What I’m Reading: Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Banner image featuring cover of Son Of The Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa superimposed over zoomed in image of same cover. Text reads "What I'm Reading" and "Off The TBR."

Yet again I’m posting a What I’m Reading update when I’d hoped to be posting the review for the book. In this case I started reading it on Monday, the day before its release date in the U.S. This is another one I’ve had on my TBR a while and which I received as an ARC. But, the positive, glass is half full thing is I’ve started the read and I’ll hopefully have a review up while it’s still newly published.

So what I’m I reading this week? Well…it’s Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa.

Cover of Son Of The Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

From one of the most exciting new storytellers in epic fantasy, Son of the Storm is a sweeping tale of violent conquest and forgotten magic set in a world inspired by the pre-colonial empires of West Africa.

“Everything I love in a fantasy novel. Damn good stuff!” —Jenn Lyons, author of The Ruin of Kings

In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.

But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.

Goodreads Blurb

Son of the Storm
The Nameless Republic #1
Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Orbit Books
Publication Date: May 11, 2021
Kindle ARC

A couple things drew me to this book. One is that cover. I just love the color and the visual it presents. You know I enjoy good cover art and something about it just seems mysterious to me.

The second (and primary) thing that drew me to this book was the setting. I’m always eager to read non-western (European based) fantasy. Add to that the inspiration of pre-colonial West Africa and I had to have it. I’ve made a couple trips to Ghana and I loved the time I spent there getting to know the people and the culture even if only for just a little while. I don’t believe this setting is based on Ghana but I’m still looking forward to maybe picking up on a few references here and there. In my short time reading it last night there were a couple little nuances that transported me back to that general locale and it really helped me feel the setting a bit more.

Beyond that the story just sounds really cool. I’ve seen a couple early reviews that made me feel like I could be in for a real treat with this read and I’m just really excited to dig into it.

Anyone else already read Son of the Storm? If so what did you think? Anyone else have it on their TBR? Let me know in the comments.

-Jason

What I’m Reading: Dragons of Winter Night

Last Friday we had nearly ten inches of snow here in the Bluegrass. This Florida boy loved it. I finished my previous read on Saturday and sat down staring at my TBR pile threatening to topple over on the end table beside my recliner. I was experiencing that familiar unease as I tried to decide what my next read would be. Then it hit me that as season descended outside I should read a book of winter inside while I sat next to the fire. There was one stacked neatly there that I’d been thinking of returning to for a ages, and now seemed like the time to pick it up once more.

So what am I reading? Well…It’s Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman.

Book Blurb

Dragons

Creatures of legend. Stories told to children.

But now dragons have returned to Krynn. The darkness of war and destruction threatens to engulf the land.

A small band of heroes brings hope to the land. But the hope is fragile as a rose and many be lost completely, shattered by the bitter winds of winter.

Knights and barbarian, warrior and half-elf, dwarf and kender and dark-souled mage; they begin a perilous search for two artifacts that may help them or lead them to their destruction-

the Dragon Orbs…

and the legendary Dragonlance.

Goodreads Blurb

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you may remember that the Dragonlance books were my gateway into SFF. Starting with the Chronicles trilogy, then the Legends trilogy, then branching out into other series I poured over those books in my youth (back in the early 90’s) and fell in love with the genre. In November of 2019 I decided I would attempt to reread them and maybe even read those books I never got to back in the day. There are over 100 books in total and I hadn’t even read half of them. That month I hosted a read along of Book one of the Chronicles, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and a group of us read and discussed this fav book of mine; some like me returning to it from years apart and others coming to it for the very first time. It was fun and I had planned to read book two later that winter.

Then a plague arrived and…well things got disrupted.

I’ve been meaning to pick up where I left off and I just never found the right moment. Until this weekend. In part it was the weather. In part it was a desire for a comfort read. In part it was knowing I needed to get a move on because Weiss and Hickman are releasing a new novel in the Dragonlance world later this year titled Dragons of Deceit. If I hope to read that book I need to get caught up once more on the series.

