Notna + Interview with J.D. Cunegan

One of my favorite crime series is Bounty, the adventures crime-solving detective Jill Andersen who moonlights as a vigilante with cybernetic enhancements. So when the author announced he was writing a fantasy novel, I was incredibly excited. Notna is everything I wanted, and more. Action packed and exciting – it’s like Indiana Jones and Supernatural had a baby, only that baby decided the world should end.

Summary36384932

History’s most peaceful race created one of its deadliest weapons. 

Forged in the Living Flame by a long-extinct alien race, The Gem of Notna is the stuff of legends, on par with Pandora’s Box or the Holy Grail. But once archaeologist Dr. Jack Corbett stumbled upon the crystal deep in the Amazon, he triggered a whirlwind of events and found himself neck-deep in a centuries-old holy war. The Divine and the Underworld have been locked in a virtual stalemate for the past three hundred years, and the Gem of Notna could be the key to breaking it. 

With the gem in his possession, Jack discovers a world of monsters and gods, as well as an entirely different plane of existence that watches over our own. Old grudges resurface, fallen warriors are reborn in the most violent of ways, but at the end of the day, the fate of the world may well rest in Jack’s hands. 

Musings

What always gets you hooked on Cunegan’s writing (something I love about the Jill Andersen series) is how the seemingly effortless style pulls you right in. Reading the book is almost like watching a movie, with just the perfect amount of description to have you imagine intense battles right before your eyes. Unlike the Bounty series, however, the scale of this adventure is massive: we’re in the middle of a holy war, between different planes of existence, connecting different countries and even dimensions.

It’s massive. It’s epic. What’s not to love?

On top of a huge scale end of the world apocalypse scenario, we also have lovable characters you can’t help to root for, and a prologue that breaks your heart just two pages in. Jack and his girlfriend Cassandra are professors of Archeology, hired to retrieve a legendary gem from deep inside the Amazon rainforest – only to get thrown into a battle between good and evil that has lasted for millennia, culminating in an epic final showdown on earth and in hell itself. But these two loveable lovebirds are determined to save their world from destruction and will stop at nothing to protect us. Even if it means giving into a prophecy and embracing the role of Chosen One…

What’s refreshing is also having the romance portion of this adventure be between two people who have been very much in love for quite a long time. There’s no will they/won’t they, no awkward flirting: only two committed people supporting each other (quite literally) to the ends of the earth. It’s so fantastic to have a healthy relationship in an adventure novel like this!

The supporting cast is also quite amazing. Whether they’re displaced out of time, or common people embracing their role in this mess, or even those who have lived at war all their lives, they’re complex and steadfast.

And the villain(s) – what’s not to love about hating them? Vampires, demons from hell, Gods out of time, giant purple… wait, I won’t spoil it for you. How Cunegan has managed to merge so many myths and genres, I will never know. It’s masterful!

All in all, if you’re looking for fun, Notna is the book for you. Cunegan has entered the realm of fantasy with swords drawn, and you’re not soon to forget him! Brilliant and energetic, impossible to put down, treat yourself to a high stakes adventure with Notna.


And now – an interview with the author, J.D. Cunegan himself!

R: You mentioned before that Notna was an idea you’ve wanted to work on for years… where did the idea come from?

14050436JDC: It mostly came to me when my comic book tastes started expanding. When I first started reading them, I wasn’t just a “Marvel guy,” I was an X-Men guy. If it wasn’t X-Men, I didn’t read it. But once I got to high school, I started reading different comics from all sorts of companies, and two in particular – Spawn and Witchblade – stuck out to me. In reading those two, I started getting ideas for stories of my own to tell. Notna was one of those stories, even though a lot of what I created back then hasn’t survived over the years. But the bare bones of the story – the prophecy, the gem, the war – came to me once I started branching out with my reading.

The Jill Andersen books examine, at their core, what it means to be a hero – and Notna asks much the same question, but from an entirely different perspective. Whereas with Bounty, I use moral gray areas to examine heroism, Notna is more about the notion that even the most ordinary among us can achieve transcendent heroism.

R: Unlike your Bounty series, which is a crime thriller with sci-fi elements thrown in, Notna is a fantasy novel with magic and mythology. Did you find it easier or harder to write in this genre?

JDC: I thought it would be harder, but it actually wound up being easier. I wasn’t as beholden to reality as I sometimes am with the Jill Andersen novels, which gave me a lot more freedom and a lot more leeway in terms of what I could get away with. When I’m writing one of Jill’s books, I still have to keep the real world in mind occasionally; when I’m writing about monsters and gods and demons, the rules are a little more flexible.

