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Of Myth & Monster Review (Phoenix Fiction Writers Anthology) + Timely Cover Reveal!

Time for a review of a very cool anthology from the Phoenix Fiction Writers! And scroll to the end for a cover reveal for their next anthology, coming in June! Also, two of the short stories in Of Myth and Monster were just announced as finalists in the 2021 Realm Awards in the short story category, which I thought was super exciting! 😀 (The Eyes of the Barghest by Jillane Purrazzi and H.E.R.O. by Beth Wangler.)

Title: Of Myth and Monster

Author: Phoenix Fiction Writers

Featuring stories written by: Hannah Heath, Kyle Robert Shultz, Beth Wangler, E.B. Dawson, C. Scott Frank, Grace Crandall, Deck Matthews, Nate Philbrick, and J.E. Purrazzi

  • Date read: March 20, 2021
  • Genre: Anthology / Short stories / Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Year pub: 2020
  • Pages: 276 (e-book)
  • Source: The publisher
  • Notes: I received a free e-ARC of this anthology from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s Website

Mistakes Were Made (by Hannah Heath)

What a delightful rollick! XD This one was so much fun and just such a wacky, amusing adventure. I especially loved the voice of this one — such character! — and the strong cultural flavor was neat. It’s probably one of the most unique short stories I’ve ever read. Such colorful sci-fi! Marvelous!


The Boy Who Listened (by Kyle Robert Shultz)

Full disclosure: I copyedited this short story, but my unbiased reader opinion is that it was a vibrant, fresh tale, with a fun take on the “chosen one” and “magical academy” tropes, as well as being full of heart and clever twists! And, of course, despite not being an Afterverse story, there’s still a dash of signature Kyle Robert Shultz humor. 😉


H.E.R.O. (by Beth Wangler)

Thrilling with a side of precious! With a relatable heroine who is part of a team of agents, this was an intense story which also had moments of fun. I loooved Poof the little phoenix! Such a cute side character. ^_^ This one dealt with fear and bravery, and I loved the mix of mythology creatures and technology, the agent aspect, and the twist at the end!


The Gods of Troy (by E.B. Dawson)

What a unique blending of Odysseus and space! E.B. Dawson always delights in her tales, and this was no exception, although with a bittersweet aspect which of course comes with the retelling. I really liked Odysseus and how the black hole and mythology and war of Troy and ship in space worked so well together. Fascinating!


The Unicorn Tamer (by C. Scott Frank)

A very amusing story, very tongue-in-cheek, about a fluffy, bear-like hero who’s rather grouchy but relatable. I loved the unicorn character! Almost the whole thing was wonderful and funny, although I confess that the ending horrified me. I guess I wasn’t expecting that dark of humor! But for the most part it was such fun and I really enjoyed the writing style.


Lamp of Silver (by Grace Crandall)

That was intense and fascinating! I was utterly immersed in this pirate tale-within-a-tale. A nautical adventure penned with skill. I love pirate stories and this one was amazing! I don’t want to give anything away, but the characters were fascinating and the twist on a genie was so unique. This was my first story from Grace Crandall and I definitely need to read more by her!


The Staff of Callewhyr (by Deck Matthews)

This was also my first taste of this author’s writing, and wow, I’m definitely curious to explore more, especially if there’s more in this world! This was a fascinating tale with a classic fantasy feel but its own original twists. The worldbuilding was so neat, the story edge-of-your-seat, and I found myself getting more and more curious about these characters, especially the secrets hinted at. A wonderful fantasy adventure!


Aura (by Nate Philbrick)

MY FEELS. *clutches heart* I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe during this. Wow, wow, wow. This was SO unique and feelsy and I loved every second of it — well, it toyed with my emotions and was a bit sad near the end, but it could have been worse and overall I loved it. WWII-era but with a unique mountainous setting and just the right thread of fantasy threaded throughout. The characters were amazing and I loved them so much. I CAN’T. IT WAS SO GOOD. It felt like Lloyd Alexander but more feelsy. I can’t get over this one. I loved the journaled bits, too. I can’t stop thinking about this one!


The Eyes of the Barghest (by J.E. Purrazzi)

This was so spooky and atmospheric — pretty sure the snow made ME feel cold reading it! The Barghest was totally unexpected. Some of this was sadder than I liked, but I liked the story by the end with the oddly hopeful twist. And it was another one that totally sucked me in and made me forget I was reading. And kind of a Nordic flavor, which was cool!


