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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Book review: The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Samantha Mills is a Hugo, Locus, Sturgeon, and Nebula Award-winning author who has published a dozen short stories since 2018. Her fiction has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, and others. Mills has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as the Hugo and Astounding Awards. She has a Master's Degree in Information and Library Science, and she is a trained archivist focusing on helping local historical societies and research libraries. Mills lives in Southern California. The Wings Upon Her Back is her debut novel.

Publisher: Tachyon (Apr 23) Length: 336 pages Formats: Genre: Science Fantasy, Alternate History
Monday, April 22, 2024

Review: The Hemlock Queen by Hannah Whitten


Official Author Website
Buy The Hemlock Queen

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Hannah Whitten has been writing to amuse herself since she could hold a pen, and sometime in high school, figured out that what amused her might also amuse others. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, making music, or attempting to bake. She lives in an old farmhouse in Tennessee with her husband, children, two cats, a dog, and probably some ghosts.

FORMAT/INFO: The Hemlock Queen was published on April 9th, 2024 by Orbit Books. It is 464 pages long and told in first person from Lore's point of view. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The king is dead, long live the king. After surviving the machinations of his father and the Priest Exalted, Prince Bastian has ascended to the throne, with Lore and Gabriel at his side. But even as Bastian sets about reforming the court, Lore can't help but feel uneasy. She and Bastian defied prophecy, but at what cost? Was the promised end of the world a fiction, or is it taking its time arriving? With Bastian's demeanor changing more and more each day and a voice whispering in Lore's mind at night, Lore begins to get the sense that she and her friends may have unleashed more than they realized.

The Hemlock Queen is an aching fantasy full of longing for connection and a stubborn refusal of destiny. Lore, Bastian, and Gabriel all want to be with each other in some fashion or another, but ironically, the more circumstances push them together, the more they have to struggle to stay apart. In The Foxglove King, Lore's position as a blackmailed spy against Bastian kept her from fully trusting both him and Gabriel, even as she fell for both men. Now as Bastian ascends to the throne, she finds herself mistrusting both of them once more, even as Bastian lifts Lore to prominence in the court.

That sense of pining, of the heartbreak of being physically close to someone while still having to guard your heart against them, is where The Hemlock Queen thrives. Lore's slow realization of what is happening at court causes her to bear secrets all on her own, without anyone to confide in. She's isolated even in the heart of a group of people that she loves, looking for a way to fix something that might not be fixable - or at least, not in a way that she likes.

But this also leads to the book's weakness, which is that the characters spend way too much time with their heads in the sand, refusing to address the problem that is becoming more and more self-evident as the story goes on. It takes nearly 2/3 of the book before there is a collective acknowledgement of what is happening, leaving the middle of the book to drag as Lore refuses to truly engage with the crisis or to work with her allies to find a solution. It gave me the feeling of watching her go "La la la, I can't hear you" with hands clapped over her ears. Despite the tragedy of it all, I ended up being a bit frustrated watching Lore refuse to put a name to her fears.

CONCLUSION: Despite dragging its feet a bit, I was still swept away by The Hemlock Queen The tragedy of melodrama repeating across the centuries was engrossing, heighted by the sensations of isolation and paranoia. The Hemlock Queen is a wonderful follow-up to The Foxglove King, and I cannot wait for the finale.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Book review: The Prestige by Christopher Priest


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Priest was born in Cheshire, England. He began writing soon after leaving school and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1968.

He has published eleven novels, four short story collections and a number of other books, including critical works, biographies, novelizations and children’s non-fiction.

Publisher: St. Martin's (Oct. 11, 1996) Length: 368 pages Formats: audiobook, ebook, hardcover, paperback 

Awards: Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee (1996), James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction (1995), World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1996)

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Book review: Amiant Soul by Deborah Makarios (reviewed by Adam Weller)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Makarios was raised in the space between worlds and maintains an eccentric orbit.

She found her niche at the age of six when in short succession she read The B.F.G., her first Agatha Christie (Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?) and encountered her first P.G. Wodehouse (Something Fresh – saying “Heh! Mer!” is enough to make her laugh, decades later). Her personal motto is Tolle Et Lege – pick it up and read it – regardless of whether “it” is a Bible, a book or a jar of home-made marmalade.

She keeps her Luddite tendencies under sufficient control to allow for regular blog posts, but nothing can quash her fondness for old technologies. Her favourite phrases are “piston-filling fountain pen” and “annotated typescript.”