R: Which character was your favorite in Notna? Were they also your favorite to write? Did you find any one of them particularly challenging to bring to life?

JDC: Cassandra wound up being my favorite, because there was a time when I didn’t know what to do with her. About midway through the first draft, she was little more than the romantic interest character – and I wanted her to be more than that, because I pride myself in not letting my books devolve into those common tropes. Nothing I came up with worked – one potential storyline had her dying at Demostricus’ hand, only to later return as a vampire, but I hated how that story smacked of “kill the love interest just to motivate the male lead.” I’m not sure exactly when the storyline I settled with first came to me, but once it did, I knew I had a winner and loved how it sort of turned the “Chosen One” trope on its head (and was, in an indirect way, a nice callback to Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

R: Did you feel any particular pressure when writing this novel? Either from your fans, or time, or anything else?

JDC: I did, actually. Part of it came from the fact that I was writing in a genre that was already stuffed to the gills with fantastic books – including some of my personal favorites. But I also felt pressure because as I started promoting the work, I saw it was generating the sort of excitement none of the Jill Andersen books had – so knowing there was already a fanbase for it, knowing I had to make sure I didn’t disappoint those people, added some pressure (and possibly some mild panic on launch day).

R: Coffee, or Tea?

JDC: Both. In the mornings, I have to have my cup of coffee. But at night, when the house is quiet and I’m hunched over my manuscript (especially this time of year), nothing soothes and helps me write quite like a warm mug of green tea. I bought myself a Keurig a couple years ago, and it’s probably one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

R: Planner or Pantster?

JDC: I’m a total pantser; for whatever reason, whenever I try to plan or outline, it sucks all the fun out of writing and I get blocked. Even with my current book, Betrayed (book five of the Jill Andersen series), I tried to detail each chapter to keep myself on track. Well, 10 chapters in, the story completely detoured on me. I think, as a writer, I enjoy it when my own characters and my own world surprise me – because if they surprise me, chances are they’ll surprise my readers.

R: Morning Person, or Night Owl?

JDC: I’m definitely a night owl, and I have been since I was in college. I’ve never quite shaken that habit, which is occasionally problematic now that I have a 9-to-5 job. I think I’m physically incapable of falling asleep before midnight, and most of my best writing happens after the sun goes down.

R: I was so excited to see your ‘Easter Egg’ reference to R.R. Virdi! How did that come to be?

JDC: One of the Facebook writing groups I’m in (I think it was NanOhana) had a challenge for NaNoWriMo 2016 (Notna was my project that year) daring us to include Virdi in our work somehow. Mystical bookshop owner with two otters as pets just felt like a great fit, and it was fun to write those two chapters. In an indirect way, Virdi’s work (particularly Dangerous Ways) helped inspire Notna, so it was also a hat tip of sorts to him.

R: So many mythologies are represented here… how did you decide on them? What kind of research did you do?

JDC: Religion, regardless of which one you choose, can create a wonderful backdrop to tell stories like this. And my own research into pagan traditions, while completely unrelated to writing, inevitably wound up inspiring my writing. Between my pagan sourcebooks and some of my old White Wolf tabletop roleplaying books, I had plenty of inspiration to turn to when it came to building the world these characters inhabit. My research wasn’t necessarily done to make sure I was accurate; I’m pretty up-front about the liberties I took in this book, but having that foundation there made playing with the mythology and the history a lot of fun.

R: And finally… will this be a standalone novel, or will we be returning to this universe sometime soon?

JDC: Notna is a standalone (mostly because I can’t imagine trying to juggle more than one series), but that doesn’t mean I’m done with the world or the characters I created there. You probably noticed the Bounty Easter Egg I placed in Notna, which establishes that both books take place in the same universe. So chances are, some of the characters I introduced in Notna will appear in future works (maybe even the Jill Andersen books).

Also, I’m working on an anthology of sorts, called Legend of the Gem, which will be a collection of short stories detailing the history of the Gem of Notna over the past couple thousand years. It’s very similar to the comic book series Tales of the Witchblade that was popular back in the 1990s, and just researching stuff for that book has been a lot of fun.

Catch J.D. Cunegan’s fantasy novel NOTNA here – a fantastic and thrilling adventure! 

And don’t forget to check out the newest novel in the Bounty series – BEHIND THE MASK  here – just out this week! 