So here I am, picking up the journey with Tanis, Flint, Tasselhoff, Sturm, Laurana, Tika, Goldmoon, Riverwind, Caramon, and Raistlin. The Heroes of the Lance. I know what’s going to happen. I know it will hit me hard. But I read on anyway because it reminds me of my youth and the magic that made me fall in love with this genre. Maybe that’s what I need most right now to help pull me out of this multi-year funk.

So here’s to comfort reads and nostalgia, and new things that may come of the old…

2022 Reading and Blogging Goals

Banner Image: Text reads "Off The TBR Reading & Blogging Goals"

I started Off The TBR in late 2017 and since that time around the new year I’ve posted about my new reading and blogging goals. I’m usually pretty hesitant to set yearly goals. I never ever do any New Year’s Resolutions. I only occasionally set other goals unless they are very major and I’m committed to accomplishing them, or they are very minor and I can do them quick. Anything else and I either get bogged down or lose interest and end up going in some other direction.

I’ve tried to be careful about setting reading and blogging goals, though in 2019 I set like ten which was way too much. But no matter how many I settle on I maybe accomplish half of them. Last year I set six. Well…five with one question mark:

  • Meet my Goodreads goal (done)
  • Post twice a week (failed)
  • Read more indie/self-pub fantasy (done)
  • Novellas (failed)
  • Self-Published Fantasy Month (this was the maybe and…failed)
  • New review format (done)

Now, the results from last year aren’t too bad really. Running or participating in Self-Published Fantasy Month was a question mark to begin with and then when I agreed to join the Before We Go Blog team for SPFBO I knew I couldn’t do it last year and passed it off to Justine at Whispers & Wonder who put together a great team and event (check out the webpage here). THANK YOU JUSTINE! I failed at reading more novellas because…well I just read one. I had too many other books to get to that weren’t novellas so it just didn’t happen. As for posting twice a week, well I started really, really strong and then kind of imploded.

And that’s what brings me to the current state of things. I started last year strong with at least one review and then some other post like “What I’m Reading” every week. After a few months that had diminished to one post a week which was still really good for me. But by Summer it had dwindled to three or less, and by September I was lucky to post once a month.

A few things had happened. I was seriously burnt out on blogging. I just couldn’t make myself sit down to write anything. It felt like a chore and I have enough of those I have to do. I was also really tired from work which didn’t help my energy levels when it came time to write a blog post. And most importantly I felt like I was neglecting family time. My kids are getting older and I won’t have much time before they are out of the house. Most of my blog writing happens on the weekends and that cut into the free time I had for family. So all of this combined meant the blog took a hit and my reading slowed down. I quit requesting books from Orbit whom I’ve worked with for a few year’s now and I quit accepting review requests from authors directly. I tried to get caught up on all the books I’d been sent (I’m still catching up).

I even thought about shutting the blog down entirely.

So where does that leave me now? Short answer…I don’t really know. As of today I plan to keep blogging. I will never stop reading. So here’s what I see as my reading and blogging goals for 2022 at least as things stand now. I’m splitting them into two sections, strictly reading goals that can be accomplished apart from blogging, and then combined reading and blogging goals.

READING GOALS

The following goals will be those that are strictly related to reading. I may or may not blog about them.

Meet My Goodreads Goal

I feel pretty confident with this goal. I’ve managed to complete it every year I’ve set one. My goal once again is thirty six books. This is the same number as last year. I know it isn’t as many as a lot of my other blogger friends, but with my work/family schedule this is what works for me. Sometimes I can read a book a week, sometimes it takes ten days or more. Sometimes I can read one a day (novellas). I’m not setting my goal higher because to be honest it just feels good to reach the goal and well…36 is easier.

If you don’t already follow me on Goodreads and would like to my profile is in the link below.

Catch Up On Backlists

Pic of books in front of fireplace. Includes Assassin's Apprentice, Dragonlance Chronicles, The First Law Trilogy, The Crimson Campaign, and Malice

This is something I’ve wanted to do for years. I have a slew of series I want to catch up on where I’ve read the first or maybe first and second book of a series and just need to finish it up. On top of that there are a few I’d like to start that I’ve meant to for years like Abercrombie’s First Law series and Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy. Two sub-goals in this category I’d love to work on are reading Stephen King’s whole body of work (I started with Carrie back in October), and returning to the Dragonlance series by Weiss and Hickman. With a new Dragonlance book set to release in 2022 (Dragon’s of Deceit) it’s a great time to return to the world of Krynn.

