Crown of Bones (Crown of Bones #1) by A. K. Wilder – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Publication Date: January 05, 2021

Genre: YA Fantasy, Magic

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

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Raise. Your. Phantom.

For fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures, this ensemble cast will immerse you in a world of unique magic, breathtaking action and unforgettable characters.

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.

A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.

A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.

And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all. 

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Thank you so much!

This book actually took me by surprise. YA books have been a bit of a let down for me recently so I went into this book thinking, “Sigh, I wish I was reading an adult fantasy.” Boy was I glad to be proven wrong! I freaking LOVED this book! The only reason it’s not 5 stars is because I don’t know yet if I will re-read it. BUT I do and have already recommended this book to numerous people. It is seriously SO unique!

I don’t even know where to start. The loveable characters, the world building, the magic, the plot?! I want to gush about it all!

I guess we will go in that order! Ha! Characters. Ash. I LOVE her! It’s been awhile since I’ve loved a heroine this much. She actually made me laugh out loud. Y’all, I am an emotional person IRL, but when I read, I’m just not. I get excited, but I don’t really laugh or cry or anything. This one made me laugh and have readers anxiety. Ash is hilarious. She’s just a regular girl. She’s neither, “oooh I’m so clumsy but so cute but don’t know it” or “I’m a freaking boss and a mary sue”. Ya know? She just goes about her day. She’s determined to do a good job, on well, her job. And she just wants to be a good person. I can’t say enough good things about her. And the others! Marcus! He was a treat as well. Not as good as Kaylin, but I’m getting to him. Marcus… I felt bad for him most of the time honestly. He tried so hard to do all the right things and just couldn’t quite get there. He’s the cinnamon roll of the book. Okay, KAYLIN! Swoon! I don’t even mind the insta-attraction. Because it wasn’t insta-love. He is the dark and mysterious and playful and powerful man of the book. I leeeerve him. Book boyfriend material right there. Samson, Piper, and Belair get honorable mentions as great side characters to help build up the MCs.

Told you I was going to gush. I have a lot to say!

World building! Wilder does a fantastic job weaving her own take on magic and a fantasy land together in this great mix! She introduces the reader to history, current political events, and some future prophecies as well. She honestly could write so much in this world! More more more!!!

Magic. It’s so bleeping cool y’all!!! The magic users are the elite of society. They can call up “Phantoms” and those Phantoms represent their magic. There are a few different types, like warrior, healing, callers, alters, and a few more! And each phantom can look differently depending on the user. Some people have wicked sweet animals, some have stuff like trees, and some have shapeless magical mist blob thingys. It’s all very unique! And I liked the rules. It doesn’t take anything out of the user to “call up” their phantom, but it does take it out on them when they use their phantom.

The plot then I swear I’m done. Ash accompanies Marcus on his journey to go the “magic” school on an Island that is neutral to politics. (Boy, wish I could live there.) Along the way they get into every single trouble you can think of. Good thing they have a healer with them. (She needs a pay raise. She is overworked.) Their troubles don’t end there. It is just one bad luck thing after another. It makes it way more exciting.

Loved the ending and I can’t wait for book 2!!!

Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication Date: 1965

Genre: Sci-fi, Classic, Space Opera

Adventure Rating: 5 Stars

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Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

I am so glad I decided to read Dune. Especially since the new Dune movie is coming out! Like pretty much everyone else, I LOVED it! I am really into sci-fi and fantasy so I can definitely see where this book has influenced so much of what I have read and seen. Different planets, sci-fi weapons, sci-fi monsters, sci-fi tech, and more!

Let’s dig in. I really want to start with Paul. Oh poor Paul. He just wanted a quiet life. *sigh* Of course that would never happen. It’s still humanity after all. He tried so hard to do the right thing to save as many people as possible and avoid a zealot war. He somehow was noble without being boring. For some reason, books now a days have noble characters and they’re super boing. Paul wasn’t. He was like Luke Skywalker. Or maybe Luke was like him, really. Noble without being boring. I think because now in books, noble means, “oh I don’t kill bad guys” Bleh. Paul wasn’t afraid to kill evil. I liked that about him. He was put in a position where it was necessary and he did it. (Side note: Take that stupid Batman. If you would kill the Joker, no one else would friggen die!!!).

Anyways. I also really liked the politics. Which is funny because again, I’m tired of politics in today’s books. It’s too much like America’s. I read books to escape that crap. I don’t read books to read the author’s opinions on AMERICAN politics. Get your head out of your butt. Man I’m spicy today. Anyways again, the intricacies of the politics on THIER world, Dune, was so good! It wasn’t boring, it was really interesting. And Paul navigating it with his mother, Jessica, was so cool!

