Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: BLOOD OF HEIRS by Alicia Wanstall-Burke


Title: Blood of Heirs

Author: Alicia Wanstall-Burke

Publisher: Self-Published 

Publication Date: October 27, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


There are certain books that you just know within the first 25 pages are going to be simply amazing.  I could tell right away just from Alicia Wanstall-Burke's writing style that I was going to enjoy BLOOD OF HEIRS.  Then I was introduced to two incredibly special characters, both with their own unique story line and I was absolutely hooked.  The action in BLOOD OF HEIRS, the first book of The Coraidic Sagas, mainly takes place in two countries. Hummel is the first, where Lidan is heir to be chief of her father's clan if only by default since his multiple wives have not been able to provide a male heir.  That could change very soon however.  Orthia is the other city where Ran is a commander stationed with his troops guarding the mountain pass that separates his homeland from their bitter enemy the Woaden Empire.  We join his story as the Woaden are making serious inroads in an attempted invasion that is taking all of the Orthian troops' efforts to hold back.  The book alternates between these two main stories and does so very effectively in my opinion.  They are also independent of each other but one has a sense that at some point in the future, they will eventually converge.  Lidan is a conflicted character as all she really wants to do is ride horses and become a Ranger protecting her clan and home like her father.  Her mother Sellan has other plans however, and goes to great lengths to see to it that Lidan is protected in order that she ascend to the position of power that is her birthright.  Sellan is often brutal with her daughter and their relationship is one that can only be described as turbulent at best.  Things are further thrown into flux when one of the wives of Lidan's father becomes pregnant.  If the child is a boy it could threaten Lidan's place as the next clan leader and complicate her position with the clan.  But before that can happen, something unthinkable occurs and Lidan is thrust at the forefront of a threat that neither she or her family could ever foresee.  

At the Orthian front, Ran's forces are being pummeled into a retreat by the invading Woaden horde.  The arrows that rain down onto the attacking army are being dissolved in midair before they can even reach their targets, and the battle seems to be tilting in the direction of the enemy.  It soon becomes evident that the Woaden have enlisted the aid of a powerful mage who cuts a violent path through the Orthian troops and directly toward Ran himself.  In his attempt to fight back the mage's advances, Ran conjures a magic of his own that he did not know he possessed and kills the Woaden mage in an explosion of sorcery.  When he returns to his home his father questions him on how he could kill such a powerful mage by himself and he is forced to reveal that he indeed did use magic to do so.  As the Orthians are extremely superstitious of magic and it is strictly against their laws to practice, Ran's own father imprisons him in a dungeon.  There he awaits the swift and decisive judgment that are sure to result from his actions.  Ran's only hope is to escape somehow and flee before he can be executed.  Could his newly-found magic be a tool to help him achieve this?  What future lies ahead for Orthia if the Woaden invade again, this time with even more mages leading the charge and ones armed with even more devastating powers?  Ran is torn between his loyalty to his homeland and protecting his own neck as he faces certain death for his unspeakable crime of performing forbidden magic.   

BLOOD OF HEIRS is a book that just floored me from the start and then had me obsessively burying my face into every free reading moment that I had.  These are the types of books that make me thankful to be a reviewer because I get to be exposed to new independent authors who write amazing stories like this one.  For one thing, the battles are extremely bloody and merciless.  Alicia Wanstall-Burke goes into great detail with every arrow launched, every sword thrusted, and every fireball conjured.  I was really impressed with the way in which she makes you feel as if you are directly in the middle of the action, reflexively ducking to dodge that incoming enemy hammer smash.  The world-building was so unique in that the two main locations where the story takes place couldn't be more different and yet the characters faced very similar personal issues.  Hummel, where Lidan's clan lives, is a very late Stone Age and pre-Bronze Age type of society where weapons are quite crude and basic.  Ran's country of Orthia on the other hand, employs much more advanced weapons and is more of a medieval type of society as far as technology and social structure goes.  Yet as I said, both characters face issues within their respective families that force them to make incredibly difficult choices.  So both in a way are very similar even though they come from totally different backgrounds and places in the world.  This is where I thought the true brilliance of this book came through.  Virtually anyone can relate to the theme of two people who appear very different at first glance, but in reality are much more similar when you get right down to it.

I really loved this book on so many levels and the characters just served to raise this story to another level as we see them put in terrible situation after terrible situation.  Yet I always felt like they would persevere no matter what the odds were.  One thing I will say is this is a very dark book and by no means a light read.  Be prepared for violence aplenty, crude language, and some villainous characters who literally have no redeeming qualities at all.  That being said, it is a book that I absolutely devoured in a short period of time and felt sad when I came to the final page.  The only consolation I can take away is that I know that we are not done with this story and that Alicia Wanstall-Burke has much more to tell in future books.  This is a series that has so many more questions that I need answered and I cannot wait until the next book comes out.  In closing I just want to say that if you are looking for a really action-packed fantasy book with incredible magic and world building, then look no further than BLOOD OF HEIRS.  You will find much to enjoy in this beautifully-written story.  Alicia Wanstall-Burke is definitely a new author to watch.  Get this debut book now, because it's a cracking good read!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book List: 10 BEST SFF SERIES YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF

Once again I find myself between book reviews and thinking about all things Science-Fiction and Fantasy.  More specifically I have been pondering my favorite SFF series that not a lot of people may be familiar with.  This doesn't mean they are any less impactful or high in quality, it just means that for whatever reason, these series don't get the notoriety that I think they so richly deserve.  I came up with a top 10 list of my all-time favorite lesser-known SFF series and ranked them in descending order from 10 to 1.  I hope that if you haven't had a chance to read any of these, that you will give them a shot because every one of them is a tremendous read in my opinion.  And if you have read some of these or have heard about them, great!  You are already ahead of the curve.  Anyway, here they are:




