Operation 2021: Success! (or Favorite Books from this Year)

This year has been an amazing one for reading! I was planning on doing a top 10 books that I loved in 2021, but I could only narrow it down to 20. Even that was a difficult thing to do. Eventually I managed to get down to 20 books, but it was hard! So, in no particular order, and after a ton of internal wrestling, here’s my top 20 books of 2021.

*These are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2021.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio



On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.” (taken from Amazon)

“If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.”

Review

Lexcalibur by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. 

“The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.”

Review

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)

“A brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.”

Review

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)

 “This book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

Review

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
 
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
 
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
 
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
 
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

” It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.”

Review

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while trapped 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 destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

“Savagely beautiful, The Jasmine Throne kept me riveted from the first page all the way through until the last heart-stopping moment.”

Review

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is no idiot, despite what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.

Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.

The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)

Review to Come

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.

In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.

When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.

Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.

They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.

All they have to do is stop the unstoppable. Simple. (taken from Amazon)

We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.”

Review

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

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

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

“This book is wonderful. It’s comfort in written form. It’s a reminder that happy endings (or maybe happy beginnings) exist, often found in the most unexpected of places, if only we’re brave enough to look.”

Review

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home. (taken from Amazon)

“…insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.

Review

Campaigns and Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Alexander Watt

Grab your dice and pencil, sit your pets down, teach them to play… and immediately regret your choices.

Hilarious collection of Dungeons & Dragons-themed pet jokes by acclaimed comics creators Andi Ewington, Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi

What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

…unless your pets are jerks. (taken from Amazon)

“I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns and Companions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).”

Review

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected.”

Review

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

“Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. “

Review

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)

” The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.”

Review

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)

“… a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.”

Review

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more.

Review to Come

The Infinite Tower by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

“Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.”

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)

“Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.”

Review

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

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.

“This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.”

Review

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love. (taken from Amazon)

” White Trash Warlock was a supernatural show-down combined with complicated real-life problems.”

Review

Quotables: Words that Stuck with Me- 2021

I am never not in awe of words, and the power they have. A book is just a bunch of letters put together in a specific order- but it’s also so much more. There’s something special in that, and in the way a quote can stick with a person, speaking to them. I really like looking back at the words that stuck with me throughout the year. Here are a few of my favorite quotes (and one poem) from books I read in 2021 (here is my 2020 Quotables post).

“Never underestimate that big importance of small things.” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

“…I need language to live, like food- lexemes and morphemes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that, yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before.” – M.L. Rio, If We Were Villains

“But isn’t that life? We second-guess everything because it’s in our nature. People with anxiety and depression just do it more.” – T.J. Klune, Under the Whispering Door

“After all, power makes everyone monstrous. At least a little.”- Tasha Suri, The Jasmine Throne

“I am but paper. Brittle and thin. I am held up to the sun, and it shines right through me. I get written on, and I can never be used again. These scratches are a history. They’re a story. They tell things for others to read, but they only see the words, and not what the words are written upon. I am but paper, and though there are many like me, none are exactly the same. I am parched parchment. I have lines. I have holes. Get me wet, and I melt. Light me on fire, and I burn. Take me in hardened hands, and I crumple. I tear. I am but paper. Brittle and thin.”- T.J. Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Think about all that the wind is and all that it does. Where it goes. Where it comes from. The wind knows everything, for it travels everywhere, and it’s with us always. It endures. It feels. It speaks. Sometimes it whispers. Sometimes it rages. Give it a listen sometime. See what it tells you.”- M.L. Spencer, Dragon Mage

“That had been a genuine misunderstanding, and who hadn’t assaulted and tied up a stranger by mistake?”- Patrick Samphire, Nectar for the Gods

“For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me.” – M.L. Rio, If We Were Villains

“Your voice is a weapon. Never forget that.”- T.J. Klune, The House in the Cerulean Sea

What are some book quotes that stuck with you this year?

You can find reviews for these books linked below:

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

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Middle Grade Edition

Today I’ve got some middle-grade books that would make great books! Some of them are books I’ve enjoyed this year, but the majority of them are books that my middle-grade reader loved, which means they’ve passed the “target audience” test. You can find list of middle-grade gift ideas from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Middle-Grade Edition.

The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards

Welcome to the Justice Academy – the galaxy’s best superhero college! Teen grifter Grey arrives at the school carrying a lie: he isn’t really tech heir Mirabor Gravane. At the first opportunity Grey plans to leave the Academy. That is until he makes the mistake of starting to like his fellow students. The Justice Academy promises to “equip you with the skills to be the hero the galaxy needs” and Grey is beginning to believe the hype. But as he takes more risks to protect his secret, events spiral out of his control. When the real Gravane is kidnapped, Grey and his new friends must come together to mount a rescue and defend a city from an attack by hostile super-powered aliens. If he is to succeed, or even survive, Grey must decide who he is, and does he want to be a superhero? (taken from Amazon)

This book was so much fun! There was action, adventure, a little bit of a mystery, and a great cast of characters. Plus, there’s the whole superhero college thing. You can read my review here. I think this would be a winner for most kids.

