Categories
Fantasy

The Warrior by Stephen Aryan (Book Review)

A big huge amazing thank you to Angry Robot Books for my finished copies of the Quest for Heroes duology! The Warrior is now out in the world and here are my thoughts on it!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Warrior
  • Series: Quest For Heroes #2
  • Author: Stephen Aryan
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 08/09/22
  • Length: 419 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ yes if you liked book one!

Here’s the synopsis:

The story of Kell Kressia continues in Book II of the gripping fantasy duology. Kell, two time saviour of the Five Kingdoms, is now the King of Algany. He has fame, power, respect, and has never been more miserable…

Bound, by duty and responsibility, Kell is King only in name. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he leaves affairs of state to his wife, Sigrid. When his old friend, Willow, turns up asking him to go on a journey to her homeland he can’t wait to leave.

The Malice, a malevolent poison that alters everything it infects, runs rampant across Willow’s homeland. Desperate to find a cure her cousin, Ravvi, is willing to try a dark ritual which could damn her people forever. Journeying to a distant land, Kell and his companions must stop Ravvi before it’s too late.While Kell is away Reverend Mother Britak’s plans come to a head. Queen Sigrid must find a way to protect her family and her nation, but against such a ruthless opponent, something has to give

The first thing that I love about the book, besides the cover, is the synopsis! Not much more recall is needed.

I’m going to *duck behind the couch* and say that I liked The Coward a lot more than The Warrior. It was nice to see Kell off on another heroic quest, even if none of the humans understood it, and he must have come to terms with a lot of his anxiety and PTSD because it isn’t nearly as severe here. That speaks for the level of resolution provided in the prior book

Character wise, I liked Sigrid the most as she dealt with the crazy old Reverend Mother and the fate of Algany. I wanted more from the Queen and appreciated her arc the most.  Kell and Willow make a good pair although I still wanted more from their friendship, should it be called that.

Where Aryan kind of lost me was in his shift from low fantasy in The Coward to the more magical elements of The Warrior. I got to ask him about it in the Q & A on the SFF Oasis discord and understood what he was saying about wanting to change things up, but it was too strange for me to introduce so much newness into book 2.

Odd’s … Thing … What the heck was it? I was interested in learning and unsatisfied with the resolution to the point that I didn’t care about… What happened. I would have loved at least an update on the two other questers from book one but their story was done. As a result of these things I just didn’t feel for or care about Odd or Yarra at all, so a lot of the book with drawn out scenes featuring these two felt harder to get through.

That said, the setting was well done in places.  I did love the visuals of the Alfár housing, especially the multicolored windows and descriptions of their culture and dwellings.

The ending went from near catastrophe to more or less resolved, real quick, which was OK from a wrap up standpoint but The Warrior wasn’t nearly as light as The Coward to support the quick resolution.

One thing that was really missing was the POV of the new Reverend Mother – even one chapter would have sufficed but I felt like Britak was such a huge presence, then a hole appeared and the plot kept going without filling that leadership role!

I just ended up with a lot of mixed feelings and questions, like about Odd. And did the Vahli saga survive since the Medina saga was the one mentioned by the historian at the end? It also felt a little bare without the chapter lead excerpts than book one had.  I guess that chapter of Kell’s history closed but I missed the little tidbits.
(And this has nothing to do with my rating but those spine sizes, those spine sizes, those spine sizes, who did this)!!

Overall: if you read and enjoyed book one, I would recommend reading book two. I have seen interestingly mixed reviews on which book people prefer so I would definitely say try them both!

Thank you again to AR for my copies, all opinions are my own 


My review for The Coward 

Categories
Contemporary Fantasy Romance Young Adult

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Sandhya Menon, Evelyn Skye (ARC Review)

Thank you to Wednesday Books for the early digital copy of Three Kisses, One Midnight by *all those authors* lol!  I haven’t read anything by Skye or Menon but I love Chokshi as a YA author and was happy to grab a copy of this.