10.  EMPYRION (1985 -1986) by Stephen Lawhead:  Stephen Lawhead is known primarily for his fantasy writing, mostly steeped in Celtic folklore and Arthurian themes.  But what many people don't know is that he did write some really good science-fiction.  One of those SF series is Empyrion and it is one of my favorites by him.  Empyrion tells the story of a man named Orion Treet who is charged with a mission to discover what happened to a group of colonists sent from Earth to a distant planet centuries earlier.  All communication with the colony was suddenly terminated (on their end) and Treet must discover whether a tragedy has befallen them or if the colony simply desires to be free of the ties to their former home planet.  What Treet finds when he eventually gets there is astounding and just serves as a reminder that the desire for a grand Utopia has many pitfalls and hurdles that may not be overcome so easily.  Great science-fiction that I really recommend checking out. (Books in this series: The Search for Fierra, The Siege of Dome)




9. THE GODLESS WORLD (2006-2009) by Brian Ruckley:  Winter is coming.  Or in the case of Brian Ruckley's Godless World series, winter is already here and it ain't leaving anytime soon!  Numerous clans battle for supremacy in this harsh and gritty series that is very reminiscent of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.  Thrown into the chaos of the clan wars is the awakening of the long dead gods who are hungry for blood and aren't especially interested in choosing sides.  Set against an icy and desolate backdrop, this is one of the more bloody and gruesome fantasies that you will come across.  But the writing really carries the day and lends a depth that mere grimdark bloodbaths can only dream about.  One warning, there are many clans and characters to keep track of, so being able to disseminate who is who is vitally important to your understanding of the overall story.  Great stuff though!  (Books in this series: Winterbirth, Bloodheir, Fall of Thanes)




8. ARTHURIAN SAGA (1970-1983) by Mary Stewart:  Mary Stewart's beautiful retelling of the Arthurian legend is definitely one of my favorites along with The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Stewart's series is much more comprehensive and covers Merlin as a child all the way to adulthood and his relationship with King Arthur.  The writing is simply on another level and I feel like this series is off many people's radar for some reason.  It may be because the books keep going in and out of print but should you be able to get your hands on this series, you should read it in its totality.  Such an amazing retelling filled with vivid descriptions and wonderful characters.  (Books in this series: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day)




7.  INITIATE BROTHER (1991-1992) by Sean Russell:  Sean Russell is one of those authors who I never understood why wasn't more popular than he is.  The Canadian author writes unbelievable fantasy books and series and he's always been among my favorite "must-read" writers.  The Initiate Brother series is his first and very best in my opinion.  The series has a heavy Asian influence which I think gives it a uniqueness in a genre chock-full of medieval European themed tomes.  Talk about gorgeous writing, this series is especially for those who love their prose rich and complex.  There are no wasted words here.  Monks who are gifted with magic must find an answer to a horrible plague that is devastating the kingdom of Wa.  A young monk who shows amazing promise may be the answer to everyone's prayers, but barbarian invaders seek to take advantage of the weakened kingdom for their own benefit before this can happen.  This is one series not to be missed.  (Books in this series: The Initiate Brother, Gatherer of Clouds)




6.  WINDS OF THE FORELANDS (2002-2007) by David B. Coe:  This is a series that you should love if you enjoy traditional epic fantasy in the mold of Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.  Why this series never took hold and became a huge hit is beyond me.  The magical Qirsi race was almost completely eradicated in the Qirsi wars.  Now the few who remain serve as advisors to the various kings and queens of the numerous countries located within the Forelands.  When the king of one of the more prominent countries is assassinated in cold blood, suspicion quickly turns toward the Qirsi who many think may be plotting in secret to overthrow the kingdoms and avenge their brutal defeat and forced subservience those many years ago.  The Qirsi maintain their innocence but could a small sect of rebel Qirsi be hellbent on restoring their former glory?  Just an amazing series that gets better with every book.  Run out and read it as soon as you can because it is one of the best fantasy series I have ever read.  (Books in this series:  Rules of Ascension, Seeds of Betrayal, Bonds of Vengeance, Shapers of Darkness, Weavers of War)




5.  TYRANTS AND KINGS (1999-2001) by John Marco:  File this series under military fantasy the way it should be done.  Sadly John Marco has stopped writing in recent years due to the fact that his publisher just dropped him out of the blue.  It's disheartening really because Marco is a phenomenal writer and this series totally blew me away when I first read it back in the late 90's.  Since then I have reread it about five times, it's that good.  The series follows Richius Vantran, a humble prince who is forced into battle against the forces of the mysterious city of Nar.  Nar is a city that has had an industrial revolution in a land where the remaining continent is still struggling in a medieval horse-drawn society.  There are also whispers that the leaders of Nar have discovered an elixir that grants those who drink it virtual immortality.  Will Nar succeed in dominating the lesser kingdoms and eventually enslaving the entire populace, or can one modest prince stand up to the forces of the behemoth Nar and see his people through the coming darkness?  Awesome series, I highly recommend this one!  (Books in this series:  The Jackal of Nar, The Grand Design, The Saints of the Sword)




