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.

The Silvered Serpents (The Gilded Wolves, #2) by Roshani Chokshi – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: September 22, 2020

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Goodreads | Bookshop (Buy from local bookstores!)

Returning to the dark and glamorous 19th century world of her New York Times instant bestseller, The Gilded Wolves, Roshani Chokshi dazzles us with another riveting tale as full of mystery and danger as ever in The Silvered Serpents.

They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope.

Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost — one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.

Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.

As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.

A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.”

*I received an e-arc from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

*This is spoiler free if you have not read the second book!! There might be some small spoilers from the first book!*

Our adventure begins by dropping you into our gang’s lives a few months after book one. And it’s so sad! They are all apart doing their own thing while Severin is drowning in his sorrows. Severin quickly calls them all together to finally find The Divine Lyrics. Then things really pick up.

They are not thieves like the gang from Six of Crows, but they are treasure hunters. So freaking cool. They each have a job to do within the crew. And of course, Severin trying to “protect” them, treats them all horribly. Especially Laila. *Cue tears* But through that, I love how close Laila gets with Enrique and Zofia! Those three are the sweetest ever. I love them.

Zofia was probably my favorite character this time! She is very logical to the extreme but she is learning social cues and maybe learning some of her own heart. I for sure ship her with a certain someone. And this book put wind in my ship’s sails!!!

I liked Hypnos but he was sort of the annoying/ little brother character? I don’t know how to explain it.

CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE WRITING?! I give 5 freaking stars to the writing alone. It’s pure magic. Chokshi makes the reader feel all five senses while reading. And it’s different for each character. One character will see snow as sugar while the other feels it as tiny ice droplets that makes their skin freeze. She also writes AMAZING food scenes. Made me hungry.

The plot read like an adventure, treasure hunting movie! They travel to Russia and discover new places to find the mysterious book. And they all go through plenty of trials and pain!

This book had it all! Love- platonic and romantic, descriptions to die for, characters you love, ice creatures come alive, myths and legends, twists, and a cliff hanger ending that will leave you begging for more! I can’t wait for the next book!

Check out my review for the first book HERE! It was written a couple years ago so my style has changed a bit. 😛

Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine – Feature, Excerpt, Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: September 01, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

Harlequin  | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Powell’s

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

Chapter One

I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent. 

But that wasn’t true, not even close. 

I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.

After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.

She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.

“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.

“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”

            The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.

“Heard from them at all?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“You think he would let her write you? Call?”

“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.

            Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.

“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”

“It’s freezing,” she said. 

And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap. 

“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.

I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Already?”

“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”

The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.

“What’s at noon?” I asked.

           She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”

“I don’t want to go back there.”

“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their 

minds.”  

“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth 

was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.  

I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.

The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.

I took the hot chocolate to go.

In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea. 

No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.

I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace. 

“Fuck,” I said aloud to no one.

Excerpted from Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2020 by Alison Stine. 

Published by MIRA Books

1.       If Wil had a favorite song, what would it be?

I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.

2.       Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?

Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.

3.       What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!

Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.

4.       Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.  

5.       Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?

I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life. 

6.       Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.

7.       Where is your favorite place to write?

I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.

8.       What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?

That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.

9.       What is the best book you’ve read this year?

The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.

10.   What are you working on next?

My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards, #1) by Janella Angeles – Blog Tour Spoiler Free Review, Excerpt

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

Goodreads | Macmillan | Bookshop

*Bookshop is a new affiliate I am trying out because the proceeds go to your local bookstores!*

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

*Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an e-arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and for having me on the blog tour!*

Y’all, it has been a hot minute since a YA book has gripped me. This one was actually really hard to put down! It has danger, slow-burn romance, love triangle (it’s actually done well! Trust me!), mysteries, and plenty of magic! Plus a it is a retelling of Phantom of the Opera mixed with a magic competition!!

I really enjoyed the characters. Everything including the characters is so mysterious! Kallia, our main MC, is feisty and speaks her mind. And listen, I don’t like ANY MCs that are jerks when they are written like that. Male or Female. But Kallia somehow isn’t! I really enjoyed her fierce personality. I think because she was still generous and wants to help people, like her assistant Aaros!