And the world. Oh my. Talk about world building! It nearly felt real! The many aspects that Herbert fit into book one alone was crazy! He truly built himself and his readers another universe.

The Rules of Enchantment by Wendy Tardieu – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: TCK Publishing

Publication Date: August 2, 2020

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 3.5 Stars

TCK Publishing | Goodreads | Amazon | Author Website

When a Sorcerer and a Scribe Team Up to Fulfill an Ancient Prophecy, The Fate of The World Lies in Their Hands

In the mythical kingdom of Salyndria, an exiled sorcerer named Leith plots to overthrow the restrictions placed on the use of magic by the Academy. Suspecting the worst, the Academy sends a beautiful young scribe, Kyler, to be his apprentice and act as an unwitting spy.

Leith tries to drive her away by proving his reputation as a vicious and unforgiving master, but he soon discovers his new pupil is far more useful than she appears. As her charms and magical abilities become all too tempting for him to resist, the two join forces to fulfill a hidden prophecy that will grant them incredible power.

Together, the sorcerer and the scribe will change Salyndria’s history forever.

Their story is equally sinister and sensual, a romantic dark fantasy adventure full of suspense and surprises.

Fans of Defended by Darkness by Terry Bolryder, A Torn Paige by L. Rose, Innocence by Dean Koontz, and The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith will love this fantasy romance.

*Thank you so much to TCK Publishing for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!*

This is a bit hard for me, because overall I really liked it. And usually that means it’s a 4 star. However, it read more like a novella, because it was so short. It was short and fun. And I personally was nervous about the erotica part because I don’t like erotica. However, it wasn’t erotica? There were a few sex scenes but more along the lines of Sarah J. Maas style. There also wasn’t a lot of actual adventure. I guess what I’m saying it that the line on the cover, “An Erotic Fantasy Adventure Novel” is definitely misleading. Here’s the thing, I LIKED the book. Just saying that one line is misleading.

Okay, digging in. Kyler. First of all, love her name. Secondly, loved her! She was feisty, curious, and had a thirst for wanting to learn more about magic and more about herself. Now, Leif. He was every bit the dark, mysterious, brooding, male lead that every girl wants to read about. He would push Kyler to learn and do more to better herself. I quite liked them together. I felt like the baddie was a classic baddie and enjoyed that. Actually, just realized this could be a Disney movie if not for the sex! I mean that in a good way! It really would make a great movie.

The magic was pretty cool. I don’t know that it was unique necessarily, but it was classic. The more you used the harder it is on your body. And there are also different strengths.

The last thing I want to mention is the setting. The tower/ Leif’s house/ manor, was in the middle of a cursed forest. That was cool. His manor kind of reminded me of a vampire house or something. But it was the perfect backdrop for dark magic and Kyler learning what she can do!

Goblin King (Permafrost, #2) by Kara Barbieri – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: November 17, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 3 Stars

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In this stunning sequel to White Stag, Janneke must find how far she’s willing to go to save her world from destruction–even if it means sacrificing everything she’s fought for.

The Hunt is over but the War has just begun.

Against all odds, Janneke has survived the Hunt for the Stag–but all good things come with a cost. Lydian might be dead, but he took the Stag with him. Janneke now holds the mantle, while Soren, now her equal in every way, has become the new Erlking. Janneke’s powers as the new Stag has brought along haunting visions of a world thrown into chaos and the ghost of Lydian taunts her with the riddles he spoke of when he was alive.

When Janneke discovers the truth of Lydian and his madness, she’s forced to see her tormentor in a different light for the first time. The world they know is dying and Lydian may have been the only person with the key to saving it.

*Thank you so much to Wednesday books for providing me an e-arc via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review!*

First let me start off by saying, I LOVED book 1, White Stag. I think it’s highly underrated. BUT that makes it all the more sad for me when I didn’t love book 2. I just liked it.

Good news first. I loved the adventure. I mean, they battle Norse mythological creatures. How freaking cool! It’s non-stop adventure and action to stop the end of the world. Loved that part. Barbieri also wrote about trauma really well. Janneke has a lot of trauma. I mean, being a human in a Goblin world for 100 years is bound to mess you up somehow. Especially with a slimy, disgusting goblin Lydian. Janneke was eventually able to help Soren with his trauma as well.

Here’s the kicker. There was no chemistry. No chemistry between me and the characters and no chemistry between the characters. Book 1 had all the heat and tension between Janneke and Soren that book 2 is lacking. At one point, they get separated and I didn’t really care. Plus, Seppo was my favorite character from White Stag and not even he could save the chemistry. It was just way too put-downable, even with all the action.

I am definitely still interested in continuing with the series. I am hoping this is just suffering from sophomore novel syndrome!

