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A blog about books and other things speculative

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SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist


SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist


It is my first year as an SPFBO judge, and I am so excited and honored to participate on Team Qwillery. I was tasked to read six books at least 30% or at least 50 pages. From there, I am to choose which book should continue on to the semi-finals. Choosing was a difficult task because the books are so different in style, age range, and subject content. I have including some brief content review and some information on the various books.


The following 5 books have been eliminated:

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Quest
by A.J. Ponder
Genre: Coming of Age Fantasy, YA, Fairy Tale Fantasy
Series/Standalone: Series - The Sylvalla Chronicles

This was a fun and quirky story. Set in the style of Terry Pratchett, the humor was great. It turns fantasy cliches on their head. Princess Sylvanna dreams of the life of high adventure and quests. It is pretty dull being a princess. We meet a cast of oddball characters and shenanigans. The writing is well done, although I got lost a few times in the multiple POV. It is a solid read, and I enjoyed it.



SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
The Dark Yule
by R.M. Callahan
Genre: Paranormal Suspense, UF
Series/Standalone: Series - Pumpkin Spice Tales

The Dark Yule is about a cat, specifically a Main Coon cat named Pumpkin Spice. Cats are not what they seem. They can see monsters, ghouls, and all the horrible creatures of the night that humans can not see. I loved this premise. I like to think that cats are actually like this and they battle the nefarious and evil. They basically just put up with us humans. It kind of fits if you have ever owned a cat. The characterization was fantastic. Pumpkin Spice is so cool, so proud and full of sass. Her adventure is dark and reminded me a bit of a Neil Gaiman book with Lovecraftian overtones.



SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Beginnings
by Lydia Sherrer
Genre: Humorous Fantasy, New Adult, YA, Supernatural Mystery
Series/Standalone: Series - The Lily Singer Adventures

This story is the adventures of Lily Singer, intrepid wizard not a witch.

Character-wise, Lily is stuffy and unsure of herself outside of magic. The first book is an adventure between Lily and Sebastian involving an old house, and ghosts. Sebastion is a witch, not a wizard, and in that, there is a bit of classicism as to what kind of magic is proper magic. This story was fluffy and fun, although the book as a whole was confusing. I was unsure how the various parts fit together as a single entity. It was more like short stories with a common set of characters and theme.



SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Tooth Goblins
by Ash Teroid
Genre: Children's Sword & Sorcery
Series/Standalone: Standalone

Tooth Goblins is an original middle-grade fantasy story. It takes the legend of tooth Faires and turns it on its ear involving fairies, goblins, teenage boys, and a quest. The story was a lot of fun but lost me in some of the writing, and it dragged a bit.



SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Alban's Choice
by Monica Zwikstra
Genre: Action & Adventure
Series/Standalone: Standalone

This story started strong, Zwikstra employed well-done worldbuilding and characterization. Alban and Rahan are strong characters put into a life-changing predicament. But as the story progressed, I became lost in the minor plot points. There was just too much to follow.








My Semi-Finalist Selection

Oblivion by Andy Blinston!

Oblivion
Rakkan Conquest 1
Falbury Publishing, November 1, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 410 pages
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Greek & Roman Myth & Legend

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-Finalist
Darius wakes surrounded by blood. Most of his mind has been stolen, and the dark figure that took it wants the rest.

Caught in a raging war between the human empire and fiery rakkan invaders, he soon learns his fearsome powers have made him an enemy to both.

Unable to tell friend from foe, he must fight to escape a fate worse than death. His only helper is a mysterious female warrior who promises to restore him to former glory. But can she be trusted?

Is he ready to discover the horrifying truth of who he was, and why he's wanted?

If you like fantasy full of mystery and action, you’ll love this book.



Elizabeth's Review

Oblivion had me at the get-go. The opening scene is harrowing, and it sets the stage for the main protagonist's motivations throughout the story. Darius, the main character, is complicated. His memory has mostly disappeared. He does not know who he is or what he is capable of. The only thing he has is a traumatic memory of him as a child. Even though the "mind-wipe" can be tropey in most books, I found Blinston's use of the "mind-wipe" plot device interesting. Especially within the context of his created world. What would a great warrior do if he could not remember himself? This is especially true when set against other morally grey characters. Blinston kept the suspense and confusion as to what is right and correct for much of the novel.

