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Friday, June 9, 2023

Review: The First Bright Thing by J.R. Dawson

Official Author Website
Order The First Bright Thing HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Dawson’s shorter fiction can be found in places such as F&SF, Lightspeed, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, DSF, and more. She’s worked in theatre education most of her life. In 2021, she collaborated with Institute of Holocaust Education and Circle Theatre to write “When We Go Away,” a TYA play about survivors in the Midwest. Her debut novel, THE FIRST BRIGHT THING, will be released by Tor in Summer 2023.

FORMAT/INFO: The First Bright Thing will be released on June 13th, 2023 by Tor Books. It is 352 pages and is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook format.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: To the outside world, the Circus of the Fantasticals is a wondrous traveling entertainment, full of illusions and daring feats; seeing one of its performances could literally change your life. But for the performers, the Circus of the Fantasticals is a secret safe haven for Sparks - people with abilities who began appearing at the end of the Great War. The Ringmaster (Rin) travels all across America, trying to use her troupe to nudge people to change their lives for the better. But Rin's troupe is being pursued by a darker circus, one that preys on fear and is led by the Circus King - and he won't stop until Rin is a part of his circus.

The First Bright Thing is a story full of love and hope for the outcasts of the world. Unfortunately, it gets a bit bogged down in too many plot lines and at times struggled to hold my attention. There were parts I genuinely enjoyed. The author does a fantastic job of portraying the bonding experience of circus life, how those who are unaccepted because of their race, because their queer or because they have strange abilities can find a home among fellow outcasts. I enjoyed watching Rin introduce Jo, a runaway teen, to this world and show her how she can use her gift to try and inspire positive change in the world.

Rin is also struggling with a dark past; as the story unfolds, we get to see her past toxic relationship with the Circus King and how much that has damaged Rin and her feelings of self-worth. This was also a storyline that I found engaging, seeing what Rin escaped from and understanding the true danger of what's pursuing her.

But the last plot element involves time travel, and ironically stretched the believability of the book, though less from a plot point and more from a character point. Rin's gift is the ability to jump through space and time, and one of her fellow circus performers can see various timelines, including possible futures. Together, they nudge things on a small, personal scale for individual audience members at their performances, giving them the inspiration they need to take actions that will lead them to happier lives. But on one jaunt to the future, Rin accidentally stumbles across the coming of World War II and all the atrocities it contains.

On the one hand, such a revelation provides emotional drama against the backdrop of 1926, when many of the characters have just survived what was supposed to be the War to End All Wars. But the women who witness WWII then make multiple attempts to prevent WWII from happening, a naïve reaction that seemed at odds with women who have experienced the cruelty of the world and know that wars and evil don't start simply from one thing. This was where The First Bright Thing lost me a bit. I wanted to stay rooted in 1926 and get to know more about the circus and its performers (most of whom were thinly sketched); instead, a good deal of time is spent on attempts to figure out how to rewrite history on a grand scale. I just wasn't interested in that part of the book which unfortunately meant I enjoyed the overall story less than I think I would have otherwise.

CONCLUSION: The First Bright Thing has many wonderful things to say about loving yourself and loving others. Sadly, the tale's dedication to the time travel element just wasn't too my taste, though I hope others out there find meaning in its message about finding your own way to spread goodness in the world, one small act at a time.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Book review: The Haar by David Sodergren

The Haar by David Sodergren

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug.

Growing up, he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies. Not much has changed since then.

Since the publication of his first novel, The Forgotten Island, he has written and published a further five novels, from slashers to gialli to folk horror to weird westerns. He is currently working on several more novels, including a trilogy of violent revenge stories to be published in 2022. 

Publisher: Paperbacks and Pugs (May 20, 2022) Print length: 220 Formats: ebook, paperback, hardback

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Yellow Sky Revolt by Baptiste Pinson Wu (Reviewed by Lena)

 Book Review: Yellow Sky Revolt by Baptiste Pinson Wu

Yellow Sky Revolt by Baptiste Pinson Wu

Buy Yellow Sky Revolt here

Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Baptiste Pinson Wu is all about rich, authentic, and action-packed historical fiction. In his first series, the Three Kingdoms Chronicles, he uses his passion for ancient History and his experience living in Asia to bring you a retelling of China’s most famous civil war. When not writing, Baptiste creates content for two video channels, “Yunique France”, and “Back In Time Fiction”, the channel dedicated to the very best genre of literature.


An empire will shatter.

Dark clouds loom over the Han dynasty. The Yellow Turbans, simple folks turned rebels, threaten the power in place with their sheer numbers and burning anger. Among them, Liao Hua, a young peasant boy, becomes the symbol of the uprising’s vengeful spirit.

