Smoke and Iron – Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway!

36595619I’m so excited to announce that I’m the third stop on the Smoke and Iron blog tour! If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m addicted to the Great Library series by Rachel Caine. So I couldn’t believe it when I got picked to be a part of the tour! If you haven’t read my review of Smoke and Iron yet, check it out here.

To celebrate the release, I’ve been given the great honor of showing you an excerpt of a chapter from Wolfe’s point of view! Fans of the series are probably sitting in shock right now – what? We’re not following Jess? Well, in book four we get to explore multiple points of view and it’s amazingly exciting. Check out the other stops on the blog tour to see other chapters from other beloved characters!

And at the end, check out the TWO giveaways for a chance to win a signed copy of Smoke and Iron… and the entire series as a whole!

smoke-text 1


WOLFE

9_wolfeIt was the smell, in the end, that was the worst of it. Not that the Great Library kept a filthy prison, but the stench of terror and de¬spair was harder to wash away than more organic stains. This facility used stones that had been quarried for similar purposes five thousand years ago, long enough that the walls had been well soaked in pain and horror, and exhaled it constantly.

And he knew the miasma of it so intimately, horribly well.

He could ignore the darkness, the bars, the discomfort. But not the smell. And so, after the bars had closed around him, Christopher Wolfe had gone a little mad. A day of shuddering, flinching, imagining that every noise was a torturer coming for him again. A night when he wouldn’t close his eyes, for fear the past would smother him.

The morning of the second day—which he calculated not by sunrise, which was invisible down here, but by the changing of the guard watch—he had grown more accustomed to the stench of the place, and the darkness and the confinement, or at least he’d mastered his dread of those things a bit. He reminded himself that if he was right, his job here was not to wallow in useless self- pity, but to do something more.

If he was right, of course. If this was some plan that Jess and his miserable twin had conjured up. If this was not simply betrayal, but betrayal to a purpose.

The question then was what he was expected to accomplish, locked up here. Morgan, he could understand. But if this was a plan, by rights one of them should have whispered at least a hint to him before it was too late.

Then why would it profit any scheme—and he sensed Dario San¬tiago’s Machiavellian hand behind it—to send him back to a hell he’d never have agreed to return to? Wolfe had worked hard to keep his trauma silent and secret from the younger members of their little band, but Jess, in particular, had been privy to details. The young man knew at least the edges of that particular knife, if not the terrible wounds it had left.

No way to solve this puzzle without information, he told himself, and concentrated on the one he could solve: the security of this prison.

Here in this passage, he saw more of the dull metallic gleam of moving sphinxes than he did human High Garda. An overdependence upon automation, he thought. The sphinxes could be gotten around. Jess had worked out how. Even Dario had managed it.

Human guards were more difficult, if less lethal. They adapted. The sphinxes at least operated upon a set of rigid orders.

But surely his feckless students hadn’t put him here just to escape; no point in that. No, there was a purpose behind it, just as there was behind putting Morgan back in the Iron Tower.

That was when he heard the murmurs from another cell. He rec¬ognized the words, and they were echoed from other locations—one farther to his right, and one almost directly to his left. Prisoners at morning prayers.

And suddenly, Wolfe knew precisely why he’d been placed here. It started with those prayers but would hardly end there.

He sat cross-legged on his narrow bunk and ran through where, precisely, these prisons were located. They’d not taken the precau¬tion this time of moving him to another city. He was in Alexandria, in the cells buried far beneath the Serapeum. Holding pens for those sentenced to death. Ignore that, Wolfe thought, as he felt a small crack run through his resolve. Just another problem to be solved.

He listened. Sat for the better part of an hour and simply listened, pinpointing coughs, shuffles, rustles, the distant sounds of moans and sobs. This place is full of dissidents. Normally, it would not be; the Li¬brary’s opponents ranged from Burners—who normally killed them¬selves rather than end up here—to smugglers, who were usually killed quickly.

This prison, he realized, had been packed with individuals the Archivist thought might go against him. We did this, he thought. Our small act of rebellion, rescuing Thomas from Rome, echoing across the entire Library system . . . it forced him to tighten his grip, eliminate those who could do him harm. He had no doubt that the individuals jailed near him were Library sworn . . . Scholars, librarians, High Garda soldiers.

The core of the Library, now seen as its enemies. Tyrants turned on their own, in the end; it was the only way to keep power.

The prayers ceased, and Wolfe stood up and went to the bars of his cell. They were heavy, cold iron, and he thought of a thousand ways to break them. All required things he didn’t currently possess, but that had never stopped him for long. “My friend next door,” he said. “Are you by any chance a relative of Khalila Seif?”

There was a moment of silence, and then a guarded reply. “Why do you ask?”

“Because I know her well,” Wolfe said. “And a more brilliant, clever student I’ve never taught. She’s that rare combination of a great mind and an even better heart.”

He heart the release of a breath. It sounded shaken. “That’s my sister,” the man said. “My younger sister. I’m Saleh. She’s well?” The young man—he was young, perhaps a few years older than Khalila—sounded shaken. “She’s not here?”

“Safe I can’t guarantee, but last I saw her, she was well, and far away from here.”

“I pray she stays far away, too.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “My apologies. I’ve given you my name and not asked yours.”

“Christopher Wolfe.”

“The rebel Scholar.” Saleh’s voice had turned brittle. “The one who brought all this on us.”

“Blame can wait. Survival first,” Wolfe said. He had no patience for fools, now or ever; the only thing he’d ever done to deserve the blame was to invent a machine the Library didn’t want. Everything, everything, followed from that. His imprisonment. His release, and erasure from Library records. His penance as lowly instructor. His determination to never allow the Archivist to destroy another bright mind. “Tell me who’s here with us.”

