Lexcalibur and Lexcalibur II by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

Since these delightful books could actually be easily combined into one volume, I’m reviewing them both in one post.

My thoughts on Lexcalibur: Useful Poetry for Adventurers Above and Below the World:

I was gifted this poetry collection. My friend described it as “Shel Silverstein poems for nerds”, and there’s really no better description. It’s all kinds of nerdy fun!

The poems are generally on the shorter side and are extremely clever. There’s never that feeling of trying too hard and I found myself chuckling as I read through the book. The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.

The book covers all things fantasy, ranging from important topics such as were-beasts, to concerns about viziers, and complaints about mimics. It’s incredibly obvious that both the author and illustrator are well versed in both the tropes and the lesser-known gems of the fantasy genre. They appreciate all things imaginative and fun.

Lexcalibur is made even better by the inclusion of whimsical and fun illustrations which are scattered throughout. They’re truly delightful and add so much to the book.

I should mention that Lexcalibur can only be found on the Penny Arcade website (link here, for your convenience). The Penny Arcade comics themselves are meant for adults to enjoy, but this book is all-ages fun.

I loved, loved, loved this collection of poems! If you’re a lover of all things fantastical, you’ll really enjoy Lexcalibur. I’ll leave you with one of the poems:

Irony Lesson

I got a ring, and it makes me invisible.

No one can see me! A marvelous thing!

As I suggested, your eyes have been bested.

Completely invisible.

Except for the ring.

Lexcalibur II: The Word in the Stone

Lexcalibur II continues in the delightful vein of book one, with fun and imaginative poems that are perfect for any fantasy or TTRPG lover. I smiled at the love of fantasy that shone through every page.

I sometimes cringe at poems that rhyme because they can feel so forced. Not so in this case, the rhymes added a fairy tale cadence that was endearing.

There were several poems that shared a common theme, which was a little different. The Eyrewood, a table-top roleplaying game, featured multiple times. I haven’t played it (yet), but as a TTRPG fan, I could still understand and appreciate the joy and nods. And that’s the thing about both Lexcalibur books: they brim with joy.

It’s wonderful to be taken to a place of unlimited potential and imagination. The playful illustrations added to the atmosphere and kept me grinning. I loved Lexcalibur II and really hope there’s a volume three coming before too long!

Here’s one of my favorite poems from this second installment. Enjoy!

Wait for No Prophecy

Wait for no prophecy,

Yield to no star,

Tell your own story

Wherever you are.

For no prophet knows you,

And stars are just light;

And no dream

Was ever dreamed

Without a fight.

Why Odin Drinks by Bjørn Larssen

Norse Mythology retelling for fans of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Calvin & Hobbes
Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly? Poor Odin must restrain his brothers, who create offensive weapons such as mosquitoes and celery; placate his future-telling wife, Frigg, who demands sweatpants with pockets; listen to Loki’s Helpful Questions; hang himself from Yggdrasil for nine days with a spear through his side (as you do); teach everyone about nutritional values of kale (but NOT celery); meet a Wise Dom, Sir Daddy Mímir, in order to outwit those who outwit him; and, most importantly, prove he is The All-Father, while his brothers are, at best, Those-Uncles-We-Don’t-Talk-About.

This nearly (except in Vanaheim) universally acclaimed retelling of the Gods’ first millennium answers way too many questions, including ones on Freyr’s entendre, horse designing… and why Odin drinks. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of this book. Why Odin Drinks is available now.

I’m very particular about my comedy. I like witty, I like a little bit of line-blurring, and I like smart. And yes, while a person might not expect a book that features the creation (and subsequent why?) of celery to be particularly clever, Why Odin Drinks is also incredibly smart.

Author Bjørn Larssen explores Norse mythology as you’ve never seen it. From a creation story that’s a bit more haphazard than your usual fare, to the addition of a prescient wife and the difficulties that comes with it, and of course the World Tree, Larssen adds a brilliantly comedic twist to well-known mythologies.

My reaction to Why Odin Drinks ranged from giggles to flat-out obnoxious guffaws. A fast read, it was also surprisingly deep. l was fortunate to be able to interview Bjørn and he said that Why Odin Drinks has a serious undertone that you can choose to miss. I would add the word “wise” to that description. Like Calvin and Hobbes, another comedy with serious aspects to it, Why Odin Drinks muses on life and humanity in ways that are accessible and undeniably smart. There were several “whoa” moments, when I wondered if maybe it was Larssen and not Frigg, who sees the future.

