Origin Story

Professional Reader   Reviews Published

I have spent the last couple of years building up the 23rd Legion without really knowing what I wanted to do with it. The first thought was to pull together a collective of creatives and see where that went. That went pretty much nowhere.

Since I have a history of helping online communities get their feet, the second incarnation was sort of a “one-stop shop” for everything you might need to get your online presence established. That kinda flopped, too, as social media helped make those tools easy peasy for everyone to use. I applauded that and waited for the next pivot.

Then came Red Rising.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

Typically I kick off my book reviews with a quick synopsis of the plot, the major characters, and a teaser into what to expect. This book, much like the others that Ms. Chambers has written, is different.

As someone who reads a whole hell of a lot of hard sci-fi as well as (probably) too much grimdark, there arises the need, sometimes, for palette cleansers: books that have impact, but don’t really provide a lot of stress on the reader while also remaining incredibly engaging. Kudos to Ms. Chambers for being a master of the genre.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet starts out the story of Rosemary Harper. She’s a tad wrapped in intrigue, and, seemingly, attempting to escape a life into a new one of semi-anonymity. She joins the crew of the Wayfarer and gets thrown into a wildly unique, but calm group of crew members who also seem to operate as a defacto family while crazily boring wormholes through space to link distant planets to the galactic core.

Yes, all of the characters in this book are incredibly important, but I feel like it would be a disservice to the readers of this review to take away the small joy of being introduced to each one.

The thing I found most interesting about this book was the way each crew member deals with stressful situations and/or conflict. There are definitely some interesting quandaries in this book, and some very unique philosophies, politics, and moralities in play.

This is wildly simplistic, but I saw each little roadblock as a guided meditation. Every snapshot was going to have a nice little wrap-up, and a lesson learned. It’s just refreshing.

Now I’m on to book two in the series, and wondering if I maybe should space these out a bit to maximize the soothing effect.

Emily Wilde’s Map of the Otherlands (Emily Wilde #2) by Heather Fawcett

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’m not sure what it is about Ms. Fawcett’s Emily Wilde books that just make me stop everything else and rabidly consume them, but she is two for two, so far, in getting my full attention.

Emily Wilde is a dryadologist from Cambridge who, seemingly, is quickly becoming a pioneer in her field just through pure tenacity and grit. In her previous adventure, Professor Wilde managed to get herself betrothed to a Fae of the Winter realms, and, through help of fellow scholar Wendell Bambleby, escaped.

In this next chapter, Emily is working on a sort of atlas of the faerie lands when she and Bambleby learn that Bambleby’s step-mother is trying to have him killed. If you haven’t read the first book, then you don’t know that Wendell Bambleby is actually a faerie king in exile, and quite besotted with one Miss Emily Wilde.

In order to set things straight, Wendell and Emily must find one of the many doors to Wendell’s former realm, and attempt to set things straight with dearest step-mother before anyone ends up deceased prematurely.

this plan, Emily and Wendell plan to set out to the Austrian Alps to do this, but are interrupted in their plans by an attack by assassins at Cambridge in front of their department head — Dr. Rose — and Emily’s niece/assistant: Ariadne.

Now this quad is all set to head to the Alps to find this doorway: a simple plan when anyone else but Emily and Wendell would be involved.

Needless to say, there are a ton of mysteries, a wide variety of Fair Folk, some mystery, some intrigue, a wee bit of violence, and even a smattering of romance.

Ms. Fawcett is just extraordinary at building amazing world of both the fantastic and mundane, and she flexes that muscle liberally in this gem. I quite literally consumed over half this novel in one overnight session while sitting in a cabin in the woods, and it was perfection.

One of the things that makes this book so approachable is that it puts the reader in a very comfortable spot to observe what is happening without being condescending or trite. Yes, this novel has a ton of footnotes in what can only be described as one of the most endearing traits that Emily has in attempting to separate the academic from the real, and the bluntness adds a degree of humor that I greatly appreciate.

I, for one, cannot wait for the further adventures of Emily and Wendell. Hopefully I won’t have to wait long.

Lore by Alexandra Bracken

Been on a bit of a mythology kick lately, and this title was recommended to me, so I took a swing.

Lore Perseous is the last of her line. Her parents and sisters were brutally murdered by a rival line at the tail end of the Agon: a “tournament” of sorts that happens every seven years wherein descendants of ancient bloodlines hunt nine of the Greek gods in mortal form for a week. If someone is able to kill a god, they get their immortality and power.

After her family’s death, Lore ran away from the Agon and started over in New York City: hiding from everyone in her previous life.

Here it is Agon time again, and, as luck would have it, it is in New York City. Determined to stay out of it, Lore keeps doing what she’s always done, but is approached by her old training partner, Castor, and then a very wounded Athena shows up on her doorstep.

Lore can run no more.

