Book Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Beautiful prose, an amazing story, fascinating characters, Strange the Dreamer delivered an experience above and beyond my expectations. When a fellow writer, who also loves all the pretty words, gushes about a book, you know you have to go read it. A huge thank you to Candace for recommending it, you can go check out her review here.

The Story

Lazlo Strange, an orphan child raised by monks and librarians, possesses an unusual passion for a legend that most dismiss as a fairy tale. He dreams of a place called Weep, an unusual city held under an unusual curse – anyone who speaks or thinks the name of the city experiences a feeling of dread paired with the taste of ashes. But, unlike other people, Lazlo remembers a time when the town had a different name, a beautiful name that filled the mind with wonder and butterfly wings. He also remembers the day when that name was stolen from him.

It is this theft that drives him to study everything there is to know about Weep. He hopes that one day he can find that name that once filled him with so much delight. As he grows older, it is this study that gives him a unique understanding of the legendary city. When a delegation from Weep visits his city seeking adventurers and scientists, Lazlo feels compelled to go with them – and despite his lack of real skills, is allowed because he knows stories. The leader of this delegation, none other than Eril-Fane the Godslayer himself, seeks the best scientists to rid Weep of the floating citadel shaped like a massive seraphim who’s outstretched wings prevent sunlight from reaching the city.

When Lazlo reaches Weep he encounters a strange blue girl in his dreams named Sarai. Lazlo doesn’t know that this is a marking of the cursed godspawn and the two of them instantly form a bond that is beyond friendship. His glorious imagined vision of Weep fills her with such delight that she can’t help but want to be part of it and the man who envisioned a world filled with so much joy and magic.

Naturally, none of this can last. Every element that brings Lazlo and Sarai together will be challenged. Eril-Fane wants the citadel which is Sarai’s home, destroyed. One of the scientists, Thyon Nero, is determined to undermine Lazlo’s every step. Minya, Sarai’s sister, wants Eril-Fane and all that dare threaten the citadel including Lazlo, dead, and wants Sarai to do it using her godspawn power over dreams.

Does anyone get what they want? In the way that only a truly masterful storyteller can manage it, the answer is both yes and no. I won’t elaborate further. No spoilers for you. But, if you’re dying to find out, here’s an amazing synopsis that covers literally everything.

My Review

This book blew me away. I’m a huge sucker for gorgeous prose and metaphorical language, not to mention amazing sensory detail, so all the poetic phrases were indeed welcome. In fact, I loved it so much that I immediately sought out the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.

With fantasy titles there comes an expectation of a complex storyline. While Strange the Dreamer has a complex story, the reading experience doesn’t feel complicated. The story alternates between Sarai and Lazlo’s experiences and as they draw closer together, the experiences draw closer as well. The main conflicts are always clear in the characters mind so as readers we know not only what that character wants, but why it’s important.

What does feel complicated is how the prose is assembled. While most fantasy titles published today stick almost exclusively to third-person limited, where we witness the story through the eyes and experience of the main character in third-person, Strange the Dreamer swings in and out of omniscient. This is usually frowned upon, mostly because when done poorly it’s jarring and distracting – and it’s almost always done poorly. For Strange the Dreamer, it feels right. We flow from one character’s thoughts to the next and the technique in Taylor’s hands gives the prose a very appropriate dream-like feel.

The characters were expertly created to be not only unique and well constructed, but unusual enough in each of their motivations to give the story multiple layers of interest. There’s not an ordinary character in the entire book, and that’s impressive for an epic of this size. In addition, the settings were also crafted with the same amount of care making them not only unique, but supremely interesting as well.

So yeah. I’m kind of in love.

My Recommendations

This book is still in YA fiction, but it reads much older than that. The recommended reading age starts at 9th grade, and I agree. There’s just enough adult themes and yearning that it might be harder for younger readers to relate with. There’s no swearing, minimal and appropriate gore, and it does tease at nudity, but never actually gets there. The kissing scenes do get quite descriptive, but don’t progress to anything more.

I mentioned gorgeous poetic prose throughout the book. This might make it harder for those who struggle with metaphoric language to enjoy the story, simply because everything is drenched in it. It also slows down the pacing enough to frustrate those who really want to see what happens next. For me, this wasn’t a problem because the beauty of the journey was just as rewarding as getting there.

Also, if you don’t like fantasy because there are elements that are hard to believe, you might struggle here as well. All significant story elements are anchored in entirely speculative elements. However, all of the motivation is strictly tied to realistic emotional responses which humanizes the unfamiliar and makes it all easier to digest.

I give Strange the Dreamer a rare 5/5 for excelling in all critical storytelling elements and doing it beautifully.