The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

My oldest really enjoys Riordan’s writing. Although Riordan’s Egyptian-inspired series is his favorite, my oldest has loved reading the Heroes of Olympus books this year.

Little White Hands by Mark Cushen

Almost five hundred years have passed since the Seasons were at war. Half a millennium since Winter defied Spring, and lost. Generations have come and gone, not knowing the bitter freeze and howling snows of Winter ever existed.But now, after centuries of silence, the participants in this ancient struggle have resurfaced and reignited their feud on the doorstep of an unassuming little kitchen boy.Garlan’s dreams of being just like the knights he idolizes may not be as impossible as he has always been led to believe, when he is chased from his home and thrust headlong into the kind of adventure he had only ever read about in books.Setting out on a journey that spans the entire kingdom of Faeland, Garlan will traverse impossible mountains and stormy seas and battle terrible monsters, all to keep the world he knows safe from an enemy who will stop at nothing to bring about a never-ending winter.With a cast of fantastical characters to aid him in his quest, can Garlan overcome his self-doubt and find the courage he needs to rise above his humble station and become the hero he always dreamed of being?The fate of the world rests in his hands. (taken from Amazon)

This is the sort of book I loved when I was young. It has the magical feeling that readers get seeing Narnia for the first time, the sense of bravery and adventure found in Arthurian tales, and such wonderful characters. You can read my review here.

Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

The beginning of a thrilling new dragon saga– now in paperback!
Clay and his friends have grown up under a mountain, secretly raised by the Talons of Peace to fulfill a mysterious prophecy. The five young dragons are destined to end the war that’s been raging between the tribes of Pyrrhia — but how they’ll do this, none of them knows.But not every dragonet wants a destiny. When one of their own is threatened, Clay and his friends decide to escape. Maybe they can break free and end the war at the same time — or maybe they’ll risk everything … (taken from Amazon)

My oldest fell in love with this series. It became a much-discussed topic in our house, and he even had a dragon-themed birthday cake based solely on his love of these books. Based on that, I feel pretty confident in recommending them despite not having read them myself.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.
So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.
Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.(taken from Amazon)

My oldest and I both really enjoyed this one. It is so creative! The world building is great and the main character is a delight. The sequel comes out in April and my oldest and I will be racing to see who gets to read it first. You can find my review here.

What are some middle grade books you’d recommend? Have you read any of these?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Picture Book Edition

This year has been an odd one, full of unexpected plot twists. Some months dragged on forever, while others raced ahead. I’m pretty sure we skipped August completely. At any rate, we are tiptoeing closer to Christmas, and with shipping issues being what they are, now is probably a good time to start on any planned gift shopping. Here are a few picture books that are loved in my house. Any of them would be a winner under the tree. If you’d like more suggestions, you can read my list from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas 2020 Picture Book Edition.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton―leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins. (taken from Amazon)

We read this one with my youngest for the first time this year. It is so cute! It is the perfect length for an emerging reader, although it’s also perfect for before bed story time as well. The illustrations are adorable and the storyline is creative and fun. It follows Goblin as he sets off to rescue his best friend, Skeleton, from the evil clutches of a group of heroes.

Bach to the Rescue!: How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Chris Eliopolous

Every famous piece of art has an origin story—even Bach’s Goldberg Variations! When the richest dude in town can’t sleep, he hires a much-less-rich dude named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to play him lullabies on the harpsichord. Goldberg does an OK job, but as the Rich Dude hollers for Goldberg each night, he wakes up the whole town in the process. As the town gets sleepier and sleepier and grumpier and grumpier, Goldberg worries he may be out of a job soon. But then, the one and only Bach enters the scene with a series of lullabies composed specifically for the Rich Dude. And, thus, the Goldberg Variations are born! (taken from Amazon)

My kindergartener loves historical figures. From U.S. presidents to famous writers, from authors to artists, if a person has made a mark on history, he is excited about it. This is a fun (and true!) story about Bach, written by the author of the Origami Yoda series. The pictures are zany and entertaining, and the book gets bonus points from me for adding an afterword with the historical facts.

