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Saturday, April 28, 2018

SPFBO Finalist Mini-Reviews: The Way Into Chaos, Tiger Lily, Chaos Trims My Beard, & The War Of Undoing (by Mihir Wanchoo)

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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Way Into Chaos is Harry Connolly’s debut epic fantasy foray and for fantasy fans while Harry Connolly might not be a familiar name. For urban fantasy fans (like myself) Harry Connolly is a talented author whose Twenty Palaces series struck a strong chord. The Way Into Chaos is a an epic fantasy with aspects of portal fantasy (reversed tropes) and a fantasy which does away from excessive gore and swearing.

This aspect I hear was an intentional one, also this book along with the rest of the trilogy was successfully kickstarted by the author. I was a backer for this trilogy and it was one that I truly cherish. I was glad to see The Way Into Chaos make it into the finals, this book has an explosive beginning and I mean it in all expressions of the word. We see a kingdom torn asunder due to the appearance of magic and nightmarish creatures. Our main characters are shown to be strewn apart and this book showcases their journey to their eventual zeniths. With this being an opening volume of the trilogy, we certainly aren’t getting the whole story but the ending is one which leaves the readers satisfied.

With this volume, I enjoyed the action packed and plot pace which kept me turning pages and engaged. But the book’s characters felt a bit flat and the world building wasn’t as complete as I thought it would be. Let me be clear, this book is definitely different than most current grimdark fantasies as even while the main characters are distraught, it never careens towards either grimdark or noblebright spectrum ends. It comfortable finds its own path and is in a way very reminiscent of 90s fantasy wherein epic fantasy wasn’t sullied by the grime and nilhistic seasoning that we find present nowadays. The Way Into Chaos is an interesting thriller read with a gorgeous cover (by Chris McGrath) and works more on those threads. As an epic fantasy, it has its shining moments and some drawbacks which made me enjoy it but not the degree that I thought I would.

Official Author Website
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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Tiger Lily is the most unique book amongst all the ten finalists. The author had remarked upon this fact when her book won a place in the finals and I wholeheartedly agree with her. From its settings to its characters, to its prose Tiger Lily sets itself apart from its contemporaries by giving us accurate descriptions and then some.

Tiger Lily is set in a world which is inspired by Japanese history and world. The author has written this story so wonderfully that one cannot help but be drawn into the story. However the one main drawback of the story is that our main character is very indecisive and anxious, to the point that she seems whiny and more than a tad annoying. Perhaps the author wanted to showcase the constraints the society placed on Lily for not conforming and for being born in the wrong year. If that was the intent, then the author succeeded in her goal wildly. The problem is that while Lily is very distraught, the readers will not enjoy her indecision and constant mental struggle.

To a large degree this book will be very polarizing for the readers. The readers who love it will love it for the gorgeous prose, the incredibly detailed world settings and the unique story, for those who didn’t enjoy it, they might blame the tepid plot pace, the indecisive protagonist and lack of action in the book. As for me while this was a unique read, it was one that didn’t set my internal senses tingling. I appreciated the effort put into the story and will be checking out the author’s other works for sure because have no doubt, K. Bird Lincoln is a very talented wordsmith. Don’t let this book’s pitfalls deter you from exploring the author’s other works (why hello urban fantasy set in Portland, you are just what I would like to read).

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Chaos Trims My Beard is an intriguing finalist and one which created a lot of discussions among the judges of Fantasy Faction. After reading it, I can see why it was selected as the finalist but also why it could have gone either way.

Chaos Trims My Beard is a nice mix of noir, fantasy and dark humor which will not be to everyone’s tastes. What also doesn’t help is that the author’s style of writing takes a while to get used to. This story was one which I enjoyed for the aspects that I enjoy in the fantasy genre. It had the wise-cracking humor present in urban fantasy and thrillers but also the wild, magical side present in its world. The story’s main narrator is certainly the highlight of the story and the humor is a close second. The story is hinged on these two factors and that’s what I believe its fans will enjoy.

For me this was a mixed bag as while I did enjoy those aspects, the story overall and its weird quotient wasn’t something that made me take notice of it. I appreciated the author’s efforts but they couldn’t entice me to care much more. It’s a debut that I wish was a bit more polished and the copy I had received had very few typos which is always appreciated. The main character is certainly a striking one and hopefully fans will be checking this book out. I wish Brett Herman all the very best and I will be interested to see what he writes about next.

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The War Of Undoing is an interesting fantasy title as it deals with several different characters and the aftereffects of an ongoing conflict. Chief among them are the Raining siblings but the author goes one up and gives us a deep look into almost every character that’s highlighted within (case in point is its prologue). What I enjoyed about this title was its writing, the author has constructed an inherently in-depth plot which unfolds exactly as the author intended. Suffice to say this in-depth characterization and plot are certainly the highlights of this book.