4.  RAI-KIRAH (2000-2002) by Carol Berg:  Demons, demons, demons.  If you like demons in your fantasy, this series is right up your alley.  Carol Berg is absolutely one of the most talented writers in the genre who most people don't even know about.  She deserves so much more recognition and praise and her books are some of the best that I've read, quite frankly.   The Rai-Kirah books tell the story of an arrogant prince who has been spoiled since childhood.  As a gift he gets a slave who was once a majestic member of an ancient race, but was sold into enslavement after they were crushed by the ruling class.  The prince is ruthless and abusive to his new toy at first, but when the slave saves his life, a slow transformation begins to happen within the young prince (hence the title of the first book).  And when the demons arrive, the same oppressed race who are now spat upon and enslaved could be the only ones to help the rulers of the kingdom escape certain death.  A truly complex story that tackles a lot of tough and sensitive issues that are prevalent in our own real world today.  This is a series that everyone should read.  (Books in this series:  Transformation, Revelation, Restoration)




3.  THE COLDFIRE TRILOGY (1991-1995) by C.S. Friedman:  Tremendous series about the colonizers of a new planet called Erna that is infused with a natural force element called The Fae.  The Fae controls everything, including people's mental state, so many construct complicated wards to protect themselves from the all-powerful Fae.  Damien Vrice, the main character is a warrior priest who is on a quest to discover the true origins of the Fae. Along the way, Vrice encounters evidence that vampire-like creatures who have been hiding in seclusion on the distant planet for centuries may have emerged from the craggy mountains of the north to potenially prey on the helpless citizens.  One of the more inventive and original series in the genre that many have overlooked.  I really enjoyed this series and Celia Friedman's other works are just as good.  Give them a try!  (Books in this series:  Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, Crown of Shadows)




2.  DARWATH (1982-1983) by Barbara Hambly:  This series is my absolute favorite portal fantasy ever.  A woman named Gil is having a dream while asleep in her modern-day apartment.  In this dream she sees chaos and crowds of people running in all directions from an unseen evil.  The people in this dream are all dressed in medieval clothing and the building that they are inside of looks like something out of ancient times as well.  As the dream continues, Gil notices that an old man with a long beard seems to be looking directly at her through the mass of people.  He then begins to slowly walk toward her as if he wants to say something to her.  How can it be that among the chaos, he appears to be able to see her and is the only one to be able to?  Gil wakes up to find the old man in her apartment where he tells her that he needs her help and that she must come with him to battle the demons who are attacking his land.  For she is the chosen one who they have been waiting for he says.  Just a great series that holds up to this day even though it was written in the early 80's.  (Books in this series:  The Time of the Dark, The Walls of Air, The Armies of Daylight)




1.  CHUNG KUO (1989-1997) by David Wingrove:  If you ask me what my favorite science-fiction series of all-time is, this is the one I'm going to respond with every single time, and yet I feel like nobody has ever heard of it.  The tragedy of this series is that it is unbelievably brilliant but because of publisher issues, David Wingrove has struggled to keep it in print.  He has even had to resort to rereleasing the series on his own because a new publisher recently flaked out and abandoned a planned relaunch after only five books.  I really hope the entire series does eventually get released at some point because it is a truly wonderful story that so many readers are missing out on.  The idea is a future Earth that is completely taken over by China.  The seven continents are now under Chinese control and ruled by seven emperors or T'angs.  The Chinese empire has even begun to build tiered cities on top of poorer areas so that the aristocracy does not have to see the dregs of humanity below.  A band of revolutionaries however is plotting to undermine and sabotage the T'angs one by one with the ultimate goal of gaining their freedom and escaping to another planet where they can live in freedom.  What an amazing series.  You can find the books of the original series in various used bookstores or used online marketplaces and I highly recommend making the effort if you can.  Meanwhile, I still wait for the eventual rerelease that seems to be proceeding at a glacial pace.  But I'm keeping the faith!  (Books in this series:  The Middle Kingdom, The Broken Wheel, The White Mountain, The Stone Within, Beneath the Tree of Heaven, White Moon Red Dragon, Days of Bitter Strength, The Marriage of the Living Dark)



And there you have it, 10 series that I love but feel are fairly underappreciated in the genre.  I really hope that you give some if not all of these books a try because you will be rewarded if you do.  As always, happy reading!!!
Nick

Monday, October 22, 2018

Book Review: A RITUAL OF BONE by Lee Conley


Title:  A Ritual of Bone

Author:  Lee Conley

Publisher: Wolves of Valor Publications

Publication Date:  April 14, 2018

Rating:   🌟🌟🌟🌟


I've read a lot of zombie fiction in my day and I've also read a ton of medieval fantasy, but never before have I read a book that melds the two into a singular story.  A RITUAL OF BONE is the first volume in British author Lee Conley's The Dead Sagas series, and to say it is one of the more original works of horror fantasy that I have read in quite some time would be an understatement.  For one thing, the book is actually divided up into a number of separate smaller storylines that all converge in the end to make up one overarching main story.  One storyline deals with Master Logan and his apprentice, who are playing with a magic that has long been forgotten but which has incredibly dark ramifications if used unwisely.  It seems that another Master of their order has found a way to bring the dead back to life and in his extreme hubris, he unleashes something that will allow the dead to walk freely again and in large numbers.  Logan and his apprentice are unwilling contributors but the Pandora's Box has already been opened and what that means for the kingdom of Arnar could be catastrophic when all is said and done.  

