Storm Raiders by P. T. Hylton & Michael Anderle

Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Publisher: LMBPN Publishing (2017)

Length: 6 hours 28 minutes

Series: Book 1 Storms of Magic

Hylton’s Page ~ Anderle’s Page

Book Blurb: 

In a time when magic rules the sea, she only trusts her sword.

Abbey has always been an outsider in Holdgate. While the people of her adopted city dominate the seas with their weather-controlling storm magic, she prefers the work in her father’s blacksmith shop – besting any foolish enough to question her skills with a sword. But when her father is falsely accused of murder, she has to sneak aboard a stormship and take to the seas in a quest to clear his name. Teaming up with a young storm mage and a no-nonsense Captain, Abbey sets off on a swashbuckling adventure. She’ll soon learn that the legendary Storm Raiders – a terrifying group of seafaring pirates – are all too real.

Set on the foundation laid by the Kurtherian Gambit series, Storm Raiders tells an entirely new story in the Age of Magic – and of the heroes and villains who battle for control of its destiny.

My Review

Note: This series is part of a much bigger series and is technically Book 59 of The Kurtherian Gambit Universe. This book works just fine as a stand alone.

This was the book of badassery I needed and didn’t even knew existed until a few weeks ago. Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale. The characters were fun, the plot was full of action, and the world building drew me in completely.

Abbey is my favorite character. She’s been working in her dad’s blacksmithery all her life and playing with sharp pointy things since she could stand. She’s a full on action hero in this book but she’s also NOT a cliched broken character that needs to find redemption or her place in life. She comes from a loving single-parent home and has self-confidence.

Sid was my second favorite character. She’s a warrior on board the ship that Abbey sneaks onto after her dad is falsely accused of murder. She’s bald headed and swings two swords like nobody’s business. She’s also a great commander in battle. Such a practical woman! Then there’s Dustin, who took longer to grow on me. He’s just recently gotten his cloak and staff and is officially now a Storm Caller. Yay Dustin! Dustin initially is a little standoffish to Abbey but he comes around, especially after Abbey saves his life a time or two.

Benjamin, Abbey’s dad, has a past that adds some mystery to the mix. He also has a special staff that is a bit of magictech from his hometown of Arkadia. Tor and Dallia are the foremost Storm Captain and Storm Caller of Holdgate. They sail the Thunderclap and they and their crew are always treated as heroes when they return to port.

The plot has these Viking-like reavers that the Storm ships are suppose to repel, protecting Holdgate and nearby settlements. However, Abbey and Dustin find out that not all is on the up and up on their first trip out. Once I learned the full extent of it, I briefly wondered how such a secret was kept with perhaps as many as 300 Holdgate citizens involved. Later we find out that certain people have been suspicious that something was afoot but hadn’t put it all together yet. Plus, you need a very strong case to take down the instigators.

They story was well paced bouncing between quieter moments where someone is learning a bit of magic or have a useful conversation and bigger moments where buildings are on fire and juiced up warriors are trying to take your head! Plenty of snarky comments are tossed around, making me laugh out loud at times. There’s a real sense of camaraderie among the main characters.

All told, this was a delight. It has the epic fantasy feel to it while being a book you can listen to in a day. This tale ended well, answering most of the questions presented but leaving just enough open for the sequel. I’m ready for Book 2!

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Gabra Zackman was great for this book. She was the perfect Abbey, pulling off the snark and Abbey’s emotions with ease. Her male voices were all distinct and sounded like men. I love her calm, collected voice for Sid even in the heat of battle. Zackman’s narration really added to suspense and action. Awesome narration all around.

What I Liked: Gorgeous cover art; the setting; Abbey’s skills and determination; Dustin definitely grows as a character in this book; the storm magic; Benjamin’s magictech staff; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this was a very fun novel!

What Others Think:

See Sadie Read

Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher:  Tantor Audio (2011)

Length:  20 hours 36 minutes

Series: Book 3 Naamah Trilogy

Author’s Page

Note: This is the third book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own. This book, as the third in this trilogy, works best as the finale to the trilogy.

This book opens with Bao and Moirin heading back to Terre D’Ange from the far east. They’ve been on a ship for months and are just coming upon Marsilikos where they learn that Raphael de Mereliot’s sister has passed away. From there, it’s on to Terre D’Ange and the royal court where things are not well on many fronts.

King Daniel has been thrown into a deep funk by the death of his second beloved wife, Jehanne. Even though they have a toddler, Daniel can barely stand to spend time with her because she so resembles her deceased mom. Moirin and Bao can see right away that Desiree is suffering from neglect. Meanwhile, Prince Thierry, Desiree’s much older half-brother, went on a trade and exploration voyage to Terra Nova. Word reaches the court that Thierry has disappeared but Moirin is convinced he’s still alive.

Leaving the D’Angeline court in a bit of a disarray, Bao and Moirin make their way to Terra Nova on a quest to seek out Thierry and bring him back to set things aright. Of course, it’s not that straight forward. There’s plenty of hazards and Moirin and Bao have their doubts from time to time.

Terra Nova adventuring was deadly dangerous, thrilling, and so very well done. There’s human sacrifice, deadly ants, sorcery, Aragonians, native allies and enemies, betrayal, old loves, new friends, and gods that demand to be satisfied. I was impressed with how the blood sacrifices were addressed in this story. Human sacrifice was part of more than one culture in Terra Nova. While this is difficult for Moirin to wrap her mind around, she does try and eventually she and Bao have to make a hard choice on this front.

The jungle scene was great too. So many insects, reptiles, and plants! There’s plenty of reasons the Aragonians want a monopoly on trade agreements with the local government. Terra Nova offers not only riches but novelty goods that Aragonia has never seen. However, the Aragonians have not been fully honest with the first Terre D’Ange expedition nor have they treated the local population with respect. Moirin, always the polite young lass, offers much in the way of mutual respect and the Nahuatl king recognizes this.

