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

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: 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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SPFM Book Review Repost: Gedlund by William Ray

Banner image with cover of Gedlund by William Ray, superimposed over zoomed in image of same cover. Text reads "SPFM BOOK REVIEW REPOST" and "Off The TBR"

September is Self-Published Fantasy Month! This is the fourth year for this event and the first time I’m not participating as an admin/host. Thankfully there’s a great team filling in this year to keep the event going better than ever.

Since I won’t have the opportunity to review many self-pub books this September due to…all the damn reasons, I thought I’d repost some reviews of self-published fantasy I’ve really enjoyed previously. Because really the whole point of Self-Published Fantasy Month is to celebrate self-pub books and authors, and what better way to do that than shouting about them repeatedly year after year to anyone who will listen?

So this begins the first in a series of reposts I plan to upload between now and the end of the month. These will be copies of the original review, updated slightly for formatting. The first is for the book I credit with getting me hooked on self-pub…Gedlund, by William Ray.

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Book Review: Glass Rhapsody by Sarah Chorn

Banner image featuring cover of Glass Rhapsody by Sarah Chorn superimposed over zoomed in version of same cover. Text reads "Book Review" and "Off The TBR"

I’m often at a loss when it comes to figuring out what I want to say in a review. This is especially true when a book and/or an author just utterly and completely wows me with story, and language, and craft. We’ve all been there right? Our minds firing off all these little snippets to use but you can’t string them together into anything coherent when the time comes to post a review. That’s been my experience with anything and everything I’ve read from Sarah Chorn. Her latest novel, Glass Rhapsody is no exception to this phenomenon. As with the rest of the Songs of Sefate series, Glass Rhapsody gutted me….it continued to work away at a wound opened with Of Honey and Wildfires, but, it healed as well. It worked at that wound, cleaned it up, and let me recover. This series is an emotional experience as much as it is a story, one that carries you through the pain to redemption and recovery on the other side.

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