Now for Something Different: Unique or Bizarre Books

Sometimes I enjoy a book that is really different, possibly even a little – dare I say it? – bizarre. I like to be surprised by books, and sometimes I want a book that challenges my expectations. Here are some utterly unique books that I’ve enjoyed.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is a story of music, obsession, violence, and madness by Scotto Moore

I was home alone on a Saturday night when I experienced the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard in my life.
Beautiful Remorse is the hot new band on the scene, releasing one track a day for ten days straight. Each track has a mysterious name and a strangely powerful effect on the band’s fans.
A curious music blogger decides to investigate the phenomenon up close by following Beautiful Remorse on tour across Texas and Kansas, realizing along the way that the band’s lead singer, is hiding an incredible, impossible secret.
At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is a book that goes straight past unique and right into weird. I mean that as a compliment. I would bet money that no one could possibly figure out where this book is going. It’s twisty and disconcerting and I was on board for all of it! You can find my review here.

Duckett and Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M. Nair

Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.The only problem is: He and Stephanie don’t have one of those.Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray only to find that they are way out of their depth. They stumble upon a web of missing people that are curiously linked to a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time. And unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and fix the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, no longer exist.

I read this one with Beth from Before We Go Blog and we had a blast discussing the odd goings-on. I laughed so stinking hard! In a time where laughs are sorely needed, this one definitely fits the bill. You can find my review here.

Around the Dark Dial by J.D. Sanderson

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

“Around the Dark Dial is a good old-fashioned science fiction, full of twists and surprises and the sense of wonder, but leavened with modern sensibilities-there’s a lot to recommend here, with stories ranging from the present day to the far future, from the promise of new technology to the dystopic future we all dread.” – David Wellington, author of The Last Astronaut

This collection of short stories by J.D. Sanderson was creative and fascinating. Each story was different and it really is unlike anything else I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. This was a different sort of science fiction, one that was very thought provoking. You can find my review here.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house―a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Piranesi was beautifully written. It was also a little bit confusing. Author Susanna Clarke deliberately gives only bits and pieces of information. I was left with almost as many questions as answers. The prose was magnificent, though. You can find my review here.

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander from Uncanny Magazine

This is by far the best fairy tale about dinosaurs that I’ve ever read. It’s also the only fairy tale about dinosaurs that I’ve read. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s odd and clever, and so much fun! You can read my review here.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This story is so flipping weird, but I love it! It’s thought-provoking and one of the few “classics” that I think actually benefits from being picked apart in a school setting, just because it’s so fascinating to get other opinions on this one.

What about you? What “odd” books have you enjoyed?

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I just want to warn everyone that there will be major spoilers below. I’m sorry about that, but I need to discuss this disturbing little story somewhere. I am really hoping for comments on this one because I would love to hear other ideas on “The Lottery”. I need to be able to unpack this thing! This is my first read-through and, knowing Shirley Jackson, I really should have expected it to be disquieting. It completely sucked me in and I can’t stop thinking about it.

——HUGE SPOILERS BELOW——

“The Lottery” takes place in a small town, the sort of place where everyone knows each other. It follows the story of a lottery which the reader finds out is drawn annually, the winner ultimately being the loser, as they are stoned to death. I found it to be unsettling and engrossing, easily the best Shirley Jackson work I’ve read, and one that’s kept me thinking. There are themes of casual acceptance of violence and apathy toward change or improvement, which are chillingly still applicable today.

In the beginning of “The Lottery” the tone is almost lighthearted. The reader is given no clue that the story will end in such an upsetting way. The men talk about their crops; the children talk about school and eventually even start playing. The story says that “Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones” . With the picture the author has painted of a lighthearted ceremony, I wondered at first if the boys are grabbing stones to skip across a lake, or to use as a fort. Only at the end is it revealed that those very stones gathered by the children were to be used to stone someone to death- possibly even one of the very children who gathered the stones. The lottery has taken on a familiar feel to the participants, and almost seems to signal the beginning of a season. Certainly, no one seems to be upset or even reluctant to participate.