All of these stories were just so good! These were all delightful stories by skilled authors and I definitely recommend checking the anthology out!

Speaking of anthologies, the Phoenix Fiction Writers have a new anthology coming soon — and the cover was just revealed! Check it out!

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*flailing* Isn’t it so cool? I’m excited for this one too! Visit the Phoenix Fiction Writers here.


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oncecover

Thanks for reading! 🙂

The Icarus Aftermath by Arielle M. Bailey (Review)

Aaahh, I’m finally here with a review for a book I’ve been very excited about for a very long time, a Greek mythology in space novel by a lovely author friend who has at last released her debut novel! *flails around* I’m terribly behind because this came out ages ago, but I’m at last reviewing it and — y’all! It’s sooo good!

Title: The Icarus Aftermath

Author: Arielle M. Bailey

  • Date read: February 5, 2021
  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Genre: Science fiction / Space Opera / Greek Mythology / Retelling (Minotaur and the Labyrinth)
  • Age: YA/NA
  • Year pub: 2020
  • Pages: 358 (paperback)
  • Series: The Sunfire Saga, #1
  • Fave character: Talos and Mikon
  • Source: The author and Amazon
  • Notes: I received a free e-ARC from the author and was not required to write a positive review. I ended up buying a paperback and finishing on that. XD All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s Website

The Icarus Aftermath was a FASCINATING read! Greek Mythology meets Star Wars, and it WORKS. I don’t read much sci-fi so I was a little nervous going in, but it felt like an awesome movie from the first moment and completely pulled me into the story.

The Minotaur and the Labyrinth in space with the greatest found family characters—what is not to love? It was so much fun! Which sounds weird to say, since it deals with a lot of grief and there’s a war/rebellion on and everything, but the moments of family and shenanigans were the perfect balance to all of that. The writing’s gorgeous and packs a punch, the mysteries and adventures and spying were super compelling/edge-of-your-seat, and I definitely fell in love with most of the characters (though the bossy ones were on and off for me. XD).

Okay, but the characters, though! I love their loyalty and looking out for each other and the tight-knit aspect of their little rebellion family of the Sunfires. (*stares into distance for a moment because of relating to Xuthos for not being a part of it* *blinks back to the present* ANYWAY.) The Starfires were great. All the side-siblings we get a bit of—what a group! XD So many brother feels, too—I’m 100% here for it. And I loved Icarus even though he’s, well, dead for most of it (not a spoiler, it’s what the book is about!), and I liked Koralia most of the time—she was quite a different, interesting heroine, and I felt for her a lot sometimes.

Then we have my FAVORITES, namely Talos and Mikon and Xuthos. I can’t even describe them! They’re so multidimensional but I adore them, particularly Talos, brooding commander of the rebels who’s just so solid and trying to keep everything together—ultimate older-brother figure and just sheer AWESOME and I wanted more of him. Okay, yes, and Mikon, larger-than-life, half-Olympian (so essentially superpowered?) and the absolute most charming, smirky character EVER, but with occasional anger management issues. I can’t with him. He’s the best. XD TALOS. MIKON. I adore them! Xuthos is a bad-boy fighter pilot and even though he’s not quite one of the Sunfires, I feel like he belongs, and he’s got more of a heart than he lets on. And, yes, Koralia trying to wrangle Mikon and Xuthos is the greatest thing and I loved those parts. XD They make a great trio! (Even if I wanted Talos in more of it. XD)

The banter and snark and humor in this book absolutely GIVE ME LIFE. I love it so, so much. The dialogue is gold and the interactions and shenanigans are the greatest! I kept quoting particularly golden lines aloud. *grinning*

Also, some of the sci-fi aspects reminded me of my favorite Timothy Zahn Star Wars books, which made me happy. 🙂

Greek mythology in space was such an interesting twist! I think I missed some things due to not being as brushed up on Greek myth as I probably should be, but I could still enjoy the book despite that. I did pick up on the Minotaur and the Labyrinth retelling bits which were SO well done and unique and awesome. I just love how perfectly it fit into the sci-fi setting! Absolutely brilliant. 😀

It also gave me ALL THE FEELS and there was a particular character I did NOT expect to like as much as I did and uuuuugh why do authors kill off characters. (Yes, I literally did bombard the author with a shrieking message about how could she have killed this person. XD Ahem.) ANYWAY, sometimes character deaths make me knock stars off but I think I’m okay, just whoa, ouch. So I may have had a bit of a quibble or two, heheh, what with that and occasional confusion due to not reading the genre much/references going over my head, but that’s pretty much on me. But yep, all the feels and also all the FUN too, so there’s that!

