Small Press, Big Ideas: Tales from Alternate Earths 3

I am so excited to join Runalong the Shelves for Small Press, Big Stories, a monthlong celebration of indie press and the great books they publish!

Today, I’m reposting a review I’ve written about Tales from Alternate Earths 3, an engrossing short story collection.

This collection takes “What if?” in new and exciting directions. What if the historical events we all (should) know unfolded differently? What ripples would they cause? How would our world be different? The creativity behind these musings and the skill of the writers blew me away.

Short story collections can go either way for me. Sometimes I just can’t connect with the shorter lengths. However, Tales from Alternate Earths 3 used the shorter formats to excellent advantage, shining a laser focus on unique ideas. While the entire book is strong, there are a few stories that stood out to me.

The collection started out strong with “Gunpowder Treason” by Alan Smale. It takes a look at how things would have been had Guy Fawkes and company succeeded in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. It’s told through an interesting perspective- that of a streetwalker. It made the story feel much more personal than if it had been told through multiple points of view.

“Ops and Ostentation” by Rob Edwards followed the indomitable Mrs. Constance Briggs as she encounters a certain man whose military mind has been spoken of often (I’m doing my very best to be vague, and hopefully I’ve succeeded). Her role in the events that unfolded was fascinating. That ending too! It was infinitely satisfying.

I was unsure about “Dust of the Earth” at first, but I ended up really enjoying how author Brent A. Harris wrote it. It’s told in a series of flashbacks which isn’t something I encounter too often. While it was disconcerting at first, I loved that the story ultimately focused on mental health, which is a subject that I am very passionate about.

“To Catch a Ripper” by Minoti Vaishnav gives a new angle on Jack the Ripper, and it’s the most interesting take on the Ripper that I’ve ever read. There were many things about this story that made me oh-so-happy, from the determined main character, to the intrigue and action. If ever this becomes a full-length novel, I’ll be in line to buy it.

I was delighted to see that Ricardo Victoria, an author whose writings I always enjoy, has a story in Alternate Earths 3. His story, “Steel Serpents”, was thought-provoking and incredibly smart. I’ll be thinking about this one for quite a while.

The collection ends just as well as it started, with a story that follows a couple of former KGB operatives. Author D.J. Butler had me hooked right away.

These are just a few of the stories that stood out to me; the entirety of Alternate Earths 3 was clever and entertaining. This collection is perfect for readers who want to be challenged, who like to muse on all the paths history could have taken. I highly recommend picking this one up.

*This title is available from Inkling Press

Purchase link:

Amazon

Small Press, Big Stories: Campaigns and Companions

I am so excited to join Runalong the Shelves, along with many other fantastic blogs, for Small Press, Big Stories. Runalong the Shelves has created this monthlong celebration of indie press and the plethora of great books they produce.

Today, I’m happy to talk about Campaigns and Companions by Andie Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt. Campaigns and Companions ponders the question: what would happen if your pets played Dungeons and Dragons. The results are hilarious.

I’ve shared my original rave below, but if you want to save yourself some time: just go buy the book. It’s fantastic.

If you have played Dungeons and Dragons for long, you’ll notice that there are those things that just sort of go along with it. First, there were comics. The humor found in Dork Tower or Order of the Stick totally encapsulated the funny side of D&D. Later on, the guys at Penny Arcade starting bringing D&D into their own work. Well, make room next to your D&D sourcebooks: all ttrpg fans need to own Campaigns and Companions. It’s genius.

What would happen if cats, dogs, hamsters, and other critter companions picked up some dice and decided to go on a gaming adventure? Simply put, hilarity. This book is clever and snarky. It had me laughing out loud and showing my favorite pages to everyone in my house. Authors Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett perfectly captured the attitudes our animal friends show on a daily basis. From the cat who has a theologically-charged experience with a protection from evil circle, to the dog who gets…um, held up in a narrow passageway, each page offered a new laugh and more than a few knowing nods.

Of course, I have to talk about the art. The hilarious illustrations from Calum Alexander Watt elevated Campaigns and Companions to a whole new level. There’s something altogether too fitting about seeing a berserker rabbit. This book was everything I was hoping for and then some. I’m planning on buying this for some friends who I know will appreciate it as much as I did. Basically, 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).

This is perfect for pet owners as well, although the full brilliance behind the humor will be more fully appreciated by D&D players. In fact, I guarantee that by this time next year, Campaigns and Companions will be mentioned in regular conversation around many a gaming table. I can’t recommend it enough.

