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Author Interviews & Guest Posts Science Fiction

The Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series Features JCM Berne!

Hey everyone, Brunch is back! Don’t confuse it with the guy on YouTube who started a new brunch, this is the Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series! We are now into year three of interviews featuring indie and traditionally published SFF authors hanging out and talking books, publishing advice, nerding out, random everything, and of course Brunch.

Episode 28 features indie author JCM Berne! He is the author of the Hybrid Helix series, a wonderfully readable and witty sci-fi space opera adventure with superheroes!

Read on for JCM’s thoughts on superhero sci-fi roots, sentient AI, his favorite Star Trek, and so much more. Enjoy!


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

🎤My college and grad school roommate, John Chu, is a Hugo award winner. It’s extra funny because we weren’t really involved with writing at the time – it’s not as if we were in a creative writing program together; he was an electrical engineering student and I studied philosophy. I have one biological child and one adopted child; my wife, who I knew in high school (a very long time ago), also has one biological and one adopted child. All coincidence!

🥞What’s your brunch order today?

🎤 I’ll start with a bottomless mimosa and I’ll end up on the floor. Something about brunch mimosas makes them irresistible to me!

🥞Hmm let’s jump into talking about The Hybrid Helix and your superheroes in space, space opera! I love the concept of bringing big action figures into sci-fi. What led you to this mashup?

🎤I don’t really think of it as a mashup! Superheroes and sci fi have always gone together. Superman came here from another planet in a spaceship. The Fantastic Four got their powers from an accident in space. Jim Starlin wrote stories set entirely on other planets with no human characters whatsoever back in the 70’s (he invented Thanos and told a ton of Warlock stories that were amazing). More recently you have films like the 3rd Thor movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. I wanted to tell stories that honored those antecedents, mostly because I think superheroes fighting spaceships is cool. I do it in prose form because I can’t draw and because I’m too much of a control freak to share my vision with other people (like artists!)

🥞 This had me thinking, and he is 100% right! So much superhero content that we know and love is based in sci-fi. It’s cool, it works, it’s classic

Ok, so did you have any part of the whole series mapped out when you started, or was it a play by play writing each book?

🥞I get ideas for future books as I write. When I started writing Wistful Ascending I knew I wanted Rohan to grow and change, but I wasn’t sure how. I thought of the rough outline for Return of The Griffin while writing WA, and so on. Right now I have a very detailed outline for book 4 and a very loose idea for 5 and scattered bits and pieces for later books. I know how I want the series to end, and I thought of that while writing Return. So it’s a combination – I know what I want the characters to be in the broadest sense, but I didn’t try to fill in every detail before writing the first book.

🚀💢🚀Book….5? I love that more is coming🚀💢🚀

🥞One of sci-fi’s long running themes with first contact stories, is, I guess – who or what else is out there? I liked your bear-people (and their anatomy 🤣), how did that alien race form in your mind?

🎤I’m not entirely sure! There was a manga I read back in the 80’s or early 90’s in which a bunch of characters had animal heads – wolves, bears, etc. – for no apparent reason. It wasn’t explained, not that I remember, it was probably just something the artist thought was cool. (I want to say it was Outlanders but honestly I’m not sure). I remember a scene of a bear-headed character with his mouth hanging open, shocked by something, and it stuck in my head. I have no idea why. It wasn’t even my favorite manga or character.

I didn’t really intend for the Ursans to be a big part of the series past the first four chapters or so of Wistful Ascending. But they became useful, and now I’m stuck with them! But they’re fun to write, so no complaints.

I’ll tell you a secret – when I wrote them I didn’t have a clear idea about their origin. I figured that out while plotting Blood Reunion.

As far as that particular anatomical detail… I’m pretty sure Ursula was teasing. Never rely on narrators in my stories!

(🤣I took it as Canon 🤣) You’ll have to read to find out what this refers to

🥞Your ships and space station were sentient! What characteristics should a well written sentient AI have?

🎤I love this question. All organic things have such a vast array of drives that we evolved with. Hunger, thirst, pain, etc. An artificial being doesn’t have to have any of that. Their drives are going to be whatever they were designed to have – maybe an urge to serve, or to be useful, or to follow orders – and/or drives they choose themselves, if you imagine that they can self-program.

Which just means that a well written sentient AI has to have desires and needs, but there’s no reason to make them similar to organic creatures. You have a blank slate! If you think about whoever designed and built them you can figure out a lot about how they’ll behave.

Then, it’s always fun to have them malfunction in some way. After all, not every organic creature works ‘right.’ So I throw in a few AI’s that are not quite sane.

🥞I love audiobooks and I’ve heard it’s a bit hard for indie authors to connect with good narrators and have a good production experience, can you talk about yours at all or offer any tips?

🎤 My narrator, Wayne Farrell, did a fantastic job. I’m not sure whether finding him was skill or luck. I simply put my book up on ACX and offered money, listened to 50 auditions, and he was the best of them all. And while he’s worth every penny, I had to shell out quite a bit to pay him, and that came out of pocket. I’m lucky to have a fairly well-paying day job. Not every indie author has those kinds of resources.

