If We Were Villains is a story of a group of Shakespearean students at an art college who let the line between the real and the pretend blur, and the disastrous events that follow. While it could be seen as a mystery- or even a thriller- what stuck out to me were the relationships. In a case where life imitated art instead of the other way around, already out-of-touch personalities devolved into baser natures and the results were fascinating.
The story is told from the point of view of Oliver, one of a group of seven students. He is reminiscing and filling in the blanks after serving ten years for the murder of another in his group of seven. Did he really do it? Why? The memories have the fascinating quality of real, often-revisited recollections: they were gilded, sharpened to put unconscious emphasis on certain points, made fuzzier with time in others. There was always a small hint of suspicion that maybe Oliver was still playing a part, that he was in truth an unreliable narrator.
The lives of the students reminded me a little bit of the movie Dead Poets Society in that the group was incredibly close and they were fully immersed in their own way of thinking, up to the fact that it even affected their speech. Where in Dead Poets Society, you see the group often quoting poetry, If We Were Villains finds them using the Bard’s verse to speak truths that they otherwise hide. It is enthralling and made me appreciate Shakespeare, something that is new for me (I’ve never been a fan). The author uses the anger, fear, and desperation felt by the characters to bring the quotes into a different context. Or maybe she uses the quotes to bring a new dimension to the characters?
The characters themselves were engrossing. They were both more and less than the parts they played. There’s the fill-ins who find themselves chameleons onstage and in the group dynamic, the villain, the hero, the love interest, the ingénue, and the antihero. The students play their roles so well it left me wondering if they were, in fact, only acting. And that’s half of the brilliance of If WeWere Villains.
There’s a microworld that I was drawn into, one that is very much real to the characters despite being centered around a dead writer. The atmosphere is fascinating: like a play, everything is heightened and larger than life. The stakes are higher, the relationships more intense yet brittle. The break, when it happens, is on an epic scale. This small world suddenly feels huge.
It is difficult to pick one particular thing that made me love the book as much as I did. I can’t take the characters separately from the language, the atmosphere, the pacing. It all moved together so well that there wasn’t a single thing that I didn’t love. From the very first sentence to the final curtain, everything was perfect.
I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The ending itself, however, was perfect. The story was ended satisfactorily, but with room left to wonder. I continue to find myself thinking about it, questioning my reactions, and moving pieces of the narrative around in my mind.
If We Were Villains is smart and compelling, one of the very best books I’ve read this year. If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Spirit Engineer will be available October 7th.
I will be honest: I didn’t know much about William Jackson Crawford going into The Spirit Engineer, so everything written was a surprise to me. That being said, if I had been an expert on his life, I still would have been engrossed. 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.
Professor William Jackson Crawford is a man of science who doesn’t subscribe to paranormal nonsense, thank you very much. He thinks himself too smart to fall for any trickery and is preoccupied with dreams of rising far in his field. However, William learns that his wife has been visiting mediums and takes it upon himself to disprove the idea of communicating with the deceased. Thus, the Spirit Engineer is born.
I don’t usually comment on the characteristics of those that are based on real people, but William is not likeable at all. Nor is he relatable. At most, I could say he’s pitiable, and even that is a stretch. William is condescending and feels he is superior to others. He is a man who desperately wants to be in control of himself, of his work, of others. The more he feels his orderly life slipping away, the more paranoid and desperate he becomes. Things go in unexpected directions when, instead of proving the medium is a fraud, William sees and hears the spirits himself. Is he deceived? Or has he stumbled upon something otherworldly? Of course, I don’t need a character to be likable or relatable to enjoy a book. Instead, he was fascinating, which is much more important to me.
The writing was fantastic. It was smart and engaging. I’m assuming that there was some embellishment, but the author obviously tried to stay close to the sprit (pun intended) of the facts. The story developed well and the pacing was perfect. It didn’t skip over details, but it also didn’t drag. I raced through this book because I just couldn’t put it down.
The Spirit Engineer is a riveting book. While it’s interesting from a historical standpoint, what really drew me in was the exploration of the human psyche because, when it comes right down to it, that’s much more fascinating and mysterious than anything supernatural.
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
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
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
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
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.
Path to Villainy: An NPC Kobold’s Tale by S.L. Rowland
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is available for purchase now.
I am very picky when it comes to Sherlock Holmes and how he’s represented. I am not an expert or anything like that, but I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and have read the original mysteries more than once (or twice). I’ve noticed that often a newer Holmes iteration will either match Doyle’s original consulting detective in writing style or spirit of character, rarely in both . I was both delighted and surprised to see that Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable managed to do both!
