Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Reader's Review: "What The Chat Dragged In" by Cyn Mackley


Synopsis from Amazon:

A romantic suspense story balanced on the point of a knife.

FBI Special Agent Martha Garrett spent her career protecting children from predators, but one night she saw something so awful that it broke her mind and her spirit.

Starting a new job and a new life, she’s found a kindred soul in Seth Christopher, a man who photographs flags, daisies, and food for a living and spends his time creating recipes for his food blog. Her tattooed, handsome soulmate is ready to whisk her away to a dream house in the Texas Hill Country, but unspeakable childhood abuse has left him with scars of his own and a dark side he warns Martha she never wants to see.

But the past refuses to leave them alone. When child predators that escaped justice start to die, cops think there's a vigilante at work settling her old scores. Now, Martha has hard questions to ask about herself and her newfound love.

With her name at the top of the suspect list, can Martha stop the killing before it destroys her second chance?
>>>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

Well, this one was different than I was expecting, for sure! I picked it up because Cyn Mackley is an excellent "cozy" author, I really enjoyed her Goode-Grace mystery series. I figured this one was going to be a bit like that, except from the perspective of a federal agent who specializes in sussing out pedophiles in chat rooms and whatever. I was all set for a gripping mystery, sudden plot twists, and high peril all the way.

What I got was more of an emotional journey than a physical thriller. What The Chat Dragged In kind of flips the usual emphasis of cozy mysteries. The crime itself and the investigation becomes almost a backdrop to the budding romance and the personal journeys of the two individual characters, Martha (the Fed) and Seth, a food blogger who seems to have his own past trauma that keeps coming back to haunt him. After a particularly harrowing case that results in a mental breakdown, Martha needs to find ways to relax and take it easy, and at the behest of a couple trusted friends, starts the process of healing and mending by pursuing a relationship with Seth.

I suppose it was partially due to the fact that I was expecting something like the relationship between Trinity Goode and Bobby Grace that I found Martha and Seth's relationship a little bit uninteresting, and at times uncomfortable. She may be "retired" in a way, but Martha still finds herself digging into different unsavory characters in between speaking engagements where she can share her skills and explain her processes to other law enforcement groups--and especially when she meets Seth, and learns about the abuse that happened in his past, things kind of converge in crazy ways. Simply based on the title, I thought for sure the cat named Chat would feature more prominently than it did. I kept waiting for a scene where Martha's conversation with a prospective criminal might dredge something up, or Chat would physically drag something in that would launch an investigation... but no dice.

But in spite of the disappointments, I will say that Mackley does not fail when it comes to the food references in her books, nor the sweet, sultry, slow-burn romance that builds between characters! Seth's occupation as a photographer and food blogger provides ample opportunity for him to cook up dish after dish of tantalizing food for Martha's enjoyment. Their bonding over that aspect in particular is very sweet and endearing, a sort of "oasis" in the midst of the chaos that is the rest of their lives. I do acknowledge that this feels like more of the main thrust of the story rather than any kind of mystery: Martha's and Seth's own journey through healing and recovery, and the way they support each other in it, and the threat of the way their own pitfalls could drag each other down if they're not careful. The criminals are suitably reprehensible, and the community surrounding both characters is unique and relatable, and provide their own breeds of "setbacks" as well as support that both Martha and Seth need at varying times.

On the whole, I'd rank What The Chat Dragged In with a fairly-decent ****4 STAR**** rating. There wasn't much in the way of an actual antagonist (more like the past abuse and psychological trauma is the villain in this piece!) and thus not a whole lot in the way of a linear plot with clear trajectory and a satisfactory resolution, but honestly, the food references were great, the characters are awesome, and I do think a story like this could speak volumes to readers who can relate to the trauma. Mackley does an excellent job crafting a sympathetic story that lets every reader find themselves in the story. Despite it not going the way I expected, this book goes to show that when the reader can relate to the experiences of the main character, the message comes through loud and clear, "You are seen. You are heard. You are not alone." And that's the best kind of cozy fiction of all.