I think if I had less cash to invest I’d try to find someone with less experience who would be willing to work more cheaply or for profit sharing. I know a couple of narrators looking to break in right now!

🥞Wormholes, sentient space stations, and the mention of a transporter incident in Wistful Ascending ‘s book plug… Would you like to share your favorite Star Trek series and why 😆

🎤 Hmm… probably DS9! I was raised on the original series and I haven’t really watched the shows that have come out over the past five years, just because I don’t subscribe to the right streaming services. I like DS9’s level of grit and the way the setting (a space station instead of a traveling ship) allowed for long term stories to develop. With something like Voyager, the recurring stories felt very forced – after all, the ship was traveling in a line, trying to get home. I’m a fan of big plots, not standalone episodes.

🥞 💯💯💯💯. Yep. DS9 is the only acceptable answer in my book 🤣

🥞 What other nerdy things are you into right now?

🎤 Generally, I read a lot of comics (mostly Marvel and a few independents), manga, manhwa, and sci-fi and fantasy novels. I watch a lot of martial arts and science fiction movies and tv shows, South Asian action movies and comedies, and cartoons from all over. I go through phases. My eyesight deteriorated a little in the past decade and I’ve read a lot less print than I did when I was younger (it’s nothing serious, just makes it inconvenient). I played quite a bit of D&D in my younger days, but not recently. On the creative side, all I do is write – I don’t paint miniatures or anything like that. I’m not much of a gamer, either.

🥞Do you have a favorite book, author, series of all time? (I know how hard that question is😅)

🎤I  don’t know! Probably Malazan Book of The Fallen. There’s so much depth and complexity to it, if I could only read one thing for the rest of my life, that would be it.

“Favorite” is such a tough word. Master of Kung Fu comics were super meaningful to me when I was young, but I don’t know that they hold up as well as some other things. I really like the first 35 or so volumes of Naruto. Jhereg, Dresden, and P.I. Garrett loom very large in my mind

🥞Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! This last is an open forum for you so feel free to talk about anything else you might want to say!

🎤Thank you so much for this opportunity!

Book 4 of the Hybrid Helix, Shadow of Hyperion, should be out this year. I’m hoping for September.

I just finished a wuxia fantasy novel that is very strange. I’m not sure if it will ever see the light of day, but if it does, you can bet I’ll plaster it all over social media.

It’s been an absolute thrill to become part of the indie book community this past year! Reviewers are so important, because without you, readers have no easy way to find stories that will work for them. I’m so grateful for you all!


You can find the author online at

Thank you so much for tuning into the Sunday Brunch Series!  I’m opening back up to authors so do feel free to contact me if you’d like to feature.  As always, thank you all for supporting indie authors and do check out the link if you are interested in JCM’s books!

Categories
Science Fiction

SPSFC2 Quarterfinalist Review: The Empyrean by Katherine Franklin

The At Boundary’s Edge team has narrowed our original allocation down from 28 books to 7 “Quarterfinalists”, all of which we are now reading in full and scoring out of 10 points. The top three books will move forward as semifinalists. As always, this is my own review and reflects only my own individual opinion and score, not that of the team

As one additional note here, the first round is now complete! We chose to read seven full books and you’ve seen my reviews for each of those.  Soon there will be semifinalist announcements from the competition and I’ll know which six books we are reading next!


Alright everyone, my last “quarterfinalist” review is for a space opera called The Empyrean! Let’s take a quick look at the book first and then I’ll share my thoughts.

Bookish Quick Facts:
  • Title: The Empyrean
  • Series: Galaxy of Exiles #1
  • Author: Katherine Franklin
  • Release: Self pub, 2022
  • Length: 478 pages (Paperback length)
  • SPSFC Rating: 5.5/10
Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Emotion is a weapon. Harnessing its power could destroy worlds.

Palia’s emotions are in turmoil. After watching her son succumb to Empyrean fire, she barely escapes the same fate. Guilt ridden and alone, she will not stop until his killer is brought to justice.

The Protectorate forbids Ferrash to have emotions. That suits him, since he cannot avoid the people who control the Empyrean. Making this sacrifice prevents them from hijacking his feelings and using them as a weapon against him.

When Ferrash spots Palia’s ship venting atmosphere, he is forced to save her. Having an enemy from the Hegemony on board could see him accused of treason. But when the Empyrean reveals its potential as a destroyer of worlds and Palia’s link to it, Ferrash knows he can’t let her leave.

With billions at risk of succumbing to the Empyrean weapon, can the enemies join forces and prevent the same fate that killed Palia’s son?

My thoughts:

I first want to add the disclaimer that I purchased the audiobook (I can only stare at an e reader for so long). I physically read the first 150 pages in order to judge technical presentation, editing, etc.  The fact that I listened to the rest is not affecting my score nor am I going to comment on the experience, other than that it was a decent production and James Alper seems like a solid narrator.

So, about the book! I liked the overall idea quite a bit.  The story opens with a planetary explosion and utter devastation, vivid imagery, and it was enough to snag my attention from the get go.

Broadly, I can appreciate the plot regarding interstellar weapons potential and the fact that emotion could be harvested as a source of power, magic, fire. The Empyrean is full of interesting concepts.

