Categories
audiobooks Crime Mysteries

Cold Mourning (Audio & Book Review) by Brenda Chapman

I was looking for something like a police procedural, and was drawn to Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman because I recognized the audio narrator as an actress / producer / director who also had a cameo in one of my favorite movies ever – Smoke Signals.

Unfortunately, despite the premise and excitement, Michelle St. John ruined the book for me. I can appreciate her native storytelling cadence but maybe one needs an ear for it? She mostly monotoned with little to no inflection, emotion, voice changes, sentence breaks, and she gasped loudly and frequently. I rarely dnf an audio but it was just too hard to listen to.

About the book:

  • Title: Cold Mourning
  • Series: Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery, #1
  • Author: Brenda Chapman
  • Publisher & Release: Dundurn Press – March, 2014
  • Length: 392 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟✨ for fans of police procedurals and those looking for Indigenous characters.  The Audio might be a good experience to hear a native voice

Audio: approximately 9 hours, narrated by Michelle St. John

Description:

When murder stalks a family over Christmas, Kala Stonechild trusts her intuition to get results.

It’s a week before Christmas when wealthy businessman Tom Underwood disappears into thin air ― with more than enough people wanting him dead.

New police recruit Kala Stonechild, who has left her northern Ontario detachment to join a specialized Ottawa crime unit, is tasked with returning Underwood home in time for the holidays. Stonechild, who is from a First Nations reserve, is a lone wolf who is used to surviving on her wits. Her new boss, Detective Jacques Rouleau, has his hands full controlling her, his team, and an investigation that keeps threatening to go off track.

Old betrayals and complicated family relationships brutally collide when love turns to hate and murder stalks a family.

It could have been residual boredom but the book didn’t quite do it for me either, although the series 100% definitely has potential. Kala Stonechild is a First Nations detective on a reservation in northern Canada, and she moves to Ottawa to try her hand in a major crimes unit. While there she looks for an old friend. I don’t read many books set in Canada either and I did like how the cold climate factored into the story.

The crime & mystery was a decent story, and Kala had to navigate the boy’s club detective force and follow her instincts, despite being picked on and dealing with racism. The major giveaways of the case were much more luck than skill, although I think the point was to introduce Kala and Rouleau more than set them apart as amazing detectives.

They felt more like real people with real failures.

Some story lines were not relevant to the central plot and others were just poorly presented, like it took forever to figure out who Stonechild was searching for in Ottawa, and I never understood the whole Jordan thing back home.

Overall- I would like to read another in the series to see how Chapman improves, and how the detectives get on together

Audio: DNF / 1 star

Book: 3🌟

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Wolf Pack (ARC Review) by Mary Beesley!

Thank you so much to Monster Ivy Publishing for the ARC of Wolf Pack by Mary Beesley! The merch is lovely too!

This author has written four books now, and each one has had me hooked whether she is writing YA fantasy, romance, or adult fantasy.  Something about the themes that Beesley explores and her writing style has made her a favorite of mine, and Wolf Pack definitely reinforces that

My review of Book 1, Dragon Blood, can be found here 

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wolf Pack
  • Series: Draco Sang #2
  • Author: Mary Beesley
  • Publisher & Release: Monster Ivy Publishing, 11/02/21 
  • Length: 312 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🐺🐺🐺🐺🐺 oh yes

Here is the synopsis:

Ferth has lost his only brother. Gone are his fur and claws. Hunted by his father, he seeks protection among his former enemies. Even with his familiar face, it’s a struggle to hide his wolves and his Draco sympathies from the humans.

Shale finds more than freedom in Elysium. She finds family. She has great hope for a bright future, but the Draco Sang army across the river is determined to take it all away. And the humans don’t have the power to stop them.

Thirro, a Draco Sang eagle, is desperate to prove his worth to his army chief. He’ll do anything for recognition, including hunt Ferth, his old best friend turned abomination, or take down Jade, his competition.

Jade has succeeded in life by striking first and fast. Show no weakness. She rises quickly through the ranks of the Draco Sang, but when she’s sent to hunt humans with Thirro, including a mission to kill Ferth, it isn’t so easy to let her arrow fly. And she isn’t so sure she has the right target in sight.


This lovely sequel to Dragon Blood takes place right where it left off. Where many trilogies suffer a second book slump, I think Wolf Pack was actually more engaging, easier to relate to, and at least as good, if not better than Dragon Blood.

Cultures clash, instincts are fought, and loyalties blur in this exciting sequel! 

Watching Ferth learn how to be human and find his new family was a stark contrast to the bloody battle scenes and Thirro’s madness. The two characters carried on the series’ theme of how much one’s blood and upbringing is responsible for their true selves. It was interesting to see what dark roads and moral ambiguities most of the characters navigated as they had to weigh their loyalties and choices. One other thing I have to mention are the wolves – their banter is EVERYTHING!

I mean really, it was so heartbreaking to see Cal and Lyko separated, and watching him start to rebound and form a bond with Rom was a highlight of the book.  Their banter was pretty epic, as was the family reunion.

I was floored by all the action as well. Wolf Pack containes more politicking and maneuvering and planning, which makes sense leading up to the conclusion, but the action and danger was there too.

A few new characters were introduced as well and they are providing an interesting base for book three.  Imanna could go in many directions and I loved her tiny and deadly self.

Beesley is never afraid to make our hearts hurt either, both books have ended in deaths and cliffhangers that had me wishing the next book was ready.

I 100% recommend the Draco Sang trilogy for any fantasy fans, fans of found families, clean fiction, and anyone looking for an exciting read!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror Paranormal

The Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring A.J. Vrana!