By and large I enjoyed this book, and it was a fast and easy read. There were some stumbles in the worldbuilding, but nothing Earth shattering to note.

The action builds up, and the intrigue gets deeper and deeper. There are so many more conspiracies than anyone would have imagined, and more and more of Lore’s life gets dragged into the fray.

Then I got to the end, and was so incredibly disappointed. In a matter of paragraphs, Ms. Bracken took this well-developed story, and quite literally shat on the effort of the characters. Yeah, I get the intentionality of what happened, but that was a serious groaner. Yes, this is a Disney Hyperion released book, but it could have retained a little edge until close.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

A warning before I get going: this book is profound but incredibly brutal.

In a world where all meat (and all animals) have become poisonous to humans thanks to a virus, humans are now bred to be the primary source of meat. “Special meat” if you will.

Marcos, the primary character, has not had the best go of things lately. His child died, his wife left him, and his father is in a care home suffering from dementia.

Then, out of the blue, Marcos is gifted a female “head” of the highest quality. Disenfranchised by what the world has become, and how his life has spiraled, Marcos begins treating this “head” more and more like a person.

I’m not going to lie. While this book is insanely short, it has probably been one of the hardest things I’ve read in years. The accepted brutality is just so nonchalant, and that really makes it a very hard pill to swallow. The writing is just beautiful — especially considering this is a book translated from Spanish — but the subject matter, along with the day-to-day descriptions of humans as livestock really sinks in.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the book. I love the hell out of this, and I think it’s something that everyone should read. If anything, I think it leans towards sympathetic while the society went very brutal.

The ending alone is worth the ride.

Lot Lizards by Ryan Hyatt

One of my favorite creators has a new piece of short fiction in the “comic horror” genre (his words), and it definitely delivers. Lot Lizards starts out with a couple of cops checking out a used car lot where a call has come in from an outside party that some shenanigans have taken place.

Per usual, Mr. Hyatt excels at setting a concise scene without letting it take up valuable real estate for a short work. I’ve found that some authors want to set aside everything to set the stage, but the ones who engage me best, roll that right into the narration like a vignette from Outer Limits.

Lot Lizards delivers and it delivers fast. Things go from a calm oddity to pure mayhem starting on page ten with a very ironic “We are one thirty-eight.” (the pun was definitely not lost on me)

What I love about this kind of fiction — especially the gems that Mr. Hyatt has shared with me over the last couple of years — is that it is exactly the snapshot needed at the time of reading. Sure, Mr. Hyatt plays within the realm of his Terrafide universe, and this story will really pull in more readers curious to know more about the kiaskis that keep getting mentioned.

Regardless, Lot Lizards is a fun story with some serious visceral action. It has the baddies, the big bad, the authorities, and tragic foils, and vigilante heroes all in the span of about fifty-four pages. It was exactly what I needed while scarfing down my sandwich at lunch.

Like I’ve said before, life is too short to not read short fiction. It’s plentiful, and there a lot of really good stuff out there. At the very least, if you didn’t like it, you didn’t waste too much time.

The Atlas Complex (The Atlas #3) by Olivie Blake

I really really don’t know what to think of this one. On one hand, the way this, highly anticipated, series-ender wraps up is annoying as all hell, but on the other hand, it is probably one of the most realistic resolutions to such a fantastic series of untenable situations I have read in a very long time.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the story to summarize how we arrive at The Atlas Complex.

Atlas Blakely is the caretaker of an elite organization known as the Alexandrian Society. Under his care, six of the most talented and hardcore magical academicians in the world are brought in to be considered for initiation. During this time (through The Atlas Six and The Atlas Paradox), alliances are formed, broken, re-formed, and severely tested. Secrets come out related to each of the six (and a few more), and more and more information is discovered about the Alexandrian Society as a whole.

Shit gets really real, and every indicator generally points towards a significant denouement in book three.

Well, here we are at book three and the story starts to twist and turn into something that seems right in alignment with what the reader had been expecting from the previous two books: and then just flat out fizzles.

Like I said at the beginning, this could either be the most intentional setup for reflecting the actual nature of humanity in that nothing really happens given the extreme situations our characters are put in, or it could have just been a happy accident due to a plot that spiraled out of focus.

I have all respect for Ms. Blake’s ability to world-build and weave together multiple story lines, so I really didn’t see myself coming to the end of this series really not giving a damn about what was going to happen to any of characters. And I mean any of them. There are “mysterious” disappearances that seem like convenient rugs to sweep inconsistencies under, and there is a general apathy writ large, that makes me really want to re-evaluate my feelings about the previous two books.

There was a ton of potential energy built up in the first two-thirds of this massive story that I waited to be converted to kinetic, but it just didn’t ever happen. The balloon deflated in a sad “poof” and the reader was left holding a dead piece of limp rubber.