Another storyline tells the tale of Bjorn, who is a hunter being held captive by a cannibalistic tribe.  Very early on in the book Bjorn escapes his captivity but essentially runs out of the frying pan and into the fire (no pun intended) when his escape into the forest brings him face to face with the unspeakable horror that is amassing across the countryside.  Bjorn eventually teams up with an unlikely ally and utilizes his skills as a hunter to attempt to battle the menace that is slowly taking over every corner of his countryside.  Then there's the story of Arnulf, a commander of the guard of Arnar who is struggling to keep his men together as he sees many of them fall victim to a strange plague that causes them to bleed from every orifice and die in incredibly gruesome ways.  At the same time he also must protect his homeland from a strange invasion of undead creatures the likes of which has never been seen before.  Or has it?  Perhaps the only hope is to consult The Great Histories of the Dead Sagas in an effort to reveal certain clues of a long dead people that might stop the horrendous evil powers now loosed upon the world.  And yet another storyline follows the travails of a woman named Nym who is simply trying to protect her little brother as they live in squalor in a putrid town where the only way for them to survive and eat is for her to sell her body.  Her struggle is perhaps the most compelling as her bravery and perseverance in the face of such wanton brutality is both honorable and inspiring.  She literally goes to any lengths to protect her brother, whom she loves more than anything.  What role will Nym have to play in the invading terror that is to come?  As these separate tales converge, we get the picture of a kingdom of Arnar battling for its very existence and the only hope for its survival may lie in the hands of the characters at the hearts of all of these storylines.  

A RITUAL OF BONE is one of those books that came at the perfect time for me.  Obviously, we are close to Halloween and this book has so many horror elements in it that it felt like a really intense and scary read.  I enjoyed turning the pages well into the night over the past couple of weeks.  To dismiss this book as simply a zombie horror book would be to sell it very short however.  It is much more than that as this book strikes an incredible balance between horror and medieval fantasy.  I think this is the main reason why I enjoyed the book so much as it wasn't just a one-dimensional read.  I never felt like I was reading a splatter zombie adventure book because of the medieval setting and also the ever-changing story lines.  I'm not usually a fan of books that are broken into smaller stories but the author did an amazing job of seamlessly integrating different story lines into a cohesive book that ultimately felt unified.  It didn't ever feel like a collection of short stories to me and I always had this notion in my head as I was reading that all of these characters and stories were interconnected and essential to the eventual conclusion.  Yes there is a good deal of gore and blood but it wasn't done in a heavy-handed way and there was a great deal of suspense that counter balanced the really violent parts.  At the core of this book though is the stories of survival that we feel with every character and how the rampaging zombie evil affects each one in a different way.  We get to experience the struggle to stay alive against outrageous odds and as a result of that, we become intimate with these characters as we follow them along their individual journeys.  Please do give A RITUAL OF BONE by Lee Conley a try, especially if you enjoy medieval fantasy with a good deal of horror, adventure, and intrigue.  I liked this one a lot.  Can't wait for Book number two in The Dead Sagas!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Tag: READER PROBLEMS

Let me begin by giving credit to my fellow blogger buddy Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek for this particular book tag.  Not sure who the original poster was but I saw this on Drew's blog the other day and thought that it would be a fun one to do while I'm between reviews.  This particular book tag deals with various issues that many of us bloggers and reviewers encounter in our daily reading.  Whether it be dealing with a hefty backlog, whether or not to finish a bad book, or reading slumps, we've all had to deal with at least a few of these problems at some point.  So without further delay, here are my own answers to READER PROBLEMS.....





1.  You have 20,000 books in your TBR, how in the world do you decide what to read next?


I'm pretty sure I have close to that number in my TBR at this very moment actually.  Well it feels like it anyway.  I have come up with my own system that I go by where I rank the books that I will read next in priority by the date that I requested the review copy.  So books that I receive that have an earlier requested date go right up to the front of the line. I just feel like this is the only fair way to do it, at least for me.  I keep track of this monstrosity of a TBR on the handy dandy notebook app on my smart phone and as I finish a book, I cross that one off the list.  Otherwise it would get pretty overwhelming as I get at least 3 or 4 review copies a week right now.


2.  You're halfway through a book and you're just not loving it.  Do you put it down or are you committed?


This is a tough one because by nature I'm a completist and I try not to quit on a book unless I'm pretty deep in and it is just not clicking.  In fact, I think I can count on two hands the total number of books that I have abandoned in my thirty years of reading.  Sometimes you just have to cut your losses because wasting time on a book that you absolutely hate takes away precious time that you could be devoting to another book on your TBR.  I try to hang in as long as possible just because I believe that the author deserves my best effort as a reviewer.  And I have had times where a book has dragged for the first half and then all of a sudden redeems itself and ends up being an enjoyable book.  So I guess my answer is I almost always stick with a book unless it is so bad that it becomes distracting and I simply cannot continue.


3.  The end of the year is coming up and you're behind on your reading challenge, do you try to catch up?  And if so, how?


Reading challenges are fun and they are a cool way to try to keep yourself on track with your goals as a blogger for the year.  That being said, they are by no means gospel for me and if I don't hit my reading challenge goal, it is not the end of the world.  So no, I don't panic if I see that I'm five books behind because I know how hectic my life can be and I also know that I've done the best I possibly can each year.  I just try to do better the next year and hope for the best.  


4.  The covers of a series you love do not match, how do you cope?


This drives me batty, I will freely admit.  I'm really big on covers and cover art, so that's where my head is at when it comes to mismatched covers.


5.  Everyone and their mother loves a book that you do not.  Who do you bond with over your shared feelings?


I feel like this happens to me more than any other reviewer for some reason.  I'm out of step more than not when it comes to the books I like or don't like.  So when I don't like a book that scores of others have adored, I just chalk it up to the fact that my tastes are my own.  Just because I don't like a book that others do, doesn't mean that it's a bad book.  It just means that I didn't make a connection with that particular title for whatever reason.  As a reviewer I always try to stay away from making definitive statements about the quality of a book because I think that is the height of pomposity.  Everyone has different tastes and there's a book out there for everybody based on what you view as a great and entertaining read.  So I guess I just keep it to myself and realize that it didn't do it for me but it did for others.


