It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Adult Fiction Edition

2021 has been an amazing year for fiction. I have read so many excellent books, any of which would make a wonderful gift. For this year’s list, I picked books that are either the first in their series (as opposed to a continuation of a series) or standalones. You can find last year’s adult recommendations here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

This is the most surprising, delightful, and heartwarming book! It is a hug in print and I loved every single moment of it. You can read more of my gushing about it here.

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.


The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.


As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.


Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

Paladin Unbound would be an excellent gift for fans of the fantasy genre, readers who are new to fantasy, or people who play tabletop roleplaying games. Basically, it would make a great gift for 99% of the people I know (I’m still trying to convince a few friends to give fantasy a go). You can read my review here.

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.
William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?
Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia, and one ultimate, inescapable truth…. (taken from Amazon)

Loosely based on a real person and real events, this book sucked me in and kept me feverishly turning pages. It is so well written, and would be a great gift for readers who like mind-twisting, psychological reads. You can find my review here.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! The Resurrectionist of Caligo would be perfect for readers who like a healthy dose of mystery in their fantasy. You can find my review here.

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess desperate to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

Complex and beautifully written, The Jasmine Throne will keep readers engrossed. This would be a great gift for fans of books that have great worldbuilding, political machinations, and twists aplenty. You can read my review here.

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?  (taken from Amazon)

Book two in the Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor was a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.

The Bone Shard Emperor picks up soon after The Bone Shard Daughter ends. We are still following the points of view found in book one, although a few characters find themselves crossing paths. This is one of the main changes in dynamic: the new interactions. Instead of being on separate but related paths, the book slowly brings the characters into contact with each other. Some form alliances. Others…not so much.

While the world is well developed (and massive), it’s the characters that drew me in and kept me enthralled. Phalue and Ranami, now married, grapple with Phalue’s new role as governor. There are new obstacles and a new twist in their relationship: a scrawny urchin who may be hiding something. While still not my favorite points of view, Phalue and Ranami add a different angle to the story, fleshing it out well.

Meanwhile, Lin finds herself head of a kingdom that is, quite literally, drowning. I am always curious why anyone in their right mind would actually want to be in charge, so seeing her motives and the shifts in her viewpoint was fascinating. She is no longer the idealistic and motivated character she was in The Bone Shard Daughter. Instead, she is a person struggling to keep her head above the dark waters of politics, alliances, secrets she must keep, and an approaching army. From being rather ambivalent about her for the first half of book one, I have gone to eagerly reading the next part of her storyline, wondering if she can somehow hold the fraying kingdom together. I loved the combination of vulnerability and sheer stick-to-it-ness that Lin displayed. She didn’t quit, even when she really probably should have.

Jovis (and Mephi!) once again stood out as my favorite storyline, although things are a little different now. Jovis is now Lin’s Captain of the Guard, and his relationship with her is complicated, to say the least. They are both hiding big things, while at the same time trying to learn who to trust. His part of the book felt like it was always about to tip over into chaos, but never quite did. Author Andrea Stewart kept the multiple threads of his narrative held together wonderfully. Nothing was forgotten, and every action had consequences that were both far-reaching and sometimes flat-out terrifying.

Stewart has come into her own, her writing skillful and confident. The narrative flows wonderfully and the pacing is magnificent. The Bone Shard Emperor felt like a roller coaster, building up speed as it hurtles from drop to turn, turning everything on its head before plunging you straight into an astonishing confrontation. If the series continues on in this vein, it will easily become one of my favorites.

Read this one sooner rather than later.

Originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

Gravitas by Christopher Russell- Storytellers on Tour

Thank you to Storytellers on Tour for allowing me to be a part of this book tour. You can find more great reviews, interviews, and giveaways at Storytellers on Tour. Gravitas is available now.

History has weight behind it. The power to crush an empire . . . or birth it anew.

Nowhere is this more true than the Republic of Lestadt, an island nation founded upon the bones of tyrants and sustained by the might of Gravitas. This magic is the manifestation of the past, drawing upon the heritage of relics and heirlooms to bend the forces of nature. The more storied an artifact, the more power it commands.