Welcome to the special Halloween edition of the Sunday Brunch Series!! I was so excited to see Halloween falling on a Sunday this year.  After an absolutely incredible month of GrimDarkTober interviews, it is coming to an end with an amazing feature… Presenting my first traditionally published author – dark fantasy & horror writer A.J. Vrana!!

I “met” A.J. on bookstagram after participating in a tour for her first book, The Hollow Gods, and at this point am honored to say I consider her a booksta friend!

Happy Halloween everyone, here she is!


🎃Welcome and thank you so much for coming onto the Halloween edition of the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life?

🎤Hello! I feel like my online bio is more eloquent than I am, but here it goes: My name is A. J. Vrana, and I’m the author of The Chaos Cycle Duology, which is comprised of The Hollow Gods and The Echoed Realm. They’re folklore-infused, contemporary dark fantasy with horror undertones and a romantic subplot. I also penned the short supernatural horror story, These Silent Walls, which is published in Three Crows Magazine. Outside of my literary life, I’m also a PhD candidate researching the supernatural in literature and its relationship to violence, and I have two magical rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter. 

🎃That’s a fascinating topic for research! Especially in book one, the interest in violence, legends, and sociological/group aspects was evident. How did that research translate into or influence The Chaos Cycle?

🎤I actually think that it might be the other way around: my fiction influences my academic writing more than my academic writing influences my fiction. That said, they are mutually reinforcing, and I think that ultimately, they might just be part of the same project.

To be a little more specific, my research focuses on Japan and former-Yugoslavia, with my personal background being with the latter. I was always interested in the supernatural, and through my research, I’ve found that it functions as an excellent metaphor for trauma, violence, and all the horrible things that we maybe can’t do justice to through plain, clinical expression. Further to that, the relationship between truth and fact is something that I have always been intrigued by. I research a lot of folklore, and folklore has always been a way of approaching and understanding the world. It’s a system of knowledge, and it can be very useful! There is truth to it even when it is just a story, because often, those stories are produced from generations of lived experience.  

I also think a LOT of my own experiences are in the novels, but they’re all written in through metaphor and allegory. I really struggle with explicit #ownvoices stories because it feels like there is no barrier between the reader and the writer. It’s too vulnerable. However, using the supernatural to talk about communal violence is a productive way to explore themes in my own life. I’ve never been kidnapped by spirits or anything, but I do think there is a relationship between Miya’s existential ruminations, Kai’s alienation from society, and my diasporic experience. Also, having grown up being adjacent to civil war, there is something about the way Black Hollow functions that echoes that experience of mine as well. Violence against the outsider is such a common theme, but I wanted to give it the kind of intimacy that can really unsettle. And what could be more intimate and unsettling than having a folkloric creature invade your dreams and become the reason your whole community turns against you?

🎃I was sometimes a little confused during book one, and then book two was just incredible and I loved how you brought the legend to life via the history.  What do you think was the biggest growth factor for you as an author between the two books?

🎤There was about a five-year gap between the writing of the first draft of each book, so I definitely grew as a person and as an author, though I don’t think that’s what impacted the clarity of the story so much as it impacted the way I delivered my themes. When I wrote the first book, I was in a phase in my life where I was grappling with a lot of intellectual ambiguity, and so ambiguity became a huge theme that permeated the story. I actually intended the first book to be rather hazy, because one of the central points is that there are no simple truths and that we can’t always get clear cut answers to our bigger questions. Was the town’s violence the result of groupthink and repressed generational guilt, or was it due to the influence of a malevolent entity? The story doesn’t give you an answer; both possibilities are true and inseparable from one another. Likewise, the way we weave social narratives is diffuse and confusing; you can’t always locate the logical progression that led to a belief system or social truth. The fabric of real-world narratives is often incoherent and full of contradictions, and I wanted to capture some of that incoherence in the structure and narrative style of the book. That said, I was also far less confident when I wrote The Hollow Gods; I shied away from being direct about my themes, and when you are a new writer trying to get traditionally published, it can be difficult to feel assured in your approach. I also had no idea how to outline! To a large extent, I was flying by the seat of my pants, and I had to do a lot of editing and rewriting as a result. 

However, The Echoed Realm was a very different process. It took me much longer to write the first draft, but it was such a strong first draft that the editorial process only took several months (THG’s editorial process took years, hence the five year gap!). I went into The Echoed Realm with a much firmer idea of what I wanted to do, and so I think the book is much more confident and direct about some of its themes. I feel like it also reflects my personality better; there is, I think, an intensity to The Echoed Realm that wasn’t present in The Hollow Gods, and that has a lot to do with me feeling like I have laid the groundwork to really be myself as a writer. This also reflects the characters’ growth between books; they are not the same people they were in The Hollow Gods. They’re not experiencing their world for the first time! I also did lean into commercial fiction a lot more for the second book, whereas the first book veers a bit towards the obscure. All that said, I think the success of The Echoed Realm largely hinges on the work The Hollow Gods did to establish a strong foundation. The first book does a lot of heavy lifting with world building, lore, and characterization so that the second book can really showcase what the duology had been building up to all along.  

🎃What do you think is the most important part of capturing a consistent atmosphere?

🎤This might sound weird, but I think the most important thing is to actually decide on what kind of atmosphere you want and to pay very close attention to word choice and language. Atmosphere (for me anyway) is a matter of focus. It’s kind of like maintaining a character’s voice throughout the book; you need be consistent not just with imagery and descriptions, but with the specific word choices that make up each image, because word choice can help evoke a particular tone or emotion. Atmosphere suffers when writers reach for the easiest or most obvious word. Readers don’t consciously pick up on word choice, but it does impact them because we all make subconscious associations without even realizing it. So, if I say, “Thunder rolled through the grey sky,” it sounds quite plain compared to, “The sky churned with a menacing rumble.” Both sentences are almost the same length, but the second one uses a stronger verb (one that evokes sickness or unease) and transforms something commonplace (thunder) into something with character (a menacing rumble). Ultimately, these are the things that make up atmosphere. 