6.  You're reading a book in public and you're about to start crying.  How do you deal?


Wow, I'm not trying to be overly macho or anything but I don't believe that I've ever done this.  So my answer is that I don't deal because it hasn't happened yet!


7.  The sequel to a book you loved just came out but you've forgotten a lot of what happens.  Are you going to reread it?


It really depends on the series and the length of time between books.  For someone like George RR Martin, I absolutely have to reread at least the last book and maybe the one before it as well just because the gap is usually 5 or 6 years between volumes in the series.  Even up to 2 years between books is usually fine for me but anything over that may require some rereading on my part.  If it is a series that I love, I normally don't get too upset if I have to go back to catch up just because I know it will be a great reading experience and I also may pick out a few things that I missed on the previous read.  I tend to also read pretty fast which helps a great deal.


8.  You do not want anyone to borrow your books, how do you politely say no when someone asks?


For the record, asking to borrow one of the books on my shelf at home is hazardous to your health.  I'm extremely prickly about my books, especially if they are beautiful hardcover copies, so I don't tend to lend them out to people because I know that 95% of the people I know won't take as much care with them as I would.  This has gotten better because I now read about 75% of my books on Kindle, so my bookshelves are much less weighty.
But if someone were to happen upon my collection and ask to borrow a book I would probably tell them in the nicest way possible that I don't lend out my books.  I would also explain my obsessive-compulsive nature regarding my collection while also apologizing and letting them know that it's not personal.


9.  You have picked up and put down 5 books in the last month.  How do you get over this reading slump?


I'm not trying to be cocky but I really don't go through "reading slumps".  I know that other people do and I understand it completely, but for whatever reason I just don't.  I think the main reason why are the books that I choose to read.  I have a pretty good sense of the types of books that I'm going to like and I usually pick ones that entertain me.  This also gets back to the whole there is only so much time and so many books to read before you die philosophy.  So I am very careful when I request a review copy and am really selective.  Have I had times where I just couldn't get into a book and then had to binge-watch something on Netflix or the History Channel  just to clear my head a little?  Oh yes that definitely happens on occasion.  But as far as prolonged reading slumps of any significant duration, it just hasn't happened to me yet.


10.  There are so many books coming out that you are dying to read, how many do you end up buying?


My time is 99% taken up with review titles, so if there's something that I'm really dying to read, I most likely will buy it but won't get to read it right away.  If anything I might attempt to read it in small chunks while also reading one of my review titles (I wouldn't recommend this by the way).  There are times when the books on my TBR are a decent mix of books that I have committed to reading for reviews and also books that I am a total fanboy of that I will also review, so they do overlap at times.  Ultimately, there's not a lot of wiggle room though because my extensive backlog doesn't really allow me to engage in a personal read that isn't on my review schedule.  


11.  After you purchase all of these books that you're dying to read, how long do they sit on your shelves before you get to them?


Hahaha, that's a joke right?  See my previous response.  Let me answer this by saying that I am a husband and a dad of two little girls who I chauffeur pretty much every night of the week to their various activities and sports.  I also have a full-time job that's about an hour commute up and back.  My reading time is pretty limited to while I'm cooking dinner, an hour after I put the girls to bed, and maybe a couple of hours while I'm in bed at night before I fall asleep.  Occasionally on the weekend I might be able to steal some extra time as well.  Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change a single aspect of my life but it isn't exactly conducive to getting a lot of reading and blogging done.  I still think that I get the most out of what little time I have but yeah, they might stay on that shelf for quite a while before I can blow the dust off and get to them.  


And there you have it, my READER PROBLEMS in a nutshell.  Hope you enjoyed reading and feel free to take this book tag and run with it on your own blog should you find it fun or interesting.  Happy reading and as always, thanks for visiting Out of This World SFF Reviews!
Nick

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Book Review: SHATTERED DREAMS by Ulff Lehmann


Title:  Shattered Dreams

Author:  Ulff Lehmann

Publisher: Crossroad Press

Publication Date:  March 16, 2018

Rating:  🌟🌟🌟🌟


The opening paragraph of Ulff Lehmann's SHATTERED DREAMS contains this powerful sentence: "Complacency is the greatest foe of peace".  Pretty heavy stuff that not only is quite relevant to our real world of today, but also serves as the basis for the main storyline of this dark epic fantasy tale of a world attempting to recover from a century's old war where wizards and elves once fought to the death.  The result of this war was a deeply scarred land rife with distrust for the magic that was unleashed and its subsequent banishment from being practiced ever again.  The elves, so distraught were they with what had occurred, withdrew from the world leaving humans to their own devices for the next hundred years.  During that time the kingdoms of Danastaer and its neighbor to the north Chanastardh have lived in relative peace.  However, complacency (there's that word from the opening page of the book) has definitely set in within Danastaer as the corrupt king has become lazy and ineffective.  This ineffectiveness proves increasingly problematic as Chanastardh sees an opening to invade and overtake Danastaer in a ruthless power play that harkens back to the days of that old merciless and bloody war.  