I fairly flew through this book, slowing down only to savor the story for a little longer. It’s extremely well written and the main players match my memories of the originals while at the same time growing and developing as only the best characters can. The additional characters (there must be suspects, after all) are all fantastic, quirky without being over the top.
The mystery itself was fantastic. It wasn’t forced, the final solution made perfect sense in response to the clues, and it was very clever. What I really enjoyed, though, was the ability to explore how Holmes himself ticked. He toyed around with hypnosis, and I’m sure you can imagine the tangled web that presents. Not only is his psyche bared, but his friendship with Watson is put to the test. I was so on board for that!
Surprisingly, the ending left me both incredibly satisfied and a little sad. It felt like the perfect epilogue to a brilliant character’s lifelong accomplishments, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the book to end. Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable is a fantastic love letter to Conan Doyle’s original works, and a wonderful representation of literature’s most inimitable detective.
If you’ve been reading blogs, Twitter, or possibly even Facebook pages over the last little bit, you’ve probably seen a lot of odd acronyms: BBNYA, SPFBO, and now SPSFC. We could pretend that we’re all super secret spies and these are our codenames…or I could give you the equally cool skinny on the awesome competitions available for self-published authors.
There are so many incredible books out there, more than anyone could possibly read in a lifetime. Unfortunately, not all of them are available at your local Target (or other such store). This is where bookbloggers and competitions come in. As a bookblogger, I’ve been fortunate to discover and fall in love with books from multiple publication routes: indie, self-published, and traditional. Sometimes, the first two publishing routes get an undeserved bad rap. One publishing choice is not better than any other. At all. Competitions like BBNYA, SPFBO, and SPSFC exist to shine a spotlight on some of the many amazing self-published books that have been written! Each competition fills a unique and important spot. Here’s a rundown of what each one is, how it works, and why it’s fantastic!
Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA):
I was fortunate to be a panelist last year for BBNYA’s first year ever! BBNYA is unique in that it is open to indie publishers as well as self-published authors. Spearheaded by the Write Reads, booklover and captain of the largest group of avid bookbloggers on Twitter, BBNYA is also co-sponsored by the Folio Society (seller of incredibly drool-worthy books). BBNYA is open to all genres: last year there were thrillers, sci-fi novels, fantasies, YA paranormal books, and even a couple romance novels.
The competition is closed for entries this year, but you can sign up for email alerts regarding next year’s competition here ( BBNYA) . Readers, keep your eye on this contest: your “to be read” list will grow by leaps and bounds.
Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO):
I am privileged to join team Before We Go Blog for this year’s competition: year number seven! It is run by Mark Lawrence, the brilliant author of many books, most recently The Girl and the Mountain. Aside from the epic Selfie Stick award (it may look a little like a HP wand, but I promise it’s as cool as the Stanley Cup), winners get major bragging rights and a ton of blog raves. This competition is solely for self-published fantasy authors, so bring out your dragons, magic, and all things fantastical!
SPFBO spots filled up in less than a day this year, and I can tell you that the books all look amazing. I can’t even figure out what toppings I want on my Subway sandwich: how on earth am I supposed to help pick one book among the many great ones that are entered? This is a competition to watch, folks: you’ll be set on fantasy reading for the next year plus!
Here’s an awesome new competition! As the name suggests, this one exists to shine a spotlight on fabulous self-published science fiction. Led by prolific author Hugh Howey, this one has a similar style to SPFBO. Oh, and bookbloggers: there are openings for judges right now! If you’re a sci-fi lover, click on the link to find out more (SPFSC).
Winners will get bragging rights and the badge of honor for your book. Or, as Hugh Howey puts it, “a blaster set to stunning”. You can’t beat that. Keep your eyes peeled for the contest to open for entries, authors, and best of luck!
I’ve never been a big fan of books that take place in or around water. Books such as TreasureIsland, or even The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have never appealed to me. It’s just not my thing. So when I read a book with a watery setting that I actually really enjoy, it sticks with me. Here are a few boatish books that I’ve really liked.
The Bone Ships by RJ Barker (The Tide Child Book One)
I think my concern with books involving ships is that they will feel small. The opposite is the case with this series. The setting allows for a greater view and understanding of author RJ Barker’s world, which is magnificently developed. Plus, the characters are awesome.