Further Reading: (Also By The Author/Clean Romance/Thrilling Mysteries/Cunning Conspiracies)
The Goode-Grace Mysteries--Cyn Mackley
       
-American Goth 
       -A Maze And Grace
The Painter Place Saga--Pamela Poole
       -Painter Place 
       -Hugo 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
        -Angel Tormented
The Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
       -The Emergence
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -Gutshot (Novellette)
       -The Alcatraz Coup (Novella) 
       -Vulnerable (Short Story) 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Bounty 
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
       -Behind The Mask 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Reader's Review: "The Girl and the Clockwork Cat" by Nikki McCormack

Synopsis from Amazon:

Feisty teenage thief Maeko and her maybe-more-than-friend Chaff have scraped out an existence in Victorian London's gritty streets, but after a near-disastrous heist leads her to a mysterious clockwork cat and two dead bodies, she's thrust into a murder mystery that may cost her everything she holds dear.

Her only allies are Chaff, the cat, and Ash, the son of the only murder suspect, who offers her enough money to finally get off the streets if she'll help him find the real killer.

What starts as a simple search ultimately reveals a conspiracy stretching across the entire city. And as Maeko and Chaff discover feelings for each other neither was prepared to admit, she's forced to choose whether she'll stay with him or finally escape the life of a street rat. But with danger closing in around them, the only way any of them will get out of this alive is if all of them work together.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

This one might have been a book I expressed interest in ahead of time. Certainly at the time, I wasn't intending to pick it up. Usually when I get a book by a new author, it's usually after I've interacted with them or a review of their book online. In this case, I went to a local craft expo intending to pick up the three books in a series I really loved--and, lo and behold, it was a "buy-three-get-one-free" deal, and the seller (an author I heartily support, and who has supported me ever since he was so supportive of me when I was just starting out as a review blogger) heavily recommended it to me, so I figured, "Why not?" I added this fun steampunk adventure with a spunky heroine and a cat with a mechanical leg to take home with me, sight-unseen!

Having read it, all I can say is, it's a good thing I love steampunk so much, because that is this book's best feature! Most of the world-building was your standard Victorian-era fare, to the point that it wouldn't really look out of place in a British period film--but then McCormack adds touches like the quasi-police force known as the Literati to bring a touch of otherworldly whimsy to the story as a whole.

The mystery at the heart of it was deliciously twisty. Plenty of conspiracies and intrigue, the story took a while to build itself, but eventually we arrived at the scene--a mother and child murdered in a swanky penthouse, and a man--brilliant inventor, notorious scientist--gone missing. The only clue is a cat left behind, with a mechanical hind leg.

That cat, and its inventor were probably the two most interesting characters in the whole novel. Possibly in a pinch, I would recall a few instances in which the main character, a half-Japanese "street rat" named Maeko, made herself relatable and almost interesting. Frankly, I cared more about her dysfunctional relationship with her only surviving relative that she blamed for abandoning her to her current situation than the two "love interests" that were made into a whole thing in this story. Frankly, I didn't know one well enough to root for him, while the other seemed a lot more interesting, but somehow the author didn't think it was in Maeko's best interest to go with him... we'll see how the "romance that doesn't want to be a romance" plays out in future installments, sure.

For all of the downplaying I've been doing, The Girl and The Clockwork Cat is some decent storytelling. I give it a *****4.5 STAR***** rating, and yes, as I mentioned, I would be interested in seeing how the series develops from there! Certainly the aesthetic and the world-building makes Clockwork Enterprises a series to watch! If you're looking for a light, fun, steampunk adventure, start here!

Further Reading: (Steampunk/Conspiracies/Teenage Heroines)

Dawn of Steam Trilogy--Jeffrey Cook
      -First Light
      -Gods of The Sun 
      -Rising Suns
The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist 
       -The Pinocchio Factor
-Sky Knight--Sandra Harvey
-AmsterDamned--Nils Visser
-Wolves And Daggers--Melanie Karsak
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -Gutshot (Novellette) 
       -The Alcatraz Coup (Novella) 
       -Vulnerable (Short Story) 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs 
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair 
        -Street Fair 
        -A Fair Fight 
        -All's Fair 
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland 
     -Dance Into The Wyrd
The PSS Chronicles--Ripley Patton
       -Ghost Hand 
       -Ghost Hold 
       -Ghost Heart 
       -Ghost Hope 

Friday, December 9, 2022

Blog Tag: Get To Know The Fantasy Reader!


