H. Leighton Dickinson's To Walk in the Way of Lions (Tails from the Upper Kingdom) bring to a highly-satisfying conclusion the action-packed an emotioH. Leighton Dickinson's To Walk in the Way of Lions (Tails from the Upper Kingdom) bring to a highly-satisfying conclusion the action-packed an emotionally wrenching quest began in the To Journey in the Year of the Tiger (Tails from the Upper Kingdom). With fantasy, and especially Indie fantasy, "standard" plot lines are often followed into cliché land, but not so with this novel. Dickinson perfectly handled the writer's task of giving the reader what they want, but still surprising me, the reader.
Like the first novel, Dickinson left leeway for further novels in this world, but unlike in the first book there is an excellent, well-thought-out, resolution to the "story" of each character and the plot as a whole. They aren't all "happy" conclusions by any means, but for me that makes a better read because some tragedy makes the happier ending all the more sweet, and without pain few people, or characters, grow as they do in this novel.
Also, either I grew used to the formatting or it improved dramatically but it seemed far less obtrusive into my experience for this second novel in the duology.
To those who found even moderate enjoyment in the first novel and are on the fence as to whether they want to invest their time in this conclusion, I say you should definitely go for it. I give this novel the highest recommendation. ...more
Su Yin Tan’s Bright Links, Dark Links is a paranormal romance that stands above the crowd for several reasons. First, reading non-fiction books aboutSu Yin Tan’s Bright Links, Dark Links is a paranormal romance that stands above the crowd for several reasons. First, reading non-fiction books about other cultures is boring, but learning about those cultures as a “side effect” of enjoying a story is wonderful. What’s even better is when it’s an excellent story like this one.
The story starts with twenty-something Jeanie Shen who can see and communicate with spirits, going on a blind date with twenty-something Sam, who just moved into a house in which two strange deaths had occurred a short time earlier. Jeanie visits Sam’s new house and encounters the mysterious spirit of a frightened boy. Shortly thereafter a supernatural presence attacks Sam in the house.
The two’s romance blossoms as they discover that Sam’s house is connected to a string of international tragedies involving multiple sets of twins and a diabolical magical plan.
This is not your run-of-the-mill angsty paranormal romance with beautiful suffering people meandering around and brooding, instead you have something much closer to a real life scenario with real people that that dives into the supernatural which makes it a bit more similar to horror and that combined with the strength and novelty of the story, the quick pace, and the focus on the “thriller” aspects make this a heckuva of a read. I was also glad that Tan relied on suspense and tension instead of gore to carry the horror portions.
Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys pacey and scary romance novels with protagonists you can root for....more
Initially, I had a great deal of trouble writing a review for this work. Why? Because it’s not much like what’s currently all the rage, though ironicaInitially, I had a great deal of trouble writing a review for this work. Why? Because it’s not much like what’s currently all the rage, though ironically, it actually is what some declare the work of others to be: gritty and grim. You see even though the many current fantasy novels are called grim, or grim-dark, gritty or another adjective to that effect, those novels often spend plenty of time inside a character's head so you get to understand them (See the works of: Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence) and empathize if not agree or approve of what they are doing. In contrast, this collection utilizes the 3rd person objective POV so you are essentially viewing this as you would a movie; thus bonding with the protagonists is unlikely, especially since the protagonists, Horsa (somewhat Viking) and Artemo (somewhat Macedonian) the characters are not “heroic” in the current sense of the world. In this world, villains and heroes sometimes have admirable goals but deplorable tactics and vice versa. Or their goals are strictly mercenary, which is fitting because the protagonists are often mercenaries. The protagonists aren’t cruel or evil, but they aren’t diving into danger because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Reading all that may make you believe I disliked this collection, but in fact I enjoyed it immensely! I took the author at his word in (see blurb) and adjusted my expectations. All of the fights (be they street brawls or great battles) are extraordinarily well done as you get the bird’s eye view as well as the man in the muck view. The tactics are interesting and feel solidly real replete with surprises and setbacks. The politics and strategies are fascinating and there is always something happening. As long as your expectations are to follow the surprisingly compelling gritty adventures of some clever and brave men from a camera’s eye view, you will thoroughly enjoy this collection and be eager for more from this author as I am. ...more
Susan Stec's THE UNGRATEFUL DEAD: THEY'RE SO VEIN, is a rip-snorting satire on all things vampiric and paranormal. If comedy lurks on the other side oSusan Stec's THE UNGRATEFUL DEAD: THEY'RE SO VEIN, is a rip-snorting satire on all things vampiric and paranormal. If comedy lurks on the other side of any societal boundary, you can be certain Susan's characters will sashay across it without a backwards glance.