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Cassidy

A Spin-Off novel in the Color of Water and Sky Series
By Andrew Gates

I’m so excited for the release of another Andrew Gates book! As you might have seen if you follow this blog, I’m pretty hooked on the Color of Water and Sky series. It’s some of the best science fiction I have ever read: it’s complex, it’s dramatic, and it’s got twists so unexpected it will make your head spin. Cassidy is no different: in fact, it changes everything. [Mild Spoilers if you haven’t read Iris and Kholvaria].

Summary51ranl61ubl

The world thinks them dead. But they are very much alive. After a deadly attack from an unknown enemy, Captain Sara Gessetti and Lieutenant Damien Saljov are separated from the Cassidy X20 experimental submarine and left to drown in the depths of the Atlantic. Cut off from society, from technology, even from each other, both pilots struggle to survive in this harsh new world, where danger lurks around every corner. But they are not alone. The surface holds many dangers, and some of them come from within…

From the pages of The Color of Water and Sky, this official spinoff story takes place in parallel to books 1-3 in the series.

Musings

What’s so thrilling about Cassidy is that we finally get to see what has really happened to the characters we ‘lost’ in the prologues. Sara and Damien were at the helm of the submarine that started this whole mess, way back in the very beginning of Iris. And now, not only have they survived, but they’ve been sucked into the narrative as well. We follow Sara, and she struggles to stay alive on a mysterious floating farm, and Damien, as he becomes the ambassador of an entire species. Both suffer and struggle to survive in this unforgiving world, not knowing if the other has made it or not.

It’s truly exciting to see the events of Iris, Kholvaria, and the soon to be published Veznek, from an outside point of view. Sara, seeing and not understanding the death and devastation we witnessed on the Atlantic Station. Damien, experiencing firsthand the fallout of the missile launch Parnel triggered at the very end of Kholvria. Having these new points of view completely changes how we experience both losses.

And then… what happens next? Cassidy answers questions and raises new ones as well, making it an essential companion to the main series. It makes me even more excited for the events of Veznek! I really can’t wait to see where the author is taking the series, because he proves time and time again that I really cannot predict it at all.

If you’re looking to see what happens to your favorite characters from Iris and Kholvaria, you’re just going to have to wait until Veznek. But if you’re dying to know how Sara and Damien survived, and what the world is like away from team Iris? This is the book for you. I expands the universe Gates has created and leaves you dying for more!

Read it now! – Amazon

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden

You know how some books can really put you under their spell? Make you unable to put them down, fully dragging you into the narrative, so deep you forget to come up for air? The Bear and the Nightingale has that kind of pure, raw magic to it. Before I was even halfway through this book, I knew I needed the hardcover.

Summary25489134

A young woman’s family is threatened by forces both real and fantastical in this debut novel inspired by Russian fairy tales.

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

Musings

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me love this book so much. I think, first of all, the storytelling quality it has to it. The style has that folktale feel to it, even though it’s much more complex than the kind of story you would be told around the fire on a cold winter’s night. The fact that it manages to tell tales while being a tale itself really made me enjoy it even more.

Maybe that’s why it was so engrossing. The way I could be pulled into the stories inside the story. The way it made me feel the snow and the cold, to wish there was a fire beside me. The way it shared Russian mythology with me, while turning these folk characters into ‘real’ people, with complex problems and motivations.

Vasya is a firecracker. She grows up playing in the woods, befriending the spirits there. She learns to speak with the horses, and they teach her to ride. She gives up her food and her own blood to those who protect her, and she protects in return. But this kind of action has her labeled as a witch, a wild child who will never be able to hold down a husband. She is very much a modern girl in this tale, even though she is the only one to believe the old stories as everyone else moves on. She bold, strong, and caring, and overall fiercely loyal, all without coming off as annoying. A brilliant character whom I loved.

Overlaying this on a landscape and a time period where the only options for a woman are matrimony or the convent, Vasya struggles to find her place. Well, I should say, other have a hard time placing Vasya: Vasya knows what she wants.

The major theme here at play seems to be the first of old tales versus new beliefs. As christianity is brought – or, I should say, enforced – into the small villages, the old beliefs are swept aside, and the spirits are fading. No wonder people think Vasya is a witch. The priest, Konstantin, sees he child as the enemy, someone trying to undo gods work, trying to tempt him. The fight of old versus new grows, as an old threat returns. Pretty bad timing for a priest.

A few minor things ticked me off, like how Vasya’s growth into a woman was handled – some of the comparisons were a little creepy, as well as the looks of men. That, and I’m not quite sure about the Nightingale in the title, since it only shows up towards the end. I assumed Vasya would be the nightingale: maybe it’s a metaphor that flew over my head (pun not intended.)