[Heads-up for readers who might be sensitive to some of these things: there’s some PG-13-level language, brief mentions of various scandals (ah, yes, Greek mythology characters and their messy drama…), and some dealing with character deaths. Clash of the Titans meets the new Star Wars trilogy, basically.]

It feels like a beautiful homage to Star Wars and Greek myth. If you like either of those, this book is going to be your next favorite read. 😀 Delicious, and I’m definitely looking forward to more from this author! You might not have known you needed a sci-fi Minotaur/Labyrinth retelling in your life, but you absolutely do! And especially Talos and Mikon and snarky shenanigans and brothers and family and space battles and magic and all of the feels—you need all of that in your life even more. A gorgeous, masterful book!


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Coiled


Thanks for reading! 🙂

Ahab by E.B. Dawson (Book Review)

Sooo, I’ve got a review for a scifi Moby Dick retelling today! (I also posted it on my Instagram so this post is about the same as that, if you’ve already seen that, just with other info. :))

Title: Ahab

Author: E.B. Dawson

  • Date read: November 14, 2020
  • Rating: 4 stars? I don’t even know how to star this because most of it’s, like, 6 out of 5 stars. XD And then the ending is not okay. T_T So. ???
  • Genre: Sci-fi / Space Opera / Retelling
  • Age: YA/NA?
  • Year pub: 2020
  • Pages: 191 (ebook)
  • Series: No
  • Fave character: Don’t make me choose between Ahab and Starbuck. They are both amazing in different ways and are the best working together.
  • Source: The author (e-ARC) and Amazon (finished ebook I preordered)
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s Website

I physically can’t properly review this. I couldn’t handle that ending but otherwise AHAB was amazing and until then I loved every second of it!

E.B. Dawson’s scifi is my favorite, and this one blended old and new, a wonderful Moby Dick retelling set in space, chilling and charming at turns. And Ahab and Starbuck are everything. Buddy stories are the BEST. This came SO close to being one of my top fave books of the year. 1800s-ish feeling but IN SPACE?? So amazing. 💚

I need happy endings, though. I NEED them.

I saw this sad ending coming but foolishly held out hope. Heh. So yeah, while I hated the ending and will not apologize for that (#happyendingsadvocate because #hope), the rest of the book was AMAZING and if you like buddy stories and don’t mind some feels/tragic-to-bittersweet endings, you will LOVE this.

(It also says something about the sheer quality of this book that I don’t hate the book, only the ending–which often makes me write a book off completely. It was utterly entrancing, overall.)

So yes. Good book. Sad ending. Like, couldn’t fall asleep, type sad. 😭 (If you need even MORE feels while reading, you can listen to In the Embers by Sleeping At Last, Brother by Kodaline, and Burn the Ships by For King and Country, which is what I did accidentally. Um. Yeah. Some awesome songs I’ve been listening to lately and a very feelzy combination with this book. It felt quite…ironic.)

The book was amazing while I was reading it, though. Just. Wow. Every word was just–on point. And, again, that 1800s feel? But scifi at the same time? It was perfection. How often do you get a buddy story with intense space voyages but also a gorgeous ball/party and walking 1800s-type streets. I could read this foreverrrr. All of it was incredible until the last chapter or so.

Now excuse me while I go lowkey imagine a (non-heartrending) alternate ending and also flail about how spectacular the rest of the book was.

Aaand I’ll just go cry now, thx. 😭

(Confession: I’ve never actually read the original, and the Moby Dick “book” in this picture is actually a wooden bookend. 😂 Maybe the original prepares you for the ending? 😬 I wouldn’t know. 😅 Also, I adored getting to the part near the end which is basically the Voyage of the Pequod short story, just a little different. I reread it along with the book and enjoyed it immensely. And hey, if AHAB sounds amazing but like me you can’t handle tragicness, do pick up VOYAGE OF THE PEQUOD.)

Thanks to the author for the e-ARC even though I ended up reading the final ebook I ordered since I read it after release because I’m so behind on my reading. 😂


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Thanks for reading! 🙂

Review: Strange Waters Anthology (Phoenix Fiction Writers)

I’m excited to share with y’all a review for this anthology of sci-fi and fantasy stories from the Phoenix Fiction Writers!