Drangar Ralgon is a shepherd who is haunted by his shadowy past and his only desire now is to live out the rest of his life in relative obscurity.  This becomes impossible however, after he murders a nobleman in a dispute and is forced to flee as armies continue to amass at the northern border.  Drangar's past is slowly revealed through snippets of memory and voices within his head, and we gradually get the impression that he is no simple shepherd with a clouded past.  Rather his past is firmly entwined with the events that are about to take place between the two continents.  Treachery is rampant as a very senior member of the King's inner circle is suspected of being an informant and traitor who is sending information back to Danastaer's enemies.  Working hard to uncover the conspiracy is one of the Chosen of Lesganagh, Kildanor.  Kildanor believes that there is a plot hatching to leave Danastaer helpless and vulnerable to attack and is duty bound to stop it before his homeland is subjugated under the heel of the invading army.  Meanwhile, an ancient wizard named Ealisaid has just awoken from a slumber of 100 years only to discover that her entire order has been wiped out.  For her, the war that took place a century ago is still raging and after lashing out in anger and killing a number of people, she is consigned to a dungeon where she eventually encounters the aforementioned shepherd Drangar.  It is in the dungeon with Drangar that Ealisaid realizes what is occurring outside the dungeon walls and that there is an invasion about to take place that will threaten the fragile peace and potentially destroy that peace once and for all.  Can the former member of the Phoenix Wizards, along with Drangar and Kildanor uncover the conspiracy that is afoot and stave off the invasion that is most certainly coming?   Can it be that it is too late to stop the events that have already been put into motion?   

SHATTERED DREAMS is the first book in Ulff Lehmann's Light in the Dark series and it delivers so many positive elements for anyone who loves dark fantasy with magic aplenty.  The book starts off at a relatively slow pace.  This is not a book where you are immediately dumped into the action taking place.  There is a good amount of background information provided in the opening chapters and also a brief history lesson regarding the elven/wizard war.  This is vital to understanding everything that follows though, so don't lose patience and you will be fairly rewarded as the story picks up steam about midway through.  I was very pleased with the use of magic in SHATTERED DREAMS and I thought that the way in which magic had an important role in the story really enriched the narrative.  Magic in this story is something that is both feared by the general populace but at the same time is seen as possibly the only hope to save the threatened kingdom of Danastaer from the hordes of invading troops to the north.  The interesting dichotomy of that view of magic really lends a lot of tension to the story and I kept wondering as I read if magic would be embraced in the end or continue to be shunned as a destructive force.  

This was a book that brought me back to my days of reading epic high fantasy written by the likes of Lloyd Alexander, Robert Jordan, and Ursula Le Guin.  Don't be mistaken, I'm not comparing SHATTERED DREAMS to the works of those authors in a literal sense, but I will say that this book had that type of feel to it at times for me.  I had that same comfortable and familiar feeling with regard to the story that I had when I used to devour those books back in my early days of reading fantasy.  My only slight complaint about the book is that at times it felt a little disjointed.  I think this had more to do with the fact that that this is a first book by a new author and it wasn't distracting enough that it made me not enjoy the reading experience.  The world-building is solid and the central conflict driving the story kept me focused on wanting to find out what happened next.  We are unfortunately left with a little bit of a cliffhanger at the end, but this is to be expected with the first book in a planned five-book series.  Incidentally, the second book in this series Shattered Hopes was just released in late August, so I'm eager to pick that one up as well and continue with this intriguing new series.  All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed SHATTERED DREAMS and recommend it to anyone who likes a quality fantasy story replete with elves, wizards, warring kingdoms, and most of all MAGIC!  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book List: 10 SCARY READS FOR YOU THIS HALLOWEEN

Yes I know that this is a Fantasy and Science-Fiction book blog, but there's always been something about the month of October and Halloween that puts me in the mood to read a downright good and scary Horror book.  I love this time of year so much that my wife and I got married on Halloween and had our wedding reception in a haunted seaside hotel in fact.  Over the years I've had the pleasure of reading many books that are just perfect for this time of year.  With October quickly approaching, I was inspired to put together a list of my 10 favorite Halloween reads and after quite a bit of searching my memory banks, I believe I was able to accomplish just that.  Hope that you enjoy this list and maybe even discover a book or two that you haven't read yet that will get you into the Halloween spirit!  👻




10.  THE ELEMENTALS (1981) by Michael McDowell:  Are you by any chance a fan of the movie Beetlejuice?  How about The Nightmare Before Christmas?  Well if you enjoyed those movies, Michael McDowell wrote the screenplays for both of them.  So you already know that his writing style is going to lean toward the bizarre.  THE ELEMENTALS is one of the best examples of the Southern Gothic style of horror and just an extremely cool and creepy read.  The book deals with two families from Mobile, Alabama who retreat to their summer homes after attending the funeral of a related loved one.  The houses are in close proximity to each other sandwiching a third house that has been vacant for years and years.  The vacant house has been gradually filling with sand and also something else that is even more sinister unbeknownst to the two families.  They soon realize however that they are not alone and what they thought was an empty house on the beach isn't empty at all.  This is an awesome book that keeps the chills coming with every chapter.  





9.  THE KEEP (1981) by F. Paul Wilson: One of many vampire books on this list.  This has an interesting twist on the traditional vampire story though.  THE KEEP starts off with the ominous line "Something is murdering my men".  We soon learn that the "men" that this line refers to is a Nazi SS squad that has been stationed in an abandoned castle in the remote Transylvanian Alps during WWII.  The castle is positioned in a highly strategic area located near a pass that the troops have been assigned to monitor for any enemy soldier activity.  The problem is that every morning the commander of the squad wakes up to find another of his men mutilated and dead.  It is quite evident that someone or something is picking off his men and murdering them while they sleep.  It gets so bad that the Nazi commander even brings in some local folklore experts to get their help with what is going on.  What is revealed is both shocking and quite frightening.  This is a book that you will read with the lights on or a flashlight nearby.





8. WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE (1962) by Shirley Jackson:  Those who know me very well know that I am an incredibly huge fan of Shirley Jackson's works.  In my humble opinion she's among the greatest authors of the past hundred years period.  Most people would go with her more famous novel THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE for a Halloween read but I'm actually picking this one instead.  The one word that best describes this book is unsettling.  While not a straightforward horror book, this one is a little more complex but by no means any less frightening when all is said and done.  It tells the story of two sisters who live in a secluded estate with their aging and sick uncle.  Six years earlier the majority of the their family was killed through poisoning.  One of them was even fingered for the crime but then later acquitted.  The gist of the story is that you know that one of the sisters was the murderer but it isn't clear which one.  Throw in a bit of a killer twist and what you have here is a very creepy read that I think is Shirley Jackson's best book.  





7. MIDNIGHT (1989) by Dean Koontz:  Admittedly I'm not a huge Dean Koontz fan.  I feel like he misses more than he hits unfortunately, but MIDNIGHT is one heck of a scary story that I try to reread every few years (especially around Halloween).  I first read this book when I was a teenager and it scared the crap out of me.  As I've gotten older and have read it with more adult eyes, I'm pleased to say that it still hasn't lost one bit of its chill-factor.  MIDNIGHT is the story about a town named Moonlight Cove, where the citizens are changing with every passing night into raving savages and what could only be described as werewolf-like creatures.  The story is seen through the eyes of four citizens who for some reason are not affected by the change and we get every cool detail of the events that happen in the town through their eyes.  Some of it is incredibly creepy and the pursuit to find out why the town is experiencing this is just as much fun as the actual scenes of horror that occur.  This is a really good read for those who want something thrilling and scary this Halloween.





6. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1962) by Ray Bradbury:  One of a few classics on this list, Bradbury's coming of age horror story is among my all-time favorites.  Part of the reason why this book is so scary is that the main characters are kids and we can all relate to what makes these kids terrified because we've all been there before. This one is even more chilling because the story takes place around Halloween.  A carnival comes to a Midwestern town in the middle of the night, arousing the interest of two young boys who are best friends.  The carnival brings with it an air of mystery and the promise of making every child's wish come true.  As the two boys sneak onto the carnival grounds to explore a little, what they uncover is way more than either of them ever bargained for and one of the most eerie stories that I've ever read.  This one set the standard for all of the coming of age horror tales to follow in my opinion.  Just a stupendous darkly fantastic horror read.





5. HOUSE OF LEAVES (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski:  This book is an exercise in stamina and fortitude, but if you have the patience to work a little bit, the payoff is one of the best reading experiences you will ever have.  HOUSE OF LEAVES is a truly unique and original horror book.  Both the story contained within the pages and the actual physical pages themselves are unlike anything I've seen before or since.  As you read the book you will begin to see pages that have upside down writing, backward writing, just one word on a page, pages where you have to decipher and break codes to read, I mean yeah it would be easy to quit and say to hell with it.  I would ask you though to have patience and perform the due diligence that it takes to read this book because believe me, it's worth it and you won't regret it in the end.  The story is about a husband and wife who move into a new home.  Gradually they begin to notice that the house they've moved into is getting bigger but only on the inside!  The husband even discovers hallways that lead to nowhere and doors in the floor that lead to........well you'll have to read the book to find out.  Suffice it to say it's amazing.





4. HEX (2013) by Thomas Olde Heuvelt:  This one is fairly new compared to the rest of the books on the list but it absolutely belongs as far as I'm concerned.  I haven't been blown away by a horror book in a long time, but this one did exactly that, it blew me away.  Picture a town along the Hudson Valley in New York that is cursed by the legacy of witchcraft and the witch trial that took place in the 17th century.  Fast-forward to modern day, where this same town is now just like any other but with one creepy little catch.  It seems that a woman still walks the streets of Black Spring, one with her eyes and mouth sewn shut.  She is not an apparition but a physical being who can appear anywhere at anytime.  She often wanders the streets, popping in and out of local stores, bars, and homes.  Why don't the people move to another town you ask?  Well, you see the curse makes anyone who tries to leave have severe suicidal thoughts and if they are gone for a long enough time, they eventually kill themselves.  One of the creepiest scenes in the book is one where she is just standing in the corner of one of the family homes as they eat their dinner and she's still there in the same spot when they go to bed that night.  The town seems to have accepted her presence since she's never harmed anyone, but that may all be about to change as out of nowhere she begins whispering things through a torn stitching in her mouth that are barely audible but sound menacing and evil.  Oh this is a fantastic book that I recommend that everyone read this Halloween season.





3. DRACULA (1897) by Bram Stoker:  What would any Halloween reading list be without the horror book to end all horror books?   Seriously though, DRACULA just gets better with age.  I read it every single year around Halloween and have since I was in my late teens.  And every time I read this stunningly perfect vampire novel, it seems just as fresh as the very first time I read it.  The diary passages of the ship's captain as his men are picked off one by one is simply terrifying and never fails to make me shudder.  We all know the overall story so I won't bother but what I will say is that this is a book that should be experienced by everyone at some point in their life.  It is not only a terrific horror book, it is a literary masterpiece where every word and phrase moves you and at the same time frightens the hell out of you.  This should be required reading for Halloween just as a general rule.





2.  SALEM'S LOT (1975) by Stephen King:  I just couldn't compile a list that involves horror books without including the King of horror himself.   SALEM'S LOT is my second-favorite vampire novel ever (right behind the one that is coming in next at #1 actually).  Everything about this book makes you anxious, disturbed, and frozen with fear.   This may very well not be Stephen King's best novel, but it's damn effective at what it does, and that is scare the bejeezus out of you and give you a phenomenally told story in the process.  A sleepy Maine town has a brand new citizen, a mysterious man who opens up an antique store in the center square.  on one fog-shrouded night he pays two local men to pick up a giant crate that is being delivered from overseas down at the port.  They are given specific instructions to deliver the crate into the basement of the shop and to lock the doors very securely.  What ensues from there is a terrifying vampire novel that you will read with a mixture of trepidation and delight.  I can't recommend this one enough if you wish to read a truly scary book this October.  My wife almost threw this book at me she was so scared.