Rather than following the current convention of brooding immortals, Susan gives us a zany family of middle-aged and elderly women suddenly returned to the prime of their youth (albeit an undead youth), with the bonuses of being gorgeous vampires. Rather than whining about it, they glory in it, but their outrageous behavior has not gone unnoticed. There's hierarchy and rules for paranormal beings, and as the girls have been adjusting to their undead lives, they've tromped their stiletto heels all over them, and unfortunately, the Lords of the Undead are not the forgive nor the forget type.
As someone who's overdosed on the vampiric saturation of the entertainment industry, I was hesitant to give this a shot despite recommendations from friends, but I'm very glad I did because Susan has breathed freshness into genre that needed it badly.
Highly recommended for fans of Charlaine Harris's "Sookie Stackhouse" novels, and Christopher Moore's BLOODSUCKING FIENDS, or basically any of his work. ...more
Sheila Dalton's THE GIRL IN THE BOX leaps right into the tangled emotions of Canadian journalist Caitlin Shaughnessy, whose life partner, psychiatristSheila Dalton's THE GIRL IN THE BOX leaps right into the tangled emotions of Canadian journalist Caitlin Shaughnessy, whose life partner, psychiatrist Jerry Simpson, has just been murdered by Inez, a mysterious, beautiful, and mute Mayan teenager he found in the jungles of South America and brought back to his home in Canada for treatment.
In a departure from most novels involving a murder, the question is never who did it but why. The extremely unorthodox method Jerry uses of having this damaged beauty live in his house while he treats her, and the subsequent murder, forces Caitlin to question the purity of Jerry's motives and actions, and to launch an investigation into Jerry's past, their relationship, and the enigma that is Inez, all the while terrified she'll discover that the Jerry that she loved was an illusion that masked a sexual predator.
Dalton moves the story along at a good clip and weaves compelling flashbacks into the narrative that illuminate the present tale, adding richness, and most importantly, relevant, information to both the plot and the emotional landscapes of the characters.
Recommended for those who enjoy both psychological dramas and literary mysteries. ...more
PRINCE OF BRYANAE is subtler and more complex than the slaughter-fest cover would have you believe. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of violence andPRINCE OF BRYANAE is subtler and more complex than the slaughter-fest cover would have you believe. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of violence and mayhem, so don't read that the protagonist Willow is an elf and expect a Young Adulty type fantasy. This ain't that, and it ain't for the faint of heart. With that disclaimer, I'll say that for those who do read it, you get an interesting look at the hard-ass, anti-social type character prevalent in fantasy fiction as well as many other genres, but her you get an in-depth looks at what sort of back-story a character/person would have to have to end up that character. And rather than being forced to wade through endless introspection like you might in a literary fiction novel, Getzin delivers it in an excellent pacey piece filled with action and plenty of little and big surprises, twists, and betrayals, which are executed properly. Which is to say it makes sense that the character did what they did rather than it suited the author and the plot to have them do something that was out-of-character. Also, Getzin balances the dark with good bits of humor.
I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys action-packed fantasy that is dark and at times disturbing, but mixed with humor and three-dimensional characters. ...more
H. Leighton Dickinson's To Journey in the Year of the Tiger (Tails from the Upper Kingdom) surprised me with how well the author delineated each charaH. Leighton Dickinson's To Journey in the Year of the Tiger (Tails from the Upper Kingdom) surprised me with how well the author delineated each character, making the character traits so specific that it was easy to tell who was who from how the character acted and spoke, which was good because the author made the unfortunate choice of giving two of the characters, both lion-men, names that were almost identical. It made sense because they were brothers, but early on, I was not always able to recall which was being referred to just by name, however, as I said their personalities and duties were so different it always quickly became apparent who was being referred to.