I haven't really gone and joined one of these outside an established group... but I've just been invited to a couple different tags, so you're getting some "insider information" on me!
The blogger who invited me was Raina Nightingale over on Enthralled By Love, and the tag itself originates as a romance reader tag, from Bree Hill on Falling For Romance.

*Quick note about the thumbnail image: I made it myself, with an AI-generated image. Feel free to use it if you are participating in this hop!*

1-What is your Fantasy Origin? (The First Fantasy you Read) 

I grew up homeschooled, so aside from the usual (Mossflower by Brian Jacques, and the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis; I actually didn't get into Lord of the Rings until later) there are two titles in particular that I know influenced my early stories. One was Brill of Exitorn by Peggy Downing, about a boy who gets conscripted to be the companion to a spoiled, selfish son of the wicked emperor who has been oppressing the land. The boy uses cleverness, honesty, and compassion to win over the "emprince", as his title went, and although he and another girl were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned when they tried to liberate others who had been wrongfully imprisoned, they manage to survive and set off to have more adventures--unfortunately, I never knew that there was more to the story, but it definitely ignited my imagination to read it several times!
The other was The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, and trust me, I had plenty of thoughts about what I would do if I encountered a King that was secretly masquerading as a footman in his own castle! I certainly identified with the titular Princess, her being so "ordinary" and "mousy", while her gorgeous sisters didn't want anything to do with her... Feeling quite plain, myself, I felt inspired to use this to my own advantage, improving my mind and my character while not worrying overmuch about my looks!

2-If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s the trope you’d insist be in the story? 

Me? Well... That's a tough hypothetical! There are so many authors whose style I very much enjoy... but I might not survive as a character in their books! But as far as "writes beautiful prose and excellent at world-building", I'd probably go with Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Naomi Novik, or Amy Hopkins. In the scope of their books, I'd probably want the role of a wise counselor or mentor-figure, like a "fairy godmother" type. I don't always need to be the center of attention all the time, but I like having the position of influence, to be the "hub of knowledge and information", as it were. One of my favorite tropes and the one I hope is in the book I am a part of is that "Truth Wins." Like, for the discovery of truth to be the key to the undoing of the antagonist. Also, I love the "found family" trope, as well as the "strong silent softie archetype" trope, so I'd want those to be present as well!

3-What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read? 

To be honest, 2022 hasn't been my best year for reading. I've been doing a lot of discovering of new crime thriller authors, some stand-alones... but for the sake of having a response, I will say that I've at least read A Promise Due, the next (fourth) book in the Talented series by Amy Hopkins. It's an urban fantasy series that I've described as "If Hermione Granger decided to use her talents in Herbology to open a tea shop just outside London." The main character, Emma, is a "Half-Talent", where her full-magic father married a "normal" woman. As such, she's too "normal" for the magic community, and too "magic" for the normal community, she's kind of in a social limbo that tends to be very uncomfortable... particularly in the circumstance when the series starts, in which someone capable of dream-walking has been killing people off. At first she's a suspect, because her enchanted teas are a well-known staple--but as the mystery deepens, Emma figures out that the killer is going after Half-Talents like herself... and she's been getting disturbing imagery in her dreams that could indicate she might be the next target. Of course, that's just how it starts, and the mysteries just get deeper and bigger and more twisty from there. The characters and world-building are wonderful. Emma lives with her faithful dog Lenny and the "family boggart", sort of like a monstrous cryptid butler, and she meets two Talent Lords, brothers who kind of take her under their wing as an honorary sibling when she navigates the Talent high society, a Fae stylist named Bee who is absolutely delightful, a hound shifter who works on the police force... and so much more! If I were to recommend any series I read this year, that would definitely be the one!

4-What is your favorite fantasy subgenre? 

I have lots of favorites! Fantasy is definitely the biggest genre I read. Fairy tales, Portal fantasy, urban fantasy, sword and sorcery and noblebright fantasy are among my favorites. I love a good shifter fantasy as well!