This is a young feeling YA with witchy & folklore elements, that hit me like a Halloween version of Cinderella.  Three friends are attending the town’s annual masquerade gala and are intent on finding true love prior to midnight.  It was a little silly but magical and cute overall, and I think that younger YA readers will enjoy the book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Three Kisses, One Midnight: A Novel
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Roshani Chokshi, Sandhya Menon, Evelyn Skye
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 08/30/22
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Rate & Recommend:  ⭐⭐⭐✨  for younger teen readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads: 

New York Times bestselling authors Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye, and Sandhya Menon craft a spellbinding novel about discovering the magic of true love on one fateful, magical night in Three Kisses, One Midnight.

The town of Moon Ridge was founded 400 years ago and everyone born and raised there knows the legend of the young woman who perished at the stroke of twelve that very same night, losing the life she was set to embark on with her dearest love. Every century since, one day a year, the Lady of Moon Ridge descends from the stars to walk among the townsfolk, conjuring an aura upon those willing to follow their hearts’ desires.

“To summon joy and love in another’s soul
For a connection that makes two people whole
For laughter and a smile that one can never miss
Sealed before midnight with a truehearted kiss.”

This year at Moon Ridge High, a group of friends known as The Coven will weave art, science, and magic during a masquerade ball unlike any other. Onny, True, and Ash believe everything is in alignment to bring them the affection, acceptance, and healing that can only come from romance—with a little help from Onny’s grandmother’s love potion.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. And as midnight approaches, The Coven learn that it will take more than a spell to recognize those who offer their love and to embrace all the magic that follows

The synopsis sounded a little not-my-style but I’ll read anything that Roshani Chokshi writes.  The first friend, Onny, has an insanely rich family and her parents host the Moon Ridge founding day gala every year.  Since it’s the 400th anniversary they are sparing no expense and creating the most magical, amazing celebration ever.

There was a good overall mood and setting, I would totally go to that masquerade.

I think the best part was also the most jarring part – Chokshi’s prose.  The other authors wrote the dialogue and stories, and then her lyrical and magic descriptions were tagged into paragraphs.   Text, Text, text, “and it was like *insert block of Chokshi prose*”.

I think they should have melded it together a little better somehow but it really did flow well overall.

Split into three sections, a section for each friend, we get to see how each teen embraces both the literal and figurative magic of the night.  I was surprised to enjoy the third story the most – True had an amazing personality and I feel like the authors gave us a rough idea of her at first, so I got to overcome my first impression of her as she also had her own struggles.  I liked her story the most too.

Each teen had a little adventure and I think True had the best one.  Each character was good though, I didn’t particularly dislike any character or segment.  Ash’s was slowest but interesting, Onny was insufferable and had to learn to look under the surface of people, and I already talked about True!

There are good youth friendly themes of being yourself, honoring family, accepting yourself and others, and others.

Overall, I’m pretty excited that these authors got together.  I do think some of the content isn’t quite as cute as they intended it to be, which is why I went with my neutral rating.  I do appreciate that they kept the main characters to kissing only. The characters tend to talk and text like 12 year olds and they are intended to be 17+! Like I said, I would recommend for the younger YA spectrum and also have no trouble giving this to a strong middle grader.

Thanks again to Wednesday Books for my advanced copy, all opinions are my own.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade

The Faceless Ones by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

I am going to keep the next Derek Landy reviews a little more vague since I try really hard not to put spoiler content here.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Faceless Ones
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant, #3
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2009
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ if you even remotely liked the first two books yes:

Audio: 7hours, 47 min from HarperCollins.  Narrated by Rupert Degas! I’m loving the audio experience.

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The third bone-breaking, belly-busting adventure in the series that puts the “funny” back in, um, funny series. That didn’t really work, did it?

If you’ve read the previous Skulduggery books then you know what the Faceless Ones are — and if you know what the Faceless Ones are, then you can probably take a wild guess that things in this book are going to get AWFULLY sticky for our skeletal hero and his young sidekick. If you haven’t read the previous Skulduggery books then what are you doing reading this? Go and read them right now, so that you know what all that stuff in the previous paragraph was about. Done? Good. So now you’re on tenterhooks too, desperately awaiting the answers to all your questions, and instead you’re going to have to wait to read the book. Sorry about that.

So I am now three books into my Skulduggery Pleasant audio binge and have no regrets. I think Landy finally hit his stride here in book three because The Faceless Ones is far, far better than the first two! Another action packed story with better writing, nonstop action, mature villains, and an engaging storyline with more depth now.