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Book Review: To Dream in Daylight, by Candace J. Thomas

It’s always a treat when a friend puts out a new book, and this is no exception. Candie and I first met at my very first event where I attended as an actual author. My short story “Breath”, which is now the freebie I give to those joining my newsletter list, had been picked up by a small press for a fantasy anthology and I was ridiculously proud of it.

Candie, on the other hand, already had two books out at the time, making her a superstar in my eyes. She was everything I wanted to be, friendly, confident, and knowledgeable about the publishing world. We instantly became friends and co-conspirators.

Which makes me even more excited to share her book with my readers.

The Story

Adrianna, or Adri for short, is a classic introvert. She loves curling up with books, writing, and only spending time with people in short meaningful bursts. Ever since she was little, she’d had a recurring dream with the same boy, Simon. They’ve essentially grown up together, neither knowing that the other was a real, living, breathing person – that is until Simon spots Adri in a random video online.

Completely dumbstruck by learning that his dream girl is real, Simon is compelled to meet her in person. One problem, he doesn’t know where she is.

My Review

This story is told from both Simon’s and Adri’s point of view in alternating chapters, with dream chapters nestled in-between. We see their lives unfold piece at a time and how this unusual dream the two of them share influences their decisions. Because of this unique construction, the story is definitely a slow burn. Different connections and realizations are carefully orchestrated to keep the reader wanting to see what’s next.

What I loved most is how the dream sequences were painted. As dreamers, they have control over the setting of the dream, meaning that these dreams occur in all the places an introvert would ever wish to go including Middle Earth, a space station, and different beautiful natural settings. Not only does this reveal several of the different interests of the dreamers, but it gives the reader a fascinating question to answer – where would you visit in your dream?

My biggest challenge with reading this book is that because it’s written in first person, it often took reading a few paragraphs of the new chapter before I as a reader was able to settle into the right character’s mindset. The chapter headers do tell the reader where the chapter occurs, which is a huge clue to who’s head you’re in, but I personally needed a minute or two for it to click.

Thomas does a wonderful job creating compelling characters with great emotional depth and dreams of their own. I was eager to see if Simon succeeded in his quest to find Adri and was very happy with the ending.

My Recommendations

This book is perfect for those who love an interesting romantic comedy. It’s got all the feel good connections, the threats to happiness, and two people that are perfect for each other, should they ever meet. There is that touch of magic with the dream elements, but not enough to deter anyone who isn’t fond of the fantasy genre.

As for age recommendations, there are several instances of alcohol consumption as well as appropriate romantic leanings that don’t stray into anything more than kissing. For that, I’d recommend this book for high school aged readers and older.

I give To Dream in Daylight 4/5 for being a cute romantic read that’s perfect for curling up with after a long day.


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Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This book has been on my “to be read” list for ages and I finally got my hands on it. There has been a lot of hype about it in my writer circles, so I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I thought that this might be a steampunk story with a Cinderella twist because of the original cover – a woman’s foot in a high-heeled shoe that was transparent enough to show that the foot was mechanical inside.

Nope. Not steampunk. Not even close.

The newer cover which is a much closer fit to the elements of the story.

The Story

Cinder, is a gifted mechanic, which is good, and part cyborg, which is bad. As you can guess, she’s the Cinderella in our story and has a nasty stepmother as well as two sisters, one who’s kind and the other who is cruel. There is a ball, and a prince, and a lost foot, and even a special vehicle that get’s Cinder to the ball. But, there’s no fairy Godmother.

The other part of this story, strangely enough, is an Anastasia story. There is a lost heir to the Lunar throne, one who, if found, could remove the current wicked Lunar Queen and restore justice and ensure peace between Lunars and Earthens.

And then, there’s the world the story is built within. In this Cinderella story, we are taken to the future where there is a pandemic running wild with no cure. Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming either. Guess I should have read the back cover blurb… Oops. The story is set in New Bejing 126 years after World War IV.

All of these disparate elements come together in a cunningly woven story where Cinder is driven to desperate measures to escape her situation only to find she’s not only needed, but a vital part of solving a much larger issue.

My Review

This was a fun romp through an interesting and well-constructed futuristic world. Meyers has put a ton of effort to weave together fantastical ingredients into a realistic gritty world. Cinder takes the Cinderella role and pushes the boundaries further by first, being really good at something unexpected, and second, wanting something else than to go to the ball and be with the prince.

Part of the fun in this book is seeing how the Cinderella trope is turned on its head and which parts of the story remain faithful. Instead of cute cartoon mice, we have a spunky android helper who’s obsessed with fashion and Prince Kai. Instead of a pumpkin carriage, we have an old gasoline powered car that Cinder fixed herself as an escape vehicle to be able to leave the city, where hover cars couldn’t go. And instead of a huge search to find a missing shoe, Cinder loses her cyborg foot, revealing to the prince that she’s not quite human.