It’s also got a few likeable characters and, my favorite part, a hilarious but all too brief episode with a rather large animal companion.

Where this story ended up falling flat for me was in execution.  There were some big, overarching mysteries hinted at throughout, and the thing is that for an author to hold onto those mysteries and just keep dropping hints, the reward has to be worth it.  I really truly hate to say that the “answers” fell flat for me and that the entire final resolution was a bit of a weak setup for the next book in the series.  Many characters and events appeared and vanished throughout without the page time they needed to land an impact.

While individually I liked Palia and Bek, Farrash felt pretty out there. The romance felt more like a proximity attraction without much to ground it on, so the … Uh … Pinnacle of Action scene didn’t land either. The concept did, I get what the author was going for, I just couldn’t see it.

I’m smacking myself because this sounds harsher than I mean it to.  For editing and presentation this is one of our stronger books, and if I had spent a tiny bit less time feeling lost I would have enjoyed it much more overall.  It’s a great plot that just got lost in the execution.

(Plus, I’m one of those blind-ish people who endlessly appreciate books that are turned into audio and made affordable).

TLDR: Overall – The Empyrean held a great idea and a lot of wonderful imagery, but overall it didn’t hit home for me.  I’m rating 5.5/10 for SPSFC purposes and would recommend for fans of space operas with broad scopes!


Thanks for checking out my book review of The Empyrean by Katherine Franklin! I was provided a free digital copy for judging purposes, although I purchased the audiobook on my own to help me finish our books (and save my eyes) within the allotted time frame. As always, all opinions are my own 🚀

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction Fantasy Paranormal

Book Tour Stop: A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell by Luke Tarzian

Thanks as always to Escapist Book Tours for having me on their tour for A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell by Luke Tarzian! You can check out the book tour’s home page, see the other posts, and find out about the author at the link there!

A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell book cover

Here’s the book blurb:

BRIEFLY, A WORD ABOUT ORDER

Order is the focal point around which existence revolves. Without order there is only chaos. And in the halls of Damnation (pronounced Dam-NAWT-ion, thank you kindly) the first sign of impending chaos is a cup of tea made without the water having first been well and properly boiled in a kettle.

Why is this relevant, O nameless narrator, you ask? Who cares about the preparatory order of tea in the fires of Hell?

Lucifer, dear reader. After all, how does one expect to properly greet the newcomers to Hell without having first had a hot cup of tea to bulwark the cold?

Behold The Morning Star, frantic on the annual Morning of Souls, the arrival of Damnation’s newest recruits.

Someone has misplaced the kettle.

See Also: Sad Boi Searches for His Missing Tea Kettle • Bring Your Tissues • Me, Myself, and I and the Times We Got High

My Thoughts:

I have a hard time rating emotional outpourings, it feels wrong to!! How do you even?  What can you say? The story itself is whimsy, clever, and a mix of funny and slightly hard to push through since I also lost a parent very recently and things are a bit .. fresh 

The novelette starts in one place and ends somewhere totally different.  Join the characters for Lucifer’s therapy session and a joint at a hellish pizza parlor before having a look at the author’s own life.

The story itself is a bit hard to follow in that at first the demon, Stoudemire, is telling the story, then there’s a “real life” letter thrown in, followed by more demon narration before Lucifer is the final voice. He uses the same phrases as Stoudemire too so while it’s not relevant to the story itself, it’s tough for me to follow similar voices on both narrators. Lastly, it switches back to the “real life” narrator before the third section, which is a lovely collection of the  author’s own meditations on grief, trauma, writing. I think my point is that the organization threw me off

But overall? Totally recommend. This is great. It’s funny. It’s “whimsy Hell” and you’re traversing trauma and The Phallic Forest at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (and read it twice), I just think I’d have loved it if he would have grouped the fiction and nonfiction into their own sections to let the respective narratives flow.  I’ve actually got copies of the author’s books and 100% going to check them out sooner rather than later.

A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell quotes (ig) (1)

Once again, thanks so much to Escapist Book Tours for having me. I found my copy of A Cup of Tea at the Mouth of Hell on Kindle Unlimited and as always, all opinions are my own ♥️

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Goodbye to the Sun by Jonathan Nevair (Book Review)

I tried to focus on indie books during Sci-Fi month this year and then fell off the reading boat. I hope you guys enjoy the few reviews I’ve managed to post!

I did manage to finally finish Goodbye to the Sun by Jonathan Nevair. I hear so much about the Wind Tide series and have had it on my TBR since it was released.  So then #1 popped up on Chirp with an audiobook sale and I said OH PERFECT, IT’S TIME!

Overall there were some really good aspects, and others missed the mark by five miles for me, so let’s look at the book then dig into my thoughts


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Goodbye to the Sun
  • Series: Wind Tide #1
  • Author: Jonathan Nevair
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 2021
  • Length: 348 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: all thoughts on the audiobook (DNF) aside, I’m rounding up to ⭐⭐⭐ for the book itself

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

A nonstop thrill ride across an unstable galaxy, combining moral struggle with character-driven adventure…

Tucked away in the blue sands of Kol 2, the Motes are on the brink of cultural collapse. Razor, a bold and daring pilot, leads a last-ditch gambit against their local oppressors, the Targitians. The plan – abduct visiting Ambassador Keen Draden and use him as a bargaining chip to restore her people’s independence in the Sagittarius Arm. But when the operation unravels, Razor is forced to renegotiate terms with the arrogant diplomat.

