Review: “Into the Darkness” (Taine McKenna Adventures #1.5) by Lee Murray

Into the DarknessThis short story is not to be missed for any fan of the Taine McKenna adventures. It features everything I love about the series, condensed into an action-packed, bite-size piece.

Well, not quite everything. This takes place in a small town in France rather than a New Zealand locale, but I promise everything else is there. Taine being a bad-ass. Jules being incredibly intelligent. Terrifying and creepy monsters. Vibrant military action.

If you’re not sure whether you’ll enjoy the full series, this can work as a fairly spoiler-free introduction. But if you enjoy action-adventure with smart characters and ancient monsters, just dive right into Into the Mists and read this afterward. You won’t regret either option.

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

Review: Persepolis Rising (The Expanse #7) by James S.A. Corey

Persepolis RisingI put off reading this installment of the series for longer than I should have, because my husband mentioned in an offhand comment that a lot of time had passed since the previous book. I didn’t want to read about new characters and new situations. Instead, what I got was a Rocinante crew who are closer than ever and an amazing continuation of this series’s overarching plot.

Many changes do occur in the beginning of this story, and I’m not going to lie: Some of them are kind of sad. But I promise that it’s a good, satisfying kind of sad.

And then, as usual, everything escalates. I’d use a different phrase, but Amazon doesn’t like expletives in their reviews, as much as it’s warranted here. Corey is amazing at pulling out seeds of story that were planted in previous books, and the status quo tilts once again.

The antagonist point-of-view in this story is not the actual “Big Bad,” which I think serves the narrative well. As usual, despite all of the amazing alien technology they now have access to, humans are still just idiots with fancy toys.

(Avasarala is not an idiot. She might be aging, but she’s definitely still the smartest person in the room, and I continue to adore her.)

Despite their years of working together, the tensest moments in this story were the interpersonal sparks between the Roci‘s crew. I don’t like the idea of them in conflict, especially not Holden and Bobbie. But it’s handled deftly, and never exists for the purpose of conflict for conflict’s sake.

It looks like the next book in the series is going to pick up almost where things left off, and I can’t wait to dive in and find out what happens next.

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

Review: “Mr. Gold” by Margot Rose

Mr. GoldA fun, quick read. The developing relationship between the characters could have been fraught and over-dramatic, but Rose balances the need for tension in the story with the realities of modern, mature adults.

It’s a romance story, so you already know that there’s going to be a happily ever after. My favorite part of this story is getting to see a bit of that happily ever after, something often left hanging in short fiction.

I knocked a star off my rating because some of the sexy bits occur in places that seemed at odd with the personalities of the characters as they’re portrayed. This in no way diminished my overall enjoyment of the plot and relationship development.

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

Review: Can’t Escape Love (Reluctant Royals #3.5) by Alyssa Cole

Can't Escape LoveOnce again, Cole impresses me with her ability to weave timelines together within different stories. This series interlude fills in some of the gaps of the second Reluctant Royals book, including interactions between the main heroine and her parents.

I adore Regina, and I don’t even pity her for not getting to become a “royal” herself. Because she doesn’t need to be. She’s already the queen of her own online domain, and she certainly doesn’t need a king to help rule it.

But a consort for the real world can’t hurt, and Gus is an adorable potential partner. So many issues are flipped on their head in this story, and it’s always an intriguing read when the guy is the one who attempts to move “too fast.” This shows how societal biases can creep into anything, especially when characters with disabilities (of all sorts) are so often infantalized in American culture.

Cole delivers a real treat with this love story between characters of color and different abilities. All of the nerdy pop culture references I thoroughly enjoyed were simply icing on the cake.

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

Review: The Contract by Margot Rose

ContractThis read was a fun escape. But where I thought I understood what I was getting into, it managed to surprise me at every turn.

“Love at first sight” is a romance trope I just can’t get behind, but “insta-lust” can be a LOT of fun when done right. Rose does it right in this novella. Other potentially problematic tropes are deftly avoided, making this a satisfying, guilt-free read.