Read What I Want When I Want

Yeah I know this is something I could’ve done at any time, and not doing so is my own fault, but as long as I was requesting and accepting books from publishers and authors I felt I needed to read those books first, (especially before release date for arcs) and that meant I put off a lot of other books I really wanted to read. If I’m not requesting anything then I free myself up to mood read and to read according to thematic months. This means I can participate in Sci-Fi Month and it means I can spend all of October reading spooky stories.

BLOGGING GOALS

I’m still not sure what I’m doing about the blog. I don’t want to shut it down, but if I’m honest most days when I wake up I think about how nice it might be not to have it as an obligation. And that’s the key thing…it feels like an obligation at this point, not a fun hobby. So this year I’ll be doing my best not to make anything feel like an obligation. You’ll see that in the goals below.

Catch Up On Arcs And Requests

Pic of books in front of fireplace. Includes The Fall of Babel, Legacy of Steel, Jade Legacy, The Shadow Saint, Dead Man in A Ditch, Brother Red, Call of The Bone Ships, and Kingdom of Grit series

Yeah, even though I tried to get caught up with my outstanding arcs I’ve still got a pretty decent stack to tackle. I want to work through these and put a sizeable dent in them before I even think about requesting any more. I may or may not review those that I complete. But If I find myself reading and not reviewing then I won’t be requesting anymore in the future. It just isn’t right for the author or publisher. It might also be a sign that it’s time to turn off the lights on the blog.

Finish The SPFBO Finalists

OK, so this isn’t really something for my blog, but it is for blogging in general. As many of you know I joined team Before We Go Blog as a reviewer/judge for SPFBO7. We are currently in the finalist stage and I’ve got six more books to read, and I need to send my brief thoughts and score off to Beth Tabler on nine of them. SPFBO is something I’m still very excited about and not something I want to put aside so I feel really good about this goal.

Pic of SPFBO finalists

Blog About What I’m Excited About

I know this seems like it would be self-evident, but I just want to blog about the things I’m excited about. Feeling like I have to review everything I’m reading even if I don’t like it that much puts a damper on blogging. I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me, nothing but my own inner feelings was making me do this before now. I just finally relented and allowed myself to NOT blog if I didn’t want to. I don’t know what this will look like in the long run. Probably it means you’ll see less reviews of books that are below four stars. You may see less posts in general. I don’t know.

Self-Published Fantasy Month

Banner Image for the 2020 Self-Published Fantasy Month

Right now I don’t know what I’m doing about Self-Published Fantasy Month. This was an event I started out of love for reading self-pub fantasy and a desire to see it get more attention. I still love self-pub (hence my participation as a team judge in SPFBO) and I still want it to get more attention. I just don’t think I’m up to running this event or helping to organizing it. Who knows, that could change over the next few months. But right now I’m thinking of permanently passing it on to someone else. I’ll have more to say about that in the future.

Well, that’s it. I’m trying to keep this year simple. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe, just maybe, in doing so I’ll keep the blog alive another year and some of the joy will return to it. But no matter what happens I plan to be active out on Twitter (and maybe even Insta) to rave about all the great stories with you. Happy New year. Let’s hope this is another great year for SFF books.

-Jason

Off The TBR’s Best of 2021

Hey. How are ya’ll doing? I thought I’d ask before I got into my “Best of 2021” list because this has been another crazy year and sometimes it is nice to just do a little check-in. Even more so this year since the dumpster fire that is the current world plague shows no signs of letting up anytime soon and from what I can see on social media most of us seem to be coping but it’s getting on our last nerves. So yeah, I thought I’d just do a little check-in.