There are a few things that irritated me personally. Meyers doesn’t shy back from letting people who are important to main characters die. There are three instances where we as the reader are teased along that there might be a cure to save these people and it’s all a matter of beating the ticking clock. In most stories, one of these will survive in a dramatic scene where the cure comes at the last possible second. While I see why Meyers chose to not follow the traditional footsteps, as it makes for a much more devastating loss for Cinder, but as a reader I don’t like to be led along to then be robbed of a successful rescue.

The earlier cover with the high-heel shoe and reveal of the cyborg foot.

Recommendations

This makes for a great young adult sci-fi. It’s got lots of action, some tasteful romantic leanings, quite a bit of angst and drama, and great world building. Yes, there are some mild descriptions of blood and injury, mostly relating to the plague like pandemic that’s riddled through the story, but they aren’t excessive or over the top.

For those who love adaptations, this one does a solid job taking the Cinderella story and elevating it to something with more stakes.

I enjoyed Cinder and give it a 4 of 5 stars for being thoroughly entertaining but doing a few things that misled the reader in an annoying way.

Book Review: The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm, by Christopher Paolini

The full title of this book is as follows (this is important later, so pay attention):

The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaesia, volume 1: Eragon

Pretentious much? Not only does this title promise that there will be more of these, but from differing characters as well. This book is a tiny thing, especially when compared to the other Paolini books. It’s slightly bigger than my hand and the text and margins inside are both abnormally large. The publisher wanted this to look longer than it actually is. I don’t know about you, but that feels a lot like lying to the reader. Not cool.

The book itself looks for all the world like it should be a novel – meaning a single cohesive story. It’s not. I should have read the title closer where it said “tales” as that was the only hint that this book is actually an anthology. This makes lie #2 in my book. If you read the title page and acknowledgements, you learn that Paolini’s sister wrote the second of the three stories.

The Witch part of the story, “On the Nature of Stars,” is hers and her name isn’t mentioned anywhere on the cover. Rude.

Do I have strong feelings about this? Yes. Yes I do.

The Story…?

There are three distinct short stories within this book and each one is named in the title. The first, “A Fork in the Road,” centers around a young girl who has been bullied and ends up telling her story to a stranger enjoying the fire at her parent’s tavern. The stranger ends up being something more than he seems and gives the girl a fork while teaching her a lesson that even the littlest things can make a difference. It’s a nice little story and has one of the main cast of the Inheritance series playing the role of the stranger, which isn’t revealed until the end.

The witch part, “On the Nature of Stars,” is a bit stranger. It takes the characters of Angela the healer and Elva, the girl Eragon inadvertently cursed, and fills in a chunk of the story where they go off together. So … it’s fanfiction. We get to see Angela get her own point of view, which is a nice change, and we see an effort to make things better for Elva, which was something I always thought should have happened in the original story. This story is one of the better bits of the book. Well done, Angela Paolini. Yes, Christopher borrowed her name when he wrote the character of Angela the Healer initially. I find it almost too on the nose that Angela, the writer, chose to dive deeper into that character. But that’s just me.

Then, there’s “The Worm of Kulkaras” which the scene depicted on the cover. I had high hopes that this would be an awesome dragon story. And … it’s not. The story is about Ilgra, an Anointed Urgal (they are the one’s with horns) seeking revenge after a dragon killed her father then took up residence on the nearby mountain.

These three stories are connected by a narrative led by Eragon himself as he works to make Mount Arngor the new home for the surviving dragons and to protect their eggs. Each of these stories are presented to him to help him cope as he struggles with the pressures of leadership.

My Review

I wanted to love this, I really did. I wanted to be able to fall into the story, or stories as it were, and relive a taste of the larger story contained in the Inheritance Cycle. Instead, I found the forced construction of having Eragon trying to fit these three stories into his narrative uninspired and clunky. He starts the story overwhelmed and tired and being a bad leader because he can’t take a break. The random stories are forced on him to teach him how to be a better leader, kind of, and he feels magically better for having experienced each one, even though we don’t really see him internalize anything. In the end, he’s a calmer, happier person but hasn’t overcome anything major other than being bad at managing his own time.

As for the three stories, the one that captured my imagination the most was the one written by Angela. There is an otherworldly quality to the descriptions and how the story unfolds as we are seeing the world from a character who has always been a bit of a mystery. The writing is evocative, the danger and stakes meaningful, and the characters interesting.