Another little detail – that’s mainly my own problem! – was that, to respect the Russian culture and spelling, a lot of the character has multiple names. Their first names, nicknames, nicknames built off nicknames… a little confusing as there were so many. Again, my own issue.

All in all, this is a fantastic, beautiful book. It reminds me of Uprooted, by Naomi Novik,  which I also adored this year, but with some of the themes Neil Gaiman loves to write. So if you love either of them, you’re going to devour the Bear and the Nightingale. Out January 10th.

 

Iron Cast

by Destiny Soria
Reviewed by SA

One look. That’s all it took. One look at the cover, and it was love at first sight. I picked up this book and devoured it excitedly. Oh, my gosh. It’s so good. Not only is it diverse, but it has an iron tight female friendship, beautiful prose, and it combines all the best genres. It’s at the same time YA, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy, with mad scientists, secret clubs, gangs, and superpowers. All of that on the eve of prohibition. What’s not to love?

Summary28818313

It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths, able to manipulate people with their dangerous abilities. Ada charms your emotions to her will through her violin. Corinne can weave illusions with poetry. Together, they work for the Cast Iron, a nightclub which secretly holds illegal hemopath performances… and is the front for Jonny Dervish to run his hemopath cons from. After one con gets too big and goes bad, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’ hemopaths, and it’s up to Corinne to get her out.

I feel like the summary doesn’t do this book justice, because that’s where we actually start the novel: with a daring escape in the dead of night. Ada and Corinne make it back to the Cast Iron, their safe haven, only to learn that everything is now falling apart. More heists going wrong, fears of a mole, and now Jonny’s missing  and Ada’s still a wanted prisoner. And, to make matters worse, Corinne’s rich brother is marrying the daughter of the man who owns the hemopath institution she just broke Ada out of.

I absolutely loves Ada and Corinne. Their friendship was #ladygoals. They’re so close, able to tell each other everything and push each other to be better. They love each other in a way that makes you love them even more. And it’s not just them: all the secondary characters, the hemopaths and bodyguards working in the Cast Iron, all seem to form their own little family. They support each other through thick and thin, and it’s cool to see these complex characters working together.

Not only that, but the description of their abilities in use is just… lyrical. It’s beautiful. The author weaves together beautiful prose to tell just how the two women grip their audience. And they grip us, too, in the process. At the same time, we feel their fear of Iron. Hemopaths basically are allergic to it, repulsed by it: it burns their skin, and just being near it can make them feel ill. As a reader, we get both ends of hemopathy: the beautiful illusions and the awful pain.

The pacing of the novel is a little off. It starts out strong, with the break out, but then is a lot more easy going for a while. There’s a lot of mystery going on: there’s this feeling of cold, as everyone is trying to keep on running their own lives as things go south around them. But I almost, almost put this book down halfway through. I’m so glad I stuck through, because that’s when things really hit the fan and it’s gets crazy fast and exciting. So if you’re thinking of putting this book down, don’t! It has one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read!

You’re definitely going to want to read this book, when it comes out on October 11th. Thank you NetGalley and Amulet books for letting me read this amazing novel.

Looking for some Urban Fantasy? My novel Inside Out is available for free – no signup or anything required – for a limited time only. If you like the X-files, you’re going to like this! While supplies last. 

Dream Stalker

by Amy Hopkins
Reviewed by SA

It’s Saturday! Which means I’m going to share with you a fantastic self published book and give you your next favorite binge read. This week, we all need a little more magic in out lives, so I’m going to tell you about a series I adore: Talented, by Amy Hopkins. The first installment, Dream Stalker, perfectly blends a murder mystery with a divided magical world.

Summarydreamstalkernewblack

All Emma wanted was to sell her enchanted teas in peace; instead, she’s caught up in the chase for a killer who’s stalking the streets of London. He’s targeting half-bloods, people with limited magical ability. People just like Emma. The police are baffled by the long string of deaths, but they’re not willing to put in the legwork to make an arrest. After all, magic users can take care of themselves, right? Except, those with real power don’t give a damn about half-bloods. So, when Emma wakes from a strange dream that nearly gets her killed in the waking world, she knows she has to deal with it herself. With only her boggart shop-assistant and the two strange men who have offered to help, can she thwart the killer and make the city safe again?

In universe of Talented is just like ours, only with one small change: some people have magic. Oh, and there are the Fae. There are those with magic – the eponymous Talented – those without – mere mortals like us – and finally, the half-bloods, or half talents. With one magical parent, they have enough magic in their system to be considered above the mortals, but are shunned by the elitist Talented society. Caught in the middle, it’s hard to make do.