Yet after 300 years of prosperity, Lestadt is crumbling. Revolutionaries gather in the docklands, seeking restitution for the crimes of the ruling oligarchs. A mysterious augury pronounces the nation’s doom.
Desperate to save themselves, Lestadt’s Court of Magisters turns to Lord Fixer Scraw for salvation. The deformed man may be ruthless in his methods, but he has never failed them. With a powerful Gravitas relic in his scarred hands, unlimited resources at his disposal, and a depraved plan taking root in his mind, can Scraw stop the revolution and save Lestadt?

Or will the cure be worse than the disease?

Brutal and unforgiving, this novella had all the markings of an engrossing read. Fixer Scraw is, in essence, given unlimited power and resources ( think: dictatorship) in a last ditch effort by Lestadt’s Court of Magisters to save Lestadt. Of course, this begs the question: are they saving it or simply delivering it straight into the hands of another sort of villain?

Having not yet read anything by this author, I was unsure of what to expect. My first takeaway was, “Wow, this ‘good guy’ is not a good guy.” Fixer Scraw is, however, a fascinating character. I love complex characters and Scraw definitely fits this category. He also is a good indicator of the feel of the book. It is a harsh read where morality is considered more of a sliding scale than a fixed idea.

The world was incredibly well developed, especially if you consider how very short the book is. Author Christopher Russell packs a huge amount of detail into this shorter format, painting a nuanced and complete picture of a darker world and the desperation it contains.

The magic system is where this book really shines. I refuse to explain it (I would bungle things horribly), but I loved the way the acquisition of this magic was used to show the depths to which some people were willing to sink. This book is harsh, so be aware of that. It you don’t mind taking a walk on the grittier side of fantasy, I recommend adding Gravitas to your “to be read” list.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59023552-gravitas 
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GNMJBJK
 Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/gravitas-5

About the author:

Christopher Russell (native of Williamsburg, VA) is a 29-year-old mechanical and aerospace engineer (graduate of the University of Virginia) who has loved reading since the day he picked up a book and writing since he could scrawl his first letters. After voraciously consuming titles from every genre—ranging from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings—he decided to combine the expertise from his professional education, passions, and Christian faith into fantasy epics bridging the gap between magic and science. He currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his loyal dog, Vallen, named after the protagonist of his first work. For behind-the-scenes information on all of Christopher Russell’s works, visit christopherrussellauthor.com.

Website: https://www.christopherrussellauthor.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Chris_DT_author

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christopher_russell_author/

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/DivinitysTwilightBooks/

Fantasy Subgenres: A Plethora of Choices UPDATED

Every now and again, I’ll hear someone say “I don’t like fantasy,” even though they’ve never read any. Of course, everyone has their own preferences in literature, which is totally fine, but I sometimes think that what people mean is that they don’t like a certain type of fantasy. There’s much more than just swords and magic when it comes to fantasy (although I happen to love books that have swords and magic).

Here are a few sub-genres, with explanations, as well as examples of books that fit into each category. Of course, I’m in no way an expert, and some of these books can fit quite comfortably in multiple sub-genres. Talk to me! Tell me what I got right, what I messed up, and what I missed completely. Here goes nothing!

Since my original post, I have learned about and read a few new subgenres, which I am now adding to the list. Let me know what you think!

High Fantasy: High fantasy is probably what comes to mind first when people hear “fantasy.” There are some characteristics that separate high fantasy from other kinds of fantasy. First of all, it’s very character-focused. The choices made by a single character, or a few, are most important. High fantasy is set in its own world with its own defined rules of magic. A common theme is good vs. evil.

Examples: The Swans’ War trilogy by Sean Russell; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Epic Fantasy: Epic fantasy is, well…epic. It usually consists of a threat to the entire world and has a large cast of characters, as opposed to the few that characterize high fantasy. While The Hobbit, for example, is high fantasy, The Lord of the Rings is what I would classify as epic fantasy. There’s a larger cast of characters, and a danger to the entire world.
Examples: Game of Thrones; Wheel of Time; Lord of the Rings

Low Fantasy: Low fantasy is characterized by magical events that intrude on daily life in a normal world.

Examples: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; American Gods by Neil Gaiman; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Sword and Sorcery: Well, aside from the obvious (swords and magic), think romance, and adventure. Sword and Sorcery is a bit on the pulpy side (nothing wrong with that). I always picture 80’s era Sylvester Stallone as the movie equivalent of a Sword and Sorcery hero.
Examples: Conan the Barbarian; Legend by David Gemmell. Honestly, I’m on the fence about including Legend here, as it doesn’t seem as pulpy as other Sword and Sorcery books, but I’m drawing a blank on other examples. What would you add to this category?

