'Shadow City' by Francesca Flores is the second book in The City of Diamond and Steel duology. As is becoming a habit for me, I actually haven't yet gotten to read Diamond City.. the first of the pair, but that never really stops me from hitting the ground running with a read.
Aina Solis is our proverbial eyes and ears for this journey. A former assassin, she's wrested control of a criminal empire from her former boss, Kohl.. and she and her friends have been running it ever since. Regardless of the fact she defeated him and the two always had a legitimately toxic connection, she has trouble shaking feelings for him.
Even though she believes one of them will eventually end up killing the other, she ends up working with him against a mutual enemy known as Bautix, an old army general ousted when Aina revealed his corruption.
There are so many players in the game, many of whom have their own agendas, even if you think you have a good grasp on their true intentions.. you find yourself questioning those beliefs. Interestingly enough, that puts you on the same level as those aforementioned players because they too are constantly questioning the intentions of those around them. It's one big chess match.
The diamond-blood magic system is limited in scope, but very creative and I'm curious to go back and see if it's more or less diverse in the debut. While the author doesn't weigh us down with the assassin's poison tactics, she does play with the concoctions enough to make them interesting as well and between those abilities and her hand-to-hand combat, Aina is a well-rounded.. strong.. female lead.
Action sequences are well-written, featuring cohesive streamlined battles that include multiple characters without feeling like a laundry list of names and events. There's barely any downtime in the book, as most of the time someone is either fighting for their life.. someone else's.. or there's some kind of emotional upheaval happening. Sometimes more than one of the above at a time.
I found the tense pseudo-triangle between Aina, Kohl, and Teo to be fascinating. Not only was I not sure for awhile who.. if anyone.. she would end up with, I couldn't even decide who I'd like to see her choose. And frankly, after all was decided.. I still questioned whether or not I was pleased with the results.
Flores did make me tear up a bit.. just once.. and I'm pretty sure she'll get most of us in the same spot. I was terribly invested at that point and my heart was absolutely shattered.. but for the most part, it's just a fast-moving story with a lot riding on the line for everyone.
Well worth the read!
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to check out the rest of the stops on the 'In Darkness, Shadows Breathe' blog tour brought to you by RANDOM THINGS TOURS, FLAME TREE PRESS, and CATHERINE CAVENDISH!
'In Darkness, Shadows Breathe' by Catherine Cavendish is a Gothic tinted timeline shifting novel that begins by following a woman named Carol, who's mostly alone in life.
While living in an upscale apartment for six-months at a deal of a price for basically looking after it for the owners, strange occurrences start to develop around her. Threatening messages appear on the walls, designer kitchenware belonging to the regular occupants is found in pieces, and an eerie image repeatedly manifests at the door and windows. Accused by neighbors of having a rowdy party, Carol sets out to get some answers.. and in the process makes a new friend that sympathizes with her plight and tries to help her.
Vanessa, the other main character, is going through some trying experiences of her own. With her health in jeopardy, she undergoes a dramatic procedure that keeps her in the hospital for some time.. where she too finds herself tormented by some seemingly otherworldly encounters.
The questions posed are largely in regards to how the two women are connected and why.
Structurally speaking, the story is non-linear.. but framed easily enough for anyone to follow. There's quite a collection of common Gothic horror tropes throughout the book, directing the reader along at their own pace and there are no huge surprises here. Everything is very much as it seems.
There are some interesting elements employed, certainly.. Vanessa's medical condition is extreme and some may find the descriptive nature of what she's suffering to be a bit too much for them.. but it was also probably the most unusual aspect of the story. For the most part, in the time-slipping scenes.. there's reference to what's going on.. without too many graphic details.
I will say the novel is a bit clumsily written and suffers from an overburdening of convenience. Every time the author introduces some piece of evidence or some new experience, along comes a character to explain exactly what it is, what it means, if and when it's happened before, and so on.. in graceless information downloads.
Overall, the concept is clever enough. The base catalyst driving the incidents.. is actually pretty unique in its way of recurring across dimensions. Other than that, I'd say anyone looking for a quick read with a bit of a creep factor could probably happily pick this up and breeze through it in a couple of hours.