I almost made a big mistake and quit early on in a book I ended up thoroughly enjoying because there multiple earth cultures were seemingly hodgepodged into the cat-human-hybrid empire in which the tail, er, tale takes place. HOWEVER, I read on long enough to get excellent hints that there was a very valid and logical reason behind this rather than being the amateurish world-building I initially feared.
This novel earned four stars because, though the characterization and plotting were excellent, the similar names of the two characters, as well as some rather unfortunate formatting on the kindle version created a few stumbles, and the ending didn't have much in the way of resolution.
Since I did enjoy reading this book and LOVED the sequel To Walk in the Way of Lions (Tails from the Upper Kingdom) I highly recommend this book. ...more
THE FIFTH KNIGHT, E.M. Powell’s debut medieval thriller reached #1 on Amazon and with good reason.
The Fifth Knight is an “intimate” thriller, which fTHE FIFTH KNIGHT, E.M. Powell’s debut medieval thriller reached #1 on Amazon and with good reason.
The Fifth Knight is an “intimate” thriller, which focuses on a handful of characters, good and bad, that you get to know very well, instead of dozens as one might find in continent or globe spanning thrillers, historical and contemporary. Being so delightfully focused, The Fifth Knight does not require an extensive dramatis personæ for the reader to keep track of, who works for whom or begat whom,. This allows for excellent character arcs and, in the case of the villains, character(less) revelations.
Speaking of villains, Powell’s main antagonist, Sir Fitzurse has the three “Rs” you always want in want in a thriller - he is resourceful, relentless, and ruthless. His mission is allegedly to Arrest Archbishop Thomas Becket and abduct the mysterious Theodosia, a young naïve anchoress who has spent most of her life willingly dwelling in a prisonlike cell as she strives to make herself worthy to serve God as a nun. The arrest goes awry and, as we know from history books, Thomas Becket is killed.
Sir Fitzurse’s scheming was nearly flawless, his only mistakes being the enlistment of Sir Benedict Palmer and allowing the young knight to hear of the diabolical torture that Sir Fitzurse has planned for Theodosia. Though desperate to receive the pay that Fitzurse promised, Palmer’s conscience won’t allow him to be a party to Fitzurse’s evils. In fact, Palmer aids Theodosia in making a daring escape.
Romance blossoms between the headstrong anchoress, Theodosia, and the tarnished knight, Sir Palmer, as they are forced to their wits’ end to elude capture by Fitzurse and his minions. All the while, they struggle to determine the secret Theodosia unknowingly holds. The hope is that learning the truth that Fitzurse so desperately desires just might save them.
The Fifth Knight is highly recommended for those who want protagonists you can root for and watch grow. ...more
Audra Middleton’s Watcher’s chief strength is the characters, flawed and thus identifiable, definitely the sort you root for, but not stereotypicallyAudra Middleton’s Watcher’s chief strength is the characters, flawed and thus identifiable, definitely the sort you root for, but not stereotypically “good”, which makes it interesting to watch them struggle to determine what the right thing is let alone do it. Even though the characters—Goran the Priest, Benaiah the Mystical Warrior, and Watcher the magical orphaned forest girl taken in and raised by Goran—are caught in the webs of prophecy, their actions seem anything but pre-ordained, which turns Watcher into an unpredictable read. The world-building and vivid descriptions give the reader a real sense of being in Watcher’s world. All this combines to make Middleton’s Watcher an excellent fantasy debut. Highly recommended. ...more
Eolyn, Karin Gastreich's debut novel, is an excellent example of the other breed of Epic Fantasy epitomized by the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, which isEolyn, Karin Gastreich's debut novel, is an excellent example of the other breed of Epic Fantasy epitomized by the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, which is to say, not the traditional "unlikely but fated and/or prophesied hero must face the dreaded return of dark lord." Instead, Gastreich's Eolyn focuses on the emotional, political, and physical conflicts between powerful and three-dimensional characters. You don't have any villains who do villainy because, well, that's just what villains do. Each character has compelling reasonable motivations. The action sequences are executed wonderfully and are unpredictable in that the character who "normally" triumphs doesn't always triumph.