Well now that we’ve got that out of the way how about something positive? It’s that time again…the time when all the book bloggers are posting their year end, best reads of the year. I like to wait for the year to finish out before posting my list just in case a last minute read squeaks its way in. 2021 (like 2020 before it) sucked in so many ways, but for me it was still a good year for reading. As usual I enjoyed the vast majority of the books I read, and there were only a very few I didn’t. I still feel like we are experiencing that new golden age of science fiction and fantasy with so many great books to choose from both in traditional publishing or from indie/self-published authors and I hope it never ends.

So here it is, my top reads of 2021. Note, this is my list of top reads of 2021, meaning it is a list of my favorite books I read during the year, not necessarily my favorite books published in 2021. I’ve intentionally left off any #SPFBO finalists I may have already read as the competition is still undeway and the judging team I’m a part of has not posted any of our scores as of yet.

I managed to read 37 books this year (exceeding my Goodreads Challenge) and this list comprises those I rated as 4.5 Stars or 5 Stars and even includes a short story. I’ve arranged them mostly in order they were read by rating.

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Book Review: The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

Banner Image of cover of The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies superimposed over zoomed in image of same cover. Text reads "Book Review" and "Off The TBR"

You ever see a book on a bookstore shelf or posted about online and without knowing anything about it or the author just know that’s a book you want to pick up and read after the very first encounter with it? No questions or hesitations? That’s kinda rhetorical because I’m guessing most of you if you love to read have felt this sensation at least once but it’s possible you haven’t. Well, today I want to rave a little about one such book.

This feeling doesn’t occur with me very often. Usually I need to see some hype about a book or author first, and if not I go into it with some reservations. But one day back in September/October I noticed a Twitter post from Trudie Skies about their book The Thirteenth Hour which was due to be published very soon. The cover is what I noticed right away (YES I JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVER). The color, the imagery, even the script/font. Just take a look below and you’ll see what I mean. I jumped over to read the blurb and was like, “yep, I’m buying this one.” Something about it just made me feel like I would love it. I hadn’t seen the first review, or anyone else hyping it yet. But I felt confident I’d like it. I waited for the paperback version to be available because I wanted one for the shelf and then waited somewhat impatiently for it to arrive. When it did I got this beauty in the mailbox…

Cover image of The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

When the saints fail, the sinners step up.

Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.

Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.

To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.

For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.

The Thirteenth Hour is the first book in The Cruel Gods series—a gaslamp fantasy featuring magical portals, gothic cosmic deities, quaint Britishisms, and steampunk vibes. This is an adult book containing strong language and mature themes that some readers may find disturbing.

Goodreads Blurb

Highlights

  • Gaslamp fantasy
  • Portal fantasy
  • Steampunk vibes
  • Gothic undetones
  • Light and funny/dark and heavy
  • Worldbuilding

The Thirteenth Hour surpassed my expectations. And just to reiterate, I expected to love it.

I want to start by mentioning the worldbuilding. Trudie Skies has created a world made up of twelve different realms each ruled over by a different god, and populated by a unique people with powers and abilities unique to that realm. Some can hide in shadows, some can mesmerize, some can control light and fire, some can control time. Each realm exists in a pattern like a clock and at the center of them is a city called Chime which is neutral ground and where peoples of all realms can live and work. In Chime is a portal (a clock tower) that allows one to travel between realms but only twice a day, twelve hours apart, when the hand on the clock reaches that realms designated hour. Hence the portal fantasy element I note above.

Within this world and it’s realms all things and all peoples are not equal. The gods are indeed very cruel (hence the series title), and some peoples are treated as less than others. There’s oppression, abuse, and darkness. It isn’t just the gods who are cruel, but the people as well. There are have’s and have nots, and they are relegated to specific areas of the city. Worship of one’s god is expected and required and violators are punished. So when a group of “godless” hoping to address the plight of those in the undercity stirs up trouble just as a strange new threat to Chime is uncovered…well…things begin to get messy.

I hesitate to say more about the story details because I hate the idea I’ll include a spoiler. I’ll just mention what I loved about the book. The gaslamp fantasy with seampunk vibes is something I love. I don’t read a lot of this subgenre but I really tend to enjoy it. And Trudie Skies does it well. It isn’t overblown and heavy and nothing felt forced. It was dark and gritty and the mood and tone were just right.