Why Odin Drinks left me gasping with laughter while also thinking. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Read the book with a tissue or two handy- whether you snort your drink out your nose while laughing, or you tear up a little at some of the observations hidden beneath the surface, that tissue will come in handy.

Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

Find the second star from the right, and fly straight on ’til morning, all the way to Neverland, a children’s paradise with no rules, no adults, only endless adventure and enchanted forests – all led by the charismatic boy who will never grow old. 
 
But Wendy Darling grew up. She has a husband and a young daughter called Jane, a life in London. But one night, after all these years, Peter Pan returns. Wendy finds him outside her daughter’s window, looking to claim a new mother for his Lost Boys. But instead of Wendy, he takes Jane. 
 
Now a grown woman, a mother, a patient and a survivor, Wendy must follow Peter back to Neverland to rescue her daughter and finally face the darkness at the heart of the island… (taken from Amazon)

I am not certain exactly what I expected with this book, but this was certainly not it! However, once I let go of my preconceived ideas of what Wendy, Darling would be, I found it to be a surprising read.

We all know the story of Peter Pan- the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Well, Wendy did grow up. She grew up and was admitted to a mental hospital by her brothers, in an attempt to cure her of her “delusions” (it seems they stopped believing long before she did). Wendy learned to adapt, was eventually released from the institution, and started a family.

Now a wife and mother, she is drawn back into Neverland. She has no choice; Peter has taken her daughter. What happens next is unexpected. It turns out there’s a secret at the heart of Neverland, one that is dark and dangerous.

I can’t say that I fell in love with this book. I feel like I was always waiting for something to happen and every time things got going, they’d slow down. The writing, while full of creativity and potential, came across as a bit timid at times. I believe this is more my take on things than what most people will glean from Wendy, Darling. It did lessen my enjoyment just a little.

I really liked Wendy. She was never beaten despite everyone attempting to make her question her own mind. She was strong but practical and had nerves of steel. Her inner battles were just as fascinating as her outer ones. The majority of the book actually focused on her time in the mental institution, told entirely in long flashbacks. While an ambitious way to tell a story, I’m not sure it worked out for me. Again, my own preconceived idea of what the book was about got in my way. Drat!

The author did something creative and new with Peter’s character and it was intriguing to see a different take on him. I do wish more had been done, though. The climax felt rushed to me. In fact, every niggle I had with the book comes down to an issue with the pacing.

Wendy, Darling ended up not being the book for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It just wasn’t my bag. It was a fast read, and one that might appeal to readers who want a book that takes the original story and twists it into something new and completely different.

Rogues- Edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

If you’re a fan of fiction that is more than just black and white, this latest story collection from #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and award-winning editor Gardner Dozois is filled with subtle shades of gray. Twenty-one all-original stories, by an all-star list of contributors, will delight and astonish you in equal measure with their cunning twists and dazzling reversals. And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire history of Ice and Fire.
 
Follow along with the likes of Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis, as well as other masters of literary sleight-of-hand, in this rogues gallery of stories that will plunder your heart—and yet leave you all the richer for it. (Taken from Amazon)
 

I’m a huge fan of morally gray, roguish characters, so Rogues seemed like it would be right up my alley. While there were a couple of stories that I didn’t quite love, it was an excellent collection of stories overall, and the two that I didn’t love were easily overshadowed by the rest of the tales.

With this group of authors, there were a few usual suspects that I knew I’d love, and also some that really surprised me. Doubly great is the variety of rogues present in this collection. While there were a couple of the stereotypical thieves and ne’er-do-wells (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the term “rogue” was creatively explored. No one story was like another, which was awesome.

“Tough Times All Over” by Joe Abercrombie started things off magnificently with a game of “button, button, who’s got the button” that just happened to include a fair amount of violence. It was a snappy, engaging story that ended at just the right time.

I’m not normally a big fan of Gillian Flynn, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed “What Do You Do?”, in which the reader is left to wonder who is conning whom in a case of possible possession.

Both Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss had fantastic stories. No one can match Gaiman for creativity, and Rothfuss once again showed his excellent writing chops. I would have liked a little more ambition from Rothfuss since he was writing about Bast (I want answers and details, dang it!), but his writing style immediately sucked me in.

