Happy Book Birthday to J.L. Gribble!

Guys, I am SO EXCITED to help launch the third book in the Steel Empires series, STEEL BLOOD. I had the privilege of getting know the author J.L. Gribble during the 2014 NaNoWriMo when she was finishing up the draft of the second book in this amazing fantasy series. Since then, the first book in the series, STEEL VICTORY has received some glorious praise from Publishers Weekly:

“The innovative combination of genres is appealing, and Gribble’s multiple story lines—invasion, anti-creature bias, and intercity politics—mesh very well together….This is a solid first effort that sets the stage for more installments in an intriguing world with complex characters.” – Publishers Weekly, May 2015

Book 2, STEEL MAGIC, also received a few nods:

“Gribble brings the newest generation to the forefront with an adventure reminiscent of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series.” – Library Journal, June 2016

Along with the delightful blend of the paranormal, apocalyptic, and alternative history genres, the characters in this series have such profound bounds with each other that it’s hard not to fall in love with each and every one of them. From Victory, the centuries-old vampire who just wants to enjoy her retirement from being a mercenary, to Kane, the warrior-mage who would do anything for those he cares about, these are characters whose stories you want to know. Hell, I didn’t even mention my personal favorite, Mikelos, the daywalker with a quick wit that certainly causes of most of his trouble.

But without further ado, here’s STEEL BLOOD…

Steel-Blood-Jacket.inddAs her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.

For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.

Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness.

This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.

STEEL BLOOD is available online through the publisher, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles.

If you haven’t picked up this series yet, you can find STEEL VICTORY, here. ENJOY! Did you not see the weredragons?! 


Gribble photo colorBy day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.

She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).

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BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Holy Hera. Where has this book been all my life?!

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in a new fantasy series written by V.E. Schwab. It follows the misadventures of Kell, the last of a unique breed of magician that can travel between different dimensions. The London’s of each dimension differ based on their relationship with magic, and when magic from a darker realm hitches a ride to another, Kell’s life plummets into chaos.

But seriously, THIS BOOK! From cover to gorgeous cover, I enjoyed every word of it. The concept, the characters, THE WRITING. All of it was fantastic. And unique. And gorgeous. And brilliant. And ALL THE AWESOME ADJECTIVES!

Onto specifics though…

NON-SPOILERY REVIEW

Let’s start with the writing. The best way I can explain the “feel” of this book is to call it a classic fairytale with modern pacing. The elegant narrative is in a close third from multiple POV’s that gives you the most intimate view of both the plot and all the major players.

Schwab also doesn’t hold any punches. Once Kell makes that first misstep, he keeps on tripping, all the way to the end. Anything that can go wrong, does, and it keeps the plot brilliantly paced, always sprinting forward.

I have to confess that this is my first time reading Schwab, and a quarter of the way through ADSOM, I realized that I would follow this author anywhere, to whatever genre she chose to take on. The writing, the STORYTELLING, is THAT GOOD! So many things go into what makes a good book for me. Concept, Characters, Plot, World, and Writing are the main five. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with books that hit three of the five. But this book had EVERYTHING. The multiple Londons, the way magic worked, the elegant prose, the fast-paced plotting, the complex set of characters, ADSOM was everything I could have ever wanted in a fantasy novel.

I feel like I should clarify here that I think most books are lovable, but writing is a subjective art. And when I judge a book based on the five criteria’s I mentioned above, it’s more on a dial and less of a straight yes or no. So when I say that I’ve loved books that hit 3/5, it’s more so it maxed out those criteria.

But anyhoo, back to the review. Stop here if you don’t want spoilers!

SPOILERY FANGIRLING

So I guess this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s the first thing you see of Kell, but THAT COAT! I love the coat. I want that coat. And the fact that Schwab opens the story on the coat immediately throws us into the deep end of her world.

“What? You didn’t know this was a fantasy? Well, now you do! Hope you can swim!”

Okay, it wasn’t THAT abrupt, but you get a quick sense of the world and Kell, all within the span of the first couple pages. BRILLIANT!

Side note: There are bound to be numerous Brilliant’s in this section. SORRY!

Moving on, I love how complex Kell is. Much like his coat, Kell has multiple sides. Prince. Ambassador. Antari. Smuggler. And Schwab captures each every one of them beautifully. She also illustrates how important subtle urges like “belonging” are. From Kell’s relationship to his brother, Prince Rhy, to his complex camaraderie with fellow Antari, Holland, and even his affinity for smuggling tokens across London lines, we understand quickly that Kell is searching for that thing/place/person that makes him feel “home.”

Then he meets Delilah Bard, who is one of the most clever characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. She’s a thief, but she’s far from stereotypical. She has an aspiration to see the world, any world, and have an adventure. She doesn’t want charity and doesn’t really want to be a thief forever (though she does want to be a pirate). Thievery is a means to an end for her, a means to get out of the slums of Gray London. Then she picks Kell’s pocket and finds an adventure that she’s not 100% sure she’ll survive.