Let’s talk loooooove. Jack. This is the Phantom and the Opera part. Jack is the phantom. He is very dark and mysterious. And he is fiercely protective over Kallia. But he definitely smothers her. But Demarco has his own dangerous secrets too. He is just a bit of the gentler sort. A few times he got angry and I was just like, yeeeess Demarco, let it out.

I LOVED the world. Fantastic world building. Glorian is really the only place we see, so I would love to get more of the outside world! And the magic! It was so amazing to read about the unique and creative magic that Kallia could do! I could almost experience the 5 senses just from Angeles’s writing! She really wrote a magical book!

THAT ENDING. WHERE IS BOOK 2?! MUST HAVE IT!

Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.

It was one of the rare rules in a joint without any. The only rule the master of the club did not mind following. He blended in with the sea of suits and white masks that arrived every other night, switching appearances from crowd to crowd. A bartender one moment, a dealer at the card tables the next.

Only his face remained the same, half-masked and haunting. Like a prince who relished the bloody crown on his head, and the ghosts that came with it. A face almost hardened by beauty, though glints of youth ran deep beneath soft black eyes. It always shocked new guests, to see him. The master of the House was rumored to be a dragon of a man. A monster. A magician who had no mercy for fools.

Only those who dared slur the word boy in his face understood how true those rumors were.

To the rest, he played the devil on all shoulders, leading patrons to his bar and game tables, guiding them toward his enchanted smoke lounge to drown in curated memories. The warmth of first love, the heady rush of triumph, the immense joy of dreams come true. The master kept a selection of sensations, and one hit of the pipes delivered magic the people came crawling to his house to taste.

They had no idea the show that was in store for them.

The master of the House sipped his short glass of scarlet whiskey in peace, tapping along the wide black strip over his brass knuckles. He’d long since manipulated his attire, sitting casually at a card table and savoring the mayhem. Raucous cheers erupted from the next table as dice rolled out across the surface. Smiling Hellfire girls in black blazers and masks of lace denied patrons begging for a dance. Loudest of all, the dealer’s crisp shuffling of the black cards with teeth-white numbers before she doled out hands to players at the table.

“No, no more,” one moaned. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can, chap.” A young man in a white thorn-edged mask cheerfully pressed him back in his seat. “We can’t leave. Haven’t even finished your drink, yet.”

His drunken friend’s mouth puckered under another gulp. “Think it’s true, the drink? Magician’s Blood, the menu said.”

“Think you have power, now?” Thorn Mask laughed, leaning back to appraise the club. “Here, you take your magic where you can get it. You wear a mask. You flip a card, smoke a memory. Or you look up . . . at her.”

The master’s fingers tightened around his glass, just as the lights dimmed. Dancers cleared the floor under the hush of music, shifting from smooth, steady beats to a racing rhythm loud as thunderous applause.

Right on cue.

The band’s worth of instruments he’d charmed for the night started up a wild entry tune of drums, the thick trill of trumpets. Chatter ceased and backs straightened as a beam of light speared toward the ceiling. A panel slid open over the dance floor.

And the chandelier descended.

Strings of crystals dangled along tiered rims of rose gold, cutting sharply into a jewel-set swing where a masked showgirl sat. A throne of glittering jewels, casting luminous lace across the walls and the ground and the audience taking her in. Her brown skin glowed against her corset, red as her gem-studded mask. Arms stretched out, she crossed and extended her legs in smooth lines all the way down, until her heels touched the lacquered black dancefloor. With the hint of a smile, she rose from her throne and stalked forward, thrusting a hand up with a snap.

Darkness engulfed the room.

Hoots and hollers rang at the drop of the beat, before a glimmer of her form reappeared in the shadows. The room pulsed at her command, matching the spike of heartbeats the master sensed throughout the club.

The smirk on his lips matched the girl’s as she arched her back to the raw stretch of the melody. She thrived under the attention, like a wildflower under the sun. A star finding the night.

His star.

“I’ll be damned.” The drunk at the card table breathed in awe, as the girl’s palms began brightening with a molten glow. “Nothing like an academy girl.”