5-What subgenre have you not read much from? 

Dark fantasy and especially grimdark fantasy are subgenres I have only a "dabbler's" interest in. I tend to be pretty squeamish, so if the violence is too intense and there isn't a secondary feature like amazing world-building or thought-provoking prose to kind of take my mind off the gore, then I don't enjoy it for its own sake. And I will say, that while I like romantic stories like fairy tales and whatnot, "fantasy romance" is not what I would go for, in its own right. I like romance as a subplot, but if it's the only thing the novel has going on, frankly that bores me!

6-Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors? 

One author whose books I'm always looking for, and definitely know that I want to read as soon as I see her name on it is Marissa Meyer. Her series The Lunar Chronicles was one of the first series I ever actually bought to own. I have at least one of her stand-alones, too--but I'm ashamed to admit I haven't gotten into her new series yet! (But that is to come, for sure!) In the indie realm, the author I've immediately bought when I had the money to spare and she's come out with a new book is Kelly Blanchard. I have signed copies of the entire Chronicles of Lorrek, which I promised myself I needed to read before I got her spin-off series, the Hand of Sorrow. Her books are so good, though!

7-How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, YouTube, Podcasts, Instagram, etc.)

Goodreads is usually how I find out about a lot of books, since I can see what my friends are reading and how they've enjoyed books--even titles I find randomly at the library that I find exciting, I typically look them up on Goodreads just to see what the reviews are like, and what people enjoy or object to in a given title, and what my friends have said about it. My library also has a "staff picks" shelf, where they feature books in a few different genres that staff members recommend--a few times I've found books that I ended up really liking on that shelf as well!

8-What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for? 

Well, if you'd asked me that a few months ago, I would have said The First Binding by R. R. Virdi--he's an author I've reviewed many times on this blog, ever since I read and loved his debut self-published novel. This year, he got picked up and published by Tor Books, a massive publisher, and since its release in August, the book is already making waves! By now, though, I'd have to say: Over The Moon by S. E. Anderson! She's an author I've been in a few groups with (and on a podcast panel, too!) and although I haven't read a lot of her works, I absolutely love her creativity and the ideas she comes up with. For example, this upcoming release of hers is a sort of "cyberpunk remix" of the Wizard of Oz, replete with secret royal twins, aliens and AI versions of the different character archetypes from the source material, and I'm betting there will be tons of entertaining references throughout! I still remember catching the social media update when she was talking about the concept in the "infant" stages of the idea, back when it was under a different title... and for sure I will be hyping it upon release!

9-What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest? 

That it's somehow "just for girls." Or that it's all one thing (like fairies and unicorns and dragons and tall and graceful Elves...); or even further, that it's "just escapist stories that have no bearing on reality, but are really a distraction from actual real-world problem solving."
On the contrary, I believe that fantasy is necessary because it allows one to see real-world problems out of their real-world context, so maybe aspects of that problem are more readily apparent. Reading fantasy could allow you to read a situation or an issue you may relate to, but in this new context it gives you the ability to see it from another perspective.
Fantasy isn't all castles and princesses and unicorns; it's not all girly romance and damsels in distress. Fantasy can be worthwhile for all genders and ages, not just to escape reality and chase after flights of fancy, but to exercise one's mind and learn to view situations from new and inventive ways of thinking. I've met people who only read nonfiction because they don't see "the point" of fiction... I would argue that their objection is precisely why fiction and especially fantasy is necessary, because the real world is too vast for just one way of linear thinking; we need to learn to see beyond the surface, beyond our empirical (or senses-based) interactions. Fantasy gives shape to the abstract, and allows us to grasp the invisible.

10-If someone had never read a fantasy book before and asked you to recommend the first three books that came to mind as places to start, what would these recommendations be? 

Ooh, this is a tough one! Namely because fantasy is such a broad spectrum. I might select a few from different subgenres, just to see what more I could give them. Maybe I'd start my friend out with Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis as a good portal fantasy—if they like that one, then I know that they’ll like books with lots of magic, they don’t mind talking animals, and they definitely want to see good win out sooner rather than later. 
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, I would recommend to somebody who watched a lot of Disney films growing up, but they don’t see how the fairy tales could be “upgraded” for even more entertainment. 
And thirdly, I’d want them to read Inkheart, because Cornelia Funke has an amazing way with bringing fantasy so close to the real world that it’s kind of amazing, that book in particular captures an “outsider’s” perspective of fantasy literature.