“My father, uncle, and older brother are farther down the row,” Saleh said. “Arrested on suspicion of treason against the Great Library. Which is nonsense, of course. We were arrested to force Khalila to come back.”

“Who else is here?”

“A Scholar Artifex, Marcus Johnson. Le Dinh, Scholar Medica. Captain Ahmed Khan, High Garda. Two or three Scholars from the Literature ranks, one a beloed author whose recent works are considered heretical. A host of librarians, for various crimes including concealment of original works, and Burner sympathies.” Saleh paused to think. “There’s one at the end of this corridor I don’t know. He never speaks. My father tried sign, but there was no response. But that only accounts for this one hallway.”

“How many other High Garda confined in here?”

“Six more. Ahmed’s the only one of significant rank, though.”

Wolfe had forgotten about the bars around him now, the chill in the stones, the evil smell of the place. He found a small chip of stone and used it to begin scratching out a list on the wall. “Start method¬ically,” he said. “Are you at the end of the hallway?”

“No.”

“Then tell me who is next to you.”

When he was done with Saleh, he engaged the woman to his right, Ariane, who’d been listening. She was High Garda and deliv¬ered her account in a crisp, calm voice that he quite liked. It re¬minded him for a terrifying second of Nic, and he had to pause and push that need away. Niccolo is safe, he told himself. And on his way. Your job is to be ready when he arrives.

The word spread slowly down the hall, and passed back to him, as he drew a complete map of the prison hall, with names attached. By the time the meager ration of lunch arrived, he’d memorized the placements and rubbed away the map.

“Eat it, don’t throw it,” advised the High Garda soldier who handed him the tray of food. Meat, bread, cheese, figs, a small por¬tion of sour beer and a larger one of water. “Throw it, you get noth¬ing else today or tomorrow. Doesn’t take long for people to learn the lesson.”

Wolfe glanced up at him and had a second of doubt. Did he know this man? Recognize him? It was possible, but he couldn’t be sure, and the soldier gave no indication at all of knowing him.
“I’ll throw it when I’m tired of the food,” he said.

That got him a bare thread of a smile, and the young man—he was young, nearly as young as Wolfe’s students—tapped fingers to his forehead in a mock salute. “That’s why you’re a Scholar,” he said. “You get right to the bottom of things.”

I do know him, Wolfe thought. He couldn’t place the boy in proper context; surely they wouldn’t put one of Santi’s people on duty here? Unless, of course, there was more going on in Alexandria than he’d previously suspected—eminently possible, considering the shocking number of Scholars and librarians imprisoned. Perhaps the strong¬hold of the Great Library was no longer holding quite as strongly. An interesting theory to chase.

Wolfe ate his food slowly, not to savor its taste—it had little—but because he was involved in assessing the residents of this prison for their potential value in any escape attempt. The Artifex Scholar would certainly be useful. The writers could certainly come up with distractions. He was most concerned about Khalila’s father, who suf¬fered from a delicate heart, which these conditions certainly hadn’t improved.

He was still deep in thought when he scraped the last of the wa¬tery meat from the bottom of the bowl.

There was a message written on it, barely visible now and disap¬pearing fast. It said, Lieutenant Zara sent me.

Wolfe paused, closed his eyes a moment, and took in a deep, slow breath. Brightwell had not, after all, abandoned him here without a word, without a plan. Santi’s lieutenant—not a woman he cared for a great deal, but competent nonetheless—had been alerted to his plight. And knowing Zara, she had plans.

Now he had a messenger, and possibly even an extra ally.

Wolfe used his thumb to scrub the rest of the message from the bowl and put the tray through the slot outside the bars after down¬ing the ale and most of the water, which he desperately needed.

When the young man came back to collect the dishes, Wolfe fi¬nally placed him in his proper context. A lieutenant, one who’d been in charge of the Blue Dogs in Santi’s squad. Troll. His nickname was Troll. A competent young man, and fearless, which would be an as¬set here. Wolfe nodded. Troll glanced down in the bowl, gave that thread-thin smile again, and left without a word.

Wolfe sat back on his bunk and began to methodically catalogue every item in this bare, depressing cell for its usefulness.

Because soon, he’d need every possible asset to find a way out of this.


Smoke and Iron blog tour (1)

Signed Set of The Great Library Giveaway

Signed Smoke and Iron Giveaway

Good luck! Massive thank you to Rachel Caine for not only creating such an amazing series, but for sharing the love with her fans.

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Smoke and Iron

The Great Library #4
Rachel Caine

It’s hard to believe it’s already time for the fourth book of the Great Library series! Last year I freaked out when we realized that the series was going to be five books instead of three, and that cliffhanger… gah! But now the wait is over, and we finally get to know what happens next to our favorite book loving rebels. And unlike the other books, Smoke and Iron introduces multiple perspectives so we can follow everyone as they are split around the world. Spoilers for the first three books from here on out!

Summary36595619

The opening moves of a deadly game have begun. Jess Brightwell has put himself in direct peril, with only his wits and skill to aid him in a game of cat and mouse with the Archivist Magister of the Great Library. With the world catching fire, and words printed on paper the spark that lights rebellion, it falls to smugglers, thieves, and scholars to save a library thousands of years in the making…if they can stay alive long enough to outwit their enemies.

Musings

Right from page one, we’re thrown back into the action. Jess is in Alexandria, under the guise of his brother Brendan; Khalila is on Anit’s ship, waiting for the sword to drop; Wolfe is in the prisons, alone and losing his mind; and Morgan is back in the tower, trapped, but ready to fight. The Archivist will stop at nothing to kill them: already he doesn’t trust Jess/Brendan, who must play the role perfectly or risk meeting a terrible death. But to save his friends, and the world, Jess will do anything. New alliances need to be forged. Weapons built. Friends betrayed.