An Oddity of Some Consequence by Gary Dickson – Feature

Publisher: Pairings, LTD

Publication Date: September 15, 2020

Genre: Fiction

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I am very excited to feature An Oddity of Some Consequence by Gary Dickson! Thank you so much to Girl Friday Productions for collaborating with me! I am beyond excited to read a book about the fountain of youth! How fun!

He has always lived in mystery; will she be the one to discover his secret?

Robert Valmer moves from Rome to Beverly Hills in 2015, where against his better judgment, he falls for Alexis Roth, PhD, psychologist to the stars. But Alexis wants to know everything. Start from the beginning, she says. The beginning? Can he really tell her about how he fled France during the French Revolution in 1789 or about Italy during World War II? If he tells her even a little, will she think of him as a liar or a freak rather than a lover?

He tries to deflect her probes, pleading shyness, but she knows that reticence is often the veil behind which secrecy lurks. His practice of stonewalling only further ignites her burning curiosity.

As the pressure for honesty mounts, he does what he’s always done—flee. But Alexis is not a lover to be easily dismissed. She follows him to Europe, determined to track him down for an explanation. Where can she start when her quarry doesn’t want to be found? Each clue she uncovers leads her deeper into intrigue.

An Oddity of Some Consequence is a glamorous tale of mystery, romance, and the fountain of youth.

Gary Dickson is an inveterate traveler and a Francophile sans merci. Educated in Switzerland in history, literature, and the classics, Gary lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Susie.

A Spy with Scruples by Gary Dickson – Feature

Publisher: River Grove Books

Publication Date: March 03, 2020

Genre: Historical Ficiton

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I am so excited to feature this intense sounding spy book! Thank you so much to Gary Dickson and Girl Friday Productions for sending this my way! It sounds so good! It sounds like the perfect classic spy read! This is the sequel to An Improbable Pairing.

The unintended consequences of acing a test . . . or when all else fails, try blackmail.

In July of 1964, after marrying in Paris, Desirée and Scott Stoddard are honeymooning in the South of France when their idyll is interrupted by a notice from Scott’s draft board advising him that his status is being reviewed. Desirée, the former French countess who is already three months pregnant, doesn’t understand why her new husband, an American, must traipse off to some military base in Germany to be tested. Scott’s remarkable scores on the tests attract the attention of the CIA, and Scott, much to his dismay, becomes part of their world of intrigue and deceit. How can he get back to the life that he and Desirée had envisioned? When all else fails, blackmail is the answer.

A Spy with Scruples plunges readers into the complicated political world of Cold War Europe. From neutral Switzerland to the aristocratic salons of Paris to bombed-out Berlin, Scott ingratiates some and offends more. But he has a plan.

Gary Dickson is an inveterate traveler and a Francophile sans merci. Educated in Switzerland in history, literature, and the classics, Gary lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Susie.

The Assassin’s Daughter (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1) by Shana Vernon – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Indie

Publication Date: July 15, 2020

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Adventure Rating: Level 4

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I’ve been hiding from the Guild since I was born.
If they knew about my magic, they would kill me in a heartbeat.
I should be avoiding them, but instead, I enter the Guild as a regular human recruit.
Why?
Papa went missing after a mission, and I need answers.
I realize I might have bitten off more than I can chew when my new instructor is the guy I kissed a few months before.
It doesn’t seem like Cade recognizes me without my disguise, but if he does and blows the whistle, I’m as good as dead and so is Papa.

*I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review! Thank you!*

This book was actually really fun! It has assassin’s with powers (magic powers), like control of water, invisibility, shape shifting, etc. And Vampires. Swoon! It was a really quick enjoyable read!

Our MC, Lenna, is fierce and sassy. She is confident in her abilities and in herself. She can take on a Vampire (in more ways than one, wink), looking at you Maximus! Which, by the way, I want more of him! Lenna is basically the best of the best of assassin’s. Her infiltrating The Guild was bold, but she is trying to find her only family, Papa. The shenanigan’s she gets up to with her friends, are actually a bit funny sometimes.

I really enjoyed the side characters! Ekron is probably my favorite friend! He is a big ol’ goofy teddy bear. And I definitely need to read Sofia’s Novella! She is intense! I am not sure about Cade yet. I kind of ship Lenna with someone else, but we shall see!

So, why the four stars? The writing was good but I kept forgetting this was supposed to be an adult novel and not a YA. And at first I was even thinking young YA, until a sex scene showed up. So that threw me off a bit.

I still really liked it and will be continuing with the series! The plot was definitely interesting and I can’t wait to see what Lenna will do next!

The Mirror Man – Blog Tour, Excerpt, Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Genre: Fiction, Sci-fi, Suspense

Buy Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Bookshop | IndieBound

Books-A-Million | Kobo

AppleBooks | Google Play

Meet Jeremiah Adams. There are two of him.