My favorite story in the collection, though, was “Bad Brass” by Bradley Denton. I don’t think I’ve read any of Denton’s books before, but I loved the idea of a tuba heist, fraught with double crosses and surprise appearances. It was so much fun!

In fact, there were only two stories that I didn’t enjoy, and one of them I didn’t expect to. I’m not the world’s biggest George R.R. Martin fan, but people who have enjoyed his series will be more than happy with his offering here.

This is an excellent collection of stories, chock full of all the things that make rogues so much fun. I suggest this for fans of morally gray characters, or anyone who is looking for an engaging palette cleanser after a heavy read.

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill- Algonquin Book Tour

A new instant-classic fantasy about the power of generosity and love, and how a community suffers when they disappear, by Kelly Barnhill, winner of the Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, a New York Times bestseller.

Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the people to lose their library, their school, their park, and even their neighborliness. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever children of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town’s problems are.

Then one day a child goes missing from the Orphan House. At the Mayor’s suggestion, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The Orphans know this can’t be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen.

But how can the Orphans tell the story of the Ogress’s goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbors see the real villain in their midst? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for allowing me to join in on this book tour and for providing me with The Ogress and the Orphans in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Sometimes you read a book and think, “Oh, what an entertaining and fun book!”

Sometimes you think, “This is an important book, a book that says something.”

And sometimes you read a book that is both. The Ogress and the Orphans is a well-written adventure, with children that speak to crows and a generous ogress. It is also a dangerous book, with wicked dragons and fear stoked into hatred. It is the sort of book that draws you in and makes you think. It teaches a lesson without beating the reader over the head with it (as a homeschool parent, I love children’s books like that).

The Ogress and the Orphans follows a house full of orphans in a town that used to be kind and helpful but became selfish and afraid after everything burned down (starting with the library. Hmmm…could it be that the freedom to read is important?), leaving suspicious neighbors who only trust their mayor, who has slain a dragon after all. He never seems to do anything to help, but in the town’s eyes he can do no wrong.

Meanwhile, in the Orphan House, there may not be enough to eat, and the caretakers are world-weary, but there is kindness aplenty. I loved all of the characters in the house! There are so many of them, but my favorites were Bartleby and Cass. Bartleby could hear the stories that the walls and trees tell, stories of both the past and the future. And sweet, kind Cass sets things in motion when an attempt to care for others goes in unexpected directions.

I loved the narrator, who gave small asides about the things it could say if anyone asked (but they didn’t). The entire book was wonderful and uplifting, something that is always appreciated. The Ogress and the Orphans is full of both adventure and heart. Pick it up. You’ll love it.

The Crossover Paradox by Rob Edwards

For March of the Sequels (a fantastic event created by Sue’s Musings), I’m excited to be reviewing The Crossover Paradox by Rob Edwards, book two in the Justic Academy series.

Return to the Justice Academy, the galaxy’s premier college for superheroes!

Back for his second year, Grey wants nothing more than to spend time with his friends and maybe take a class or two. A normal student life. Instead, Grey’s friends are all distracted by their own problems and somebody is trying to break his nemesis out of jail.

When tragedy strikes the Academy, Grey finds himself stuck between the roles of investigator and prime suspect. Chased across the galaxy and back, Grey must face a dark secret from the Academy’s past. Grey cannot hope to defeat it alone, but cut off from his friends, can he trust an unexpected crossover?

That paradox alone could kill him. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Crossover Paradox will be available for purchase on March 8th. I will do my best to avoid giving spoilers, but it is a sequel, so there is a slight possibility that something will sneak through. You’ve been fairly warned.

I loved The Ascension Machine, book one in the Justic Academy series. You can find my review for book one here. Book two continued on excellently, with new obstacles to overcome and even bigger danger. The Crossover Paradox raised the stakes and never let up on the gas.

The main character, Grey, is a roguish character who is trying to make a clean try after lying to everyone for the majority of the previous year. He is back at the Justic Academy, under his own name (well-not really, but that’s a mystery yet to be solved), ready to put the last year behind him. Unfortunately, someone has other plans. When someone is murdered, it is up to Grey and his group of friends to find the real killer- before Grey takes the fall for a crime he didn’t commit.