Smoke and Iron is incredibly exciting. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, worrying about this crew, hoping they can make it out. At the same time, some of their plans were pretty… bad. That’s something I quite like about this series, as Jess is a YA hero who doesn’t have things miraculously work out for him every time. The stakes are real, and they’re high.

The writing is perfect in that it never impedes the plot. The world has been so strongly established and built now that Caine can take us on an adventure without having to stop and introduce us to new elements. Adding this to the already fast-paced story, I feel like I read this book in a blur: it feels shorter than the other books despite being just as long, if not longer. Everything fits together perfectly to bring us to the grand finale, the epic ending that leaves you breathless. How can I wait another year for book five?

While things went by so fast, a few plot points kinda fell to the side. Morgan’s storyline was fascinating, but I felt like there was quite a lot of deus-ex-machina on her end. She’s just so incredibly powerful. That, and her relationship with Jess seemed added a little like an afterthought? Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, or maybe I just missed them working together. But one thing’s for sure, the Iron tower needs to fall.

Thrilling and fast-paced, this book left me breathless. I cannot wait for the next one!

Expected publication: July 3rd 2018 by Berkley Books
I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher, Berkley Books, for providing me with this ARC!

Heroine’s Journey

Heroine Complex #3

by Sarah Kuhn

It’s so hard to believe this is the end of the series. I’m sitting in a puddle of my own, happy tears. What a fantastic finale! If you don’t yet know about this series,  it follows three Asian-American superheroines as they protect San Fransisco from a plague of mysterious demons (who tend to inhabit things such as cupcakes or porcelain unicorns) and has the best character growth you will ever read. If you want strong women in your books, I don’t think I’ve read anyone stronger or more complex than Evie, Adveda, and Bea.

Summary36606133

If there’s one thing Beatrice Tanaka never wanted to be, it’s normal. But somehow, her life has unfolded as a series of “should haves.” Her powers of emotional projection should have made her one of the most formidable superheroes of all time. And she should have been allowed to join her older sister Evie as a full-fledged protector of San Francisco, pulverizing the city’s plethora of demon threats.

But Evie and her superheroing partner, Aveda Jupiter, insist on seeing Bea as the impulsive, tempestuous teenager she used to be–even though she’s now a responsible adult. And that means Bea is currently living a thoroughly normal life. She works as a bookstore lackey, hangs out with best friends Sam Fujikawa and Leah Kim, and calms her workplace’s more difficult customers. Sure, she’s not technically supposed to be playing with people’s mental states. But given the mundanity of her existence, who can blame her?

When a mysterious being starts communicating with Bea, hinting at an evil that’s about to overtake the city, she seizes the opportunity, hoping to turn her “should haves” into the fabulous heroic life she’s always wanted. But gaining that life may mean sacrificing everything–and everyone–she holds dear…

Musings

One of the most remarkable things about Kuhn’s books is that they each have such a unique voice. While we return to San Fransico, to the world of puppy demons and superpowered heroes, we’re now following Bea’s perspective, and it’s completely different from that of her big sister Evie and super-heroine role model Aveda. Bea is spontaneous, stubborn, and rash: her excitement flits from one thing to another like a hummingbird. At only 22, she’s still a child in her sister’s eyes, though she’s trying to build her own life.

It’s been about 4 years since the last book, and Bea now works at It’s Lit, an adorable bookstore I would elect to live in if I ever got the chance. She dropped out of college, worries about her future, struggles with adulting and being taken seriously by her sister. Her dream is to join the superhero team – but Evie will hear nothing of it. When her powers start to change, and she begins to hear a voice in her head, convincing her that her mother might still be alive. Bea must embark on a journey of self-discovery, danger, and demons, in order to save her from the Otherworld.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t think I’ve read stronger female characters than in the Heroine Complex series. The girls are front and center to the action: they’re badass, know how to fight, but they also value their emotions. They have an incredible arc of growth through each novel and the series itself. Finally having the girls confront the loss of their mother tied the series together as well as giving them a strong emotional conflict. On top of all that, they’re Asian-Americans, and that fact is not brushed aside or passed over. They openly discuss what it’s like to be a heroine of color and the standard they’re held to. Bea has vividly dyed hair, and there’s a fantastic discussion surrounding that stereotype. She has more personality traits than just her hair: in fact, she’s full of personality.

Heroine’s Journey might be the best in the series. Granted, it’s a little less chaotic than the first book (no cupcake demons here!) and less laugh out loud, but the focus was on Bea and I loved it. I loved seeing the other beloved characters through her eyes. I loved her relationship with Sam (SAM! Mr. Beaucoup Fromage! My new Book Boyfriend, swoon). I loved seeing her grow.

All in all, I don’t want this series to end. I know the Heroic Trio trilogy is now closed, but I’m hoping to see my favorite girls again sometime soon. An outstanding end to a fantastic series.

UPDATE: I learned via twitter that this is definitely not the end to the heroic trio!!! We’re going to get more books!!!

Expected publication: July 3rd 2018 by DAW 

An inside look LitRPG + Interview with R.R. Virdi

The birth of a genre: that’s not something many people get to say they have witnessed, but if you’ve been reading indie fiction lately, you might have been a part of it. In the past few years, LitRPG has exploded: it has even seeped into mainstream publishing and YA novels. But what is this genre, and what makes it different from other books already out there?

In a nutshell, LitRPG follows the video game format. In general, we follow a person from our universe who plays, fully immersed, in a RPG. The characters face threats and challenges that resemble the world of gaming and form the backbone of the plot.  The struggles he faces, despite being virtual, are very real and affect his life. But we must never forget it is a game: at least some of the characters in a LitRPG novel realize this, and are ‘meta-aware’.