Despite the chilling violence that has taken place for years and years, no one questions or objects to the sacrificing of a life. In fact, when one woman points out that some places have stopped having lotteries, a man claims that there’s “nothing but trouble in that”. This is where I started to see a little beyond the surface, and felt rising tension. This “turn”, so to speak, is one that has served Jackson well in her other works, and it worked wonderfully here. The villagers accept the violence without argument, even encouraging their children to participate. There is almost a duality shown in the neighbors. They can talk about doing dishes one moment, and plan on stoning someone to death in the next. However, the ultimate protest of the person who has “won” the lottery, coupled with the relief of those who have not, shows that no one is quite comfortable with the situation. Not one of them steps in, says anything against it, or even foregoes the chance to throw a stone, though. This shows an apathy and unwillingness to take steps to change or improve. The keeping of tradition is the most important thing, no matter that the tradition is violent and wrong. Even the disheveled state of the lottery box, which has not been fixed, shows a stoic acceptance and indifference- perhaps even an active resistance- to changing or stopping the violence.

“The Lottery” isn’t just a creepy little tale: it’s a commentary on the acceptance of violence, and an unwillingness to question the status quo. This unwillingness to change anything, or even examine whether change needs to happen is still echoed today. Seen through that lens, “The Lottery” becomes at once both fascinating and disturbing. Can you see why I can’t stop thinking about it?

Have you read “The Lottery”? (I kind of hope so, if you’ve read this post, seeing as I posted spoiler after spoiler). What did you think? Did you get the same things out of it that I did?

Interview With a Middle-School Reader: Spring 2021

My oldest is a book fiend. He has always loved words, and once he learned to read, he was off and running. He reads anything that catches his eye, happily ignoring those pesky “reading level” suggestions. I like to chat with him about what he’s been reading and enjoying and I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written those opinions down. You can find my last bookish chat with him here.

Without further ado, here are some of his more recent takes, in his own words:

Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

A war has been raging between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia for years. According to a prophecy, five dragonets will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. But not every dragonet wants a destiny. And when Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny discover the truth about their unusual, secret upbringing, they might choose freedom over fate — and find a way to save their world in their own way. (taken from Amazon)

“The Wings of Fire series is fantastic. I’ve only finished the third one, but I’m already a fan of the series and plan on reading all of it. I like dragons and I like action and I like well-written stories and this series has all of that. It also has a bit of politics, so if you like politics you might like it.

I think my favorite character is Starflight, a nightwing dragon. He’s bookish and shy and I think that is entertaining. I highly recommend it for kids who like fantasy stuff. “

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.

The disturbing Mr. Hyde is making his repugnant presence known in late 19th Century London. But punishment for his vile acts are always parried by the good, and well-respected, Dr. Jekyll. Soon, the secret relationship between the two men will be revealed. (taken from Amazon)

“The eloquent speech didn’t make a lot of sense at first. Once I got used to it, I liked it. It was interesting and it had surprises.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

With a lonely boy named Ben on board, the brave young dragon Firedrake sets out on a magical journey to find the mythical place where silver dragons can live in peace forever. Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage — and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home. (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good story. The characters were well written and it was interesting how it took place all over the world. Plus, as you can already tell by my earlier pick on this list, I like dragons. There’s a dragon good guy and a sort-of dragon bad guy. I think the idea of the villain was pretty cool. It’s kinda weird to root for a villain, though. The main dragon was pretty cool too. It had a lot of characters to memorize, but that was a good thing. It kept it interesting throughout the book.”

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.

Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people. (taken from Amazon)

“We had very similar opinions about the books. My favorite character was Ernie too. It is a very good series with a lot of good action and humor. It’s definitely a long read, but you get invested in it and it’s worth it by the end. I’m very excited to see how the latest installment of the series goes down. I think it’s cool that you [Mom] were quoted on it. It makes me excited to see how my mom is going up in the world.”