11-What is the most recent fantasy retelling content creator you came across the you’d like to shout out?

As a matter of fact, the most recent featured review I've posted here on the blog happens to be a retelling, and yes, I did enjoy it very much!
The book was Severance by M. A. Smith, and it came off as sort of a re-telling of The Little Mermaid--but very much along the lines of "if Hans Christian Andersen's classic tale had truly been told entirely from the mermaid's point of view", rather than just the surface things described as a human would. I would go on, but you can read my full review by clicking >This linked text<. Bottom line, she deserves a shout-out for her excellent work!

And finally, I'll close out this post by tagging five more bloggers to talk about their reading experiences!

Feel free to offer your own answers to any of these questions, or comment about any of these titles you've read, or you might want to read! Join the conversation!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Reader's Review: "Severance" by M. A. Smith


Synopsis from Amazon:

With the earth long diseased, humanity has evolved back into creatures of the water. Beneath the waves, the folk, fearing the corrupted land, remain within the boundaries of their world. One among them, though, is different. One of them is prepared to make a bargain. A life for a life. A severance for a blood debt. The truth for one deep breath.
>>>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

For as much as I enjoy a good mermaid tale, there have only been a few that have made it onto my radar for Reader's Reviews.

One such is of course this, Severance, an innocent-looking novella that I knew involved mermaids at some point--but that was all that I knew about it. I've been looking forward to it, curiosity duly piqued--what I didn't want was just another story of a mermaid who becomes curious about the surface world and ends up falling in love with someone from there, until the twist comes and she finds out that the love will never be requited.

This is not your typical mermaid tale.

First of all, Smith sets up her fantasy world with the epic grace and poise of a master world-builder. References are made of a nuclear/radiation/pollution cataclysm that drove some humans down below the water, where the radiation couldn't reach them, and there they adapted and became the creatures commonly known as merfolk. But Smith does all this in such a way that when you are reading it from the perspective of the narrator, the young mermaid who fills the role of main character, you are plunged into the depths of The Keep and you find your breathing patterns matching those of the merfolk. The descriptions of the ravaged surface world are so real, it makes your skin crawl. You start to smell that briny sea scent.

Second, I love the detail and immersion Smith pours into her writing, using terminology and metaphors that only someone who has lived underwater would use, right down to the scientific jargon that lends credibility to her fantastic theories. This is a technique I attempted to use when writing my own retelling of Little Mermaid, but Smith takes it to a whole new level that I absolutely loved! From the technique of using kelp butter to keep her scales smooth out of the water, to referring to crucifix necklaces as "souls", everything about this story was beautiful and fascinating! The distinctive characters she has designed are pretty awesome as well.

I was spellbound through the whole thing. Severance earns itself a full *****5 STAR***** rating, and I'll add to that the Upstream Writer Certified DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. It rings true with Hans Christian Andersen's original, but told entirely from the perspective of the mermaid herself, rather than a "land-dweller" attempting to write how one might assume a mythical creature might feel. M. A. Smith is a talented author with incredible skill to her credit!

Further Reading: (Mermaids/Fantasy/Immersive World-Building)
Verona: The Complete Mermaid Tales--Pauline Creeden
       -Scales 
       -Submerged 
       -Salt 
       -Surfacing
The Valiant Series--Joanna White
       -Hunter 
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -Gutshot (Novellette) 
       -The Alcatraz Coup (Novella) 
       -Vulnerable (Short Story) 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie
The Bhinian Empire--Miriam Forster
     -City of A Thousand Dolls 
     -Empire of Shadows 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

NaNoWriMo 2022: Announcing This Year's Novel!



Whew!! How is it almost November already?