One of the best parts of Oblivion is the supporting character of Lex. Often in dark fantasy, female characters can be written flatly. They can be the seductress or the crone. Or, they could be haughty and overly-harsh. I find this especially true in the Wheel of Time stories. Jordan had a difficult time writing female characters that didn't always pull their braids or fluff their skirts when angry. It gets old. Blinston did a good job with Lex. She is tough, as one would need to be tough existing in the Oblivion world, but she has broken parts of her that make her a more realistic character. It allows the audience the opportunity to understand her actions and her emotional plight. It gives her three dimensions when often women are written in two. I am looking forward to reading the next books in the series to see how her character develops. Her story was left on quite the cliffhanger, and if it plays out, can drastically change the path that she takes.

Darius, as the main protagonist, was solid. He isn't perfect. He makes some stupid decisions and behaves in childish ways occasionally through the story. I think the childish reactions to some situations were a good conscious choice on the author's part. Again, a character that is too much of one thing can ring flat. Darius has parts of him that are emotionally broken, much like Lex. This allows the reader to understand and empathize with his plight. Empathy makes this story work.

The villain of the story, Archimedes, is scary. Not, horror movie scary. But so dark and morally gray that his intentions, which are entirely logical and fine to him, shock and appall other characters in the story and by extension the reader. It is often that the scariest characters in books are ones that are entirely sure of their actions, even if those actions are horrendous. They don't think of themselves as the villain. They think themselves as the hero and act accordingly. Archimedes is like that. Although the reader does not understand the entirety of his actions until later in the book, the effects and consequences of disobedience to him are stark; he is too powerful not to obey.

The only slight detractor to this story was pacing. The story lulled in a few spots where Blinston was building backstory. This slowed down the pace significantly for me. The story picks up immediately, usually in the form of an action sequence, and moves the plot forward. But those lulls slowed the pacing down.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this story immensely. It is a great dark fantasy read up there with other notable works in the genre. Blinston left the story wide open for the next book, which is exciting. I want to know what is going to happen with the characters and look forward to reading the next one.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman


The Qwillery is pleased to announce our third Semi-Finalist: Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman.


This also means that the following books have been eliminated:

Heart of Dragons (Chronicles of Pelenor 1) by Meg Cowley;

The Pact by Adam Craig;

Bloodlight by Edward Nile;

Litany of Wrath by Levi Pfeiffer;

and

A Time of Turmoil (In the Eye of the Dragon 1) by N. M. Zoltack.



Lykaia
Sophia Katsaros 1
Lir Press, March 7, 2015
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 292 pages

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Lykaia by Sharon Van Orman
"We are the terrors that hunt the night.And we have never been human"

In Greek mythology there’s a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes. Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother’s girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf? Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?


Jenn's Review:

Lykaia is the first installment of the Sophia Katsaros fantasy series by Sharon Van Orman, and is the story of Dr. Sophia Katsaros, or Dr Kat as she is often called, and her search for her two missing brothers, Dimitri and Ciro. This search takes her from her job as a forensic scientist in America all the way to the homeland of her ancestors, Greece. Along the way Sophia discovers things about the world and about her family that she never could have imagined possible, things that challenge her belief in reality and go against everything she knows as a scientist.

The main plot of the story is Sophia’s search for her two missing brothers, but she quickly discovers that this might not be an ordinary missing persons case, that her brothers may have in fact have been taken or even killed by something that she can’t fathom, something that makes no sense to her as a serious and methodical doctor. Her brothers may be involved with werewolves. Sophia delves into local werewolf lore scientifically as she tries to disprove what her senses are telling her is true. She meets various characters that either helps or hinder her in her search for the truth. Most notably Illyanna, a girl her brother Ciro seems to have been involved with, and Meleanus, a strikingly handsome and extremely mysterious local resident.