Title: Strange Waters

Authors: the Phoenix Fiction Writers

(E.B. Dawson, C. Scott Frank, Janelle Garrett, Hannah Heath, Nate Philbrick, K.L. + Pierce, J.E. Purrazzi, Kyle Robert Shultz, Beth Wangler)

  • Date read: January 30, 2020
  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Genre: Sci-fi / Fantasy / Short Stories / Anthology
  • Year pub: 2019
  • Pages: 302
  • Source: The publisher
  • Notes: I received a free e-copy of this anthology from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonAuthor’s Website

(5 stars to the collection overall! The stories might have different ratings, but most of them are 4’s or 5’s, definitely!)

STRANGE WATERS features nine sci-fi and fantasy stories from nine different authors. These tales range from intense to all the feels to hilarious and they’re all original and well-written!

A couple of them were too scary for me personally, but kudos to all these authors for writing such captivating stories in such a short space, all incredibly different even though they all feature the image on the cover! I had a blast reading this!

Here are some brief thoughts on each story. 🙂


Backpack Boy – by Nate Philbrick

Wow, talk about good writing. O_O I haven’t read a story like this before but it was sooo interesting and well-written. I loved the backpack boy and how things weren’t as they seemed and the sheer imagination of it. There were definitely feels, and I love how everything slowly got revealed. So original and yet classic-seeming, and like a definition of childhood.


Finer Things – by C. Scott Frank

Whoa! I loved this one! It’s very sci-fi, and sci-fi has to work hard to make me like it, but I was intrigued the entire time, on the edge of my seat, and I really liked the characters and their lively banter! Soren is my fave. They’re adorable. I love it! Fabulous and one of my favorites. ^_^


Roanoke – by J.E. Purrazzi

This one is set on an icy planet and I felt sooo cold reading it, so I guess it succeeded. XD Intense and exciting and unique! I liked the time element, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, rooting for our heroine Ketera! I’ve found myself thinking of this one several times since I read it and sometimes feel like I watched a movie of it instead of reading a short story.


Kamynosa’s Labyrinth – by Beth Wangler

I absolutely loved the islands and nautical feel of this one! Princess Kamynosa was a fierce part of this competition. XD I especially loved Jadairos! He was my favorite. 🙂 It’s told like a history, which meant it took me a minute to get into it, since we feel a little removed from the story at first, but was also a really cool touch in another way. And everything was so vivid!


Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea – by E.B. Dawson

THIS ONE! Oh my word. XD I’ve adored every E.B. Dawson short story I’ve read so far, and this one was so, so much fun! This unorthodox archaeology professor and his snark, though! I love Barnaby Brown so much. XD I kept wanting to quote the whole thing. Throw in unlucky Oliver and some shenanigans and problems and it’s just a riot. I love it so much! The idea of an archaeologist on another world/planet is so cool, by the way. And the ending was suuuper intriguing! Aaahh! Plus, fabulous banter. I love banter and humor and this one totally has a ton of both. 😀 One of my favorites!


Through the Lens – by K.L.+Pierce

This one was really fascinating, if a little scary, and I really liked the mind elements to it. It felt sort of quest-like and I was really curious to see what was going to happen, because I had no idea! I was confused a couple of times, but got straightened out, and a couple of the twists I did not see coming at all. o.o So yes, great suspense, and intriguing!


Ric Vayne and the Curse of Ghoul Nebula – by Kyle Robert Shultz

Disclaimer: I edited this one. But it’s absolutely hilarious and I love it so much. XD Ric Vayne, a space wizard, gets turned into a space ship, and shenanigans ensue. His dry narration, the humor, and the hilarious way that Ovo (the bird-like alien character) speaks totally made this story. I kept laughing. XD Another favorite!


The Underground – by Janelle Garrett

This one was SUPER INTENSE and I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe the entire time I was reading it! *nervous laughter* It was terrifying, dystopian-ish story, with a good blend of fantasy and sci-fi feel. Oh, and I really liked Kef! It was just a bit too creepy for me, personally (I don’t do well with scariness or dystopian feels!), but certainly super well-written, and I never knew where it was going to go next. I’m sure many readers will enjoy it. ^_^


This Pain Inside – by Hannah Heath

This one was super fascinating and intriguing! I had similar problems with it as with the previous one, because, again, I’m just not a dystopian/post-apocalyptic person — sorry! It was really intense and scary and full of feels. But the writing was awesome, and the message, and the ending, and everything was very vivid. The under-the-sea stuff was intriguing, and I loved the mermaid tails. So, too scary for me, but that’s just me. XD But I definitely couldn’t put it down! Wow. Oh, and I liked how music was a part of it!