This year has been... not quite like I thought it would be. Starting with battling Covid in January that set me back several months as my physical health recovered quite quickly, but my mental health (namely the psychological wherewithal to write) took a nosedive for several months... and then, just when I was getting to the end of a very stressful school year and looking forward to a summer of really hitting the second draft of Fugitive of Crossway very hard, my brother's health took a turn for the worse, and he passed away near the end of summer.

I've stopped a bunch of projects since then, but The Undersea Saga is here to stay, and here's why: I now see it as a small way to honor my brother's memory. It's on account of him that the piddly little stand-alone novella became a full-fledged series, anyway, and I'd hoped to be able to involve him in the development of Fugitive of Crossway as it unfolded... but although that's not going to happen, I'm still going to finish the thing, for sure!

At this point, honestly, I'm nowhere near where I planned on being at the end of last year. If everything had gone the way I'd hoped, I'd be making my final tweaks on Fugitive of Crossway, already sent it off for professional editing, and into the formatting/ design stage.

In reality... I've got three chapters actually "done", I'm headed into the really tricky part of the story that had the most changes and is definitely the middle part of the book that I'm the most iffy about... but where does that leave me for NaNo?

Why not go ahead and give myself a running start on Book 3?

That's right, folks, this November, I'm taking my first crack at Fury of Outwest, the third book in the Undersea Saga, and I'll admit, I'm excited to be able to return to actually pulling off a retelling, rather than "inspired by", as Fugitive of Crossway is!

So what story am I retelling for this third book?

Well, back when I was devising the series as longer than like two or three books, I knew that I wanted to use the four different "kingdoms" as the settings for the various books, and as such, this one would be Outwest.

This would be the most different of the four kingdoms, as it wouldn't exactly be a kingdom, per se... no kings or castles here! I envisioned Outwest as a combination of the American Wild West and the Australian Outback--just hot, desert-y landscape with scattered towns, villages, and ranches throughout, but mostly empty, barren desert.

And what sort of fairy tales take place in the desert? Why, Aladdin, of course!

This one was a bit tricky, as I'd already decided I wanted to write a "steampunk Aladdin", and I'd been jotting down plot ideas for that... but when it came to creating an "Undersea Saga" version of it, I came to the realization that there needed to be a lot more to the story than the "traditional" sense--a street rat comes across a magical item that gives him access to riches beyond reason... but then what?

In particular, I decided to gender-swap the main character. "Aladdin" became "Delaina", an outlaw who survived by raiding stagecoaches that dared cross the desert wasteland. Instead of a lamp with a genie inside... there's going to be a special "magical" device found by our intrepid protagonist, one that provides her with access to riches beyond belief. (I'm not going to go into any detail about the device, because spoilers!) I had already decided on an object back when this was "Steampunk Aladdin", but everything I'd thought of was only confirmed when I saw this premade and knew I had to have it!


I love the look of the device in her hand! I am still deciding whether to give her a prosthetic limb, so that may change by the time the cover design comes around, but there you have it!

Instead of the street rat going through all this charade to win the eye and heart of the princess of the realm... Well, that part I'm going to keep to myself for now, but here's hoping that readers will find my alternative worthwhile still! Suffice to say, I don't think this one will have much romance in it--at least, not where it is just now. I don't know, a character could crop up and catch Delaina's eye as I'm writing the thing. I only have the bare-bones notes at this point. After posting this announcement, that is next on the "writing docket", fleshing out chapter-by-chapter the notes I have. If I see fit to include a romantic subplot, I just might, but for now, it seems that Princess of Undersea is the only book with romance in it, in the series.

Wouldn't that be fitting, though? Making Ylaine and Nathan my only romantic couple in the series? I don't know. I'm still thinking on that one.

Meanwhile, there will be gunfights, subterfuge, and all manner of fun things--including, by way of connection to the rest of the series, an appearance by none other than "Calamity Jacqui" from Fugitive of Crossway. Due to the events of that book, she's no longer a performing carnie... but her role in Fury of Outwest is more that of a bounty hunter. She's been dispatched to track down and "retrieve" the thing that Delaina has... but can the outlaw last long enough to find out the truth?

Hang on to your bowler hats, everyone... this is going to be a wild ride!

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Reader's Review: "Diamond Stained" by JMD Reid


Synopsis from Amazon: 

Burdened by regrets, a disgraced guard turns to a magical blade he is reluctant to wield.