I sat down (virtually) with author R.R. Virdi to talk about this emerging genre. I’ve been a massive fan of his since book one: in fact, his novel Grave Beginnings might have been one of the first reviews I ever posted on this site. Having just released a LitRPG of his own, Goblin King, I thought it was a perfect time to talk about what it means to write gaming lit.

51hhy4crdpl-_ux250_R: You’re most known for your works of Urban Fantasy, and have been nominated for many awards in the genre. What made you decide to come to LitRPG?

RRV:  I’ve been a lifelong gamer from SNES to currently on a PC that I spent enough money on that it could’ve bought me a car. It seemed to make sense. I love storytelling, video-games, and this is a natural blend of them. Why not try my hand at a new genre, push my craft, grow, and broaden my backlist?

 

R: What makes LitRPG different from other genres? Why write it?

RRV: So far, the biggest differences are in the narration. A lot of the world-building parallels standard fantasy/sci fi settings. But the biggest standout is the video-game mechanics blended into the story: leveling up, stats, purchasing items/abilities, crafting them, display screens. It’s a mix of cyberpunk tech in some ways within (commonly, though not exclusively) fantasy backdrops. As to why write it? It’s different for each author I guess. For me, it’s a chance to flex new muscles creatively, indulge in a blend of passions for me, grow, and give people entertainment—suspense.

51aptniwwmlR: Tell us about your new novel, Goblin King, and your new series Monster Slayer Online. Where did your inspiration come from?

RRV: That came about from my love of the Monster Hunter and the Dragon’s Dogma franchise as well as my fondness for high-action combat RPGs. Plus, I love the mythology I can bring in.

R: Do you feel like your book fits the description of LitRPG, or does it spill over into other genres as well? Have you brought something new and exciting to the genre?

RRV: I believe mine does. It’s not traditional in the sense I deviated from the famous old tabletop and video game stat allocation systems where you acquire experience and give it to principle stats like strength or wisdom. I went for accumulation of points that can be used to by skills, abilities. The more you do, the more you learn to do. It’s less of progression by stats, more by versatility of what you can perform in any given situation.

R: Are there any other authors who inspired you while writing this book? Who do you look up to as the big names of LitRPG?

RRV: James Hunter of Viridian Gate Online was definitely one of them. Luke Chmilenko of Ascend Online is another.

R: What’s it like to write LitRPG versus your usual genres? What challenges arose? Did you find it more fulfilling, more complicated, more frustrating?

RRV: It’s difficult to remember that progression and stats need to be focused on because that’s a big draw for readers. I’m used to writing tight-knit thrillers in urban fantasy full of clues and plot twists. There’s more slice of life and slower pace moments where progression can permeate the story, but, I’ve seen it run amok in some novels in the genre and kill the narration for me. Keeping the craft balanced with genre expectations is what’s the proper challenge here.

R: You’ve mentioned on your blog already having started on the sequel. Can you tell us what we can expect? And how long do you plan on this series being?

RRV: Yep, book two, Beast Queen is in production at this moment. The series is slated for 6-8 books depending on how the next few go. I have the story for 8, but they could possibly be condensed if the story seems to grow larger per novel.

R: Tell us about the other projects you’re working on right now. Any other LitRPGs, or are you trying other genres too?

RRV: I have tons of ideas for other LitRPGs, but I have other commitments I need to tackle. My urban fantasy stuff, a space western for a publisher, and other Patreon projects. Too much to juggle haha.

R: Other than your own, what LitRPG books would you recommends to readers who are new to the genre and want to try it out?

RRV: Viridian Gate Online and Ascend Online.

R: And finally, if you could play the game Monster Slayer Online – would you?

RRV: Play it in my situation in my current life? Yes. Play it stuck in the world like Devrim? Oh-ho, no! Hahah. I like living too much.


To earn a second chance at life, Devrim Bains must die and enter a virtual world of monsters and mayhem. Let’s just hope one death is all it will take, because he can’t afford another.

When Devrim Bains reaches his twenty–first birthday, he’s finally punished for a crime that was never his fault–being born. In a world of strict population control, his life’s been decided for him, and it’s about to end. But a stroke of luck gives him opportunity to have his consciousness uploaded into a simulated-reality game world with the promise of paradise.

Except paradise always comes with a cost.

Monsters of legend and myths of old come to life in Lorian, needing to be slain or tamed for Devrim to have a shot at enjoying freedom. It’d be easy enough if one of the fiends hadn’t raised an army hellbent on conquering everything. The Goblin King has his sights set taking the lands of Lorian in his iron grasp, and Devrim Bains’ only chance is to quickly learn what it means to be a slayer.

To make sure his new lease on life isn’t cut painfully short, he’s going to have to embody the greatest rule in Monster Slayer Online:

Hunt or be hunted!

Goblin King is the first novel of the Monster Slayer Online LitRPG/Gamelit series. If you loved The 100, the Monster Hunter game franchise, and Dragon’s Dogma, you’ll enjoy this fast paced, hard-action monster-slaying novel.

Author’s note: Goblin King is a LitRPG/GameLit novel featuring game-like progression/skills, and appropriate text/pop-ups in narration. Please keep this in mind whilst reading.

Get yourself a copy now!

5 Simple Ways To Read More Books (And Hit That Reading Challenge)

As an avid bookworm as well as an all-around busy person, it’s near impossible to find time to sit down and read. Even so, it’s not even halfway through the year, and I’ve somehow (even I’m surprised) managed to read over fifty books so far in 2018. This is a massive step up from where I was three years ago, barely managing twenty or so a year!