The story alternates between present time and the distant past, showing the reader glimpses of how werewolves may have come to be and what this might have to do with the brothers disappearance. This is done in a way that is cohesive and organic. The characters are easy to relate too and exchange thoughtful and realistic dialogue. The pace of the story moves well, building to an epic cliff hanger at the end. Normally I am not a huge fan of book cliff hangers unless very well done, but in this instance it was wonderfully done, and definitely leaves the reading wanting to rush to read the second book in the series.

Lykaia is a fun and fast paced fantasy that any fan of werewolf stories can enjoy. I for one have already gotten the sequel, Erato, and am very happy that I did. The story continues exactly where Lykaia left off and instantly captures the reader’s interest, and is a wonderful novel in itself.

Review - The Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E Harrow


A Thousand Doors of January
Author:  Alix E. Harrow
Publisher:  Redhook, September 10, 2019
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
List Price:  US$27.00 (print); US$ 9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780316421997(print); 9780316421980 (eBook)

Review - The Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E Harrow
In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic.



Melanie's Thoughts

Living as the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, January Scaller is as much of a rare curiosity as the many rare treasures that fill his mansion. January spends much of her life alone and lonely with her father off searching for new treasures for Mr. Locke and the New England Archaeological Society. When she finds a strange book that tells a story of mysterious doors that lead to dangerous and exotic places her life starts to change with every turn of the page.

I absolutely love The Thousand Doors of January. I was really very pleasantly surprised to discover that this was a debut novel. Harrow has crafted an excellent story within a story that carefully unfolds as January reads the book - The Ten Thousand Doors. It took me a while to realise what was happening and how the story is interwoven with January's life. I don't want to say too much and ruin the surprise.

In my opinion Harrow mastered the three essential components of a good book - characterisation, setting, and plot. I found January completely believable as the lonely young girl who wanders the halls of Locke's mansion desperate for her father's attention. Despite having a companion and a pet January is very much on her own and even more so when her father fails to return from one of his missions abroad. This 'aloneness' and loneliness is a prevalent theme throughout. Harrow uses multiple settings for her story - everywhere from a luxurious mansion, to a desolate farm in the midwest to a multitude of exotic and dangerous 'other' worlds. Harrow writing is descriptive enough that you can feel the hot wind on your cheek or smell the perfumed air yet she does this without being verbose. Now about the plot. As I mentioned earlier there is a story within a story and this is the same with the plot. There are two main dimensions to the plot - one is a love story or the search for love and the other is about overcoming the odds. I know this sounds very vague but I don't want to accidentally give anything away by describing too much of what happens.

The Thousand Doors of January is a great book that had me gripped from page 1 all the way to the end. It has easily made it into my top 5 books of the year....and the year isn't over yet. I am also pretty sure that it will make it into my top 20 fave books ever! All these accolades and Harrow is new author. Imagine what is going to come next for Harrow! I can hardly wait.

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell



SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell


The Qwillery is pleased to announce our first Semi-Finalist: Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell.


This also means that the following books have been eliminated:

A Triad in Three Acts: The Complete Forester Trilogy by Blaine D. Arden;

A White Horizon (Stars and A Wind 1) by Barbara Gaskell Denvil;

Sea of Lost Souls (Oceanus 1) by Emerald Dodge;

Apprentice Quest (Ozel the Wizard 1) by Jim Hodgson;

and

Masters of Deception (A Legends of Tivara Epic Fantasy) by J.C. Kang.



Knight and Shadow
March 2019
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 268 pages

SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Knight and Shadow by Flint Maxwell

Many years ago Ansen Kane prevented the end of the world by killing an insane king. Instead of praise, Kane and the rest of his order were shunned for their efforts.

Now he is the last living gun knight.

With a price on his head bigger than anyone in the kingdom of Aendvar, Ansen Kane traveled west, toward the Infected Lands, where he’s been hiding ever since.

But in the capital city, evil rises again.

And whether he likes it or not, Ansen Kane will be forced to pick up his weapon and fight.