Overall, my favorites were Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea and Ric Vayne and the Mystery of Ghoul Nebula, because I love funny stories, and they were both just so much fun. XD But all of the others were super good too (even the scary ones!) and I really enjoyed the collection as a whole! Definitely check this one out! 🙂


A Few Favorite Quotes

“You don’t think they’ll come looking for us down here? They never come down here. They’ve never had a good enough reason.”

Soren smiles mischievously. “I’m afraid I may have given them one.”

— Finer Things (C. Scott Frank)


“But you haven’t told me much about this expedition,” Oliver said. “Maybe we could talk about that. What’s this exciting find?”

“Well, you remember when Folger discovered the ancient city of Telia Cross?”

Oliver’s face brightened a shade. “Yes.”

“Well, it won’t be like that,” Barnaby muttered.

Oliver’s face fell. “Probably just as well. I’m allergic to dust.”

“We’re investigating the origin of a strange marking on a two-inch piece of potsherd,” Barnaby said.

“That sounds a little more likely.”

***

“I had no idea archaeology was so dangerous,” Oliver said.

— Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea (E.B. Dawson)


Everything was worse in the middle of the night, including sarcasm.

— The Underground (Janelle Garrett)


I also want to quote the entire Ric Vayne story (it’s by Kyle Robert Shultz; of course it’s quotable and hilarious), and more Barnaby Brown, but I will leave readers to discover them instead. XD


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Thanks for reading! 🙂

Mini Reviews! Sci-Fi Short Stories (by E.B. Dawson)

You guys. I recently read the most INCREDIBLE short stories by E.B. Dawson. Part of what’s incredible? Most of them are genres like dystopian or sci-fi that aren’t “my” genres and yet these kept me utterly transfixed. I ADORED THEM.

So here are mini reviews for six short stories, ranging from a Beauty and the Beast retelling to dystopian thrillers to Moby Dick in space to a beautiful tale on another planet.

Whether or not you are a sci-fi fan, you need to check these out!

  • Author: E.B. Dawson (WebsiteAmazonGoodreadsFacebookTwitterInstagram)
  • Genre: Sci-fi / short stories
  • Date read: April 8, 2019 (except for Beast in the Machine, January 28, 2019)
  • Source: I received free ebook copies of these stories either for review or free on the author’s newsletter, except for Nomad of the Emirates which I purchased on Amazon.
  • Note: Thanks to the author for free copies of some of these. I was under no obligation to write positive reviews and all opinions are my own.

Voyage of the Pequod

5 stars • Science Fiction / Retelling (Moby Dick) • AmazonGoodreads

This is Moby Dick in space. That idea is as perfect as it sounds and YOU NEED IT IN YOUR LIFE. *collapses* I’m not even as familiar with the original Moby Dick story as I could be, and sci-fi isn’t my usual genre, but I absolutely adored this short story! I suppose I knew enough to appreciate it as a retelling (though others might appreciate it more), but either way it was a brilliant story and totally captured me. I was instantly absorbed in this unique and fascinating tale. Electronic space whales! The remains of a war between man and machines (scary AI machines are soooo creepy! And the hints of backstory are absolutely fascinating). A battered space ship going out into the unknown. And the character interactions with the little crew, which I loved — there’s the new boy, and the old sailors, and of course the enigmatic captain Ahab and steady first mate Starbuck. They have a sort of buddy relationship going which is fantastic. It’s also one of my favorite things: a ship story (whether that’s nautical, piratical, space-ships, or airships. There’s just something classic about that and it was brilliant in this). It was just all so good, in such a short space! (No pun intended.) It was so intense I totally forgot to breathe! (Also I need a sequel! O_O) HELP. So, SO good! I don’t even know why but I loved it so very much I can’t put words to it! This is truly magnificent science-fiction.


Nomad of the Emirates

5 stars • Science Fiction • AmazonGoodreads

This story was so incredibly beautiful, help. What even are words? How can I describe it? It was intriguing from the start, and it’s very strange if you think about it (like sci-fi can be). But somewhere along the way, before I really knew what had happened, it stole my heart. This first-person story of a misfit girl from Earth who finds her place on another planet where she’s technically not supposed to be, and yet it’s where she’s most supposed to be of all places. The way she made a way in this foreign place and made it her home, how she’s a nomad, how she touches the strange cultures of the alien beings and makes a place there because of her openness and her heart for others and her willingness to understand those who are other, and what comes of it. That there is a place for those who haven’t found it yet — that it’s out there. I just love this story so much. It makes my heart ache and just — I don’t even know. It touched my soul. I don’t really know exactly how but it totally captivated me and I’m so glad I picked up a copy! And I laughed a couple of times, like with the hammock scene. Thinking of this story always makes me smile. I’m not sure, but I think this may be what sci-fi is supposed to be, a window to new worlds and a way to look outside to where the heart can reach — which can go even beyond things we know. Beautiful, beautiful!