🎃What makes a good morally gray character?

🎤I think this is a really interesting question, because in reality, we are all morally grey. No one has a rigid or unchanging moral compass; we are all reacting to our circumstances and trying to navigate the world in all its complexity. The world is morally grey at best (or completely bankrupt at worst), and so we are all inevitably morally grey. But, to answer your question, I think that good morally grey characters are the ones that invite us to reflect on the moral ambiguity in ourselves. Their reactions, attitudes, and choices have to make sense for their character regardless of our moral expectations, and even if we recognize that their actions are morally questionable, we an approach those reactions with a degree of compassion. 

So, for example, it’s not that Kai lacks a conscience or acts out of wanton malice. He is simply responding to his circumstances in the only ways to know how to, and that is all informed by his personal history and his position as a socially marginalized person. But I think most people who read the books don’t judge him to be a bad person, so that particular confluence of indictable behaviour and compassion help us produce a more nuanced understanding of ourselves and others. Morally grey characters may do something that is morally reprehensible, but in context, that behaviour might seem reasonable, and that forces us to reckon with the expectations we have for moral behaviour. I also think this is why Mason is the character I personally find the most frustrating. He’s someone who fancies himself to be morally upright, but he behaves in ways that are subtly quite selfish, and ultimately, it’s his confrontation with Kai and Miya that brings all that to the fore.

🎃Is it hard to write your characters into those tough, destructive, near deadly scenes that Grimdark requires?  Are you a true lady of chaos or does it take an emotional toll?

🎤Full disclosure: when I first wrote The Echoed Realm, Kai lost an arm. My editor made me change it, though, and in hindsight, I’m happy he got to keep it. I think when I’m writing it, I’m not really impacted by these tough scenes, but sometimes I’ll come away, like, “Wow, that was kind of intense.” I wouldn’t say it takes an emotional toll, though. On the contrary, I think it can be quite cathartic and invigorating to write out a very intense scene in which all the characters’ emotions are running at eleven and a half. In some instances, the whole book is culminating to that moment, so it’s exciting to finally let shit hit the fan, you know? I guess that makes me a true lady of chaos…

🎃Seeing as it’s halloween! If you’ve ever worn a Halloween costume, what was your favorite? Bonus points if you have a picture!

🎤Oh gosh, I don’t remember the last time I dressed up—I’m so lazy! As a kid, though, my two favourite costumes were a witch and a ninja. I don’t have any photos from that era, but I have this monstrosity

Screenshot_20211031-120717

🎃How do you feel about brunch? Do you have a favorite brunch food?

🎤I adore brunch, and it’s one thing Canada sucks at. When my partner took me to his hometown in the US, I nearly died eating biscuits and gravy every day. That said, I do love just a basic brunch of fried eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast. If I can get a single banana pancake on the side, then we’re golden.

🎃Ama – I am just dying for any tidbit that hints at Ama’s story. I think I missed who she was in the original story.  Can you tell us anything extra about her??

🎤I actually have a whole book planned for Ama! Her backstory is still definitely a mystery. All you really know is that she’s been with Gavran for a long time and that he more or less raised her. She’s obviously very dedicated to anything Gavran cares about, and she is strongly attached to Miya both because of Gavran but also because she genuinely cares for her. Regarding the first book, **spoiler here** Ama is the wolf that Miya originally sees as a child, and this encounter becomes the thing Miya latches on to and hopes for throughout her youth and into had adulthood. Of course, the next time she encounters a wolf, it’s not Ama, but Kai. 

What I can tell you is that Ama’s becoming a wolf is not quite the same as Kai’s, though there are similarities too. Neither of them are werewolves in the contemporary sense; their condition follows the wonky rules of folklore rather than what we get in genres like urban fantasy. In Kai’s case, it’s “spiritually inherited” from Sendoa, though his parents were also like him. Kai’s history is also a bit of a shadowy thing, so there is a lot about his past left unexplored by the end of the duology. Ama, however, was not actually born a wolf as Kai was, and if you go to my website, click on Vignettes, and then on “The Weaver,” you’ll find some short stories exploring bits of Ama’s past ;). 

{{Done!! Can’t wait for that book!!}}

Now that The Chaos Cycle duology is completed, can you give us any hints as to what’s coming next? A WIP?

🎤I am currently working on a supernatural horror novel! I can’t say much about the project right now, but it does feature a small Appalachian town in rural Pennsylvania, an unreliable narrator, creepy, supernatural melodies, and murder. It’s been slow going, but I’m just about 40-50% through the first draft. I also have been fleshing out the world of The Chaos Cycle on my Patreon and plan on writing a standalone that takes place after the duology. It will focus on Miya, Kai, Ama, and Crowbar, and it will not be related to the major plot of the duology, though I do plan on exploring Kai’s history quite extensively in that book!

🎃Here is the round of easy rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Strange and wonderful bookish habits?

🎤Uhh, here goes:

  • The Winternight Trilogy by Catherine Arden!
  • I am blanking so hard on this. Let’s say Dorian Grey. 
  • I’m pretty boring, but I need to read in complete silence, or I get very crabby. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview!! A.J. wanted to tell you guys that the special hardcover editions of The Chaos Cycle duology just released, so definitely check those out!!