Military Fantasy: This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s basically military life in a fantasy setting, often following one solider, or a small company.
Examples: The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher; The Black Company by Glen Cook

Grimdark Fantasy: Don’t expect happily ever after’s or the archetypal heroes. Grimdark is marked with violence, morally gray as well as completely amoral characters. It also doesn’t shy away from violence.
Examples: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff; The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Dark Fantasy/ Gothic Fantasy: This sub-genre incorporates themes of death, fear, and romance. It has a darker tone, and elements of horror. Think Edgar Allen Poe- goes fantasy, and you’ve got the general idea.
Examples: Black Sun Rising by C.S. Friedman; Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Urban Fantasy: This is interesting in that there are a few different routes urban fantasy is known to take: either a separate fantasy world with rules that are similar to ours or, conversely, our world with fantasy elements mixed in. Go figure.
Examples: Jackaby by William Ritter; City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Arthurian Fantasy: This is fantasy based directly on the myths and legends of King Arthur.
Examples: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart; The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Superhero Fantasy: This is fantasy based on the character of a superhero. Easily defined.
Examples: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson; Vicious by V.E. Schwab

RPG Lit: Combining fantasy with role playing games, the main character is generally aware that they are in a game-type world. Stats. are very much a part of the book, and the characters interact and progress through the book as they would an rpg.
Examples: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini; Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland

Fairy Tales: Starting as children’s stories, lately there have been many re-imaginings of these books that are marked by fantastical elements and magic.
Examples of fairy tale retellings: Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer; Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik; House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig; A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Portal Fantasy: I argue that this is a sub-genre in its own right! This would be books in which the characters leave their own world through a portal/door/etc, and travel to a world with different rules than their own. Often, fantasy elements such as magic are present.
Examples: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Fantasy of Manners: I’m a little newer to this subgenre ( Thank you to Way Too Fantasy for telling me about this one). You won’t see many dragons or violent battles. This subgenre is defined by its wit and its use of words as weapons. There is often a sort of hierarchy and the battles tend to be more involved with social maneuvering. I tend to picture Jane Austen-meets-fantasy.
Examples: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke; Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Sword-free Fantasy: Sans fantasy violence, sword-free fantasy uses wondrous, reality-free worlds to explore very real emotions and relationships. Look for themes of family, love, self-acceptance, or self-discovery.
Examples: The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald; The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune; Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson

Viking-Inspired Fantasy: This subgenre could go a few different directions. It could borrow from heavily from Norse mythology or it can be set in a world that borrows elements from the Norse mythology or Viking way of life while still having its own mythologies or pantheons.
Examples: The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwyne; The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Fantasy Comedy: Irreverent and witty, fantasy comedy often takes a humorous look at the fantasy genre, either creating new and entertaining fantasy worlds that focus on humor, parodying common fantasy tropes, or even poking lighthearted fun at specific works of fantasy.
Examples: The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson; Harpyness is Only Skin Deep by D.H. Willison; Iliad: The Reboot by Keith Tokash

Time for you to weigh in! What did I get right? What did I mess up? What am I still missing? Let’s talk!

The Splinter King (The God-King Chronicles #2) by Mike Brooks

The world fractures as a dead god rises…

Darel, dragon knight and the new leader of Black Keep, must travel to the palace of the God-King to beg for the lives of his people. But in the capital of Narida, Marin and his warrior husband will be drawn into a palace coup, and Princess Tila will resort to murder to keep her hold on power.

In the far reaches of the kingdom an heir in exile is hunted by assassins, rumours of a rival God-King abound, and daemonic forces from across the seas draw ever nearer…(taken from Amazon)

The Splinter King (book two in the God-king Chronicles) continues in the vein of The Black Coast, with a complicated, well-thought-out storyline placed in an astonishingly detailed world. Mike Brooks writes with a confidence that is backed up with skill. As with The Black CoastThe Splinter King utilizes multiple points of view to tell a rich story, twisting different plot threads together in unexpected ways.

Where book one felt very much like setup, and at times seemed a bit confusing, The Splinter King sees things starting to pay off. The stakes seem higher-or maybe I’ve just become that much more invested in the fates of everyone. While still on the larger side, it seemed to move more quickly than The Black Coast, quite probably because the world is now established, and the rules have been explained. The speech patterns, which threw me a bit in The Black Coast, now made much more sense.