Emma is a fantastic character who captures this divide in society. She integrates herself in the community by fashioning magical teas, which she sells to mortals, fae, and talented alike. She’s got her trusty dog by her side, as well as Gibble, a boggart indentured to her family. So when she’s almost murdered in her sleep, she takes it upon herself to find who’s been trying to kill half-bloods before it’s too late.

What I love about her is just how darn relatable she is. At moments I felt like I was looking in a mirror. She’s kind, but a bit of a badass when she has to be brave. She loves her dog more than anything and is ruthless when it comes to finding the truth. Even when the secrets she needs to uncover have something to do with her…

The mystery is really fascinating and gripping. You really get pulled along for a wild ride, spanning across the city and another universe as well! Like a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, you can put the pieces together yourself if you’re paying close attention, and yet the ending and the reveal still manage to surprise you.

Hopkins has really managed to create a universe which feels real and plausible while at the same time capturing that little sense of wonder that made Harry Potter so much fun to read as a kid (and even now). A world in which Magic and Mortals walk side by side, but maybe not always with such enthusiasm. A world in which people born into both belong in none.

This is a strong start to what I feel is going to be a fantastic series. A lot of questions are answered but many are not, relationships are formed and may grow stronger, secrets are revealed that makes you wonder what’s going to happen next.

All books are available online, starting with the first one, right here!

 

Spontaneous

by Aaron Starmer
Reviewed by SA

When I started this book, I was laughing every five seconds. When I finished it, I was in tears. There’s just so much to say about Spontaneous, so much that makes me want to shove it at friends and tell them to read it now. It’s a brilliant, touching book which I can’t believe affected me so much.

Summary

23587115Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

When seniors at Covington high start spontaneously combusting – more like, spontaneously exploding – life starts falling apart. No one knows what’s setting people off, what’s safe and who’s next. It’s a little hard to keep things together when you could be a pile of goop one second later.

Mara takes it all in stride. A witty, intelligent young woman, her perspective on the disaster is incredibly refreshing. She’s not a moper, instead she tells the story as it is, infusing the horror with funny moments and sharing a memory worth having of the person who just departed. She’s incredibly relatable, one of the most human YA women I have ever read, and I found myself reading thoughts of hers and wondering if the author somehow saw into my brain. So many of my fears and anxieties ring true through Mara’s point of view.

She’s not perfect, she’s incredibly human, and I think that’s why she’s so much fun to read. She’s also snarky and crass. She swears a lot and lives a very healthy sex life. She deals with this dark subject in her own way, mourns without tears, and suddenly you’re wondering why it’s so funny. How can it be so entertaining?

You begin to really care about the people in the novel. Mara and Tess have such a fantastic friendship, and I’m a sucker for well written girl friendships. Dylan, the romantic interest, is such a fascinating and complex character. Their relationship is far from perfect, and I think we need more imperfect couples in our lit.

But here’s the thing: two thirds of the way into the book, there’s a twist that made me actually scream out in anger. And then everything just falls apart. I was going to talk about great adults for the seniors to look up to and trust, but no, they’re all assholes. I was going to talk about growth, but growing up also means growing apart. The author is constantly reminding us that life can change spontaneously, and that it doesn’t care at all.

Spoiler alert: you won’t get any catharsis from this novel.

The blurb says: Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye. I Think it’s also the heartache of not being able to say goodbye. Of not being able to do what you think you’re supposed to. One of the hardest parts of growing up is learned that you can do everything right and still fail: that life owes you nothing. This book is a powerful reminded of that.

Spontaneous is the most human novel I’ve read in a long time. A book where I have so many questions left unanswered, and I’m going to have to live with that. A book that broke my heart and has me constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of the unexpected happening and taking everything away.

It’s also a book with characters that don’t fall into single categories. A book where everything is unpredictable. A book where you’re laughing out loud at moments that are grim and morose because Mara’s reaction scares even herself.

Yes, I absolutely loved it.

Thank you Penguin Teen for sending me a copy to review. You’re the best.

IRIS – Interview with ANDREW GATES

by Andrew Gates
Reviewed by SA

I have a special treat for you today! There’s a new book about to hit the shelves, and I just can’t wait to tell you about it. Iris is the science fiction novel you’ve been waiting for without knowing it: with the scope of Game of Thrones, and the feel of Asimov, it’s destined to become your new SciFi addiction.

irisebookSummary

The Surface was just ancient history…

Year 200, Atlantic Federation Calendar. It has been two full centuries since the surface of the Earth was destroyed and humanity retreated to the bottom of the ocean. No one is old enough to remember the world outside the station they now call home. Life is peaceful in this artificial world. There is no war. Crime is low. But questions are raised once an experimental submarine is attacked during a routine test mission. The enemy is unknown. There are no leads. For the first time in generations, a long isolated city will have to confront what may lurk above the surface.