I mention gothic undertones in my highlights section. This isn’t a gothic novel. Let me be clear about that. But, there are gothic elements imbued within it. Certain realms definitely have that feel (I’m looking at you Eventide). And while Kayl isn’t the chaste heroine of many a gothic tale she fits other elements. Again it’s not gothic by the numbers, but it isn’t grimdark or dark fantasy either. I just think gothic fits it better as a descriptor that anything else with all the associated vibes of that subgenre. And it definitely delivers on some of those themes.

The writing is also well done. The pacing is very balanced and shifts between the POV characters Kayl and Quen. Just enough is revealed each chapter to make you wonder what is going on, what will happen next, and to keep you turning those pages. Skies balances the heavy elements and tone with fun and light banter between characters. She also gives Kayl something of a childlike quality that shines through the all the darkness around the character.

But my favorite thing is the most basic thing…the story. All the other pieces serve the story well. A band of misfit “godless” who are fighting for better lives for everyone around them stir up the ire of the gods while a new threat to their world emerges. While everyone is vying to understand and get control of this threat things get out of hand and the very existence of the realms is in danger. Secrets about the characters’ past are revealed to themselves and others, and they fight to save not just their own souls and those of their friends, but the lives of everyone. Within all of this we get a story about love, and passion, and devotion that asks who deserves those things, whether required or a gift, and whether they can overcome divine powers set to control them. We get a story about faith and it’s application and focus. We get a story about living in spite of it all. Add a chunk of action and drama and you’ve got a great read.

I know I don’t gush well and I tend to be more technical than emotive in my reviews, but believe me when I say I loved this book. I hope you’ll give it a chance, and that you will love it too.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Author: Trudie Skies
Series: The Cruel Gods #1
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: October 13, 2021
Format: Paperback
Pages: 535

Christmas Eve Reads 2021

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Time for my annual Christmas Eve reads post…

Christmas is filled with traditions. You know this even if you don’t celebrate the holiday. Here in the U.S. you can’t avoid the craziness of the nationwide offering to Mammon that is Black Friday and the entire shopping season during the run up to Christmas Day. The stores are filled with holiday items for sale the moment Halloween is over. And then there’s the Christmas music, because there’s always at least one person you know who wants to listen to nothing but Christmas music all day, every day, from Thanksgiving Halloween until Christmas day. There’s always one. If you do celebrate Christmas then add to that Christmas Eve services, family gatherings, Christmas dinner, office parties, gift exchanges, leaving cookies and milk for Santa, and opening gifts on Christmas morning. Traditions.

And yeah I know 2020…I mean…2021 has poured cold water on many of the ways the holiday is celebrated but you know what I mean.

I have one particular tradition I enjoy as much, if not more than all the others. For the past ten Eleven twelve thirteen…wait…fourteen years or so there have been two books I’ve read every Christmas Eve to my children. After we open Christmas Eve gifts (one gift per kid, another tradition for our family) we all gather together in our matching pajamas (cheesy I know), pile onto the couch by the fireplace, and as the kids snuggle up next to me I read…

How The Grinch Stole Christmas
By Dr. Seuss

I’ll be honest this is the fun book. One of the best known children’s Christmas stories by the most famous of all children’s authors. It’s the story of the Whos down in Who-ville and the Grinch who lives just north of the town; the Whos who love Christmas and the Grinch who does not. Dreading the certain festiveness that he knows will ensue the Grinch hatches a plan to keep Christmas from coming. He throws together a “Santy Claus” outfit, ties up his dog Max to a sleigh and heads down into town after everyone is abed. Then, sneaking down every chimney he steals Christmas from every Who household, robbing them of their stockings, and presents, their Christmas feasts and their trees, even the logs for their fires, leaving not even the smallest of crumbs for all the Who’s mouses. Because there’s no way they can be merry and celebrate Christmas without all those things. But the Grinch discovers “a shocking surprise,” that Christmas perhaps means something a little bit more.