“Worth the trip, right?” His friend clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know they could be magicians like . . . this.

The master smothered a dark scoff under a sip of whiskey. The girl showed off good tricks—improvised and bettered from his basic crowd-pleasers. Treating the ceiling like a sky and showering comets from it, casting an elaborate shadow show of dancing shades over the floor, shifting every candlelight in the room to different colors to the beat of the music.

But always the performer, she preferred to be front and center. Teasing her power just enough to make the audience want more of her magic, more of her.

He wet his lips as flames shot from her hands, arcing over her head and around her body. The fire’s melody bent to her every movement, and she gave everything to it. If she wasn’t careful, she’d overexert herself like she did most nights, never knowing when to stop. How to pull back.

Careful never was her strongest suit.

Sparks fell before her, sizzling on the ground. Unafraid, she sauntered down her stage of flames with slow swaying hips and a firelit smile.

“Magicians like this are best kept a secret,” Thorn Mask went on. “And besides, the work is far too scandalous for a lady. Only clubs will take them.”

“What a shame. Imagine going up against the likes of her at the competition.”

The master paused, drawing his gaze back to his glass.

“Not this again. That flyer was nothing but a joke.” Thorn Mask slapped the table with a groaning laugh. “A prank.”

The drunk sloppily patted around his coat, pulling from his breast pocket a dirty, scrunched ball of paper. “It’s real. They’re all over the academies, in Deque and New Crown and—”

“A prank,” repeated Thorn Mask, unfolding the flyer anyway. “It has to be. No one’s been to that city in ages, it would never open itself to such games.”

“That makes it all the more interesting, don’t you think?” As another roar of cheers erupted around them, the friend sipped his drink smugly. “Imagine if she entered, the city might implode.”

“Right. As if that would ever happen.” Thorn Mask leered. “Competition would eat a creature like her alive.”

“Because she’s . . . ?”

With an impish lift of his brow, the man in the thorny mask flicked the flyer off the table and returned to his forgotten spread of cards. “Let’s get on with the game, shall we?”

Before he could gesture at the dealer, the master suddenly appeared at their table, snatching the young man’s wrist in a biting grip. The man yelped as the force knocked over his drink, and sent a stream of hidden cards spilling out from his sleeves.

“What’s this?” The master bent toward the ground and picked up a couple, entirely too calm. “Cheating in my house?”

The man froze, recognition dawning at the brass knuckles alone. “Where did you—I-I mean,” he sputtered, patting frantically at his sleeve. “That’s impossible. Those aren’t mine, I swear.”

“Then where did they come from?”

Sweat dripped from his temple, his face paler than the white of his mask. “I emptied my pockets at the door. Honest.”

Honest. That was the best he could do? The master almost laughed.

“You want to know the price cheaters pay in my joint?” His question offered no mercy. Only deliverance, served on ice. “Memories.”

“No, please!” The man’s lip trembled. “I didn’t, I-I’ll do whatever you want!”

“This is what I want.” The master rose from the table with the jerk of his wrist. The cheat flew to the ground in a gasp as he gripped at the invisible chain-like weight around his neck. Sharp, staccato breaths followed the master as he dragged his prisoner toward the smoke dens.

The man screamed, but no one heard him. No one saw, no one cared. All eyes fell on the star of the show as she searched for a dance partner to join her. The drunken friend, noticing nothing amiss, raised his half-full glass of Magician’s Blood to his lips before waving his hand high like the others. The man thrashed harder, only to feel his cries smothered and deeper in his throat. His form, invisible at the sweep of the master’s hand.

With a disdainful glance, the master chuckled. “You’re only making this more difficult for yourself. One memory won’t kill you.”

At once, he paused. The lights blinked around them, the air grown still. Dim and hazy, as though locked in a dream.

He thought nothing of it until he caught the movements of the patrons—their arms raised and waving slowly, increment by increment. Their cheers dulled and stretched into low, gravelly roars, as if the sound were wading through heavier air. Against time itself.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

The sound of her voice slithered around him, stopping the master in his tracks. The man quieted. Sweat soaked his pale face, his chest heaving. The showgirl stood in their path, every stare in the room still locked on the spotlit floor where she’d been. As though she’d never left.