Life had gone wrong for Obhin. Once a respected palace guard, now he sells his sword as a bandit. Trapped by his missteps, he little reason for hope...

Until one young woman sees more in him.

Passionate and headstrong, Avena has no patience for bullies. Haunted by her own bleak past, the healer sees in Obhin a chance for escape...a chance for them both.

This misfit pairing must learn to trust each other as they struggle to survive in a city of poverty and vice, for dark sorcerers, underworld crime bosses, and brutal bandits scheme to destroy them.

Can they polish clean their stained souls?

>>>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

I've been getting more and more into the grimdark genre, in spite of how squeamish I usually am. Take any movie with above-average violence (for example, if they show the wound actually happen, or the limb actually breaking...) and I'll usually hide my face behind a pillow or turn away from the screen when I know a particularly visceral visual is coming. It's less striking in novels, as I can just "jump" my eyes right over the paragraph detailing the exact moment of injury... but still, when I have to do that in every other scene, it begs the question: am I actually reading the novel, or just skimming it, and where is the enjoyment in that?

The one thing I have noticed, though, in the really good novels-with-a-surplus-of-violence, is that the ones I will continue reading have really great prose! That's what keeps me coming back, more often than not, is the fantastic character arcs, and the meaningful, thought-provoking prose that happens between fight scenes. Those are the parts I slow down and relish; that's what I keep in my mind every time I think of those books.

Guess what? JMD Reid is one of those "good authors" I mentioned a bit ago.

This may be less "grimdark" and more "sword and sorcery with extra violence", but there is quite a bit that I absolutely loved about this book, to counter those things that came across as too intense for me! 

First, can I just rave about the magic/religious system that he's invented for this world, one based on gemstones that grant different abilities based on the type of gemstone--that's the magic part. The society views these gemstones as gifts from their deity, and the colors of each gemstone are associated with a specific virtue--and there's a whole set of religious beliefs based around that. The adherents seek to build their lives around pursuing these "color" virtues, while shunning the Black: all that is wicked and evil and colorless.

But that's just one dimension of it. Another group takes these "colors" and interprets them as "tones": the virtuous Tones exist in harmony with one another, and the Black represents dissonance and disharmony. Both belief systems stem from the desire to emulate these virtues, as a sign of their commitment to their respective deity, the highest standard of morality.

And that's just one facet of what makes this story fascinating! Another is the characters Reid has crafted: Obhin, the dark bandit with his unorthodox views on modesty and his strange personal moral code that permits him to kill and run with gruff and uncouth mercenaries... and yet wracks him with guilt the whole time he's doing it. Avena, with her deep personal trauma that colors her every step and haunts her every moment, that drives her to recklessness and danger... yet it's also that trauma that gives her such keen insight into the nature of wounds and a drive to alleviate even the hurts that the healing topaz won't reach. Normally, the two wouldn't have anything to do with each other, but their fates converge and Obhin switches from attacker to protector, as dark forces conspire to wreak havoc among the people and twist the benefits of these gemstones to amass power for themselves and accomplish their nefarious goals.

Diamond Stained is a brilliant adventure with top-notch storytelling, plot twists that will make you hold your breath, characters that make you laugh and send shivers down your spine at the sight of their name, and all-around a magnificent tale set in a spellbinding world full of richness and depth, the way a fantasy novel should be! I give it *****5 STARS***** in rating--if you're looking for a new world to immerse yourself into, and you don't mind a hefty side of graphic violence in between paragraphs of singing prose, then may I say, Welcome to Kash! The Jewels of Illumination series awaits!

Further Reading: (Sword and Sorcery/Excellent World-Building/Strong Characters)
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
        -They Must Be Stopped 
        -Find Me If You Can 
A Tune Of Demons Series--J. E. Mueller
       -Fire's Song 
       -Spirit's Lullaby
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Bounty 
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
       -Behind The Mask 
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -Gutshot (Novellette) 
       -The Alcatraz Coup (Novella) 
       -Vulnerable (Short Story) 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Reader's Review: "Hunter" by Joanna White

Synopsis from Amazon:

A reckless young woman named Averella does what no woman has ever done. She disguises herself as a man and purposefully gets herself arrested and thrown into Zagerah. Her brother Gabriel was taken, and with his disease, he will not survive on his own. She has no idea what to expect inside the prison; all she knows is that once men get taken, they never come back.