The ants! Oh my! The ants were terrifying. We run into them perhaps half way through the book after the group has survived more than one betrayal along with flooded rivers and illness. Raphael had traveled with Thierry on the first ill-fated expedition and in the heart of the jungle, Moirin and her companions finally come across him. Their joy at finding him alive is short lived as they soon learn the state of things.

All of Moirin’s powers are put to use in this tale. Cloaking herself in Twilight serves her well in more than one instance. Then her ability to quicken green growing things saves plenty of people. She also puts her linguistic skills to use as more than one culture makes up this adventure in Terra Nova.

One of my favorite scenes is with the Nahuatl King. He offers Moirin vital info and a skilled guide to help track Thierry in exchange for a night with her. He also offers his youngest wife to Bao for one night, claiming that is more than enough honor for any man. Moirin’s counter was awesome. She lays out her own great deeds and skills and declares that one night with her is more than enough honor for any man. It was a great scene.

In the end, Bao has to do one last thing to prove himself. There’s some loss in this tale but much happiness. New ties have been made and a strong foundation laid for Moirin’s future. I definitely enjoyed this book a bit more than Book 2, Naamah’s Curse. This was not only a solid, satisfying ending for this trilogy but also for the entire Terre D’Ange Cycle.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik brings us home as Moirin in this final book of the series. I think I say this every time, but Flosnik has got some skills on her! Yet more accents are added to her repertoire as we explore Terra Nova. Also, there’s some strong emotions in this book, what with human sacrifice and what not. Flosnik does a great job expressing these often nuanced emotions. Her male voices are believable and all her characters are distinct. A most excellent narration all around.

What I Liked: Adventuring to Terra Nova; Moirin’s great scene with the Nahuatl King; the depths of the jungle; the ants!; Raphael and his plans; Moirin’s ever polite and respectful self; Prince Thierry; Bao’s final test; great narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – an excellent ending to a well-loved series. 

What Others Think:

Dear Author

The Book Smugglers

The Eyrie

The Discriminating Fangirl

Fantasy Book Critic

Geektress

Naamah’s Blessing Part VI

The read along continues with Naamah’s Blessing, Book 3 of Moirin’s trilogy! Everyone is welcome to join in. Here is the SCHEDULE for the read along.

This week, I am the host. We’re covering Chapters 72-End, so be prepared for spoilers below!

1) What do you think of the aftermath of Cusi’s sacrifice and Raphael’s downfall? Were you surprised by how much Moirin could do with her small gift with plants?

On one hand, I’m glad the ants weren’t interested in eating humans. On the other hand, they didn’t leave anything for the humans to eat. So I was real glad that the locals could send for supplies and that Moirin could speed the plants to harvesting.

I was a bit surprised that her small gift could be used to such an extent but we also see how she struggled with it too. She was totally exhausted for much of this period and everyone was on meager rations. I like that her companion often gave her portion to Moirin to keep her sustained while she coaxed the plants to maturity and beyond.

2) It was a long haul back to the Aragonian city and port. What do you think of Emperor Achuatli’s proposal to Moirin this time around?

Ha! I liked him the better for it this time around. He was pleased to see that Moirin didn’t come with a price tag (tho I think he was a little sad too) and I’m glad he decides to set up trade agreements with Terre D’Ange.

I do wonder if Bao would have been more amenable to the idea if his first time with a wife of Achuatli had been fun instead of tense & awkward.

3) Some judgments and justice is meted out all around. What do you think about the various punishments? There’s Allain Guillard, who abandoned the search for Prince Thierry; Durel who could have lost the entire ship; Jehanne’s mother; Rogier, his wife, and his two sons; others?

I think Allain got off a bit easy for his little mutiny and departure from the group that was going in search of Thierry. But I’m not sure more men on the journey would have done any good – just more bodies to die in various ways.

Durel is a more sympathetic case. His family was threatened and then he held out through the keel-hauling (which left him half drowned and pretty cut up). Then to be threatened by Balthasar – well, I think I would break too. Now he’s had a lengthy ‘house arrest’ in the Aragonian port city and then the lengthy sea voyage back with all those he betrayed. So, yeah, I think his punishment has been seen to.

Now Rogier got off too easy, as did his oldest son. I think putting it all on Rogier’s wife was simplifying things, but without more proof I don’t know if they could do more. Same with Jehanne’s mom. I think Rogier’s youngest son was pretty innocent of the whole mess. He may have suspected things weren’t OK but probably didn’t understand the deeper political currents and wasn’t in a position to do anything other than be Desiree’s friend.

4) How did you feel about Thierry’s well-meaning ruse to have Moirin cloak her, Bao, and himself in twilight so he could observe how the court took the return of Rouse & crew? Needful? Cruel? Unnecessary?

I thought this was great for the drama but not particularly needful. Thierry knew to some extent how Rogier was before he left on his quest and he trusts Moirin’s assessment. So it was showy and dramatic and probably goes really well in a play or for a movie, but I felt it was a little cruel in reality.

5) Finally, it’s home to Alba, Moirin’s family, and the Stone Door. What did you like most about this homecoming? How do you feel about the ending over all?

I’m glad that Bao had to meet the Great Bear to fully understand Moirin and her people. I felt this brought everything home. Moirin traveled to the Tartar lands, passing through Bao’s mom’s village on the way, and with all those experiences. She’s truly been tested. Now Bao is in Moirin’s home land, welcomed by her family. While I didn’t doubt the Great Bear would claim him as her own, I appreciated that it wasn’t a simple nod in the story.

It was a good ending. I love that Bao approves of the cave they will call home. Very nice how they dressed it up!

6) Finally, we have enjoyed the entire Terre D’Ange Cycle. Do you have a favorite book, character, or trilogy? Any final thoughts on this series? Would you like to see more adventures or do you think this is a complete series?

For me, Phedre & Joscelin will always be my favorite duo and the first trilogy my favorite books. They are what introduced me to Terre D’Ange.