Her mission is to write books, plays and blog posts like cups of tea: warm, heartening and restorative. She believes in happy endings, the ultimate triumph of good over evil, and always having a clean handkerchief. It is, however, against her religious principles to believe in “normal.”

She lives among the largely unsuspecting populace of New Zealand with only two cats, and her brilliant, albeit marginally less eccentric, husband.

She can be found online at or Mastodon.

Publisher: Oi Makarioi (March 21, 2024) Length: 358 pages Formats: ebook

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

SPFBO 9 Finalist review: Master of The Void by Wend Raven


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wend is a somewhat average 30-something female with your typical atypical brain. She's had a lot of interests in her life–so many that she’d have to live a hundred lifetimes to fully experience them all. She's been a librarian, a yoga instructor, a video producer, a baker, a barista, an ER tech, a farmer, and a professional cleaner. 

Find Wend online: Webpage

Master of The Void links: AmazonGoodreads


Filled with loveable young characters, great magical school vibes, rich diverse cultures, exciting sea voyages, intriguing astrologically influenced magic, and a little dash of teenage angst, Master of the Void is coming-of-age fantasy done right!

Welcome to the Seven Lands, a world where magic is everything. At the passing of their thirteenth birth moment, kids are tested for their magical ability and sorted into one of the five groups of power. At least, that is how it is supposed to happen. The lives of the two young boys Derrius and Orimund are completely shattered when they receive the shocking results of their tests, setting them both off on similar yet terrifyingly different journeys of tumultuous self-discovery.

Right from the start, the high levels of intrigue and wonder really captured my imagination, simply forcing me to keep turning the pages. Not only was I captivated by the smooth introduction of the multifaceted magic system, but the setting of the Seven Lands also quickly felt very immersive to me and I really enjoyed exploring this epic world in all its glory from so many different perspectives.

Normally I prefer to follow a smaller cast of characters, but I actually found that the frequently rotating POVs gave this story a deliciously addictive ‘just one more chapter’ quality. It does admittedly take a while to get a good sense of how all the separate plot lines are going to connect, but trust me when I say that the eventual convergence is simply masterful and oh so satisfying.

I do have to admit that I ended up preferring certain character perspectives over others, and sometimes I found myself wondering if we really needed all the POVs we got. For me, Orimund’s storyline was easily the most captivating, especially once he embarked on his quest of self-discovery and came in contact with all kinds of intriguing people, cultures, and creatures inhabiting this world.

Both the breadth and depth of the world building really impressed me, and I loved that there were so many mysteries and conflicting ideologies organically woven into the narrative. There are plenty of exciting reveals and clever twists and turns, which is exactly what made Master of the Void such a wonderful page turner.

That said, I can’t sit here and pretend that the pacing didn’t feel a bit rocky to me in certain parts. Not only was the passage of time rather unclear to me at times, making it hard to gauge the believability of the levels of character- and relationship development, but I also thought the middle section was just quite slow in general.

Fortunately, everything did ramp up again after certain reunions happened, and I was thoroughly amused by all the little bits of teenage angst, familial banter, and romantic tension dripped into the narrative. Moreover, there’s a looming sense of dread present throughout the entire novel, which ends up exploding in a truly exhilarating final sequence that had me on the edge of my seat.

It is truly beyond me how Raven managed to weave all the threads of this sprawling and highly ambitious story together in such a satisfying way, but here we are. In a way, Master of the Void could almost be treated as a standalone, but then there’s that damned mystifying and intriguing epilogue that will virtually demand you come back for more.

All in all, I had a really fun time with this story, and I am honestly surprised by how easily I breezed to this beautiful chunker of a book. Equal parts comfortably familiar and excitingly unpredictable, Master of the Void will offer much to love for both fantasy veterans and complete newbies to the genre!


Cover Reveal with Author Q&A: TROLLGRAVE by Alex S. Bradshaw (by Mihir Wanchoo)



SPFBO 9 Finalist Interview: Wend Raven, the Author of Master of The Void

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wend is a somewhat average 30-something female with your typical atypical brain. She's had a lot of interests in her life–so many that she’d have to live a hundred lifetimes to fully experience them all. She's been a librarian, a yoga instructor, a video producer, a baker, a barista, an ER tech, a farmer, and a professional cleaner. 