For me however this book didn’t work as much as I hoped it would. The biggest drawback personally was its tepid pace, however this wasn’t on purpose but due to the story’s rich characterization. The author’s writing style, prose and descriptions leads to a storyline which takes its time to get set up which will work for some readers and might prove detrimental for some. For me though this book while being so fantastically written, just didn’t strike a chord because of its pacing. The author builds up the various plot threads, amasses several conflicting issues and then ends it on an epic note. So the eventual payoff certainly is worth the slow start and therefore the author’s plan makes sense.

The War Of Undoing is an ambitious debut that showcases Alex Perry’s deft skills and they are quite something but this debut didn’t win me over. So while I would be interested to see when he takes the story in the sequels, the story will have to up its deficiencies. The War Of Undoing seems to be a debut that will have its defenders and detractors and the twain might never agree about their choices.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Chaotic Good" by Whitney Gardner (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Whitney Gardner's Website Here

OVERVIEW: Cameron's cosplay--dressing like a fictional character--is finally starting to earn her attention--attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron's family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town--her main destination for character reference--is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother's suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she's shocked at how easily she's accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her "secret identity" gets more and more entrenched, Cameron's portfolio falls by the wayside--and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.

FORMAT: Chaotic Good is a standalone YA novel. It is more of a contemporary fiction novel, but it has various elements, such as cosplay, Dungeons and Dragons, and other pop cultural references that would make it appealing to the sci-fi/fantasy crowd. There is a little romance in the book, but it isn't the main focus.

Chaotic Good is 256 pages long and was published March 13, 2018 by Knopf.

ANALYSIS: I have always been one of those people who went against the norm. While kids were playing softball, volleyball and basketball in grade school and middle school, I was spending six days a week in the dance studio and had no interest in sports. I was obsessed with Nightmare Before Christmas before it became 'cool'. I loved fantasy and sci-fi books when it was mostly a males-only club. So, when I read the blurb about Chaotic Good, it sounded perfect for me.

Chaotic Good tells the story of Cameron, a teenage girl who likes to cosplay. Unfortunately, because she is a girl she is met with intense scrutiny from both the real world and online world. Everyone seems to think that in order to be a girl and like sci-fi/fantasy/graphic novels, you have to be super obsessed, know every little detail, and can't do anything 'girlie'. If you miss one fact, don't know every minor detail about the entire X-Men Universe, or you happen to like to wear nail polish and dresses while occasionally wearing a geeky t-shirt, you are obviously a poser or a faker who just wants attention.

When Cameron moves to a new town, she meets the stereotypical fandom guy. Macho, egotistical, and thinks women should be petting cute dogs and dressing up as Disney Princess. He talks down to Cameron and tells her she isn't a "real fan" because she didn't know all the details about X-Men. That leads Cameron to take on a secret identity as a guy. The minute she takes on her new identity things change and for the better.

One of my biggest concerns about Chaotic Good was that it was being advertised as a 'feminist' novel. While it does send a very good "girl power" message and the book is pro-girl, it isn't forced. The characters are detailed, the plot flows nicely, and the whole focus of the book isn't to show just how powerful women can be.

I absolutely love the message that is sent in this book. Having blogged on a sci-fi/fantasy blog for over 10 years, I have seen a lot change in the fandom world. Yes, women/girls are more accepted in the fantasy/sci-fi worlds, but there is still a lot that needs to be done. Speaking from personal experience, it was just a few months ago when someone mentioned Star Wars. I mentioned I liked Star Wars too and the response was "Who knew a girl as pretty as you would be a fan". Immediately after saying that, it was non-stop grilling of facts and other tidbits. Now, I'm sure no harm was meant by it, but this is the type of reaction that happens all too frequently. It is also the issue that is raised in this book.

A number of other issues are addressed in Chaotic Good including online bullying, struggling to maintain friendships from afar, and just working to fit in. Again, the issues aren't forced on the reader, but are worked in very naturally with the plot.

I will say my absolute favorite part of the book were the scenes where the characters played Dungeons and Dragons. It sounds like listening to a group of people play the game would be boring, but it wasn't. The scenes were quick and action filled, but they had a slight twist. They would often times be told in graphic novel format. It was a nice way to do a set of scenes in a book that could have been boring, but weren't.

At first I was a bit disappointed with the ending. It isn't like the book ends on a cliffhanger or anything, but I would have liked to know more. However, the more I think about it the more I think the ending is fitting. Everything in life isn't tied up neatly and that is exactly how the novel ends. There is enough to give readers a satisfying conclusion, but things are left uncertain and the possibilities are endless for our main characters.

Overall, I highly recommend Chaotic Good. Don't let the feminist label scare you away from it. It is a quick, enjoyable read that will be delightful to any fan of sci-fi/fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, and even fashion design.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

INTERVIEW/BLOG TOUR: Interview with Marlena Frank Author of The She-Wolf of Kanta (Interview by Cindy Hannikman)

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Marlena Frank to our blog as she makes her way across the Blog-o-sphere on her blog tour for The She-Wolf of Kanta. We were able to catch up with her and conduct a brief interview about her latest book release.