The other two short stories didn’t leave much of an impression. The main character of “A Fork in the Road” is a whiny girl who was forced to do a mean thing out of peer pressure and lost a friend for it. From the start, this isn’t a story I’m super interested in. I was supposed to get some lovely magic and wonder and instead I got a story that teaches young people to be brave by winning a barfight with magic and a fork.

As for the dragon story. Sigh. I get what Paolini was trying to do by writing it in a new voice to match the storytelling cadence of the Urgals, but it was downright irritating. Each sentence followed the same construction of using a prepositional phrase before completing the thought.

Literally. Every. Single. Sentence.

Sidenote: When I was a younger writer, I thought that particular construction made the words feel more important and artsy and tended to use it far more than anyone should. Several years and multiple editors later, I’ve learned better.

That, and I felt cheated by the climax. The story spent way too long building up to one ending and then pulled a rabbit out of the hat by throwing in something the reader had no idea was a threat. There was some nice action there, but the main character gets cheated by not getting the thing they wanted or the thing they actually needed. What she got instead was for the dragon to not think she was nothing, which was never an explored theme of the story.

My Recommendations

If you love Paolini and were hoping for something that broadened his created universe, this might book will leave you frustrated. There’s just enough there to tease at a few cool possibilities of something, but it left me wanting. For those diehard fans, the places it connects with existing characters were nice, but not substantial and not nearly enough.

As for it being an interesting fantasy book, if you hadn’t read the other Eragon books, the interconnecting narrative doesn’t have enough substance to stand on its own and the short stories aren’t super compelling.

It’s clean and the violence is typical for a YA fantasy.

I give The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm 2/5 stars for failing me on so many levels but having a few nice bits of writing.

Book Review: The Diabolic, by S. J. Kincaid

This book was recommended to me by a friend in the writing world when I told her what else I’d been reading and happened to mention my random foray into science fiction. She thought this would be a great fit as while The Diabolic is set in space, it’s more of a suspense thriller than anything else. Thanks DawnRay for the suggestion, it was certainly an entertaining read.

The Story

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a creature made to serve as a bodyguard for Sidonia, a galactic senator’s daughter. The two grow up together and have become close. Part of Nemesis’s creation process made her completely loyal to Sidonia to the point that Nemesis expects to give up her life to protect Sidonia.

Nemesis is given that chance when Sidonia’s father angers the Emperor by acting against the decree of the Galactic Court with his interest in science. As punishment, Sidonia is summoned to the court, a vast city-like space station called the Chrysanthemum. To protect Sidonia, Nemesis is altered to appear like Sidonia and is sent in her place.

It is there at the Chrysanthemum that Nemesis discovers not only that there is more to the ruling class of the galaxy, but more to herself as well.

My Review

This story has a super cool premise where the main character is not quite human but is forced to fit into a human world. She literally sees the world from an alien perspective knowing she’s different from everyone around her and therefore shouldn’t expect to be treated the same.

So, by forcing her to pretend she’s a human is quite possibly the most difficult thing that could be asked of her – a brilliant plotting choice. Everything from that moment forward encompasses that struggle of how to act “normal” when you feel so out of place, and that someone else’s life depends on how well you succeed.

Clearly, it doesn’t go well. Nemesis makes huge critical errors that put her in the spotlight in more ways than one. She not only draws the attention of those she’s trying to hide from, but she draws their hatred as well. It’s the opposite of what she was originally sent to do.

For a character who is supposed to be emotionless, this is an emotionally driven story which makes it all the more engaging. The settings created within the story are places that I would love to visit if they were real, including vast gardens with opulent salt baths and domes that reveal black endless space.

While it’s an exciting book, there are elements that as a writer I felt could be stronger. The settings were really cool but there were plenty of scenes where once the setting was established, there was no further mention of the character interacting with the space. There was also plenty of what we call “filter words” where instead of just showing the reader what was being seen or felt, it’s dumbed down by first saying “I looked,” or “I felt,” or “I tasted.” It’s a little thing, but it reminds the reader that they are in fact reading.

My recommendations

Yes, this is technically a YA adventure thriller. However, it’s hugely violent and there are some pretty graphic descriptions of people literally being torn apart. With the main character being a professional killing machine, this isn’t unexpected, but it’s enough that I feel it appropriate to warn off younger readers and leave this one to the older teens.

Within all of this is a pretty turbulent romantic subplot that never steps into anything more than a kiss, but there is plenty of teenage angst wrapped up all around this, so if you really can’t stand that, you’ve been warned.

As for language and swearing, I have the hardest time remembering specifics, especially when I listen to the story as an audiobook. Nothing shocked me, but I want to say there might have been some PG-13 swearing.

I give The Diabolic a 3.5/5 for having some fascinating worldbuilding and characters but also having way more political drama than I was expecting.


Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg Mckeown

This is my non-fiction pick for the quarter and it definitely met expectations. It seems that for many, doing more and being increasingly busy is a fail proof way to find success. The ideas inside this book argue that this philosophy is not only wrong, but it can actually prevent success. It comes down to a forest and trees problem. If you are too caught up in the trees, meaning meaningless or unproductive tasks, it’s all too easy to not see the forest, or the big picture. For someone who constantly feels that push to do more, this is a welcome message.

What is Essentialism?

Put simply, essentialism is a conscious effort to pare down efforts and activities so that you spend your energy only on projects that are meaningful and help make progress towards a goal. This means only taking on projects and assignments that make sense for you both personally and career wise.

Mckeown uses the example of life being like a well-organized closet. When a closet is cluttered and full of clothes that we don’t love or don’t fit, it’s hard to make decisions on what to wear. It’s hard to find what we need. Facing that mess is daunting. To organize a closet that’s stuffed to the roof with needless items requires lots of decision making and time. Items that are no longer needed must be disposed of. This requires time and planning or they might end up in bags somewhere else, like the basement.

Once the closet is clean, it is so much easier to see what is available and what we need to replace. Less time is made daily on deciding what to wear leaving more time and energy for more important tasks. However, a system needs to be put in place to maintain this clean space or in a matter of months, the closet will be cluttered and need to be cleaned out again.

We must regard our lives much like a closet. If we know exactly what our style is, and what fits us, it’s easy to choose the outfits and activities that work for what we are trying to achieve. This is the same as making smart goals that are measurable and on a time table. If we don’t know what we are trying to achieve, then it’s impossible to decide what activities and efforts will get us there.

By learning what is essential for us personally, we can easier choose what we need to do, or need to say no to. Often saying no can be the hardest part. However, with time, being clear on your needs and being understanding of the needs of other can only garner more respect.

My Review

This was a timely message for me. I suffer from “got to do everything” syndrome and very rarely say no to projects unless it clearly doesn’t fit my schedule. Reading the different examples of successful people who employed these ideas helped reinforce the idea that more isn’t better and quality is always better than quantity.

The book is well written, insightful, and full of great examples. Like most non-fictions, it does tend to repeat itself to emphasize the main points and themes. This comes with the territory and is expected, so I can’t fault it. Since I was listening to the audiobook while doing mindless chores, the repetition was helpful.

Recommendations

For all of those overachievers out there who are killing themselves to get ahead, this is a must read. It teaches the importance of prioritizing efforts and being mindful of the big picture, which is extremely helpful for those who always find there is too much on their plate.

This book was intended for business people and those who are working to get ahead in their careers or entrepreneurial endeavors. Which means that those of us not working in a corporate atmosphere might not relate to the majority of the examples, myself included. I don’t work in a corporate environment, but I do manage lots of details and schedules and am working to elevate my writing career one task at a time.

This book might be super frustrating for those of us who can’t be in charge of their schedules and plans, such as full-time parents with young children and babies in the home. That said, there are some important ideas that are beneficial to them as well, such as finding mindfulness in each task and being present.

I give Essentialism 4/5 stars for reminding me that there is power in simplicity.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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Book Review: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I have a love hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s writings. I love how he uses language to create an otherworldly sense of place and characters that are always far more than what’s happening on the page. But, many of his writings do nothing for me. With each new book, I start reading with the hope that this one will scratch my Gaiman itch. Sometimes those hopes are dashed.

So it was with reluctance that I picked up this collection of his shorter works. With so many different offerings, I knew there would be several I would truly enjoy and then there would be others that I probably wouldn’t like at all. And.. I was right.

This is also why it’s taken me the better part of a year to finish reading all of them. After each disappointment I’d put the book down as if I were punishing it. When enough time had passed, I’d pick it up and give the next story a try.

A sampling of my favorites

Instructions

This poem holds tiny pieces of other stories I have grown to love. There is an element of mystery and whimsy as the poet instructs the reader along a cryptic journey giving very specific instructions that feel as if they are meant to either enchant the reader or keep them from harm. The further into the poem the reader ventures, the deeper they find themselves in a wondrous land of fairy tale and magic.

As with many profound tales, this poem wanders itself into a circle and the reader finds themselves back where they started, only changed.

Goliath

I feel this story is inspired by the Matrix, but one that feels more faithful to how being a consciousness living in the confines of a computer program might work. Our main character is literally larger than life, a Goliath of a man. Throughout his life, he experiences odd shifts where he knows something has changed, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. With each shift, he becomes more convinced that his life is nothing more than a sham covering up something much deeper and darker than he can imagine.

When the truth comes for him, he’s ready to face what real life looks like and take up the duties he has been training for since his “life” began.