It’s been a while since I’ve read The Girl From Everywhere, but I remember being impressed by the writing. At what point do you let go of a past sorrow to embrace a present happiness? The choices that Nix has to make encompass themes of family, loss, grief, and acceptance. Oh, and the settings are both familiar and mysterious. It’s quite the balancing act between adventure and the heavier storyline, but author Heidi Heilig managed it beautifully.
The One Kingdom (The Swans’ War Book One) by Sean Russell
A decent chunk of this epic fantasy involves travel on a mysterious river (yep, it’s a river that’s mysterious. It’s a thing, I promise). The things found both in and along the river tugged on my imagination, painting a vivid picture of a unique and creative world. The mythology behind the enchanter Wyrr is flat-out amazing. TheSwans’ War is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies, despite (or maybe because of) the water-travel.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
At this point, I’m pretty sure Stuart Turton could write a novel about cardboard boxes and I would love it. His writing is outstanding and the mystery of The Devil and the Dark Water kept me riveted from beginning to end.
The Bone Shard Daughter(The Drowning Empire Book One) by Andrea Stewart
I would have to admit that I am sort of cheating on this one, except that this is my post and my rules. So there. Jovis’ storyline, in particular, has a lot to do with ships and such whatnot and he was my favorite character, so it counts. Right? Either way, I’m looking forward to the next part in this interesting series.
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.
Man, this place has gone to the dogs! Okay, okay, I couldn’t help myself. But in this zoo-meets-noir, the joke is mildly appropriate.
The story of The City that Barks and Roars has been told before, many times. You have a a detective that goes missing, and it’s up to his grizzled, cantankerous partner to solve the crime. In this case, the missing detective is named Lucas Panda (what with him being a panda and all). The grumpy partner? King Penguin Frank. Add his new fresh-faced partner, Charlie Monkey, and you’ve got the bare bones of many a detective tale. However, in this case, it’s a detective tail. Badum-tish! (I’ll be here all week folks.)
Now, the fact that the plot isn’t anything new and original does not detract from the story. Rather, it adds to it: we all know which beats to expect, but there’s a twist of the furry variety. It highlights the fun the author had writing The City that Barks and Roars. Think Zootopia for adults.
The mystery was clever, but the book ended up falling a bit flat for me. The characters, other than being animals, did not really have much in the way of development. However, The City that Barks and Roars is a shorter tale, so that could be the issue right there.
Where the author shone was in the descriptions, leaving me thinking that perhaps this story would be better in a different medium. As a TV show or movie, perhaps. The City that Barks and Roars was full of quippy humor, some of which landed, and some that didn’t.
At this point, I’m afraid my review seems to be entirely negative. I truly don’t mean it that way. The City thatBarks and Roars was an entertaining tale. It’s wasn’t incredible, but it was fun. I think people who read the detective genre will appreciate what the author did here more than I did, simply because they’ll have more experience with the genre.
Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.
While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review
The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst
Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review
The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart
This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.
Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler
I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn
This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review
Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald
Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.
The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review
Feathertide by Beth Cartwright
Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review
How to Rule an Empire and Get Awaywith It by K.J. Parker
This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review
So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!
One of the (many) amazing things about books is their ability to reach us. I might read a sentence, absorb the information provided, and move on. Someone else might read that same sentence and be profoundly moved. That sentence becomes something more than just words on a page: it touches a part of that person and sticks with them. While I haven’t read as many books this year as I did last year (I blame 2020), this has been a year full of amazing writing, the sort that I treasure. Here are a few quotes that I have absolutely loved.
“Things won’t seem as bleak in the morning. Morning is wiser than evening.”– Emily Duncan, Ruthless Gods
“Some songs weren’t mere songs. They were memories curled tight and set alight. They made you heartsick.”– Stuart Turton, The Devil and the Dark Water
“Good people don’t bow their heads and bite their tongues while other good people suffer. Good people are not complicit.”-Alexis Henderson, The Year of the Witching
“‘No’, I cleared my throat. “It’s the sort of good that you get sad about because you no longer have it. A very good.”– Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard Daughter
“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.”– Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus
“Sometimes it feels like I’m in a staring contest with failure, and if I blink, I’ll die.”-Sarah Gailey, Magic for Liars
“Perhaps even people you like and admire immensely can make you see the World in ways you would rather not.”-Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
“Maybe trust is neither lost nor found, broken nor mended, but merely given.”-Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches
“I like books. They’re quiet, dignified, and absolute. A man might falter but his words, once written, will hold.”-Luke Arnold, The Last Smile in Sunder City
What are some quotes from the books you’ve read this year that blew you away? If you’d like to find out more about any of these books, you can find my reviews below. Happy reading!