Cat first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter– an Empire Smith Corona. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.
The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels and novellas, including The Garden of Bewitchment, The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy–Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, Damned by the Ancients - The Devil’s Serenade, Dark Avenging Angel, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Linden Manor. Her short story, 'Miss Emmeline’s Mirror', recently appeared in the anthology Haunted Are These Houses.
She lives north of Liverpool with her longsuffering husband and black cat (who remembers that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt and sees no reason why that practice should notcontinue).
When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys rambling around stately homes, circles of standing stones and travelling to favourite haunts such as Vienna and Orkney.
Continue below to read my review of the book and to check out the rest of the stops on the 'UNTIL WE'RE FISH' blog tour brought to you by RANDOM THINGS TOURS, PROPERTIUS PRESS, and SUSANNAH R. DRISSI!
"Revolutions," he was saying, "are never what they seem."
"In his mind, revolutions and shark attacks were one and the same."
'Until We're Fish' by Susanna R. Drissi is more than just a coming of age story, though in the early pages we do experience just that for young Elio, Pepe, and Maria. In fact, the book opens with a bit of a horrifying event.. which really sets the tone for the story.
Set amidst the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution, at first literally nothing but background noise and later becoming a central part of every day life.. the book follows Elio on his quest for Maria's love, the evolution of a friendship he never wanted to have with Pepe, and the reality that plagues them all.
The prose is lyrical and the mood.. mostly somber.. and though the characters struggle, there's a recurring theme of hope.. no matter how hard things seem to get for them.
Elio is really charming. His situation is awful when we meet him and only gets worse, but goodness he tries. He tries to be good and do the right thing, tries to be supportive where he can, and most of all.. tries to keep his head up. He has plenty of little idiosyncrasies and his fair share of trauma.. both emotional and physical, but through it all he mostly maintains that goodness.
That's exactly what makes me dislike everyone around him.. at least a little. At critical times, they're not there when he needs them.. or they openly clash with him, leaving him to be ridiculed at best. Even amongst those who should be there for him.. the relationships just seem very imbalanced.
"Time slipped and fell around her, unanchored. As if parts of her had already begun to drift away."
Now.. I'm not a big history buff, so I can't really dispute the traces I saw in this story. Through a little quick research, I did verify the country suffered things called 'Repudiation Rallies'.. whereby people who were believed to be planning or hoping to leave (possibly even if this wasn't the case).. we're often physically or verbally insulted, or arrested and punished some other way.. as a way of hoping they'd decide to stay. Because.. I suppose making someone's already unhappy life worse.. would totally do that.. right? If it some cases it did succeed, I imagine those people must have been just about terrified as to what else might await them.
It's definitely a tough tale and the likelihood it may be rooted in more truth than I would hope is a hard one to stomach. After what I've seen in of leadership my own home country this year, it certainly doesn't strike me as out of the realm of possibility either. The threat of personal oversight is all laid out here in all its ugly truths.. with friends turning on each other to get their basic needs filled, oppression instilled by a government figure, and fed by the people.. who in reality are just helping that figure keep them down too.
"The guy was allergic to words, let alone ones that might turn into sentences and run for hundreds of pages, only to be continued in Part II."
I recommend giving this story a read. Though it's technically fiction, the glimpse it gives into the struggle people deal with in similar situations.. will be eye-opening. Though I certainly feel like it's still a soft, gauzy representation of those miseries.. it's something to think about and oh.. how the hearts of these undeniably resilient people moved me.
Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, PhD is an award-winning Cuban-born poet, writer, playwright, translator, director, producer, and scholar. She is Faculty in Writing Programs at UCLA, Affiliate Scholar in UC-Cuba Program Initiative, and Associate Literary Editor for Cuba Counterpoints, Cuban and Caribbean Research Studies Institute.
As a 1.5-generation writer (born in Cuba in the 1970s, but coming of age in the US), Rodríguez Drissi writes about Cuba through a double lens—from the vantage point of the native and also from the benefit of a temporal and geographical distance.