The story went in unexpected ways, keeping me invested and highly entertained. I loved seeing how smart Grey was, and the way his unconventional past aids him in the situations he finds himself in. He’s such a great character! For a mostly reformed conman, he has a strong sense of right and wrong which I loved. I’m all about the morally complicated characters, but I really do love a character who is more good than not. He’s an easy character to root for.

The Crossover Paradox introduces a few new characters, but some of the original group see less time. While I missed one of the characters (no names given), there was major setup for a future storyline involving him that I’m both excited and scared for. The rest of the supporting cast, so to speak, continued to elevate the book and take it in new directions. I loved that they were all important throughout the book and each character could offer something unique.

This book is meant for middle grade readers and did a great job of remembering that. While there is some violence and a bit of romance, it avoided going over the top with either. Instead, author Rob Edwards balanced each element of the book and tied it all together wonderfully. At the same time, there was a real sense of danger and no character was “safe”, which added to the enjoyment of the book. The Crossover Paradox is a fantastic continuation of the Justice Academy series, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes by Travis Baldree

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Legends and Lattes will be available for purchase on February 22nd.

Legends and Lattes is a delight! Creative and sweet, with just the right amount of danger, I enjoyed every word. The book follows Viv, an orc who leaves behind a life of killing and looting to open a coffee shop. That’s right, an orc running a coffee shop. Not only is it unlikely, but no one in the city of Thune even knows what coffee is. Viv definitely has her work cut out for her! Luckily for her, she has a Scalvert’s Stone, which is supposed to bring success. Unluckily for her, someone knows she has it, and wants it.

The premise is so much fun, but what made it even better for me were the supporting characters. There was a wonderful group of unique misfits who slowly turned Viv’s dream into a reality that was so much more than she expected. From the succubus who really wanted to leave the reputation that comes with her race behind, to the rattkin cook, each character added a unique charm to Legends and Lattes. They showcased Viv’s character growth and added a little something extra. I can’t decide who my favorite character was: Cal the hob or Thimble, the rattkin cook. There was something intensely charming about the cook being a rattkin. I also loved Durias the mysterious gnome. I’m a sucker for sage-like characters and I would love to read another book set in this world, just about him.

The coffee shop itself became another character and I fell in love with it. There was something cozy and calming about the way it was described. I loved the descriptions of the coffee and goodies that could be found there, and I would love to nibble on a thimblet!

The pacing was excellent, the story itself was sweet, and the ending was perfect. Legends and Lattes would be the perfect book to read on a rainy day with a cup of your favorite hot beverage.

The Living Waters (The Weirdwater Confulence #1) by Dan Fitzgerald

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease, but when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water even their seasoned guides get rattled.


The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Living Waters is available for purchase now.

I was a little unsure about what I would experience with The Living Waters. It is described as sword-free fantasy, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Author Dan Fitzgerald defines sword-free fantasy in a fascinating article (found here) and points out that one great thing about fantasy is that it can be “a safe reading space, where peril may be real but wonder predominates”, which is part of what makes The Living Waters so unique.

The book focuses on a trip on a river. Temi and Sylan are two nobles who are there to go on a “roughabout”, which is sort of a pilgrimage that those from their society usually go on prior to marriage. Temi and Sylan are part of a caste system that values extremely pale skin, to the point that they all wear hats and paint to protect their skin from the light of the sun. I found this fascinating because, like most societal expectations, it could be inconvenient. The captain of their ship, Leo, and their protector, Gilea, don’t have these concerns.

Temi and Sylan both have their reasons for going, although I found Sylan’s desire to learn more about the natural world around him to be the more interesting of the two. I loved his curiosity and his appreciation of what he saw, and the book of descriptions about some of the things he sees was such a wonderful way to naturally introduce the reader to a world filled with wonder and beauty.

While there aren’t any sword fights or instances of derring-do, the book was nonetheless fascinating. The relationships were the main focus, although there were still dangers and mysteries to solve, and the way the characters developed both individually and in relation to each other was realistic and engrossing.

The Living Waters was beautiful. It also felt intensely personal, as though the author was showing a little of who he is in his descriptions and his obvious appreciation of nature. The descriptions were amazing, as was the pacing of the book. I felt like I was floating down the river myself. The relationships, the mysterious swirls in the water, and the loveliness of the setting all combined to make The Living Waters a serene and calming read.

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May


On Crow Island, people whisper, real magic lurks just below the surface. 