The offer is too tempting: be part of a scientific breakthrough, step out of his life for a year, and be paid hugely for it. When ViGen Pharmaceuticals asks Jeremiah to be part of an illegal cloning experiment, he sees it as a break from an existence he feels disconnected from. No one will know he’s been replaced—not the son who ignores him, not his increasingly distant wife—since a revolutionary drug called Meld can transfer his consciousness and memories to his copy.

From a luxurious apartment, he watches the clone navigate his day-to-day life. But soon Jeremiah discovers that examining himself from an outsider’s perspective isn’t what he thought it would be, and he watches in horror as “his” life spirals out of control. ViGen needs the experiment to succeed—they won’t call it off, and are prepared to remove any obstacle. With his family in danger, Jeremiah needs to finally find the courage to face himself head-on. 

  1. What made you write this novel?

I love characters that are almost but not quite human. My favorite Star Trek characters are always ones like Spock, Data, and the Doctor from Voyager. Clones, to me, are about as almost human as you can get. Some of my favorite science fiction stories deal with clones. But there are so many good ones already out there I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, and I never really set out to try.

But I was reading something a few years ago that posed a straightforward and fascinating question: What would it be like to meet your own clone? The article I was reading left it at that, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I knew it might be interesting to write a clone story that focused not on the clone, but on the human, who had been cloned. I thought that presented a whole new set of ideas and issues within the topic. It sort of turns the whole thing around when you look at it from that human perspective. What would it feel like to see yourself replaced in your own life? There is something so creepy and sad about that idea. Also, though, I saw something hopeful. I think it brings up the possibility of making a change in your life or seeing the opportunity for a second chance, which is always a good thing to explore. Those are some ideas I tried to keep in mind as I was writing The Mirror Man.

  1. Medical thrillers are all the rage. Why, do you think?

I think there is something intrinsically threatening about so-called Big Pharma – especially right now. In the midst of a global pandemic, the world is waiting for a viable vaccine to fix it, but there’s this nagging doubt that maybe it’s being rushed. We have government agencies relaxing rules on testing protocol, funding research with budgets the size of planetary systems, and all these drug companies racing to be the one that comes charging in on the white stallion to save the world. But poll after poll in the news says the public won’t feel safe getting vaccinated right off the bat, even if it means getting back to normal. And there are more people in the world today that don’t trust mandated vaccines to begin with – not even for the tried and tested ones for polio or mumps. 

People don’t trust that these huge companies truly have the public’s best interest at heart. I think that really became more evident when pharmaceutical companies began advertising drugs on television and pushing people to “ask your doctor or pharmacist if (insert drug here) is right for you.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to suggest a drug to my doctor as though it were a brand of cookie that looked good on TV. I’d much rather my doctor had a more educated idea on what medicine I ought to be taking. 

So, I think medical thrillers are big right now because people are pretty easily convinced that an industry that seems motivated more by profit and less by altruistic science just might have the capacity for evil. For a lot of people, that distrust is already there.

  1. What are your thoughts about cloning?

I find the concept of cloning to be fascinating. The thought of having a clone – someone who could say, clean the bathrooms for me, make dinner, go to a meeting in my place – is sort of tempting. But there are all these sinister elements about cloning, and a whole lot of ethical questions, too, that are a lot more serious. What if we created clones for harvesting body parts in the event that we got sick or injured? What if we used them to fight our wars or for bomb disposal and other dangerous endeavors in our place? Would the auto industry begin using clones instead of test dummies for crash test data? Presumably, a clone would feel every bit as real and human as the host it sprang from, but would it be? Would clones have the same rights and privileges of personhood if they were mere copies? Would they be entitled to such rights and privileges? And if they didn’t get them – what then? Would they organize and rise up against us? 

There is a lot to consider about human cloning and I only touched briefly on these questions in The Mirror Man, but I think we – as a society and as a species – ought to start thinking about it.

  1. How did you research this novel?

Because the main focus of The Mirror Man is more the psychological changes of the protagonist as he watches his clone, it isn’t a book that’s especially science laden. That being said, the science (even though most is invented) had to be believable and plausible and so, is based on real science.

For the cloning aspect in the story I researched the way cloning is currently done in mammals – via cell transfer and embryotic implantation. But I also needed to identify ways in which scientists might grow a human clone quickly, so it would reach a full, adult maturation rate in about 48 hours. I read a lot about Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the pituitary gland of our brains and its effect on how our bodies grow. The research was intriguing and sent me down so many rabbit holes dealing with the role this hormone plays in cell repair, muscle mass, weight gain, and even life expectancy. The articles I saved and the notes I took might well come in handy for a future novel.