Her poems, short stories, creative nonfiction, and reviews have appeared in anthologies such as In Season—Stories of Discovery, Loss, Home, and Places in Between (2018 Florida Book Award Winner); and journals such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, Saw Palm, Literal Magazine, Diario de Cuba (Madrid), SX Salon, Raising Mothers, Acentos Review, Cuba Counterpoints, among other journals.
Following readings at the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Los Angeles, her award-winning play, Houses Without Walls, premiered at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2018. More recently, her short plays, The Fruit Flies and Rey y Atenea were selected to the 2019 Short+Sweet Theatre Festival and premiered at the Lee Strasberg Film & Theatre Institute, in Los Angeles. Rey y Atenea received an Audience Choice Award and was Finalist for the 2019 NBC Universal Talent Infusion Programs Award.
She is the author of the poetry collection The Latin Poet’s Guide to the Cosmos (Floricanto Press, 2019) and Rey y Atenea / Rey and Atenea, a Bilingual Edition (Cassandra Press, 2019). Her musical, Radio Nocturno, El Musical, was scheduled to premiere at Miami Dade College’s Koubek Center, on August 6th, 2020, directed by Victoria Collado (John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons), musical direction by Jesse Sanchez (Hamilton, national tour), and produced by George Cabrera (
"Find a way, or make one."
'Master Artificer' by Justin T. Call is the second book in The Silent Gods series that debuted last year. It also happens to be one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2021.. so you can imagine how thrilled I was when Justin was kind enough to let me read it early.
At this point in the story, Annev and his friends are amongst the few survivors of of Chaenbalu.. their childhood home. Having grown up there in the isolation of the academy with the Masters, they were raised to have a hatred and distrust of magic. Groomed to become 'Avatars,' successful students would go on missions to retrieve powerful magical artifacts so they could be locked away in an underground vault, but all that's behind them as the vault and the academy itself lie in ruins.
Book two hits the ground running and never lets up. The small band of friends leave their village behind, traveling along perilous routes to even more dangerous cities. While trying to evade all those who hunt him, either to destroy him entirely or possess him and wield him as a tool of their own, Annev struggles to come to grips with his new circumstances and mourn the loss of his mentor.
"I am a monster. I am gilded death. The shadow's knife. Demon apprentice. Servant of Keos."
I was a bit slow reading this book because it's a monster of a tome, but in such great ways. Sitting at over 850 pages in length, it's a page-turner throughout. Call is a modern high fantasy master.. our very own Master of Epic Tales. The novel is incredibly dense, and by that I mean.. every 50 pages I read.. felt like 100 pages of information, yet it was never boring. There were no unnecessary, uninteresting passages.. every piece felt critical to story or character development and I had to force myself to put the book down when other obligations would arise.
When I read the first book, 'Master of Sorrows,' last year.. I was blown away by the author's skill. Frankly, I believe he's the best modern high fantasy writer of our time. There's a cohesiveness between all of his plot points that flows like water, leaving no space unfilled. They're intricately woven into a seamless story of hope and betrayal.
In this second installment, Call expands on an already vast internal mythos built within his fantasy world. Here and there, occasional extracts appear regarding the gods that influence the every day lives of our characters. Ancient gods who.. eons prior.. set into motion a seemingly irreversible chain of events and young gods, still manipulating their followers in an attempt to grasp more power of their own.
"And with such ease doth man defy the Gods by hoarding pow'r in golden rings and rods. Then turning 'gainst the Gods he cries: I rule myself and see with opened eyes."
Likewise, if there's a larger.. more in-depth magical system anywhere, I haven't run across it. But the best thing about all this deep world-building is how well placed it all is. There aren't pages filled with massive downloads of information, rather.. the grand details are sprinkled throughout the books and I expect that will continue into the third. Call never gives the reader too much to ingest. He gives us just enough to feel as if we're kept right on the verge of fullness.. and that lends itself beautifully to the way Annev and his friends must feel as the truth continues to open itself up to them. Almost overwhelmed and still just hungry enough to keep wanting more.