Melanie's Review:

Ansen Kane is the last Knight of the Gun and  hiding out in the Infected Lands barely eeking out a living.  Many years ago Kane saved the world by killing an insane and malevolent king but rather than being celebrated as a hero Kane was hunted, all of his companions killed. He is alone and vulnerable. When the evil force rises again Kane is a target and his life is in danger.

On the other side of the continent Issac Bleake's 17th birthday ends in tragedy. His mother is brutally murdered on the eve of his birthday by a shadowy creature. With her dying breath Issac's mother gives him a mysterious gun and tells him to find Ansen Kane, in the Infected Lands. A long an perilous journey awaits the teenager as he travels across the country in search of the last Knight of the Gun. He better be quick as time is running out.

Maxwell sets a frenetic pace for his characters with a brutal murder and rise of evil in the first few pages. Issac's journey across the continent is action packed but not as action packed as what awaits Ansen Kane in the Infected Lands. I liked these characters and Maxwell develops the story quickly and well. My main criticism with this story is that it is far too short. The majority of the story sets up Ansen and Issac as characters and then it ends rather abruptly after the first main battle. I felt kind of ripped off and that this was a plot to get me and others to buy the next book. It was good but I don't think I want to invest in a story that is a bit of a drip feed.

Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden


Winter of the Witch
Author:  Katherine Arden
Series:  Winternight Trilogy 3
Publisher:  Del Rey, October 1, 2019
Format:  Trade Paperback, 400 pages
Format:  Hardcover, Audiobook, and eBook, January 8, 2019
List Price:  US$17.00 (print); US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781101886014 (print); 9781101886007 (eBook)

Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

“A tale both intimate and epic, featuring a heroine whose harrowing and wondrous journey culminates in an emotionally resonant finale.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Vasilisa Petrovna is an unforgettable heroine determined to forge her own path. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.



Melanie's Review

The Winter of the Witch, Arden's final instalment of her Winternight Trilogy, starts immediately after the dramatic events of book 2 - The Girl in the Tower. The residents of Moscow have woken up to the devastation left by a massive fire. Parts of the city are in ruins and friends and family are dead or homeless. They are looking for answers but more importantly for someone to blame. Unfortunately, Vasya is in the cross hairs as she no longer has the protection of the Grand Prince who is angry and no longer trusts her or her brother, the monk Alexander. Without his support Vasya is left vulnerable and on her own. Even more dangerous than the mobs looking for revenge is Father Konstantin. He is determined to destroy Vasya and teams up with a demon who wants revenge and to create chaos wherever he goes. With all of Russia on the brink of war and desperate to protect those she loves Vasya embarks on a journey to find the one person who can help her, the Winter King. Time is running out for Vasya to save her family and the magical world she has grown to love.

Arden keeps the pressure on Vasya throughout this novel and the suspense is high from the very start through to the very end of the story. She doesn't do this by dragging her heroine through countless high action scenes like many authors like to do. Instead the story is a clever balance of action, character development and strategically placed reveals or uncovering of secrets. Arden has the unique ability to create the sense that you are reading folklore rather than new fantasy fiction. This adds another element to the enjoyment of this instalment and the series as a whole.

Vasya is a great character and throughout the series the reader has the opportunity to see her grow and evolve. It's hard to believe she is only in her late teens in the final book but give the time period that was probably middle age. She certainly acts like someone far older and more mature than a 17 year old. I love her relationship with the magical characters she was trying to save, especially the various domovoy who protect the home and hearth. Through Vasya, the readers learns how the spread of Christianity started to cause the magical creatures and pagan gods to weaken and disappear. This is one of the causes the rift between Vasya and her brother who is a monk as she has magical abilities that conflict with his Christian beliefs. This is also the reason why Father Konstantin hates her so.

Through her travels Vasya meets many of the magical creatures that make up Russian folklore. Arden uses real historic events and people as the basis of the main plot of this story which again, gives the impression you are reading something other than fantasy fiction.