Light years away on Heroon a radical resistance blossoms. The alluring rainforest planet haunts Keen. All his problems started there during the Patent War, but it’s where Razor’s troubles may find a solution. The moral tide ebbs, exposing an impossible choice that links their futures together more tragically than they ever thought possible.

Goodbye to the Sun: a space opera inspired by the Greek tragedy, Antigone.


My Thoughts

A quick note on the audio: I just strongly dislike the production and couldn’t finish it. The narrator barely varies his voice or brings excitement. I don’t know if it was the voice or the recording but a lot of words, regardless of playback speed, sounded fuzzy and I kept hearing words incorrectly and became confused. The audio was a DNF after maybe one hour of playtime

So I ended up reading the Kindle version because honestly, the story wasn’t that bad once I took a break and forgot the audio.  There’s a story of a rebel trying to save her people, an ex soldier turned diplomat who is carrying PTSD and war trauma, and a bunch of other interesting characters.  I loved the characters and you never know what you’re going to get from their arcs.

One of my favorite tropes and one that Nevair did execute well, was bringing a place into play as a character itself.  Heroon is a tropical rainforest planet in danger, with beautiful insects and trees and a true spirit of its own. In a way, Kol-2, the other main setting, also had a life of its own with blue sands and wind tides used for energy production.

I also liked the family vs honor vs loyalty vs duty themes.  Who is deluded, who is willing to make what level of sacrifice, what motivates these characters at the end  … All of these things play into the plot and add depth.  As far as the science itself, I needed a little more about how the wind was used in these monopolies, is it stored, shared, transferred, how is the energy even stolen during raids? There was plenty of sci-fi though!

I did think there were too many planets and people and names thrown out at first, some of the politics were lost on me but at the end most of it came together.  I think scope wise it’s a fairly solid space opera.

So now we are at the point where I talk about the things that drove me nuts. I hate feeling lectured by books, and there’s no way around the fact that the book spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing about gender politics. In the middle of a terse situation. It’s not normalizing something if there are multiple lectures involved and I think it went beyond a normal amount of topic exploration. Even in the middle of a heated exchange of rifle fire these characters are hand signing their genders to each other.  I’m all for normalizing but not if it comes at the cost of a lecture.  Also I had a hard time with the points of view – Razor was used in the present tense to summarize the action and give more insight into Keen, who then covered the “action” chapters that occured in the past.  I think I wanted Razor to have a little more agency in the past tense chapters because she would have been interesting on her own, not just as a frame for Keen and other challenges of morality.

In closing, I can’t recommend the audio.  I did absolutely love the settings and plot and moral conflicts. Nevair also nailed the action scenes when he didn’t slow them down with lecture or diatribe, which is just a huge pet peeve of mine.  I think if you like sci-fi with a strong ethical base and plenty of twists, turns, and betrayal, check this one out!


Thanks for checking out my book review of Goodbye to the Sun by Jonathan Nevair! The book was purchased by me and read for my own enjoyment. As always, all opinions are my own ♥️

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction

Wistful Ascending (Audiobook Review) by JCM Berne

Before jumping into this review I have to thank everyone who has reached out this week. As much as I joke around it’s been a bit dreadful and I endlessly appreciate everyone in the book community who has been down for shared storytime or just validating how useless I’ve been this week. I’m not sure what I’d do without the book community sometimes 😅

Secondly, thank you so much to the author for the audiobook code. I rely a little heavily on audio these days due to my eyesight and am endlessly thankful especially for a bit of pure escapism this week. I’m trying not to just be numb and having superheroes and sentient AI ships (and bears with three penises) queued up on audio has been just what I needed.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Wistful Ascending
  • Series: Hybrid Helix #1
  • Author: JCM Berne
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 2020
  • Length: 405 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for anyone interested

A quick note on the audio: narrated by Wayne Farrell at 13h 29m, definitely recommend for fans of audio!

Here’s the synopsis:

A superhero space opera for grownups.

For fans of Invincible and Marvel Cinematic Universe films who like a little hard science fiction in their superheroes.
If Thor and Harry Dresden combined in a transporter accident.

The il’Drach have conquered half a galaxy behind the civilization-ending Powers of their mixed-species children.
Half-human Rohan, exhausted by a decade fighting for their Empire, has paid a secret and terrible price for his freedom.
Now retired, he strives to live a quiet life towing starships for the space station Wistful. His most pressing problems are finding the perfect cup of coffee and talking to a gorgeous shuttle tech without tripping over his own tongue.
A nearby, long-dormant wormhole is opened by a shipful of scared, angry refugees, and the many eyes of the Empire focus uncomfortably on Wistful.
As scientists, spies, and assassins converge, reverting to the monster the Empire created is the surest way to protect his friends. And the surest way to lose them


So what if our superheroes are half alien? What if there’s a DS9ish space station (that’s also sentient) out by some wormholes in the far reaches of a galaxy, and one such superhero has escaped there after deciding to escape his past? What mix of aliens would gather there? What if there’s equal parts humor and tragedy and high octane fight scenes? Would a superhero feel awkward if someone talked to him while peeing?