I also did some research for Meld, the invented drug in the story. I wanted to create a drug that – if two people took it together – could offer a literal glimpse into someone else’s mind but one that could also be used to transfer brain patterns and consciousness from the main character into the clone. In the novel, the drug is used in a myriad of ways – not only to copy a mind, but also as a promising medical tool and as an illegal recreational drug with dire consequences. For Meld I researched the areas of the human brain such a drug might act upon – especially our aptly titled mirror neurons which are responsible for making us yawn when we see someone else yawn. (If yours are especially active, you might have yawned at the very thought of that. If so – sorry!)

  1. Do you believe human cloning is possible?

As the lead scientist in The Mirror Man likes to point out, “the science exists.” 

Human cloning is absolutely possible. We are already so adept at cloning animals that there are actual companies out there whose entire business model is built on cloning our dogs and cats. And people do that more often than you’d imagine. Did you know Barbara Streisand has had something like five clones of her favorite dog? It’s true. And we all know the story of Dolly, the sheep with the dubious distinction of being the very first mammal to be successfully cloned in 1996. From dogs and cats and sheep it isn’t a giant leap to cloning humans. Essentially, the science is the same. What’s stopping us (thankfully) isn’t the feasibility, but the ethical and moral dilemmas associated with human cloning.

While many countries have passed laws that prohibit human cloning, the US currently has no such legislation (although some states do). Congress has proposed many bills to that effect, but none have been enacted into actual law. The reason for that is partly because things like medical stem cell research overlap the science of cloning. But there are reams of material written on the ethical implications of human cloning from agencies including the World Health Organization, and there are ongoing congressional discussions to agree at least on some level of regulation. But at the moment, in the US, human cloning is both scientifically possible and essentially legal. That’s just a tiny bit terrifying.

  1. Talk about the meaning of identity in your book

It didn’t take me long to understand that what I was really doing with The Mirror Man was writing a story about self-identity. It’s a topic that finds its way into a lot of what I write and is strangely compelling to me. My favorite line from David Bowie’s song “Changes” is this: 

I turn myself to face me, but I never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker

I find that idea fascinating. We all have this idea of who we are, and how we come across to other people, but it’s probably not the truth. The way we see ourselves is muddled with all these filters and little lies. We are all, in a sense, just fakers. I wanted to explore that concept, so I came up with a way to put a character in a situation where he literally had to turn and face himself – to see himself exactly as everyone else sees him — from the outside. Cloning seemed an obvious choice for a science fiction writer. 

In the novel, my character, Jeremiah is largely locked in this laboratory/apartment and made to watch his clone on a TV monitor for four hours a day. Even though he’s typically seeing mundane things – the clone interacting with his family and co-workers – the experience is difficult and eye-opening for him. While he has to admit that his double is every bit identical to him, he begins to despise who he’s watching. It makes him question fundamental things about his own identity.

Meanwhile, we have this illegal street use of a drug called Meld that allows people to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and it leads to a rash of suicides. It’s another way of looking at what the main character is going through, but the result is basically the same: It isn’t easy to face the truth of who you are.

There are a lot of figurative and literal mirrors in my novel. Jeremiah is often looking at his own reflection as he grapples with questions about his life. He spends quite a bit of time creating an avatar of himself for a video game. And, obviously, his clone is sort of the ultimate reflection. But he never fully understands what he’s seeing until he’s forced to face himself. And I had to bring him to that point in a very literal way. Hopefully, the novel will leave readers asking some interesting questions about their own identity.

Charles Scott glared down at him with a glint in his green eyes that felt like a warning, and Jeremiah replayed in his head the man’s ambiguous threat during their first meeting several weeks before.

“You now know as much about this project as anyone else involved,” he’d said. “It wouldn’t do to have too many people walking around with this kind of information. Our investors have a tendency to get nervous.”

Although Scott had quickly followed that remark with the matter of Jeremiah’s substantial compensation, there was no mistaking the implication: the moment he’d been told about the cloning project Jeremiah was already in. That first meeting hadn’t been an invitation so much as an orientation, and the contract he’d later signed had been a formality, at best. And the entire thing had done nothing but gain momentum from that moment on.

Dr. Pike continued to affix the wires to Jeremiah’s head. Jeremiah focused on the man’s gleaming black hair and the deep brown of his sure, professional hands, and he struggled to remember the allure of the $10 million payout he’d get at the end of the whole thing. That kind of money could fix a lot of problems. It would change things. The prospect of that fortune had been enough to make him turn away from principles he thought were unshakable. Every man has his price, he supposed.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he also acknowledged the real temptation of a twelve-month sabbatical from his own life. It had seduced him every bit as much as the money had. Maybe more. Between a job that had already begun to make him question his own morals, and a marriage that felt increasingly more like a lie, stress was eating him alive. And into his lap fell a chance to just walk away from all of it—without consequence and without blame. A free pass. He could simply walk away without anyone even knowing he was gone. There isn’t a man alive, he told himself, who would have refused. Despite the ethical question, despite that human cloning was illegal the world over, it would have tempted anyone.