The side-effect of this arguably perfect approach for me is that it makes the story feel relatable, despite its fantastical setting. I'm so invested in every one of the.. even remotely.. morally salvageable characters that I'm constantly concerned about someone and think 90% of them are just misunderstood.
Mind you, the story is brutal at times.. emotionally destructive and physically violent. The author isn't afraid to drive the reader to fondness for a character, then to shatter them with some horrible turn of events. Even if you can see it coming, it's not enough to prepare for the moment.. because it's done with such expertise.
"We are already monsters.. and now our bodies match our hearts."
I could talk about this book for another dozen paragraphs and it wouldn't be enough to convey the excellence held within the pages of this story. I can only implore you.. to read it for yourself. I loved it so much that I needed a few days just to ponder all that had happened before even writing a review. I feel safe in saying, while Call certainly has a few well-established peers.. there isn't a single author out there that's better.
Title: Bonded Fate (The Guardians of the Maiden #2)
Author: Beck Michaels
Publisher: Pluma Press
Release Date: August 3rd, 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
JOINED BY BLOOD.
BOUND BY DESTINY.
Reeling from Cassiel's confession, Dyna struggles to understand what the Blood Bond means for them both. When she meets a familiar sorceress, Dyna realizes the only way to defeat Tarn is to find her Guardians—all of them.
Cassiel never meant to tie himself to a human, especially one that inexplicably draws him. But then the bond develops a startling change, and it puts into question everything he thought he knew.
Zev straddles the line between human and wolf, unsure if his dark thoughts truly belong to the Madness. It’s growing stronger, determined to take over—and he may just let it.
The journey to get the answers they each need will test them all. But what Dyna doesn't know is that it comes with a price, and it may cost more than she bargained for.
BECK MICHAELS is the bestselling author of the enchanting young adult novel Divine Blood, the first book in the YA epic fantasy series The Guardians of the Maiden, Bonded Fate, and the novella King’s Oath. She has been working on the Guardians series for over fifteen years, so she’d like to believe her characters exist in some tangible dimension, even if it's only in her imagination.
At seventeen, she won a scholarship to the Herron School of Art to further pursue graphic design. She now runs her own imprint, Pluma Press, and works part-time as a graphic designer through her business, Whimsy Book Cover Graphics, designing book covers for fellow authors.
Beck lives in Indiana with her husband and two children, where she spends her time reading and daydreaming of stories in faraway lands.
Continue below for more information on the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'GLIMPSE OF TIME' cover reveal tour brought to you by LITERARY BOUND TOURS, GRATUS PUBLISHING, and JM BUCKLER!
Title: Glimpse of Time
Author: JM Buckler
Publisher: Gratus Publishing
Release Date: Early 2022
Genre: New Adult Fantasy
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, and Ebook
How far would you go for the ones you love?
GLIMPSE OF TIME is the first book in the CAPTURING TIME SAGA. A new adult fantasy fiction series that follows a lost soul, a feisty princess, a determined prisoner, a loose cannon, a humble heir, and a few familiar faces from the SEEKER OF TIME SERIES. It's a story about taking risks, sacrifices, and betrayal.
JM Buckler has been featured in top media including ABC, NBC, and Fox. She is the award-winning author of Seeker of Time, Stillness of Time, and Passage of Time, young adult fantasy-fiction books which have received praise from the likes of Kirkus Reviews and which have been best-selling young adult books on Amazon. Game-changers in the young adult marketplace, Buckler’s novels combine electric storytelling with deep spiritual lessons and meaningful takeaway on how to cope with life’s hardships – addressing everything from betrayal and heartbreak, to violence and death.
Buckler offers writing-based programs to diverse audiences – teaching how to use the power of the pen to reshape and reclaim one’s life, as Buckler did when she began her own writing journey: After years of drifting through life, feeling insecure and lacking a sense of meaning or purpose – always trying to be the image and fill role that others held out for her – Buckler took a leap of faith and walked out on the person she was supposed to be, instead diving into the world of her imaginary characters. Through developing their lives, Buckler discovered that she cultivated her own – ultimately finding her calling and passion, transforming her reality, and emerging a grounded and confident young woman. Buckler lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and Havanese dog.