Incidentally, this series has been my oldest son’s gateway to adult fiction.

Sword Quest by Nancy Yi Fan

Wind-voice the half-dove, formerly enslaved, is now free, and Maldeor, the one-winged archaeopteryx, hungers for supreme power.
Can Wind-voice and his valiant companions—Ewingerale, the wood-pecker scribe; Stormac, the myna warrior; and Fleydur, the musician eagle—save the future of their world? (taken from Amazon)

“It was a really good beginning to the series and I hope the next one is as cool. I think it’s cool that the book was written by someone that young. It’s about mostly avian species. It’s an action adventure with a lot of myth and legend in it. It’s like the birds’ local legends. My favorite character was a woodpecker named Winger who was kind of a side character. He was fun. He was talkative and he liked to write. He had a journal which actually made up a few of the chapters.”

Ash Ridley and the Phoenix by Lisa Foiles

Twelve-year-old Ash waves goodbye to her miserable life as a traveling circus stablehand when she and her feisty bird, Flynn, are whisked away to the Academy of Beasts and Magic: a school where wealthy children train unicorns, manticores, and scarf-wearing ice dragons. The downside to owning such a highly magical beast? Everyone wants him. When a mysterious sorcerer suggests the Academy may have dark intentions, Ash realizes her tiny bird might be the key to saving Cascadia…or destroying it. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved this book! It had a lot of cool fantasy creatures. I definitely think my favorite character was Hammond Crump, a kid with an ice dragon who makes it constantly cold. I like Hammond because he’s a really sweet character and I think it’s ironic that he has the same last name as me. Plus, having an ice dragon is pretty sweet, even if it makes it so it’s always cold. I think you should read it if you are looking for a new, exciting fantasy author. There’s double crossing, and battles and stuff. The kids have to save the day.”

There you have it. My oldest definitely has a fantasy bent and his newfound appreciation for dragons is something I can relate to. Do you have any suggestions for him based on what he likes?

A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Paladins, Clerics, and Druids

I had the idea to discuss Dungeons and Dragons classes (which is very similar to the class system in most roleplaying games) and its similarity to characters in books. Basically, a “class” is a set group of skills that is generally used by a specific profession. For example, “fighter class” consists of excelling at some sort of combat.

I asked for contributions from book bloggers and authors and what they came up with is brilliant. What had started out as a single post has turned into a few, with each post discussing a different set of classes. You can find my post on Fighters and Barbarians here. Today, let’s talk about paladins, clerics, and druids. Here we go!

Paladin: Take a fighter and add a fair dose of religious fervor, a strong code of conduct, and an oath to fulfill, and you’ve got the general idea. Paladins get a power boost from either their god or their commitment to their cause. Boiled down: holy warrior. Or, if you’re feeling saucy, an unholy warrior.

I’m happy to have The Swordsmith joining in the conversation :

“Firstly, I am delighted to be contributing to the Witty and Sarcastic Book club for the first time!  It’s an amazing blog that I follow and when Jodie put out this interesting call, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of this post.

I have a feeling this is going to be a great post. Jodie’s request was to match a character from fiction to a Dungeons and Dragons class and I had so many ideas!  I settled on something though, it seemed so bizarre but then thinking about it I just had to write about Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells as a Paladin!

Go with me on this one as Paladins are a holy warrior class in D&D, while Murderbot isn’t the major comparison is that it always tries to do the right thing.  This is an important part of the books and the character, this part of the character drew comparisons to the Paladin class. It reminded me of one cool dude I am playing D&D with at the moment and guess what?  He’s playing as a Paladin.

Doing the right thing or what you perceive to be the right thing is tough, Paladin’s can have a very hard time in D&D and Murderbot..well the character is an interesting one because it fights for what it believes, for it believes to be doing the right thing when it does.  I can’t say too much without spoilers but I just knew that the character connotations were there.