Dr. Pike injected the clone with Meld and then turned wordlessly to Jeremiah with the second syringe poised above his left shoulder.

Jeremiah closed his eyes and rolled up his sleeve.

After the initial stab of the needle, he felt nothing. Which is not to say he didn’t feel anything; he literally felt nothing. Seconds after the injection, he became aware of a total emptiness, like a towering black wave that threatened to sink him into an immeasurable void. The experience was unlike anything he’d ever known. He imagined an astronaut suddenly untethered from his ship, floating helplessly into unending darkness. Without thinking, he immediately felt his body recoil. His mind screamed against it.

I’m dying!

From impossibly far away, he heard Dr. Pike say something about a heart rate and felt the slight pressure of a hand on his shoulder. He couldn’t see anything of the hospital room anymore. He was drowning in the blackness. His chest felt suddenly constricted. He fought just to find his breath.

“This is all perfectly normal, Mr. Adams. You have nothing to worry about. Concentrate on the sound of my voice. Nod if you can hear me.”

With considerable effort, Jeremiah managed what he hoped was a nod of his head. He was suddenly gripped by the alarming certainty that if he couldn’t communicate somehow, he’d be lost—swept away forever.

“Good. Good. Listen to my voice. It will keep you grounded.” Pike still sounded far away, but Jeremiah nodded again and struggled to focus. “What you are experiencing is to be expected. Do you remember when you took the Meld with Dr. Young? Do you remember the way you could feel her thoughts for the first few minutes?”

He nodded. It had been an unnerving thing to perceive her consciousness mixing with his like that. Flashes from her mind—odd, alien things like the feel of a blister on the back of her right heel, the familiar gleam in the eye of an old man he’d never seen—had swirled into the very structure of his own mind and fought for a place to settle. He had railed against that, too, and she had grounded him by flashing a penlight in his face, making him focus on that while the Meld took effect. Afterward, once he had sunk in, it had been easier.

“This is no different than what you experienced then,” Pike said. “This time, though, you are connected to an empty mind. There’s nothing there. But the more you resist, the longer this will take. You need to relax, Mr. Adams. Give in to it.”

Jeremiah nodded again and then shook his head with as much grit as he could muster. How does one give in to this? He didn’t think he could do it.

“Once your thoughts begin transferring into the mind of the clone it will be easier for you,” Pike urged. “Focus on a memory, as I suggested. Something vivid. It will help to fill that void you’re experiencing now. It will give you something to hang on to.”

Without the benefit of his full faculties, Jeremiah had little choice but to grab the last thing he’d been thinking about—his initial conversation with Charles Scott, the day all of this began.

He’d been surprised when he’d received an invitation to lunch from ViMed’s head of Engineering. The man was an icon in the science world, and although he’d quoted him a hundred times for the company, Jeremiah had never actually met him. He’d been intrigued enough to accept the invitation, especially when Scott had told him it involved a “proposition that could make him a very wealthy man.”

Flashes of that encounter and snatches of conversation now flitted through his mind like so many fireflies. He fought to catch them.

“We’ve been watching you, Mr. Adams.”

“All we ask is one year of your life. Isn’t that worth $10 million?”

“We can do this. The science exists. And with Meld, the clone will even share your thought patterns… Your own mother won’t know the difference.”

“This is sanctioned by powerful people—we have millions in secret federal backing. There are billions more in eventual funding… There’s no need to be so suspicious, Mr. Adams.”

From somewhere far away, Jeremiah heard Dr. Pike repeating his name. He had been so engulfed in his efforts to hold on to the memory that he’d almost forgotten where he was. As soon as he realized it, the void loomed again in his mind.

“Mr. Adams,” Pike said, “you’ve got to listen to me. The clone cannot pick up on any memory of the experiment. What you’re thinking about is not going to help. You need to think about something else, some memory that won’t be filtered. His mind is still empty.”

Jeremiah panicked. He couldn’t think. And now that he wasn’t focused on anything, the blackness began to take over again, creeping closer and threatening to swallow him. He fought for breath.

“Relax, Mr. Adams,” Pike said. “Think about your job here at ViMed. Remember something the clone can actually use. Something he’ll need to know.”

He felt a dull jab at his shoulder.

“This should help. I’ve given you a mild sedative. Take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on your breathing.”

With everything in him, Jeremiah tried to turn his mind away from the void that seemed to be all around him. He inhaled deeply and tried to focus on the rise of his own chest. Exhaled, and he felt his chest fall.

