The middle-grade reading spree continues with The Bone Garden. I got a free ARC of this creepy but cute little book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t think necromancy could be the cute, but alas, it was. In spite of its cuteness, I wasn’t as engaged with The Bone Garden as I hoped to be, but I still enjoyed it.
The main character, Irréelle, was adorable even though she was essentially made of dead people’s bones. For a creature most would label as a “monster” she was kind and often put others before herself. Early in the book, I got very annoyed at how she loved her creator even though the woman was cruel and abusive, but towards the end, I was very happy when Irréelle learned to stand up for herself.
However, the side characters were flat and didn’t have much of an arc. They were good friends for Irréelle, but they didn’t change or grow like she did. Even though I loved seeing Irréelle’s friendship with them bloom, I got a little bored watching them stay the same while she developed.
The antagonist, Miss Vesper, was too cliche for me.
The story and plot were a little more complex than I expected, and there were a couple times where I was actually surprised. There were some scary moments, but for the most part, the book was just morbid in a cute way. There was necromancy and bones were the morbid part, but the character and her friendships were the cute.
The prose were accessible but not bland.
The Bone Garden would be a great story for a kid who likes things like bones, worms, and dirt, but doesn’t want to be too scared by what he/she/they are reading.
Waking Up the Sunwas a cute romance set in a dark yet enchanting forest where two people, the only two people in the forest, gradually fall in love with each other.
My favorite part about this was the mental illness representation. The main characters panic attacks, combine with his description of his cycles of anxiety and depression, felt true and relatable.
More importantly, both the main character and the narrative voice had a positive attitude towards medication. The main character had a potion that helped him manage his mental illness. When he was in the forest without it, he coped, but realized he did better with it, and took the initiative to make more of it. Once he was back on the medication, his symptoms were clearly easier to manage. They didn’t disappear, but they were more manageable, which made it feel very authentic.
I read so many stories where medication is portrayed in a negative light, that I was happy to see a book where it was shown as something helpful.
I also enjoyed the forest setting. That, combined with the story itself, had a fairy-tale feel.
At times, the story and dialogue felt a little contrived to me, but I often find myself thinking that when I read romance. I wasn’t always as engaged with the voice as I wanted to be and I would have liked a little more tension or high stakes.
Still, it was a nice relaxing read after a stressful week. Waking Up the Sunis a good choice if you are looking for a calm, sweet fairy tale or something to help you unwind after a busy day.
For the next couple of weeks, while I try to finish my own middle grade novel, I’m going to be on a paranormal middle grade reading spree. City of Ghosts is the second title I’ve read since I started and it was so much better than the first book I read off my middle grade list.
City of Ghostshad everything I look for in a book while still being accessible for younger readers. I think had I picked this up when I was twelve, I would’ve happily read the whole thing.
As far as characters go, Cass and Jacob won me over right away. I loved their friendship, how Cass was charging into danger while Jacob was warning her away. I loved his comic book obsession. I loved the tension created by introducing Lara to the mix. The only issue I had with the characters was that I kept thinking they were a few years older than they actually were. I kept thinking Cass was fourteen or fifteen, not twelve.
A few times, the narrator broke the third wall and started talking like she was reflecting back on events. I’m thinking maybe part of why I kept thinking the character was older was because the narrative voice was supposed to be older than the character. I’m not a huge fan of narrators breaking the third wall to say “If I’d known…” but there was so much else to love about the book that I can deal with it.
On the surface, on the sentence level, this book was a work of art. Schawb wrote sentences that were beautiful while still keeping them accessible for a younger reader. She didn’t dumb the language down like some middle grade authors, but didn’t make it overly complicated or wordy like some adult authors do.
I was able to picture every little detail of the city without getting bored or bogged down. The description of the setting and its history made me want to go and visit Edinburgh.
The involvement of Cass’ parent’s was a nice touch. They were entertaining and they actually cared about her. At times, they helped the reader better understand Cass. At other times, they created more tension.
I’m really looking forward to the sequel, and might buy my ten-year-old cousin a copy of City of Ghosts for her birthday.
June 5 question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?
Fantasy is and always has been my favorite genre to write in. I think this is simply because I like making things up and I don’t like being bound by rules about what is and isn’t possible.