But what should have been a short revolt turns into a bloody war for survival. As untrained farmers face the full might of the empire, Liao Hua forges himself a will of iron and vows to do whatever it takes to become the greatest warrior of his time. However, when his path crosses that of the bearded warrior, he understands ambition won’t be enough to come out on top.

An age of chaos is beginning. Men will fall, warlords rise, and warriors clash, but only the strongest will leave their names to be praised for the centuries.

FORMAT/INFO: Yellow Sky Revolt is the first book in the Three Kingdoms Chronicles. It was published on October 18, 2022 and contains 283 pages.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Yellow Sky Revolt is an immersive historical fiction that shows the consequences of the Yellow Turbans uprising during the Han Dynasty in China. Told by who was at the time a young child, we see how his journey of no return, began. The now old man, Liao Hua, describes all that happened since he, his father and little sister left their farm to fight for what they thought was a better future. As we follow Liao in a journey through his time as a Yellow Turban, we meet extraordinary men who touched Liao's life, and so many that shaped it. All of these men that, for this young child, who saw his own father as a coward, were his chosen better examples of a men's figure to follow but most importantly, his very first teachers. Liao is a great character to follow. Throughout the book we see him overcome pretty nasty odds, face many challenges, lose and make friends and heroes. Liao is a very smart, cunning but especially resourceful character and because of this, he attracts the attention of powerful men, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

The character work is wonderful. Not only in our protagonist but also in the secondary characters. Every single one of the characters is so flawed and relatable. As the story is told in past tense, we are very aware that we are getting information that sometimes (most of the time) not even the protagonists had.

The writing is amazing. The battle sequences, spectacular. You can see the care the author put there to make them as realistic as possible. Realistic not only in the historical sense but also in the first hand experience of them.

This story seems to take the classic "history is always written by the victors" and "the hero's journey ", mix and turn them over their head as Liao is the last survivor of the losing side. And he's the narrator. Or at least that's how things are in book one.

CONCLUSION: Yellow Sky Revolt is a very compelling historical fiction that puts you at the forefront and center of the Yellow Turbans uprising in China during the Han Dynasty, and does not shy away from the consequences of it, showing them in the most realistic way possible.
Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Book review: Three Grams of Elsewhere by Andy Giesler

Three Grams of Elsewhere by Andy Giesler review 

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When Andy was ten, he wrote his first book.

Attack of the Dinosaurs was seventeen pages long, variously single- and double spaced, with rough cut cardboard backing and a masking tape and white yarn binding.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Evergreen Heir by A.K. Mulford (Reviewed by Shazzie)

Book Review: The Evergreen Heir by A. K. Milford

Buy The Evergreen Heir here

Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: A.K. Mulford is a bestselling fantasy author and former wildlife biologist who swapped rehabilitating monkeys for writing novels.

She/they are inspired to create diverse stories that transport readers to new realms, making them fall in love with fantasy for the first time, or, all over again.

She now lives in New Zealand with her husband and two young human primates, creating lovable fantasy characters and making ridiculous Tiktoks (@akmulfordauthor).

Get the Okrith Novellas FREE at

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A court of revelry. A bookish heir. An impending marriage. And a dark new power rising in the world...
If allowed, Neelo Emberspear would never leave the library. Reluctant to take the throne despite their mother's faltering health, the neurodivergent bookworm craves escape from their arranged marriage to charming fae warrior Talhan Catullus. But they know their duty can be put off no longer when their mother, the drug-addled queen, disastrously lights the castle on fire.

Fighting to save their mother's life and keep her on the throne, Neelo is astonished when bonding over the written word brings them closer than ever to their cavalier, soon-to-be husband. But the non-binary heir's growing affections may be cut short with witch uprisings threatening to topple the entire continent.

Can Neelo claim both love and dominion before their court is reduced to ash?

FORMAT/INFO: The Evergreen Heir is the fourth book in The Five Crowns of Okrith series. It will be published by Harper Voyager on June 13, 2023, in ebook, hardcover, and paperback formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: This is the fourth book in The Five Crowns of Okrith, a series of interconnected novels. I haven't read the previous entries, but I hear that the each of them are interconnected but can be read as standalones. That's certainly true for this one, and it contains a very endearing romance.

It features an extensive reader, Neelo Emberspear, who is introverted and has no interested in taking over as king of the Southern Court. Their mother has arranged a match with his charming childhood friend, Talhan Catullusconvinced that they will be a good pair to rule over the kingdom as she retires. But Neelo has no interest heading the court, and neither do they think they should marry Talhan. When Queen Emberspear burns down an entire wing of the castle in a drug-addled haze, they start mentally preparing to step up to rule, and at the same time, set out to remove the brew she abuses from the Southern court.