'The Lady Jewel Diviner' by Rosalie Oaks is a rather light tale that follows the path of one Miss Elinor Avely, her burgeoning friendship with a tiny vampiri named Aldreda, and their search for a cache of missing jewels.
Already having fallen into scandal in London because of her gift of divination, having only tried to be helpful, Elinor and her family escape to the county of Devon. Tucking themselves away in the home of a friend's father, she's seemingly pursued by a most determined Lord Treffler.. who wants her help finding the cache which is supposed to be hidden somewhere along the coastline.
Aided by her brother, Perry and Miss Zooth, the vampiri lady.. Elinor grows more and more intent on locating the jewels herself after coming across a pair of French refugees who tell her the story of their own lost jewels.. taken by the very same people who smuggled them into the country. Desperately wanting to assist her new friends, Elinor finds herself running afoul of the Earl of Beresford.. a nobleman who'd tried to save her from the situation in London previously and a cast of unsavory characters thought to be involved in the smuggling at hand.
The story is quite charming, as is the cast. Oaks has some skill, the strongest of which seems to be that of misdirection. She's careful not to telegraph the most important facts and displays an ability to create characters with interesting potential for backstories of their own.
That being said, the book is only slightly above average overall for me because the aforementioned potential doesn't really come to fruition. We're really only given bare bones about the characters and so I never felt any real investment in most of their situations.
As we're allowed to get to know Aldreda a little more than the others, I found myself moderately concerned for her well-being.. but the rest, no matter how dire their situations.. just couldn't summon a care within me. Likewise, the story is much more 'tell' than 'show.' The only character we get a pretty good description of is Jaq, who certainly sounds handsome enough.. but then when faced with the opportunity to really give him some depth of history.. it's just not delivered.
Most expanded details on the characters are presented briefly toward the end of the book. In fact, the novel is so devoid of description in many cases.. that I didn't realize I had no idea what Elinor looked like until something mentioned as the story wound to a close.. yet there was a tendency to almost waste words on overdoing greetings each time people came together. While I know there's a formality she was trying to achieve to reflect the societal ways of the period, it simply wasn't necessary for each person to greet each other in nearly every meeting.
Regardless of those small constructive criticisms, I still DID enjoy the story. It was told with a sort of levity that isn't overly common in modern releases, where being edgier is viewed as being more 'interesting.' There's a small, but creative mix of fantastical beings and what could certainly be a creative magic system.. if only it were developed and presented more thoroughly.
If you're looking for an easy read at the end of a rough day, this might be for you. Kick back.. relax.. and explore what Oaks' world has to share..
'Lore' by Alexandra Bracken is an extremely creative born of the classic Greek pantheon of gods. Beginning with a theme of civil war which in traditional text included all but Hestia trying to challenge Zeus, Bracken's story is a little more centralized and results in much harsher punishments by the god king.
The main character, Melora or 'Lore,' is the last surviving member of her House.. the House of Perseus. The Persedes as they're known.. are one of 9 descended Houses of legendary heroes.. who after the uprising of the gods and goddesses, are essentially tasked with their punishments.
What is their punishment? The Agon. A hunt, basically.. that occurs every seven years.. when the 9 rebellious gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals while the legendary Houses try to run them into the ground, kill them, and take their power. As it turns out, whomever kills the previous god.. becomes the new one. At least, for another seven years until the next Agon when they have to join the hunt as prey.
I genuinely love mythology and I'm always eager to get my hands on new stories that are inspired or developed from the fascinating ancient stories, but 'Lore' is just exceptional. The origin of events is certainly rooted in a believable premise that sounds as if it could have come from the same beliefs, but the modern twist is smoothly merged with the classic theme.
