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My Familiar Stranger (Knights of Black Swan, #1)

My Familiar Stranger (Knights of Black Swan, #1)

My Familiar Stranger by Victoria Danann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book I would have ever picked up on my own. First of all, the cover just was not appealing to me. It’s a chick’s face. There is wind coming from somewhere, blowing said chick’s hair across her face. She would probably benefit from a hair tie or a headband. And that’s all there is to the cover. Bland, right? Also, it sounded like a really weird blend of commonly used tropes, such as the combination of vampire hunters and inter-dimensional travel. Furthermore, it involves one of my least favorite tropes: the dreaded love triangle, or in this case, a love square.

So, if I was so opposed to various aspects of this book, why on earth did I pick it up? Because my mom told me to.

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Fate Lashed (Ethereal Earth, #2)

Fate Lashed (Ethereal Earth, #2)

I received a copy of the audiobook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Fate Lashed by Josh Erikson
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Josh Erikson does it again with his stellar narration in Fate Lashed, and this time with a faster-paced, action-packed and riveting plotline.

In the previous book, we got the origins story of Gabriel Delling – how he became intertwined with supernatural entities and ended up as a human with the ability to use magic (well, just somewhat at this stage). After losing the evil God from his head and spending time hiding out in a remote cabin to ruminate, he returned to civilization and in no time landed himself into trouble again. As fate would have it, the powerful inner circles of the Umbras are now contending to seek a ‘Key to the Universe’ which has revealed its existence just about the same time that Gabe got himself unwittingly embroiled in the affairs of these creatures from the Ether. That he survived what he did in Hero Forged, Gabe became a wildcard that fate has neither a read nor a hold on. In other words,  he is now the key much sought-after player in this quest for the Key, for better or for worse.

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Solace Lost (Pandemonium Rising, #1)

Solace Lost (Pandemonium Rising, #1)

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Solace Lost by Michael Sliter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brutally gripping story tinged with despair; Solace Lost is a character-driven grimdark fantasy debut that earned its title mercilessly.

Solace Lost is Michael Sliter’s debut; the first book out of five in the Pandemonium Rising series. Before I begin my review, I strongly urge that you read this novel only IF you’re a grimdark fantasy enthusiast. I don’t usually include content warnings in my review but I feel like this book truly warranted one; as it involved a minor spoiler, I’ll mention it at the end of my review.

The main story in Solace Lost follows four main characters: Fenrir, Merigold, Hafgan, and Emma. Ardia is on the brink of a civil war and these four distinctive characters will have their fates intertwined, for better or worse. As I mentioned before, this is utterly a character-driven story and its main strength lies mostly within the characterizations. Each main character has different personality traits, and the inner voices given by the author to these characters made them feel real. Living up to the grimdark genre, none of the main characters can simply be defined as good or bad. The only character that started out as good and kind-hearted was Merigold. That too, for only a while before atrocious things happened to her and she found her life completely turned upside down. I won’t go as far as saying that I loved these characters but I did find myself totally invested in knowing about their journeys. This was especially true for Fenrir and Merigold’s POVs; they dominated the plot of this book and I found their storyline to be the most engaging out of all the characters.

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A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone, #1)

A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone, #1)

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Sometimes the only answer is blood and steel.”

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I loved getting to revisit the Banished Lands, which is among by favorite fantasy worlds. On the other, seeing the way this world has changed in the over a century since the events of The Faithful and the Fallen (TFatF) was painful. But that’s part of the point.

While Gwynne’s original series set in the Banished Land had a lot of warring and sadness and character deaths, I wouldn’t call it grimdark. There was a hopefulness to the story that in my opinion negated that genre. However, I would say that this first book of the followup series is undoubtedly grimdark. The brightness that managed to shine through in the first series isn’t present here, which made me sad. That said, I get the reasoning behind it. The world that the cast of TFatF fought for has been preserved, but at a high price. It has been undeniably altered, and not for the better. Looking back on the events of the first four books, this alteration saddens me because it makes the fight feel like it wasn’t worth the cost. But that’s not true, and I’m hoping that in the second installment of this followup series, we’ll see a bit more of the hope that defined TFatF.

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Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co., #1)

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co., #1)

Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Be brave, be curious, be kind.”