Sunbird

As someone who loves experiencing culture through food, this tale of rare Epicurean delights was as fascinating as it was delicious. The aptly named Epicurian Club has set out to consume the world’s rarest delights, ranging from extinct species to all the different beetles of the world. They go to great lengths to challenge their tastes and stretch their palates. When the mention of the rare and exquisite sunbird piques their attention, they make plans to travel to Egypt to try it. Needless to say, the so called sunbird has a few mythical qualities of its own that makes this story even more delectable.

My Review

This isn’t the easiest book to simply sit down and read through. As with many Gaiman stories, the enjoyment of reading comes from paying attention to all the subtle details that rise to the surface or are brushed past in the narrative. This level of reading intensity makes it hard to find uninterrupted time to enjoy each work the way it was intended to be read, that is, slowly and with attention to detail.

Personally, now that I’ve read Gaiman’s shorter works, I can see why I favor his novel length stories better. If I’m going to invest that kind of time and attention to a story, I want to experience it for a long time and dive deeply into these characters and conflicts. There is always so much going on that it feels like the shorter works don’t do these stories justice.

Recommendations

If you love a story that stretches your thinking and challenges reality, you’ll find several works in this collection that will fill that need. While these all are speculative fiction, they swing back and forth from science fiction to fantasy, often capturing elements of both in tandem. There’s also a healthy dash of elements of folklore stirred in for even more depth.

However, this isn’t for light reading by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it a book for younger readers as the subject matter tends to dive into deeper topics and there is coarse language and graphic descriptions.

While in the end I’m glad I gave the collection a try, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone but those who already like Neil Gaiman’s writings.

I give Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things 3 out of 5 stars for stretching my thinking but not scratching my literary itch.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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10 Must-Read Fantasy Series You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before

Hey everyone, Jodi here. Today I have a special guest post for you from Desiree Villena all about our favorite topic, fantasy book series. Without further ado, here’s her post –

Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

10 Must-Read Fantasy Series You’ve Probably Never Heard of Before

No matter where you go, readers will find each other. Every social media platform has its own bookish community, from “booktube” to “bookstagram”. There’s just something irresistible about talking to fellow bookworms, whether we’re stacking our already towering TBR with even more titles, showing off our favorite book cover designs, or trying to get everyone within shouting distance to read this amazing book we just finished because we’ll burst if we don’t share it.

Unfortunately, “bookish” social media is subject to the same flaws as all social media. Chief among those is the echo chamber. Once you find your little corner of like-minded readers, it’s all too easy to get swept up into reading the same books that everyone else keeps gushing over.

But what about all the books that don’t get the hype? From those  telling a marginalized story to those by authors who haven’t managed to strike it big yet, you’d be surprised how many amazing books fly right under the radar. Today we’re going to be highlighting ten of my favorite fantasy series that, in all likelihood, you’ve probably never even heard of!

The Mangoverse series by Shira Glassman

Indie author Shira Glassman doesn’t write books to fit mainstream tastes — and that’s exactly what makes her work so delicious. Full of rich, real-world diversity and focusing on characters who are often overlooked, Glassman’s stories are always a delight.

The Mangoverse series, starting with The Second Mango, follows the story of Queen Shulamit and the warrior Rivka. What starts out as a simple quest for a royal girlfriend becomes an  adventure when they discover a temple full of women who’ve been turned to stone. Packed with characters you’ll love, the land of Perach will make you want to linger.

The Legacy of Flames series by Emma L. Adams

If urban fantasy is your thing, strap in for an unending adventure, because Emma L. Adams cranks out rip-roaring fantasy books like nobody’s business. From dragon shifters to faeries, there’s a series for everyone in her interconnected universe. Each series can be read in any order, but to get the full effect (and to really be able to appreciate Adams’ expansive imagination), readers should start with Alight and work their way on from there. These books are sure to delight anyone who wants plenty of sass, humor, and excitement.

The Second Sentinels series by Lee Brontide

Formerly published under the name Lee Blauersouth, this one is perhaps a bit of a cheat, since there’s technically only one book out so far — but I like to think of it as getting in on the ground floor of a great new series. (Plus, the author is hard at work editing book two, so I’m sure it’ll be here soon enough.)

This emotionally charged series follows four teens through the whirlwind of solving a superpowered mystery, but it’s about much more than just flashy tech and special abilities. Where Secondhand Origin Stories really shines is in its character development: each of the central teens deals with the world of superheroes in fresh and interesting ways. Come for the pizzazz, stay for the finely drawn world and in-depth relationships.