Find Wend online: Webpage

Master of The Void links: AmazonGoodreads


Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a somewhat average 30-something female with your typical atypical brain. I’ve had a lot of interests in my life–so many that I’d have to live a hundred lifetimes to fully experience them all. I’ve been a librarian, a yoga instructor, a video producer, a baker, a barista, an ER tech, a farmer, and a professional cleaner. Those are just the jobs I’ve had. I won’t even get into my hobbies. There’s one interest, however, that has lasted my entire life. That’s writing. It’s part of what grounds me and makes me, me.

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

When I take off my Wend Raven cloak, you’ll find another writer under there. Though, you might find the writing I do for my day job a bit less exciting. I write for magazines, and I also create press releases and such for businesses.

Who are some of your favorite writers, and why is their work important to you?

As a child, I was deeply impacted by high fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. They wrote worlds that I could lose myself in time and time again. They wrote characters that came alive to me. I couldn’t bear to leave Frodo dying in a cave while I did something as meaningless as eating a bologna sandwich, so I’d heroically bring my books to the dinner table. As I got older, I came to love the intricate weaving of Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. When I read Kel Kade’s books and realized they had been self published, it lit a fire under me. She was a real person who was doing what I had dreamed of doing and had found success. It was after reading her series that I decided to dust off my notes for Master of the Void and give this self-publishing thing a try.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

The hope behind my writing style is that it will be accessible to anyone. When I committed to writing Master of the Void, my son was eight. I wanted to write something that he could digest and enjoy, but that would also be appealing to older audiences. I’ve had readers from eight to eighty tell me they loved Master of the Void, and that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something special.

What made you decide to self-publish Master of the Void as opposed to traditional publishing?

Master of the Void isn’t a trendy book. It’s also not a short book. I knew it would face a lot of obstacles in traditional publishing. I also wanted to retain the creative liberty that self-publishing affords. But more than anything else, it was a challenge that I wanted to undertake for the sake of my own growth as a person and as a writer.

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?

One of the biggest advantages, in my opinion, is the freedom to publish your book exactly as you envision it. The other, and this was something I only realized once I had already self-published, is the community of indie writers that exists. It’s been such an amazing experience to become a part of this group of hard-working creators who continuously lift one another up.

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on?

Free marketing. On my worst days of second-guessing social media posts or trying to wrap my head around the business side of self-publishing, I can often be heard saying, “I thought writers were allowed to be reclusive hermits who live in a cabin and do nothing but write! I didn’t sign up for all this other stuff.” I’m sure traditional authors have their own struggles, but marketing your self-published book can quickly become a full time job. For most of us, that is in addition to our existing full time jobs and other responsibilities, prioritizing friends and family, and trying to find time somewhere in there to continue to write. For me, it’s a constant state of trying to find balance.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

My husband and I followed previous competitions, and were really impressed by the way the community brought positive exposure to authors who might struggle to be seen in the quagmire of modern self-publishing. Along with wanting to be a part of something so exciting, I entered SPFBO with the hope that someone along the way who might never have picked up Master of the Void otherwise might read it and find something special.

What would you do if you won the SPFBO?

Well, I fell on the floor when I was announced as a finalist, so I’m a little bit concerned about what the shock of winning might do to me…

Jokes aside, I would keep writing! I think we all look for ways to find worth in what we do, and putting my book into SPFBO felt like bearing my soul to a bunch of strangers and hoping they found me worthy. That sounds a bit dramatic, but I think most authors would say that their writing is a piece of themselves that they bravely show to others, hoping that someone will find value in it. Making it this far in the competition has taught me to value my work and have a little faith in myself. I can keep writing because others want to keep reading.

How would you describe the plot of Master of the Void if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

Master of the Void is a book about choices. We aren’t slaves to our circumstances, and we can forge our own paths if we are willing to be brave.

What was your initial inspiration for the book? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

I hate to say this, because I don’t want to come across as criticizing Harry Potter (I love the series). But, during a reread of Harry Potter, I was a little bothered by the way the Slytherins were portrayed (as a Slytherin myself, this is understandable). As mere children, they’re sorted into a house that automatically makes them the bad guys. Where’s the element of choice? That got me thinking about how so often in literature, the villains are portrayed as someone who basically had the path of villainy laid out for them from the beginning. The heroes are the same way: miracles or destiny laying out a path of success for them or giving them special gifts or tools. My inspiration was to write a book where each character chooses their path for themselves.

Unfortunately, I started the story in 2018 and shelved it for several years. I picked it back up in 2022 with renewed vigor and having grown a bit as a writer, and was able to finish it to be published in 2023. I promise the sequel won’t take as long to be published!