Here is an Instagram post with all the info, plus you can find her website at

https://thechaoscycle.com/

There are additional links here!

https://direct.me/ajvrana

Categories
Adventure Fantasy Young Adult

Crossbones (ARC Review) by Kimberly Vale

Thank you so much to Bookish First for the digital ARC of Crossbones! I claimed this one using my points, and all thoughts are my own.

I have not read a Wattpad book before. I own White Stag by Kara Barbieri but never got there – I’m curious to see if the quality of writing is similar, aka decent but falling a bit flat from what I’d expect. I’ll call this ‘the Wattpad stigma’ because it seems to be a real thing

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Crossbones
  • Series: Kingdom of Bones Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Kimberly Vale
  • Publisher & Release: 10/05/21, Wattpad Books
  • Length: 376 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🗡🗡🗡 Idk probably for Cinderella vs Pirate fans

Here is the synopsis:

Never trust a pirate.

The Blood Bell tolls, marking the death of the pirate king and the start of the Trials―a heart-stopping competition where the reward is the Bone Crown. Only one contender can claim the coveted island throne; each will gamble life and limb to win.

Captain. Sister. Maiden.
Csilla Abado yearns to prove her strength to the seasoned pirates who balk at her youth and to her elder sister who has always craved Csilla’s captainship. She will risk everything to become the first pirate queen, no matter the cost.

Dealer. Son. Legacy.
Kane Blackwater wants to leave behind the dirty gold and shady trades he’s made to keep his father’s ship, the Iron Jewel, alive. The Trials represent a new beginning―yet rumors of a secret heir are swirling, threatening his hopes of becoming the pirate king.

Stowaway. Daughter. Storm.
Lorelei Penny longs for nothing more than to avenge her mother’s death. Stowing away on the Iron Jewel was supposed to get her closer to the killer, but instead she finds herself caught up in the deadly battle where loyalty and desire collide.

Csilla. Kane. Lorelei. Each on a mission. The sea, however, has other plans. Dark tides are rising, and if they aren’t careful, they’ll surely drown.

You guys know that I will do anything for a good pirate story.   Now that I’m aware that this is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, I’m much more confident in my 🌟🌟🌟 rating

If it’s going to kick off a trilogy, I would expect much more in-depth world and character building, more lore, more everything.   The characters don’t need to rush from thing to thing and the author can take time to build relationships and such

The characters are a good lot but they don’t make great pirates.  They do say time and time again that they are meant to protect their homeland more than be ruthless brigands, but they seem more like YA cinnamon rolls than pirates.

Yes they have their ruthless streaks but they came together fairly easily in an alliance.  Are we just going to drop all of the terrible things that Kane has done?  What about Rove?  I want details!

There was a good foundation to the world building, but I want more on the entire Incendia vs Cerulia conflict.  More lore too, the gods and goddesses are an interesting basis but it all just wasn’t quite enough for me.

The trials seemed a bit anticlimactic too, plus for all of the times that it was said there were only 4 map pieces and each captain would get a piece – there were 5 captains.  

There were definitely positive aspects like the magic, I love when innate magic is attached to bloodlines or kingdoms.  I just felt like the whole book was skimming over the surface when, again for the start of a trilogy, there should be more depth.

The Scilla vs Rhoda thing was the most real relationship in the whole book for me, what a terrible betrayal by her sister.  The other relationships seemed fluffed together quickly.

I don’t know how to describe it either, but I just didn’t think the characters… Felt like pirates.  Rove and Kane did at least at the start, but Flynn definitely didn’t.  Neither did Scilla really, I needed more time at sea to show … pirating. 

I might give it one more book but I don’t know.  The ending felt more like Cinderella than pirates, and there are a ton of phenomenal pirate books out there right now

Once again thank you to Bookish First and Wattpad Books for the digital ARC!

Categories
Fantasy

Song of Echoes (book review) by R.E. Palmer

I am reading a ton of self published fantasy this fall, thanks to some amazing indie authors that have reached out about their books. One such author was R.E. Palmer!

Song of Echoes reads like a classic fantasy. I’ve been in a huge slump recently toward all the character driven drivel and romance in new fantasy books. This book presented it’s world and told a story, one with inherent magic and two very different character points of view that don’t interact. It’s kind of what I love about self published work

Overall it was not perfect, but interesting and refreshing

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Song of Echoes
  • Series: Song of Echoes, #1
  • Author: R.E. Palmer
  • Publisher & Release: FrontRunner Publications, 07/05/21
  • Length: 434 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for classic, adult fantasy fans

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

All that has gone before is woven into the Song; joy, sorrow; kind acts and cruel acts; creation and destruction. Past, present, and what has yet to come, make themselves known — if you know how to listen.

For three hundred years, the people of the Five Realms have lived in relative peace, protected by their great leader, the Archon. Yet, far to the north, in the frozen lands beyond the Draegalen Trench, the Ruuk stir, driven by a rising evil, long believed banished from the world. But rumors questioning the Archon’s ability to defend the realms once more, persist.

Elodi, the Lady Harlyn, uneasy in her new role following the death of her father, and Toryn, a farmworker and outsider in his village, must discover a way to fight an enemy that all but defeated their ancestors.

The story starts with a legend, and then throws a lot of places and names and lore at the reader.  It didn’t take long to figure out what areas were important to remember though, and once the story got started with Toryn and Elodi it was hard to put down.  Who would know that maybe those old legends are true?

The world has inherent magic, but it isn’t really elaborated on or discussed at all until towards the end.  There is also workable magic, presented as a handful of feared sorcerers with inherent abilities.  The source is hinted at but will be further explored in later books.

The world seems like a geographically diverse continent, with forests and mountains and everything in between.  I did like how the setting of each area shaped the characters and their personalities, as they should. 