I’m glad that the series ended in Terre D’Ange and Alba. I did wonder for a bit if Moirin and Bao would set up home in Terra Nova.

Of course I would love to see more adventures in this alternate fantasy history. Barquiel L’Enver has always fascinated me. Then having some back tales about Melisande would be great. There’s also the speculated adventure Phedre and Joscelin went on to hide the Book of Raziel (?) as requested by the Master of the Straights. But if none of that ever happens, I am plenty happy with what Carey has given us.

As a final note, I just want to say it’s been great sharing this series with a group of online friends. It has given me a greater appreciation of these books to read and discuss them in such detail.

And here is the current list of participators:
Allie at Tethyan Books
Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog
Grace at Books Without Any Pictures
Susan (me) at Dab of Darkness

We also have a Goodreads Group started for SF/F Read Alongs in general, and there is a specific folder for this read along. You are welcome to follow the fun there as well. If you want to be on the weekly email, just leave me a comment or shoot me an email with NAAMAH’S BLESSING in the subject (nrlymrtl@gmail.com).

Bookish Giveaway & Review: Greatshadow by James Maxey

Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway! 

Author: James Maxey

Narrator: Jake Urry

Series: Dragon Apocalypse, Book One

Length: 13h 20m

Publisher: James Maxey

Released: May 29, 2017

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Greatshadow is the primal dragon of fire, an elemental evil whose malign intelligence spies upon mankind through every candle flame, waiting to devour any careless victim he can claim.

The Church of the Book has assembled a team of twelve battle-hardened adventurers to slay the dragon once and for all. But tensions run high between the leaders of the team who view the mission as a holy duty and the super-powered mercenaries who add power to their ranks, who view the mission primarily as a chance to claim Greatshadow’s vast treasure trove. If the warriors fail to slay the beast, will they doom mankind to death by fire?

 

James Maxey’s mother warned him if he read too many comic books, they would warp his mind. She was right. Now an adult who can’t stop daydreaming, James is unsuited for decent work and ekes out a pittance writing down demented fantasies about masked women, fiery dragons, and monkeys. Oh god, so many monkeys.

​In an effort to figure out how Superman could fly, James read a lot of science, books by Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking. Turns out, Superman probably wasn’t based on any factual information. Who would have guessed? Realizing it was possible to write science fiction without being constrained by the actual rules of science proved liberating for James, and led to the psuedo-science fiction of the Bitterwood series, superhero novels like Nobody Gets the Girl, and the steam-punk visions of Bad Wizard.

​In 2015, James was honored as the Piedmont Laureate by the United Arts Councils representing Orange County, Durham County, and Wake County. This is almost certainly a sign of the ongoing cultural decay gripping the nation.

​James lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his lovely and patient wife Cheryl and too many cats.

WebsiteBlogGoodreadsAmazon
Narrator Bio

Jake Urry has been narrating and producing Audiobooks since February 2016, and in that time has released 17 titles, including The Cryptic Lines by Richard Storry, White is the Coldest Colour by John Nicholl, and the PI Harlan Ulrich series by Ambrose Ibsen. His narration work is often dark and suspenseful, and he developing a reputation for Mysteries, Thrillers and Horrors. In 2017 Jake will be working on more work by John Nicholl and Richard Storry, along with a sprinkling of Fantasy adventures.

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I had the pleasure to read a paperback copy of this book some years ago and I recall I really enjoyed it. That hasn’t changed at all now with this new audiobook version. It was a real treat to revisit this epic quest and these interesting characters.

In this little corner of this world, there are plenty of islands and some of the last bastions of true wilderness. That’s because an elemental dragon, Greatshadow, resides in the depths of one of the islands volcanic mountains. Stagger, who dies very early on in the book, watches as his friends, frenemies, and a few unknowns are gathered together to take on the great task of killing Greatshadow. They hope to free humans from his tyranny, forever making fire safe to humans to handle. each of the questers has their own reasons for going on this journey, ranging from a holy quest to a great treasure hunt. Stagger is along for the right, his spirit being tied to his old dagger that he left with his drinking buddy Infidel.

First, lets talk about the characters. Yes, there are plenty of them, but most of them are pretty interesting. Stagger is a 50ish man that never did much more with his life than hunt up treasure, drink himself stupid, and hold a silent crush on Infidel. Now as a ghost, he’s taking an active role in one of the greatest (and perhaps most foolhardy) acts of humanity in recorded history – the not-insignificant attempt to slay an ancient and elemental dragon. Through this quest, he has to face some old acquaintances and also see people he cares about put in danger. So, he’s kind of having a midlife crisis without actually being alive. These circumstances force him to grow if he wants to make a difference.

Then there’s Infidel. She’s the true focus of this story. Being in her 30s, she’s got this unusual power of super strength and nearly impermeable skin. She’s a tank build like a healthy young lady on the short side. With the death of her best friend Stagger, she has to reassess what she wants to do with her life. She realizes that Stagger made treasure hunting and drinking fun and that she didn’t need much more than that. With him gone, she’s ready for a change.

Aurora was my next favorite character. She’s an ice ogress, complete with tusks. She’s quite good with her ice magic and very talented with a harpoon. In fact, she’s seeking a sacred weapon that belongs to her people and she suspects that one of their party has that weapon hidden away. Then there’s Wreak. I don’t really like him, per se, but he was just so interesting. He’s a half-seed, meaning that his mother bought some alchemically enhanced animal semen and applied it appropriately, coming up with a baby Wreak 9 months later. Unfortunately, it appears she purchased skunk semen…. perhaps on purpose. Just one of those little mysteries that we may never solve. The character list is littered with odd misfits aplenty: righteously angry religious man, a deformed strong man with almost no face, another zealot who can alter reality, a dream spinner (Blade) and his deadly assassin of a dream (Whisper), a flying knight with his shiny armor and mighty hammer, a tattooed man that can shape shift (Menagerie), the time traveling Black Swan, and the thought stealing Relic.