I actually listened to the audio version The Winter of the Witch and if you have this opportunity available to you I highly recommend it. The story is narrated by Kathleen Gati and she does an excellent job of bringing Vasya to life. Unlike some narrators, Gati doesn't try to sound like a man when reading the dialogue of male characters which I much prefer. Keeping the narration in one tone of voice reinforces the impression that this is folklore, a story retold from one generation to the next.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and The Winter of the Witch is a fantastic ending to Vasya's story. There isn't anything I would change in this instalment. Great book, great series but start with book 1 - The Bear and the Nightingale.

Review: The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan


The Wolf's Call
Author:  Anthony Ryan
Series:  A Raven's Blade Novel 1
Publisher:  Ace, July 23, 2019
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 432 pages
List Price:  US$28.00 (print); US$14.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780451492517 (print); 9780451492531 (eBook)

Review: The Wolf's Call by Anthony Ryan
VAELIN AL SORNA RETURNS

Anthony Ryan’s debut novel Blood Song—the first book of the Raven’s Shadow series—took the fantasy world by storm. Now, he continues that saga with The Wolf’s Call, which begins a thrilling new story of razor-sharp action and epic adventure.


Peace never lasts.

Vaelin Al Sorna is a living legend, his name known across the Realm. It was his leadership that overthrew empires, his blade that won hard-fought battles – and his sacrifice that defeated an evil more terrifying than anything the world had ever seen. He won titles aplenty, only to cast aside his earned glory for a quiet life in the Realm’s northern reaches.

Yet whispers have come from across the sea – rumours of an army called the Steel Horde, led by a man who believes himself a god. Vaelin has no wish to fight another war, but when he learns that Sherin, the woman he lost long ago, has fallen into the Horde’s grasp, he resolves to confront this powerful new threat.

To this end, Vaelin travels to the realms of the Merchant Kings, a land ruled by honor and intrigue. There, as the drums of war thunder across kingdoms riven by conflict, Vaelin learns a terrible truth: that there are some battles that even he may not be strong enough to win.



Tracey's Review

Vaelin Al Sorna has served Queen Lyrna, also known as the Fire Queen, as Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches since the end of the Liberation War. Now, word has come of the Stalhast, a powerful enemy rising in the Far West, led by Kehlbrand, who is regarded as a god by his people. Kehlbrand is a man whose lust for domination over all free people knows no limits and who will raise his bloody fist in challenge to the Fire Queen if not stopped. Vaelin may have been content to wait until the Stalhast became a tangible threat, but he soon learns that the healer Sherin, a woman he sent to the Venerable Kingdom to ensure her well-being years ago, is directly in their deadly path. And so Vaelin sets out to assure her safety and assess this new threat first-hand.

Full disclosure: I am a huge Anthony Ryan fan. His first book Blood Song, which I reviewed in 2013, was my favorite read that year. The Wolf’s Call, a Raven’s Blade Novel which succeeds A Raven’s Shadow trilogy, begins a new chapter for Vaelin, the veteran warrior and defender of the Unified Realm. Ryan hits the ground running with his newest installment and I couldn’t be more delighted. Although the first trilogy tied things up nicely, it was very satisfying to learn what befell the characters I knew so well in the aftermath of the Liberation War’s destruction.

Ryan really knows how to create characters that readers can admire, distrust, pity, or fear. In Vaelin al Sorna he has created a character that readers really care about and root for. Vaelin’s no-nonsense reasoning, coupled with his fighting skills, and amazing sense of loyalty to those he loves makes him special. The Wolf’s Call is a great blend of familiar characters and brand-new additions. For instance, Nortah, Vaelin’s Brother of the Sixth Order, hearkens back to his early years, while his niece Ellese has just recently been sent to the Northern Reaches for training. Although Ellese is young, she is smart and her fighting skills are daunting, but it’s her attitude - the perfect balance of insubordination and rebellion - that bring her to life. Vaelin’s newest enemy, the Stalhast, were interesting to learn about. Kehlbrand is arrogant, brutal and a master manipulator which makes him a powerful threat. His sister, Luralyn has gifts and talents of her own and shares her thoughts through her own POV narrative which makes for effective story telling.