Thank you to Jodie for allowing me to let loose my love of Murderbot and comparing it to a Paladin class, enjoy the rest of the post!”


Author Ricardo Victoria also has some thoughts on the paladin class: “This class gets a lot of flak due to its apparent rigidity, but I blame that more on the player (no offense) than on the class, as not many people know or like or can play a Lawful Good character without trying to make it a cardboard cutout. That’s why I think the best example of how a Paladin should be is Sgt. Carrot from Discworld. Strong as an ox? Check? Abides by the Law? Check. Charismatic? Check. Compassionate? Check. Innocent? Check. Can pound you to an inch of your life if you hurt an innocent? For sure. Carrot proves that a Paladin can abide by the spirit of the rule, rather than the letter, can be courteous yet dangerous, flexible when needed, and smart in an unexpected way, especially with clever interpretations of the law. But his most important trait is that he could have the power (it’s somewhat of a secret that he is the true heir to the crown of Ankh-Morpok, and he knows that). The thing is he doesn’t want it. He just wants to protect the innocent and then go home, even if he is pretty much married to his job. That, for me, is how a paladin should be played.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, on paladins: “For me, I picture Sir Gawain as the epitome of a holy warrior. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, he is very concerned with honor and adhering to the strict code he’s sworn to uphold. There are themes regarding service to the helpless, as well as to God. His sense of morality and his code of conduct guide him in every aspect of his life.



Cleric: More than a healer, but not quite a paladin, clerics are servants of their deities. Clerics have the ability to heal as well as possibly harm through magical means granted by their god. However, unlike a priest or acolyte (who usually stay in a town or temple), clerics take their skills to the frontlines, helping those such as paladins in their holy cause.

Geeky Galaxy has some great thoughts on clerics: “Trudi Canavan has a great many series that covers every angle of character archetypes, from rogues to magicians, and the one I’m going to talk about a little more, clerics. Age of the Five #1 is called Priestess of the White and features all manner of religious icons, from cults, to gods and of course, clerics. This series is perfect if you love a rich depth to your fantasy worlds with a particular focus on religion and politics. It’s perfect for the sort of person who wants to get lost in a book for hours at a time!


Beneath a Thousand Skies
shares her thoughts on clerics: “Anyone who’s ever played D&D has likely has the cleric call them out on their nonsense at least once. The long-suffering cleric is part healer, part priestess/priest, part counsellor, and often (but not always0 the common sense of the party. They can also pack quite a punch when they want to.

For me, that is Gilda from the Godblind trilogy in a nutshell. In many ways, she’s central to the story and plays a pivotal role in the lives and stories of many of the characters. Yet she’s also an unsung hero, and she is a perfect example of someone straddling that line between priestess, counsellor, and healer. She might not have magic, but she has powe, heart, and that all-important common sense and she has a mean right hook when needed (just ask Lanta).”

“There’s little I understand about your religion, about why you would choose a life of fear and of pain over a world of life and light and beauty and an afterlife of joy and oneness. Because life is hard, aye, but it isn’t brutal. Brutal’s what we do to each other. Hard is what the seasons do to us.”-Anna Stephens, Darksoul

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub says: Clerics are probably the class that I have the least experience with. However, Melisandre from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series comes to mind. Her deity is called the Lord of Light and, to be honest, she really weirded me out.


Druid: Druids are representative of nature. They get their power- healing, magical spells, etc.- from either the land itself or from a nature deity. They can even shift into an animal form.