Elodi is the newish leader of her realm, gathered at the Archon’s keep with the other Lords to inspect the realms defenses.  Toryn is a farmer, dying to see beyond the gates of his home region but unable to due to restrictions placed by the Archon on travel.

As we learn more about the politics, dangers, and impending war of the realm, everything starts to make sense and fall into place.  There are multiple dangers to each border but the Archon is obsessed with only one enemy, totally ready to leave the rest of the realm to fend for itself on extremely limited men and resources.

I really ended up liking Elodi, she was brave as hell at the end and a credit to her title, leading her knights.  Toryn had less of an impressive story arc but set himself up to be a bigger player in the next book.  I actually liked that the storylines didn’t intersect, it’s a nice change from every author just shoving romance down my throat for the sake of it.

There are a lot of really good side characters too and Palmer doesn’t hold back from inserting some tragedy into the pages. There are some tough siege and battle scenes.

I think the physical descriptions and setting were my favorite aspect.  The mountains and bridges form some amazing natural defenses, and everything sounds so majestic.  Without being repetitive, Palmer brings each area and vista to life.

Theme wise … Honor, veteran pride, loyalty, found family, and the value in stories, are some of my favorites.

I think the down side was that the book got off to a slow start.  It does take a bit to figure out who is who, who is important, and what regions we need to remember, but I think it’s worth it.  I would have liked more from the inherent magic.  I will definitely be keeping an eye out for book 2!


Shout out to the cover artist as well –  Kentaro Kanamoto does some amazing fantasy artwork! http://www.kentarokanamoto.com/

Find the book online!

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58145883-song-of-echoes

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B095XQ9VQ
Website: www.frontrunnerbooks.com

 

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Earth On Fire, Ocean of Blood (book thoughts) by A4

I was so excited when the fourth Far Forest Scrolls book released! I read it this October and figured that since I’ve been diligently reading from the start, I would post my spoiler free book thoughts.

There may be series spoilers – I think and hope not but it’s hard after four books to remember 😂

Series recap and reviews:

Na Cearcaill – 🗡🗡🗡🗡

Hourglass of Destruction – 🗡🗡🗡🗡

Rise Above the Storm – 🗡🗡🗡🗡🗡

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Earth on Fire, Ocean of Blood
  • Series: Far Forest Scrolls, #4
  • Author: A4 – Alpha Four
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 09/07/21
  • Length: 481 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ I’m in for the series at this point, I do think it’s good for advanced young readers 

Here is the book blurb:

Pushed into civil war, the nations of Verngaurd descend into a series of devastating and fatal battles that leave the ground bloodied and in flames. Will Friar Pallium’s years of planning be enough to overcome the considerably larger army of nations arrayed against them? With an elaborate series of feints and ambushes planned, the only assured outcome is substantial death on both sides. With the Allies and the Confederacy focused on fighting each other, the Dark Warriors are all too happy to move in and conquer territory.

When the trials of their odyssey are finally revealed the League quickly discovers it will be longer, more strenuous, and infinitely more dangerous than they could have imaged. Bellae will have to face eccentric guardians of uncertain motives while struggling with the devastating loss of one of her companions—and her part to play in his tragic death.  

I like the concept, storyline, presentation, and artwork of these books so much.  What I’m struggling with is who to recommend them to, and also the pacing of the series as a whole.

The best line of this fourth installment was Bellae and the League of Truth – they finally started their quest and got so far as to find two sets of crystals.  The issue: it took four books to get here.  I get that it’s a slow burning series and epic quest, but I’m struggling with how long it took to get them here.

The guardians and the quest itself is awesome though.  Bellae is starting to crack a bit under the tragedy and pressure.  It’s truly unfortunate that she had to do this at her age since the quest was never intended for a child.  The other squires are such a good team and I like the other league members too.

Oh Crann, why though 😭

The other storyline was the beginning of the civil war – it was brilliantly thought out, including maps, but I honestly just tuned out at the length of the battle scenes.  The traps and prestidigitation were amazing and incredibly well thought out – but again, half of the entire book only covered the start of the war, and only a few encounters.  The cliffhanger though 😭

J think Luchar stole the whole book at the end with his diatribe prior to the final battle.  I think he secretly became my favorite knight and I’m just blown away by the depth he has hidden the whole time.  Half crushed or not, he’s joining that final battle.

Speaking of depth: I think this fourth book had the broadest emotional spectrum yet.  Oh I have both cracked up laughing and been absolutely bawling at points throughout the other books, but this one went straight to the dark pit of the Eaglian’s souls with black humor about Tallcon, death, and religious fanaticism, to the point that I found some of the exchanges truly terrifying.

So what do I think overall? These books are more about the journey than the speed. About the pearls of wisdom and range of emotions, and the author taking his time to get the story where he wants it to be.  It’s truly an indie project and I bet a labor of love, including the continuation of all the wonderful artwork in the book. 

This one still stays clear of language and romance, but continues with gore gore and gore in the war scenes.  It’s almost cartoonist at times but I still would strictly say 14+ with these and probably try them for boys trying to find fantasy books.

Lastly: I am just going to throw some of my favorite quotes here at the end!

Dreams, which can seem so hardy, even sturdy, within the fortified confines of our skull, acutely become fragile and vulnerable when exposed to the outside world. Each time we fight to achieve a dream, we uncover part of our heart. It takes courage to reveal a dream and diligent fortitude to achieve it

– Veneficus

 

At the end of the day, even those of us who have never fought in a war have battle scars, visible and invisible, repressed and haunting, external and internal, public and confidential. Regrets can cling to our souls like invasive dew

– a scroll

 

“When you’re fighting the wrong war, there can be no victory, no matter the outcome.”

