Review: Wicked Deeds on a Winter’s Night (Immortals After Dark #4) by Kresley Cole

I keep really enjoying these books and then knocking a star off my rating because the heroes REALLY need to learn about consent and boundaries. Coming to this paranormal romance series as a “modern” romance reader definitely makes certain scenes more cringe-worthy than sexy, but Cole continues to suck me in with her world-building and character dynamics.

This story overlaps with the fun scavenger hunt from the previous book, giving a fun look at the relationship between two characters we’ve met before. As a fun spin, the heroine is an immortal who hasn’t attained that immortality yet, leaving her as a contemporary character among those who have lived for centuries. Bowen and Mari have instant chemistry despite their jarring circumstances, and their very different ideas of “banter” make for a fun developing relationship. Mari is also the first witch protagonist of this series, and we also meet demons and elves as more than just background color. Cole once again shows her world-building chops with the information we get about their worlds.

Like I mentioned above, some elements of the way this series’ werewolves treat their “destined” mates comes across as pretty rapey. The constant use of “male” and “female” to refer to gender was also distracting and often technically inappropriate in the context. Possibly another artifact from the original time period in which these books were written.

The twist at the end was a bit jarring, but absolutely surprising and unexpected. The final resolution was solid and well-deserved. Once again looking forward to the next installment of this series.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: SEAL of Honor (HORNET #1) by Tonya Burrows

Disclaimer: I am acquaintances with the author; however, I purchased this ebook for full price.

As a military spouse, I never really saw the appeal of romance fiction featuring a military (or former military) hero. I know too much about the realities of military life to have any desire to romanticize it, but I’ve known Burrows through our extended writer networks for a few years and wanted to check out her work.

Outside of the romance genre, my interests include competent characters and team-as-family (especially when I get to see the team being built and all the conflict that goes along with that process). One way Burrows bucks genre expectations here is that we get to see points of view from characters other than the hero, heroine, and antagonists, and I’m already looking forward to seeing each of these men get their happily ever afters.

I also love the depth of character that each of the men possess. Burrows allows them to be dramatic and emotional within the context of the story, which makes them well-rounded and interesting rather than two-dimensional stock characters.

Burrows also doesn’t skimp on plot, which becomes both essential to the developing relationship and stands alone as an interesting read. The twist at the end also cemented it as a solid piece of story-telling. I still don’t have much desire to read military romance, but I’m absolutely going to finish this delightful series.

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

Review: Navigating the Stars (Sentinels of the Galaxy #1) by Maria V. Snyder

Disclaimer: I am friends with the author; however, I purchased this ebook for full price.

The premise of this book is an interesting conceit that reminds the reader that once Earth reaches the stars, it will be all of Earth that goes. This book still felt very “Western” despite the characters of mixed heritage, but I do appreciate that the author does not attempt awkward cultural appropriation.

As a science fiction novel, I had so many issues and questions with the world-building. A few were big: The method of interstellar travel created some unique plot points, but I wondered about the lack of scientific advancement that would make every ship obsolete once it finishes a journey. Some were smaller: Where was all the food on the new planet coming from?? This is supposed to be a “small” research based, but there’s never a sense of needing to conserve resources, supplies, or even personnel. But this isn’t a hard science fiction novel, so it was relatively easy to wave away such questions and enjoy the adventure.

The adventure is a lot of fun, with a cool cultural premise that sets up plenty of future action. Snyder embraces many useful tropes of the young adult (YA) genre while avoiding a few of the more annoying ones. Lyra has talents in certain fields but isn’t automatically perfect at everything (and I actually appreciate that she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she “grows up,” rather than being a miniature archaeologist following in her parents’ footsteps). The adults in the story are supportive within the context of their roles, rather than acting as adversaries every step of the way. Even the token Love Interest character isn’t 100 percent perfect.