Good Knight, Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

Knights in shining armor go full baby (and full mustache) in this silly and soothing bedtime adventure. Young knaves will fall blissfully asleep after hearing the tale of two brave knights: Baby Billy, House of Mustache, and Baby Javier, House of Beard, and how they fought to conquer their biggest foe: bedtime! The babies fight their enemy valiantly, but eventually even gallant Baby Billy falls victim to sleep, foiled by, of all things, an enchanted book. Though Billy succumbs to the magic of the story, in his dreams, he rejoins his bearded co-knigh . . . and they became the stuff of legend. (taken from Amazon)

The Mustache Baby books are so stinking adorable! This is the latest in the set, releasing on December seventh. I’ve already ordered a copy to give to the youngest.

Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell

Jamie Lee Curtis’s zany and touching verse, paired with Laura Cornell’s whimsical and original illustrations, helps kids explore, identify, and, even have fun with their ever-changing moods.
Silly, cranky, excited, or sad—everyone has moods that can change each day. And that’s okay! Follow the boisterous, bouncing protagonist as she explores her moods and how they change from day to day. (taken from Amazon)

My youngest has experienced a lot of changes this year, and sometimes he struggles to know the appropriate way to express himself. I wanted him to know that whatever he feels is okay, that he isn’t “bad” if he is sad or angry. Today I feel Silly! to the rescue! The pictures are so bright and energetic and there’s a little “mood wheel” at the back, which is a lot of fun.

Sir Lilypad by Anna Kemp,illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Once upon a time, in a deep dark bog, lived a teeny, tiny speckled frog. Now, he might be tiny (the other frogs call him stuff, like ‘weedy pants’ and ‘sugar puff’) but his ambition is great. For he wants to be known henceforth as Sir Lilypad! Sir Lilypad the brave and wise! Slayer of the – er – dragonflies. And all he needs to effect this transformation? A kiss from a willing princess, of course…(taken from Amazon)

My husband gave me a copy of this book because he knows that I love dragons in any form I can get them (I also love children’s books). I loved it! I read it to my youngest, who was equally delighted. It would be a perfect Christmas gift for any little one!

Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

Shakespeare wrote with a feather quill and ink; Emily Dickinson wrote with a fountain pen; Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote on a Yiddish typewriter. But what did such writers do when they weren’t writing? What did Jane Austen eat for breakfast? What could make Mark Twain throw his shirts out the window? Why would Zora Neale Hurston punch a fellow elevator passenger? Lives of the Writers tells all that and more. (taken from Amazon)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this book. It’s part of an entire series and they’ve been my youngest’s favorite books this year. They give information in an accessible and engaging way. They’d be a good gift for any nonfiction-loving little readers.

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!

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: The Midyear Freak Out Tag

Banner Credit: Anca Antoci

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to post nearly as often as I wanted to during Self-published Authors Appreciation Week. I have been planning on giving this tag a go for ages, however, so I can’t let the week end without taking this opportunity to finally get it done. I don’t know who came up with the original tag, so please let me know if you do. I’d love to credit them.

These are all self-published books, which goes to show (yet again) that any stigma against self-publishing is completely without merit. I encourage you to read off the beaten path!

Best Book You Read So Far This Year

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known. But Aram is more.

Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

This is actually a three-way tie at the moment (I reserve the right to add to this number at any given time), but since I think everyone and their brother should read Dragon Mage, I’m going to go with this one. Aram is one of the most wonderful main characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. I’ve gushed at length about the book here, but there really isn’t a single thing that I didn’t love about Dragon Mage. Definitely read this book, if you haven’t yet.

Best Sequel You Read So Far

The Infinite Tower (Heroes of Spira Book 4) by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

Both my oldest and I are loving this series. From the characters and their relationships, to the world-development and the fantastical creatures, this hits every checkmark on my list of favorite things in fantasy books. It’s quickly become one of my most given fantasy recommendations and for good reason. Not only am I looking forward to seeing what happens next, I am planning on rereading from the beginning of the series before too much longer. You can find my review here.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet

Pawn’s Gambit by Rob J. Hayes

Yuu wants nothing more than to forget the mistakes of her past. The Gods have other plans.

Once a renowned strategist and general, five years ago Yuu made a mistake that cost her everything. Now she is on the run, royal bounty hunters snapping at her heels. But what if there was a way to get back what she lost, a way to bring back a murdered prince?

Every century, the gods hold a contest to choose who will rule from the Heavenly Jade Throne. Each god chooses a mortal champion, and the fate of all existence hangs in the balance.

On a battlefield full of heroes, warriors, assassins, and thieves can Yuu survive long enough to learn the rules of the game, let alone master it?

Why haven’t I read this yet? WHY???

Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

Mirror in Time by D. Ellis Overttun

As the sun sets, eerie contrails appear on the dome of the firmament, ghostly streaks that have replaced the stars that should fill the night sky. These “ribbons in the sky” appeared 70 years ago. Since that time, planet Arkos has experienced increasing climatic and seismic activity.