-Friar

 

“In life, and on this quest, do not lose sight of the importance of the journey itself. Concentrate on your heart and dedicated effort. Those are the things you can control. Isn’t your best all that you, and the world, can ask?”

– Patuljak

 

“Just because I don’t worship your god does not mean that I have a lesser conviction, or right, to victory”

– Friar

And … Lastly:

“Even as the clouds of confusion rumble and turn black, I stand. I stand in front of uncertainty and scream, ‘I will know you.’ I will fight to know you. As long as I have breath, I will never let doubt or fear win. As long as I can move even one part of my body, I will fight, tear, and claw for Knight victory. When I heave my last breath, I leave no regrets.”

– someone I really hope survives 


Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Horror

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring Lee Conley!

Welcome back to GrimDarkTober month on the SBAIS! For episode 10 this week, fantasy/horror/Grimdark author Lee Conley was nice enough to take the time to interview!  

Now I feel bad for asking if he is heartless, but he took it like a champ and talked about what it takes to present a grim, realistic, immersive fantasy world, and what makes a great fantasy in general.  

Enough from me, here he is!


Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your literary life!

Hello, great to be here. I am Lee, author of The Dead Sagas series. I am from the UK and work as a professional guitarist by day, and write things by night. I’m also very passionate about the study of history and am a longsword and medieval martial arts instructor, which means I get to fight with actual swords with full contact, which is amazing fun.

When I’m not doing that I am part of a small team that runs Bard of the Isles Literary Magazine, which represents and showcases work from our British and Irish Writing Community group. My own writing is usually a weird blend of horror and grimdark fantasy which is basically what you will get from The Dead Sagas.

1) After reading A Ritual of Flesh, I have to get the elephant out of the room first – are you heartless or a lord of chaos?

I could be heartless when it comes to my characters I suppose, but I think I’d prefer to go with Lord of Chaos, as there is certainly the element of pure chaos in the events unfolding in my books that I try to capture and put down on the page. But hear me out, there is reason behind it all, not just mindless chaos. I am all too aware that life is a fragile thing, people die, sometimes important ones, sometimes pointlessly. I try to give a sense of that in my books, the feeling that absolutely no-one is safe or has invincible plot-armour. I think a large unfolding story is made up of many parts rather than a handful of central invincible characters (I usually find that quite boring to read), so I try to show the bravery and courage (or lack of) of those playing those parts even if it leads to their unexpected demise. Perhaps that makes me heartless? But it does lead to unpredictable, unexpected reading hopefully. I did really enjoy the utter chaos that the combination of the Cursed and the Dead bring to the novels, there’s so much sheer horror to play with there, and its really great fun to write.

2) Is there a character in The Dead Sagas that you either wrote yourself into or relate to the most? 

I think all the characters have part of the writer in them to some degree. You have to tap into their, and thus your own, emotions to portray them and show their hopes and fears. I think a lot of the characters have a lot of heart, and to show those qualities I put them through some very traumatic experiences, experiences I have not had, and would not want to have, but can only imagine. I sit and think what it would be like to go through that, what would I think, feel or do if I were in their shoes, so in that respect those reactions are part of me I suppose. There is no single character that I wrote to be me though, I really wouldn’t want to be any of them. I can only wish I was a fearless and bad ass as some of them.

 

3) Does it take a mental toll to write so many character deaths and put them through such tough actions and decisions? 

You do develop a certain emotional attachment to the characters. I wouldn’t say it takes a toll with the amount of deaths, or particularly the acute darkness of the writing. Harking back to that earlier question, does that make me heartless? Maybe? I have to be a little heartless in some respect, and I’ll kill them, hurt them, maim them, and utterly destroy them all ruthlessly on a whim. But, saying that, there is a certain emotional attachment, as mentioned to some of the characters. One example is Hafgan, I very quickly realized that Hafgan was amazing, and originally Hafgan played Hagen’s part and met his demise early in the first book. I couldn’t do it, Hafgan I knew had a larger role to play somehow so I had to create Hagen to die in his place (Sorry Hagen) and keep Hafgan, and I’m glad I did. There are some emotional scenes in Flesh too, a certain scene at the gates where characters die was emotional to write, and certain unspeakable things that some characters have to do to their loved ones were also hard to write. I hope I harnessed that emotion and that it shows through in the books though as it will enrich them all the more.  

({{That scene at the gate 😭 if all innocence wasn’t lost yet, it was there}}

4} I would 100% recommend your blog for those looking for fantasy recommendations I hadn’t heard of many books that you review and it seems like a wealth of good reading! That said – what do you think sets apart a particularly good fantasy novel?

Thank you, I generally only really read books that genuinely interest me and I like to spread the word about excellent and unusual books that I have come across that I feel should get more attention. Personally I am a big fan of a realistic element in fantasy. I am less drawn to the high fantasy tropes where a single invincible character defeats all evil, magic can be Deus Ex Machina, and everyone has a happy ending. Don’t get me wrong I love Tolkien, (like, really love it) and have read a lot of that type of fantasy, but I am usually drawn to the grimmer, low fantasy, something that shows normal people experiencing incredible things. I like good prose, and vivid settings too. I like it to be something different and set apart. In the end though a good book is a good book so I trawl the fantasy and horror genre looking for things that I think the author got right for me.

  

5) Feeding off #5 – Immersion is huge for me and it was one of my favorite aspects of the Sagas so far, are there any aspects of the writing or world building that you focus on to help make it a more immersive reading experience?  

I am not a huge fan of world building exposition style info dumps, I think too many writers spend too long building their world instead of their plot. Saying that, the setting is vitally important, it has to be familiar enough to immerse yourself in and rich enough in background detail to have the world shape the character’s personalities. I try to connect to the human side of a character, the everyday things we all think and feel.