I listened to this one nonstop in my free time this week, then read the last few chapters on Kindle. You’ll love Rohan and Wei Li and Wistful.  Snarky ship AI’s and the integration of different species are some of my favorite sci-fi tropes and they are here in abundance. I like that the book never took itself too seriously but did have some serious themes. It’s fast paced with readable prose and perfect for my brain right now. I guarantee with all the plot lines and things happening that you’ll never be bored.

I also liked the world building and look at space station life.  There are shopkeeps, refugees, many cultures meshing together,  and even a mysterious tailor.  On a wider scale I think there’s enough background given to the wider conflict and dominant alien race to paint the big picture without bogging the book down with too many details.

There was one wtf moment regarding where their powers came from but I ultimately decided it was more funny than anything else.

All in all, I totally recommend this one as pure space opera & superhero escapism. It’s great in book or audiobook form!


Thanks for checking out my audiobook review & book review of Wistful Ascending.  The audiobook code was received for free in exchange for an honest review and all opinions are my own. Stay tuned for my thoughts on #2 and #3 because both are queued up on Kindle Unlimited right now!

Categories
Fantasy

Travels in the Dark by Jordan Loyal Short (Book Review)

Happy weekend everyone, hopefully you’ve all got some good reading time planned!

It’s hard to talk about book three in a series without giving anything away, so I just want to make a few general comments about the conclusion of The Dreadbound Ode trilogy.

The Skald’s Black Verse was decent, I loved The Weeping Sigil, and found Travels in the Dark to be the weakest of the three but still a great read and satisfying conclusion.


Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Travels in the Dark
  • Series: The Dreadbound Ode #3
  • Author: Jordan Loyal Short
  • Publisher & Release: Self Published, March 2022
  • Length: 342 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ yes for dark fantasy fans!

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Lyssa is going to the Dead Place and everyone she killed will be waiting.

As the Hidden One’s twisted plan to resurrect the Deep Gods unfolds, the only way to stop him is a secret buried in the land of death.

But Lyssa has not given up. If the Deep Gods can return, so can she.

Can Lyssa find a way back? Can she delve into hell’s darkest corners and emerge with the lore to stop the Deep Gods’ rise? Or will she become a lost soul, like so many of those she loved in life?

Ancient horrors will wake. Skalds will sing. And a blind seer will see the shadows gather.

Lyssa Pedersten has tasted poison, and hell had best beware.


Whew… Overall this series was very, very good.  It’s rare for me to sit down and binge a series like this but it was hard not to know what happens next. If you TL:DR this review, just know that I recommend it for dark fantasy fans that like equal parts character and action driven content with tons of world building.

Brohr, aka mister “this dark and no darker”, is trying to figure out how far into the void of corruption he is willing to go. Can he regain his own agency? He is willing to travel to Hell, the outer void, or straight into a clash of monsters to get Lyssa’s soul back.  That’s great for Lyssa because fuck being dead, she’s not done with life and has a long road through the underworld to travel.  Then you have Henrik who is balancing by the hair of his little toe over a pit of political vipers while witnessing the aforementioned clash of gods. I think, for all that I didn’t like Henrik at first, that he ended up being my favorite character.  All three have pretty amazing arcs.

Each characters storyline will break your heart in this book as they finally come to their fates.

The mood and setting just keep getting darker.  Lyssa’s trip through The Dead Place was probably my favorite part even if I never cared for her as a character.  The terrors and obstacles she navigated were cool, sad, and added a lot to the world building.  Talk about letting hell loose 😅

Is it bad that my favorite character was a talking severed head, and a minor side character in the form of an 8 year old girl?  This, if nothing else, to me showed that everyone retains a choice despite their situation.

A smile found its way to his lips, despite everything, as he spied Greta bobbing down the hallway with Sascha’s head tucked under her arm.

The world building continues to grow too and once again, only adds to the story.  There’s more lore, we see The Dead Place, encounter more magic, and see all the terrible choices that people end up making as the end of the world closes in. Ooh I loved seeing how these people grew and adapted to overcoming challenges, and seeing who still had hope at the end.

That all said, this was the hardest for me to read. Compared to the first two books, the ebook was challenged with editing and formatting (KU version) where the other two were near flawless.  I also had some minor questions at the end. Then there were just silly things like ok if this creature is totally alien, it probably doesn’t have human arms and legs (even if there are hundreds of them) …. It was just overall harder for me to get through, was a tad repetitive for it’s length, and really needed a final proofread.  Don’t let that deter you though please!