“Very good, Mr. Adams. Very good. Pulse is returning to normal. Deep breaths. Now, think about a typical day at work. Something ordinary and mundane.”

Inhale. Exhale. After a moment, Jeremiah began to relax and, as the sedative took hold, he found he could let his mind wander without the frantic thought that he’d never get it back. An oddly comforting fog seemed to expand in front of him, pushing the blackness away slightly, and Jeremiah retreated into it.

He began to think about the morning of the Meld fiasco—the day the New Jersey housewife had killed herself. The press had been circling. He’d arrived at his office with a terse mandate from his superiors to “get these fuckers off our back” and no idea how to accomplish that. It hadn’t been lost on him that not a single soul seemed bothered enough to stop and feel sorry about it, and he’d taken a quick moment behind his office door to offer silent condolences. It wasn’t thirty seconds before someone had come knocking, pushing him to get something done.

Weeks before, he’d heard talk of Meld being used to detect brain activity in a sixteen-year-old football player who had been comatose for nearly six months. Time to cash in. He tracked down the doctor somewhere in Delaware and the man started gushing about Meld, calling it “magical,” “a godsend” and “the most important medical advance of a generation.”

“After so many weeks,” he said, “the parents were hopeless.”

Meld was a last resort before pulling the plug, and it gave them the first clear signs of neural activity in the boy.

“Not only was he aware and awake in there, but he was cognizant of everything that was going on around him—including the fact that his parents were losing hope. He even heard them talking about funeral arrangements at one point. The kid was scared, terrified. He was begging for his life in there. That’s what I saw when I took the Meld with him. Meld absolutely saved his life. There is no doubt in my mind.”

Jeremiah had almost smiled. It was pure gold. A few hours later, the story was in the hands of every major news outlet, and that doctor was spending his fifteen minutes of fame touting Meld as “a medical miracle.”

Jeremiah focused on that now. Maybe Meld did have some silver lining, after all, he thought. Maybe it was miraculous.

Jane Gilmartin has been a news reporter and editor for several small-town weekly papers and enjoyed a brief but exciting stint as a rock music journalist. A bucket list review just before she turned 50 set her on the path to fiction writing. Also checked off that list: an accidental singing career, attending a Star Trek convention, and getting a hug from David Bowie. She lives in her hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts.

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Night (North, #2) by Alexandria Warwick – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Wolf Publishing

Publication Date: October 8, 2020

Genre: Fantasy, Mythology

Adventure Rating: Level 4 (Trying something new here! Let me know if it’s too cheesy!)

Bookshop (buy from your local bookstore here!) | Goodreads

“After months in captivity, Apaay managed to escape Yuki’s labyrinth with her life. But her freedom did not come without a steep cost. When the Face Stealer, the North’s most notorious demon, calls in her blood oath, Apaay must heed his demand. Debts, after all, must be repaid.

As Apaay attempts to navigate her uprooted life, something dark slithers among the snow-dusted conifers of the North. A long-dead war is unfinished, and there are those who would see it revived. In a place where misplaced loyalty could mean her death, Apaay must look inward to repair her broken soul—for if she cannot place trust in those around her, she might find enemies are closer than they appear.

In this stunning follow-up to Below, Alexandria Warwick brings the second book in her dark and seductive North series to thrilling new heights.”

*I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review*

First of all, thank you so much to Alexandria Warwick for sending me the sequel in her North series! This is honestly one of my favorite indie series I’ve ever read! I think it’s so SO cool that it is based on Inuit mythology!

Her world building is really solid. She has The North, which is full of man and beasts… and a few demons! The first book I was like, oh okay cool, fun, the second book I was like, OMG there’s a whole iceberg of plot under here! I actually enjoyed the sequel better than the first! Well done!

The character. Okay, I saw in her acknowledgments that her editor is the number one Face Stealer fan. Then I want to be vice president of his fanclub! I LOVE him! Think of a cross between The Darkling and Cardan. Yeah, I went there. He is a sarcastic, sassy, secretive man. Apaay, the MC, is actually a bit like Jude now that I think about it. Attitude wise. Now, here’s the thing, I liked Apaay better in the first book. The second book was her depression (which was handled very well!)/ I don’t know how to handle stuff, attitude. It was done really well, I just don’t handle that stuff well because I am very sensitive towards that stuff. I don’t want to say “triggered” exactly but it’s hard for me sometimes. Anyways, Ila. Our secondary MC, reveals some mysteries! I really like her! I relate to her personality a bit more!

I really enjoyed learning about the other clans! I *think* the owl clan is my favorite! They live high in the trees and each can transform into a different giant bird of prey! SO COOL! The way Warwick describes the different powers that each clan member OR other creature has is awesome! There is this shadow power, shifter power, water/ ice power, and some mad fighting skills.