I have the most wonderful friends. And those I talk to the most, I’ve never even met in person. There’s a group of us (most of whom now write for the blog we built together, Novel Notions) who talk almost every single day. For the past three years, we’ve sent each other birthday presents and Secret Santa gifts for Christmas. Almost always books, of course. We’ve been there for each other through both extreme hardship and profound joy. Even though I can’t give them a physical shoulder to cry on because of the distance, I know they’re always there for me, and I’m certain they feel the same about me. We love each other, and we share a common passion, the combination of which spawned our wonderful blog. Book friends are the best friends.

“I love thinking about other people reading the books I love, or why someone gave that book as a present – those names and messages are like tiny moments of time travel linking readers from different eras and families and even countries.”

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Forever Fantasy Online (FFO, #1)

Forever Fantasy Online (FFO, #1)

I received an advanced reading copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Forever Fantasy Online by Rachel Aaron and Travis Bach.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent characters, an engaging story and geek humour. What more can one ask for?

Forever Fantasy Online is one of my first LitRPG novels, but thanks to the powerhouse couple of Rachel Aaron and Travis Bach, it will not be my last. I will start by talking just a bit about my experience with RPGs as this will provide some context for my review. While I had been quite a geek during my younger days, my RPG days (via books and PC) ended over two decades ago, and I did not have any exposure to multi-player online RPGs. Neither have I been in the anime scene to appreciate the inspiration of this trilogy, which is a hugely popular anime series called Sword Art Online.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Literary fiction is very hit or miss for me. I’ve read quite a few that I desperately wanted to like, but I just couldn’t. There’s this level of pretension found in the writing of many such titles that I find difficult to stomach. However, I have been fortunate to find some absolutely gorgeous books in the genre, a handful of which are now among my very favorite books on the planet.

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”

So where did Sing, Unburied, Sing fall in this mixed bag of a genre? While it doesn’t rank among my favorite books ever, I did very much enjoy it. There’s something about reading a novel that shares your life in some way, whether that entails a shared heritage or setting or lifestyle, that just speaks so deeply to readers. For me, that comes in the form of novels set in the American South. Ward writes stories firmly rooted in the South, and though this was the first of her novels I’ve read, it won’t be the last, because she does a phenomenal job of capturing both the beauty and the repugnance of the rural South.

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Uncanny Collateral (Valkyrie Collection, #1)

Uncanny Collateral (Valkyrie Collection, #1)

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Uncanny Collateral by Brian McClellan
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Uncanny Collateral is an entertaining, fast-paced urban fantasy novella that packed a surprising amount of character development for its size.

McClellan was best known for his Powder Mage trilogy which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. His ongoing Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy which is based off the same world is reputedly even better than his debut efforts but I’ve yet to read them; something which I intend to rectify sometime in the future. If this novella was anything to go by, his writing now has an even more natural and practised ease that flows and ebbs with the story. In Powder Mage, the writing was slightly clunkier in the first book, but improvements were noticeable as we progressed to the third one.

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Elevation

Elevation

Elevation by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Gravity is the anchor that pulls us down into our graves.”

Elevation is not your typical Stephen King book. First of all, it’s a tiny thing clocking in at fewer than 150 pages. Compared to most of King’s published works, that’s insanely short. He does have some wonderful novellas and short stories, but when a man known for publishing doorstoppers like IT, 11/22/63, Under the Dome, and The Stand publishes something that can be read in a day, it seems like a pretty radical difference. Second, this is not a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely strange, but it didn’t strike me as horror. Instead, it was bittersweetly moving, focusing on friendship and its ability to get us through even the toughest of times.

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All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The introduction to The Murderbot Diaries is simply great fun! All Systems Red is a refreshing and diverting sci-fi novella with wide appeal; a marvellous package of wry humour, suspense and a healthy dose of compassion.

As much as I love science fiction, I don’t consider myself as a hardcore reader of the genre, and there are a lot of popular series or “required reading” which I have yet to catch-up on. In this respect, I find this book to be original; it is not a space opera, cyberpunk and it is not about an alien invasion. This is a first-person perspective narrative of a humanlike bot, a construct of both organic and inorganic parts, who finds it/him/herself becoming weird and messed up with increasing ‘emotions’ while dealing with her human clients even though the bots are not programmed as such. (Okay, I am going to call the bot a ‘her’ because even though it is technically genderless, I can’t help picturing it as a female. The voice of her first-person perspective just sounds feminine, in my opinion).

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