The Wolf’s Call comes in the form of a threat and warning from an old enemy. As I mentioned before this time it's personal as one of the few people still alive that Vaelin loves is being threatened. In true epic adventure form Vaelin assembles a diverse, yet trustworthy company to find the healer and protect her from harm’s way. Ryan effortlessly introduces new characters who are almost instantly relatable in the context of his consummate worldbuilding skills. He is also a master strategist, and keeps the adrenaline pumping during this action-packed volume. I really enjoyed The Wolf’s Call; I didn’t want to put it down and certainly did not want it to end. If you are looking for epic adventure, answer The Wolf’s Call.

Review - Recursion by Blake Crouch


Recursion
Author:  Blake Crouch
Publisher:  Crown, June 11, 2019
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
List Price:  US$27.00 (print);  US$13.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781524759780 (print); 9781524759803 (eBook)

Review - Recursion by Blake Crouch
From the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy comes a relentless thriller about time, identity, and memory—his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

“An action-packed, brilliantly unique ride that had me up late and shirking responsibilities until I had devoured the last page . . . a fantastic read.”—Andy Weir, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Martian

Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?



Qwill's Thoughts

Recursion was difficult for me to read at first as Blake Crouch alternates POVs and periods of time. I felt disoriented. We are programed to think linearly - yesterday, today, tomorrow. Recursion turns that on its head and inside out. What if you could change your memories and have a do over? Prevent an accident from killing a loved one? Go back in time and prevent an atrocity? Would it be the ethical thing to do? How would altering your memories affect the reality of those around you? Crouch asks these questions and more.

Neuroscientist Helena Smith is driven to find a way to help preserve memories because her mother is losing hers to Alzheimer's. She is given unfettered access to everything she needs to create a machine that will do just that by Marcus Slade. He is incredibly wealthy and known for philanthropy and being the founder of many cutting edge technology companies. With Slade's resources Helena's work speeds ahead and she is hopeful she will be able to help her mother and others like her.

Barry Sutton is a NYPD detective whose life has fallen apart since his daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver when she was a teen. He begins to investigate False Memory Syndrome (FMS) after trying to prevent the suicide of a woman suffering from it. FMS is occurs when someone has memories of 2 different lives one more vivid than the other. Trying to reconcile these differing lives is causing people to kill themselves. Barry's investigation into the woman's suicide and FMS puts him on a very dangerous path.

Recursion is a stellar thriller which explores memory, identity, and reality. Crouch takes a bit of hard science and pushes it well beyond its limits to create an intense speculative novel. Recursion is deeply emotional, dark, frightening, and at the same time hopeful. With great pacing, engaging characters, and non-stop twists this is Crouch at his mind-bending best.

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J. Pryor


Blood Broken
Author:  Lindsay J. Pryor
Series:  Blackthorn 8
Publisher:  Bookouture, May 20, 2019
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 500 pages
List Price:  US$14.99 (print); US$4.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781786813992 (print); 9781786813985 (eBook)

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J. Pryor
‘Our love could save us both. Or it could destroy everything.’

Leila McKay is both blessed and cursed. Her potent serryn powers are growing stronger, but they come with a heavy price. And to prove her love for vampire leader Caleb, she needs to bring his murdered brother Jake back to life. The only way is to cast a spell no one has dared to attempt before, that could tear apart the fabric of time itself…

But Caleb fears that treachery runs deep in Leila’s veins. Although the heat between them grows hotter by the second, Caleb’s past has left him with a hard heart and a mistrustful nature, and it was at her sister’s hands that Jake was killed… but with his brother’s life in the balance, giving in to his primal instincts is more tempting than ever.

Time is running out for Caleb. In a matter of hours, Jake will be past the point of saving: and around them, all-out war rages in Blackthorn. With genetically modified lycans and vicious convicts roaming the streets, Sirius Throme at the Global Council has secret plans that threaten to devastate the whole district… and Leila is the only one powerful enough to save them all. But can Caleb really trust her?

With countless lives at stake, will Leila and Caleb’s fierce attraction be strong enough to see them through the ultimate test? Or in unleashing the darkness within, will they destroy everything they hold dear?