Jo’el is the director of the Jomo Langma Mountain Observatory, a high‑altitude astronomical facility situated atop its namesake. Tasked with finding a solution to this problem, he has concluded something outside the universe is tearing apart the very fabric of space‑time. He has also discovered a gateway to another universe. Sadly, any pathway to this portal has now become compromised.

The solution?

Go back in time and engineer a planetary exodus to the safe haven before it becomes inaccessible. It is a seemingly impossible task, but desperation is the mother of invention and the stuff of storytelling. Jo’el is not alone in this quest, with him are two lifelong friends, Chief Physician Kyros and Chief Psychology Officer Auberon. While only aware of Jo’el’s need for their support, they have a camaraderie born of trust that enables them to jump into the unknown knowing they will land safely.

Space‑time mechanics are outside the realm of Jo’el’s expertise. So, he has enlisted the aid of Prefect Godvina, head of the Cosmological Data Collection and Compilation Center. His plan is to meet with her, confirm his findings and proceed on with his friends. However, their meeting arouses the interest of Prefect Tarsus, Head of Intelligence. The unwanted scrutiny disrupts Jo’el’s plans. Now, the Director must improvise, and he reluctantly includes Godvina in the fold.

Are they successful in their travel back through time? Of course! Without it, there is no story, but how do they get there, what do they find and do they make good on Jo’el’s plan?

Mirror in Time will take you on a journey beyond the galaxy then to the ancient world of Ziem as a band of intrepid time travelers struggle to save existence.

I’m not going to say too much because my review is still forthcoming. I’ll just point out that any reader of sci-fi needs to add this to their tbr right now.

Biggest Surprise

Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland

Villains aren’t born, they’re made.

Witt was an ordinary NPC—a non-player character in a video game. As a kobold skald, he sang songs to empower heroes before they entered the local dungeons.

Every day was a fresh start. Every day Witt woke with no memory of his previous encounters with all those so-called heroes. And every day he forgot the countless beatings and deaths he took at the hands of the murder hobos he valiantly buffed.

But when all of those memories suddenly come flooding back, he only wants one thing:

Revenge.

I honestly expected a fun, entertaining little story. I got that and more. It was more violent than I expected, but it was also much more thought-out than I expected. Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale was a blast to read and I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author.

Favorite New Author

I’ve decided that M.L. Spencer could write a book about sandpaper and I’d pre-order it.

Newest Favorite Character – Merovich

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

Merovich was a delight. They were so child-like and sweet, while at the same time they invented the most dangerous of things. I loved that juxtaposition. Honestly, all of the characters in Small Places are fantastic. You can find my review here.

Book that Made You Cry

The Archive by Dan Fitzgerald

In Hollow Road three companions discovered the monsters of legend were all too real…Rumors among the Maer tell of an underground library called the Archive, which houses a wealth of knowledge and terrible magics that could be used to start the biggest war seen since the Great Betrayal. A mixed group of humans and Maer set off on an historic quest to find the Archive and protect it from those who would use it to destroy everything they hold dear. As the cold of winter bears down upon them, they trek through forbidding mountains beset by dangers they could have never imagined. They follow a set of ancient clues deep into the Silver Hills, forging surprising alliances and making new enemies.The humans and Maer are linked by more than their quest to find the Archive and stop an insidious war. A mystical surrogacy may bridge the gap between two peoples, and many hearts entwine as their adventure hurtles toward its bloody conclusion. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t often cry over books or movies. This one had me tearing up, though. Author Dan Fitzgerald used it as a kind of mirror, to show the best and worst in all of us. It was beautiful. Find my review here.

Book that Made You Happy

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The aged and still cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes submits entry forms at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic, naming a peculiar goal: “No more solutions, but true resolution,” and finds that his worst enemy has left him the key to his wish, if he can give everything in return. Can his friend Watson stop the clock that has been ticking toward Holmes’ demise, or will he be forced to sit powerless and watch as Holmes walks straight into danger? (Taken from Amazon)

Oh, how I loved this book! The mystery was great, the author nailed the characters, and the ending was absolutely perfect. This was a brilliant homage to the foremost Consulting Detective. You can find my review here.

Most Beautiful Book You Got this Year

Sairō’s Claw by Virginia McClain

Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.
In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions. 
As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept. (taken from Goodreads)

I mean…look at it! Gorgeous!

What Are Some Books You Need to Read By the End of the Year?

Oh, jeez! My tbr has a longer life expectancy than I do, so this is one of those questions that could be answered with many many titles. I’m looking forward to : A Troll Walks Into a Bar: A Nori Urban Fantasy Novel by Douglas Lumsden, Sacaran Nights by Rachel Shaw, and A Ritual of Bone by Lee C. Conley are a few that come to mind.