I think the humor got good reception in book one so he ended up overdoing it in book two. Here he finally hit a good balance. There was a great mix of humor and serious content, with an overall darker tone.

Similar to other middle grade / young reader series like HP, Landy is getting into tougher subject matter as his protagonist gets older. Valkyrie is (I think) 14 now. I like watching series grow up with their characters and I hope Landy continues this trend.

Continuing with the ever present theme of moral grayness, there’s a clear line between the good and bad guys in this one. The bad guys got more serious though and even the good guys are willing to get dirty.  There’s no happy ending, some significant character deaths, and the Dr is truly laying into Skulduggery for putting Valkyrie in danger.  At the end of the day she is literally just a child and I like that Landy isn’t letting Skulduggery off the hook so easily as a morally gray character wreaking havoc on a child’s life.

Throughout the book we get hints of dark times to come, concluding with a surprisingly bleak ending.

The only thing missing? I wish Landy would do more with Ireland as the setting! Why not engage the middle grade audience with Irish things! The book could take place in Chicago or Berlin or Vancouver for all we know except he keeps mentioning Dublin, and it seems like a terrible waste.

Overall this is by far my favorite of the series so far.  It stays age appropriate. Great audio too with Rupert Degas still narrating; he said he stays for the first four books so that’s exciting.  Definitely recommend for Middle-grade/YA


Here are a few favorite quotes!

“You don’t treat me like a child”

He smiled. “Of course I do, but you seem to have this ridiculous notion that being treated like a child means to be treated with less respect than an adult


I’m sophisticated, charming, suave and debonair, Professor. But I have never claimed to be civilized.


I will heal your wounds,” he said, “but I will not facilitate your battles.


My series reviews so far: 

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
  3. The Faceless Ones
Categories
Fantasy

The Coward by Stephen Aryan (Book Review)

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for hooking me up with a finished copy of The Coward by Stephen Aryan! The sequel, The Warrior, comes out August 9th and I’m excited to jump on the hype train for this duology before it ends!

That said, The Coward is a fast paced book with lower fantasy elements, good characters, decent world building, intricate plot, and a blessedly readable font size!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Coward
  • Series: Quest for Heroes #1
  • Author: Stephen Aryan
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, June 2021
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of epic quests told with a lighter hand

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

Who will take up the mantle and slay the evil in the Frozen North, saving all from death and destruction? Not Kell Kressia, he’s done his part…

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…

Oh Kell, aren’t you just a bucket of joy.  Let’s talk about him first. I appreciated the anxiety/PTSD element of the character and how the author showed that Kell wasn’t ok after his first trip to the North.  Many books throw heroes into quests and horrible situations without ever following up on the aftermath – so it was interesting to see that as a main plot point.  Despite ten years to rest and recover, the experience haunts Kell.  Would anyone ever want to be faced with that again? I enjoyed his redemption arc!

I liked the other characters too. Everyone in Kell’s party more or less volunteered for the mission. Each had their own mental and physical barriers to overcome and I enjoyed meeting the questing crew.  It might have been nice to go a little deeper into each character, although I predict that only one of them is going to end up in the next book.  The group worked and fought together well though, and there was enjoyable dialogue. Banter, not so much. 

One thing I noticed was that the characters tended to pair off to talk and even to fight, more than interacting as a group, and I would have liked to see a little more of that bigger group aspect.

The overall pace was fairly quick. Aryan didn’t spend a lot of time bogging us down with details.  The political plotting, religion, and lore were well described within reverend mother Britak’s chapters and that added a lot of depth to the world.  I liked her chapters, she was a crafty old bat! The old folks were pretty ruthless in this book,  between Britak and the old king that sent Kell on the quest – those two should have gotten right along. 

The book had fairly good worldbuilding too.  The religious lore ties into the plotline in more ways than one.  There’s also weather, terrain, food, local customs, and descriptions of buildings among other things that add to the setting. 

While parts of the book stayed pretty light, there was quite a bit of violence and darkness thrown in too.  The fact that Aryan skirted along without spending too much time on any one topic kept it from becoming too heavy.