Many of us make new years promises we can’t keep when it comes to books. Trying to hit a mystical number of ‘read’ ones so that we can impress ourselves, our friends, and feel better about how we spend our time. But reaching that goal can certainly feel like an uphill battle, especially now when some of us are entering June with none of that glorious progress made.

The biggest secret (which isn’t so secret) is that you have to make time for reading in order to actually make it through that tower of books that are threatening to tumble on you when you add another one to the reading list. I’ve assembled a short list of tips that helped me find more time to read, and I’m sure can help breeze through your pile of books.

woman on hammock reading book
Photo by Andres Chaparro on Pexels.com
  1. Social Media Blackout 

The biggest book distractor is that little brick in your pocket with access to the entire known universe. Your phone, your computer, your tablet… they’re so useful and yet so addictive!

Want more time to read? Turn the phone on silent for 30 minutes. Put it in a separate room.  Let it charge in quiet. Resist the urge/habit to check it for those 30 minutes: this is your time to enjoy your book.

For some, this is going to hurt. It’s going to feel like a punishment: anyone who’s grown up with the fear of having their phone taken away knows that feeling. But remind yourself this is your time for you. Not only will it give you more time to read, but you can focus this time on being more mindful as well.

Enjoy the freedom of being disconnected, and soon 30 minutes won’t feel like enough. See if you can extend this amount every day. And you don’t have to limit this to your phone or your computer: do you watch a lot of shows on Netflix or TV? Tell yourself to watch one episode less every day.

2. Figure out your reader type

What kind of bookworm are you? An early bird? Night owl?

When it comes to reading, everyone is different. Here I am stating the obvious again! Test out how you like reading at different times of the day to see how it feels. Personally, if I read for an hour right after waking up, I feel refreshed: but if I read before going to bed, no matter how good the book is, I can barely keep my eyes open.

Find out what time you get the most out of reading and stick to it. Some people like reading over their lunch breaks, riding the food-coma and using books to put them back in the ‘zone’ to work. Or you might like reading right after dinner, maybe taking a long bath.

Trust me: if you read at the wrong time of day, it’s going to feel like a chore and it’s going to take forever. And that’s exactly what we don’t want.

3. Squeezing in every second

I would spend my days reading if I could, but dangit, there are chores. There’s work. There’s food to be made. If you’re like me, you know that life gets in the way of a good book.

But it doesn’t have to. I’ll put food in the oven, and pick up a book, reading until it’s time to take it out. Reading while waiting on a washing machine to finish its job. Reading while on hold on the phone.

And if you have a long commute (or even a short one) books are your best friend. I read most of the Game of Thrones series while riding buses to work! And if you drive, consider audiobooks: many libraries allow you to borrow them, and it’s a great way to get your reading done while keeping your eyes on the road.

Reading is a great way to turn a chore into a minor inconvenience. Heck, it’s rather nice to take a break from your daily life and explore another world in between two loads of laundry.

fashion woman girl women
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

4. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Want to read more books? Read faster! Wow, it sounds really condescending when I say it like that. But it’s true: like any activity, you get better with practice. The more you read, the faster you read, and the more books you’ll consume. So how to read more books? Read more books!

if you want to speed up the process, there are many apps that can help you become a speed reader. The first one I ever used was Spreeder: you can customize the speed at which test flashes on the screen, and it teaches your mind to process more text, faster. It’s a great skill to learn and there are so many apps out there to help you.

The trick is to realize you don’t need that voice in your head reading the words to you aloud. Think about it: you started reading by sounding out sounds when you were a kid. Then you learned to read inside your head by imagining those sounds internally. Isn’t the natural next step to do without the sounds completely?

Once you learn how to do that, you suddenly read entire lines at once. You’ll have entire novels read in a single day! This is even better for textbooks, which are dense in information and not (usually) full of fun and joy.

5. Ditch the Doldrums

Now I’m going to tell you the exact opposite of what I said above: you can read more by reading less.

What I mean by this is that some books are not worth your time. Seriously. If you can’t make it through the first few chapters, then why force yourself to make it all the way through the book? Learn to accept that not every book needs to be finished, and move on.

Seriously. You’ll find more time for reading and enjoy it more if you read the books you want to read. Ditch dull books. Toss out the poorly edited. You don’t have to read anything.

But what if it’s a classic? So what, it’s not working for you. You gave it a good try, move on.

But what if everyone says it’s amazing? Not every book works for everyone. If they did, we’d all be the same person, and that would be dull as heck.

But what if I have an essay due on it? Exception: if you’re a student reading for an assignment, ignore this advice and push yourself through it. Use the other 4 tips. Some books do actually have to be read.

Reading is supposed to be a joy. Something you do for fun, to spend a good time hallucinating wildly while staring at dead trees. So don’t be afraid of abandoning a book just because you don’t like it: think of the time you’ll save for books you’re going to love!

What do you think? Do you have any advice to give? Leave them in the comments below!

man reading book beside woman reading book
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

The Perilous In-Between

The Chuzzlewit Chronicles #1

by Cortney Pearson

I have to admit: for all my love of science and invention, my addiction to Jules Verne and my need to take apart watches and play with the gears, I don’t read all that much Steampunk. So when I saw the blurb for The Perilous In-Between, I thought this might be a great chance to try a new genre. As a result? I had a great time, loved the book, and found a novel that will thrill both people new to the genre and long-time fans.

Summary

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Even the sky has secrets.

Victoria Digby’s life in Chuzzlewit is picturesque. Ideal. Born to a good family, she’s also the star pilot in the Aviatory’s Protection Program, one of five young ladies assigned to protect their town from the Kreak – a deadly mechanical creature residing in the nearby ocean.