Then we have this quest that’s all told from the viewpoint of dear departed Stagger. It’s not a straightforward quest; the group suffers plenty of set backs. I liked that there was a mix of motivations for going on this quest and then that the quest itself was not so easy. There’s some internal conflicts and pygmies and just the jungle island to cross. Then toss in a little romance that isn’t expected to go anywhere in a hurry. I loved the girl talks between Aurora and Infidel, two warriors with vastly different experiences when it comes to sex. Not all of these would-be heroes make it to the end of the book. Some die out of stupidity. Some die from jungle traps set by the pygmies. Some die doing what they do best and in a noble manner. A few I wanted dead and a very few I nearly cried when they did die.

The ending held a few more surprises. Things didn’t end as I expected them to and that made me happy. This is not a predictable sword & sorcery tale. While the ending wraps things up for this tale, it leaves thing open for the sequel. It was a most satisfying book.

I received a free copy of this book. 

Narration: Jake Urry brought a new level of enjoyment to this book. He really pulled out the stops for the variety of voices. I especially loved his creepy voice for Whisper. His muffled voice for the strongman with the face abnormality was well done. His voice for Greatshadow was excellent – deep, ancient, somewhat haughty, and powerful. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. There were many emotions the various characters lived through in this book and he did a great job at showing those as well. All around, a fantastic narration.

What I Liked: Everything; loved the characters – such variety!; an unpredictable plot; Stagger’s growth as a ghostly character; Infidel’s chats with Aurora; Aurora’s tusks and weapons skills; Wreak’s stinky power; Greatshadow’s sheer presence; a tidy ending with enough room for a sequel; great narration.

What I disliked: Nothing. It was a great listen.

Runs Aug. 20th-27th 2017⎮Open internationally

Greatshadow Giveaway: $10 Amazon Gift Card

Aug. 20th:
Seitenwinde
Reading for the Stars and Moon

Aug. 21st:
Dab of Darkness

Aug. 22nd:
Shh I Am Reading
CGB Blog Tours

Aug. 23rd:
Notes From ‘Round the Bend
Adventures Thru Wonderland

Aug. 24th:
terriluvsbooks
Jazzy Book Reviews

Aug. 25th:
The Book Addict’s Reviews
Lomeraniel
The Page Unbound

Aug. 26th:
WTF Are You Reading?
My World in Words and Pages
Book Lover’s Life
Elsie’s Audiobook Digest

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Naamah’s Blessing Part V

The read along continues with Naamah’s Blessing, Book 3 of Moirin’s trilogy! Everyone is welcome to join in. Here is the SCHEDULE for the read along.

This week, Allie at Tethyan Books is the host. We’re covering Chapters 58-71, so be prepared for spoilers below!

1) What are your thoughts on the whole situation with Bao and Cusi? Was it right of Bao and Moirin to engage in blood sacrifice? What do you think of Cusi’s willingness?

Cusi was going to be a sacrifice anyway but it felt better knowing that she was willing to be one for the right reasons. Those right reasons involved Bao and Moirin because of their unique gifts, so I’m OK with them being a part of it. I do appreciate that they were strongly against it at first and that they will probably have a lot of mixed feelings on it for a chunk of time afterwards.

As for Cusi’s willingness… well, it’s not an experience I have reference for. I can see a person sacrificing themselves in an active way, usually in an emergency and for the greater good or for a loved one. However, Cusi’s sacrifice requires her to be most passive and for results that may or may not come to pass. It truly takes faith and that’s not something I am personally strong in. The fact that’s she’s underage (not married and as far as I can tell not treated as an adult in all ways) brings up more questions.

2) Was the secret of the ancestors what you thought it would be? Was it worth Cusi’s sacrifice?

Honestly, I was expecting a bit more. It was still fierce and frightening and a show of power… but was it enough to say, yes, this is worth the sacrifice of a vibrant young lady who is going to contribute decades of worthiness to her people? Well, I guess the next few chapters will answer that. Perhaps those ancestral ghosts did more than give Raphael a beat down. Perhaps they made the waters run pure, the fish plentiful, the plants heavy with fruits, and the tubers extra tasty.

3) Did Jehanne’s intervention, or Raphael’s reaction to it, surprise you? Do you think saving Moirin’s relationship with the Maghuin Dhon was worth eliminating their last resort to thwart Raphael?

It was good to see Jehanne doing what she could. She wasn’t one to apologize or plead in life but her better nature was on full display in that heart-felt talk with Raphael.

Too bad he was unable to take much good from it. He’s definitely all about himself, isn’t he?

As for weighing out Moirin’s link to her Great Bear & most likely Bao’s life versus thwarting Raphael/Fokolor – that’s a tough question. We don’t know what all Fokolor is capable of and there’s probably another way to (eventually) thwart him. And it was unclear to me if Fokolor would be permanently tied to Raphael or free to wreak his own havoc plus whatever else Raphael wants.

On the other hand, we’ve seen so much great good that Moirin has been able to do, and that is in part due to her Great Bear.

4) On Raphael’s attempted summoning, do you think his turn-around at the end is enough to bring him right enough with Elua to pass into the Terre d’Ange that lies beyond? Meaning, do you think he can be forgiven?

No, not yet. He has to pass Kushiel’s judgement first. I expect he truly has to be regretful, and I think he was in that moment, but would that regret last beyond that moment? I would like to think so, but I expect Kushiel would need him to seek forgiveness for many, many things. Once Kushiel’s gives his thumbs up (or two floggers up) then I expect Elua will welcome him into the Terre D’Ange that lies beyond.

Other Tidbits:

When Thierry’s men were punished, I was truly worried that either Thierry or Balthazar would be killed.

I wonder how much of Raphael’s varying moods was him on a power trip versus Fokolor showing through.

I do feel a bit bad for all those lizards that were sacrificed to get the dosing right for the paralytic. Also, many animals metabolize such poisons differently from humans, so yes, there had to be a human trial…. yet, still, that was such a gamble as there can be some big differences among humans.