I love Bees and Books’ take on druids: “Were the Animorphs a huge part of your childhood? Those tattered, much loved paperbacks certainly were a staple in all of the school libraries I visited.
Prepare yourselves for a Big Brain moment but the Animorphs were just like Druids in D&D. Take the primary power of an Animorph: the ability to morph into a creature they have seen and touched, thereby acquiring the DNA of the creature permanently. The Animorph in question then can use that shape for morphing at any time, though they are limited to the time period they can stay in shift otherwise they may become stuck as that creature. The Animorph power (given to them by the alien Andalites) is similar to a class feature of the D&D Druid, namely the Wildshape feature. Wildshape allows Druids to transform into a creature that they have seen–as opposed to touch/acquire DNA from. This mechanic limits Druids to only creatures from their region, or that they see while on their adventures at the DM’s discretion. Additionally, there are limitations that lift over time as the Druid levels up such as not being able to transform into flying or swimming creatures, and the difficulty rating that Druids can transform up to. It’s relatively easy to transform into a rat, but it takes a while before a Druid can be a giant eagle. These limitations for both Druids and Animorphs mean that they can really only transform into creatures they have access to, and have to be clever when thinking about what to transform into for fighting and other adventures.
More experienced Druids also gain additional features, depending on their Druid Circle, that can boost their abilities while in Wildshape, increase the time they can be shifted, or broaden the options for what they can shift into. Similarly, as the Animorphs grow and learn their abilities in the books they become more proficient in shifting, and even find ways around tricky situations such as getting stuck in shift.”



Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub weighs in: Allanon from the Shanara series by Terry Brooks is a pretty good example of a typical druid.



Meet the contributors:

The Swordsmith is a wonderful blog focusing on fantasy literature. The posts are full of detail and so well-written! I highly suggest checking out The Swordsmith anytime you’re looking for a great new book to check out. You won’t be sorry!

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Beneath a Thousand Skies talks about all things nerdy on her blog, including books and Dungeons and Dragons. A perfect haven for those with an eye toward imaginative books, Beneath a Thousand Skies is definitely a blog to follow.

Geeky Galaxy is a great blog that covers a bit of everything, from book reviews to thoughts on book-to-movie adaptations. Her content is always fun to read, and her writer’s voice is a fantastic!

Bees and Books is a delightful blog, and one of my go-to’s for fantasy opinions. Bees and Books’ posts are so unique and always give me something to mull over.





A Class Above: D&D Classes in Books- Fighters and Barbarians

There used to a be a bit of a “these people are weird” attitude toward people who enjoyed roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. It was pretty funny to hear it coming from readers of fantasy (or any genre, really: you’d be surprised at the similarities that can be found). I’m assuming some of the judgement came from a place of discomfort at older kids and adults using their imaginations. I’m honestly not sure. Fortunately, D&D, and other roleplaying games are becoming much more accepted, which is great because playing can be pretty stinking fun.

As I briefly mentioned, there are similarities between books and roleplaying games. Both require the use of imagination to fill in pictures, both allow for a suspension of disbelief, and both take us to new and unusual places, constrained only by the author (or Dungeon Master).

A ‘character class’ is a profession or set of skills that help differentiate different types of characters in roleplaying. I put a call out for bookbloggers and authors to give their thoughts on D&D classes in books and they answered in a big way! In fact, what I originally thought of as a single post has become a few, each post focusing on two or three of the main character classes. While I have each writer’s link attached to their amazing contribution, please make sure to check out a more detailed introduction to each of them at the bottom of the post. I’ve also included my own ideas here and there, as well as some loose definitions of each character class. Enjoy!

FIGHTER: This is pretty self-explanatory, but also has a lot of room for creativity. A warlord, knight, or rich person’s bodyguard are all different types of fighters. A fighter has a ton of skill with a weapon, and functions as a pretty good meat shield (can you tell I’ve used the fighter in that capacity before?).

Behind the Pages gives examples of fighters in fantasy : “

“Atae from Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength by Kelly A. Nix. To the Kaji warriors, being a halfbreed means being weak. Atae refuses to back down and engages in rigorous combat training to stay at the top of her warrior class. Strength and skill in battle are revered among the Kaji, and Atae will do everything in her power to become a true warrior. Trained in both hand to hand combat and weaponry, Atae will cut down her foes without a second thought.”