This multiple POV novel is the perfect simmering science fiction thriller. Its character driven plot is brilliantly executed: the novel reads differently depending on who you follow, and who you want to believe. For some, the Atlantic station is corrupt and full of government cover-ups. For others, it’s just home. Good and evil depends entirely on who’s talking.

The worldbuilding here is remarkable. You begin to really imagine what life is like in this secluded base on the bottom of the ocean floor. At moments, it was claustrophobic, while at others it is a world of endless possibilities. The author fantastically shows us different lives down in the station, and through them we live this new, odd life.

But what if no-one knew the truth? A mystery simmers below the surface. What has attacked the sub? Is the Atlantic Federation good or corrupt? And where are the other stations that are supposedly down here with them?

I have to say, I love a good mystery. This novel is a killer thriller and the ending had me begging for more. So many questions left unanswered!

Luckily, some questions we might get answers for: I had the great privilege of interviewing author Andrew Gates about his upcoming release, and his plans for the sequels.

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An Interview with Andrew Gates

Readcommendations: Let’s start at the very beginning. Your novel is incredibly unique, combining some great SciFi concepts with exciting new ideas. Where did the concept for IRIS come from?

author-photoAndrew Gates: Great question! I haven’t actually gone into this yet with anyone.

The idea originally came to me when I was in middle school, if you can believe it. Back then the story was called Atlantis. A lot of it was the same. The main character was named Iris. She was a teacher. She lived in an underwater city in the future. The story only got to be like 8 pages or so. It didn’t really go that far. For years the idea was dormant.

In my senior year of college, I learned an interesting piece of trivia. Apparently, in ancient cultures all across the world, no matter where you are, the last color to get a word was always blue. You could be in ancient Egypt, Aztec, China, wherever. The last color to get a word was always blue. It’s the color that appears the least in nature, and even though it’s in the sky, ancient people would see the sky as nothing. The sky was like the absence of color. In fact, there are studies where they’ve found these isolated tribes in modern day and they’ve shown these tribes the color blue and asked them what it looks like and these isolated people don’t see it as anything different than green. But once these isolated people are told it’s blue, suddenly they can see it as its own color. So essentially, researchers have discovered that cultures can’t seem to identify colors until they have a word for it. I thought this was really interesting.

So I took this piece of trivia and I thought, what if in the future, our technology might move forward, but our general understanding of the world goes backwards? What better way to illustrate that than an advanced underwater city where nobody can identify the color blue? So then I started remembering this old story from middle school that never got off the ground and started to revisit this concept, only with the focus shifting. The color blue isn’t mentioned throughout the book, save for the final chapter. That’s why the series title is The Color of Water and Sky. It’s really all about the color blue, but not overtly so.

R: It’s such a dense novel, with so much going on! Can you describe the book in one sentence?

AG: Oh boy. It’s hard to do that without providing any spoilers. There’s an underwater city in the future and the people who live there think they’re safe, but now they may not be.

R: Coffee, or tea?

AG: Beer.

R: There seems to be an eternal struggle between “Traditional” publishing and then self publishing. How did you decide to self publish?

AG: I did a lot of research on that. My biggest hesitancy with trying to find an agent and publicist was that I would have to make a lot of edits. From what I could tell, it’s easier to keep the story the way I want it if I self-publish. I didn’t want a whole lot of people telling me how to change my story. I wanted it to be mine.

R: With a lot of different perspectives in the novel, there’s bound to be some favorites and least favorites. Who’s your favorite character from Iris, and why?

AG: Either Tracey or Sanja. Tracey is a paranoid anarchist. He’s a drunkard, blue collar guy. Sanja, on the other hand, prides herself on being part of the elite, where she feels in control. And interestingly, even though they’re enemies, they’re so similar. I think that’s the coolest thing about writing these characters. They’re so similar yet they think they’re so different. Anytime someone compares one of them to the other, they get so offended. Tracey is obsessed with anarchy and rebellion and Sanja is obsessed with totalitarianism and order. On paper, they might not seem the same, but they really are. They’re both skeptical of things that they shouldn’t be. They’re both worried about everything. And they can’t stand not being in control of the situation.