Don’t get me wrong, I love this series and recommend it fully for dark fantasy fans. It’s both character and action driven, full of lore and world building, and wrecked me a little bit. Overall the series gets a strong ⭐⭐⭐⭐ from me and I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Categories
Adventure Fantasy Paranormal

Where Blood Runs Gold by A.C. Cross (Book Review)

I was telling Red, my chestnut mare, about this book and specifically how A.C. Cross called a Chestnut horse a sweetheart, and the other horse a Cee-U-Next-Tuesday! We had a good laugh over this as we all know how Chestnut mares are the true evils of the horse world

Joking aside, mostly, Where Blood Runs Gold is (to me) a unique book that I am pegging as the Wild West meets The Walking Dead. I’m a bit at a loss of how to describe or categorize the book because I’ve never read a fantasy/western before!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Where Blood Runs Gold
  • Series: N/A (room for a sequel)
  • Author: A.C. Cross
  • Publisher & Release: Indie, January 2022
  • Length: 494 pages (fast read)
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I would if it sounds up your alley, for 18+ readers

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon!

Sheriff Errol Thorpe’s life is chaotic, brutal, and above all, solitary. After an unimaginable loss years ago, all he feels is the compulsion to seek vengeance. But when a vulnerable family arrives in town, facing an ugly future, he is pulled headfirst into a web of violence, secrets, and things he never imagined. In search of truth and answers, Thorpe finds himself battling deadly flesh-eating Dust, acidic golden blood, and the political designs of powerful people – all the while learning how to be a person again. When Dust rises in San Dios, people hide indoors. When Sheriff Thorpe arrives, people run.

The author spins the legend of Sherriff Errol Thorpe, aka The Judge, as he fights gangs, robbers, sin, corruption, his own demons, and a greater evil too.  There are stories offered in flashback format that I love, as they help build the man’s life and legend.

Gettin’ damn near tired out of bein’ told when I can or can’t die. I’ll die when I’m damn well ready {Sheriff}

The sheriff is a good example of a morally gray character. He 100% does what he thinks is right and sometimes gets carried away while bringing the pain. Watching him wrestle with his strict code and trying not to be soft made him memorable too. He has had a tough life and I liked him a lot by the end.  The young girl he rescues and a lady that sort of becomes his partner seem realistic and create some good banter, although my favorite side character was an easily exasperated captain of the army named Josie

Language wise, the slang and dialect are consistent, smart, and to quote the author – “gloriously profane” at times.

It’s dark as a crow’s dick out here

Or my personal favorite –

Great green fucks on a hill, son

I say smart because Cross consistently writes language and dialect that is realistic to the old West, without breaking character at all, and I found that consistency impressive. One note on the editing too – I read this as a Kindle Unlimited and was very happily surprised to find only one typo in the entire novel. This is an extremely well presented indie work

Where westerns don’t tend to world build a lot, he makes up for that in atmosphere, setting and tone

Here’s where I docked the star: I wanted a little more from the “big picture” side of things. How did the entire world fit together? It seemed to be civil war era (brief mentions of Union and Confederate) but that never really played into the plot. There also wasn’t a history of the big bad evil given, it just kind of appeared and then the book ended without explaining what it was (or how it got into that cave)?

The horror elements aren’t too bad but I am solidly recommending this book for 18+ readers.

If you like Westerns, adventure, weird, legends and stories, check this one out! The book is out now!

DON’T MISS THE SUNDAY BRUNCH REBOOT ON 4/17, FEATURING A.C. CROSS!!

Categories
Fantasy

Dark Oak (Book Tour) by Jacob Sannox

Thank you so much to Storytellers On Tour and the author for having me on the Book tour for Dark Oak! This is a dark ish fantasy that takes place after the end of a great war, where the evil has been vanquished and a time of peace is beginning.

Or… Well it should be, anyway.  Unfortunately once the prime evil is gone and unity is no longer necessary, humans tend to create new enemies and now war is brewing in the territories again as the lands and Lords revert back to their pre-war dispositions.  This right here was probably my favorite theme from the book.

Despite my 3 star rating and various struggles: I want to say up front that the ending of this book is EVERYTHING.  Once you learn what “Dark Oak” refers to and things start getting dark, it’s just… Really something else.

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Oak
  • Series: The Dark Oak Chronicles, #1
  • Author: Jacob Sannox
  • Publisher & Release: self, April 2017
  • Length: 313
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐for dark fantasy fans, maybe military fantasy 

Here is the synopsis:

Humanity has finally defeated the Dark Lord, but Morrick fought on the wrong side.

Though he was a slave, he is branded a traitor and must earn the trust of new lords in order to return to his family – if they are still alive.

Now that their common enemy is dead, the nobles begin to forget old loyalties, and Queen Cathryn’s realm looks set to plunge into war once more. But there are older and more terrible powers dwelling within the forest, and when they are awakened, Morrick will decide who lives or dies.

The starting point of this book was an interesting choice, as it started at the end of a war.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around who and what was relevant at first, even though right at the start of the book it disclaims that it is NOT the story of the dark lord!

Dark Oak has a LOT going on, and a few different points of view to be aware of.  Morrick is the main character, and probably the most interesting one as we watch his moral struggles.  There is a lot of humanity in the book as various tragedies are met and death with, including post war trauma and death of family, seen mostly through the eyes of Morrick.  Cathryn, the queen, and the various lords also have points of view.

I thought his wife, Rowan, was important too but she was mostly entirely brushed over. For example, she went through all this trouble to consider starting a rebellion with some people who showed up, then we hear nothing except that it was over and went badly.  That was probably the hardest part of the book for me – to decide what was relevant. I also struggled with  what parts the author chose to brush over vs. expand on.