*This is a Rebellion title

Purchase Link:

Amazon

Small Press, Big Stories: The Tempest Blades by Ricardo Victoria

Runalong the Shelves, a fantastic blog, has created Small Press, Big Stories. This is a month-long, multi-platform event focusing on small and indie press, publishers which consistently bring us exciting and unique titles.

Today I’m excited to focus on The Tempest Blades by Ricardo Victoria, an excellent series where magic and science mingle.

I think this is a series that will surprise a lot of people. While these books are fast-paced, they are more than just action with little story. Instead, themes of redemption, mental illness, guilt, and what it means to persist despite everything are found within the pages. I loved how mental illness is portrayed. Not only did it makes sense to the characters, but it was also respectfully and realistically done. This is just one of the things I love about The Tempest Blades.

It is difficult to find respectful depictions of mental illness in fiction, even more difficult to find it in the fantasy genre. Every time I see an author who uses mental illness as more than a prop in a story, I am incredibly impressed. Author Ricardo Victoria masterfully wove a story of depression, hope, and redemption in world filled with villains and magic.

My favorite characters changed from book one to book two, showing that each character is well-developed and nuanced. The relationships between them is a joy to read. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book (hopefully the wait won’t be long)!

I really can’t put my finger on the reason, but I think fans of My Hero Academia will enjoy the series. Scratch that- I think most people will enjoy the series. Go ahead and pick it up!

*This title is published by Artemesia Publishing

To purchase:

Amazon

Small Press, Big Stories: Paladin Unbound

I am excited to be a part of #SmallPressBigStories, conceived of and led by the awesome Runalong the Shelves! Small Press, Big Stories exists to celebrate indie presses and the awesome titles they publish.

Paladin Unbound has become one of my favorite fantasy books. I’ve already reread it once, and plan to read it again before too long. It’s an amazing book to fall into. Here’s my original review, although I think I failed to fully describe my love of the book:

When people ask for books I’d recommend to a fantasy newbie, ones that represent all the wonderful things the genre has to offer, I have a few go-tos. The Hobbit, obviously, and the Dragonlance Chronicles (really, is anyone surprised?), and, more recently, The Ventifact Colossus. Now I’m adding Paladin Unbound to that list, because this book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

The story starts with the main character, Umhra, just wanting to find work for himself and his band of mercenaries. When they are hired to find out what has happened to several missing people, they are thrust into a situation that is much darker and more dangerous than Umhra expected.

I was sucked in from page one, which begins at an ending. The ending of a war between gods, no less. The war ends with an asterisk, the sort that always leads to trouble down the road. What I loved about the opening is that it started huge, before moving on to the main storyline which is much more personal. It showcased a fascinating history, one that we continue to get snippets of throughout the book. I love when the history of a world or its belief systems is shared naturally like that, avoiding the dreaded info dump. I have to admit, though, I would actually read an entire book just dedicated to the history and mythology of the world of Evelium, I loved it so much. It was creative and well thought out.

As much as I enjoyed the world building, though, where Paladin Unbound shines is in its characters. There’s an excellent cast who build off each other in the best of ways. The interactions felt natural and allowed each character to grow and develop brilliantly. This was, in some ways, the typical adventuring group sometimes found in ttrpg’s – and that’s a great thing! It works very well, after all. There was Naivara the druid, Laudin the ranger, a mage named Nicholas (I have no idea why, but his name made me smile), Shadow the rogue, Balris the healer, Talus the fighter, and Gromley the warrior priest. While I loved all of them, I must say that I had a soft spot for Shadow.

Then there’s our main character, Umhra. Oh, how I loved Umhra! Being half-orc, he was distrusted, looked down on, or treated poorly quite a lot. He could have been bitter or angry and I wouldn’t have blamed him. But instead, he was an optimist, always looking for the best in every situation. He was, at his core, a good, honorable character. He was not your boring “lawful good”, however. He was incredibly nuanced and I loved reading about him. I haven’t been a huge fan of paladins in the past, but Umhra has me planning to make a paladin for my next D&D campaign.

This book would be perfect for fantasy newbies, ttrpg players, or readers who have traveled the length and breadth of many fantasy worlds and are looking for new adventures to go on. It left me excited and wanting more. Paladin Unbound is fantasy at its finest.