Enter Graham Birkley, a peculiar boy claiming to be from a strange place Victoria has never heard of either. The more she gets to know Graham, the more she loses not only her heart, but also all senses of security about the life she thought she loved.

Graham knows secrets about people, things he couldn’t possibly know, including a secret about Victoria that she has yet to uncover. Mostly, Graham knows what the sky is hiding. And when he tells her the truth, getting rid of the Kreak is no longer Victoria’s biggest problem.

Getting out of her town is.

Fans of The Paper Magician and The Infernal Devices won’t want to miss this dazzling romp in a steampunk, fantastical Victorian world.

Musings

Victoria Digby has a problem: she’s having flashbacks to a life that isn’t hers. And at the worst possible time, no less: when she’s flying a plane, with a flamethrower, trying to defend her town from a deadly mechanical monster that rages on her small town every evening.

The premise itself was enough to get me hooked. The small town of Chuzzlewit has been suffering the attacks of the massive ‘Kreak’ for what seems to be forever, and there’s no end in sight. It’s all that they can do to keep it held back with flamethrowers and planes, but it still manages to kill innocent civilians from time to time – a heavy loss for the small town. From the first chapter, the reader is brought right into the heart of the action, wondering how and why this monster keeps attacking (and why people don’t just move a little more inland?)

The plot was fun and had quite a lot of surprises in store. The big twist early on is when a mysterious young man appears in town, and the revelation of where he’s from completely changes the direction you thought this book was going on. It’s fantastic, as at first I was having trouble getting into the author’s style, but a shift of perspective bring on a shift of vocabulary, and I was impressed how unique she made each character’s voice.

The characters are what drive this novel, even if the premise is fantastic in its own right. We don’t have a cheesy romance, we get multiple friendships that grow and twist and evolve in very natural ways (even in an unnatural world). I really enjoyed how every character interacted with the others, which made each of them more relatable and more human.

The worldbuilding, too, was rather brilliant. I loved the world of Chuzzlewit, the design of the Kreak, the fantastic planes and hovercars. It was a trip for my imagination, being in this semi-victorian setting, experiencing aviary battles and a great mystery.

The author kept bringing the twists, leaving you guessing and surprised. The climax was fantastic, a great adventure, that had my heart pounding through my chest.

All in all, a fun read. Really enjoyable, and I’m curious to see how the author continues the series!

Read it now!

Veznek + An Interview with Andrew Gates

The Color of Water and Sky #3
by Andrew Gates

Get ready, science fiction fans: The third book in the Color of Water and Sky series is out, and it’s more epic than ever! After the outstanding ending of Kholvaria, I didn’t think I could last this long not knowing what happens next. And yet, Veznek somehow manages to blast any expectation I had out of the water.  Now, fair warning: Veznek is a lot more violent (a LOT more violent) than the first two books. Quite a few scenes are unsettling, to say the least, so it’s not for everyone. But those who love hardcore sci-fi are are going to be blown away.

Summary51eccqhdeil

Kholvaria has been attacked. Its greatest city destroyed. A cloud of debris now covers the void once filled by Vigilant Behemoth. In the wake of this unexpected assault, the Chiefdom’s leadership is promptly evacuated to a fallback shelter beneath the surface. But the horrors of the Behemoth’s destruction cannot be forgotten. Here in the grimy confines beneath the Earth, Kho Veznek, second-in-command of the Chiefdom, will stop at nothing to claim vengeance on those responsible for his city’s destruction… even if that means going through his own people to do it. As tensions mount between the ranks of humans and Kholvari alike, the fate of the world comes to its ultimate tipping point. 

Musings

Definite spoilers from here on out if you haven’t read the first two books. Spoiler free for Veznek itself. 

It’s so exciting to finally be getting answers to the world Gates has created. Veznek answers everything you’ve been wondering since book one, introducing hints of new, formidable villains for the books to come. The revelations are incredible! From the very first page of the prologue, we discover new details on the zombie-like humans Iris and the team discovered in book 2, and it throws everything we thought we knew out the window.

About half the book is told from the perspective of Kholvari characters, one of them the titular Veznek himself. The current Under-Chieftain, second in the entire Kholvari empire, he won’t stop at anything to get what he wants – and thinks he deserves. The author once again proves his writing skill as he expertly weaves the perspectives, showing a fundamentally different mentality when it comes to these insect-like creatures’ way of life. It’s fascinating being so engrossed in such an alien culture, I almost wanted more of their perspective.

It feels so odd not following the original survivors as much as we used to! After losing Iris in the last book, every relationship has changed. Dan leads the team of teenagers through the wilderness, discovering the truth about the zombies as he struggles with the loss of his love and unborn child. Grey tries to survive in the ruins of the Pentagon with his family, living through the aftermath of the missile strike. The last humans – divided.

Meanwhile, below the surface, Sanja is suffering the consequences of her nuclear launch. Basically going mad, alone in her cell. Plotting, planning, remembering. We get to see the steps that made her into the ruthless psycho she is today, leading to ‘scenes of graphic sexual trauma and physical torture’ (to put it lightly). She’s a villain I love to hate, one of my favorites in literature.

And the ending – that ending! Gates has always left us with powerful finales, but this one takes the cake. It’s possibly the strongest and most terrifying one in the series so far. I just can’t wait to know what happens next!


Interview with Andrew Gates, Author of The Color of Water and Sky series

33992926_1765995060113642_4107841158665732096_nR: Veznek takes everything from the previous books and raises the stakes higher than ever before. Did you find it more difficult writing Veznek?