The Hunters will find her.

Genetically altered to be faster and stronger than humans, the Hunters use their powers to find and kill every prisoner who enters Zagerah. The only ones who can defeat them, are in fact, themselves.

Jared is a Hunter. It’s all he’s known, all he remembers. He kills ruthlessly and without regret, one prisoner after another. When a new prisoner Dalex shows up, everything begins to change. Jared goes undercover to make Dalex and the other prisoners believe he is one of them, a prisoner himself.

No one knows the truth. He will trick them. Toy with them. Then, he will kill them.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

My Review:

Going by the blurb, one might reasonably expect this story to read like a "Mulan"-type knockoff, right? At least, if Mulan met, say, Shan Yu's son and the two were plunged into an "enemies-to-lovers" type situation. Basic storytelling at its most basic, am I right?

But this is not that. From the very beginning, Joanna White gives us a story that feels familiar, yet plays out in unique and unpredictable ways. All of my expectations were blown away by the end of the first chapter, and I could just settle in to enjoy a thrilling tale with plenty of twists, and no idea where or how it would end up, eventually. Would the slaves really escape? Would Averella's identity be uncovered? Could Dalex be the one to stop Jared from killing all the slaves, or would the story end with everyone dead, and the Hunters succeeding in doing their dark master's will, with any sort of resolution left to the sequels?

White keeps the suspense going by dividing the point of view between Jared and Averella. Occasionally, readers will see the same scenes repeated from each perspective, but other times the new point-of-view picks up where the other left off--and yet no matter which way it goes, the energy never wanes. The story keeps rolling at a brisk pace, captivating the reader's attention as they piece together what's really going on as a combination of the two narratives. I really enjoyed the fact that doing this allowed the reader an extra dimension as to the motivation behind their choices and responses, one that we wouldn't get just from one perspective or another.

I also really loved the whole concept of the Hunters. Their origins, the unique superpowers they are given, and the significance behind the reason they exist. Each of them has a unique power that gives them an advantage (and White's creativity in designing each ability cannot be understated!) yet with it comes a flaw that will render all their Hunter abilities inaccessible. The fugitives take a Hunter captive at one point and then run into a choice of whether to render the Hunter incapacitated through his flaw, or let him keep his abilities, so that the fugitives could use them as an advantage against their pursuers. An extra level of intrigue that opens the door to many plot twists the reader won't see coming!

Finally, the world-building in this novel is top-notch. I could picture each of the environments clearly as I read, and the various threats and struggles faced by the fugitive slaves as they attempt to escape Zagerah were astonishing--even including some mermaids at one point! Although these Merfolk were nothing like the ones I was used to, more the conniving, vicious, Siren-type of creatures. But still awesome!

Hunter easily earns a full *****5 STARS***** and I'd even add to that an Upstream Writer Certified WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMENDED. There are some good moral lessons to be learned in this clean fantasy adventure, all wrapped up and woven through an amazing story with dynamic characters and the potential for wonderment in every book in the Valiant series!


Further Reading: (Clean Reads/Fantasy Adventure/Awesome World-Buidling)

The Alexander Legacy--Sophronia Belle Lyon
       -A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist 
       -The Pinocchio Factor
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
        -Someday I'll Be Redeemed 
        -I Still Have A Soul 
        -I'm Still Alive 
        -Do You Trust Me? 
        -You Left Me No Choice 
        -They Must Be Stopped 
        -Find Me If You Can 
Verona: The Complete Mermaid Tales--Pauline Creeden
       -Scales 
       -Submerged 
       -Salt 
       -Surfacing
The Bhinian Empire--Miriam Forster
     -City of A Thousand Dolls 
     -Empire of Shadows
Wonderland Guardian Academy Series--Pauline Creeden
       -Red The Wolf Tracker
The Time Tree Chronicles--Lisa Rae Morris
       -The Emergence