The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker

Okay, it’s possible that you’ve heard of this one. After failing to land a literary agent, Buroker became a powerhouse in the indie publishing world. Still, she’s shockingly unknown in the larger realm of fantasy fans — so I think we’re safe to include her.

The Emperor’s Edge is the book that put her on the map, and it’s a solid entry into the world of steampunk fantasy adventure. Centering on Amaranthe, an ex-law enforcement officer who’s been wrongly accused of a crime, and Sicarius, an assassin who’s guilty of pretty much every crime they pin on him, these books are just plain fun. The banter between all of the characters is top-notch, as is the slowly developing feelings that unfold over the course of the books. The best part? The first book is free!

The Harrietta Lee series by Stephanie Ahn

If hard-boiled detectives are up your alley, look no further than the urban-fantasy adventure that starts in Deadline. Described as a female-led Dresden files, the series stars Harrietta Lee, a paranormal investigator in New York City. Or at least she was, until a blood magic ritual goes horribly awry. Now she’s struggling to make rent and scrounging for odd jobs.

When an opportunity to work for a powerful corporate family falls into her lap, she doesn’t feel like she can turn it down — even if it’s a family she once had ties to, and solving this case will mean digging into her own uncomfortable past. If you want film noir, but with magic, you’ll tear through this series in no time.

The Eve Williams series by Ashley Beasley

Who doesn’t love a good story about necromancers?

In Bramble and Blood, Eve Williams is tasked with finding a woman who may already be dead. Working with a Druid Enforcer and contending with a wide range of magical creatures along the way, Eve will need to dig deep into this mystery — even if it means she may end up as the next victim. Full of excellent worldbuilding, strong characters, and perfect pacing, this book will have your heart racing as you rush to the end.

The Tales of Inthya series by Effie Calvin

If you’re looking for princesses and fairy-tale romance mixed into your fantasy series, The Queen of Ieflaria may just be for you.

What starts off as a tale full of ballgowns and royal betrothals quickly sets itself apart. Princess Esofi’s kingdom has a dragon problem, and a marriage to the prince of Ieflaria was supposed to fix it — until his tragic demise leaves her with a broken engagement and no means of making the alliance she so desperately needs. Or does she? An unexpected solution keeps the story fresh. Throw in dragon fights and ass-kicking princesses, and I’m even willing to overlook the names that read like the author let her cat walk across the keyboard.

The Order of the Dragon series by Tina Glasneck

Vampires and dragons taking center stage in a rollicking urban fantasy series? Sign me up, please!

Once Bitten introduces us to an utterly unique world where dragon’s blood creates day-walking vampires. Yes, you read that right. As if that isn’t enough, the star of our tale is a romance author who gets quite literally swept up in adventure when she falls overboard on a cruise ship, only to be rescued by a dragon. This series has plenty of bite, taking us on a journey full of mystery, prophecy, and romance.

The Tomes of Kaleria series by Honor Raconteur

In Tomes Apprentice, titular apprentice Mei Li has a problem: her Master has gone missing in a shipwreck, along with ninety tomes that detail how to prevent approaching disasters that could easily end the world. You know, no big deal.

Now everyone is turning to Mei Li for answers, but without the tomes, there’s little she can do. But that’s not going to stop her from trying. This rich, Asian-inspired fantasy series features 5,000-year-old demons, enchanted flutes, deities, and time travel. Add in a thrilling plot and a world populated with richly drawn side characters, and you have a series that shouldn’t be missed.

The Paranormal Worlds series by CC Solomon

Featuring another unusual premise for an urban fantasy, Mystic Bonds brings us to a version of Earth ruined by the apocalypse. In a world where most of the population was wiped out, those who remain either have sudden magical powers… or will do almost anything to get them. Magically-gifted Anima and her brother are on the run, searching for a hidden city and a man that Amina’s seen only in her dreams.

Full of rich worldbuilding and a compelling mystery that will enchant readers to the end, this book will stick with you long after you finish.


Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, marketers, and book reviewers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys writing short stories and reading everything from cosmic horror to contemporary romance.

Book Review: Verses for the Dead by Preston and Child

This is a year of trying lots of new things, including authors I hadn’t read yet. I’d heard of the Pendergast novels off and on for ages, they are one of those staples of genre fiction that have collected a wide fan base and end up being referenced at writing conferences. A friend of mine had enjoyed the books and we needed a fresh read for our very casual book group so we chose the most widely available title in the library system, the 2018 release Verses for the Dead.

The Story

This book is very much a murder mystery. It starts with the discovery of a human heart found on a gravestone in Miami along with a cryptic note signed by a Mr. Brokenhearts. Enter Agent Pendergast, FBI. He’s got a remarkable track record when it comes to the tricky cases, and this murder is shaping up to be exactly that, tricky.