“Kate Daniels from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews: Kate was raised to be a weapon. Forced into fighting pits from a young age, it was hit the ground running or die trying. Any weapon in her hands is lethal, though she prefers her sword. When she unleashes a combination of magic and blade, she is a near unstoppable force.”

“I gave him a smile. I was aiming for sweet, but he turned a shade paler and scooted a bit farther from me. Note to self: work more on sweet and less on psycho-killer.” – Ilona Andrews, Magic Strikes


Ricardo Victoria, author of The Tempest Blades series says: “Here, there is a lot to choose from in Fantasy. I think this is the class most well represented. So I will keep this one short: Boromir [from The Lord of the Rings]. Aside from the fact that he is the character from the Fellowship that needs more love, he is a classical fighter. Knows all sort of weapons, can improvise during a fight, has the Con [constitution] of an Ent (I mean, how many arrows did he take before falling?). He even trains Merry and Pippin. Had he lived to amend for his sole mistake, he would have been Aragorn’s second hand.”

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub shares an opinion: For me, when I think of the D&D fighter class, my mind immediately goes to Clay “Slowhand” Cooper from Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. He’s a used-to-be-impressive warrior, a member of an elite mercenary group. He has major fighting skills-or at least, he used to. He and his friends come out of retirement for one last impressive feat-one that may get them killed.

“Clay pushed his body off him and mumbled another apology – because, enemy or not, when you hit a man in the nuts with a magic hammer the least you could say was sorry.”– Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld

Barbarian: the simplest way I can think of to describe a barbarian is as a fighter with anger issues. They thrive on violence and chaotic battles (although they may not always crave them). Their anger can give them a berserker state of mind: think an overdose of adrenalin allowing someone to do the nigh impossible.

Ryan Howse, author, reviewer for Grimdark Magazine and contributor for Before We Go Blog, weighs in: “For gamers, barbarians are often some of the most memorable and dynamic characters played. They tend to be chaotic (in earlier editions, being a lawful barbarian was against the rules) and their ignorance of civilized customs provides some obvious comedic fodder.

But barbarians are not fools. They just don’t care about civilization. People who are fools don’t survive the wilds—especially fantasy versions of the wilds, with all the strange new monsters and dangerous terrain that implies.

Fafhrd, from Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, is an iconic barbarian. He’s the bruiser of the duo, and the tank. He’s a massive man from an ice-covered land, and he mostly wants to spend his adventuring loot on women and ale.

The greatest part about these stories is that while they’re classics of the genre, they feel closer to a real tabletop game than even the best tie-in fiction.

In the first chronological story of Fafhrd, he straps rockets to his boots to make a jump down a hill. That feels absolutely like something out of an all-night gaming session where the barbarian has a ridiculous plan and rolls just well enough to make it work.

There’s also a story where Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser die, and end up dealing with Death Itself, which again feels like a DM trying to keep the campaign going after a TPK [total party kill]. (They get better.)”

 “And even when we serve, we make the rules. We bow to no man’s ultimate command, dance to no wizard’s drumming, join no mob, hark to no wildering hate-call. When we draw sword, it’s for ourselves alone.”– Fritz Leiber , Sword in the Mist

Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub chimes in: I see Beowulf as the ultimate barbarian. He fights Grendel with near-supernatural strength ( Grendel definitely meets his match), and several other feats of strength are boasted about throughout the epic poem. He feels no fear and isn’t big on laying traps, or making battle plans. Any character that divests a monster of its arm without using a weapon to do it lands in the “berserker” category for me.

Meet the contributors:

Behind the Pages
is an excellent blog and beta reading site, run by the talented Tabitha. Her reviews are very insightful and incredibly well-written. She has excellent taste and never fails to review books that would have snuck under my radar, adding to my already way-too-long list of books to read.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Tempest Blades fantasy series. Book one, The Withered King, (which I highly recommend reading), is available now. Book two, The Cursed Titans will be released this summer and is available for pre-order on Amazon.