*Paladin Unbound is a Literary Wanderlust title

To Purchase:

Paladin Unbound

Small Press, Big Stories: The Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures

I am excited to be a part of #SmallPressBigStories, conceived of and led by the awesome Runalong the Shelves! Small Press, Big Stories exists to celebrate indie presses, those wonderful publishers that bring us so many amazing books.

Today, I want to talk a little bit about the Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures by Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee. There are three books in the series so far and it’s a series that will appeal vastly to fans of urban fantasy as well as readers who enjoy adventure books. There is always something going on, usually complicated and nearly always dangerous.

In book one, Wrath of the Fury Blade, Constable Inspector Reva Lunaria gets a new case- and a new partner. Their relationship (sometimes colleagues, sometimes friends, always well-written) is what elevates this book above many other urban fantasies. Complicated characters will draw me into a book every time, and the world-building kept me invested. The world is detailed and ambitious, pulsing and alive.

Wrath of the Fury Blade is a fabulous mash-up of fantasy and police procedural. This was a new combination for me, but it works incredibly well.

The characters were interesting, and seeing their relationship develop and grow was a ton of fun. They played off each other well, each enabling the character development in the other. I enjoyed Reva in particular, even though (maybe because?) she came across as prickly sometimes.

The series hypes up, with each book building on the last. The situations Reva and her partner Ansee Carya find themselves in run the gambit of creativity, with some truly awesome monsters showing up to impress and creep out readers.

The Constable Inspector Lunaria Adventures continue to entertain and surprise. They’re a thrill ride that somehow also squeezes in a vast world and excellent character development. I highly suggest picking the series up. Go ahead and grab all three books: you’ll want to continue the adventure as soon as you finish the first book.

This series is published by Artemesia Publishing. Purchase link:

Wrath of the Fury Blade

Small Press, Big Stories: Dragons of Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales

Runalong the Shelves has created the coolest event: a month-long series celebrating small/indie publishing. I have read so many great indie titles and am excited to be taking part in this series. Today, I want to discuss a great collection of dragon-related stories, Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales.

Dragons of a Different Tail was one of the most creative and entertaining anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The sheer variety of tails-ahem, tales- in this book is astonishing. There’s generally a story or two that doesn’t connect with me in anthologies, but that wasn’t the case here. Between the subject matter and some extremely talented authors, this is a win from beginning to end.

While I enjoyed every story in Dragons of a Different Tail, there were a few that stood out to me. Chasing the Dragon by Sean Gibson was delightful and the perfect way to start the book. It follows Celare and Stanley, two detectives in Victorian era London. Their job entails slightly more than what most people picture when thinking of Victorian era P.I.’s. They find their into an opium den, where they discover something way out of the ordinary.

I loved the banter between Stanley and Celare! Celare was delightfully snarky with the sort of attitude that is a blast to read. The ending was brilliant (although I’m not sure I can forgive author Sean Gibson for such a cliffhanger!), but my favorite part of the tale was the nature of the beast. It’s not something I find often in fantasy, and I loved it. I won’t say more, for fear of giving spoilers, but it was fantastic.

Spirit of the Dragon by J.C. Mastro rocked (quite literally). It is about the DragonFraggen, a metal band in search for inspiration for a new song. Fortunately for the reader, but unfortunately for them, they find it in the form of an old, mysterious text. Things go a little wonky and the next thing DragonFraggen knows, their live concert might end up with someone dead.

I loved how unique this story was! Aside from the band having a bit of a Spinal Tap feel (word to the wise: never be the drummer in a band), their earnestness made me laugh. The dragon was killer, pun intended, and the entire tale left a big smile on my face.

The other story that most stood out to me was Wei Ling and the Water Dragon by Jeff Burns. Wei Ling decides to track down the thieves that stole her village’s dragon idol and steal it back. It doesn’t go quite as simply planned, but she ends up with the most unlikely of friends.

Wei Ling and the Water Dragon is action-packed and quick moving. Wei Ling herself was a ball of sass and the dragon in this tale was entertainingly smug. Both Wei Ling and the Dragon were well-written. They developed beautifully together, with a surprising amount of character in such a short amount of time.

Dragons of a Different Tail: 17 Unusual Dragon Tales is a great anthology, one with something new and unexpected on each page. This is an excellent book for readers who love dragons and people who love fantasy in general. Pick this one up!

Dragons of Different Tail would be an excellent Christmas gift for fantasy lovers (or anyone who wants something new and different).

*This is a Cabbit Crossing Publishing title

Amazon