Sure, fantasy worlds have their own sets of rules, but as the author, I get to make up what those rules are and how far they can bend before the break. I grew up playing games with my mom were arm chairs could time travel if they spun fast enough and people could turn into mannequins of they made eye contact with mannequins for too long.
Every time I watched TV show that had an ounce of magic in it, I’d make up my own stories about the the characters, continuing their story and adding myself to it. Back then, the word fanfiction wasn’t part of my vocabulary, but that is the best word to describe my early stories, even if I never wrote them down.
Fantasy was the genre that made me want to read. For many years, I thought I liked historic fiction, and I also thought I hated reading. However, when I read Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars Expanded Universe(technically science fantasy), and The Chronicles of the Deryni, and Wicked, that was when I started to love reading.
And was before I discovered urban fantasy novels like Tithe and The Dresden Files.
Whether I’m reading or writing, my mind just gravitates towards fantasy. I enjoy the occasional hard science fiction or contemporary novel, but often, a story needs to have some kind of magic to really win me over.
The same goes for writing. There is always something magical, something that doesn’t quite follow the laws of physics or at least the rules of what is possible.
I love infusing the real world with magic, and my best writing has been urban fantasy. Creating new worlds is fun, but it is more time consuming. Patiences hasn’t always been my biggest strength. Sometimes I try to write science fiction, but it mostly turns into science fantasy.
I could ramble on and on about why I like fantasy, but what it comes down to is freedom to let my mind run wild, and to just make stuff up.
Once and Future is my favorite book I’ve read in 2019. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I read the whole thing in one day and really wish the sequel was already out.
Concerning the plot and concept, it reminded me of two of my favorite no longer running TV shows: BBC’s Merlin and Firefly. The world had a bit of a dystopian flare, reminiscent of Hunger Games and Feed.
There were spaceships, unchecked capitalism, sketch government cover ups, and hereos resisting cooperate villains.
Once and Future had just the right balance of goofy, darkness, action, and romance.
And all the characters were queer. One POV character was pan. Another was gay. There was a gender fluid side character with they/them pronouns. Another side character was ace. This book had all the LGBTQIA rep.
The crew was full of personality!
I have zero complaints about the characters, plot, or ending. Even though this was a retelling, I was never quite sure what was going to happen next!
The only flaw I noticed was one I didn’t think of until a few days after I finished reading . The world building, on the science fiction side, lacked detail and explanation. So if you are someone who wants to know how the space travel and the terraforming and whatnot works, then you might have a problem with this aspect of it.
I had no problem ignoring those holes and just taking everything at face value. This was more science fantasy than science fiction anyway. After all, there was magic.
And really, I was in it for the characters and the adventure, not the technical side of the world building, so I’m still giving it five stars.
I received a free copy of Empire of Light from the author, Alex Harrow, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Empire of Light was an action packed read that was challenging to review without giving away, but I think I’ve manage to come up with something spoiler free.
There was no shortage of action in this book. There were gun fights, fist fights, explosions, and even some of the steamy scenes were a little violent (because the mc and his love interests were into that). Sometimes in books, big action sequences can get confusing, but I didn’t have any trouble with these. The blocking was clear and well executed. I never lost track of who was who and where everyone was.
The downside to all the action was that it distracted me from the characters. Despite all the excitement, I was at least third of the way into book before I really became invested in the characters. They were so busy fighting, never coming up for air, that it was hard to see past their snark, outer shells, and shooting skills to see what growth they needed and were experiencing.
Once I was half way through the book, I couldn’t put it down. When Damian had lost so much and had his back against the ropes and was forced to rest a little because of the injuries that kept battering his body, then I finally got to know and like him a little more. Despite the ease with which killed people and a high tolerance for gore, he was a complex character who grew and matured throughout the book.
The rest of the cast was fascinating, but because of all the action, I felt like I didn’t get to spend quite enough time with them. A lot of these fascinating side characters die, so I guess not getting too invested in them was a blessing, otherwise I would’ve gotten grumpy at the book right around when I ended up getting more invested in it.
I was a little concerned with how violent some of them were towards people they cared about. It seemed standard for the Shadows to beat each other up when they got mad at each other and snippets of flashback and backstory showed their leader/mother figure beating them up when they made mistakes. However, their almost pirate-like status seems to give permission to this and make it acceptable to readers. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it as sometimes I write characters like this too. It just makes me think about what kind of violence and abuse readers tolerate in certain kinds of settings.