I do wish we could have had a friendship between Lyra and the Love Interest without it becoming romantic. It seemed too inevitable, especially since he’s basically her only option. There’s plenty of room for mixed-gender friendships, even in YA.

I look forward to seeing how this story progresses, especially because Snyder makes it easy to develop your own theories. But I also know Snyder is a fantastic author who is more than capable of surprising me, and ruining my theories in the best ways possible.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

February Wrap-Up & March Goals

Happy Leap Year! If January 2020 lasted about a millions years, February 2020 only took about 5 minutes. My month has been full of useful and not-so-useful productivity (yeah, I started playing World of Warcraft again), but it was also filled with good books and lovely times with friends, so what more can a girl ask for?

The highlight of the month was definitely kitten-sitting for my mother-in-law. The other feline residents of Casa Siamese only tentatively warmed up to the visitor in the final hours before it was time for him to go home, but Denali the Siamese blue-point kitten will be back in March for more adorable adventures!


February Wrap-Up

  • I had grand plans about jumping into the revisions for book 6, Steel Justice, but that was before my editor returned the layout for the new version of book 1, Steel Victory! Instead, my time has been focused on that project instead.
  • Both super-secret projects were reviewed! One was a layout proof for a forthcoming Raw Dog Screaming Press project, which I can share details on later. The other was reading and reviewing an ARC of a new book in one of my favorite series! My review of Carrie Vaughn’s The Immortal Conquistador will go live at SpeculativeChic.com next month. Both books were amazing. I love my job.
  • I had a lovely morning at Carpe Librum for an author brunch earlier this month. Looking for a new indie bookstore in Baltimore? This one comes with an adorable cat.
  • I also had a blast at Farpoint 2020 last weekend. The bar has been set high for the rest of my events this year. Read my con report here.
  • And finally, two of my Worldbuilding pages have been updated with new content!

March Goals

  1. Now it’s time to jump back into book 6, Steel Justice! Time to focus on revisions based on the feedback I received from my fabulous beta readers.
  2. I’m heading west for convention #2 of 2020. Join me for Cleveland ConCoction later this month!
  3. More updates to the Worldbuilding pages!

In Case You Missed It

Book Reviews

On the Website

Around the Internet


Nicki is enjoying a moment of peace before that crazy tiny kitten comes back next week.

Con Report: Farpoint 2020

I attended my third year at Farpoint in Baltimore, Maryland, this past weekend and had an absolute blast spending time with friends and being a panelist on some of my favorite topics. I wish I’d been able to hang out more in the evening with people, but I commuted from home this year and had to sleep some time.

FRIDAY

After a long day at work, I headed to the hotel for my two evening panels. They flew by in a blur of excitement, with no awkward conversational lags from either the audience or other panelists; honestly, all of my panels this weekend were on the higher end of quality (and I’ve done a lot of panels over the past 5 years).

In the “Fanfic Confessions” panel, we discussed the differences and pros & cons to writing fanfiction versus writing officially licensed media tie-in fiction. We also brainstormed easy ways to make the switch from writing fanfic to writing original fiction in the most painless ways possible. But only if someone wanted to! No fanfic-shaming here.

Immediately afterward was my second panel of the evening, where I got to talk about one of my least SF/F passions: Downton Abbey! But fandom is fandom, and we had fun talking about the recent film and speculating topics for future movies with our favorite English crew.

I closed out the evening with dinner with Jeff Gritman and Cristin Kist of Prison Dad sci-fi comedy fame. The mind was willing to stick around for the late-night book fair, but the body demanded that I drive home and go to bed. Maybe next year!

SATURDAY

I returned to the hotel Saturday morning for a stint at the autograph table and then my first reading. I shared an unpublished short story set in the same universe as my Steel Empires series, and the audience seemed to enjoy it (or at least laughed in all the right places). Afterward, I had a few hours to kill before my evening panel, so I checked out the dealer’s hall and attended Keith R.A. deCandido’s self defense workshop, which was both informative and entertaining.