Not giving away any spoilers but I shippping shippity ship the Face Stealer and Apaay so freaking hard. But I did in the first book too, so.

This is seriously the perfect cold weather read! I’ve honestly never read anything like it! It sort of reads like Island of the Blue Dolphins but if it was modernized and for adults if that makes sense!

Rebirth (Divinity’s Twilight, #1) by Christopher Russell – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Morgan James Ficiton

Publication Date: September 22, 2020

Genre: Adult Epic Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 5 Stars

Goodreads | Amazon | Bookshop

A world consumed by war . . .

An ancient evil resurrected . . .

A millennia old bargain comes due . . .

When two blades clash, the third will fall, and the fate of all will be jeopardized. To save Lozaria, the failures of the past must be atoned for by a new generation of heroes. The time has come for mortals to cast off sight and, in doing so, truly come to see . . .

Victory is never absolute.

Seven centuries ago, the forces of order won the Illyriite War on the plains of Har’muth. Darmatus and Rabban Aurelian slew their elder brother, Sarcon, the despotic architect of the conflict, then sacrificed themselves to banish the cataclysmic vortex opened with his dying breath. The first advent of the Oblivion Well was thwarted. Even without their vanished gods, the seven races of Lozaria proved themselves capable of safeguarding their world.

Or so the story goes.

The year is now 697 A.B.H (After the Battle of Har’muth). Though war itself remains much the same, the weapons with which it is waged have evolved. Airships bearing powerful cannons ply the skies, reducing the influence of mages and their spells. Long range communication has brought far flung regions of Lozaria closer than ever before. At the center of this technological revolution are the three Terran states of Darmatia, Rabban, and Sarconia, who have fought a near ceaseless campaign of 700 years in an attempt to best each other. The roots of their enmity lie buried beneath the wasteland of Har’muth, a place all three nations consider best forgotten.

However, an ancient power sealed within Har’muth has not forgotten them, and the descendants of those who fought on that field must now take a stand to rectify the mistakes of the past. 

*Thank you to the author for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!*

I hope I don’t ramble or mind dump on y’all but I have a lot to say so buckle up!

First off, one of the reasons I took this review request was because Russell uses the same cover artist as Sanderson! How cool! Second off, I am pretty picky about indie author books I accept and this one just honestly sounded really promising. It had been a while since I had read an Epic Fantasy so I was excited to dig into this one. And it did not disappoint! In fact, I was shocked that not only is he an unknown author/ indie author, but he writes like an author who has been around. I was super surprised by how good this book actually is. Writing, content, world building, characters, everything was SO GOOD! I am not saying he is the next Sanderson YET, BUT y’all, trust me when I tell you that Russell is one to watch out for. He has the extreme potential to be one of the greats! And I am SUPER nit picky when I read indie books!

Yadda, yadda get to the book.

The book. The book reads like a nostalgic epic fantasy. I am reading Dune currently and this book actually reads like a mixture of Dune and some Sanderson. It actually has a mixture of the core being Fantasy, but with elements of Sci-fi (there are huge airships and fantastic tech), and a bit of steampunk, in my opinion! It’s a classic good vs. evil plot. And a question of what is more powerful, tech or magic? Or does it depend on the person? *winks*

And the baddie is one messed up dude! Sarcon. *Shivers* He’s good because not only is he extremely powerful but he is also fear manipulative. He is one you love to hate! He even has a “good reason” for what he is doing. And those make the best bad guys. No real life bad guy thinks they are the bad guy.

How about the good guys? This is a multiple third person POV. You get a lot from multiple angles BUT it doesn’t lose you! I was able to keep up well! Vallen. Oh Vallen. He was weird for me. I liked him, then didn’t, then he grew on me again. Man has an A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E. A lot of the time I was like, Vallen, get over yourself (even though you are one of the most powerful ever…). My favorite character was Sylette! Girl has some secrets, mystery, and is SMART! She knows some serious battle technition information. She has this cool magic where she can make knives and knows how to use them! There are quite a few other well rounded characters that make up the core good-guy group but for the sake of space I won’t talk about every single one.

Lastly, the magic. Ooooo it was a delicious magic system. There are consequences to using too much. And it’s a bit like Star Wars in the sense that each person has different quantities of “magic particles”. Each person or race has unique magic, there are shield users, knife users, premonition types, glyph users, and so. much. more. Very cool.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. Please consider reading it. I do not know the author what-so-ever, nor am I paid to do so. I just legit love this book and think it’s highly underrated. Clearly, because this is one of my longest reviews ever! What a great adventure to go on!

I saw a few people ask about content… There is: no sex scenes, swearing is in the respective peoples/ races language, there are tons of battle scenes and blood and gore.