1.  I AM LEGEND (1954) by Richard Matheson:  The first thing I want to say is this -  completely forget about the travesty of a movie adaptation of this book starring Will Smith.  Just flush it right out of your brain and pretend that it never existed.  Are we good now?  Okay.  THIS BOOK IS FREAKING AMAZING!!  If I had one horror book to read for the rest of my life it would be this incredibly perfect book.  Oh how I adore this book!  The first time I read it, it took me all of three hours in one-sitting.  It was 2am when I finally read the last page and I had to work early the next day, but the fact of the matter is that I just didn't want to put it down.  It's a brilliant vampire story that even after sixty some odd years, loses none of its terror and suspense.  It tells the horrifying story of quite literally the last man on Earth who is the single survivor of a terrible plague that has turned every man, woman, and child into a vampire.  The heartbreaking part is that his wife was also one of the victims.  He barricades himself inside his home and only leaves in the daytime to collect whatever food, fortifications, and weapons he can find to survive another night.  Because it is at night when the vampires come calling and incessantly beating at his door.  On one especially terrible evening, he actually recognizes his wife's voice as one of the vampires outside calling for him to come out.  This is tops on my list for many reasons, but I think you should read it for yourself and find out all of the elements that make this one of the greatest horror stories ever written.



And that concludes the list of my 10 favorite scary reads for this coming Halloween season.  I know that there are a bunch of books that are deserving and that I left out, but these are just my own personal favorites and ones that I think you will get much enjoyment out of should you choose to pick any of them up.  

Happy reading and 🎃 HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!  🎃

Monday, September 24, 2018

Book Review: ACHING GOD by Mike Shel


Title: Aching God

Author: Mike Shel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 9, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Auric Manteo is a retired adventurer and former member of a guild named The Syraeic League.  Auric thought that his relic-hunting days were over long ago after multiple family tragedies, including the deaths of his son and later his wife by suicide.  All Auric cares to do now is live out the rest of his life trying to pick up the pieces and hopefully mend the strained relationship that he has with his only remaining loved one, his daughter Agnes.  So it is more than a little unsettling when Auric is summoned out of retirement and called to appear at the Citadel, where he is given a task that is essentially a suicide mission.  It seems that a devastating plague has overtaken much of the land and is spreading at an incredibly rapid pace.  If that wasn't bad enough, Auric's estranged daughter Agnes is one of the many afflicted.  

The origins of the plague are believed to be the result of a disastrous mistake where a powerful cursed artifact was taken from its resting place.  This artifact was never meant to be removed and now the gods are apparently unleashing their retribution.  Auric is told he must embark on a mission with a small band of handpicked companions to journey back to the Barrowlands, where he experienced his most traumatic and devastating loss.  For through the Barrowlands lies the dungeon where the cursed artifact was taken, and there it must be returned before the plague finishes wiping out the rest of humanity and with it, his daughter.  To be successful, Auric must battle not only the inhuman creatures that stalk the Barrowlands, but also the demons that still reside within him and are constantly bringing him back to the horrible events from his past that still haunt him to this day.  What the ultimate outcome will be is very much up to how well Auric can beat back the torment and rely on his years of experience as a skilled member of the Syraeic League to attempt to replace what was taken.  His daughter's life and the lives of tens of thousands of potential plague victims depend on it.  

I've seen ACHING GOD described in many book review outlets as a LitRPG book.  I kind of quibble with that representation, quite frankly.  While it definitely has a LitRPG feel at times, this is at heart a solid Sword and Sorcery novel much in the same vein as Dave Duncan's Seventh Sword series and Michael Moorcock's Elric saga.  I thought that ACHING GOD was a fabulous example of how world-building can be incredibly effective in setting the atmosphere and mystery of the book.  As I was reading I was consistently intrigued by the Barrowlands and what terrible secrets they contained.  Shel does an excellent job of setting things up and revealing subtle hints about the relics and the history behind the relic hunters of the past.  The tension slowly builds and once Auric and his companions finally make it to the Barrowlands to begin carrying out their mission, the action is breakneck and the bad guys are just scary as hell.  This is really where the book excels I thought, the downright brilliant representation of the creatures who inhabit this blasted land.  

Shel writes incredibly vivid battle scenes and doesn't describe the carnage in a half-hearted manner, it's brutal and I loved every minute of it.  When people die in the ACHING GOD, they die in excruciating detail and not peacefully.  Auric is yet another tortured main character, but he's by no means shallow or cookie-cutter the way that many are.  He has experienced a ton of grief in his life and his battle to hang on to the last vestige of family that he has left, his daughter, is heart-breaking and absolutely motivates his actions.  Because of this, he's an easy character to cheer for.  I found myself completely invested in wanting him to succeed in mending his relationship with Agnes while at the same time also trying to stop the plague that could ultimately wipe everyone out.  The fact that this is a debut self-published novel by Mike Shel is astounding to me because it is written with a seasoned-author's vision and eloquence.  I had a very minor issue with the pacing at times but by no means did it detract from me liking this book a whole heck of a lot.  Because ultimately when the book really gets into high gear about midway through, all of that buildup pays off in a big way.  So do yourself a favor and pick up ACHING GOD by Mike Shel.  If Sword and Sorcery with a pinch of LitRPG and Horror sounds good to you, then this is the book you should be reading right now.  Also, keep an eye out for book two of the Iconoclasts series Sin Eater sometime in the near future.  Personally, I can't wait!