AG: Great question! The stakes are certainly higher in Veznek, but along with that comes the fact that all our characters are split up. Rather than a group of characters going on one adventure together, like we had in the last two books, each POV character is on their own and doing their separate thing. Because of these separate storylines, it heavily influenced the way I went about writing the story. Instead of writing all of the chapters in order, this time I wrote each character story in it’s entirety and then went back and put the chapters in their proper chronological positions. So instead of writing character A, B, C, B, A, D, A… I wrote it A, A, A, A, then B, B, B, B and reordered them later.

R: What would say has been your biggest challenge and achievement in writing Veznek? What have you learned about yourself as a writer through writing?

AG: There’s a chapter in this book – Chapter 14. It gets pretty dark. It’s definitely the darkest content I’ve ever written and I really wanted to make sure I handled that serious content appropriately. I consulted several people for help on it. In the end, I think that chapter turned out very well, but it took a lot of work to get right.

R: The ending left us on the edge of our seats. How long do we have to wait until book 4? And is there any hint you can give us about what we can expect?

AG: Hard to say when Book 4 will be out. I know some authors are great at setting hard dates, but I’m not one of those guys, at least not yet. There were a few months between the release of books 1 and 2 but nearly a year between 2 and 3, so who knows? Hopefully it won’t be too long. Over 1/4 is already written. As for what to expect, I’ll say the story is heavily influenced from sources like Star Trek Beyond and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series. You can form your own conclusions from there.

R: Any plans to write outside the Color of Water and Sky series? What’s new from author Andrew Gates?

AG: Yes! I’ve been playing with an idea in my head for a gladiator-style series that I’m tentatively calling Battle Planet. Think gladiators in space. Right now I’m just toying with the concept. I’m not sure if anything will ever come of it. But if you’re looking for non-Water and Sky content that’s already out, I have two stories in the Pew! Pew! Science fiction collections already released.

R: Now that you’ve gotten ‘settled’ into the author life, do you have a writing routine or process that you adhere to?

AG: The routine comes on and off. I hit a nice groove for awhile where I had a certain number of hours I devoted to writing, but lately I’ve fallen out of practice. For me, my other hobby is running so I usually have to choose which thing I want to do that day before work. Either I fully commit to running that morning, or fully commit to writing. There are some days when I half-commit to each, which I suppose is better than nothing, but I’m still figuring it out.

R: Do you have a favourite amongst all your characters, old or new?

AG: If we’re talking old characters, I still think one of my favourites is still Tracey Saljov. I’m also a big fan of Sanja Parnel and Kho Ikharus. Those are the most fun to write for me. 

R: Are there any authors or specific books you aspire to? Who inspires you?

AG: When it comes to writing, the popular thing to do is “Write to Market”. You hear about it all the time. Basically the philosophy is to take themes and genres and storytelling devices that are popular and that prove to sell well and write that. For example, if you follow Chris Fox’s writing blog at all, he’s big on writing to market. And I think for people who write to market, it’s easier for them to have authors or specific books to pull from. But for me, I have a different philosophy. Instead of looking at what sells in the genre and adhering to those themes and tropes, I try to write things that I want to read. That’s my only criteria. I say, “Do I want to read this?” and I go from there. So the result is, I pull a lot from tons of different genres and sub-genres and authors and concepts. My stuff doesn’t necessarily fit into clean boxes. There’s no established audience for Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Zombie Survival Giant-Crab-People Sea Stories, so there’s really no specific author or person to pull from in my case.

R: And finally, do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?

AG: My advice for new authors would be to play around with stuff and try new things. There’s no right or wrong answer to anything. The first book you write will take the longest, but once you get one out of the way, you’ll hit your groove. Everyone finds success differently.

Andrew Gates’s last book, Veznek, was just released on Amazon. The first book in the Color of Water and Skies series is Iris, which you can read here. And don’t forget to check out his website for exclusive content!

Are you a fan of Gates’s work? Let us know in the comments below!

The Navigator’s Touch

The Seafarer’s Kiss #2

Julia Ember 

Followers of this blog might remember me waxing poetic about the dazzling Seafarer’s Kiss (Review) last year when I first discovered it.  Exciting and brilliantly written, it somehow managed to combine The Littler Mermaid with Norse Mythology to create something completely new. So when the opportunity came from the author for me to read the latest installment, The Navigator’s Touch, I dropped everything to see what happens next!

Summary39078738

After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.

Musings

Unlike in the first book, The Navigator’s Touch follows Ragna’s perspective, as she vows revenge upon the men who raided her village and killed her family. It can be read either as a sequel or a companion novel, and you don’t need to read the first book to understand it, but I highly recommend you do, since The Seafarer’s Kiss is such an outstanding read. Not to mention you’ll understand Ersel’s background in much more detail.

Ragna is a Shield-Maiden, fierce and fiery, with vengeance on her mind. She lost her hand and gained a hook since we first met her, and her relationship with Ersel (the shapeshifting mermaid) has deepened. She has also got a ship and a reluctant crew: is that going to be enough to retake her village and save what’s left of her family?

I was instantly drawn into the world of Vikings and Norse myths. Ragna’s ever-shifting tattoos (the navigator’s touch which gives the book its name) and Loki’s manipulations remain a great mystical element that brings this world to life. We also learn more about Ragna’s mother, a horse breeder, and warrior training, which is so absolutely fascinating. The reader is fully immersed in the world, and the subtle imagery keeps you sucked in.

The Navigator’s Touch has a completely different tone from the first book. Ragna’s perspective is different from Ersel’s, as their two personalities are so different. It’s also a vengeance-driven story, so it’s violent. There’s a torture scene near the end of the book that is particularly vicious.  However, a great touch from the author and her publisher is the official “content warnings” in the book that lists, chapter by chapter, what the trigger warnings are for the book. Most of these are for violence, as this is a vengeance narrative. So if you need to look away, you can.