 Where he really lost me was with his consistency at times – for example – in one chapter, a character’s leg becomes mangled.  Shortly after the character was up and running along full speed.  There is no way the characters could have accomplished so much with their injuries over such a short period of time.  I’m also a reader who reads out loud in my head as I go so that typos really throw me out of my reading rhythm.  For a third printing there were still a *lot*.  It’s not a huge issue overall but tended to throw me out of immersion.   Lastly, that slang! Some slang was like old English (Arse, cock, etc), although right at the start he was rife with the modern (fuck, shit) words.  

I won’t lie that the book got off to a rough start for me but did, very quickly, redeem itself.

Ending on a good note – once the book gets going, it really gets going.  I liked the battle scenes and emotional toll that kept the quest rolling forward.  There was one source of magic in the book – and without spoilers, let’s say that I enjoyed everything associated with the Lich’s castle.  I also hope to see more of the Alfár in the next book since they seem to be the “magical” race.

Overall – I enjoyed this book as an epic quest fantasy that isn’t as dense as others in the genre.  I would definitely recommend for fans of books with lower fantasy elements who aren’t counting on a super involved world build and magic system.  I think Kell become a real hero by the end of this book and I can’t wait to see how he handles the storm coming in the next installment.

Thanks again to AR for my finished copy, I hope to have a review for The Warrior coming in the next week!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal

Playing With Fire by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

Whewww I am getting burned out on writing reviews this month, thankfully I’m almost caught up!

As a “fun for all ages” middle grade read I like the Skulduggery Pleasant series quite a bit. Playing With Fire is a fast paced, snarky sequel that I jumped into right after finishing the first book.

Let’s get into it!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Playing With Fire
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #2
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, May 2008
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for fans of the first book! *Not a standalone*

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Skulduggery and Valkyrie are facing a new enemy: Baron Vengeous, who is determined to bring back the terrifying Faceless Ones and is crafting an army of evil to help him. Added to that, Vengeous is about to enlist a new ally (if he can raise it from the dead): the horrible Grotesquery, a very unlikable monster of legend.

Once Vengeous is on the loose, dead bodies and vampires start showing up all over Ireland. Now pretty much everybody is out to kill Valkyrie, and the daring detective duo faces its biggest challenge yet.

But what if the greatest threat to Valkyrie is just a little closer to home?

I have to admit the book became a bit repetitive after reading the first two back to back.  The audio was once again entertaining – and Rupert Degas said hi on Instagram so that was cool – but again, the music is also getting slightly less fun after hearing it so many times in short succession.

I want to keep reading but I’m going to space the next book or two out a bit.

Not to say it’s bad though. Playing With Fire had more one liners and banter and wit, plus we got a little more motivation from the individual “good guy” characters.  I liked seeing a little more of what keeps Skulduggery going, and how Valkyrie is regretting her time spent away from home too.

There were quite a few bad guys and henchmen in this one. I  couldn’t keep their names, abilities, affiliations straight, and that’s totally on me.  It didn’t detract too much and I loved the Billy Ray jokes.

The evil also felt a lot more cartoonish in this one, even for a middle-grade series. I did like the continuing theme of good vs bad vs gray zone though as the team navigated shifting alliances.

Overall: age appropriate, action packed, funny, and seriously grim at times. I can see these books being fun for all ages. There are a few gory horror elements but a strong middle grader would have no problem with these books.

I stuck with the audio as my Libby only has that available. Rupert Degas continues to delight and I’d definitely recommend that route if it is available.


Lastly, here are a few favorite quotes:

If you don’t see me in five minutes, then I’ve probably died a very brave and heroic death. Oh and don’t touch the radio–I’ve got it tuned right where I want it and I don’t want you messing that up.


‘Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight
‘And only a moron would bring a sword to a gunfight’


Bravery, after all, isn’t the absence of fear. Bravery is the acknowledgement and the conquering of fear

My Reviews of the series so far:

  1. Skulduggery Pleasant
  2. Playing With Fire
Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Burn by Patrick Ness (Book Roast)

I don’t like to waste a lot of time on books that I truly hate. It seems like a lot of my Bookstagram friends have this book on their list though so I’m going to run it down quickly.

I also said I would review everything I read for book bingo this month. Unfortunately.

Why? Because this book was just absolutely f*cking terrible. Thankfully Libby had the audio available and the narrator had a very pleasant voice, because I could not read one more page with my eyes

My actual thoughts:

The synopsis sounded amazing and it was off to a good start, like the first 50 pages was interesting. Then Ness took all these cool main ideas that he started and just dropped them for CONVENIENCE.

The main theme of the book was convenience. There was an alternate history ish cold war aspect that just ended … for convenience.

Ness killed everyone off then switched to alternate universe… for convenience.  What, can be not finish one idea that he starts?

Two teenage boys met conveniently at a camp ground and had insta love, and then there was way more intimacy than I want to see in a YA book. That was the only topic that stuck because apparently Ness writes queer fiction, except there was nothing to this relationship except that the boys happened to be at the same campground and took off together.

The prophecy girl wasn’t special at all, she was just the convenient person there to interfere with the sequence of events.  Literally convenience was the main topic and theme.

After like 6 days, I don’t even remember how the book ended.  I’m sure it was all very convenient. Additionally I don’t even know what the f*ck genre this was supposed to be, alternate history? Dystopia? The world build was so weak I didn’t expend the brain power to try to figure it out.

I give him two stars only because I did like one single theme of duplicity and prophecy that ran throughout the text.  Ness kind of had an interesting idea about how magic is created in a world but it was more weird than anything and not fleshed out.

I’m not even going to bother with the characters because they were all cardboard cutouts of whatever they were supposed to represent

To quote another reviewer named John Mechalas

“I have no idea who the audience is supposed to be. The dialog is so clunky and cringe-worthy that it’s too young for mature readers, but the surprisingly descriptive (and jarring) romance scenes are too adult for younger ones. The rest is just handled badly….. This thing is junk. Time-wasting junk. Life is too short. Read something else

Just … Really, really hard no thanks on this one

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Burn
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Patrick Ness
  • Publisher & Release: Quill Tree Books, June 2020
  • Length: 384
  • Rate & Recommend: 😵😵 no

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm…

Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.

The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.

Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring W.P. Wiles!

Welcome back to Sunday Brunch! Episode 24 features fantasy author W.P. Wiles, in conjunction with the online tour for his recently published novel The Last Blade Priest!

I really appreciate Angry Robot for letting me nag so many of their authors, and of course the authors for taking the time to interview!

Without further delay, let’s jump in!


🍳Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting fact about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?

🎤I very much wanted to call my daughter Halo, after the Alan Moore character Halo Jones, but my wife said that people would think I had named her after the computer game, and she was right.

🍳What would your brunch order be?

🎤Orange juice, black coffee, apricot danish, poached eggs on toast. 

🍳Everyone talks about tropes these days and The Last Blade Priest seems to be full of subverted tropes.  Were there one or two specific ones you went out trying to tackle ?

🎤When I first started writing, I thought it would be almost entirely from the point of view of Inar, a builder who is reluctantly employed as a guide by a party of rich, arrogant people from the League who want to survey a mountain pass that leads into a forbidden kingdom. So you’d have a fairly standard fantasy set up: a questing party of mismatched outsiders trying to penetrate this mysterious holy land, containing a magical mountain, facing perils and so on. But I quickly realized that I wanted more than a taste of this distant and decadent religion, I didn’t want to only present it from the outside, I wanted to spend time with it and in it. So you also get a perspective within the religion, among the scheming priests in their forbidden fastness – you get the quest from both sides. Another trope that I had fun with was the Elves, but maybe we’ll talk about them separately … 

🍳On the trope topic, do you have a least and most favorite one to read!

🎤I am a sucker for the Gothic, so I will always enjoy crumbling, isolated houses, forbidding ruins, dark ancestral secrets and all that jazz. It’s hard to name a least favourite because I think almost anything can be executed well, or at least given an interesting twist. Zombies have been done to death, though. Let’s have more ghouls, mummies, wraiths and skeletons instead. 

🍳I had to look up a ton of words used in TLBP to describe locations and building structures; most seemed rooted in old English. It felt authentic! Was the language used a conscious choice to set atmosphere/tone/setting or what brought you to your architectural descriptions?

🎤 Naturally an author doesn’t want the reader to have to go to the dictionary too often, and I hope you didn’t have to! But a little bit of unfamiliarity in the language helps give a world a sense of difference and that difference can help it feel real. I write about architecture in my day job so I guess that’s also a language I’m familiar with. 