The plot and setting were not quite what I expected, but they were still good. Harrow had described this as a gay Firefly with magic, but I found Empire of Light had little in common with Firefly. Empire of Light was more dystopian than space western. Still, the plots, assassination attempts, rescue missions, and the romance were well executed and nicely built to the end and I could never quite predict what was going to happen next. I just knew that no one was going to give up, and that there would be plenty more explosions.
The city Empire of Light was set in was fascinating and very much a character in the story, though until a few hints near the end of the book, I was wondering what was in the world beyond this two sided city, where the food came from, and where things were manufactured because the wealthier people in this story did seem to have new things. Because this world was so interesting, I wanted a few clearer hints about the bigger picture of it.
There was a love triangle in this book. I’m not generally a fan of these because they never end well, but I really didn’t mind this one and it was wrapped in a far less painful way than most other love triangles. I actually kind of liked this one.
This may sound like a lot of criticism for a four star review, but in spite the problems I pointed it out, I really did enjoy Empire of Light and suspect the sequel (assuming there is one) will be even better.
I love how Vasya resists the gender roles of her time, how she grows into herself and figures out who she really is. Her persistence, pain, wildness, courage, and dedication are tangible things. I loved struggling and succeeding and navigating a myriad of complicated relationships through her point of view. Morozko was my second favorite character, perhaps made more intriguing by the fact that readers really did not get to see much from his point of view. The others were okay, but every time the narrative shifted to them, I just wanted to get back to Vasya.
I did find myself annoyed at the way the book shifted point of view. This varies from reader to reader, but I prefer to read from one point of view for a whole chapter and get annoyed when scene breaks indicate a switch in point of view. On more than one occasion, I found myself rereading to remind myself which character’s eyes the world was being filtered through.
The world building was fantastic. I was smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, and hearing right along with the characters. And it wasn’t boring or overwhelming. Every detail Arden chose to focus on was relevant and added to the tone or mood of the scene. I loved that the magic system and creatures were based off of actual myths, and that some of the characters were named after people who actually existed and fought in a battle the one in the book was based off of.
One downside of historically accurate fiction is that it is often loaded with sexism and misogyny the contemporary world is struggling to shake. Throughout this trilogy, were there was no shortage of sexist men treating woman like inferior beings or objects. However, I was happy that there were less of those in this book and that Vasya had earned the respect of men who previously looked down on her.
As much as I enjoy escaping to worlds without sexism, to worlds where gender isn’t a rigid binary thing people are judged by, I do believe there is plenty of room for those books to co-exist with novels like this that don’t censor the shitty parts of history. Historical fantasy has it’s value too. It makes me appreciate how far society has come.I’ll certainly miss Vasya, Morozko, and their complex, slow burn romance, but I’ll look forward to reading whatever Arden writes next.
2018 is just about over, and while it may not have been my most fruitful year for producing new work, it was a fantastic year for publishing. My first novel was published. My short fiction and poetry appeared in nineteen publications
When I want to buy books as gifts for friends and family who love to read, the trickiest part is usually figuring out what books they haven’t actually read yet. Going into a book store, whether it be my local indie or a Barnes and Noble, I always see books from the big names and the same big publishers on the shelves.
If I’m buying a book as a gift, I don’t want to buy something the person already has. I want to get them a unique gift; something I know they haven’t read but might become one of their new favorites.
The best way to do this is to steer clear of the big names that dominate the shelves in bookstores and to turn to the small press’ whose books stores often hesitate to take a chance on or just never discover.
Here are eight great books you might not find on the shelves of your local shop:
The Ardulum series is one of my favorite space operas and would make a great gift for anyone who is a fan of Firefly. Complex, colorful characters, fiber based space-ships, original aliens, and a traveling plant make this book truely unique.
If you know a teen who loves urban fantasy, this hilarious, high stakes romp through a magical version of New York City might be the perfect the gift! It reminded me a little of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Infinity or a goofy, male-narrated cross between Tithe and a pg-13 Deadpool.
Omen Operation is the first of three books in the Isolation Series, which the author describes as a cross between Resident Evil and X-men. If you know someone who likes contemporary science fiction with lots of action, lots of kissing, a wide range of LGBTQ+ representation, and complicated characters, Omen Operation will make a great gift for them.