The dynamic between Kell and Lila is a brilliant one (told you). Lila gives Kell that sense of “belonging” that he’s been searching for, and Kell is a promise of adventure for Lila. But my favorite thing about their relationship: IT’S NOT ROMANTIC! Their mutual respect and camaraderie has NOTHING to do with sexual attraction or romance and IT IS MY FAVORITE!

Also, Lila outsmarts Kell at nearly every turn. She sees things so complexly, and we see how with the stone. Where Kell simply calls it “bad magic,” she recognizes it as “clever.” And I think this is an important distinction between the two characters, not only setting them up for future plotlines, but also to show how they balance each other. Kell is intelligent, yes. But Lila is cunning. And the two of them together is, yes I’m going to say it again, BRILLIANT.

Another side note: I can’t tell you how excited I am for A Gathering Of Shadows (ADSOM #2 coming in February 2016)! If only because I’m fairly certain Lila is also Antari. She’s missing an eye but doesn’t remember how. We know there’s magic in her, but the telltale sign of the Antari is the singular black eye… Miss Schwab, what do you have planned?

Moving along to antagonists, the Dane twins. I LOVE how Schwab sets these two up. Okay, I love how she sets up all her characters. She shows their motivations immediately upon meeting them, which allows the reader to spend the story guessing what that character will do or how far their power reaches. And I LOVE the fact that we see the undoing of Danes in their first scene as well. The fact that they lead by force, that little detail, is what costs them Holland and the black stone in the end.

GAAAAH!!! IT’S ALL JUST SO BRILLIANT (5)!!!

So there it is, my review for the INCREDIBLE A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. If you haven’t picked up this book, DO IT! DO IT NOW! If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

 

BOOK REVIEW: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

The next three weeks are going to be devoted to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor.

Never has a trilogy left me so conflicted. Overall, I truly did love this series, and I had a really bad case of the mourning’s when I turned the final page of book 3. But for as many things that I absolutely loved about these books, there were also things that had me second-guessing whether or not I would finish the series.

This trilogy is definitely a in-it-for-the-long-haul read. If you’re looking for something that will give you a quick resolution, this probably isn’t for you. You do get your resolutions, but Taylor makes you work for them.

BUT if you want an epically unique world to get lost in and explore, you need to pick up this trilogy. It is expansive and expertly developed and each character has his or her own needs/agenda.

So without further ado: My thoughts on Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

NON-SPOILER-Y REVIEW

Daughter of Smoke & Bone is a YA Fantasy that takes place in Prague. The MC, Karou, already leads a spectacular life, having been raised by chimaera and traveling the world. But when angels start burning handprints into doors, Karou’s life gets a whole lot more complicated.

There are so many reasons to pick up this first book, but my top has to be the magnificent prose with which Taylor delivers the story. From page one, Taylor’s skills with imagery trap you in the story, and her characters are so vibrant that you feel like you’ve known them forever.

Taylor manages to write an epic-fantasy-level story while straddling the hum-drum human world, but even her human characters are far from stereotypes. She does a brilliant job at giving us fully developed characters from their first introduction as well as laying layer upon layer of mysteries and secrets for us to unravel throughout the series.

And that’s it for this non-spoiler-y section. Don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled.


SPOILER-Y FANGIRLING

Okay, so I said it above, but I’ll say it again. OH MY GOD, THE WRITING! NO, SERIOUSLY, THE WRITING!

One of the main reasons I absolutely adored this trilogy was Taylor’s incredible talent and skill with prose. Every metaphor, every visual, every description, everything was just ON POINT!

I loved how fearless and curious Karou was. Overall an incredibly compelling character. Actually, all of Taylor’s characters were compelling. Karou, Akiva, Brimstone, Zuzana.

Also, the world that Taylor creates is fully-realized from the get-go. So even though we have a BAGILLION questions, those questions are due to necessary built-in mystery rather than a lack of world-building.

And before I move on, did anyone else laugh hysterically at Brimstone’s “non-essential penis” line for days on end like I did? No? Just me? Mkay…

Alright, now for the not-so-fangirling bit.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVED this trilogy and will sing Taylor’s praises as a writer all day long, BUT I had a really big issue with the chapters of flashback post mid-point. It felt like I was moving along at a swift pace with Karou and Akiva, then suddenly, “We’re going to interrupt your current story for a massive interlude of backstory.”

That may have been a little harsh.

I do agree that we needed that information for the rest of the series. I just wish it would have been incorporated in a way that didn’t totally press pause on our girl Karou. Even though Karou is Madrigal. But still.

Like I said, I truly do love this story and the characters and the world and the writing. But for whatever reason, I am hung up on that silly flashback. *throws toddler tantrum*

What about y’all? What did you think about the flashback? Did you expect Brimstone to be using teeth to conjure chimaera?