Self-published Authors Appreciation Week: Books Galore

I’ve been privileged to read some truly fantastic books over the years, from all avenues of publishing. Here’s a list of some of the great self-published books that I recommend. There is no rhyme or reason to the order, and this is far from complete. Give them a go!

Illiad: The Reboot by Keith Tokash

History cares about kings, but the gods love a buffoon.

The hapless young soldier Gelios faces execution for offending his king. Desperate, he accidentally volunteers his cousin to chronicle the coming war.

Equipped with only a sword and a stunning lack of judgment, Gelios must keep his cousin alive amid the greatest war of an era. Worse, he must survive the egos of the two most powerful kings in their army.

But his deadliest struggle is with his mouth. Can he keep it shut long enough to make it home alive?

The Iliad has long been the definitive source of knowledge surrounding the kings, gods, and heroes of the Trojan War. Now, for the first time, readers can experience the clash of two ancient superpowers through the eyes of the biggest jackass in history. (taken from Amazon)

To purchase:
Amazon

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

A fantasy adventure begins…

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 the monster 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.
Dranko is priest-turned-pickpocket, expelled from his church for his antics. Kibilhathur is a painfully shy craftsman who speaks to stones. Aravia is a wizard’s apprentice whose intellect is eclipsed only by her arrogance. Ernest is a terrified baker’s son. Morningstar is a priestess forbidden from daylight. Tor is a young nobleman with attention issues. Ysabel is an elderly farm woman. Grey Wolf is a hard-bitten mercenary.
None of them are qualified to save the world, but they’ll have to do. Even Abernathy himself seems uncertain as to why he chose them.
What starts with a simple scouting mission soon spirals into something more far-reaching and sinister. The heroes will contest with dream warriors, evil cultists, sentient gemstones, and a devious yet infuriatingly polite gentleman with a perfect mustache, on their way to a desperate encounter with the unstoppable: The Ventifact Colossus. (taken from Amazon)


Review:
The Ventifact Colossus


To Purchase:
Amazon

Hollow Road (Maer Cycle) by Dan Fitzgerald

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

Review:
Hollow Road

To purchase:
Amazon

Alexis Vs. the Afterlife: An Urban Fantasy Comedy by Marcus Alexander Hart

Alexis is dead. But that won’t stop her from becoming a hair-metal superstar.

When teen metalhead Alexis McRiott is killed in a freak accident, her ghost manifests unexplained magical powers. Thinking she can use them to resurrect herself to the rock-star life of her dreams, she kinda sorta accidentally releases an ancient evil bent on raising an army of poltergeists to slaughter the world of the living. Oops. Party foul.
Racing against the clock, Alexis teams with a badass Asian cowgirl and an overzealous medieval prince to learn the truth behind her mysterious powers and prevent a full-blown paranormal apocalypse. But can this foul-mouthed burnout charm the girl, save the world, and still prove she has what it takes to rock an arena show?

She doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance. (taken from Amazon)

To Purchase:
Amazon

Vultures by Luke Tarzian

An enemy slain is not a conflict won…After decades of war the demon Te Mirkvahíl is dead. But its progeny endure, spilling from the Heart of Mirkúr, sowing death across the land of Ariath. If the people are to finally know peace, the Heart must be destroyed. Theailys An believes he can do just that with The Keepers’ Wrath, an infamous power focus wrought in Ariath’s yesteryears–but the weapon first must be reforged.War spares no one…Serece never intended to get involved in Ariath’s war. But history and demons have a way of pulling strings. When she learns Theailys An, a man whom she abhors, bears striking similarity to the first creator of The Keepers’ Wrath, Serece departs her mountain world for Ariath to ascertain the truth.From patience, hope…For millennia Behtréal has walked the world alone. Rewriting history to resurrect his people is easier said than done. But Ariath holds the key–soon The Keepers’ Wrath will be remade.Truth from madness…As paths converge and a shadow falls across Ariath, one thing becomes increasingly and horrifyingly clear–these events have played out many times before. (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Vultures

To purchase:
Amazon

Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland

Villains aren’t born, they’re made. Witt was an ordinary NPC—a non-player character in a video game. As a kobold skald, he sang songs to empower heroes before they entered the local dungeons. Every day was a fresh start. Every day Witt woke with no memory of his previous encounters with all those so-called heroes. And every day he forgot the countless beatings and deaths he took at the hands of the murder hobos he valiantly buffed. But when all of those memories suddenly come flooding back, he only wants one thing: Revenge. (taken from Amazon)