And here is the current list of participators:
Allie at Tethyan Books
Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog
Grace at Books Without Any Pictures
Susan (me) at Dab of Darkness

We also have a Goodreads Group started for SF/F Read Alongs in general, and there is a specific folder for this read along. You are welcome to follow the fun there as well. If you want to be on the weekly email, just leave me a comment or shoot me an email with NAAMAH’S BLESSING in the subject (nrlymrtl@gmail.com).

Aranya by Marc Secchia

Narrator: Shiromi Arserio

Publisher: Marc Secchia (2015)

Length: 14 hours 33 minutes

Series: Book 1 Shapeshifter Dragons

Author’s Page

Aranya, princess of the island kingdom of Immadia, is given up as hostage to the invading Sylakian Empire. Chained aboard a Sylakian dragonship (dirigible), she manages to save the commanding officer, a Warhammer, from a windroc. She has a bit of freedom once imprisoned with all the other hostages of subjugated nations but that doesn’t prevent the hostages from forming cliques and taunting one another. Matters get out of hand and Aranya is sentenced to die. She is shackled to a stone and tossed off a high escarpment. That’s when her life changes forever as she shapeshifts into a dragon. This might just be the turning point in the war with Sylakia.

There’s much to be enjoyed in this book. I liked Aranya as a character even though she didn’t wow me. She’s not perfect but she has a good heart. She has her strengths and weaknesses but she also has some good companions to help her along the way. My one quibble would be that she’s a little too good, only having minor flaws. She was rather bland and this made her a little boring.

Meanwhile, her best friend and dragonrider is Zip (short for Zuziana), another princess hostage. They don’t start off as friends but they eventually find merit in each other and bond over shared experiences. Zip has a mouth on her short frame and isn’t afraid to use it, like her archery skills.

The plot was in two pieces for me. In fact, it felt like this was two books pressed into one. First, Aranya must discover who and what she is. That whole bit about being tossed off a cliff that’s mentioned in the book’s description doesn’t happen until several hours into the book. The second half of the book is Aranya and Zip running some guerrilla tactics on the Sylakian air navy and eventually having a really big battle to determine the fate of the island kingdoms.

Let’s talk a little about the male characters. Mostly, they are either there for comfort (like Aranya’s dad) or are of a romantic interest (like Yolathian and the formerly nameless monk). Occasionally they get to do stuff and have a few meaningful lines. That said, most of their plot-related actions happen off the page and the reader only hears about it after the fact. It is both refreshing and odd to have a book that wouldn’t pass a reverse-Bechdel test.

Nak and Odya, an older couple who have experience with both natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters, get to play teachers and stand-in grandparents to Aranya. Sometimes this was very sweet and sometimes Nak was outright creepy with all his lecherous comments to and about Aranya and later Zip. Odya and Nak know something about Aranya’s parentage but are reluctant to give up all their secrets. Aranya’s mom is something of a mystery throughout the book and that’s one of the things I liked.

There’s also warrior pygmies on some of the isles and Zip and Aranya have to trade with them. Then there’s the dragonets, which are small dragons with limited intelligence and speech. This last bit really reminded me of some of Anne McCaffrey’s books. As a biologist, I got a kick out of the info about dragon anatomy – 3 hearts, 7 stomachs, etc. After so many mentions about dragon digestion I did start to wonder about dragon poo. For a good chunk of the book, Aryana in dragon form is being tracked by the Sylakians and spoor is a useful find when tracking anything. Alas, no dragon dung.

As the story goes on, Aryana’s powers grow. At first, this seemed natural and I was interested. Later on though, she has so many powers that she’s getting close to be invincible and I found this a bit boring. I like my heroes to have limited abilities and therefore, they sometimes have to rely either on others or on their wits to get them out of a jam.

All told, it’s a good solid start to an epic dragon fantasy series. The two main characters are pretty interesting and the world they inhabit has a lot left to explore.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobook Worm.

The Narration: Shiromi Arserio makes a really good Aranya, both princess and dragon. I enjoyed the quick banter between Aranya and Zip throughout the book. For the most part, she usually had distinct character voices but sometimes there were a few conversations where the distinctions became muddled. The male character voices really needed some masculinity. She was great at imbuing characters with the correct emotions. 

What I Liked: A world made up of islands; natural dragons and dragon shapeshifters; Zip and Aranya make a great team; pygmies; little dragons; dirigibles; Odya playing grandmother.

What I Disliked: Could use some gender balancing; Nak is creepy; Aranya’s power grow so numerous and powerful during the book that she becoems a little boring; male characters don’t sound particularly masculine.

Check out more reviews on the blog tour.

Bookish Giveaway & Interview: Marc Secchia, Author of the Shapeshifter Dragons Series

Scroll to the bottom for the giveaway!

Folks, please give a warm welcome to historical fiction author Marc Secchia. I recently had the pleasure of listening to his book, Aranya: Shapeshifter Dragons Book 1 which follows the dragonish adventures of Aranya and her friends.

If you could give any literary villain a happy ending who would you chose?

Snape – well, he’s not so much a villain, but he is a beautifully conflicted character who I found myself rooting for almost despite my instincts. Very well-written indeed.

The public library of your dreams has arrived! What special collections does it hold?

African fiction. I believe this is one of the most underrepresented fields of literary endeavour and I’d love to see powerful African voices taking their place on the world stage.

If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

I’d choose a dragon. They are Fantasy’s finest and most magical creatures and they’d undoubtedly possess the skills and magic to pull off a crazy rescue.

If you could, what book or movie or TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Definitely The Lord of the Rings. It’s the classic fantasy tale of the insidious, corrupting power of evil and the courage of those who choose to stand against it. Peter Jackson did an awesome job of bringing the tale to the big screen, but I still love the rhythm, detail and power of the original text. I’d love to dive into that world afresh because it’s just incredibly immersive and every detail is thought out.