If you’re searching for a gift for an adult reader who likes magical realism, Kurt Vonnegut, and/or Martin Millar, I recommend Smoke City. Rossen “blurs genre and literary fiction” with reincarnation, road trips, alcoholism, and mysterious smoke ghosts.
Phaethon mixes Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series with Holly Black’s A Modern Faerie Tales series and makes it a standalone book for adults. It’s a perfect gift for fans of urban fantasy who enjoy seeing faeries wreck havoc in the modern world.
When it comes to adult readers who like spies and science fiction, I recommend Seven-Sided Spy, a cold war era novel with a super-soldier and survival plot that appeals to fans of Agents of Shield and Peggy Carter.
Last but not least, I have to plug my own book. Power Surge is great for older teens and young adults, especially those who enjoy dark urban fantasy. Readers of Jim Butcher, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black will definitely enjoy it!
I’ve lived my entire life with characters and stories in my head. Some were as original as anything can be while others were fan-fictions that never escaped my maze of a mind long enough to be put on paper.
After watching Xena: Warrior Princess, I’d run around the house with music blasting. The living room would fade as I retreated into my head where I reimagined the episode with myself, or a character based off of myself, involved in some major way. If no one interrupted me, I’d plot out the next episode and the next. Each would steer further from the plot, featuring more of me and my made up characters and less Xena and Gabrielle.
TV shows and movies never failed to rev up my imagination, but they were not my only source of stories. Songs, fears, news, and my contorted perception of reality were compost to my imagination’s produce.
For all the stories I dreamed while running and dancing, I wrote sporadically, scribbling ideas in journals and penning poems for school assignments. As much as I loved making stories, the creative part of my brain rarely worked unless my body was moving.
So the characters stayed inside me. To an extent, they grew with me.
Terrifying magical adventures involving waterfalls, brain-altering head injuries, supernatural relatives, and a fair amount of time travel shaped them into distinct people that had less and less in common with me as time went on.
They reproduced like cells.
As the adventures piled up an they grew more and more complex, sometimes, they split into two or three different characters.
Yes, some of them had things in common with me, but none of them were me. I no longer had a version of myself that popped into tv shows and fan fiction. I had a cast of distinct , developed characters trying to claw their way out of my head.
Ari. Amelia. Elle. Erin. Lucy. Michael. Sam.
There are more, but some of their names have faded from memory even if their personalities haven’t.
I started writing. I had to. My brain would’ve exploded. Reality would’ve shattered. Something bad would’ve happened.
At first, writing came in short bursts. Stories would fill a notebook on rainy summer days or cold winter nights. Senior year of high school, I wrote and illustrated the first twenty or so pages of a centaur portal fantasy. Freshmen year of college, I wrote the first act of a screen play. I started a novel. I wrote a short story. Started another novel.
Each time I wrote, the characters that grew up with me appeared in the story along side new faces. My burst of writing grew longer each time they happened.
When I was 26, on a cold October night when I couldn’t sleep, I started the longest writing spurt I’d ever had, meaning it hasn’t ended. In one for or another, I have written every day since then.
Characters and pieces of stories coalesced into novels.
The characters continued to grow through the whole process.
Now, I’m proud to say that the world gets to meet two characters that have lived in my head under one name or another for most of my life.
Erin and Mel (Amelia) debuted in notebook pages. They solidified in a screenplay. Bloomed in a mess of a half of a book I started in college. They slept for decades, through short stories and a paranormal suspense.
They slept but the they never left. Their identities evolved with mine.
Erin’s mental health deteriorated with mine. When I discovered the words and concepts that I could use to finally explain how I felt about my gender, Erin used those words too
I could tell you what Mel or Erin had for breakfast on any given day. I could tell you about their first kisses, their greatest fears, most embarrassing moments, successes and failures. The last mountain they skied. The last trail they hiked
People always ask me how I keep it all in my head, if I had spreadsheets and pages of notes.
When it comes to the Evanstars? I didn’t need those things. I internalized world and most of it’s inhabitants long before I started writing. I have drafts and short stories and micro stories and poems.
I have dreams.
These characters own a piece of me.
They are pieces of me.
Their stories will always live in my soul, but if I have readers willing to read, then I will write and write in this universe as long as I can.
I just hope that when readers meet them on October 1st, they love them as much as I do.