To purchase:
Amazon

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Small Places

To purchase:
Amazon

Kings and Daemons by Marcus Lee

In the Ember Kingdom, a dying land riven by famine and disease, Daleth the evil Witch-King plots his conquest of the neighbouring Freestates. Gifted with eternal youth, his vampiric power is responsible for the decay that afflicts his realm, and now other kingdoms must fall to quench his never-ending thirst for life.
However, on the cusp of the invasion, Maya, a peasant huntress, is arrested, Daleth’s soldiers kill an old farmer’s wife, and a young outcast is reluctantly enlisted into the Witch-King’s army. Three seemingly innocuous events that nonetheless have the potential to alter the destiny of generations to come.
For Maya is gifted with the ability to heal and can influence the hearts and minds of men if she but finds the strength to do so. The young recruit carries a gift of reading thoughts and has no love for the king he serves. As for the vengeful farmer … he’s an ancient warrior gifted in reaping souls who now seeks to fulfil a long-forgotten oath against unbeatable odds.
The world will soon be soaked by the blood of war, but with these three individuals’ lives inescapably entwined, the faint light of hope begins to shine. Alliances will have to be forged, enemies convinced to become friends, and a flicker of love given a chance to become a flame for there to be a chance to fight the encroaching darkness of the Witch-King’s evil. (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Kings and Daemons

To purchase:
Amazon

Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable by Susanne M. Dutton

The aged and still cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes submits entry forms at a nearly defunct psychiatric clinic, naming a peculiar goal: “No more solutions, but true resolution,” and finds that his worst enemy has left him the key to his wish, if he can give everything in return. Can his friend Watson stop the clock that has been ticking toward Holmes’ demise, or will he be forced to sit powerless and watch as Holmes walks straight into danger? (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable

To purchase:
Amazon

Mirror in Time by D. Elllis Overttun

As the sun sets, eerie contrails appear on the dome of the firmament, ghostly streaks that have replaced the stars that should fill the night sky. These “ribbons in the sky” appeared 70 years ago. Since that time, planet Arkos has experienced increasing climatic and seismic activity.

Jo’el is the director of the Jomo Langma Mountain Observatory, a high‑altitude astronomical facility situated atop its namesake. Tasked with finding a solution to this problem, he has concluded something outside the universe is tearing apart the very fabric of space‑time. He has also discovered a gateway to another universe. Sadly, any pathway to this portal has now become compromised.

The solution?

Go back in time and engineer a planetary exodus to the safe haven before it becomes inaccessible. It is a seemingly impossible task, but desperation is the mother of invention and the stuff of storytelling. Jo’el is not alone in this quest, with him are two lifelong friends, Chief Physician Kyros and Chief Psychology Officer Auberon. While only aware of Jo’el’s need for their support, they have a camaraderie born of trust that enables them to jump into the unknown knowing they will land safely.

Space‑time mechanics are outside the realm of Jo’el’s expertise. So, he has enlisted the aid of Prefect Godvina, head of the Cosmological Data Collection and Compilation Center. His plan is to meet with her, confirm his findings and proceed on with his friends. However, their meeting arouses the interest of Prefect Tarsus, Head of Intelligence. The unwanted scrutiny disrupts Jo’el’s plans. Now, the Director must improvise, and he reluctantly includes Godvina in the fold.

Are they successful in their travel back through time? Of course! Without it, there is no story, but how do they get there, what do they find and do they make good on Jo’el’s plan?

Mirror in Time will take you on a journey beyond the galaxy then to the ancient world of Ziem as a band of intrepid time travelers struggle to save existence. (Taken from Amazon)

Review to come

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known. But Aram is more.

Much, much more.

Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.

Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need. (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Dragon Mage

To purchase:
Amazon

The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True by Sean Gibson

Sure, you think you know the story of the fearsome red dragon, Dragonia. How it terrorized the village of Skendrick until a brave band of heroes answered the noble villagers’ call for aid. How nothing could stop those courageous souls from facing down the beast. How they emerged victorious and laden with treasure.



But, even in a world filled with epic adventures and tales of derring-do, where dragons, goblins, and unlicensed prestidigitators run amok, legendary heroes don’t always know what they’re doing. Sometimes, they’re clueless. Sometimes, beleaguered townsfolk are more hapless than helpless. And orcs? They’re not always assholes, and sometimes, they don’t actually want to eat your children.



Heloise the Bard, Erithea’s most renowned storyteller, is here to set the record straight.



See, it turns out adventuring isn’t easy, and true heroism is as rare as an articulate villager. Having spent decades propagating this particular myth (which, incidentally, she wrote), she’s finally able to tell the real story…for which she just so happened to have a front-row seat.