Innocence doesn’t always mean lack of knowledge or power, and Caitriona might be young, but she knows what she wants. I cheered for her the entire way.

I wish the third main hero had been introduce earlier in the story, to be equal with the first two and not feel as much like an after-thought. I also thought the “contract” between the three at the ending was a bit more convoluted than necessary. This was still a fun and entertaining read, and a great introduction to a new author.

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

May Wrap-Up & June Goals

StokerCon 2019 table
So many books!

So much reading! So much traveling! So little writing!

Don’t look at me like that. You’re not shocked either.

May Wrap-Up

  • My progress toward Steel Justice this month was super nebulous, but I did figure out where my hang-up was. There is a plan in place toward overcoming it, and I’m cautiously optimistic.
  • I had a fantastic time at StokerCon 2019 with some amazing and lovely horror writers. You can check out my con report of that event.
  • And as usual, this year’s Balticon was also a blast. My con report for that event is also up.
  • I wrapped up the month with an overnight to New York City for the day job, where I can neither confirm nor deny a visit to the Sanctum Sanctorum.
NYC bookstore
I definitely went here.

May Book Reviews

May Speculative Chic Contributions

June Goals

  • Progress on Steel Justice, which includes some planned writing dates.
  • Attend the annual In Your Write Mind writers workshop at Seton Hill University.

It looks like a light month, but I have lots of other commitments sprinkled in there. It’s a good thing its summertime, because a new Mexican grill opened up in walking distance from my house. I’m excited for writing dates with myself and a large margarita in their lovely outside seating area.

Summertime cats
Everyone handles summer in their own way.

Review: The Dragon Mistress: Book 2 (Eburosi Chronicles #9) by R.A. Steffan

Dragon Mistress 2I finished the first installment of The Dragon Mistress on a Friday night, right before I was supposed to play video games with my spouse and a friend. Instead, I devoured the next installment in a single evening while they played without me. I regret nothing.

The dragons play a larger role in this story, as do Frella’s companions. Bits of background and story are being revealed piece by piece, and while some of my predictions have come true, I’m continually surprised by other reveals.

With so many characters (including the dragons) packed into such a small space, it might be easy for confusion or for someone to get short shrift. But I feel like I’m getting to know everyone, and this just makes me want to know even more.

The climax of this story had me on the edge of my seat. I almost cried when I realized that I’d reached the end of what was currently available in this amazing series. Now I’m anxiously awaiting for book 3’s release this summer. You have plenty of time to get caught up so that you can wait along with me.

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

Con Report: Balticon 53

balticon logoI had another fantastic weekend at my “local” convention, Balticon, over Memorial Day weekend! This convention was my first time manning a table in the dealer room for the entire event, which was both exhausting and fun, and definitely offered a different perspective on the convention experience. Luckily, I had friend and author Cara McKinnon to help me out, and we had an awesome girl’s weekend since the spouse took off for Florida to help some of his friends with an upcoming YouTube project.

FRIDAY

When Cara arrived at my house shortly after noon, we loaded up her car with all of the gear to run a table for my publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press for the dealer room.

That day was all dealer room, since I had nothing on my schedule. Afterward, Cara and I did the unthinkable and LEFT THE CONVENTION. We had a great evening singing karaoke with friends elsewhere in Baltimore, even if it meant staying up way too late on night 1 of a con weekend.

SATURDAY

Back to the dealer room, coffee in hand, the next morning. This was my marathon day, as we were at work at 10 AM, but I had three panels that evening starting at 4 PM.

Balticon 2019 table

We had a great day chatting with passers-by and talking about books, and luckily, our spot in the dealer room put us within easy talking distance of other friends with tables. With the power of a salted caramel milkshake from Shake Shake to sustain me, I headed off for my first panel.

Balticon 2019 Endgame panel

We had a fabulous time discussing where the Marvel Cinematic Universe might go after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Massive bonus points to the Balticon programming committee for putting together this panel with ZERO straight white dudes.

Next, I moderated a panel on genre blending, and to wrap up the evening, I participated in a panel on self-editing a manuscript’s first draft. I’ve participated in panels on both topics multiple times before, but I love how a different mixture of panelists always results in completely different conversations, with new things to glean.