The story did evolve a bit, but I believe it stayed true to its original purpose.

If you had to describe it in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Oh, that’s really hard. I guess I would say: relatable, endearing, timeless.

Is it part of the series or a standalone? If series, how many books have you planned for it?

Master of the Void is part one of a planned three-part series.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Master of The Void’s protagonists/antagonists?

Master of the Void has a pretty large cast, but the two main characters are Derrius Mendi and Orimund Laetus. Orimund is a child who has grown up with privilege and expectation. Derrius has only his hopes and dreams for the future. These two have a bit of a parallel journey, but respond to the obstacles and trials in their lives quite differently. The antagonist spends much of the story in the shadows, so I won’t say much and risk spoiling things for potential readers.

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

Master of the Void takes place in the Seven Lands, a world where every person has magic. Each person’s magical type is determined by a testing that takes place on their 13th birth moment. The magic system is an elemental-style magic linked to colors and the stars, and is what I like to call “scientifically plausible” magic with rules and costs.

Have you written Master of the Void with a particular audience in mind?

I went into this a bit earlier, but my ultimate dream was for Master of the Void to be a demographic-breaking book in the style of Tolkein or Lewis that could appeal to audiences of all ages. The main characters are in their teens, so Master of the Void often gets classified as YA. I think it fits well in that category, but shouldn’t necessarily be limited by it. More than an age-specific audience, I wrote Master of the Void for people who love magic, love characters, and love journeys–both in a physical sense and in a personal sense.

What was your proofreading/editing process?

The first thing I did when I finished each chapter was to read it aloud to my husband and son. Believe it or not, this is where I caught a lot of errors and inconsistencies, or realized a sentence just didn’t work well. My husband and son are particularly good with continuity, and their excitement to hear the chapters kept me motivated to write. I had several beta readers, some of whom I mention in my acknowledgements, who were also fantastic about helping me catch issues. I did proofread and edit the entire manuscript myself, which was a huge undertaking that I don’t necessarily suggest to most authors. Having a degree in writing, I was well suited for the task, but it was a daunting responsibility (and I have no one to blame but myself for anything that slipped through the cracks!).

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Master of The Void and the artist?

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted for the cover of Master of the Void from day one. The Void was a must, and I wanted a cover that would make your imagination start to turn. What is this strange hole? Who’s the character? Did they make the Void? Are they going to travel through it? I wanted people to ask questions when they saw the cover. I found Brian Flores’s work online, and loved it immediately. I reached out to him with my idea for the art, and he brought it to life flawlessly. He was really great to work with, and I hope Master of the Void finds success so that it will help to bring him recognition in the art world.

Which question about the book do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

I wish someone would ask me why I don’t have an audiobook. The honest answer is that I have this crazy dream of Nick Podehl narrating the series, and so I need a miracle or a whole slew of book sales to make that happen!

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2023/2024?

Book two: Creature of the Void is in progress, with a goal to complete the first draft by the end of November. If all goes well, the finished product will be released in the late spring of 2024.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

I want to thank every person who takes a chance on Master of the Void, and especially those who have done so and said kind things. There’s no such thing as a perfect book, or a book that’s for everyone, so it is extremely special to me when someone finds my book and loves it. I often say that I live off the comments of my readers, not the royalties from book sales. I could spend hours talking about my magic system or discussing who my readers ‘ship together and why (seriously, please message me all your thoughts on this. I love it so much). Thank you all for supporting indie authors like me. We’ll do our best to write worlds you can live in for years to come!
Monday, April 15, 2024

Book review: The Storm Beneath The World by Michael R. Fletcher

The Storm Beneath The World by Michael R. Fletcher review

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael R. Fletcher lives in the endless suburban sprawl north of Toronto. He dreams of trees and seeing the stars at night and being a ninja. He is an unrepentant whiskey-swilling reprobate of the tallest order and thinks grilled cheese sandwiches are a food group.

Publisher: Michael R. Fletcher (April 4, 2024) Length: 366 Formats: ebook, hardcover, paperback

Friday, April 12, 2024

Hugh Howey's SPSFC 3 has picked Six Finalists!


Thursday, April 11, 2024

Review: Can't Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne


OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Rebecca Thorne is an author of all things fantasy, sci-fi, and romantic. She is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, hails from sunny Arizona, and uses her ADHD as a superpower to write multiple books a year.

When she’s not writing (or avoiding writing), Rebecca can be found traveling the country as a flight attendant, hiking with her dogs, or basking in the sun like a lizard.


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