The intrigue was a stroke of genius. I enjoy books with crooked characters, ingenious plots, and the occasional backstabbing, and The Splinter King has all of it in spades. Add in dragons (although they are distinctly dinosaur-esque), and it’s safe to say that I was more than satisfied.

Author Mike Brooks chose to focus more on different characters in this continuation; however, the characters from The Black Coast were still present. They just stepped out of the limelight enough to allow other characters to become more developed. The Splinter King was told from multiple points of view, but each character had their own perspective and their own narrative voice. It becomes almost a puzzle: if you put together the separate points of view, it forms a more complete picture of the world and what is happening in it.

The book did have its moments where I felt that not much was going on, and sometimes it seemed to forget what it was doing and sort of meander a little. It wasn’t enough to ruin my enjoyment, but it was definitely noticeable. On the other hand, usually the meandering was accompanied by another look at what is an incredibly nuanced world. The world itself is by far my favorite part of the series. It is so well thought out, unique, and diverse. There are no shortcuts when it comes to worldbuilding, and it shows.

The Splinter King continued the story started in book one extremely well. We have moved past the setup of The Black Coast into the meat of the story and it’s quite the story! I have no idea how everything will be wrapped up, but based on how things have progressed, the next book will be quite the ride.

Review originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons (D&D Book)


Meet Fizban the Fabulous: doddering archmage, unlikely war hero, divine avatar of a dragon-god—and your guide to the mysteries of dragonkind.
 
What is the difference between a red dragon and a gold dragon? What is dragonsight? How does a dragon’s magic impact the world around them? This comprehensive guide provides Dungeon Masters with a rich hoard of tools and information for designing dragon-themed encounters, adventures, and campaigns. Dragonslayers and dragon scholars alike will also appreciate its insight into harnessing the power of dragon magic and options for players to create unique, memorable draconic characters.
 
    Introduces gem dragons to fifth edition!
    Provides Dungeon Masters with tools to craft adventures inspired by dragons, including dragon lair maps and detailed information about 20 different types of dragons
    Adds player character options, including dragon-themed subclasses for monks and rangers, unique draconic ancestries for dragonborn, additional spell options, and a feat
    Presents a complete dragon bestiary and introduces a variety of dragons and dragon-related creatures—including aspects of the dragon gods, dragon minions, and more
    Reveals the story of the First World and the role the dragon gods Bahamut and Tiamat played in its creation and destruction (taken from Amazon)

On the off chance you are unaware, there are three (incredibly obvious) things you should probably know about me:

1. I adore dragons in any form.

2. I quite enjoy roleplaying games, even (especially) when I roll badly.

3. I absolutely love the Dragonlance series. It was my gateway to fantasy, and I have reread the Chronicles every year since I first fell in love with them, much longer ago than I care to admit.

So, much like a certain kender, I had to “borrow” Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. I’m sure Fizban wouldn’t mind.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not particularly well-versed in fifth edition, 3.5 being where I’ve hung my hat the longest. However, a good chunk of what makes books like this great has nothing to do with the edition. It’s a jump-start in creativity. Looking through Fizaban’s Treasury of Dragons gave me several great ideas and got my mind working. In fact, I think I’m ready to attempt to conquer my nerves over being the DM and lead a Dragonlance campaign myself.

The book organizes and breaks down the different types of dragons often found in D&D, organizing stats, suggestions, spells, and more into easy-to-understand pages. Apart from the usual suspects, there are some new additions and some extra details given. Gem dragons! Faerie dragons! Clever, and sometimes funny, adventure hooks! When it comes to Dungeons and Dragons campaign books, there are a few different sorts: the D&D book that stays on the shelf; the trusty manual that is always consulted; and the fun extra that helps elevate a campaign in terms of creativity and enjoyment. Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons falls firmly in the last category.

Something that I found pretty interesting is the examples and tie-ins to other lines owned by Wizards of the Coast. There are examples from Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and even a mention or two from Magic the Gathering. I sometimes found it odd to see how the book tried to tie everything up into one neat little “it’s all related” bow, but the information itself was still cool. Being a huge Dragonlance fan, I was really excited when mentions of Cyan Bloodbane and Fireflash popped up.