Government Man

5 stars • Dystopian / Science Fiction • AmazonGoodreads

That was SO INTENSE. Oh my goodness! So, I’m not a big fan of dystopian type stories, but this one was super fascinating and kept me very intrigued the whole time. ACK. It was so well-written and fascinating (I know I keep using that word for this author’s stories, but I can’t help it because it’s true). I loved Caleb, our point of view undercover character. It’s set in a dystopian society with some of the usual things, but somehow unique too, and I loved some of the new spins on it. Especially Caleb’s personal story and what he does about it after . . . things happen. He’s absolutely the most epic person. 😀 Sometimes it felt like a cozy contemporary, like the bits in the coffee shop with Sarah, and other times like a mystery thriller, and then a dash of sci-fi with certain . . . er . . . developments (spoilers!), and all in a vaguely dystopian society. I just — I really loved it! Even though it was scary and super intense. I couldn’t stop reading, and loved it, and I was so happy to discover there was a sequel short story, which I promptly devoured too. It’s such a delightful mix of genres that I can’t quite pinpoint it, but whatever it is, it’s an excellent short story which I really enjoyed and couldn’t put down!

Note: You can currently read a free copy of Government Man and three other cool short stories if you sign up for the Phoenix Fiction Writers newsletter. PFW is an epic group of speculative fiction authors and you can check it out HERE.


Shadow Figure

5 stars • Dystopian / Science Fiction • AmazonGoodreads

This is a direct sequel to Government Man (I love that idea! Sequel short stories!) and I can’t talk too much about it because of spoilers for the first one, but it was another fascinating story. It delves further into the dystopian world introduced in the first, but from a new perspective, a certain heroine this time. It was intense too and I especially loved the “Shadow Figure” and all the things related to it. It’s heartwrenching in a sense, but full of possibility too (that I’m really excited about), and I somehow loved it. I definitely want to read more about these characters!


Gifted

4 stars • Urban Fantasy / Superpowers / Sci-Fi • AmazonGoodreads

What a fascinating story! I wasn’t always sure what was going on, but I knew I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading. This story had layers and it was so interesting to find each one behind the other. It’s some sort of Urban Fantasy mixed with superpowers and fist fighting in a ring, but it’s much more than that, somehow. I was so intrigued by Spencer and his story, and these other interesting people he meets. It was very vivid and I never wanted to stop reading, even if I didn’t necessarily “get” everything. It went in an unexpected direction, and definitely left me curious to know more.


Beast in the Machine

5 stars • Science Fiction / Retelling (Beauty and the Beast) • Goodreads • (This is part of a collection called Once Upon a Future Time, so if you’re interested in it, go check out the Kickstarter project, through June 22!)

Beauty and the Beast is my second-favorite fairytale, so the idea of a sci-fi version fascinated me, and I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. What I found was an enchanting blend of an old-world-feeling setting, in a charming sea-village where I could almost taste the salty breeze, with just a dash of futuristic technology to spice it up. I absolutely loved the writing and the feel of this one! Isabelle was a great heroine and brought such a strong personality to the story, drawing the reader into the story. Throw in a mysterious and occasionally unhinged young man named Sebastian Prince with a dark past, a mansion with a lab and a library, dream experiments gone wrong, and an adorable little robot named Cog (I loved Cog!) and you have the perfect recipe for a fresh take on a classic tale as old as time. I absolutely adored this retelling! It was my first E.B. Dawson story and from the very first page, I knew I had to read more from this author. It felt so COZY, though with a dash of peril and excitement, of course. Even if you’re not a sci-fi person, the sci-fi flavors are subtle in this, and any fans of Beauty and the Beast will find it as enchanting as I did!


So, I binge-read five sci-fi-ish short stories from this author and my overall impression was one of complete awesomeness. If I don’t watch out, E.B. Dawson is going to make me addicted to sci-fi! 😉

Are you a short story or a sci-fi person, or like me do you rarely dip your toes into those waters? I’m definitely planning on trying this genre more often — I used to a bit more when I was younger, and I clearly need to revisit it.