I found the pacing to lag at times, but it wasn’t an issue. I was so caught up in the characters I didn’t want to put the book down. However, I wish we could have seen more of Ersel! At times I felt like she was just an afterthought to Ragna, though I have a feeling that’s what the author wanted us to see. Ragna’s relationship(s) suffer under the weight of her plans for revenge. So although I want to complain (give us more mermaid awesomeness!) it’s part of a bigger arc which I can’t wait to see. And I hope we get more Ersel in book 3!

Speaking of book 3, The Navigator’s Touch isn’t even out until September, and I already NEED to know what happens next. The author sets up the ending so fantastically that I’m dying to read it. Holy cow, it can’t end like this!

All in all, if you liked Sky in the Deep (but wanted more action), and if you devoured The Seafarer’s Kiss, then this is the book for you! Action packed, with a fierce heroine and sublime myths, The Navigator’s Touch is a masterpiece of Viking fiction. Bring on book 3!

Expected publication: September 13th 2018
Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press

Preorder now!

 

 

 

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe

by Preston Norton

This might just be the most hopeful YA I’d read in a long, long time. What started as a ‘stereotypical’ high school story became everything but, when the school ‘jock’ has a near-death experience and claims God needs him and the school ‘loser’ Neanderthal to turn everything around. Every character started jumping from the page, so complex and fully realized that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all. A beautiful book to rekindle your hope in humanity!

Summary

36105772Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he’s so enormous-6’6″ and 250 pounds to be exact. He has no one at school and life in his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother’s suicide.

There’s no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there’s only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he’s in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS–Cliff feels like he’s part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn’t as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they’ve completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.

Musings

As I mentioned above, my first reaction when starting this read was to roll my eyes at all the High School clichés. You have the outcast who lives in a trailer park (with an abusive father), the popular jocks, the bullies, weird nerds, drug dealing teens…but then everything changes when Quarterback Aaron wakes up from his coma. He has seen the face of God – who looks remarkably like Morgan Freeman – and God has given him a list to change all this. And he specifically asked for Cliff’s help.

The author takes all these familiar YA elements and turns them upside down, making Cliff one of the most stand out characters I have ever read in contemporary YA. Still reeling from the suicide of his brother, with many questions he will never get the answer to, he joins Aaron in their mission to change the school. At times, the writing feels a lot like John Green’s, and can really pack an emotional punch; the characters are complex and have so much dimension you feel like you can really know them. It allows for the author to surprise you in so many ways.

It’s surprising in its (un)predictability.  As a reader of a LOT of YAs, it’s evident an author cannot escape the formulaic nature of high school contemporaries. The way the author deftly manages to pull twists out of this is astounding. At many times I found myself wowed by the depth of the characters: how Cliff remains so hopefully through everything, how Aaron canbe such a good person and friend, how Teagan… no spoilers, I’m just still in awe!

It’s honest, irreverent, sweet, funny, incredibly sad, and still hopeful. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe is an absolute must for fans of  YA Contemporary. It’s at times brutally honest, yet so hopeful and relatable that you can’t put it down. Give yourself a mental hug and read this book.

“You know what the most dystopian idea in the world is to me?” I asked. “The idea that our feelings don’t matter. We might as well be robots.”

Neanderthal

Ranger’s Oath

by Blake Arthur Peel
Arc of Radiance Book 1

I’ve been a slow reader of late, as exams are drawing to a close and revisions have stolen all my time. But I recently had the opportunity to pick up a new fantasy novel, so I thought, what the heck, let’s dive right into it. Ranger’s Oath is the first of a five-book series of a YA fantasy epic, and let me just start by saying, it’s a total blast.

Summary39892219

Owyn is a ranger’s apprentice. Zara is a mage’s ward. Both hold the fate of the world in their hands. 

The Arc of Radiance has stood for a thousand years, protecting what’s left of the world from an ancient evil. But when demons begin to break through the magical barrier, Owyn and Zara become involved in a war that has lasted millennia.

If they can convince their people that the threat is real, then perhaps they can survive. If not, then the Eleven Hells will be unleashed upon the world of men…

Musings

In the realm of Tarsynium, man lives beneath a massive dome of magic, which keeps demons and evil at bay. It has stood for thousands of years, stoked by the mages at the capital, unwavering. So when Owyn, an apprentice ranger out training with his master, Elias, stumbles upon what he thinks might be a demon, it throws everything he knows into chaos.

Zara is training to one day become a mage, and so far has shown prodigious talent. When the Arch-Magnus herself wishes for Zara to accompany her to visit the edge of the realm, she leaps at the opportunity to learn from the best and show her talent to the world’s most powerful mage.

Owyn and Zara are thrown together as their elders try to dissect the mysterious occurrences which have been plaguing the realm. But when two apprentices have a theory, who’s going to listen to them? They have to take matters into their own hands before it’s too late.

While the plot was a little slow to get into at first, it quickly picks up the pace as we explore this world through the eyes of Owyn and Zara. The two make quite a pair: forced to trust each other in order to uncover the truth, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to like it. Zara is strong-willed and a perfectionist, think Hermione born in the middle ages, while Owyn is searching to define himself and carve an identity outside of the shadow of his father. Both must learn to bend the rules in order to do what is right.

Though the story is mildly predictable, it’s nevertheless a fun and engaging read, mainly for the brilliant characters. They’re incredibly relatable and draw you right into the world. One thing the author writes particularly well is the threatening demonic hordes, which are incredibly creepy, and lead to some fantastic fight scenes. I’m excited to see where the series intends on going next!

Expected publication: June 1st 2018
Add it to your Goodreads shelf!