Leaving the convention that evening was a bit harrowing. A fracas involving a bunch of dumb kids and the BCPD was happening outside the hotel. Some of the kids blocked us on the street outside the hotel, and one jumped on the hood of my car. It was straight-up kids being idiots and doing stupid stuff because they could, not out of a sense of maliciousness. (Luckily, spouse banged out the dent in the hood of my old Honda Civic. But if I’d been driving the Tesla…someone would have ended the evening in handcuffs, and it probably would have been me.) We made it home safely without further incident.

Oh, Baltimore. I love my adopted city, but you are occasionally cray-cray.

SUNDAY

I moderated another panel first thing Sunday morning, on the transition from writing fanfic to original, “pro” fiction. Since I was nominally in charge, I made it clear right away that this was a space where no bashing of fanfic would occur. My favorite moment of the panel was when we helped an audience member brainstorm ways to keep her family off her back about writing fanfic when she could be writing “real” (i.e., paying) fiction. I love being a writer, but I hate the modern “hustle” mentality that everything you do should result in some sort of monetary benefit.

Cara and I spent the rest of the day hanging out in the dealer room with quick breaks to warm up in the atrium and do some shopping of our own. That evening, we ate dinner outside at my favorite pizza place, where we introverted HARD after a day of people-people-people.

MONDAY

But Balticon was not over! A four-day convention is hard, but luckily this was a short day. I had a reading slot that afternoon, where I shared a short excerpt from Steel Time. Then it was time to pack up and head home.

I sold some books, I caught up with friends, and I bought some cool stuff. Overall, a successful convention weekend. Let’s do it all again next year.

My next scheduled event is In Your Write Mind, in Greensburg PA from June 27-30.


The final haul:

Balticon 2019 final haul

Review: The Dragon Mistress: Book 1 (Eburosi Chronicles #8) by R.A. Steffan

Dragon Mistress 1This amazing series picks up approximately a decade in the future with the story of Frella, the younger sister of one of the heroes of the previous collection. Possibly my favorite thing about Steffan’s writing is their ability to create fully fleshed female narrative characters who each have their own strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. Frella is very different from Carival and Kathrael, but she is an intriguing character in her own right, and her story instantly had me hooked.

Frella is a strong female character, but she never falls into the pitfalls of that trope. She gets herself into plenty of trouble, and she relies on allies to help herself get out. Her view of relationships and sexuality is also refreshing, because it would be so easy for this series to turn into a torrid drama of who she ends up with in the end. Instead, I care more about each character growing and evolving for themselves.

The world of Eburosi also continues to expand, showing Steffan is equally skilled at world-building as they are at characterization and plot. I’ve noted that other reviews complain that it takes too long to get to the dragons — I was too busy being entertained by Frella’s shenanigans and meeting her new companions to be bothered.

But don’t worry: When the dragons do arrive, they are absolutely spectacular. This installment works on its own as a complete story, though it does end on a cliffhanger. I have some predictions about how Frella’s story will turn out, and I can’t wait to read more.

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

Review: Magic Mourns (Kate Daniels #3.5) by Ilona Andrews

Magic MournsThis novella takes place between Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds in the Kate Daniels universe, but the point-of-view character is Kate’s friend Andrea Nash instead. We’ve already been introduced to Andrea and know secrets about her character from previous books in the series, but this time, she’s the hero of her own adventure.

Once again, Andrews shows how the werecreatures in their books are not all sexy. In fact, Andrea’s backstory is rather tragic and disturbing, but it doesn’t stop Andrea from being just as amazing as her friend Kate.

It’s also interesting that Andrews doesn’t just rely on the tried-and-true trope of werewolves as the default shifters. In this novella, we delve into the world of werehyenas, a very different breed from werewolves in more ways than one.

And as usual, we’re treated to a story line that revolves around yet another flavor of mythology. This time, Greek mythology is the source of our monsters. Andrea’s character arc in this tale is completely satisfying, and it was fun to cheer her on as she learns to embrace her own inner beast.

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