The explosive, action-packed conclusion to the utterly addictive Blackthorn series will leave fans of paranormal romance breathless. Blackthorn is an eight-book series with an overarching plot, so if you’re at the start of your Blackthorn journey, read BLOOD SHADOWS to discover how it all began…



Melanie's Thoughts

I can't believe the time has come when I have to say good-bye to Leila, Caleb, Kane, Caitlen and the rest of the Blackthorn crew in this final instalment of the Blackthorn series, Blood Broken. The prophecy that has threatened our heroes and heroines over the last 7 books is about to come to pass....or is it? The fourth dimension has broken through, super lycans have wreaked devastation, the cons have escaped out of their territory killing innocents all while the Global Council has a devastating plan to rid the world of the 3rd species. Blackthorn has become a battle ground and Leila has the solution to all their problems. Can she be trusted? Will she succeed and save Blackthorn? I will leave it to you to find out.

You could be led to believe that this is another story of Caleb the vampire king and the vampire killer Leila but it's much more. All of the main characters across the whole series have full chapters or part chapters dedicated to their own personal story. All our favourite goodies and baddies have something to say about the prophecy and whether the 3rd species should prevail. I especially enjoyed those chapters dedicated to the various baddies that have made our heroes and heroines lives hell over the series. I especially like Sirius Throme. Even his name sounds nasty and boy he is really really nasty. Since most of the characters are paired off with their love interests there isn't a lot of character development until near the very end of the story and be prepared for the big plot twist that comes with that.

Blood Broken is rather a challenging book to read due to the violence, specifically the violence against women. I have mentioned in previous reviews that I have found the sex scenes rather disturbing and this is even more so in this instalment. If you read one of the sex scenes out of the context of this series then you could very much believe that it was a scene of sexual assault and not of love making There was nothing that was loving, romantic or caring about the scene and I am not sure it added that much to the story as a whole.

Violence aside Pryor ensures that fans of this series are left satisfied as every thread of the plot over the entire series are tied up, every baddy gets their comeuppance and there is a bittersweet HEA for certain characters. Pryor delivers a very satisfying epilogue to end the series which I thought was a good touch.  Overall, I liked Pryor's innovative and complex plot and this would have been a 5 star series had I liked the characters a bit more and she toned down the kidnapping and abuse of the female leads. If you like your bad boys to be really bad then this is the series for you.

SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary Pike


Orconomics
The Dark Profit Saga 1
Gnomish Press, November 22, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 389 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary Pike
A disgraced Dwarven hero. A band of deadbeat adventurers. His last shot at redemption could get him killed.

If Gorm Ingerson really wanted to drink himself to death, he never should have helped the Goblin. When his good deed lands him in a bad contract, Gorm finds himself entangled in a quest that will pit him against business magnates, the king of the Freedlands, and a mad goddess trying to fulfill a suicidal prophecy.

But Gorm’s tarnished circumstances may be hiding a golden opportunity. If he and his half-baked party can overcome deep conspiracies and dark magics, he just might redeem himself and his career enough to be a professional hero once more.

Orconomics: A Satire is the first book in The Dark Profit Saga, a trilogy so funny it’s epic. If you like down-and-out heroes, sidesplitting misadventures, and ingenious world-building, then you’ll love J. Zachary Pike’s dark and delightful ribbing of high fantasy.

Buy Orconomics to join the campaign for a high-energy, hilarious fantasy adventure today!



Melanie's Review

Are goblins ruining your crops? Wyrm nesting in your shrubbery? You found a map to buried treasure but don't have time to find it? Look no further than the Hero's Guild to solve all your problems and to turn a tidy profit in the process. In Arth, speculating on the success of a hero's quest is big business. The success of your business and your shareholders can all depend on the heroics of a single individual. Gorm, used to be the best of the best, a dwarven hero with no rival until a job went bad and he lost his reputation, his clan and his livelihood. When he is offered the opportunity to redeem his fortunes he can't really say no....well the gun held to his head helped make that decision. The next thing he knows Gorm is joined but a motley crew of misfits, all of who have something to prove and something to gain. Orconomics is well and truly an epic adventure with heroes and villains galore, a tale of self discovery and a cracking good mystery to boot.