R: They were my favorite too. They’re incredibly complex characters, and the chifts in perspective make them such complicated people. But I’m getting off topic! What are your plans for the series?

AG: For a long time, I did not have an answer for this question. It’s only within the last few days actually that I have an answer. Everything I’m about to say is tentative and might completely change, but right now here is my plan: This part is kind of spoilery, so look away and skip to the next question if that’s your thing.

My original plan, back when I was just starting to write Iris, was to have four books. Iris was going to be the series name, not the book name. I was going to do four names that are single-syllable words starting with S. It would have been Iris: Sea, Stone, Sky and Space. But obviously that’s not what I decided to do. I abandoned that idea pretty quickly. I didn’t know how many books it was going to be after that idea, but within the last few days, I think I’ve settled back on four again. The tentative names are Iris, Kholvaria, Veznek and Hive. The scope of the story gets bigger and bigger with each book. It starts off very small and tight. The whole first book is in this small contained city. But as the series goes on, it’s going to get more and more expansive until we have an enormous world to play in.

R: That ending though… The second I put it down, I wanted more. So tell us, what can we expect from the sequel?

AG: You can expect the sequel to be a bit shorter and faster paced. Most of the questions you’re left with at the end of the first book are answered pretty quickly in the second book. Those that aren’t answered early on will be answered in book 3. The scope of the story opens up a lot and we see that there’s a pretty big conflict happening globally that the Atlantic Federation has been wholly unaware of. You can expect a lot of characters to return, even some you may have believed dead. We will also get a brand new perspective character, who I’m guessing might become my new favorite.

R: I hope we won’t have to wait long for the next book?

AG: It took me about two years to write Iris and another several months to do editing, promotional stuff, proofs, art and so forth. I expect the next book will take considerably less time.

Are you excited yet? Check out the official page for ore information, as well as the release date. If you’re a fan of hardcore science fiction, then you’re going to love The Color of Water and Sky!

Angel in Training

by C.L. Coffey
Reviewed by SA

Oops, I’m late for self published Saturday! Life has been hectic around here, but never too much for a good book. And this week, I’m proud to present a fantastic debut novel by Indie author C.L. Coffey: Angel in Training, the first of the Lousiangel series. If you like angels, badass heroines, dashingly handsome men and clever twists on classic tropes, you’re going to want this book.

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After a night out turns fatal, a misunderstanding with the Archangel Michael presents Angel with a chance at Eternal Life: the opportunity to earn her wings and one day become an archangel herself.

Angel is given the task of protecting her charge, trainee detective, Joshua Walsh. There’s no denying the attraction between Angel and Joshua, only Michael has pretty strict rules: no drinking, no drugs, and certainly no relationships with humans. Thankfully, she’s got other things to deal with, like trying to convince Joshua New Orleans has a serial killer who is preying on other angel potentials like herself.

Angel must quickly learn that when keeping someone safe, doing the right thing is not always the easiest, especially when you’ve got an archangel looking over your shoulder.

It’s not easy waking up to discover you’re dead. Not only that, but you’re now an angel – well, an angel potential – names Angel, which makes things a little complicated. Top it off with a celestial war you’ve been thrown into, and, oh, did I forget to mention it’s no sex or alcohol? Angel seems to have gotten the short end of the straw, and she’s not too happy about it.

That’s probably what makes her such a great character. She doesn’t fall into Mary Sue-vil and doesn’t suffer from special snowflake-itis, she’s just a real girl facing a really weird situation and reacting probably just like you or I would. She slowly grains her powers and grows into them, which adds to the plot while only making us like her more.

However, the stand out I think were the background characters. Cupid is hilarious. He’s funny, he’s sassy at times, not afraid to speak his mind while also being a great friend to a recently angelified Angel. Plus, Joshua, the cop who’s now under Angel’s watch, is a man full of mystery and questions. He humanizes the novel and makes a perfect foil to Angel.

Plus, the location was fascinating: we’re in New Orleans, which is still recovering from Katrina, and the writing makes you feel like you’re actually there. You get to go bar hopping, you get to learn about the local culture and cuisine, and the place itself is such an interesting place for the plot. It’s perfect.

For fans of romance, there’s a hint of some relationships growing in Angel’s life, even with her spontaneous vow of chastity. Michael, the attractive archangel who gave Angel eternal life, might be hiding some feelings of his own. And Joshua, Angel’s charge? He’s not hiding anything.

The ending felt a little weird to me: an exciting climax to be sure, but a lot of exposition at the same time. Still, it made me desperately want to read the next book! I’m left with so many questions I want answers to, and I’m mostly hooked on Angel! I love her perspective and it makes the book a blast to read.