My memories of this story are primarily from the animated 1966 classic  narrated by Boris Karloff. I watched that cartoon film countless times at school and at home as a young boy and it remains one of my favorite holiday films. So when I grew older and started buying books when our children were born this was naturally one of the first purchases as December rolled around.

I can’t come close to matching the amazing voice of Boris Karloff, but I give it the old college try. From the opening page where…

“Every who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot…”

…To the final line…

“The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

…I give it my all; speeding up and slowing down the pace, tweaking my inflection and tone; raising my voice to describe all the, “NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” and lowering it to a toddler’s squeak when Cindy-Lou Who begs, “Santy Clause, why, Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?”

This book is a blast to read aloud and the kids love it, even though they are getting older. But I’d be lying if I told you it doesn’t cause a catch in my throat near the end when the Grinch comes to realize Christmas means something more. More than all the gifts, all the decorations, and all the food. There’s something much deeper and meaningful to this holiday. Even if you’re not religious there’s something more to Christmas than all the commercialism. Suess doesn’t come out and say directly what this something is and he doesn’t need to. Deep down we know. It’s a touching reminder told through children’s verse that connects us once again with the joy of the season we too often forget.

The Night Before Christmas
By Clement C. Moore
Illustrated By Niroot Puttapipat

This is a beautiful edition of Clement C. Moore’s classic Christmas poem with elegant silhouette illustrations on every page. Here are a few…

and they culminate in a spectacular two page pop up display…

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Who (of us in the English speaking world at least) doesn’t know that memorable opening line,

“‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse;”

Indeed, once you read the poem you probably realize you know every word having heard it countless times throughout your life. People may argue about the best Christmas song, or the best Christmas movie and whether Die Hard even counts as one (the correct answer is YES it does), but The Night Before Christmas really is THE Christmas poem, hands down. I know some people out there will argue it’s about Santa and how he’s not “the reason for the season,” but that’s not my point. You know this poem and it’s probably a core association with the holiday. Let’s be honest for many American’s it’s one of the few poems they even recognize, it’s that foundational.

So every Christmas Eve I end my read to the kids with The Night Before Christmas next to a fireplace where the stockings are hung with care, while their excitement for the morrow builds. As they prepare to lay down in their beds with “visions of sugarplums” (or whatever candy they’ve secreted from the pantry) dancing in their heads they replay this classic story in their mind’s eye and wait in hopes of catching St. Nick and his eight tiny reindeer before they “dash away! Dash Away! Dash away all!”

Sure I’m laying that foundation for another generation and you know what, I’m just fine with that.

I hope this Christmas Eve finds you and yours doing well. I hope you are able to spend it engaged in whatever traditions you cherish most. If for whatever reason that isn’t possible I hope you can rest in the peaceful, joyful memory of happy seasons past. Or maybe…just maybe…this is the time for you to start a new Christmas tradition with those you hold dear. Whatever the case I want to wish a…

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Book Review: Demons, Ink by Clayton Snyder

Banner of cover image of Demons, Ink by Clayton Snyder superimposed over zoomed in and blurred image of same cover. Test says, "Book Review: Demons, Ink" and "Off The TBR"

This review first appeared on Beth Tabler’s Before We Go Blog as part of the current Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO) competition. I’m a member of Beth’s #SPFBO reviewing team and Demons, Ink was in my initial batch of books to read. I enjoyed it so much I selected it as a semi-finalist. I held off on publishing the review here until now so as not to confuse my blog with any of the official judging blogs for the competition. Ultimately Demons, Ink was not chosen as our team’s finalist, but now that the first phase of the competition is over I wanted to circle back and post the review here as well in order to show some love for a book I really enjoyed. I hope you’ll give it a go as well.

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What I’m Reading: The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

Banner image of cover of The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies superimposed over zoomed in and blurred image of same cover. Text reads "What I'm Reading" and "Off The TBR"

Wow…it seems like a million years since I last put up a What I’m Reading post (it’s been almost five months). And nearly as long since I last posted (about three weeks). My blogging presence has taken a hit in recent months and I may be scaling things back a bit in the future. I’ll write a post about that hopefully sometime soon. But for now I want to tell you about this new book I’m reading.