 

6) From your first notes to the final edition, would you say that the books got lighter, darker, or about the same as you initially imagined?

I think the darkness differs between the two books, the first is very atmospheric and spooky, whereas the second leans more towards outright violent gory horror, although there are certainly elements of both in both books so far – it’s a balance I aim to continue over the series. I think I did let myself go a little more with A Ritual of Flesh and pulled no punches, in the first I didn’t hold back per se as much I was cautious. So in that respect I think Flesh is more full on, with full levels of depravity, but I wouldn’t say they got darker or lighter, I think they started quite dark and already quite extreme in places and I have been quite happy that I maintained that level of grim nastiness throughout.

 

7) If you’ve ever worn a Halloween costume, what was your favorite? Bonus points if you have a picture!

Not surprisingly I have often dressed as a zombie. I was a musketeer zombie, a pirate zombie, general zombie, I’ve been a zombie a lot. This year I’m pretty sure I’m going with something different but of course there are pics…

received_685974085668119

8) How do you feel about brunch? Do you have a favorite brunch food?

Favourite brunch is probably the full English breakfast, we quite often go for a full English for brunch, Lincolnshire sausage, smoky bacon, black puddings, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns – the works. In fact I cannot wait until I can go get one again.

9) Were there to be an actual zombie apocalypse, what do you reckon would start it? Would you survive?

I imagine it would be some kind of virus or genetic experiments. Especially after the worlds recent events, it really brings it home how easily it could happen. I have seen some pretty worrying experiments on bringing back dead animals or brains recently, and I always say to myself “That how you get zombies, you fools”. Would I survive? I doubt anyone would in the long term. In the end the apocalypse part of the zombie apocalypse is going to win and everyone will likely die. Sorry to crush those hopes folks. Would I survive for a while? I’d like to think so. I have a certain amount of close combat skill at arms and survival skills which most don’t. However, like I said earlier, often important people fail or die pointlessly. I am a family man and would no doubt be caught out whilst saving those who I love, I could never leave them behind, but still, I will I will fight my damned hardest and keep us all safe.

10) Here is the round of easy rapid fire bookish questions – do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Strange and wonderful bookish habits?

Malazan, or Dark tower are my favourite series.

Conan is my favourite character.

Habits? I buy physicals and often never read them, and instead read them on kindle, I suppose that’s a weird pointless habit but I just like good books on my shelves.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview for GrimDarkTober month!! 

It’s been a pleasure, thanks for having me.

Author pic 1

Check out the book and author links below for more info, purchasing The Dead Sagas, and connecting on social media!

Website

www.leeconleyauthor.com

Social media links

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/

Twitter: @LongswordLee  or  https://twitter.com/LongswordLee

Instagram: @LeeConleyAuthor  or  https://www.instagram.com/leeconleyauthor/

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley

 

Mailing list

Sign up to Lee’s mailing list!

If anyone would like to sign up for occasional (once or twice a year) email of news and updates on Lee’s work, with the occasional competition or giveaway too, please sign yourselves up to Lee’s mailing list. https://mailchi.mp/ec0e4d5c30e7/leeconleyauthlaningpage

Universal Order links:

getbook.at/ARitualofBone

getbook.at/ARitualofFlesh


Categories
Fantasy

The Dragon Reborn (book thoughts) by Robert Jordan

 

The Wheel of Time – see review: 🗡🗡🗡🗡

The Great Hunt – see review – 🗡🗡🗡🗡🗡

 

I can’t believe it took nearly three months to struggle through this book, although there were multiple reasons for it.

First off, after the first two chapters or so I was bored to tears.  It took RJ 300+ pages just to get the characters down their respective rivers, and I was so bored by the Egwene & Nynaeve & Aes Sedai storyline.

Mat turning into a superhero was the only reason I didn’t just give up

Secondly, the buddy read itself.  I was doing well with it until my ex ghosted and of course obviously dropped the chat. I really liked our buddy reads so it soured the book for me a bit. I got so far behind the rest of the group and ended up letting it sit for a few weeks.

Towards the end, once the action picked back up – say the last 100 pages – I couldn’t put it down.  Overall I would say TDR was unevenly paced, mostly slow, and so repetitive

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Dragon Reborn
  • Series: The Wheel of Time, #3
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Books, Sept 1991
  • Length: 624pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🗡🗡🗡 three swords for being what it is

Here is the synopsis:

The Dragon Reborn—the leader long prophesied who will save the world, but in the saving destroy it; the savior who will run mad and kill all those dearest to him—is on the run from his destiny.

Able to touch the One Power, but unable to control it, and with no one to teach him how—for no man has done it in three thousand years—Rand al’Thor knows only that he must face the Dark One. But how?

Winter has stopped the war—almost—yet men are dying, calling out for the Dragon. But where is he?

Perrin Aybara is in pursuit with Moiraine Sedai, her Warder Lan, and Loial the Ogier. Bedeviled by dreams, Perrin is grappling with another deadly problem—how is he to escape the loss of his own humanity?

Egwene, Elayne and Nynaeve are approaching Tar Valon, where Mat will be healed—if he lives until they arrive. But who will tell the Amyrlin their news—that the Black Ajah, long thought only a hideous rumor, is all too real? They cannot know that in Tar Valon far worse awaits…

Ahead, for all of them, in the Heart of the Stone, lies the next great test of the Dragon reborn….

The worldbuilding and characters continue to be good in themselves but I really didn’t care for the three women at all in this installment. Their chapters were mostly the hard to read, boring ones, although Person got awfully repetitive too in the dream world.

Mat randomly turned into a superhero, and he was my favorite. The amount of Perrin has to be leading up to something, while it was just weird to see so little of Rand, minus his little coup de grâce at the end.  Like seriously I expected a lot more of Rand.