I thought jt was pretty real that most of the Lords, including the queen, really just wanted to kick up their feet and essentially retire after the war but there’s always that *one* problem child.

As far as the magic- the Dryads were definitely the best part of the whole book for me.  The supernatural things were dumped into the book kind of suddenly, but once I learned that a main focus going forward was angry Dryads having their home and trees destroyed, things made a lot more sense.  I really loved the descriptions of the tree and water folk, and how their magic worked.

The worldbuilding was high in setting, scenery, and geography, decent in history, but kind of mish mash on the micro level.  I had a good idea of the history and politics of the realm and the forest, but not so much the cities and moods, weather and foods, etc.  There were some interesting cultural pockets like the “whores” in the Whoreswood.  I originally felt like the world lacked any kind of cohesion, but that plays a role since although the humans united under the name “The Combined People”, they didn’t necessarily have anything in common except the enemy.

Here is a preview of the map, which helped SO much to visualize the book

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I think the magic is definitely the strongest aspect.  I liked the political maneuvering by the Lords and watching the kingdom dissolve into mayhem.  The book definitely had both strong and weak points, and it *lived* for the final quarter.  I do plan on ordering book 2 so i can see what happens, and how he grew as a writer going forward.

Definitely check out the tour page and see what others had to say about the book!!

Book Tour: Dark Oak by Jacob Sannox


Meet the author

Jacob Sannox is a 37 year old writer from the sunny climes of Bedfordshire, England. In his spare time he is generally writing, thinking about writing or berating himself for not writing.

He loves to play the acoustic guitar, but wishes he was better at it, and he has recently taken up Dungeons & Dragons. This is dangerous, as he has a propensity for disappearing into fantasy worlds. Nobody saw Jacob Sannox between 2000 and 2010, during which time he was LARPing.

Do not judge him.

Author & Book Links

Website:http://www.jacobsannox.com/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jacobsannox

Facebook: http://www.twitter.com/jacobsannox

Instagram:http://www.instagram.com/jacobsannoxwriter

Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55810045-dark-oak

Purchase Link: https://books2read.com/u/mVQZ65 

Categories
Science Fiction

On the Winds of Quasars – Book Tour and Giveaway!!

Happiest of pub dates to T.A. Bruno and his new book On the Winds of Quasars! Book 2 of The Song of Kamaria has released today and I am once again totally honored to be part of the Storytellers On Tour book tour for this awesome sci-fi series!

Make sure to check out the other tour posts as well, here is the schedule with links! click here for that!! 

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: On the Winds of Quasars
  • Series: The Song of Kamaria, #2
  • Author: T.A. Bruno
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 09/20/21
  • Length: 353 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡ for sci-fi and fantasy fans! This one would *probably* read as a standalone, plenty of background is provided in a not info-dumpy way but I would recommend reading both

Here is the Book Blurb: 

The thrilling sequel to In the Orbit of Sirens

THE WORLD OF KAMARIA WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

In the aftermath of the brutal slaying of a sacred auk’nai deity, Cade and Nella Castus are taken from their home and brought deep into the wilderness. They must make their way back to civilization, traversing dangerous landscapes as they are pursued relentlessly by their captor—a winged abomination.

As Denton and Eliana search for their missing children, they uncover something that will change all life on Kamaria forever.

T.A. drops us right back into the world of Kamaria, where 26 years have passed since the warship Telemachus was crashed into the Siren bent on destroying the human settlers.  With the same alternating point of view style and breakneck pace, these books are quick reads and hard to put down!

Eliana and Denton have two accomplished children of their own now, Cade and Nella, and they are both interesting new characters.  I liked the sign language and deaf character rep, a clear ton of research went into that portrayal and it showed! If the next book has a blind character >.>

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Set 26 years after the forming of a mixed Auk’Nai and human colony, Bruno takes an honest look at what the new city developed into. There is poverty and clear class separation, auk’nai youth losing some of their cultural traditions, new memorials, even down to slowed emergency response times in some areas. What evils might have seeped up from that huge crack in the planet into the Telemachus too? My favorite parts were seeing how the two races learned to co-exist, and what socio-economic divides were present in the city. Another interesting differentiation was between the Auk’nai from the cities and the “wild” ones, the Auk’gnell. He finally brought meaning to the literal term “The Song of Kamaria” and I was on board for it.

If anyone read the interview I did with the author – if not omg read it HERE – he stated that he wanted to bring us through Kamaria with a cinematic eye, and he definitely continues to succeed in this book two.  With vivid imagery, a new connection to nature, even unheard songs, and new wildlife, this is truly a world to get lost in.  The artwork is stunning too, I love the section headings and drawings!

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With many darker undertones like possession, murder, poverty, the return of an old enemy, and a cliffhanger that is just so unfair …. I really have a ton of respect for this story and can’t wait for the ending.


Guys there is also a giveaway associated with the book tour!!

Prize: A paperback copy of On the Winds of Quasars by T. A. Bruno – US OnlyStarts: September 19th, 2021 at 12:00am ESTEnds: September 26th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST

Do find that here!