Orconomics has restored my faith in self-published fantasy. I absolutely loved this book. It was funny, the plot was original and the characters were well developed. When I describe this book as an epic I am not kidding, it really is. It took me ages to get through so many pages. It can be really challenging for me to stay interested in a book that is as long as Orconomics but Pike kept a solid pace that mixed action, adventure and storytelling.

Gorm Ingerson, this story's hero, has a great group of characters to interact with. Gorm is supported by a cast of characters that could only be described as supporting cast in your favourite dungeons and dragons-esque video game. The story is largely told from Gorm's POV, however, there are a few chapters where the story is told from other perspectives which all help to enrich the plot. While I am sure that many readers loved Gorm's goblin companion, Gleebek, it was actually the ogre Thane and his unrequited love that made me giggle the most. I feel that I need to warn you not to get attached to any character as Pike doesn't play it safe with his characters.

Hats off to Pike as he has written a truly original story that is drenched in sarcasm and wit. I never quite knew what would happen next which made Orconomics a real page turner. I can hardly wait to find out what happens next to Gorm and his friends. I loved this booked so much that I could easily give it a 9 out of 10. If you like fantasy, have a sense of humour and need a nice meaty read then be sure to get Orconomics on your TBR.

9 out of 10

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer


Sworn to the Night
The Wisdom's Grave Trilogy 1
Demimonde Books, January 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 429 pages

SPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer
Marie Reinhart is an NYPD detective on the trail of a serial killer. When she sleeps, though, she dreams of other lives; she dreams of being a knight, in strange wars and strange worlds. On the other side of the city, Nessa Roth is a college professor trapped in a loveless marriage, an unwilling prop in a political dynasty. She's also a fledgling witch, weaving poppets and tiny spells behind closed doors.

When Marie's case draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind affair; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are the victims of a curse that has pursued them across countless lifetimes; a doom designed to trap them in a twisted living fairy tale, with their romance fated to end in misery and death.

They aren't going out without a fight. As they race to uncover the truth, forces are in motion across the country. In Las Vegas, a professional thief is sent on a deadly heist. In a Detroit back alley, witches gather under the guidance of a mysterious woman in red. Just outside New York, an abandoned zoo becomes the hunting-ground for servants of a savage and alien king. The occult underground is taking sides and forming lines of battle. Time is running out, and Nessa and Marie have one chance to save themselves, break the curse, and demand justice.

This time, they're writing their own ending.



Doreen’s Thoughts

Craig Schaefer’s Sworn to the Night is a story within a story, with a kidnapped narrator interrupting at various points to make comments that are intended to help explain some part of the narrative. This was not as effective as it could have been because it seemed to have nothing to do with the main story until late in the novel.

The main story, however, was engaging and fast-paced. Fascinated with knights and their lieges, Marie Reinhart is a NYC detective investigating the kidnappings and murders of call girls and how their deaths might relate to the new drug flooding the streets, Ink. Nessa Roth is a rich society wife and professor who dabbles with magic and wants to be a witch. When the two first meet it is as if they have known each other forever – which they have, since they keep being reincarnated and finding each before dying violently.

While Schaefer’s format of a story within a story was less than successful for me, his characterization of the main characters is well done. Marie and Nessa are well-drawn, and their actions make sense based on their descriptions. The pacing of the story is good. Gun fights and other fight scenes are nicely choreographed and easy to follow.

I rate Sworn to the Night a 7 out of 10.
SPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Our 4th Semi-FinalistSPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Lykaia by Sharon Van OrmanReview - The Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E HarrowSPFBO 5 Semi-Finalist Review - Knight and Shadow by Flint MaxwellReview: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine ArdenReview: The Wolf's Call by Anthony RyanReview - Recursion by Blake Crouch Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J. PryorSPFBO Finalist Review: Orconomics by J.Zachary PikeSPFBO Finalist Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer

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