 

** this paragraph may contain a spoiler but it’s fairly obvious from book one:** My theory about Ba’alzamon vs Ishamael was finally confirmed, which was something.  It was so naïve of Rand to think he was dead!

The ending was exciting though, I just think Jordan could have shortened it up a lot by not repeating himself so much and maybe speeding up some of the travelling segments. Like did Rand just run the whole way on foot and still beat the others?  Why 300 pages to have them sailing down the rivers?

The new dark creatures, and the banter of the new character (falcon) were some of my favorite parts.  I liked the addition of the Aiel in the storyline too.   Also, where was Min in this one?

I’m going to give this series one more book but I’m really not sure if I will end up continuing past the next book, all 1001 pages of it!

I mean I’m not delusional enough to think that all 14 books are going to be exciting but this one was by far the hardest to get through so far. 

Have you read them? What do you think?


Categories
Fantasy Horror

Book Tour & Giveaway: A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley!

As always, a huge thank you to Storytellers On Tour and Lee Conley for having me this time around!  Last year I featured the debut novel in The Dead Sagas, A Ritual of Bone, you can find that review here! Now comes the sequel, a even more grim dark-er read called A Ritual of Flesh. Definitely check out the tour schedule and giveaway below because I am 100% fully recommending these books to any dark fantasy and horror fans!

It is also of note that the author is going to be coming onto my GrimDarkTober interview lineup so definitely keep an eye open for that!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Ritual of Flesh
  • Series: The Dead Sagas #2
  • Author: Lee C. Conley 
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 10/10/20
  • Length: 476
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ fully!

Here is the synopsis:

As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.

Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.

Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.

In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.

The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead

Holy crap, so I thought that book one was immersive, desperate, dark, and a true grabber from page one .. and then I read this installment. Conley blew it out of the water in terms of maturity, atmosphere, and bringing the storylines together in a cohesive, interesting, and seamless way.

Imagine if you will, the stinking bloody dead victims of a plague piling up in the gutters, no food to be had, and the gates of the towns all sealed. A man is crawling through the corpses, risking the plague himself, trying to find some coin – but even if he found something to steal, he couldn’t buy food. The surviving townsfolk just look on, too numb to bother.

That, friends, is an actual scene (but not a quote) from the novel. I can’t tell you the immersive, seeping atmosphere of dread throughout this book without just describing the scene where I feel they *almost* hit rock bottom.

Each surviving character experiences significant loss and witnesses family as well as other loved ones die, so I know Conley is setting the end up for something even more desperate and epic.

I loved how the characters still managed to find something to fight for, even if all they have left is their family legacy and claim to their homeland.

One thing I have to mention too is the utter chaos of some scenes … Certain parts are just absolutely crazy but still remain within world possibility.

My favorite thing is that this is such a welcome break from the newer fantasy I have been reading: I honestly don’t care about romance and character development and all that crap, just entertain me with something amazing and immersive and intelligent and well written, and this is IT.

Long story short: if you like chaos, dark fantasy, fantasy horror, fighting and honor set in a world reminiscent of Skyrim (I hold by that comparison in terms of my visualization of the world): you need these books!

Has this captured your attention yet?? Enter here to win a copy!

You can also check out the links below to learn more!!

Amazon: http://getbook.at/ARitualofFlesh 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43245727-a-ritual-of-flesh  

Website:http://www.leeconleyauthor.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LongswordLee

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leeconleyauthor/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/user/LeeConleyAuthor 

Categories
Fantasy Paranormal Young Adult

The Keeper of Night (ARC Review) by Kylie Lee Baker

Bring on the morally grey characters and complicated endings, it’s fall! Thank you so much to Inkyard Press for my proof of The Keeper of Night! This is a YA fantasy with Japanese mythology, and I still enjoyed it quite a bit as an adult

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Keeper of Night
  • Series: The Keeper of Night #1
  • Author: Kylie Lee Baker
  • Publisher & Release: Inkyard Press, 10/12/21
  • Length: 400 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ all the stars for this dark fantasy

Here is the book blurb:

A girl of two worlds, accepted by none… A half Reaper, half Shinigami soul collector seeks her destiny in this haunting and compulsively readable dark fantasy duology set in 1890s Japan.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

I liked the premise here, a young British Reaper is also half Japanese Shinigami, and she is bullied by the other Reapers. They don’t treat her much better in Japan and she just goes into this totally selfish spiral of darkness after being forced out of London. Her brother, Neven, would have followed her to the ends of the world and I was surprised by Ren’s lack of empathy towards him, how brutal!

I guess that’s what makes a good morally gray character, their self serving attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to reach their goals.

It was cool to get a look at Japanese mythology and legends too, especially the underworld.  Baker does a great job with descriptive language, world building, and setting.  I felt like I was there, seeing the sights and smells, being crushed by darkness, wondering what would come next.  A very immersive read.

The magic system was pretty low key, the Reapers had a very cool time turning ability and a lot of the Japanese folklore involved abilities as well.  It was well described and once again I liked the concept of magic/legends/beings only being susceptible to the fatal influences of their own culture.

This is a great October read. I’m shocked that it’s a debut. Minus a few wordy forays into similes and purple prose that I thought hurt the flow – it was beautifully descriptive enough without going over the top those few times!  I thought overall it was a mature enough novel to enjoy as an adult.

There was some humor and good dialogue too, as well as a darker romance, but my favorite part was definitely the legends and stories.

Overall? This is an interesting, fast paced novel with good themes, morally questionable main characters, lovely language, and fresh mythology. You might cry though! A big ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ from me as an adult or for YA