The dynamics, both between the old gods and new, gods in general and those heroic descendents, and all of the above and any humans they come across are each distinctive and well-suited to what one would expect. In fact, while most of the new gods are egotistical.. it feels almost performative, like a youth who knows they were raised in wealth.. rather than someone working for it and overcompensating for that fact. The old gods are just casually arrogant and it's clear they simply don't think or understand beyond their experience.
Actually, I love Athena.. she's hilarious and in that unintentional, dry wit sort of way. Also, I enjoyed that Bracken gave the old gods a very formal speech pattern and a disassociated perspective of the world and those around them. Castor is another favorite, though the characters in general all have depth to them, individuality, and distinctively clear 'voices' making the read as comfortable as any every day conversation. The dialogue is fantastic and that's the thing I find is weakest in most works from literature to tv to film.
I'm predicting already that 'Lore' is going to be in my top reads list of 2021.. but we'll see what the year has to offer. It's a definite page turner, whereas there's either some kind of tense fight or unveiled drama going on at most times. I love it so much, I have three copies coming.. and I highly recommend this title for anyone with a love of mythology and modern urban fantasy.
5 Self-Published Authors to Watch
As most of you know, I love 'undiscovered talent.' Be it in literature, film, music, any kind of creative arena.. one of my favorite things is stumbling across those gems that haven't quite caught the light yet. Though I'm sure these authors are getting plenty of love, being self-pubbed is no easy task and certainly doesn't afford them the same widespread public notice that they might get with a professional team dedicated to promoting them.
In no particular order, I present you with my top 5 self-published reads of the year.. and 5 authors you really should be watching going forward. Each of these authors is well-rounded. Some develop elaborate magic systems or extremely creative retellings, but all offer deep back story, strong character development, and a unique storytelling voice.
Isabella August - Crown of Whispers (Faerie Lords series)
Benedict Patrick - To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl (Yarnsworld series)
On the Isle of Sound and Wonder - Alyson Grauer
Olivia Atwater - Ten-Thousand Stitches (Regency Faerie Tales)
Jesse Nolan Bailey - The Jealousy of Jalice (A Disaster of Dokojin series)
5 Indie Press Authors to Watch
Truth be told, though 2020 was rough in a lot of ways.. it was a great year for quality indie titles. I know the health crisis has made it really difficult for indie authors to get their books noticed and to ramp up their releases with physical appearances.. so I wanted to share my top 5 indie reads.
If you aren't familiar with them yet, there's still plenty of time to check out their work. Again, this list is filled with unique talents, wildly creative worlds to explore, and in one case.. an intriguing almost circular storytelling style.. the likes of which I've only seen in film.
Wren Handman - Wire Wings
Sean Gibson - The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True
Ryan La Sala - Reverie
A.J. Vrana - The Hollow Gods (Chaos Cycle Duology)
Marie Brennan - Driftwood
Honorable mentions go out to Lillah Lawson (Dead Rockstar), Daven McQueen (The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones), A.E. Ross (To The Flame), Sarah Burton (The Strange Adventures of H), and Maggie Tokuda-Hall (The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea.)
Top 10 Big Press Favorites
I read a ton of big press titles this year and enjoyed so many of them that it wasn't easy narrowing this down to just the top ten. Though some of these authors have been around for some time, these were also my first experiences with them and I really loved their stories.. even when they broke my heart. Especially so..
The result of that is a top ten, followed by a handful of honorable mentions as in the indie group.
If you'd like to know more about any of the titles in my 2020 Year in Review lists, you can find complete reviews for them in the Index above.
Aiden Thomas - Cemetery Boys
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - Aurora Burning (Aurora Cycle series)
Alice Oseman - Loveless
Sarah J. Maas - House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City series)
Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Mexican Gothic
Erica Waters - Ghost Wood Song
Dylan Farrow - Hush
Noelle Harrison - The Island Girls
Janella Angeles - Where Dreams Descend
Ivy Pochoda - These Women
Though they didn't make my Big Press top ten, the following authors and titles were also standouts for me this year - Robert Jackson Bennett (Shorefall), Andrew Eliopulos (The Fascinators), and April Genevieve Tucholke (Seven Endless Forests.)