Perhaps the only benefit in Neelo one day becoming sovereign was that they could create a new library... if they could ever settle on just one design.
Throughout the book, Neelo showcases so many bookish traits that each of us can relate to. They'd rather have their nose buried in a book than socialise with people at a party, the first things they try to save when their mother sets the place on fire is the maximum amount of books they can get their hands on. The description of his library had me seriously consider eventually having something similar designed. Even though he lives in a palace and is the heir to the throne, he has one eternal book-related problem: there isn't enough space for his books. After all, why shouldn't the place have more libraries than ballrooms?

You balance the weight of sorrow with all of your light. You are the most brilliant star, the brightest  sun.
The romance between Neelo and Talhan is the biggest undertaking in this book. Neelo doesn't want to wed their childhood friend, and neither do they think the Southern Court is a good place for Talhan. It is clear from the first interaction between them in the book that there's a lot of tension between them, and the author skilfully paces the romance in a way that tension is built right until the breaking point, and peppers everything in between with extremely swoon-worthy dialogue. Somehow, neurodivergent Neelo, who is never at ease with people and cannot read social cues, is completely comfortable with Talhan, and there's a lot of their shared childhood experiences being revisited over their attempt to trace the supplier of the drugs polluting the minds of people in the Southern Court. What's even better than a book with bookish protagonist? One that has the central pair bonding over the written word! And this book completely delivers on that front.

Neelo's non-binary identity is well explored in this book, and what I loved is everyone's acceptance of it. They reminisce on how their mother never questioned them, when faced with the reality that it's not as easy for people in other parts of the world to be themselves, and it was nice to see this acknowledgement of how they weren't failed as a child. There were some descriptions of food that made me ravenous, as well as sufficient of those of the places they travelled to, to make me hungry to see more of this world.

Personally, I would've preferred more focus on their travels to find and protect their court from all manner of threats. I found the romance subplot overpowered the rest to a point where my only concern was to see if and how Neelo and Talhan would end up with each other. There were also mentions of events or characters worked into the text that I would love to have been explored more.

CONCLUSION: The Evergreen Heir is a fun, light read that kept me turning the pages with the tension built around the main characters, and touched upon enough of the setting to make me want to pick up the previous entries in The Five Crowns of Okrith. It stumbles a bit in exploring the premise, but A.K. Mulford's reader representation made this adult fantasy romance a satisfying read for me.
Thursday, June 1, 2023

Graphic Novel: Decorum by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston

Decorum by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston review

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman (born September 3, 1972, South Carolina) is an American comic book writer and artist. He is known for creating the Image Comics series The Nightly News, The Manhattan Projects and East of West, as well as working on Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four, FF and S.H.I.E.L.D. titles. In 2012, Hickman ended his run on the Fantastic Four titles to write Avengers and New Avengers, as part the "Marvel NOW!" relaunch. In 2013, Hickman wrote a six-part miniseries, Infinity, plus Avengers tie-ins for Marvel Comics. As of 2015, he is writing the crossover event Secret Wars.

Publisher: Image Comics (May 3, 2022) Page count: 408

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Book review: Miranda by John R. Little

Miranda by John R. Little

Book links: Publisher

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John R. Little was born in London, Canada, and started writing short stories at the age of twelve. The stories he wrote at the time are not memorable.

His first novel, The Memory Tree, was published by Nocturne Press in 2007. It was nominated for the Bram Stoker award for best first novel. 

Publisher: Bad Moon Press (January 1. 2008) Print length: 109 pages Formats: ebook, paperback

Monday, May 29, 2023

GUEST POST: Celebrating 5 Years of Ordshaw by Phil Williams


Five years ago today, Under Ordshaw was released and the world was exposed to a unique British city with the occasional magical/horrific twist. The series has now seen two story arcs completed with The Sunken City Trilogy and The Ikiri Duology; two new arcs started with The City Screams and Dyer Street Punk Witches, and a host of short stories. To celebrate Ordshaw’s anniversary, here’s a trip down memory lane – and as a gift of Under Ordshaw for free for the next few days (29th - 31st), available in all major eBook stores, everywhere.

What is Under Ordshaw?