Welcome to Erithea. I hope you brought a change of undergarments; things are going to get messy. (taken from Amazon)

Review:
The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True

To purchase:
Amazon

Shadowless by Randall McNally

What if the gods themselves wanted you dead? A young boy lies on a beach on a warm summer’s day. While trying to block the sun from his eyes Arpherius makes a shocking discovery; he has no shadow. Confused and bewildered he asks his uncle why he is shadowless. What he learns is a terrifying secret that will change his life forever. Set in the Northern Realms, Shadowless is a fantasy novel about individuals born without a shadow. Spawned by the malevolent deities of this world these children of the gods are persecuted at every turn. Hunted by the high priests who carry out the wishes of their gods, hunted by the Shadow Watchers; armed soldiers who are assigned to each temple, and hunted by the gods themselves. Part-mortal and part-god, the Shadowless live for centuries and face a battle for survival, constantly on the run or hiding in far-flung corners of the Northern Realms. Soon their lives and fates become intertwined, expedited by the mysterious monk Amrodan. Driven by a series of visions Amrodan travels through the Northern Realms, seeking out the Shadowless and trying to enlist their help to take a stand and fight back against the gods. (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Shadowless

To purchase:
Amazon

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire

It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favour to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?
Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive.
But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage… (taken from Amazon)

Review:
Shadow of a Dead God

To purchase:
Amazon

The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren

The Dragon’s Banker. A standalone novel of epic fantasy & adventure capitalism from the author of Vick’s Vultures Finance: The lifeblood of any country’s beating heart and the life’s work of Sailor Kelstern — Merchant Banker. While wizards brood in their towers and great warriors charge into battle Sailor is more interested in the price of ore, herbs, and alchemicals carried by the trade ships. But when a spell of bad fortune and bitter rivalry leaves him scrambling to turn a profit on little more than winds and whispers, one such whisper catches Sailor’s ear— a dragon has been seen in the west. Sailor soon finds that the dragons are very real, and not at all what he expected. And they practice a very different sort of economy — one of subterfuge and fire. With bonus novelette: Forego Quest. What if you were the hero of every song, story, and legend? What if you didn’t want to be? Find out in this hilarious fantasy short.

Review:
The Dragon’s Banker

To purchase:
Amazon

From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This

This week on my blog, we’re talking about magic systems: the possibilities are endless! Sometimes I read a book that has such a fascinating use of magic that I would happily read an entire book that talks only about the magic and how it works, how it affects the characters, or how its development or absence has changed the world. Here are a few books whose magic I’d love to know much more about:

The Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold:

What is interesting about the magic system in the Fetch Phillips Archives is that it’s gone. This world was once very much dependent on magic, but thanks to the actions of a certain disgraced P.I., that has changed. How it’s affected the magical beings in this world is fascinating and unexpected. There’s a scene involving a unicorn in Dead Man in a Ditch (book 2) that is absolutely heartbreaking.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart:

In this book, the Emperor uses bone shard magic. Basically, he uses shards of bone gathered from his subjects to animate and control constructs. Commands must be etched into the shards, but they need to be worded specifically and with great care in order to be effective. It caused me both an “ew” and “ooh” reaction. I am not sure if it qualifies as a magic “system” per se, since this is a skill only practiced by the emperor, his daughter, and his foster son. Or does that still qualify as a system? What say you?

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga:

I’m only about halfway through this book and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far. I am still learning how the magic works. The royalty has abilities, but no one else does. The magical abilities themselves are incredibly unique. They run in the family but, like eye or hair color, abilities vary, and some abilities might be inherited-or it might skip a generation. Sibylla, a princess, has ink that leaks from under her fingernails. This is an ability that has to be written creatively, as it isn’t something that would have a ton of usefulness on its surface. Although, I suspect that it might have something to do with certain nefarious doings.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides:

Did you know that you can mix dragon crap (cue the Jurassic Park meme) to perform magic? I didn’t either, but it was a really cool way to explain magic. Basically, based on what a dragon eats, the properties of its, um, droppings mix to create a different form of Grit. Grit can explode, cause a person to float, or even shield someone. I can’t say I’ve ever read a magic system based entirely on poop before. It works, though.

What I appreciate about magic in Robert Jackson Bennett’s world is that it is complex and incredibly different. Known as scriving, which felt to me a little like computer coding-gone-magical. Basically, it’s a way of sort of convincing something to act in a way that’s contrary to its purpose. How cool is that? I can’t say I’ve ever read anything remotely similar to Foundryside’s magic system. It’s rather complicated, though, and I would love to dive into the workings of it more deeply.

What about you? What are some magic systems in books that you would love to know more about?