All in all: definitely a series to put on your to read list.  If you’re a fan of Supernatural, you’ll love this book.

Behind the Badge

by J.D. Cunegan
Reviewed by SA

Gosh, I’m a huge fan of Jill Andersen mysteries. It fills the hole in my heart that the cancellation of Castle left there. A brilliant, fast paced crime novel with an amazing, asexual lead? What more could I want? The bounty series continues to be one of the most diverse and dynamic detective series I have ever read.

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For Jill Andersen, being part of the Baltimore Police Department has always been both a tremendous honor and a serious responsibility. Her father, before his fall from grace, had instilled in her a great respect for police and the work they do day-to-day. But when a teenage boy winds up dead on the outskirts of downtown Baltimore, Jill finds herself once again faced with those who would abuse their badges to fulfill personal agendas and uphold biases.

Jill still has a job to do, but she soon finds that not everyone is in her corner. For the first time in almost four years working Homicide, Jill finds herself at odds with people who claim to be on her side. From other cops to suits downtown all the way to the Mayor’s office, it becomes increasingly clear that Jill will need to rely on more than just her badge if she’s to solve this case.

But even if she finds justice, what’s the price?

I was wondering where the author would take us, after the storyline with Paul, Jill’s father, wrapped up in Blood Ties. This time he tackles an issue that is very much ingrained in our day to day: police discrimination, black lives matter, and corruption. He does so in a way that is incredibly powerful, reminding us that there are so many different people playing in that equation, and that good cops will try to do their job no matter what.

Jill faces up against a powerful opponent: her own superiors. Her own colleagues. When she tries to do her job by the books, hurdles keep getting thrown in her way. Luckily for her, she doesn’t always need to play by those books: her alter ego, Bounty, is used to taking justice into her own hands. And with her secret out to her closest friends, she’s got support from every direction. So why is it still so hard to bring criminals to justice?

I loved how the author tackled current issues: this series still happens to be one of the most diverse ones I’ve ever read, with different PoCs, genders, and sexualities all coming into play – just like in real life. It’s one of the reasons I love the Bounty series so much: it’s one of the most down to earth crime series I’ve ever read, even if the main character is basically a superhero. All the sub plots are great, making me feel like I’m watching a TV show, giving me glimpses into the lives of the minor characters, who each lead very complex lives as well.

However, I feel like it might not have been as good as the other books in the series. The plot was a little more drawn out and there was a little less growth from the characters. Jill’s own development was very impressive, but I didn’t feel as attached as I did in the previous novels. Still, it was a great read which made my commute to and from work something I would look forward to.

All in all, a great new installment of the Bounty series. And I can’t wait for more!

Untamed

by Madeline Dyer
Reviewed by SA

Sometimes a book comes along that catches you off guard. You finish reading it and just think: wow, wow… That book was fun, exciting, everything I wanted in a book. Can I get another? Well, Untamed was that book for me. It’s the perfect book to pull you out of a reading slump and remind you that a good plot can take you anywhere. And did I mention it’s exciting, and impossible to put down?

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As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

The novel throws you right into the action, even from the first line. We follow Seven, a young woman who lives in this dark future where most of the population is addicted to mood enhancing drugs. The drugs, or Augmenters, can also make you more beautiful, stronger, faster, smarter… at the cost of your humanity. You feel no negative emotions, and your eyes glaze over with a mirror-like sheen. Those who are augmenter free live in constant fear of being converted, and are called Untamed.

After Seven is captured and then saved from the Enhanced, her life is constantly torn between the two camps. She’s addicted, to put it mildly. This makes her a fascinating character, as she tries to make the right decisions for her camp, while at the same time craving something she knows she mustn’t have.

The world that Dyer has created is just so dang fascinating. It’s a world in which not only we have these two opposing forces, but spirits are loose as well. Spirits that can influence Seven’s visions, or physically hinder the gang as they try to escape the clutches of the Enhanced. It’s pretty brilliant the way the author intertwines reality with these spirits, making you wonder just how they came into being and why they hold so much importance.

But I have to say what sol me on this novel was really the author’s effortless style. It’s perfect, making it easy to get sucked into the story and yet impossible to put down. I found myself eagerly turning the pages until I was outraged that there were none left to turn. The plot could easily have come off as being something seen before, but instead I felt like I was reading something entirely new, which plot twists I definitely did not see coming.

If you need a kick-butt story with amazing characters and outstanding world building, pick up a copy of Untamed. You deserve it.