I first came across this book when the author was tweeting about it in the weeks leading up to it’s release. The first thing that grabbed my attention was it’s beautiful cover. All those blue shades and the clock face and the title script. Yeah…I judge books by their cover and this one got an immediate thumbs up from me. Then I took a look at the blurb and was sold on it. Once it was available in paperback I put my order in. It’s been sitting on my TBR for a few weeks and last night I decided to move it to the top of the stack. So what am I reading? Well…it’s The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies.

Cover image of The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies.

When the saints fail, the sinners step up.

Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.

Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.

To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.

For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.

The Thirteenth Hour is the first book in The Cruel Gods series—a gaslamp fantasy featuring magical portals, gothic cosmic deities, quaint Britishisms, and steampunk vibes. This is an adult book containing strong language and mature themes that some readers may find disturbing. For a full list of content warnings, visit Trudie Skies’s website.

Goodreads Blurb

The Thirteenth Hour
The Cruel Gods #1
Trudie Skies
Self-Published
Publication Date: October 13, 2021
Paperback

Everything about that blurb grabbed my interest. From the name of the city (tied back to that clock) to the interaction between “gothic” gods and mortals, to the gaslamp fantasy. Without having read any of Trudie Skies other works or even any snippets of this one, I knew I wanted to read it.

Since it’s release day I’ve seen a number of other reviewer friends post about The Thirteenth Hour and every single one has been positive and glowing, whether on Twitter, blogs, or Discord channels. It’s currently got a 4.55 rating over on Goodreads.

I started the book last night and I’m about 100 pages in. So far I’m excited about the world(s)-building (12 realms each ruled by a god and one city in which the people of all can mingle) and the development of the various peoples who make up these realms. There’s a dark edge to it and the initial plot elements have been set in motion. Already there are many questions to be answered and dark alley’s to be explored. I’m looking forward to reviewing this one once I’m done. Hopefully I won’t put off that review too long.

Have you already read The Thirteenth Hour? If so what did you think? Do you have it on your TBR or are you thinking about it? Have you read any of Trudie Skies’ other books? Let me know in the comments.

-Jason

Book Review: City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

Banner image featuring cover of City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn superimposed over zoomed in image of same cover. Text reads "Book Review" and "Off The TBR"

Claire Winn delivers an action packed, sapphic cyberpunk space romp in City of Shattered Light. If you’re looking for some fun, can’t put the book down YA thrills then I recommend you check out Winn’s debut which is set to be released this Tuesday from Flux Books.

Cover of City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue A.I. hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gun-slinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The A.I. exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

Goodreads Blurb

Highlights

  • YA
  • Cyberpunk
  • Sapphic YA Cyberpunk
  • Fast paced
  • Matriarchal Crime Bosses
  • LGBTQ+
  • Fast Paced Sapphic LGBTQ+ YA Cyberpunk with Matriarchal Crime Bosses

My Thoughts

This is a review I’ve been waiting to share with you for over three years. In late March of 2018 Claire Winn asked if I’d be interested in being a beta reader for her “crazy cyberpunk story.” I agreed even though it was perhaps a little out of my normal wheelhouse. I’ve not read too many cyberpunk stories, and I don’t read much YA. Something just said “give it a go” and thankfully I did. What started as just a read of the first six chapters quickly became a read of the whole book. I gave what was probably the most useless of feedback she received (I didn’t know what I was doing) and sat back to see what happened. It’s been fun following along as Winn first hooked an agent, then as word came that the book found a publisher, then an actual publication date, then to actually have a final copy in hand (or in Kindle as it were) to read. This version of the book after having gone through additional edits is even better than what I read originally. Given that I don’t have a completely unbiased relationship to this book I wanted to get this all out up front. As such this may be a slightly different review than normal from me.

I noted above this is fast paced sapphic LGBTQ+ YA cyberpunk with matriarchal crime bosses. Like that could almost be my review. If that doesn’t hook you I’m not sure what else I’m gonna say that will. It’s just a fun, exciting, space/cyber adventure that will hit you in the feels every now and then.