Ryan Howse is a literary jack-of-all-trades. The author of several books, he also reviews for Grimdark Magazine and is a regular addition to BeforeWeGoBlog. I honestly have no idea how he found the time to contribute to my post, but I’m excited that he did!

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.

Interview With a Middle-School Reader

The other day I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve picked my middle-schooler’s brain about books (zombie pun not intended, but still chuckle-inducing). The first time I interviewed him about what he’s been enjoying, he was in fifth grade. Now…he’s not. Time flies, unless it’s 2020. Then it crawls inexorably toward the next weird disaster. But I digress.

My middle-schooler is definitely leaning in the fantasy and sci-fi direction as far as his reading taste. I’m so proud. Here’s what he’s been reading over the last little bit:

The Frith Chonicles by Shami Stovall

I introduced my oldest to this book after having read and loved it. He enjoyed it so much that he kept on going. He’s now read all the books that are released and is eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. He says, “It was a very different fantasy from what I’m used to, but not in a bad way. I liked all the magical creatures and some were pretty cute. I liked the characters and the storyline was large and expansive. I definitely recommend it for slightly older kids, like teenagers.”

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris


My avid reader loved this one so much, he finished it in three hours.
He says “I really liked this one. It was nice and cute and it had some really good magic tricks. It was funny and I liked the illustrations. It also had some secret codes in it which were really hard to figure out, but once I did, they were fun and rewarding.”

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My oldest has mixed feelings on this one. He says, “I think I like it the most out of the quote- unquote “classics” I’ve read so far. I feel like it was written for a different generation, though.”

The Oddmire by William Ritter

I’ve read the first two books in the series (all that are out right now) and I loved them. Here’s what my oldest had to say: “I liked it! The first book felt like the beginning of a really important fantasy adventure. The second book was more straightforward than the first, but they were both great. I like Cole the best. He just seemed like an adventurous prankster type. I’m excited about the third book.”

There you have it. He just finished Huckleberry Finn and did not like it at all (to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I read it either). He’s on to The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Beast and the Bethany next. I know he’s going to love meeting The Beast. So, readers: what are some more books that my oldest might like?

Live and Let Read: My Thoughts on Banned and Censored Books

This week is Banned Books Week, so I’m taking this opportunity to talk about something that I have a strong opinion about: banning and censoring books.

“We must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” (Cassandra Clare)

Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda” (via lithub). While there are several varied reasons for banning or censoring books, sexual issues, age appropriateness, and the inclusion of witchcraft are pretty common. At one point, the poetry collection Howl (which is brilliant, by the way) was actually put on trial. The defendants had to prove that it had “literary merit.”

You’d think that, in this day and age, book banning or censoring is over and done with. Nope. The face of book banning may have changed, but there are always books being pulled from shelves or school libraries for all kinds of reasons.

Now, where do I stand on book banning and censorship? I am unequivocally against it. If you don’t agree with an idea a book is presenting, you absolutely have the right to choose not to read it. But denying others the right to make that decision for themselves is a slippery slope. Who should get to decide what content is appropriate for everyone?

The wonderful and-yes, sometimes scary- thing about books is how incredibly powerful they can be. They can comfort, educate, and challenge us. Books have the magical ability to both show us how vast this world is, while at the same time reminding us, that maybe we’re not so different or alone after all.

The list of banned and challenged books (a challenged book being one that a group has attempted to have access of removed or restricted) is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter is one of the most commonly challenged book series to date. Of course, don’t forget to add the Bible to the list: often challenged for violent content.

In fact, speaking of Harry Potter, I was told at one point that I needed to meet with someone to discuss my “unhealthy obsession with witchcraft” simply for reading those books. I was twenty eight years old at the time. See what I’m talking about when I say that book banning or censoring could become a dangerous slope?