Oh, and here’s the best part: lots and lots of Fizban! I loved the little quotes attributed to him throughout the book. They range from advice (“To portray a convincing human, one must embody greed, selfishness, and vigilance. To portray a convincing dragon, one must relax.”) to very important observations (“…When it comes to my pudding, well, you can’t fix perfect.”), and everything in-between. They added fun and charm to an already-enjoyable manual.

I did have one little niggle, which actually had to do with how Fizban was referred to in the book. If you haven’t read the Dragonlance Chronicles yet (I demand to know why!), there’s a huge spoiler! So, for the Dragonlance uninitiated, be aware of that. Or try to be unaware. Or something.

Aside from that, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons is excellent. I’d like to apologize in advance to the poor unfortunates who will be stuck playing in my Dragonlance campaign. It’s Fizban’s fault. Truly.


(If you haven’t yet read Dragonlance, and would like to know where to start, you can find my opinion here: Dragonlance Books: Where on Krynn Should You Start?)

Witchy Witches of all Kinds

Witches in literature have changed quite a bit over the years. From the sinister and mysterious, to the flat-out evil; from the magic-for-good to the naturalist who is one with nature, you can find a book for every type. I am far from an expert in the inclusion of witches in books, but I’m a reader so I have my own experience with witches. Here are a few books with witches of different sorts.

Evil Witches:

These are the ones that often look like hags, live in huts in the middle of nowhere, have a penchant for eating naughty kids, or just like to cause trouble.

Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm- I just had to include at least one Grimm story and this one fits the bill.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (I would argue that they are bit more like the Three Fates, but…)

The Witches by Roald Dahl- Well, this book is terrifying.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum – Here for obvious reasons.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- This book contains one of, if not the most evil witch I’ve read in a book to date.

Good witches: The term “good” is subjective, especially when it comes to magic users in books. Still, I think the witches in these books can at least fall vaguely in this category.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- Without getting into the author at all, Hermione definitely qualifies as a good witch.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow- No spoilers given.

Small Place by Matthew Samuels – She’s technically good. Okay, she has some questionable anecdotes but for the adventure in Small Places, she is considered good.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede- I loved these books when I was younger! Morwen the witch is the least witchy witch ever and it’s fabulous.

Witches as naturalists: I’m seeing books that are going this route more and more often lately. While I don’t have quite as many titles for this section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one example.

Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece- This book was wonderfully written. The prose was gorgeous and flowed beautifully.

It’s complicated: These books have witches that aren’t witches, witches as representative of other things (such as women’s rights), and other complex females characters with more than a hint of magic about them.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- This book is brilliant! It follows three witches who are, more importantly, three women in search of respect and freedom. This book is chock full of fierce, justifiable anger and I loved it.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller- I’m pretty sure that, by now, the hysteria that gipped communities during the Witch Trials is well known. I remember seeing this play and being fascinated.

The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore- This one was a bit harder for me to get into, but I enjoyed it once it got going.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- What can I say? It’s Anne Rice. That means the trilogy is incredibly complex, incredibly messed up in parts, and incredibly engrossing.

Time to add to my already-teetering tbr list! What else should be on this list?

Three Years and 695 Posts Later…

Image Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

Once upon a time, there was a socially awkward, book-obsessed nerd. This nerd (let’s call her Jodie, shall we?) loved to read. I mean, loved it! Her house was filled with books, her mind was filled with books, and she loved talking about books with everyone she knew. Now, every main character has a flaw (or two, or three) and one of Jodie’s flaws was that she had a hard time not talking about books. This could easily make her an incredibly annoying person to be around. Fortunately, she happened to know a wise wizard. This wizard (also known as her husband) suggested a magical cure to Jodie’s fatal flaw: start a book blog!

Now that we’ve all learned why I am not an author, let me sum up the rest of the story: today is my third blogging birthday. After nearly seven hundred posts, let me share a bit of knowledge with you: I am not an expert. At all. What I am, though, is grateful. I was completely surprised to realize that blogs don’t have to exist in a vacuum. I’ve met some amazing people and read some incredible books thanks to book blogging. I’ve been fortunate to have authors and publishers trust me to review their books, and I’ve tried genres that I didn’t even know existed a few years ago.

I have noticed a fair bit of discouragement lately from bloggers (I’ve been discouraged myself). Imposter Syndrome seems to be rearing its ugly head a lot. So, here is a short sampling of some of the amazing reviews that have caused me to spend way too much money on books. This is nowhere near a complete list, but you all rock. If you happen to find yourself on this list, please consider adding your own list of book bloggers who have added to your reading enjoyment.