🍳The book is pretty dense to start with –  names, places, titles, etc, did you have any thoughts about including an index or did you trust readers to stick around for the explanations later on?

🎤I hope that explanations follow new words or concepts pretty closely, even if they don’t happen at once! An author has to walk a line between two dangers. On the one side is the danger of confronting the reader with too many unexplained terms and concepts and leaving them struggling to understand what’s going on. On the other side is the danger of stopping to explain everything as it comes up, which slows everything down and can feel like an author showing off how much attention they gave to all the details and the world building. So you have to navigate between those perils. As a reader I don’t mind having to figure out some stuff for myself, and I find early exposition dumps a little dry, so maybe that’s the direction I tend to lean as a writer. But maybe a glossary would be a good idea for the future! 

 🍳I personally love world building and it was pretty intense in TLBP.  Lore, religion, tradition, text, there were so many factors.  Was there one part of the world you liked creating and embellishing the most or did it all come together as one piece?

🎤I did enjoy thinking about the architecture a great deal. I wanted it to be coherent across the various locations and cultures that appear. Some places build in timber because they don’t have ready access to stone, in other places it’s the other way round. The religious architecture of the Mountain worshippers bear traces of their history: they once built cairns for sky burial and human sacrifice, emulating their holy mountain, and when they got to building temples they made them faintly mountainous, with sloping sides, lit only from the top. But I would like to reassure any prospective readers that this is kept very much in the background! Some people enjoy inventing fantasy languages – I enjoyed creating a fantasy architectural tradition. 

🍳One other question I love to ask is – What idea or theme or visual came first for you in creating the novel?

🎤 A hidden religious kingdom and a holy mountain were probably the starting points. I am a keen armchair mountaineer. I love to read about mountain-climbing and the high places, the strangeness of glaciers, the almost mystical experiences brought on by altitude sickness. There is an astounding surrealist film by Alejandro Jodorowsky called The Holy Mountain, which I saw as a young man and it left a deep impression on me – it’s saturated with this very disturbing imagery, much of it religious. I think that probably planted a seed, long ago, although the book is very different.

🍳Elves as chaotic villains! I liked your recent short piece on Orcs as villains.  What prompted the choice for elves in this role?

🎤As I wrote in that little essay, Orcs are great antagonists, but they’re just antagonists. They can be a little one-dimensional. Meanwhile, I’ve long been tired of the haughty, cultured Elves we’re all familiar with. Their immortality made me think of a short story by Martin Amis called “The Immortals”, which is in Einstein’s Monsters. It’s about a group of immortal beings who have just watched civilisation get wiped out in a nuclear holocaust. But are they in fact immortal, or are they just delusional, traumatized survivors, slowly dying? I don’t want to give too much away about it, but what if Elves were less a race and more an altered state, and an extremely dangerous one? So they have pointy ears and a sense of overpowering superiority and they think they’re immortal, but … 

🍳One random bookish question – what’s your favorite fantasy novel?

🎤My favourite recent fantasy would have to be Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s a terrific novel, with vivid characters, an unforgettable gothic setting, intrigue, gore, well-executed magic, mysteries … everything, really. It’s also very funny. As for long-term favourites … Titus Groan meant a great deal to me, and the influence of Gormenghast castle can be felt in my own creation of the Brink. Also Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun

🍳Thanks so much for joining Sunday Brunch! If there’s anything you’d like to add or say about anything at all, please do so here!

🎤Thanks for having me! Don’t eat any strange mushrooms!


Meet the author:

W P Wiles was born in India in 1978. He is the author of three novels: the Betty Trask Award-winning Care of Wooden Floors (2012), The Way Inn (2014), and Plume (2019). When not writing novels, he writes about architecture, and he is a regular columnist for RIBA Journal. He lives in east London.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal Young Adult

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

When I polled my friends for their favorite books, one of my bookstagram buddies  responded that her whole family loves Skulduggery Pleasant!

It sounded a little silly. A middle grade novel with fantasy/horror/humor elements about a snarky skeletal detective. I have seen it recommended before and said ok why not, I could use a laugh!