Do these stories intrigue you? Let me know in the comments — or if you have a top sci-fi book to recommend to me!

The Fatal Tree by Stephen R. Lawhead (Bright Empires Series)

I’ve got a long-overdue review to share with you, and a giveaway!

Title: The Fatal Tree (Bright Empires, #5)

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

  • Date read: May 18, 2017
  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Time / Christian / Contemporary
  • Age: YA and up
  • Year pub: 2014
  • Pages: 340 (hardcover)
  • Series: The Bright Empires, #5 (final one!)
  • Fave character: All of them. ❤
  • Source: Amazon
  • Notes: Definitely be sure to start with book 1, The Skin Map.
  • Links: GoodreadsAmazonBarnes & NobleAuthor’s Website

Review of The Fatal Tree

review

5starrating

In the immortal words of Bilbo Baggins (at least in a certain film), “I’ve put this off for far too long.”

I was waiting for the right words, but I’ve realized that there’s simply no way to do justice to this book in a review, and so instead of waiting for a time that will never come, I’m simply going to say something about it, even if it’s not enough.

You see, the Bright Empire series (of which The Fatal Tree is the fifth and final book) meant so much to me that I can’t quite put it into words.

I enjoyed it, loved it, and it had a profound influence and effect on me. The series worked its way into a deep part of me that makes it hard to get at to explain. I’m not sure if you’ve had this experience, but sometimes you read something that becomes a part of you. It changes you. And so you can’t really talk about it—not really, not in a way that could explain to anyone why it happened to reach you at that soul level, because if it didn’t do the same for them, then they just won’t understand. And that’s all right, because every book affects people differently, if at all. It just makes it difficult to explain.

So it’s seems silly to attempt it, and I won’t try, but I will say that this series is a part of me, like several other book milestones along the way through my younger life—I won’t go through those here. It’s enough a part of me that I don’t really think about it, but it is and it’s there.

So here are a few things about the series that made it something special, at least for this literary traveler.

For one thing, there’s Mina. She was the first female role-model I’d met in a book since I was very young. I want to be her. (More on that in My Tower of Fantasy.) Heroines never interest me in fiction much; I don’t know why, but I’m usually more drawn to the heroes. So Mina was something new and different. She showed me it was possible to do oh-so-many things. She’s the bravest character I’ve ever read about, but she started as a stressed, tired young woman from our modern days. Literally plucked out of her life and thrust into another one, she refuses to give in and transforms her situation into something incredible. She is clever and heroic and rather more brave than I think I’d ever be, but she is so incredibly loving and steady too, and she shines. She makes a way in the world, and is loyal to her friends, and capable, and an entrepreneur, ready to try new things whether in a bakery or fearlessly treading the roads between worlds, but she’s still human and shows that it’s okay to wish you could be home taking a hot shower to avoid the world at times. And, I mean, who wouldn’t want to go visit her and Etzel’s joint Kaffeehaus in 1600s Prague? It’s the most amazing place! I think what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t really have role-models in fiction, and that we need those. I’ve had plenty of fictional heroes, and I needed those too, and I had Eilonwy and Princess Irene and Eowyn and others, but I hadn’t met a modern heroine I could look up to, and I think in a rush to write “realistic” characters (read: dull and flawed, or fake and artificially “strong”), people just don’t write truly heroic characters anymore. Not the ones who can actually be looked up to, and show a blueprint of what might be, and meet me where I am and inspire me and show me that I can be something more and do things. I won’t ramble on about her more than that, but Mina is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The series also firmly embedded into my mind that whole “there are no coincidences” thing, which as much as I always knew in theory I didn’t really believe if you know what I mean, until reading this fascinating series. If there’s one thing I took away from these books, it was that, and I adore it.

O’er earth we see Thee, and Thy footsteps trace / Through the Bright Empires of unbounded Space

Then there’s how I’ll run across things in life, or in other literature, or in a song, or history, and I’ll see it echoing back to this series—whether it’s a name, or a place, or something else—and I’ll go “Aha! It’s like Bright Empires!” and I’ll do a little dance of intrigued joy. (For example, I stumbled across a translation of a Welsh song called Adra (Home) by Gwyneth Glyn and it so strongly fit this series I thought “What a coincidence! Oh, that can’t be right . . .” ;)) Aside from simply being great fun to find things in life that remind me of a beloved series, it opened up a whole new world to me—and how could it not, with such a broad canvas of times, places, people, and thoughts painted together with such intricacy and skill?