Beforewegoblog’s: A Deadly Education

The Book Pyramid: The Bard’s Blade

Off the TBR: The Half Killed

Plot_Head on Fanfiaddict: Of Honey and Wildfires

The Irresponsible Reader: Highfire

Ben Wablett :We Men of Ash and Shadow

Kerri McBookNerd: Little Thieves

Paul’s Picks: Two Like Me and You

Fantasy Book Nerd: The Swordsman’s Lament

Al Wrote a Book: Ashes of the Sun

Sword and Spectres: Orconomics

Sue’s Musings: The Goddess of Nothing at All

Beneath a Thousand Skies: The Thirteenth Hour

I Can Has Books: How I Live Now

Spooktacular Books for all Ages

I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)

Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!

For little monsters:

Spooky Pookie


It’s Halloween! What will little Pookie decide to be this year? Pookie tries on costumes one by one, but somehow can’t find just the right thing. The resolution to Pookie’s dilemma will delight toddlers and their caregivers alike. Told and illustrated with Sandra Boynton’s celebrated charm and pizzazz, Spooky Pookie has all the makings of a beloved Halloween classic. Boo! (taken from Amazon)

Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.

The Ghost-Eye Tree

One dark and windy autumn night when the sun has long gone down, a young boy and his older sister are sent to the end of town to get a bucket of milk. As they walk down the lonely road, bathed in eerie moonlight, all the boy can think about is the ghost-eye tree.

Oooo…
I dreaded to go…
I dreaded the tree….
Why does Mama always choose me
When the night is so dark
And the mind runs free?

What will happen when they come to the tree? Can they run past it or will it reach out and grab them? (taken from Amazon)

This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.

The Monster at the End of this Book

Carve out family time for this Halloween read as Grover begs you not to turn the page — because there is a monster at this end of this book!

Lovable, furry old Grover is distressed to learn that there’s a monster at the end of this book! He begs readers not to turn the pages, but of course kids feel they just have to see this monster for themselves. Grover is astonished–and toddlers will be delighted–to discover who is really the monster at the end of the book! (taken from Amazon)

This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.

For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:

Bunnicula

Beware the hare!

Harold the dog and Chester the cat must find out the truth about the newest pet in the Monroe household—a suspicious-looking bunny with unusual habits…and fangs! Could this innocent-seeming rabbit actually be a vampire? (taken from Amazon)

I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

This is a new edition of the complete original book. Stephen Gammell’s artwork from the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark appears in all its spooky glory. Read if you dare!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a timeless collection of chillingly scary tales and legends, in which folklorist Alvin Schwartz offers up some of the most alarming tales of horror, dark revenge, and supernatural events of all time. (taken from Amazon)

Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.

The Beast and the Bethany

Beauty comes at a price. And no one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.

But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.

The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy?

This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review

For Young-adult vampires:

House of Hollow

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review

Tales from the Hinterland


Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans alike, Melissa Albert’s Tales from the Hinterland features full-page illustrations by Jim Tierney, foil stamping, two-color interior printing, and printed endpapers.

Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review

The Devouring Gray

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny—to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities…before the Gray devours them all. (taken from Amazon)

Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review

For adult zombies:

Meddling Kids

In 1977, four teenagers and a dog—Andy (the tomboy), Nate (the nerd), Kerri (the bookworm), Peter (the jock), and Tim (the Weimaraner)—solved the mystery of Sleepy Lake. The trail of an amphibian monster terrorizing the quiet town of Blyton Hills leads the gang to spend a night in Deboën Mansion and apprehend a familiar culprit: a bitter old man in a mask. 

Now, in 1990, the twenty-something former teen detectives are lost souls. Plagued by night terrors and Peter’s tragic death, the three survivors have been running from their demons. When the man they apprehended all those years ago makes parole, Andy tracks him down to confirm what she’s always known—they got the wrong guy. Now she’ll need to get the gang back together and return to Blyton Hills to find out what really happened in 1977, and this time, she’s sure they’re not looking for another man in a mask.

A mad scientist’s concoction of H. P. Lovecraft, teen detectives, and a love of Americana, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a story filled with rich horror, thrilling twists, outright hilarity, and surprising poignancy. (taken from Amazon)

Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?