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

There are so many terrific books out there that would make amazing movies, it’s hard to choose. Let me throw out a classic author’s name here – Anne McCaffrey. I think it’s a travesty her works have never made it to screen, although some of the mores are a bit dated I think this series would still resonate with so many people, not just Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans. I’d play Robinton, the Master Harper of Pern.

If you could sit down and have tea (or a beer) with 5 fictional characters, who would you invite to the table?

Let’s see … Dumbledore since we’re having a smallish Potteresque vibe here, Aladdin if he doesn’t come in his canned-and-potted Disney guise, since he’d have plenty of fun tales to tell, and it’s weird I know but I think Mulan just kicks it in her world and time. Two more (scratches chin) … Killashandra from one of my favourite books of all time, the Crystal Singer omnibus by Anne McCaffrey, and Aragorn from LOTR. Maybe I’d throw in a dragon just to liven things up. Toothless is awesome but not much of a conversationalist. He’d just have to make funny faces.

What do you do when you are not writing?

I live and work in Ethiopia so that’s a little different to most. I love to play music – I play a range of woodwinds such as flute, panflute and Irish whistle – and when I’ve a quiet evening I love nothing more than a relax with an epic book.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

Ha ha, it’s really boring, but it’s one of those “learn-to-read” books about Kathy and Mark I think. After that must come Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and then I had a Hardy Boys binge before graduating to older books.

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Well, I’ve a sale coming up on 15th/16th August when I’m going to take a run at getting one of my books into the Top 10 free books on all Amazon. If you’d like to sample my work, Aranya will be free on the 15th and it is a bestseller in Coming of Age fantasy. http://smarturl.it/draconic

Secondly, I’m really excited about the release of Dragonstar on August 16th. It’s the 4th book in my Dragonfriend series and the culmination of the series. http://smarturl.it/dragonstar

I think you’ll love the cover art for this series – do check it out, thanks!

Check out more interviews, spotlights, & reviews on the blog tour.

About Author Marc Secchia:

Marc is a South African-born dragon masquerading as an author, who loves writing about dragons and Africa, preferably both at the same time. He lives and works in Ethiopia with his wife and 4 children, 2 dogs and a variable number of marabou storks that roost on the acacia trees out back. On a good night there are also hyenas patrolling the back fence.

He’s the author of 21 fantasy books in 3 languages (2 more languages coming this year – watch this space!), including 8 rip-roaring dragon fantasy bestsellers. Dragonfriend won a Gold Award for Fantasy in the 2016 IPPY Book Awards. Look out for Whisper Alive, his latest release. The 4th tale in the Dragonfriend series, Dragonstar, is coming soon!

When he’s not writing about Africa or dragons Marc can be found travelling to remote locations. He thinks there’s nothing better than standing on a mountaintop wondering what lies over the next horizon.

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Amazon ~ GoodReads

Synopsis of Aranya:

Chained to a rock and tossed off a cliff by her boyfriend, Aranya is executed for high treason against the Sylakian Empire. Falling a league into the deadly Cloudlands is not a fate she ever envisaged. But what if she did not die? What if she could spread her wings and fly?

Long ago Dragons ruled the Island-World above the Cloudlands. But their Human slaves cast off the chains of Dragonish tyranny. Humans spread across the Islands in their flying Dragonships, colonizing, building, and warring. Now the all-conquering Sylakians have defeated the last bastion of freedom – the Island-Kingdom of Immadia.

Evil has a new enemy. Aranya, Princess of Immadia. Dragon Shapeshifter.

Series Note

There is a companion series to Aranya, set in the same unique Island-World above the Cloudlands. Aranya is the last of the Dragons – or is she? Find out why the Dragons disappeared in The Pygmy Dragon, now available on Kindle.

Audible ~ Amazon ~ iTunes ~ Audio Excerpt

About Narrator Shiromi Arserio:

A native of London, England, Shiromi Arserio is a stage actor, voice talent and audiobook narrator. She holds a B.A. in Theatre from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. In addition to narrating dozens of audiobooks, her voice can be heard in documentaries, e-learning projects and video games such as Nancy Drew: The Shattered Medallion. Shiromi currently resides in the Seattle area with her husband and her two furbabies.

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ SoundCloud ~ IMDB

GIVEAWAY!!!

The giveaway is for a $50 Amazon gift Card. Open internationally! Ends August 16th, 2017.

Aranya Giveaway: $50 Amazon Gift Card

Interview: Jeremy Flagg, Author of the Children of Nostradamus Series

Folks, please give a warm welcome to author Jeremy Flagg. We chat about his love of graphic novels, the hope for a Salvatore-based tabletop game, and plenty more.

Is there a genre or literary niche that you feel hasn’t gotten its deserved amount of attention?

Currently with the boom of comic book movies and TV shows, I’m honestly surprised the same hasn’t happened in the literary world. I grew up on comic books, in fact, it’s how I learned to read. However, the jump from illustrated stories to novelization seems to be a slow process. With only a few breakouts such as Brandon Sanderson or Peter Clines, the market is vastly underserved. But despite the market having yet to sway in that direction, there are some amazing superhero inspired stories happening. I think the ability to get inside the head of the hero makes it a unique medium that brings a lot to the table for the genre.

If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

I’m a superhero writer, I should pick a superhero, but I think I’d have to go with the supernatural. There is something about these myths and folklore that continue to make us wonder. I like the idea that there is a world we’re not quite sure about. I’m curious to see what wonders there are. Granted, with my luck I’d be stuck with a grumpy gnome saving me.

What decade from the last century would you pick to have been a teenager in?

I’m a 90’s kid through and through. I was born in the early 80’s, and loved the music of the time, but nothing will surpass the 90’s for me. My playlists are filled with songs from the late 90’s and even the weird look we had during that period sticks with me. Despite that though, there’s a bit of an 80’s child hiding in there. I secretly like to think I’m a punk in corporate clothing.