Gastreich launches her characters on unavoidable collision courses and with her tendency to avoid stereotypes-- or use them to her advantage to create a surprising turn of events--the climatic sequence is thrilling because, for once, you really don't know how it will end.
The beginning of Eolyn, a clearly intentional nod to the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, may give some readers pause as it feels young for an adult fantasy, but sticking with the story is amply rewarded and Gastreich does something with Eolyn in 328 pages that many fantasy authors fail to do with twice that page count: tell a complete and satisfying tale as the first novel of a trilogy. Readers of the aforementioned Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin Hobb will definitely enjoy this novel.
(This review is of an Advanced Review Copy) ...more
The blurb does a great job covering the story’s content. It’s basically an FBI procedural with oddball agents and a science fantasy twist. What makesThe blurb does a great job covering the story’s content. It’s basically an FBI procedural with oddball agents and a science fantasy twist. What makes this novel a great fun read is Middleton’s deft touch with characters, especially Ainsley herself who is a bundle of issues having a career military father and brother she feels like she’s letting her dad down being “just” a high school teacher. Having an and unreliable often absentee mother growing up didn’t help add to her mental stability although they both share the hitchhiker gene which allows for a limited time to see, feel, and hear what other people are experiencing, but not read the person’s mind. The good news is she never whines, just trucks along trying to do the best she can even though her quirky nature and verbal blurting before she thinks get her in a lot of trouble.
Ainsley is refreshing break from the plethora of headstrong I-know-best protagonists out there. She proves you can still be strong, clever, and resourceful, without being, well, an annoying ass. Another refreshing thing in Hitchiker is that rather than being attracted to the studly cock-of the walk character, she is drawn to another squad member: Dove. Schizo, Paranoid, OCD, ADD, germaphobic and super brainy. The only problem is the way Ainsley’s powers are activated thorough coming into contact with the bodily fluids of the person she’s going to hitchhike on. How can a paranoid, OCD, germaphobe like Dove ever learn to handle that?
Even Middleton’s secondary characters, mostly members of the freak squad, are deftly layered and by that I don’t mean the “bad” person turns out to be “good” or vice versa, but rather that each character has good points and bad points like real people. That she’s able to convey all that through dialogue and actions in a novel less than two hundred pages is a testament to Middleton’s talent.
The plot is solid and interesting but too hard to explain without spoiling it. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who needs to like and root for their protagonists and enjoys oddballs.
Jaden Terrell's excellent debut mystery novel RACING THE DEVIL provides freshness to the niche genre that is the noir male private eye, while still giJaden Terrell's excellent debut mystery novel RACING THE DEVIL provides freshness to the niche genre that is the noir male private eye, while still giving the readers of niche everything they look for. Characters with troubled pasts, women with ulterior motives, sudden violence, but unlike much of noir, the protagonist, Jared McKean is far from a loner and has rich and interesting relationships with is family, child, roommate, friends and even horses.
Racing the Devil starts with the novel's protagonist, Jared McKean, having an amorous encounter with a woman in a bar only to wake up two days later and discover he's been framed for the murder of a woman he doesn't know and it's a doozy, witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, etc..
If that wasn't bad enough, his personal life is maze of difficult relationships: his brother, who abandoned a promising dream career to raise Jared, is having issues with his Goth son; Jared's roommate has AIDs; a duplicitous local hotshot reporter who had once been Jared's girlfriend is all over the murder case; and the woman Jared loves is married to another man and she has custody of his beloved son Paul who has Down Syndrome. He also owns and loves horses, which plays nicely into the storyline. While Jared rushes to prove his innocence, his personal life is imploding.
The only weakness would be is that some of the action, though realistic and character revealing, was not tied tightly into the storyline. The strongest part of the novel is the way Terrell weaves in Jared's murder case with his personal problems and tells the story in forward motion using only short, pertinent, and compelling back-flashes sparsely, and saving backstory for when you need to know it. Terrell also rarely relies on clichés and that makes her prose is richer and more engrossing.
Highly recommended for those who like mysteries and/or characters that have strong emotional connections to others.
(This review is based on an Advanced Review Copy provided by the publisher) ...more