The audiobook didn’t disappoint.  I absolutely loved it enough to put holds on the next few books.  I’m told that the series goes downhill and gets PC/political later on so I am a little bit wary, but plan on enjoying the books until it gets to that point!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Skulduggery Pleasant
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #1
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2007
  • Length: 400 pages:
  • Rate & Recommend: 4.5⭐  for fans of middle grade-YA. (Remember that I rate these books mainly off of age appropriateness and overall enjoyment)

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant

Ace Detective
Snappy Dresser
Razor–tongued Wit
Crackerjack Sorcerer and
Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton

—as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented twelve-year-old.

These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil.

The end of the world?

Over his dead body.

There are a lot of books bridging the Middlegrade to YA reading gap and this is one of them.  A mature 10 year old could read or listen to this, or an adult could find a few things to laugh at too.

It’s funny, very funny, and I think the narrator brought out the banter and personalities of the characters really well.  Some of the dialogue is clunky but for a debut novel I really liked the characters.

Stephanie didn’t seem to have a lot to be upset with in her life, but she is seeking adventure and finds it after her uncle dies and a skeleton in disguise shows up at the reading of his will.

Between Stephanie’s adventure sense and Skulduggery’s one liners and absolute lack of any idea of how to handle a 12 year old, they make quite a pair. I say again how much I love the banter and how awkward Skul could be

The book moves at an appropriately fast pace for middle grade fantasy. The fighting got a bit repetitive but the story moved quickly and I was absolutely not bored at all.  I think that 10-16 age group would devour this book

The biggest thing I noted that set this one apart from it’s genre peers is how dark it got at times.  Age appropriately dark, but still dark.  Where other books in this genre stay fairly light on tough themes, this went into grief and torture, betrayal and madness, among other things scattered between the jokes and lighter content.

I liked it for that contrast of light and dark, highlighting the gray zones and debating who the “good guys” are.  

Here are a small few of my favorite quotes:

I’m placing you under arrest for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and, I don’t know, possibly littering


A living skeleton isn’t enough for you, is it? What does it take to impress young people these days?


To betray is to act against, I just haven’t acted at all


Content wise – there’s very little language, I think he says “damn” once. There is no romantic content and the dark content stays pretty age appropriate which I love and find necessary in order to rate these books!  Any one liners targeted at adults are going to go straight over the little one’s heads, even I hardly caught them.

Overall: I would definitely recommend this as a fun, fast paced read or listen for anyone interested in middle grade/ early YA books

A quick note on the audio: approximately 7 hours, narrated by Rupert Degas.  I loved his accent so much and found it perfect for the text, characters, banter, etc. There’s music at the end of each chapter that set the mood for the next chapter, corny but fun. 100% going to listen to a few of these because I need a laugh in my life and if nothing else, I was laughing out loud for sure 😂

Categories
Fantasy

Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt (ARC Review)

Thank you so much to Angry Robot for the eARC of Silver Queendom via NetGalley! As always, all opinions are my own. This is a quick, fun heist book with minimal/low fantasy elements and a quintessentially snarky crew that I would definitely recommend for fans of the genre.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Silver Queendom
  • Series: n/a …. ?
  • Author: Dan Koboldt
  • Publisher & Release: Angry Robot, 08/23/22
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

When you owe money to the biggest criminal in town you are going to need to step up yourthieving game a notch…

Service at the Red Rooster Inn isn’t what you’d call “good,” or even “adequate.” Darin would be the first to say so, and he owns the place. Evie isn’t much of a barmaid; Kat’s home-brewed ale seems to grow less palatable with each new batch; and Seraphina’s service at the bar leaves much to be desired. As for the bouncer, Big Tom, well, everyone learns right quick to stay on his good side.

They may be bad at running an inn, but they’re the best team of con artists in the Old Queendom. When a prospective client approaches Darin with a high-paying job, he knows he should refuse. But the job is boosting a shipment of priceless imperial dream wine, the most coveted and expensive drink in the world. And, thanks to a stretch of bad luck, he’s in deep to The Dame, who oversees criminal enterprises in this part of the Queendom.

If they fail, they’re as good as dead, but if they succeed… well, it’s enough money to get square with the Dame and make all of their dreams come true. Plus, it’s an option for Darin to stick it to the empress, who he has good reason to despise.