What future invention would you like to see not only created during your life time, but readily available to the public?

We’re on the verge of so many emerging technologies, I think it’s fascinating to see how much science fiction has simply become science. Still, the thing I’m dying to see is the computer screen from Minority Report. I find myself frequently annoyed that I don’t have enough screen space and constantly flipping through windows. I frequently have my laptop hooked up to a TV and my iPad next to me. It’d be amazing to have it all in one place and just be able to manipulate it with my hand. We’re not far from it, I think this one may actually happen during my lifetime.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

Not the worst by a long stretch, but definitely the most difficult would have to be teaching high school. I’ve been a high school art teacher for a decade now and it’s a demanding job. You’re constantly pushing kids to be creative and step outside their comfort zone. It’s extremely rewarding, but after a day of wrestling with kids, you find yourself lacking the creativity to do your own work. There are the hand full of kids who give back as much as you put in, and those have been the ones that continue to inspire. Writing on the other hand, during my off months is a walk in the park. The only temperamental thing I have to deal with is my laptop, and that’s nowhere near as complicated as wow-ing a room of twenty-five teenagers. The only difficulty is in forcing myself to sit down and write when I have the time (which isn’t too difficult for me.)

You’re granted a super power and given the chance to team up with 4 other superheroes (or supervillains). What power do you have and who have you teamed up with?

The obvious answer is teleportation. I will always want the ability to teleport. I hate going places, but I’m always happy once I’m there. As for the others I would team up with? Not that I haven’t thought about this in depth, but it’d be Nightcrawler, Colossus, Magneto (every time needs the slightly villainous character) and Phoenix. That’d pretty much be the unstoppable superhero team. I may have spent more than a little time figuring this out (aka a lot.)

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

I would love to see R.A. Salvatore’s Demon War Saga turned into some sort of tabletop game. Salvatore has a wonderfully unique perspective on traditional fantasy and I think it’d make for a great storyline. I’d love it even more if it were turned into a console game similar to Skyrim. I’d want to play Pony, one of my favorite female leads who wields magic and her female intuition like a weapon. That’d be a pretty badass game.

If you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in comics & graphic novels, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

I actually teach a college class about graphic novels. There are a variety of great pieces that should be in there. I like to blend great stories such as the Watchmen alongside classic superheroes such as X-Men’s Inferno with things like Maus. My favorite question to pose the class is to ask, do comics influence society or does society influence comics? I like exploring the need for diversity in mainstream comics and how smaller companies are filling in these niche categories. I feel if given enough time, there could be entire concentrations in comics similar to Art History at this point. Unfortunately, I don’t think we respect comics as much as we do novels. I am happy however to see them get more attention thanks to the popularity of movie adaptations.

What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

Marvel beats DC. Star Trek over Star Wars. Sub before Dub. With the company I keep, there are always geeky conversations happening. I’m always down for a geek argument.

About Author Jeremy Flagg:

Jeremy Flagg is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes.

Jeremy is the Co-creator of Massachusetts Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors and member of the Metrowest Writers writing group. He is also an active member of the New England Horror’s Association and Broad Universe.

Jeremy spends most of his free time at his desk writing snarky books. When he gets a moment away from writing, he watches too much Netlix and Hulu and reading comic books. Jeremy, a Maine native, resides in Clinton, Massachusetts and can be found in local coffee shops pounding away at the keyboard.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

Synopsis of Nighthawks:

New England is a walled off radioactive prison. People exhibiting extraordinary abilities are hunted for experiments. The only talent twenty-six-year-old Conthan has in life is his art and knack for sarcasm. When a cop threatens his life, Conthan discovers he has the ability to teleport. Hunted by the military and a woman with her own gifts, Conthan finds exiles in the Boston wastelands with powers of their own. For the first time, he sees potential to become a hero. But as he unravels a conspiracy threatening the world, he must decide between his survival and his humanity.

Audible ~ Amazon

Naamah’s Blessing Part II

The read along continues with Naamah’s Blessing, Book 3 of Moirin’s trilogy! Everyone is welcome to join in. Here is the SCHEDULE for the read along.

This week, I’m the host. We’re covering Chapters 16-26 29, so be prepared for spoilers below!

1) What do you think of the assistance the Sharhizai have provided to Moirin and Bao so far? Do you think there’s merit to their claim that the Sharhizai should govern the Shemizai district?

They say that their assistance and the housing is a gift with no expectations but at the very least it gave then the opening to present their claim to Moirin and Bao, who are now the guardians of Dauphine. Obviously, Moirin and Bao have to listen, even if they don’t agree, if they don’t want to be rude.

As for their claim, I’m not sure. I can see that they should be proud of their bloodline, but does that give them an innate ability to govern a province? No. I would need to seem them or their close kin in action along with the current governors being incompetent.

2) Did you enjoy the Oath Swearing Ceremony where Moirin pledged to be Desiree’s protector? What did you like best about it?

First, I liked the solemnity about the actual oath swearing. Not only do the Maghuin Dhonn take oaths seriously, but Moirin herself values her word of honor and wouldn’t swear an oath lightly.

I liked that Moirin was able to gently chivy King Daniel into spending the afternoon with this daughter enjoying the tumblers.

3) Finally, there’s news from Terra Nova. From chocolate to spices to riches to a vexing pox that Raphael may be able to cure to the loss of crown prince! Do you think Prince Thierry is really dead? If not, what kind of trouble might he be in? What else about Terra Nova intrigues you at this point?

Yes, I expect that Thierry is still alive and that Moirin’s dream is a true dream. However, he’s obviously in some serious trouble if no one has had word from him…. I can’t help but wonder if maybe Raphael and the demon Fokolor have something to do with it. If so, then Thierry’s in big trouble.

The other side of the coin is that Raphael has come up with a way for the Terra Novans to manage the pox, greatly reducing the numbers it kills. That makes it hard to want Raphael dead at this point.

I look forward to seeing how Carey tackles this tumultuous clashing of cultures.