It all started with poker player Pax Kuranes discovering a secret labyrinth under her otherwise normal (if rough) city. Also, she discovered some very unusual, but mostly horrible, monsters – and a community of rather offensive and violent diminutive fairies. All this in a city otherwise rooted in reality, with distinct, characterful boroughs and a deep, detailed history (inspired variously by some cities I’m most familiar with, such as London, Nottingham, Bristol and Luton (not a city, with spite)). The books mostly explore the seedier, darker side of Ordshaw, involving criminal gangs, shady government organisations and impoverished, rundown neighbourhoods, with some hints at the brighter, cheerier suburbs.

The Journey to the Story

Under Ordshaw was written and released over about 18 months, between 2017 and 2018 (alongside and overlapping my dystopian Estaliabooks). Blue Angel and The Violent Fae followed in 2019 to complete The Sunken City Trilogy (with The City Screams emerging somewhere in between). My plans for it emerged much earlier, though, while frequently riding the metro working in Prague, 2008 (a job that also inspired parts of Dyer Street Punk Witches).

The bare roots of the story came together in a screenplay around 2008. I spent two or three years revising it, taking it to producers and directors. In its earliest form, it resembled something of the final structure of Under Ordshaw, but followed the Barton family with no Pax in sight. At some point this warped, as screenplays do, into an animation involving talking penguins, and there were rumours at one point of Whoopi Goldberg coming on board. That all petered out, until some years later when I’d got a couple of self-published books under my belt, and had a burning desire to revive and combine a slew of older works.

A Shared Universe

I wrote Under Ordshaw with big plans in mind from the offset. There was to be an opening trilogy, but also a series of independent or loosely connected tales. Blue Angel hints at a character in The City Screams; The City Screams introduces a character from The Ikiri Duology; and Under Ordshaw itself references criminals discussed in Dyer Street Punk Witches.

My goal was to explore different tropes and story arcs framed in one particular Ordshaw lens: gritter action thrillers (in a vein of the emergent cinema of the 90s) with the propensity for wild fantasy twists and turns. There would be a witches saga, a haunted house tale, a Faustian story, secular crime stories and more. Then, there was also the opportunity for absolutely off-the-wall adventures, as Kept From Cages introduced.

Five Years in the Open

For all my lofty goals, Under Ordshaw got off to a fairly inauspicious start, and really owes the spark of life it found to Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO and the many wonderful contacts I’ve made following that. The book was a semi-finalist for Lynn’s Books in 2018 and Lynn kindly put me in touch with other bloggers who helped review and promote the series. It picked up momentum through the attention of a lot of great reviewers, which in turn has always encouraged me to keep hammering at my greater scheme. Never mind that sales have always been an uphill struggle, and Ordshaw doesn’t neatly fit the existing markets – the rewards are there in seeing readers’ responses to the series.

I have slowed down in recent years to split my focus over other projects, but little by little, Ordshaw has spread further into the world. We’re now up to seven novels in the series. Dyer Street has opened up a whole new venture, while Kept From Cages also reached the SPFBO semi-finals and went on to give Mark Lawrence himself a paper cut. And the books themselves are only improving as they go: I’ll forever love Under Ordshaw, but it is a particular starting point, with a certain roughness to it. Each entry that follows aims to expand and improve on that.

The Next Five Years

My plans for the future vary between the simple (add more books to the series) and elaborate (design Ordshaw animations and games; Ordshaw theme park?). What’s on the more immediate horizon are a sequel to The City Screams, with the long-overdue return of Pax and Letty, and the sequel to Dyer Street Punk Witches. There’s also an interactive story I’ve been itching to write forever. Then there will eventually be more from the Cutjaw Kids and Katiya and a couple of other standalone tales, and I’d like to go back to where this started and produce fresh screenplays from the books. Because the world needs more foul-mouthed fairies, criminal jazz musicians, weird monsters and punk witches, in every format.

For now, though, my most heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s come along for the ride, and everyone who’s yet to step into Ordshaw (don’t forget to grab your copy for free while you can!). I couldn’t have got anywhere near as far as I have without the support of a wonderful community of readers and writers, and I look forward to sharing more with you.

About The Author: Phil Williams is an author of contemporary fantasy and dystopian fiction, including the Ordshaw urban fantasy thrillers and the post-apocalyptic Estalia series. He also writes reference books to help foreign learners master the nuances of English, two of which are regular best-sellers on Kindle. As a long-term teacher and tutor of advanced English, he runs the popular website “English Lessons Brighton”.

Phil lives with his wife by the coast in Sussex, UK, and spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.

Interview: Kate Heartfield, author of The Embroidered Book

Author Interview: Kate Heartfield

kate heartfield author photo

Buy The Embroidered Book here
Friday, May 26, 2023

The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill by Rowenna Miller (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill by Rowenna Miller

The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill by Rowenna Miller

Buy The Fairy Bargains of Prospect Hill here


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