Impressive.

Her red corset glinted as she cocked her hip and pointed at the man on the floor. “I choose him.”

She could never let things be easy.

“Kallia,” he growled, warning.

She smiled. “Jack.”

“Pick another. He’s a cheater.”

Her lips pursed into a dubious line. “Then let me teach him a lesson. He’ll no doubt prefer it more.” She swung a leg over the man’s prone form so she stood directly above him. Invitation dripped from the crook of her fingers. “The music calls, darling. Let’s have ourselves a grand time.”

The man’s terror turned swiftly into awe, and he looked at her as if ready to kiss the ground she walked on. As soon as he took her beckoning hand, the room resumed its lively rhythm—a song snapped back in full swing. The cheers and hollers returned to their normal speed, exploding in delight as patrons found their lovely entertainer in their midst, her chosen dance partner in tow.

She bypassed the master, pressing a casual hand on his chest to move him. It lingered, he noticed. Unafraid, unlike most. Their gazes locked for a moment, their masked faces inches apart.

No one ever dared to get this close. To him, to her.

Only each other.

At the next round of cheers and whistles, she pushed him away, smug as a cat. Tugging the man close behind her, she sent fires onto the ground that illuminated her path and warded others from trying to follow them to the stage. Never once looking back at the master, even as he watched on after her.

His fist tightened, full of the cards from his earlier trick. They disappeared into mist, having served their purpose. Along with the flyer he managed to grab.

He didn’t even bother giving it a read. It died in the fire caged by his palm. Tendrils of smoke rose between his brass knuckles, and when he opened his fingers, nothing but ash fell to the ground.

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Social LinksTwitter: @Janella_Angeles // Instagram: @Janella_Angeles

A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers – Spoiler Free Review

Publisher: Redhook

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Romance

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

Goodreads | Amazon

A young woman in Belle Epoque France is cursed to relive a doomed love affair through many lifetimes, as both troubled muse and frustrated artist.

In 1895, sixteen-year-old Juliet LaCompte has a passionate, doomed romance with the married Parisian painter Auguste Marchant. When her mother — a witch — botches a curse on Marchant, she unwittingly binds Juliet to the artist through time, damning her to re-live her affair and die tragically young lifetime after lifetime as the star-crossed lovers reincarnate through history.

Luke Varner, the worldly demon tasked with maintaining this badly crafted curse, has been helplessly in love with his charge, in all her reincarnations, since 19th century France. He’s in love with Nora, a silver screen starlet in 1930s Hollywood. He’s in love with Sandra, a struggling musician in 1970s Los Angeles. And he’s in love with Helen, a magazine exec in present-day DC who has the power to “suggest” others do her bidding.

In this life, Helen starts to recall the curse and her tragic previous lives. But this time, she might have the power to break the cycle…

A Witch in Time is perfect for fans of A Secret History of WitchesOutlander, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

*I received a paperback copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Y’all, I LOVED this book! Like, why aren’t more people talking about it? I feel like it should be popular! Honestly, this would make an epic movie! It does give me major Outlander vibes in terms of pacing, star crossed lovers, and the bit of magic that is in them. It just feel similar!

Juliet throughout her lives is interesting. She definitely changes but at the same time keeps her core personality traits I think. My favorite was Nora. She was the most relatable.

Luke. Oh poor Luke. He is the administrator demon of Juliet’s curse. He is not supposed to love her, and yet he does every time. It’s heart breaking to watch them over and over make mistakes that lead to their destruction basically.

And Auguste. He, I did not really like. He seemed like a coward in each of his lives.

The whole premise was super interesting! It is all about the repercussions of a curse gone wrong, and the people who paid for it. I really liked going through the book as Helen, as she gets her memories back from her past lives, and finds out just how strong she really is. I also really liked the administrator demon thing. That was a cool little twist.

I won’t spoil the ending, but IT’S REALLY GOOD.

I cannot wait until Sayers next novel comes out in 2021, The Ladies of the Secret Circus!

*Amazon link is my affiliate link*