If I haven’t yet asked you, “Have you seen The Expanse yet?” it only means we haven’t spoken in the past year. I had so much fun talking about The Expanse television show on an evening panel — from our thoughts on season 4 to some discussion about creative changes made in the jump from book to screen.

(Seriously, go watch and/or read The Expanse.)

After another fun dinner with Jeff and Cristin, I headed home to watch the most recent episode of Star Trek Picard, so I’d be prepared to talk about it the next morning if necessary.

SUNDAY

Back to the convention Sunday morning, this time with personal assistant in tow. My mom enjoys tagging along at local conventions, and it’s SO NICE to have someone make sure I eat lunch and consume the proper amount of caffeine.

First up was a panel on Star Trek Discovery and Picard! We ended up not talking about the most recent episode of Picard because not everyone had seen it, but I’m glad I had the context. We speculated about where season 3 of Discovery might go, where the rest of season 1 of Picard might lead, and which was our favorite of the Short Treks. I definitely felt like I leveled up as a con guest by getting to talk about Start Trek at a legit Star Trek convention!

With Derek Tyler Attico & Keith R.A. DeCandido (who obviously needs more coffee)

Keith and I shared a reading slot right afterward, where I read the short story again to a completely different audience (who also seemed to enjoy it!). Keith shared his story from the Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles anthology, which you should definitely check out.

After another stint at the autograph table, where I saw Highlander cosplay, which was definitely one of the highlights of my weekend, I closed out the convention with a panel on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s always fun to be that one person who’s never read any of the Marvel comics, because I definitely feel like I bring a different voice to the conversation. This can often be a difficult panel because audience members have OPINIONS about the Marvel universe (comics and films), but the other two panelists were lovely and we kept the conversation from getting too fraught.

My mom and I took another quick jaunt around the dealer’s room, then headed home. I was definitely done “peopling” for the weekend, so I spent the rest of the evening reading in bed.

This year’s Farpoint experience has definitely set the bar high for the rest of my 2020 conventions!


The final haul:

Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

This story is an example of true alternate history done right. It’s a combination of events and conceits that shouldn’t work together, but absolutely do because of the talent of the author. It’s also a great example of how non-chronological storytelling is occasionally essential.

I could have done with a bit less of the elephant mythology that slowed the drama of the other two stories down, but at the same time, you can’t set up a second sentient species as integral to the narrative and then leave our their very non-human perspective. I appreciate it more after the fact than while I was immersed in the story itself.

I’ve seen this book highly recommended ever since it came out, but I’m often slow to jump on the bandwagon of “popular” speculative fiction. However, consider me a solid supporter of this tale and if you’ve been eyeing it, it’s well worth the time.

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

Review: The Armored Saint (Sacred Throne #1) by Myke Cole

I got pretty burned out on reading epic fantasy once I started paying attention to diversity within the pages, so I’m always thrilled to find an offering in the genre that bucks stereotype. Add a dash of steampunk and I’m hooked.

Its easy to draw “Joan of Arc” comparisons to the character of Heloise on the surface, which is why I appreciate that Cole creates a character with completely age-appropriate actions and reactions. It’s obvious from the beginning of the story that Heloise is a HERO(tm), but watching her grow is a treat. This is character development done right. Every rebellion begins with a spark, and Cole treats the reader to an action-packed inferno that I read in both pleasure and perfectly grim-dark fantasy horror.

Cole does an excellent job with queer representation in this book…until literary stereotype does rear its ugly head. As a writer, I see why events had to play out the way they did. As a reader, I’m disappointed at the same time. If you’re looking for books where queerness is only a single facet of three-dimensional characters, this is an excellent example. But if you’re looking for happily ever afters, this isn’t the book you want.

I look forward to reading the rest of this trilogy and following Heloise on her journey.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Review: Thieves’ Honor (Wizards of London #1) by Jamaila Brinkley

Disclaimer: I am friends with the author; however, I purchased this ebook for full price.

I devoured this book so quickly, and with such enjoyment, that I forgot to take any notes for my review! Brinkley’s debut novel features romance, magic, and mystery set in historical London. She weaves together the tropes from multiple genres without ever falling into stereotype. And despite the large cast of supporting characters, all are unique and well-drawn.

Though the romance is inevitable due to genre expectations, Thomas and Em’s evolving relationship never feels contrived or inevitable. I believed in their growing attraction, grieved during the requisite dark moment, and cheered for their reconciliation and happily ever after. The mystery aspect of the novel featured a delightful plot twist that added to the story as a whole.

I’m looking forward to the other two books in this series. Brinkley’s take on magical London is sure to delight historical fantasy and and historical romance readers alike.

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

Farpoint 2020 Schedule

This weekend I’ll be back in Baltimore for Farpoint 27! Check out my schedule below. Come see me be exceedingly nerdy about some of my favorite things! Will I see you there?

Friday

  • 5 PM: Fanfic Confessions (panel)
    • Professional authors who still write fanfic or participate in fanfic-like habits such as PBEMs will talk about the differences between fanfic, tie-ins and original writing and how one can make the jump from writing fanfic to writing original works. They also may possibly confess some guilty secrets.
    • With Jennifer Povey and T. Eric Bakutis
  • 6 PM: Return to Downton Abbey (panel)
    • Three years after Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey ended its highly rated six-year run on television, audiences flocked to theaters this autumn to see Downton Abbey on the big screen. Panelists will discuss what worked about the film, what could have been better, and what the future has in store for the Crawley family.
      • With Allyn Gibson and Kelli Fitzpatrick

Saturday

  • 11 AM: Autograph Session
    • With Peter David and Dr. Valerie Mikles
  • 12 PM: Reading
    • With Jennifer Povey
  • 5 PM: The Expanse Explores a Strange New World (panel)
    • On Season 4, we see the Rocinante crew go through the gate and visit New Terra, one of the first worlds colonized. While Naomi and Alex mind the ship, Holden and Amos try to make peace between colonists and scientists. Meanwhile, Bobbie and Avaserala investigate a mystery. And then there’s Proto-Miller, hanging around with Holden and causing trouble. Let’s discuss Season 4, and what’s coming up in Season 5.
    • With Ann White, John White, and Russ Colchamiro

Sunday

  • 10 AM: Trek All Access (panel)
    • A look at Star Trek: Discovery‘s season 2 and speculations for season 3. Plus we’ll talk about Picard — where it fits in and where it’s going.
    • With Keith R.A. DeCandido and Derek Tyler Attico
  • 11 AM: Reading
    • With Keith R.A. DeCandido
  • 12 PM: Autograph Session
    • With David Mack
  • 1 PM: The Infinity Saga (panel)
    • 22 films and a massive inter-connected story later, what did you think? And what do you think is next for Marvel?
    • With Jay Smith, Dr. Arnold Blumberg, and Jay Justice

Note: I’m not staying at the hotel this time around, so my participation in the Friday night book signing event will depend on entirely upon how much energy I have/how much coffee I’ve drunk that day.

Review: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

I made it through the first quarter of this book before I realized that not much had really happened. Well, lots of things had “happened,” just not much of a plot. But I was intrigued by the world-building, so I decided to sit back and enjoy the story as more of a travelogue than an action-filled adventure.

Baxter has a distinctive writing style that I recognized from his other works. The difference here is the inclusion of a few more humorous moments, which I imagine are Pratchett’s brief touch. Baxter continues to not be able to write women, though the issues in this story are more cringey and less out-right offensive.

Readers interested in a very different take on the parallel worlds story will find this interesting. I especially liked the “explanations” for familiar creatures of folk-lore. I’m interested in continuing the series, but don’t have a strong urge to rush right into the next one, probably because of the lack of emotional connection with any of the characters.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.