Author and book links!

Website:https://tabruno.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/TABrunoAuthor

Instagram: http://instagram.com/TABrunoAuthor 

Facebook: http://facebook.com/TABrunoAuthor

Goodreads: http://goodreads.com/TABrunoAuthor

Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58697255-on-the-winds-of-quasars

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Winds-Quasars-Song-Kamaria-Book-ebook/dp/B09BS8FGX5 

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Young Adult

Sunday Brunch Author Interview Series: Featuring V. Romas Burton!

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for tuning in to the 5th episode of the SBAIS! I screwed up and am posting this as a super late edition because I miiiiight have thought that today was Saturday.  I swear I am getting way too old for these night shifts.

Today I’m here with a very special guest, the author of the YA epic fantasy series Heartmender! I found her books through the Monster Ivy Publishing Instagram page, and was really honored to read two out of three of her books as ARCs!! The last novel in the trilogy, Heartrender, releases on September 7th and you can find all of my reviews here on the blog for those books!

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Without further ado, here is V. Romas Burton!!

1) Welcome to the SBAIS! Tell everyone a little about yourself and your books!

Thank you so much for having me! My name is Vanessa and I write under the pen name V. Romas Burton. I write YA Fantasy for Monster Ivy Publishing. The third book in my debut series, Heartrender, comes out this fall! I’m so excited for this series to be complete!


2)What was your publishing journey like? Do you have any advice for hopeful authors trying to write or publish a book? 

I actually spent a while searching for a publisher/agent the traditional way: through querying. However, one day I heard about a Twitter pitch party named Faith Pitch. I decided to participate for fun and ended up with a contract with my publisher

3) The Heartmender books are YA epic fantasy with a strong allegorical theme. What main takeaways would you like Christian youth, vs non Christian youth to take away from the series?

I would like all youth to understand the same message: there will always be trials and temptations in life. But through  your perseverance and God’s guidance, you will get through the hard times.

4) Is there a character that you wrote yourself into more than the others?  I won’t ask who your favorite is 😅

Although there’s a little of me in each character, I would definitely say I’m a lot more like Claire than any of the others. ☺️


5) Content has been a huge debate recently, especially in YA novels. What content and themes do you think are important to present to young readers? I try really hard to spotlight “clean reads” whenever possible, and your books definitely fall into that category

I definitely think YA books should focus more on standing up for what’s right and including good morals. Now, I enjoy a good love story and an epic battle. But sometimes the scenes in YA books, I believe, are extremely erotic or gorey for young readers. I believe it’s possible to write an exciting story without adding all those extra things.

6) I found the video on your Instagram where you mentioned the Verse that sparked the idea for the series! Essentially the thought was: what would it be like if people physically traded their heart to the creator, vs only doing so in spirit? What would you have traded your heart for at the Heart Reign?

Oh I probably would’ve traded it for power or unlimited clothes 😁


7) I can’t imagine how busy you’ve been with the two boys and a book coming out soon!  What do you do for fun/relaxation/selfcare?

Life is definitely busy right now! I’m so thankful that I have had my family’s help! Most nights I’m just ready to crash into bed 🤣 But when I have a little more energy, I love reading webtoons at night to decompress from the day.


8) Here is the easy round of rapid fire bookish questions! Do you have a favorite book or series that you always recommend? Favorite literary character? Any wonderful or strange bookish habits?

I always recommend The Lunar Chronicles to anyone interested in YA. It’s one of my favorite series and was the series that got me hooked on YA Fantasy.

I love the March sisters from Little Women. I enjoyed reading the series as a child, teenager, and adult and was able to identify with a different one at each stage in my life.

I love to binge read genres. If I read a fairytale retelling I love then I will proceed to read all the fairytale retellings! Then, once I’m tired of that, I’ll move on to something else like dystopian and then read all the dystopian! 

{{I’m just adding here that on her website, she has a list of books that she recommends and it’s organized by genre and age group! We have really similar tastes! I was psyched to see Ted Dekker on someone’s recommendation list, and I definitely bookmarked that incase I ever need more book recs!}} 

9  Thank you so much for taking the time to interview! If there’s anything else you’d like to say about anything at all, please do so here!

Thank you so much for having me! I’ve enjoyed the fun questions! Heartrender, the epic conclusion to the Heartmender trilogy releases Sept. 7! Be sure to read books 1 & 2 before it comes out!


Meet the Author!

V. Romas Burton grew up bouncing up and down the East Coast where she wrote her first story about magical ponies at age seven. Years later, after studying government and earning an M.A. in Theological Studies, V. Romas Burton realized something even bigger was calling out to her–stories that contained great adventures and encouraging messages. Her debut novel, Heartmender, has won several awards including: First Place in Young Adult for the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Second Place in Juvenile/ Young Adult for the 2021 Illumination Book Awards and tied for Third Place for Young Adult Fiction- Fantasy/ Sci- Fi in the 2020 Moonbeam Children’s Awards.


Find Vanessa and the Heartmender series online!

On facebook: https://m.facebook.com/vromasburton/

On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vromasburton/

Author Website: https://vromasburton.com/

Purchase the Heartmender books on Amazon: