Review: “The 13th Hex” (Hexworld #0.5) by Jordan L. Hawk

This delicious short story, packed with adventure and romance, can be read at any point during the Hexworld series. I enjoyed this look into how Rook and Dominic became working (and more) partners, and as an added bonus, Cicero (from Hexbreaker) is a prominent character.

Hawk packs a solid bit of worldbuilding into this fantasy alternate New York City without skimping on character or plot. If you’re not sure whether this series is for you, definitely give this story a read to find out.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Seeker of Truth (SPECTR #3.3) by Jordan L. Hawk

For the first time this series, the dream team is splitting up of their own accord. Caleb stays in New Orleans to assist Zahira on a case for SPECTR while John heads out of town in search of clues to his own identity. Both separate plots of this novella are satisfying, and Hawk gives those of us waiting for what’s going on with John some great rewards for our patience.

There’s only so much I can say without giving away too many spoilers, so I’ll leave it thus: If you’ve been following along with this series, this is a solid installment that is not to be missed. I especially appreciate that we might soon find out why, out of all the pantheons in all the world, John is a follower of Sekhmet.

The closing leaves us with excitement about what comes next rather than a true cliffhanger. I’m bummed that this time I’ll have to wait the full length of time for the next release, having caught up with the series as a whole. Luckily I have other Hawk books to binge while I wait — now pardon me while I dive headfirst into Hexworld.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

May Wrap-Up & June Goals

Time has ceased to have any meaning. Or is it just me?

This was supposed to go out yesterday, but I had a bit of a weekend and losing myself in romance novels seemed a healthier option. But I’m here now, to entertain you with all of my exploits!

/checks notes

Apparently there is still a pandemic afoot, so I mostly haven’t left my house. Luckily, there is still writing to be done and books to read and video games to be played.


May Wrap-Up

  • I finished cataloging all the Steel Justice notes from my amazing beta readers and started the revision process. Fewer tears were shed than expected.
  • I’m averaging about a novel every other day or so, with some novellas mixed in for good measure. As usual, the list of reviews posted in the previous month is posted below.
  • I put aside the goal of recording readings of my work for…reasons. Perhaps later this year.
  • I had a fantastic time participating in my first virtual convention! Find my Virtual Balticon 54 con report here.
  • And, of course, I continued to enjoy playing World of Warcraft. Currently, I’m working on maxing out my reputation with certain factions and various in-game achievements. Some of those achievements might involve fishing.

June Goals

  1. Finish revising Steel Justice!
  2. I’m reading at such a pace that it’s easy to get behind on book reviews, so I’m adding those back to the goals list for the first time in a while to remind myself about them.
  3. I slacked off last month on other things, so it’s time to add more content to the Worldbuilding sections of the website!
  4. Self-care: I’m an indoor cat, so I had been hanging in there pretty well for the shut-down. That’s finally starting to wear on me, so I’d also like to remind myself that I’m not just working from home full-time. I’m working from home full-time during a crisis, but it’s also still important to acknowledge my privilege in that I still have an income and I’m not risking my life while enjoying my neighborhood (#ChristianCooper) or simply relaxing at home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson). Because while I can take a moment to just breathe (#FreddieGray and #GeorgeFloyd), it’s still okay to not always be 100% okay.

In Case You Missed It

Book Reviews


Twins.

Review: The Spare by Miranda Dubner

As an author who regularly breaks genre rules herself, it came as no surprise to me that this book was self-published. It is absolutely a love story and romance. But it centers on more than the two heroes, includes a healthy dose of family drama, and has the audacity to feature more than two points of view.

Basically, it breaks the rules in all the best ways. I devoured the text in two sittings, and once I was finished I felt emotionally mauled at the hands of my Kindle. At turns, the story is sexy, clever, poignant, and hilarious. But most of all, it’s fun. It’s escapism that makes you think, and a plausible alternate history that could be real, and absolutely worth ignoring any criticism about how it shatters romance tropes.

There is a certain amount of “poor little rich kid” to the story, and I would have had no patience for that in any characters who were not part of the world’s most famous royal family. This is simply not a plot that would have worked with billionaires or dukes or whatever else is popular in romance stories these days.

Overall, this book is more than just about Eddie and Isaac. They’re the heart of events, but there’s so much else to get absorbed by. Two love stories get their happily ever afters in this book, but Dubner leaves room to revisit those characters by planting the seeds of other romances. I already can’t wait to come back to the world of the Kensingtons.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Con Report: Virtual Balticon 54

Last weekend, I did my hair, put on clothing that had nothing to do with working out, and attended (virtual) Balticon 54! I participated in four excellent and informative panels from the comfort of my own office with appropriate feline supervision.

Perks to a virtual convention: Sleeping in my own bed, eating decent meals, not missing my spouse and kitties.

Drawbacks to a virtual convention: Missing out on the casual and spontaneous chats with friends, no direct feedback from panel audience, and no shopping in the dealer’s room.

Overall, this was still a great experience, and the tech crew deserves so much credit for keeping things running smoothly.

NOTE: I will post links to the recordings of each panel once they are available.

FRIDAY

Instead of driving up to downtown Baltimore after work I…stayed in my home office. For me, the convention kicked off with a delightful discussion about Star Trek Picard, which I was moderating! I had no idea how things would go and had no idea whether anyone would tune in to watch (other than my mother). However, everything went off without a hitch, and it was fun to have a conversation with my fellow panelists while also watch the simultaneous engaging discussion happening in chat.

After a quick break for a snack, I was back at my desk for my second panel of the evening on worldbuilding, which even more audience attended! Another perk to a virtual convention is that friends across the country (and the world) were able to tune in.

My heart was sore to miss evening conference shenanigans (read: Barcon) with friends, but I spent the time watching Star Wars Clone Wars with the spouse instead.

SATURDAY

No panels for me today, and the weather was stunning. I sat on my porch and read for a solid 6 hours, and it was delightful.

SUNDAY

I participated in another great panel on Sunday afternoon, where we discussed various presentations of magic in fiction and other pop culture. Even I came away with reading suggestions that I’m excited to check out!

They had no opinions on the cost of magic, and instead slept behind me the entire time.

With an evening to kill with no other plans than playing World of Warcraft, I decided to hop onto the Balticon Discord server and keep the fun going. A gentleman who had attended the previous panel complained that we had not answered his question (there were time constraints) and then told me I was wrong when I did answer his question with my entirely subjective answer.

Achievement unlocked: Full convention experience complete!

With that sour taste in my mouth, alas, I quietly left Discord and had a lovely evening playing video games and listening to music. Would I still rather have been at real Balticon, had that interaction happened in the hallway after the panel? Absolutely.

MONDAY

For a holiday afternoon on a gorgeous day (at least where I was), my final panel of the con was incredibly well attended. I love geeking out about writing processes, so the discussion on outlining versus pantsing (writing by the “seat of your pants”) could have been twice as long.

Time has ceased to have meaning in the spring of 2020 when I don’t leave my house, so it’s hard to believe it’s almost June. My next two planned events of the year (In Your Write Mind and Confluence) have already been canceled, alas, and I don’t have much hope for the two after that, either. So it was lovely to have this bright spot in an otherwise dreary convention season.

Review: Hexbreaker (Hexworld #1) by Jordan L. Hawk

In other reviews, I’ve raved about the ways Hawk includes diversity in his fiction. For this series, I’ve found something else to adore — the effortless way that the reader is absorbed in the worldbuilding with no awkward breaks for exposition or the dreaded info-dump. Could there be a bit more explanation for some things? Sure, but that has more to do with my own curiosity than the actual needs of the story being told.

I’m a complete cat person, so it should come as no surprise that I adore Cicero. Even his human actions/mannerisms show his feline side without ever verging into the ridiculous. Tom is a perfect counterpoint to him, and their blossoming relationship in the midst of a police investigation was lovely to enjoy.

I look forward to reading more of this series and exploring the world further. Both the prequel short story and the next book in the series are already purchased and queued up, and I can’t write any higher praise than that.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Bringer of Night (SPECTR #3.2) by Jordan L. Hawk

After all the shenanigans that have occurred over the course of this series, a run-of-the-mill murder mystery and case of mistaken identity are almost too boring for our heroes. Except nothing about this string of murders is normal, and John, Caleb, and Gray have friends (both old and new) along for the ride.

There’s yet another drakul in the picture, and for once, Gray might not have to eat it. That doesn’t mean Gray is happy about the situation, and I don’t blame him. I may have my predictions about where things with Night might go, but I fully expect that Hawk will upend them in all the best ways possible.

Meanwhile, John’s family situation has gotten even stranger. I can’t even decide which story line I’m more interested in at this point! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Hawk takes us next.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Stalker of Shadows (SPECTR #3.1) by Jordan L. Hawk

The first installment of the next SPECTR epic brings us something completely different — and all the best parts of exactly the same. John is now the character who must wait patiently while Caleb and Gray get to do what they do best (eat demons). They’re in a new setting, which is why everyone is a bit surprised when John’s birth family comes into the picture.

In this series, Hawk has set up the “paranormally abled” as an allegory for other instances in which families might turn on each other. But here, he also sets up intriguing clues that things might not be so “simple” in John’s case. It might be easy to miss these hints amidst the bigger drama of demons eating people, but they’re definitely there, and I’m definitely intrigued.

Like the other individual installments of this series, this novella includes a complete story arc while also sowing the seeds of further mystery. Even better, there might be yet another drakul in the picture. Considering how poorly things went the last two times, no one is very excited about that. However, I am totally excited to see what happens next.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Virtual Balticon 54 Schedule!

Though I’m not completely an introvert, I am very much an “indoor cat.” In many instances, this spring’s quarantine hasn’t changed my life that drastically. But it turns out that one thing I absolutely depend on for my continued psychological well-being is the convention scene. A weekend where I can surround myself with friends and people with common interests, talk late into the night, and then hide in my home office for about a week afterward.

Most of my conventions for 2020 will probably be cancelled, and I completely support that decision. Luckily, we have this thing called “the internet.” So, I’ll be able to get a taste of the convention life. And now, so will you!

This Memorial Day weekend, Balticon 54 has gone virtual! I’ll be participating in multiple panels via Zoom from the comfort of my home office. Because this event and all panels are 100 percent free to the public, I hope you’ll consider joining me! Visit the Balticon link to find the full schedule and information on how to sign up for panels.

FRIDAY

  • 5 PM EST: Boldly Going Forward (panel)
    • Star Trek: Picard was an unexpected return to the future of Star Trek’s ‘Prime’ timeline after years of prequels and reboots. Is its success anomalous, or an indicator that revisits to Star Trek’s past are starting to get played out? Are there other stories that are on the table in the future of the ‘Prime’ timeline?
    • With Brick Barrientos and Karen Osborne
  • 7 PM EST: I Read For The Worldbuilding (panel)
    • Some authors are known for their well-paced or twisty plots, some for their deep and nuanced characters, and some are known for their evocative worlds. What stories or series are recommended to readers interested in worldbuilding? What methods did the authors use to make their worlds intriguing and entertaining, rather than tiresome or self-indulgent?
    • With Don Sakers (moderator), Elaine Isaak, and Ada Palmer

SUNDAY

  • 2 PM EST: The Cost of Magic (panel)
    • In fiction, the use of magic often requires an exchange or cost, whether it be the loss of prized possessions or the physical and mental tolls taken on spellcasters. What stories feature a balance between power and price? What impact does the need for these choices have on worldbuilding, narrative structure, and character?
    • With John French (moderator), Nick Martell, L. Penelope, and Beth Tanner

MONDAY

  • 2 PM EST: Outlining vs. Pantsing (panel)
    • Some storytellers require a detailed outline to start fleshing out their story, but others prefer to write by the seat of the pants. What are some techniques to help you get better at one when you prefer the other?
    • With A.L. Kaplan (moderator), Charlie Brown, Vivian Shaw, and Ryan Van Loan

Review: SPECTR: The Complete Second Series by Jordan L. Hawk

Includes the titles:

  • Mocker of Ravens
  • Dancer of Death
  • Drinker of Blood
  • Breaker of Chains
  • Shaker of Earth

I read this collection even faster than I did the first one. It’s too bad I can’t give it an even higher rating than 5 stars.

John, Caleb, and Gray are back to doing what they do best — dispatch demons with extreme prejudice. Their world looks very different after the events in the first SPECTR series, and in some ways (thanks to government bureaucracy), completely the same. But Hawk introduces us to newer, badder demons in this collection, finally giving Gray a bit of a fight.

The references to a Russian drakul in the previous series made it pretty obvious that they would have to show up here. I was not disappointed on any front, especially since Hawk is fantastic at taking expectations and completely subverting them. Nothing happened between Caleb/Gray and Yuri/Dru the way I anticipated, and I couldn’t be happier. I again stayed up way too late reading to finish, and I regret nothing.

Once again, Hawk’s effortless inclusion of diversity made me a happy reader. I especially adored new secondary character Zahira, and I hope to see more of her in the future despite the new normal that exists at the end of this series. My use of “demons” in my reviews is a misnomer based on Hawk’s worldbuilding, where these creatures are merely beings from a different plane of existence without a religious framework. So it’s fascinating that the exorcist characters do seem to use religion in the way they interact with the creatures. This applies to Zahira in Hawk’s portrayal of modern Islam, but I’m especially eager to learn in a future story why John worships(?) an almost forgotten Egyptian deity in apparent contrast.

Honestly, I could go on a whole tangent picking apart all the worldbuilding that Hawk does so well in this series. Instead, you should go experience it for yourself.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.