4) Let’s discuss King Daniel. He spent some time with his daughter but then planned to abdicate to Thierry when he returned. Upon the sad news, King Daniel is no longer with us. Is there anything more that could have been done, either by Daniel or for him?

Tough to say. I think Daniel was suffering from depression for many years, perhaps even before losing his first wife. Losing Jehanne was tough but then to lose his son was another hard blow. If Daniel was a more ordinary man with people around him that felt they could boss him around a bit, then perhaps his friends could have nudged him into more healthy activities over the years instead of so much brooding and attempting to feel numb. But he’s not an average bloke. He’s the king with no queen, no close confident, and no close family to give him a shoulder or shove depending on what he needs.

5) Rogier is angling for more political power. What do you think of him using his grieve to obtain his goal? Will Moirin and Bao be able to head off to Terra Nova without provoking Rogier further?

Moirin acknowledges to herself that Rogier’s grief is real but like Moirin, I don’t like him using it to sway public opinion and gather political clout. Sometimes I’m OK with characters using this tactic because it fuels a greater end, but Rogier isn’t a beloved good guy. He’s manipulative and power hungry and his son has a nasty streak that makes me wonder if he does as well.

I expect that whatever Moirin does next (unless it was to leave the country quietly and I don’t mean on some stealth mission to retrieve Thierry) is going to piss off Rogier. I think he would love the excuse to either put her under house arrest or kick her out the country.

Other Tidbits:

The poetess can still understand ants, which I find amusing.

I’m glad that Moirin’s dad, Phanuel, broke off his relationship with Rogier.

So I messed up and didn’t catch it until after posting this. This week was supposed to be through Chapter 29 but the questions only reflect through Chapter 26. Anyway, for Chapters 27-29, I figure we can all discuss them in this Oddbits section.

Nice to hear that Phanuel will go to Alba with a letter from Moirin for her mother.

Balthazar plans to go along and he’s pretty good with a sword.

Dennis de Toulard says that Terra Nova is no place for a lady. Ha! Like there’s no women, noble, peasant, or otherwise in Terra Nova.

And here is the current list of participators:
Allie at Tethyan Books
Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog
Grace at Books Without Any Pictures
Susan (me) at Dab of Darkness

We also have a Goodreads Group started for SF/F Read Alongs in general, and there is a specific folder for this read along. You are welcome to follow the fun there as well. If you want to be on the weekly email, just leave me a comment or shoot me an email with NAAMAH’S BLESSING in the subject (nrlymrtl@gmail.com).

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher:  Tantor Audio (2010)

Length:  21 hours 12 minutes

Series: Book 2 Naamah Trilogy

Author’s Page

Note: This is the second book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own. This book, as the second in this trilogy, works mostly well as a stand alone but is definitely enhanced by having read Naamah’s Kiss.

We return to Moirin’s adventures as she sets off to find Bao, her stubborn warrior love. She leaves the relatively comfortable Chi’in lands for the wilder and much colder territories ruled by the Tartar tribes. Once reunited, things don’t go as expected and some double crossing has them separated again. Moirin has to match wits with a Vralian religious zealot and later on face the Spider Queen!

It was good to be back in Moirin’s world. Her archery skills serve her well once again, as well as her small magics. For me, the beginning and then the last third of the book were more interesting than the middle part. She starts off on this solo quest to find Bao and that tests her determination and dedication to Bao. When they meet up, Bao is living with his father’s people. Sparks fly…. but then a complication becomes apparent to Moirin. The two simply can’t go off and have their own lives. The Tartars love their competitions which center mostly around horses and archery. Yep! Moirin has another opportunity to be the one that saves Bao.

The middle part sees them separated and Moirin is held captive by this man and his family as they attempt to convert her to their religion. There are a lot of good points in this section wrapped up in this story and these characters but I found that it lagged a bit. After all, I agree with Moirin 100% in this section so the arguments only reinforced my dislike for people who try to push their religious believes onto others.

The last third of the book sees us back in adventure land as Moirin befriends the Lady of Rats and has to face off against the Spider Queen and her husband, the Falconer. They have a band of assassins. Moirin is definitely in danger! Then there’s the caste system that has been strictly enforced for generations. Moirin had a real balancing act here between what she felt was right and also respecting local culture and religion. It was a tightrope walk.

Since Bao isn’t with Moirin for much of this book, he doesn’t play as big a role. He’s often in Moirin’s thoughts but she has herself to worry about as she travels from one strange land to another searching for him. One of the things I really like about them as a couple is that they aren’t a traditional couple. Throughout this book, they care greatly for each other, respect each other, but they each have other lovers along the way and they are OK with that.

Moirin often does the rescuing even though she’s not some tall, athletic warrior. She has certain skills (archery, summoning the twilight, etc.) and she uses them wisely and quite well. She often uses her compassion and patience to win people over. Also, she doesn’t shirk her fair share of the tougher chores be them tending to her horses or taking out enemy scouts.

While I enjoyed the first book in the series a bit more, this was a pretty good adventure tale. I look forward to seeing what Bao and Moirin get up to in the third and final book.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik keeps on impressing me. In this book she takes on even more accents as Moirin travels out of Chi’in (Chinese accent), into Tartar lands, then Vralia (Russian accent), and finally into Rasa (Indian accent). She manages to keep all the characters distinct even though this book has a sizable cast. Her male voices are believable. One of her greatest strengths is nailing the nuanced emotions of the main characters – truly impressive!

What I Liked: Moirin’s adventures; Moirin is often doing the rescuing; Bao and Moirin aren’t the traditional heroic couple; Tartar competitions; how the caste system was handled; the Spider Queen’s assassins; great narration.

What I Disliked: The middle part where Moirin is in Vralia lagged a little for me.

What Others Think:

The Book Smugglers

io9

The Eyrie

Fantasy Book Critic

Fantasy Cafe

Speed-Reading Book Nerd Reviews