However, he’s unpredictable and tends to do things in unorthodox ways that leave a body count higher than what his superiors are comfortable with. For this reason, on this case he’s forced to accept the unthinkable–a partner.

The mystery unfolds as our duo work together to piece together the clues. Their murderer follows a bizarre M.O.: He cuts out his victim’s hearts and then leaves them on the graves of suicide victims. If Pendergast can’t find the connections between the victims, he’s sure more women will die in the same horrific way.

Through many twists and failures, we watch as Pendergast works through the case in a way reminiscent of Sherlock, finding the tiniest clues and using them to track down the killer.

My Review

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of mystery novels I can’t say if the pacing of this one was intentionally slow and methodical, or if it was just a slower read because clue hunting, while interesting, isn’t exciting. The way the different ideas came together, and the way it truly took a team of experts to help the case along, made for interesting reading. And, there was an action-packed danger-filled conclusion, so I can’t complain too much.

There is a reason these books are popular. The writing is solid and clear, the characters fleshed out and interesting, and the different settings vibrant and lifelike. There is always a sense of more going on than what happens on the page, especially with Pendergast’s character, which leaves the reader eager to see what else they can learn about him.

While most of the books in the Pendergast series are flagged as standalone reads, there is a lot of backstory about Pendergast himself that I feel I’m missing. I’m considering reading more, if only to learn more about him and why he acts the way he does.

Recommendations

If you like murder mystery, this is a solid one. A word of warning for the squeamish, there are graphic crime scene descriptions, autopsies, and naturally, a few murders witnessed first hand. There is also a reasonable, but not overwhelming amount of swearing. The clues are not super obvious at first, but like any good mystery start clicking together as the story moves forward only for there to be a subtle twist that changes everything.

If you tend to need things that feel like they’re moving and making progress quickly, this might be a frustrating read. Everything Pendergast does is methodical and deliberate so even when he’s rushing, there is still a sense of calm and stillness. This makes it all the more exciting when his feathers do get ruffled during the thrilling climax, but for some that might not be enough.

I give Verses for the Dead 3/5 stars, a solid read but at times too slow and deliberate.


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Book Review: The Dark Hero by Ken Mears

I know I’ve said this before, but having authors as friends comes with lots of great perks, one of which is that I’ll never run out of reading material. Ken Mears and I met at Wizarding Dayz last year through a mutual friend. He’s an amazing teen with lots of potential and I am glad to help him on his journey. The Dark Hero is his second middle grade book and part of The Stones of the Middle Lands series.

The Blurb

For the past year, James has been remembering his past. From what he can gather, he may not have been the person he thinks he was. Even more worrisome, he is having nightmares about his past, and he has to wonder if they really are memories. With his thoughts darkened and cruel moods coming over him, James has to wonder. Is he a good person?

After being separated from James and Fenn for a year, Aaron has seen some changes he doesn’t like. With his friends closer than ever, Aaron starts to feel ostracized and battles with jealousy. And with his brother, Kai getting bolder and stronger, Aaron is realizing he can’t be nearly as protective of his kid brother. How can he overcome his jealousy and protect his brother from harm?

General Xanog has been beaten time and time again by James, resulting in his body being defaced with mechanical parts. Xanog has been plotting his revenge, seeking out any way to channel his anger towards vengeance. But something more concerning has arisen. The mysterious new leader of the trolls, The Malevolent One, has been controlling the trolls with no regard for their individual well being. While The Malevolent One presses for more control over Xanog and the rest of the trolls, he starts to consider: Does he have a bigger enemy than James?

My Review

This story is full of adventure and action. From one chapter to the next, James quests forward with his band of trusted friends to find the magical Peacekeeper Stones. There are battles, monsters, and fantastical settings as well as dragons, trolls, and near-death experiences.

There is also a lot of heart and moments of introspection as James learns more about his past and struggles to make peace with it as he moves forward. Several of his friends have changed and matured since his last adventure with him and he must adapt and accept them for who they are.

For a teen writer, I give Ken all the kudos in the world for taking on such an ambitious project and creating a book that’s both entertaining and has some depth. He’s got a great ear for character dialogue and his creativity shines through his unique settings and monsters. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.

Recommendations

This is a story for older middle grade readers. Considering the age of the main character, he’s 16, and how the quest is ultimately to save the world, it feels closer to a young adult read. The main character also gets seriously injured several times, enough to where a younger reader might be turned off from the story. The only thing that keeps it back in the middle grade category is that the focus of the story stays solidly on adventure and a sense of wonder.

I imagine this book being great fun for 5th and 6th grade boys who like adventure and danger.

As of July 15th, 2020, The Dark Hero is only available at the author’s website.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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