I mentioned somewhere above that I don’t read much YA so it’s hard for me to compare some of the story elements other than to let you know what I enjoyed about them. First the characters. Asa and Riven get the top billing here and they are definitely our protagonists. The POV switches back and forth between them. They are largely opposites when comparing their pasts, but must find a way to work together in the midst of some heavy trust issues. It doesn’t help that Asa doesn’t fully open up about her past. Asa grew up rich and highly educated. Riven grew up in homes and didn’t get the level of support as Asa. One is an heiress and the other a criminal pilot who is a bit more rough around the edges. It’s not exactly like a Leia and Han kind of situation…but that isn’t a horrible comparison.

There’s so much more to the story than what the blurb indicates. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and both times I read it I didn’t want to put it down. Just when you think you know where it’s going, and who the ultimate baddie is there’s a twist and you’re re-evaluating what you think you know. Then you start to wonder if there’s more than one baddie, and ask how deep do things go? There’s a father who is so fucked up he is willing to experiment on his own kids, rouge AI who is chasing everyone, and shutting everything down, there’s matriarchal crime lords, and this one other badass female rogue who consistently shows up at the worst times to derail everyone’s plans. Things aren’t always what they seem and there’s more than a few surprises. All this happening on Requiem, a moon with a dystopian city run by those matriarchs. It has the feel of criminal underworld mixed with the hottest nightclubs you can imagine. It’s like New York City on Mars but seedier and more dangerous.

Winn keeps the story moving along at a clip. The opening chapter dumps you into the action and it doesn’t really stop from there. Well…there are a few breaks here and there that allow the characters (and the reader) to catch their breath and get ready for the next big event, but the narrative moves along at a pretty consistent pace. There were a few scenes that just really gripped me, one of which was this lengthy set-piece in the Olympus Nightclub. I won’t say more so as not to ruin it, but it’s one of my favorite sets of scenes in the book in terms of action and drama.

Readers who love found family will also enjoy City of Shattered Light. That’s because this thematic element is found on multiple levels in the book. It’s really like EVERYONE is looking for a new family that is better and safer than their real one. But it comes with some bumps along the way. There’s a constant struggle between being a family or a team, and with being alone. The characters have to really work for it and prove to themselves and others how much they really want it. It makes the story so much better having seen what they are all willing to do to keep their family whole. I just really appreciated what Winn did with this theme.

There’s also some dark parts. Some sad parts. You’ve already seen me mention Asa’s dad who you’ll sit back and ask yourself “who the hell experiments on their kid!?!?” I mean I felt so strongly I wrote it down in my notes. Asa’s dad has other faults as well, elements of his character that cause pain for everyone. The characters must work through and past it to survive what’s being thrown at them. It drudges up painful memories that threaten to tear things apart. They must work through the darkness and the pain to succeed and it always leaves this tension and question of whether they will.

Everything just keeps picking up steam and building toward an explosive conclusion. When I put the book down I felt satisfied. That satisfaction you get when you’ve read a good story and you wouldn’t have changed anything. That satisfaction of being taken on a journey and left in a good place. That satisfaction of a time well spent. I hope that City of Shattered Light gets the attention it deserves. I hope you’ll pick it up and enjoy it as much as I did.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Author: Claire Winn
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Format: Kindle Advanced Reader’s Copy
Pages: 400 (paperback)

Book Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

Banner image of cover of Jade War by Fonda Lee superimposed over a zoomed in version of same cover. Text reads "Book Review" and "Off The TBR"

I’ve returned to the world of Fonda Lee’s The Green Bone Saga and let me tell you it was such a good experience! Jade War is just as engrossing as it’s predecessor Jade City, but now on a more global scale. I previously described Jade City as being a “vivid, gritty, gangster fantasy.” Well, Jade War doubles down on that description and throws in some serious character and plot development ensuring it doesn’t fall into that dreaded sophomore slump, but instead stands up and carries the torch for this series as it continues on to the next installment in Jade Legacy.

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