Then again, there’s a very good reason no one has ever stolen imperial dream wine…

I like this one as a summer read because it had continually quick pacing with shorter chapters that let me feel like I was making progress. It’s on the lighter, more humorous side and was never boring!

I liked the metallurgy talent but the author could have done a lot more with it. It seems like there are at least one or two other magical abilities in the kingdom that could have been explored too, but I think the choice was made to keep this a relatively low fantasy. The ending certainly left space for future expansion so maybe we will see more in the future.

There’s a good cast of characters with some good banter and dialogue. I liked Tom, he was the stoic warrior with a soft interior type. Darin and Evie and Kat too, each had their own struggles and we saw their strengths. They were a likeable crew and easy to root for, but something was missing to fully flesh them out.  We saw glimpses of their pasts but I think I wanted a little more there. Kat also worked her way into the crew awful quickly, although she earned her place. Their personalities were revealed throughout the book but they themselves didn’t develop. That said, they worked together well and pulled off an amazing heist.

There was not one single character that I disliked, and the side characters did a lot for this one too. Lots of little surprises throughout the book with side characters!

The world build gave me enough to know what was going on.  On a micro level I liked how some cultural tidbits were thrown in like the red foaming mouths of the mercenary horses, the ale making, courier custom, old coins, definitely the rotating market, etc. Little things to make the world seem more real.

I also feel dumb but I don’t actually understand why the client wanted to have the wine stolen 😳, although the resolution was still satisfactory, and that is probably entirely on me, I just didn’t see what the point of it was.

I hope there’s a sequel so we can see the crew in action again!

Overall – it’s a fun, entertaining heist fantasy that I would definitely recommend. It stopped short of 5 stars but I fully enjoyed the book!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Bloodsworn by Scott Reintgen (Book Thoughts)

Hi all – coming at you today with a short and sweet post about Bloodsworn! Without further lollygagging, let’s talk about this book!

I liked Ashlords quite a bit, but didn’t love it. Bloodsworn matured a lot in both plot, world building, and character development, and I don’t hesitate to recommend the duology to YA fantasy fans at all.

Plus – omg the cover artwork, right?

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Bloodsworn
  • Series: Ashlords #2
  • Author: Scott Reintgen
  • Publisher & Release: Crown Books for Young Readers, February 2021
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon: 

Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.

The Races are over. War has begun.

Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.

Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.

Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?

All the characters from book one – Imelda, Pippa, Adrian, plus Quinn and now the gods, are back in a big way in Bloodsworn.

 I loved meeting the gods! Each had an interesting domain, abilities, “hobbies”. Seeing the other realm was cool too and I liked how Reintgen broadened the scope so much without letting the plot get away from him.

The lore was well done and I never saw the big plot twists coming at all.  Kind of hard to talk without spoiling but when the four characters (races) discover their history and team up against the gods…

…I loved the teamwork.  Overcoming racial differences and doing what is RIGHT, vs just continuing what past generations did, is a great theme for teens and this ties massively into the character growth shown here in book two.

Pippa and Adrian and Imelda might be sons and daughters of political leaders but they really step up and find their own future now.

Reintgen upped the emotional states a bit too with a few well placed side character deaths – I actually like when YA authors do this because war is not pleasant, nor should it be described as such.  I think he captured a lot of wartime atmosphere and ethical concerns well

It was cool to see the new phoenix rebirths and learn some of the ancient alchemy practices too.  I wish Reintgen had packed in more horsie related Phoenix things and alchemy related trick riding, but I have no real gripes about this book.

The end was a little corny but it packed a lot of emotional appeal.  Each of the three main characters obtained major victories and resolution. I was happy with how much each character came into their own and found some happiness going forward.  

Spoiler free ** regarding the “corny” ending – I have learned with YA books that I’m going to eye roll at a lot of endings, and I don’t dock for it anymore.  Teens eat this stuff up and because the language and broader content of the book is appropriate for the age group, I dropped 5 stars with no hesitation

Highly recommend for YA fantasy fans. If you are even vaguely interested after book one, keep reading!

** Quick note on the audio – the crew is back. Rebecca Soler, Andrew Eiden, Lauren Foftgang are back and deliver a decent narration. I think Eiden stepped into the Aiden character a little better than he did in book one and overall I enjoyed listening. About 10 hours, 41 minutes from Listening Library!