I proudly say that I read banned and challenged books. My kids read them (I was so excited when they were introduced to Where the Wild Things Are). In fact, if you’re a reader, chances are you’ve enjoyed a book that’s been challenged or banned- whether you were aware of it or not.

There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.

What about you, Reader? Do you think books should be banned or censored? What “questionable” books have you read and loved? What books have changed you or caused you to see things differently?

Now, go live dangerously. READ.

*For more information about commonly challenged books over the years, check out http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10).

Image Credit: Grant Snider

Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes by Nicky Raven and John Howe

Hardcover Beowulf : A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes Book

The exhilarating epic blazes to life — featuring illustrations by a lead artist on the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy.

“Look into the flames and let your minds empty. . . . For this is a tale of blood and heat and ashes.”

It is a tale that has been retold countless times through the centuries — and here, in an enthralling edition illustrated by a noted Tolkien artist, the mighty Beowulf is well set to capture new legions of followers. This contemporary retelling of the ancient epic — narrated with a touch of banter by the faithful Wiglaf and featuring vividly dramatic illustrations — follows the mythic hero from his disarming of the gruesome Grendel to his sword battle with the monster’s sea hag mother to his final, fiery showdown with an avenging dragon. (taken from Amazon)
I love Beowulf. I have read a few different versions of it, as well as some novels that are inspired by this epic poem. When I found out that there is a retelling that includes illustrations by the artist John Howe, I just had to have it.

Like with any classic, there are translations and retellings. This would fall more under the “retelling” category than a full-blown new translation of the original text. It flows a little bit more like a fairy tale than like the epic itself. It’s also a bit simplified, which makes it more accessible to a broader age range. It’s a fantastic retelling, but in no way can it replace the original.

To be honest, what sold me on the book are the illustrations. Most of you know who John Howe is. For those who don’t let me give a little example of his fantasy cred: he was a concept designer for The Lord of the Rings movies (his style is very apparent in the Fell Beasts), has created cover art for many fantasy novels, worked on other movies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his art can even be found on Magic the Gathering cards (sadly, my own Magic cards don’t have his art on them). I personally also love his art in A Diversity of Dragons. And let me tell you, his popularity is well-deserved.

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His art in Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes is phenomenal. The depth and atmosphere he brought to the book elevates it from a story to something more. It drew me in. My oldest will be reading Beowulf  (Seamus Heaney’s translation) this school year and I am going to have him also read Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes. I am positive it will deepen his appreciation for the original, as well as give him an opportunity to enjoy some stunning artwork.

I highly suggest reading this book. Actually, just buy it and add it to your collection. I guarantee you’ll want to own it.

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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Yellow Wallpaper - Kindle edition by Gilman, Charlotte Perkins ...

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is told as a series of journal entries written by a woman who has gone to a country manor to recover from what is assumed at this time to be postpartum depression.  Her loving husband, John, follows the recommendation of doctors of the day (he is also a doctor), and sequesters the woman so that she might rest and recover. She is not supposed to exercise or write,  instead letting repose heal her. The woman (whose name is never learned) is not allowed to leave her room, which has yellow wallpaper. As time progresses, the woman becomes convinced that the wallpaper moves and there is someone in the wallpaper trying to get out.

I really can’t accurately describe the creepy feel of this story. While it is ultimately a tale of the deterioration of the woman’s mental state (due to the absolutely absurd treatment of mental illness in the late 1800’s, when this was written), there is an eerie vibe to it. The writing is astounding. I was immediately drawn in. I can see why this story is considered a classic.

When I began the book, I thought it was odd that the color of the wallpaper was such a big deal. However, I soon found that it makes perfect sense. The metaphors found throughout are amazing, conveying the hopelessness the woman felt regarding her situation.

It isn’t a happy-go-lucky story, but it is a compelling one. And the ending! Holy terror, Batman! Gilman’s writing is excellent. I highly recommend reading this story.