A huge thank you goes out to Rockstar Book Tours for helping organize and arrange for the interview. And a huge thank you goes out to Marlena Frank for taking the time to stop by and talk to us about her newest release. 

Learn more about The She-Wolf of Kanta:

Author: Marlena Frank
Pub. Date: April 17, 2018
Publisher: Legion Imprint of Radiant Crown Publishing
Formats: Paperback, eBook, audiobook
Pages: 256
Find it: AmazonB&NiBooksGoodreads

"A pair of yellow eyes caught the moonlight and locked onto hers."

Mercy has always dreamed of becoming a werewolf trapper like her father. In Kanta, one must learn how to survive one way or another. A dark-skinned, blue-eyed young beauty, Mercy understands that she brings out the beast in monsters and men. When a routine werewolf delivery turns into a vicious assault from a pair of human traffickers, Mercy’s life changes forever. Somehow she must endure in a dangerous city where women and werewolves are hunted.

Visit some of the Other Stops on the Blog Tour!

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
4/9/2018- BookHoundsInterview
4/10/2018- Twinning for BooksReview
4/11/2018- What A Nerd Girl SaysGuest Post
4/12/2018- The Life StoriesReview
4/13/2018- A Gingerly ReviewExcerpt

Week Two:
4/16/2018- Jena Brown WritesReview
4/17/2018- Confessions of a YA ReaderExcerpt
4/18/2018- Fantasy Book CriticInterview
4/19/2018- Reese's ReviewsReview
4/20/2018- Novel NoviceGuest Post

Interview with Marlena Frank: 

1) The She-Wolf of Kanta is a novella. What was your writing process like working on this novella? Did you do anything to help make sure your story was well rounded yet didn't go to 500 pages.

Going into this piece, I knew what the world was like and I knew who I wanted Mercy to be. The main trouble I had was figuring out the beats of the plot. Unlike some novels I’ve worked on, The She-Wolf of Kanta took years to write. I would work on it for a while, hit a wall in trying to decide how to get from step B to step C, then walk away from it for a while. Each time I returned to it though, I had fresh eyes and I kept streamlining it. I didn’t realize at the beginning that it would be a novella either, I let the story determine how long it needed to be.

2) Do you ever see yourself revisiting this world with more novellas?

One of the most frequent questions I get about this story is will there be a sequel. I do see myself revisiting Kanta in the future and probably picking up where it left off. When I do return to it though I want it to be for a good reason, so it’ll take some time to figure out. I want it to be a proper continuation.

3) What do you think makes your novel stand out from other werewolf novels out there?

I made a conscious effort to make the werewolves of Kanta both fearsome and yet relatable. The fascinating part about werewolves is that they are both humans and monsters at the same time. When you capture a werewolf for money, you are in fact capturing another human being for profit, so using them as metaphors for human trafficking isn’t that far of a leap. Since the city is recovering from a terrible werewolf onslaught, many problems are blamed on werewolves regardless of how true it is. When you have a whole city terrified of a group, it’s easier to blame things on them.

4) Who are some of your horror author idols?

Some of the classic horror authors I love are Stephen King, Anne Rice, Richard Matheson, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, and of course Shirley Jackson. More recent horror authors that I’ve enjoyed are Josh Malerman and Cherie Priest. One author who writes some gruesome dark fantasy that could easily be classified as horror, and who honestly doesn’t seem to get enough attention, is Scott Hawkins. I draw from so many styles and stories when I write, but these are the authors I draw inspiration from again and again.

5) If you novella were made into a movie, who would be your ultimate choice to star in your movie?

I actually thought I would have a tougher time casting someone for this story than I did. I think Idris Elba would pull off an amazing performance for Solomon Pinkerton, Mercy’s father. He’s a rough man, and not very likeable, but a type of character you would find in southern gothic stories. He loves his daughter, but he’s certainly not a kind person. There’s a lot of room for interpretation in him that I think Elba would pull off beautifully.

Learn more about Marlena Frank:

I write about strange creatures. Typically they shouldn’t exist, or they have bled through from a different reality, or they’re pretending to be a crying baby in a crib. Sometimes that lands my stories in horror and other times in fantasy, but there’s always an air of strangeness to my tales. If you want to get a better feel for what I’m talking about, check out a few clips or read a few drabbles.


My work has appeared in a spattering of short story collections, but I do have a few novellas and novels in the pipeline. Other than talking about writing, I also talk about cryptozoologywerewolveswildlife conservation, and of course kitties. I’ve also been known to nerd out about Batman and The Hobbit, and have recently discovered the cracktastic fun of Black Butler cosplay, so there will likely be more of these incidents.

By day I work as a web developer, so I’ll occasionally talk about web issues like finding the right theme.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Goodreads

Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card, International.

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