In the Garden of Spite

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive. (taken from Amazon)

I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review

Nothing but Blackened Teeth

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions. (taken from Amazon)

While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review

Creepy Classics:

The Lottery

A cautionary short story about the dangers of unexamined traditions and the dark side of human nature.

I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.

Frankenstein

If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!

The idea of a reanimated corpse was famously conceived by an 18 year old Mary Shelley on holiday with her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The three were tasked with writing a ghost story, which resulted in one of the most famous novels to come from the 19th century. Published anonymously in a three volume series, Frankenstein instantly set the standard for a true literary horror and its themes led many to believe it was the first true science fiction novel. In 1831 and after much pressure, Mary Shelley revised the text to be more fitting to contemporary standards. Presented here by Reader’s Library Classics is the original 1818 text of Frankenstein.

Young scientist Victor Frankenstein, grief-stricken over the death of his mother, sets out in a series of laboratory experiments testing the ability to create life from non-living matter. Soon, his experiments progress further until he creates a humanoid creature eight feet tall. But as Frankenstein soon discovers, a successful experiment does not always equal a positive outcome. (taken from Amazon)

Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

A morality tale or a cautionary tale against the dangers of excess and vice? In the Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist sells his soul for youth and eternal beauty. While Dorian lives a decadent and deceitful life, only his picture portrait is affected by the traces of his wickedness and decadence. Oscar Wilde’s only novel offended the moral sensibilities of most of England in 1890 and over a century later, the story endures as one of the most popular classics of the gothic horror genre. (taken from Amazon

I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.

There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables) by Alix E. Harrow

It’s Zinnia Gray’s twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it’s the last birthday she’ll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no-one has lived past twenty-one.

Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia’s last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s the thing: Alix E. Harrow is a brilliant writer. She could write a book about the color taupe and I would stand in line to read it. She’s that good. So when I heard about A Spindle Splintered, I grabbed it as quickly as possible. I didn’t know too much about it, but I knew I needed to read it.

I was a little surprised at how short it was. I expected it to be longer based on Harrow’s last few books (which I highly suggest reading, by the way). I am always a littles hesitant about shorter books, wondering whether they can tell complete tales as well as a longer novel can. That’s a silly hang-up on my part since I’ve read many shorter novels that have been absolutely amazing, but we all have our failings.

The author embraces the shorter format, eschewing long character introductions in favor of quick ones with the development continuing at a rapid pace throughout the rest of the story. While there is no doubt that the characters are fully rounded (especially Charm), I do wish that there had been time to really get into the nitty gritty of what made them tick. For example, Zinnia has spent her entire life in a tug of war between trying to do the things that every kid and teen does and the awareness that she is living on borrowed time. I would have loved to see more of that struggle and view how that has shaped her every action. There is a bit of explanation about her relationship with her parents which I found very interesting but I would have loved to see more.

I loved that there wasn’t a ton of lead up to the main event. Instead, we are pretty much tossed right in, which added to the tone of unbelievability meets why the crap not? that pervaded the story. The side characters were great, especially the witch that cursed the Sleeping Beauty that Zinnia meets. That whole confrontation did not go at all the way I expected and I was completely on board with that.

There wasn’t a lot of time spent on the world building because there didn’t need to be. It was every fairy tale you’ve ever read, every fantasy trope played out in exaggerated detail. It worked very well for the plot as everyone knows the original story of Sleeping Beauty (or at the very least, the Disney version) and this was a new take on the tale. There didn’t need to be a ton of explanation. That being said, Alix E. Harrow made sure to provide extra details where it was needed, without slowing the pace of the book, again showing off her writing chops.

There are Arthur Rackham illustrations throughout, which provided an enchanting touch, if a wee bit twisted. In fact, the entire book points out the less-than-savory parts of fairy tales and fables, and finds ways to compare them to the less-than-wonderful things in real life. It was very well done.

My big quibble with A Spindle Splintered is that I really didn’t like the length. I wanted more. More detail, more expansion, more from the final confrontation. Not because the book was bad, but because Alix E. Harrow is such a good writer. I wanted to live in her story for much longer than I was able to.

At the end of the day, I really did enjoy A Spindle Splintered, but not nearly as much as I loved The Once and Future Witches and The Ten Thousand Doors of January. In this case, definitely blame the reader and not the book.