Amazing Female Authors in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Adobe_Post_20200629_1727500.4970479302284283

I like lists, so I wrote a (far from complete) list of amazing sff female authors. I don’t read as much science fiction as I like, so I went to an expert: Beth at Before We Go Blog. She reviews the coolest books, and interviews amazing authors! Check her blog out. Here are some fabulous writers to read, with titles of some of their work next to their names:
Author: Notable Works:

*Katherine Arden- The Bear and the Nightingale

*Margaret Atwood- The Handmaid’s Tale; Angel Catbird (graphic novel)

*Holly Black- The Cruel Prince, The Spiderwick Chronicles (coauthor)

*Kendare Blake -Three Dark Crowns (series), Anna Dressed in Blood

*Anne Bishop- Daughter of the Blood

*Kristen Britain- Green Rider

*Emma Bull- War for the Oaks The Princess and the Lord of Night

*Octavia Butler- Parable of the Sower Dawn

*Jacqueline Carey- Kushiel’s Dart Starless

*Beth Cartwright- Feathertide

*Becky Chambers -The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

*C.J. Cherryh- Downbelow Station The Pride of Chanur

* Cassandra Clare- The Mortal Instruments (series) The Magisterium Chronicles (coauthor)

*Susanna Clarke -Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Piranesi

*Susan Cooper- The Dark is Rising series

*Delilah S. Dawson- (Star Wars) Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire Kill the Farm Boy (coauthor)

*Sarah Douglass- The Wayfarer Redemption trilogy

*Emily A. Duncan- Wicked Saints

*Sarah Beth Durst- Queen of Blood

*Kate Elliott -King’s Dragon
Cold Magic

*Jennifer Fallon- Medalon (The Demon Child trilogy)
The Immortal Prince (the Tide Lord series)

*Cordelia Funke- Inkheart
Reckless (coauthor)

*Christie Golden -Fate of the Jedi series (contributing author)
Vampire of the Mists (Ravenloft series)

*Alix A. Harrow- The Ten Thousand Doors of January The Once and Future Witches

*Elizabeth Haydon- Rhapsody: Child of Blood

*Heid Heilig- The Girl From Everywhere
For a Muse of Fire

*Robin Hobb- Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer trilogy #1)
Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1)

*Kameron Hurley- The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1)

*P.D James- The Children of Men

*N.K Jemisin- The Fifth Season (Broken Earth series #1)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

*J.V. Jones -The Baker’s Boy (The Book of Words #1)

*S. Kaeth- Windward

*Catherine Kerr- Daggerspell (Deverry Cycle #1)

*Katherine Kurtz -Deryni Rising

*Mercedes Lackey- The Oathbound (Vows and Honor book 1)
The Black Gryphon

*Madeline L’Engle- A Wrinkle in Time

*Ursula Le Guin -A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle)
The Dispossessed

*Anne Leckie- The Raven Tower
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch trilogy #1)

*Devin Madson- We Ride the Storm

*Juliet Marillier- Daughter of the Forest
Wolfskin

*Anne McCaffrey- A Diversity of Dragons
Dragonflight (Dragonriders of Pern book #1)

*Seanan McGuire- Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children series, book 1)
Middlegame

*Robin McKinley -The Hero and the Crown
Chalice

*Erin Morgenstern -The Night Circus
The Starless Sea

*Jennifer A. Nielson -The Traitor’s Game
The False Prince (the Ascendance trilogy, book 1)

*Naomi Novik- Uprooted
His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, book 1)

*Nnedi Okorafor- Zahrah the Windseeker Binti

*Quenby Olson- The Half Killed

*Tamora Pierce- Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles #1) Trickster’s Choice (Daughter of the Lioness #1)

*Suzie Plakson- The Return of King Lillian

*Victoria Schwab- A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)
The Near Witch

*Mary Shelley- Frankenstein
The Last Man

*M.L. Spencer- Dragon Mage

*Andrea Stewart- The Bone Shard Daughter

*Mary Stewart -The Crystal Cave (The Arthurian Saga #1)

*Tasha Suri- The Jasmine Throne

*James Tiptree Jr.- Brightness Falls from the Air

*Karen Traviss -City of Pearl
Star Wars Republic Commando: Hard Contact

*Joan D. Vinge- The Snow Queen
Ladyhawke

*Thea Von Harbou- Metropolis

*Jo Walton- Tooth and Claw

*Margaret Weis -Dragons of Autumn Twilight (coauthor)
Forging the Darksword (Darksword trilogy #1, coauthor)

*Martha Wells- The Element of Fire
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

*Connie Willis- Doomsday Book

*Patricia C. Wrede- Dealing with Dragons (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1)
Shadow Magic (Lyra series #1)

*Janny Wurts -Curse of the Mistwraith (Wars of Light and Shadow #1)
That Way Lies Camelot

*Jane Yolen- The Young Merlin trilogy
Sister Light, Sister Dark (Great Alta Saga #1)

Whew! Needless to say, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talented female sff authors. Who did I forget?