And also with beloved characters and humor and enjoyment, because that’s the important bit that makes the rest stick in your mind. Because there’s the thing: you can have the most interesting or enlightening book in the world, but if it’s not fun, it’s not going to stick with you—or with me, at any rate. And you can have an enjoyable story, but how much more enjoyable is it if, amidst the fun, it stretches your mind far afield and shows you a whole new world and makes you think? I love how this series did all of those things for me, and all in a mind-bending, genre-defying, completely new sort of way.

But aren’t you going to talk about this book, not just the series, then? you ask.

Oh, very well.

I see the series as a whole and so I don’t have terribly much to say specifically about the final book, other than as the end of a saga. (Especially not without massive spoilers, which nobody wants because you must discover them on your own when you read the books; and you ARE GOING TO, right? *stern but loving look*) But there are a few things, so I’ll mention them.

I don’t know how I feel about a few things that happened, and at least at one point I wished that some of the characters could have come in at the end with the others and they didn’t—but then I realized that they were perfect where they are. Several pairs of people are THE MOST ADORABLE THING. (I’m sorry, I’m a romantic. XD)

Familiar places (like Black Mixen Tump) swirl back into the story, and continue to be fascinating. Desert sand in Egypt to frozen ice and the Stone Age, with Prague and Constantinople and all the rest in between. I love the richness of all the different countries and times we get to visit in this series, and how vivid they are (even if some can get downright frightening!), and especially the good hearts of many of the people we meet. Everything’s so genuine, laced with a thread of nobleness and light.

I still adore all of the characters, fiercely. Mina, Kit, Etzel, Cass, Giles, Tony, Haven, Gianni, the members of the Zetetic Society, and all the rest. They’re my friends now. ^_^ I was so delighted to get to finally complete their story in this book, and I absolutely love how all of their tales intertwine and fit into the book so neatly but with threads trailing afterward to the future. And I love all of their interactions SO MUCH. They make the book. 😀

Even the villains are interesting, and far from straightforward. Burleigh’s plotline is one of the two most skillful ones of its kind I’ve read in my life.

And, of course, there’s a time-related thing or two that finally happen in this book, which I’ve been waiting for since the first one. One in particular made me SO HAPPY. (Looking at you, chapter 11.) Speaking of timey-wimey things, that sort of thing always makes my head spin (in a good way) and I think I filled a couple of pieces of paper with diagrams of different people’s timelines and where and when they crossed and it was still dreadfully confusing and I love it so much. XD Someday I’m going to carve out the time to read the whole series again, and I’m looking forward to that with relish. (And maybe then I’ll finally fully understand the ending, which tied my mind in knots. :D)

Then there’s that whole having-to-save-the-world thing, what with the whole universe about to end and everything, which is as serious as it sounds and just as exciting—and there may or may not be some death in there, and I’m not saying I totally understood how everything turned out (I like a good goes-slightly-over-my-head-and-requires-a-rereading ending—just look at Diana Wynne Jones), especially with science-y things going over my head, but everything came together from the previous books and on the whole I was terribly pleased with how The Fatal Tree wrapped up the series. (I’m also so glad we got a what-happens-next bit at the end too! *collapses*)

It was an experience, and one it’s taken me nearly two years to get around to finally externalizing and typing up in the form of a “review” (or shall we call it an essay?), but I can safely say that the Bright Empires is one of the most delightful series I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Even if only as an enjoyable adventure, I recommend them highly to anyone who cares to try their luck. Or, since there is no such thing as coincidence, let’s say that luck is the wrong word and leave it at that. 😉

I’m deeply indebted to Mr. Lawhead for penning such a—well, brilliant is the only word for it, in so many ways—series, and I look forward to delving into more of his books very soon.

(Also . . . THE SPOON. :O WHAT. DOES. IT. MEAN. I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.)

Read my reviews for the previous books in the series:

10SkinMap 2bonehouse 3spiritwell

GIVEAWAY!

I happen to have a spare paperback copy of the first book in the series, The Skin Map, and I want to share the love!

Visit the Rafflecopter HERE for a chance to win it!

(USA addresses only. Runs 4/11/19 through 4/17/19. Winner will be contacted by email and announced here shortly after.)

[Edit: Giveaway is closed! The winner is Grace T! Thanks for entering, everyone! :)]

Have you read any of these? And do you have a favorite Lawhead book? Thanks for reading! 🙂