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


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!

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!