-rock history, when the music became fun again and a concert became a show. It’s the story of four bands that started in the ’70s and drew from the same seminal sources but devised vastly different sounds. It’s the story of friends and frenemies who rose, fell, and soared again, often sharing stages, producers, engineers, managers, and fans-and who are still collaborating more than 40 years later.

In the tradition of books like David Browne’s bestselling Fire and Rain, They Just Seem a Little Weird seamlessly weaves the narratives of the mega-selling KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith with . . . Starz, a criminally neglected band whose fate may have been sealed by a shocking act of violence. It’s the story of how the four groups-three of them now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame-went on to influence multiple generations of musicians, laying the foundation for two diametrically opposed rock subgenres: the hair metal of Bon Jovi, Poison, Skid Row, and Mötley Crüe in the ’80s, and the grunge of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Melvins in the ’90s. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on December first.

First off, let me just say: I’m not a huge fan of any of these bands, just because I only know them passingly well. They were just a teensy bit before my time. Of course, I don’t live under a rock, so I have at least heard their music. So, if I’m not an uber fan, why did I scurry to read this book? Because it sounded fascinating.

It is an interesting foray into the bizarre world of rock and roll. There were a lot of weird, random happenstances that let me know how small the world of professional music-making truly is. There’s a major “six degrees to Kevin Bacon” vibe that permeates the book. So many things that happened were connected in the oddest ways. About halfway through, I was ready to start singing, “It’s a small world after all…”

Despite this, I found myself getting confused at times because there were so many names to remember. Not only that, each person seemed to have several nicknames bestowed by several different people and the nicknames got a bit perplexing. Also, the way they were all connected to each other was very convoluted at times. Read this book with a pencil ready in case you get name confusion like I did.

That being said, this book is a very engrossing read. The beginning of these music giants was just so much fun to read about, and the little asides were flat-out strange. It made for an incredibly entertaining book. I now know more about these bands than I thought was humanly possible for someone who wasn’t already an obsessive fan.

My biggest gripe is that there was a lot of information but not a lot of emotion. There was a ton of “how” and “when” but not a lot of “why,” if that makes sense. I wanted a little more personality than I got. That’s just a small little complaint, though.

The writing is succinct and well-worded. It flowed well and there weren’t really any parts that dragged or felt superfluous. For those of you who love any of these bands, or are huge music buffs in general, you’ll want to add this to your collection. For me, I liked it but fell just short of loving it.

Kings and Daemons (The Gifted and the Cursed book 1) by Marcus Lee

Kings and Daemons by Marcus Lee

A tale of conquest, dark kings, and daemonic heroes. A spellbinding story that will enchant you with its plot of ambition, love, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption. Over fifty years have passed since Daleth the seemingly immortal Witch-King and his army conquered the Ember Kingdom.Now, with the once fertile lands and its enslaved people dying around him, the Witch-King, driven by his insatiable thirst for eternal youth, prepares his forces to march on the prosperous neighbouring Freestates. It will be the beginnings of a conquest that could destroy nations, bringing death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.Then, when a peasant huntress whose rare gift was concealed from birth is exposed, it sets in motion a chain of events that could alter the destiny of generations to come. (taken from Amazon)
Wowza, Kings and Daemons was fantastic! This book felt very old-school fantasy to me – and I loved it! It had so many of the elements that I love to see in fantasy. A group of characters to follow? Check. Inner conflict to match the external struggles? Check. Fantastical creatures? Check (daemons: need I say more). A terrifying Big Bad who is deliciously evil? Check.

Despite having these well-known and well-loved fantasy building blocks, this book is in no way a copy of other works. It is wholly original and incredibly creative. The characters were fantastic. I loved them all, but at the moment my favorite is Kalas. I reserve the right to change my mind, however. Each character has so much going on that not only provides fascinating backstories, but explains their personalities and the choices they make.

The world is grim and bleak, but not enough so that it killed my reading mojo. I know that sentence makes next to no sense, but sometimes a world is too dark for me to enjoy -this wasn’t the case here. The shades of despair in this book were nuanced and offset by the sheer waves of stick-to-itness that the characters possessed. Here was a group who had taken their hits and were still kicking. I love characters like that!

The pacing was fabulous. The story started moving and never stopped. I was immediately drawn in and I stayed enthralled from beginning to end. Everything unfolded with perfect timing and nothing felt forced. There was no dreaded info-dump. It was obvious that the author knew exactly what story he wanted to tell and confidently went about doing it.

The world was incredibly well-developed. The history was fascinating, and I’m excited to see it explored even more in future installments. In case you can’t tell, this is my long-winded way of saying Kings and Daemons was fantastic and I highly recommend it.

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold
The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need?

Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.
Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.
Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.
What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.
Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.
But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is the sequel to The Last Smile in Sunder City. You can find my review for that book here Dead Man in a Ditch is available now.

Dead Man in a Ditch picks up pretty much right after the end of book one. I expected this series to be rather episodic, to be honest, each book being a case that Fetch Phillips finds himself caught up in. Instead, the series has a continuing story-line, back stories are explored, new characters are introduced, and surprises are revealed.

Sunder City is full of grime, violence, and a fair hint of desperation. So is Fetch Phillips. They make for an excellent match. This city is full of once-magical creatures who are struggling to get by in a post-magic world. One of the many things I loved is how author Luke Arnold explores how it would feel for a being who is mostly magic to be bereft of it. His narrative voice is fantastic. There’s a Sam Spade feel to it, although Fetch has become much more introspective than he was in book one. This evolution of character feels natural and makes perfect sense in the story.

Fetch Phillips’ latest tangle (I’d say “case,” but it gets out of hand much too quickly to qualify as one) involves magic. It shouldn’t: it’s been established that all the magic is gone. However, someone seems to have missed the memo. Fetch finds himself trying to solve a murder and figure out if-  and how – the magic is actually returning.

I love how delightfully madcap this book is. Running through it is more of Fetch’s backstory, and some serious character development. We get a closer look at this new, messed up, magic-free world. I’m annoyed at the author: he had me tearing up over the fate of a unicorn.  Grr!  I became so invested in this book, I had to stop myself from rereading it as soon as I finished the last page.

I would say that the tone of this book is more serious than the first book, but not so much that reading it is a downer. Rather, it draws you in. The stakes are higher and the fate of many hinges on decisions made by a small few. It’s kind of messed up, actually. I’m sure Fetch would agree.

This is a fantasy like no other. It’s gritty and dark, but still has an undercurrent of hope running through it. It showcases how wonderfully broad the fantasy genre really is. I loved every moment of it.  If you haven’t started this series yet, you need to make it a priority. Just go ahead and shift it right up to the top of your “to be read” pile. I guarantee you’ll love it too.

Shakespeare for Squirrels by Christopher Moore

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Set adrift by his pirate crew, Pocket of Dog Snogging—last seen in The Serpent of Venice—washes up on the sun-bleached shores of Greece, where he hopes to dazzle the Duke with his comedic brilliance and become his trusted fool.

But the island is in turmoil. Egeus, the Duke’s minister, is furious that his daughter Hermia is determined to marry Demetrius, instead of Lysander, the man he has chosen for her. The Duke decrees that if, by the time of the wedding, Hermia still refuses to marry Lysander, she shall be executed . . . or consigned to a nunnery. Pocket, being Pocket, cannot help but point out that this decree is complete bollocks, and that the Duke is an egregious weasel for having even suggested it. Irritated by the fool’s impudence, the Duke orders his death. With the Duke’s guards in pursuit, Pocket makes a daring escape.

He soon stumbles into the wooded realm of the fairy king Oberon, who, as luck would have it, IS short a fool. His jester Robin Goodfellow—the mischievous sprite better known as Puck—was found dead. Murdered. Oberon makes Pocket an offer he can’t refuse: he will make Pocket his fool and have his death sentence lifted if Pocket finds out who killed Robin Goodfellow. But as anyone who is even vaguely aware of the Bard’s most performed play ever will know, nearly every character has a motive for wanting the mischievous sprite dead.

With too many suspects and too little time, Pocket must work his own kind of magic to find the truth, save his neck, and ensure that all ends well. (taken from Amazon)

I am both surprised and excited to say that I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. It is available for purchase now.

Funny, witty, and a bit heavy on the raunch, this is Christopher Moore in top form. Shakespeare for Squirrels felt like having a conversation with someone while incredibly sleep-deprived: not much makes sense, and it’s all hilarious anyway.  While this book is technically a continuation of a storyline (Pocket the Fool is a recurring character), you don’t need to read any of the previous books to enjoy this one. All you need is a healthy appreciation for the absurd.

This isn’t a satire of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; it’s a full-out mugging. If you have a deep respect for Shakespeare in its original form, this might be a bit too much for you. Honestly, though, the Bard had a dirty mind himself, it seems to me. It’s about time someone pointed that out.

Pocket is still very much Pocket, meaning he’s a delightful mess. I love that character, and it was a blast to see him again. The author’s train of thought sometimes jumped its track, going from odd to utterly ridiculous, but in the very best way. If Monty Python wrote books of their skits instead of performing them on TV, the results might be something similar to this.

If you don’t care for dirty humor, this book won’t be up your alley. If you like books that lovingly mock Shakespeare, if you like irreverent humor, and if you find yourself cackling at risque comments, this book is for you.