Yes, I definitely needed to read this book to get some closure on some dynamic characters I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of years, but I really really wish they’d been given the opportunity to make a better choice than the seemingly overwhelming “I don’t care.” that trended in the last parts of the book.

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean #1) by Rebecca Yarros

Well, I finally caved in and read the dragon book everyone has been raving about for the past year. I fought picking it up because I find a large portion of what is pitched as “romantasy” just awful to read. This book was so hyped by my reader friends who fawn over Sarah J. Maas’ stuff, so it was definitely near the top of my “just not going to ever get there” list.

Then I started hearing from some other reader friends of mine that it was a book that I would definitely enjoy, and very much of the ilk of some of my other favorite authors. Cue the torment.

Soooo, I broke down and gave it a go.

Let’s be real about Fourth Wing. By and large it has an overarching plot that telescopes itself like crazy from the first few chapters. It hits the standard YA-ish tropes of rivals to lovers and “bad boy with a heart of gold” pretty damn hard, but it’s a really really really fun read. Ms. Yarros really knows how to flesh out very likable, and very hateable characters with ease, and she’s really not afraid of throwing weakness out there and exploiting it.

Violet’s journey at Basgiath War College to become a rider is definitely a rollercoaster with more than a smattering of death and destruction. I started getting some Pierce Brown PTSD because of the ease at which Ms. Yarros kills of characters: some expected, some unexpected.

In addition to the harrowing journey that Violet is taking to become a rider, there is a larger political storm that is brewing in this book. There are subtle hints that facts are being hidden or redacted, and that there is a bigger issue getting ready to rear its head. That’s the depth of writing that keeps me absolutely sucked in.

So yes, I’m now a Fourth Wing fan, and I jumped right in to Iron Flame, so expect my thoughts on that one soon. If anything, I just want to learn why Ms. Yarros loves using “subluxated” so damn much.

We Are the Crisis (Convergence Saga #2) by Cadwell Turnbull

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long while. No Gods, No Monsters took up a lot of my headspace, and I really needed Mr. Turnbull to move some of these characters along for the sake of my sanity.

I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The thing about Mr. Turnbull’s writing, especially in this Convergence Saga is that you can’t help but get very very invested while also being completely lost as to where you are, and who you are dealing with.

Continuing on a couple of years after No Gods, No Monsters, We Are the Crisis continues with how the world is reacting to the revelations of the “Boston incident.” Monsters are now known to the general public, but there is a massive political debate over what rights monsters should have (if any), and a human-supremacist group, Black Hand, is committing more and more atrocities against monsters and monster supporters.

On the flip side, there is a pro-monster activist group, New Era, who is working to build a cooperative network between monsters and humans, but there is also an even more esoteric bit of subversion going in within New Era perpetuated by the cosmic elements we were introduced to in No Gods, No Monsters.

All of the tensions from all sides — and there are a lot of sides — seem to be pressing together into a Gordian knot situation that seems both hopeful and hopeless at the same time.

Much like the previous book, We Are the Crisis is one that is going to require re-reading and analysis to fully follow what is going on. While it is very complex, it is amazingly entertaining. I read almost three quarters of it in one sitting: it’s that captivating.

This series is very important in regards to how it approaches civil rights, and the concepts of autonomy and free will. Mr. Turnbull deftly glides between story lines and locations while building up a slow pressure that comes to a head in a way that, while everyone saw coming, nobody expected.

The Midnight Kingdom (The Dark Gods #2) by Tara Sim

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I wanted to love this book so much. The City of Dusk was an amazing read that really set the scene and executed superbly. The Midnight Kingdom, though, not so much. The world building continued to be amazing, but the readers are really torn in different directions with the spread out story. Just when I would get engaged with one of the arcs, the perspective would change to another character arc, and I’d have to build up the momentum again.

For those who can just sit down and consume a book in a few days, this is probably a good read for you. Honestly, I ended up having to take written notes, and that’s just not very conducive to an enjoyable read.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes #0) by Travis Baldree

Our favorite mercenary orc is back! In this prequel to Legends & Lattes we find Viv fighting for Rackam’s Ravens and hunting a powerful necromancer. When she is injured, Rackam leaves Viv in Murk to recuperate. Naturally, Viv gets bored, and finds a good diversion in the form of a local bookshop. There we meet the foul-mouthed ratkin owner Fern and her griffin-dog Potroast.

There is some mystery and intrigue, a bit of romance, and a whole lot of reading.

I very much enjoy the way Mr. Baldree worldbuilds. It’s pretty boilerplate high fantasy, but the attention to detail is great, and the reader really gets to know Murk and it’s passel of occupants. There were a couple of twists in this that I did not expect, and the epilogue was pretty much my favorite part of the entire book. I’m sure this will show up on a mess of “must read” lists for 2023/4. I, for one, cannot wait for the next installment. Baldree’s writing is definitely a marvelous palate cleanser for the amount of grimdark I typically read.