Next Friday, I’ll be reviewing Days of Blood and Starlight, book 2 in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor.

BOOK REVIEW: Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

Heir of Fire is book 3 of the YA epic fantasy series, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll go to the nearest bookstore and pick up book 4.

If you haven’t picked up this series, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Jk. J But you can see my review for book 1, Throne of Glass, here. And for book 2, Crown of Midnight, here.

Now for my thoughts on Heir of Fire

NON-SPOILER-Y REVIEW

In book 3, Maas expands both the world and the plot, adding layer upon layer of brilliant world building and character development. She introduces new characters, new villains, and really sets you up for what to expect from upcoming books.

I loved this book. It was unlike the first two in a lot of ways, but I thought it was an awesome gear-change from the first two in the series. We left Crown of Midnight shortly after Celaena experiences a tremendous loss that leaves her broken and alone. So while we got to see the depths of Celaena’s darkness in COM, we get to see the depths of her grief and pain in HOF.

Again, Maas gives us an incredible narrative wrapped around friendship and love of all kinds, and what that means to different people. In this third installment, she really challenges each and every character to their breaking point, and you as the reader, have no choice but to break with them.

And that’s it for the non-spoiler-y section, come back once you’ve read the book and we’ll discuss!


SPOILER-Y FANGIRLING

So I connect with Celaena on several levels (No, I’m not an assassin), but especially with the never-ending need to be seen and accepted. Basically, I cried throughout a good portion of this book. Like choking on sobs for a half-hour, tears streaming down my face, UGLY CRYING. But I’ll get to that later.

First off, we have the opening, seeing Celaena beat down, hungry, filthy, drunk on the streets of Wendolyn. This really sets us up for the growth Celaena experiences throughout the course of the book. And when she realizes the vagrant woman mistook her for another vagrant, we all understood that our girl had hit an all time low. Of course that didn’t last long before ROWAN (mmm, Rowan) walks in and drags her sorry ass to Mistwood, where we meet Queen Maeve of the Fae for the first time.

Maeve is dark and manipulative and you don’t trust her for a moment, but I love how her plan to manipulate Celaena backfires on her when Celaena and Rowan visit her in Doranelle. “You wanted to see how powerful I am…” YAS!!!! Basically, cue the rock star music and pyrotechnics because Aelin Galathynius gives ZERO shits. ZERO. NONE.

Which brings me to the second of our new cast of characters, the lovely hard ass that is ROWAN WHITETHORNE. Guys. Guys. This fae prince. I can’t. But no, honestly, I can’t express how much love I have for this character. He’s exactly what Aelin needed to shed the prison that was her Celaena persona. He’s a friend, a confidant, caretaker and warrior. He’s legitimately Aelin’s other half, her Carranam. BUT as much as I SHIP THEM (Seriously my OTP), I appreciated that their relationship was strictly platonic in this book. Not to mention he’s loyal and compassionate and doesn’t shrink away from Aelin when she goes off the edge. LOVE HIM! Can I have one? Please?

Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the Rowan love…

So we’ll move on to Aedion Ashryver, Aelin’s cousin. Have I mentioned how much I love the characters in Maas’s books? Because I do! Aedion is such a curious character for me because he straddles the line of “Super-macho-general” and “wounded-immature-boy,” which I think is a perfect characterization for Aelin’s cousin. His love and loyalty for Aelin is so endearing, and when he puts Chaol’s life before his own for Aelin’s sake, I really wanted to throw something through the pages at him. Because for as much love as I have Chaol, Aedion is so much more useful to Aelin.

Speaking of that last scene, was I the only one who didn’t like Sorscha? I appreciated what she did for Dorian’s character (CONGRATS, KID! You made a decision for yourself!), I was relieved she wasn’t going to join us into book 4.

And our final new character, Manon Badass Blackbeak. Okay, so “Badass” isn’t her middle name, but it should be. At first, her POV made me feel the way Sorscha’s did: Can we get back to Aelin please? BUT the moment she claimed Abraxos, she won me over. 1. Because Abraxos is ADORABLE! “I can’t eat right now, I’m smelling the flowers.” Gaawww, it’s a puppy-dragon. 2. Because I’m anticipating some epic awesomeness from the witches in the upcoming books. One thing we can always count on from Maas is that no POV is wasted space, each is important to the final puzzle, so I’m excited to see how the witches fit in with Aelin’s plot.

So much happened in this book, and I’m trying not to make this super long. But one final thing: the moment when Aelin goes emotionally numb and lashes out at the other demi-fae. I mentioned before that there were parts of this book that had me just sobbing, and this was one of them. Living with PTSD, you spend every day battling triggers that could break you apart at any given moment. When you do break, at least for me personally, you hide away in a state of numb suspension. Maas captured this beautifully and reading it was such an incredibly cathartic experience for me. So as Aelin began to heal after that, I kind of did too.

And that’ll be it for this review of Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas. Check out my review of Queen of Shadows, here.