Neither real magic nor faux magic interests Annie Mason. Not after it stole her future. She’s only on the island to settle her late father’s estate and, hopefully, reconnect with her long-absent best friend, Beatrice, who fled their dreary lives for a more glamorous one. 

Yet Crow Island is brimming with temptation, and the biggest one may be her enigmatic new neighbor. 

Mysterious and alluring, Emmeline Delacroix is a figure shadowed by rumors of witchcraft. And when Annie witnesses a confrontation between Bea and Emmeline at one of the island’s extravagant parties, she is drawn into a glittering, haunted world. A world where the boundaries of wickedness are tested, and the cost of illicit magic might be death. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Redhook publishing for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Wild and Wicked Things will be available for purchase on March 29th.

Addictive and haunting, Wild and Wicked Things was also a bit problematic. The book initially drew me in with beautiful prose, dripping with magic and secrets. However, the pacing caused me to pause and I found my attention wandering at parts.

I was immediately interested in the book’s setting, which has a wild and carefree overtone with more somber themes lurking just underneath the surface. I’ve read that it takes inspiration from The Great Gatsby, and the juxtaposition of the darker aspects of the storyline with the glitter that’s seen on the surface felt very reminiscent of Gatsby to me. That being said, Wild and Wicked Things is very much its own unique book.

There was quite a bit of content that I struggled to read. The fault is mine: the author has kindly provided a content warning list for the book (here) which I was unaware of when I picked it up. That being said, I feel that the author did not add any of it merely for shock value; rather, it was all part of the story she envisioned and it did further the plot.

I loved the lush feel of the book, and the glitz of it all. I was fascinated by the mysteries lurking beneath the surface. Ultimately, though, the bits that didn’t work for me- the characters that weren’t quite as fully-rounded as I was hoping and the pacing issues- lessened my enjoyment a little. That being said, I am sure that there are many who will find themselves lost in a beautiful world and will appreciate the slower pacing. Give it a go!

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. (taken from Amazon)

Featuring one of the most delightfully messed-up main characters I’ve read in a while, Book of Night is both wickedly clever and dangerously entertaining.

In a world where “quickened” shadows can be shifted according to the wearer’s mood, Charlie Hall’s shadow is disappointingly ordinary. It does not grow, act of its own accord, or shift on its own. That’s a good thing, since she has enough on her plate as it is. The thing is, Charlie Hall has never seen a bad decision that she isn’t willing to make. Con artist, thief, barista, and certified disaster, trouble has a habit of finding Charlie. To be fair, she doesn’t do all that much to avoid it. Ostensibly done with conning and stealing, Charlie nonetheless works in a bar that crime likes to frequent, she dates a man whose day job is cleaning up the messes left by violence, and she has a knack for upsetting the wrong people.

In a world such as that, it is inevitable that Charlie would be sucked back into a life of conning and stealing. This time the stakes are much higher: Charlie has to find a way to hopefully con her way out of a situation where every solution seems to spell death. The entirety of Book of Night is planned pandemonium, and I was hooked.

This is Holly Black’s first foray into adult fantasy, having garnered a huge fanbase in Young Adult fantasy. While Black’s signature twists and turns are present, the relationships are much more established, allowing me to enjoy the nuances of the characters without being distracted by relationship woes. Don’t get me wrong; as with everything else in her life, Charlie’s relationship with her boyfriend Vince follows the path of most resistance. However, the complications lie in the characters themselves, as opposed to their relationship status. In fact, seeing how Charlie interacted with the people around her was an excellent mirror into the morass of her rather messed-up psyche.

The story is sprinkled with scenes from the characters’ pasts, better developing both their personalities and the world. And it is such a cool world! Manipulators of shadows, known as gloamists, use their shadows to grasp at power, some legally and some otherwise. The wielders of power are fantastical, but the way the power is used to manipulate and control is completely familiar and believable.

There is always something going on, but never at the cost of the plot. The twists seemed to come out of nowhere, yet when I traced back the scenes in the book, the clues were right in front of me. The ending is fantastic, perfectly messy, instead of being tied into an overly neat little bow. While there could be a sequel, which I would gladly read, I almost hope that it is a standalone because the ending hit so well. Book of Night is an exciting urban fantasy from an author who can easily conquer any genre she chooses to write in.

*This review was originally posted in Grimdark Magazine. You can find it here.